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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

(The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme)

Someone once told me that the trick to winning in basketball is that you have to have more points when the buzzer goes off. That didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but since then I’ve thought about it many, many times. Now I understand that what it means is that sometimes when two things are competing and one wins out, it isn’t necessarily because it’s better than the other one, it just happened to be ahead when the time ran out.

I teach Roman history to my 6th grade class. It’s an interesting topic to teach to young people, because America, the country I live in, is so comfortable in it’s acceptance of Christianity as the dominant religion. Wikipedia tells me that 76% of Americans identify as Christian (mostly Protestant or Catholic). Interestingly, 40% of Americans claim to go to church once a week and a majority of Americans rate religion (specific brand unspecified) plays a “very important” role in their lives (based on a 2008 survey of 55,000 people, link here).

However, waaaay back in 60 AD, the Christians weren’t enjoying such monumental success. When I’m teaching Roman history we talk a lot about religion and how the early Romans were pagan and worshipped the gods of Mount Olympus. Whenever I utter the word pagan for the first time, there is always this little ripple that rides around the room, for that word has such a strongly negative connotation. (Perhaps it’s because the Christians did such a bang up job obliterating paganism once the buzzer rang.) Often children don’t even know why a word is so charged, they just know that it is, and it’s palpable in the room.

Back when the Romans worshipped Aries and Apollo and Demeter and Athena, the Christians were struggling. At one point, they were hated by most Roman citizens for various reasons. I read an excellent article online by a man named C.J. Lyes (find it here). Lyes says that there isn’t any “real” evidence that the Christians were slaughtered by Roman leaders, such as the infamous Christian hating Nero, but that they were certainly despised. (I have my doubts that any minority group of people who are despised by a powerful and militarily trained majority could find themselves safe within that culture. There are certainly many, many historical stories that corroborate violence. But, being not an expert, I’ll not force it…much)

(A Christian Dirce, by Henryk Siemiradzki)

One reason for Roman hatred of Christians was that Christian monotheistic views threatened the polytheistic beliefs of the day. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking of this as a political threat, when, for the everyday lower classes in Rome, it was a threat to their very well-being, for if the pantheon of gods was angered, to them it spelled certain death. Christians were blamed for drought. They were blamed for floods. They were blamed for locusts, etc., etc. They fit the bill for both black sheep and scape goats, those unfortunate Bovidae…

Another possible reason for Roman animosity toward Christians, according to Lyons, is that the Christian practice of Eucharist was translated by some into cannibalism. This, mixed with the fact that the persecuted Christians held secret, hidden meetings deep underground in the catacombs of Rome, led some to wild allegations of “incest and child murder and group sex.”

(Roman catacomb–photo from http://www.traditioninaction.org)

Lastly (in this blog post anyway, Lyes has more to say), the teaching of Christianity appealed strongly to women of the day and led many to renounce their religion and join Christianity. Roman social order was built on the foundation of patriarchal rule. Giving women something to believe in, something to think about, something to be a powerful part of, was very threatening to Roman culture.

So. I just thought all of this was pretty interesting, considering the incredible evolution of Christianity through the ages. It all has such a familiar, horrible ring to it, doesn’t it?

It makes me wonder when the next playoff begins.

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