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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Celebration of Christ, or When in Rome

Welcome to Good Friday.

We just finished two outstanding books about early Christianity. The first, called The Magdalene Legacy by Laurence Gardner, meticulously detailed the development of the Christian faith, from before the time of its central figurehead up to the time it was adopted as the official religion of Rome. If you want to know why a certain rite is performed today, or how the canonical Gospel of Mark differs from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, or how to reconcile the various contradictions in the New Testament, this is the book for you. The second, called Jesus and the Goddess by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, exposes the similarities between Jesus Christ and the dying-and-resurrecting gods of every other ancient culture. If you want to decode the earliest religious texts and learn the mystery that formed the foundation of the modern Christian faiths, this is the book for you.

We were utterly convinced by the first book, which accepted, argued, and explained the historical facts of the nascent church, including everything in the New Testament. Then we were utterly convinced by the second book, which accepted, argued, and explained the myths that revealed the secret mysteries of the nascent church, including everything in the New Testament. Finally we realised that anyone with enough time and resources could find supporting texts for almost any theory they proposed. The unknowable and undeniable truth of that past time is almost certainly to be found somewhere in the middle of those two positions, taking parts of each.

Today is an important day for people of the Christian faiths, the day several years ago when God decided it would be a good thing to crucify His only Son. These events are reenacted all over the world, in some cases with the full compliment of brutality. Church-appointed leaders will speak to millions of people and tell them what it all means, why it all matters. Believers will kneel prayerfully before a cross, perform certain rites of commemoration, celebrate the triumph of Jehovah and His Son.

A few thousand years ago Rome ruled the western world. Most citizens of the empire did not recognize any monotheistic, revealed religion. There was a whole pantheon of gods who were worshipped and believed to play an active part in people's lives. Romans daily honoroued, celebrated, and sacrificed to their gods. They carried charms and amulets, said prayers, and generally tried to propitiate their gods. Today scholars have clearly identified cults of Jupiter, legends of Marius, superstitions of Robigo, and myths of Mithras, to name just a few of the popular beliefs. There was even a national day of prayer to the goddess Salus.

That modern civilization is far more sophisticated in its belief systems is a fallacy. Today television stations are showing choirs singing praise to a convicted criminal. Big box retailers are selling chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs at a discounted price. Income at the florist shops is blooming. Half the banking institutions are closed, or all of them are half-closed. Schoolchildren are on holiday. Many businesses have either given employees the day off, or granted employees the day off. There is a noticeably fishy smell in the air. Indeed, if Jesus were to appear today, a jury of his peers would find he had a rough childhood, he was abandoned by his parents, everyone made fun of him, and so would pronounce him not guilty by reason of insanity. The Resurrection would have to be canceled.

In ancient times, Jerusalem was located prominently in the center of every map of the known world. But the world no longer revolves around the city and the religions that sprung from it. Grant for one moment the possibility that the Christian faiths--indeed all faiths--are based on myth: we are suddenly painfully aware how like the Romans we really are. When we laugh at their silly beliefs, we laugh at ourselves, we laugh at all of mankind. The sole cause of the perceived difference between them and us, then and now, is hubris. Christians know their God is the one and only God, and warn us that if we don't believe and obey this God, we will be welcomed in hell.

We are secure in the belief God favors the humble, the meek, the pure of heart.