Saturday, June 23, 2012

Immoral Threats To Social Order

The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for [the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks]. And I know I'll hear from them for this, but throwing God...successfully with the help of the federal court system...throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad...I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen. - Jerry Falwell, September 13, 2001
A great nation, a diverse, pluralistic, multi-ethnic land bustling with commerce, tolerant of minority religions - as long as they recognized the practical, political reality of the majority practices - was nevertheless horrified by what they learned were the very real threats posed by one small group:
I am told that, moved by some foloish urge, they consecrate and worship the head of a donkey, that most abject of all animals. This is a cult worthy of of the customs from which it sprang! Others say that they reverence the genitals of the presiding priest himself, and adore them as though they were their father's. . . . As for the initiation of new members, the details are as disgusting as they are well known. A child, covered in dough to deceive the unwary, is set before the wold-be novice. The novice stabs the child to death with invisible blows; indeed he himself, deceived by the coating dough, think his stabs harmless. Then - it's horrible! - they hungrily drink the child's blood, and compete with one another as they divide the limbs. Through this victim they are bound together; and the fact that they all share the knowledge of the crime pledges them all to silence. Such holy rites are more disgraceful than sacrilege. It is well known, too, what happens at their feasts. . . . On the feast-day they foregather with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of either sex and all ages. When the company is all aglow from feasting, and impure lust has been set afire by drunkennness, pieces of meat are thrown to a dog fastened to a lamp. The dog springs forward, beyond the length of its chain. The light, which would have been a betraying witness, is overturned and goes out. Now, in the ark, so favourable to shameless behaviour, they twine the bonds of unnameable passion, as chance decides. And so all alike are incestuous, if not always in deed at least by complicity; for everything that is performed by one of them corresponds to the wishes of them all. . . . Precisely the secrecy of this evil religion proves that all these things, or practically all, are true.
Yeah, those early Christians in and around Rome certainly were horrible, weren't they. The preceding quote, printed on the first page of Norman Cohn's classic study Europe's Inner Demons, comes from second century Latin Christian apologist Minucius Felix, putting in to the mouth of a pagan popular understanding of the practices of Christians. If nothing else, church tomorrow is most definitely going to feel a bit . . . boring, maybe? A bt further, Cohn writes:
In most societies, therefore, to say that a group practices incest, worships genitals, kills and east children, amounts to saying that it is an incarnation of the anti-human. Such a group is absolutely outside humanity; and its relationship to mankind as a whole can only be one of implacable enmity. And that is in fact how the Christians were seen in the Graeco-Roman world in the second century. That the Christian god was supposed to be worshipped in the form of a donkey points in the same direction. The explanation lies in the absolute incompatibility of primitive Christianity with the religion of the Roman state. Roman religion had always been less a matter of personal devotion than a a national cult. Ever since the days of the Republic the gods of Rome had been regarded as, collectively, its guardians - indeed, they were religious embodiments of the supernatural power and holiness which were felt to be indwelling in the Roman community. . . . [A]ny slackness in observance would bring disaster upon the whole community. Innovations could be made, and were made over the centuries, without affecting this basic attitude . . .
Under the Empire, the Roman gods were intimately associated with the imperial mission. They came to be seen as guardians of the peace and order that the Empire brought, guarantors that the Empire would never pass away. And in addition, the emperor himself was deified. . . .
The emperor and the traditional gods together upheld the Empire, and reverence for them created and sustained a unified Graeco-Roman world. It was a world from which, by the very nature of their religion, Christian excluded themselves.
Pliny the Younger called Christianity "an immoderate and perverse superstition"; Tertullian, the first great Latin theologian said the Roman authorities and people believed "the Christians are the cause of every public catastrophe, every disaster that hits the populace. If the Tiber floods or the Nile fails to, if there is a drought or an earthquake, a famine or a plague, the cries go up at one: 'Throw the Christian to the lions!'"

All this is to say that we humans seem to express a need to find those outside what is considered normal, acceptable personal conduct, and aim our rage and fear in their direction, without evidence, without thought, and without remorse. We Christians, once upon a time, were imagined to practice immoral lifestyles that were a direct threat to social peace and order. We Christians were known - not just believed but known - to practice infanticide, cannibalism, and sexual abandon. For these crimes, thousands were tortured and murdered in the name of restoring the moral order. Like Jerry Falwell, many Roman authorities thought the Christians needed to die because they obviously brought about Divine wrath.

No lesson here, I suppose, beyond the obvious.

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