Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Department of the Past Is Not Dead (It Isn't Even Past): Christians and Empire 

Yes, a little beach reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And if your reading diet isn't rich enough in irony, try a little Gibbon:

The Christians were not less averse to the business than to the pleasures of this world. The defense of our persons and property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries, and commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life, nor could their humane ignorance be convinced, that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow creatures, either by the sword of justice, or by that of war; even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community...

The Christians felt and confessed, that such institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire. Some indulgence might perhaps be allowed to those persons who, before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and sanguinary occupations; but it was impossible that Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.

This indolent, even criminal disregard for the public welfare, exposed them to the contempt and reproaches of the Pagans, who very frequently asked, what must be the fate of the empire, attacked on all sides by the barbarians, if all mankind should adopt the pusillanimous sentiments of the new sect?

To this insulting question the Christian apologists returned obscure and ambiguous answers, as they were unwilling to reveal the secret cause of their security; the expectation that, before the conversion of mankind was accomplished, war, government, the Roman Empire, and the world itself, would be no more.

It may be observed, that, in this instance likewise, the situation of the first Christians coincided very happily with their religious scruples, and that their aversion to an active life contributed rather to excuse them from the service, than to exclude them from the honours,of the state and army.
(The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, "The Christians and the Fall of Rome", 1776

Yet how different matters are today, when we see the pastors of suburban megachurches, exhorted by wise and discerning leaders like Doctor James Dobson, signing up the young men and women in their flocks for service in Iraq!

Oh,wait... The pastors aren't doing that? I wonder why?

NOTE In the interests of basic fairness, I should note that "Christians" cadres in the Air Force, by giving proselytization official sanction, and harassing "filthy jews," are doing their part. But then, that's all about giving the theocrats control over nuclear weapons, isn't it? (I mean, another set of theocrats besides the Pakistanis....)

corrente SBL - New Location
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