The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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History of the Church

June 4th, 2003 · No Comments · christianity, culture, history, metaphysics

I’ve been having an interesting exchange of letters with a cousin I lost touch with twenty years ago. She was Catholic last time I saw her, seems she’s discovered over the last five years. I ended up writing a summary history of Christianity, and realized when I was done that it was the most concise description I had written. So I share it here.

    • Xephyr wrote:
      One of the things that has really struck me when really got into the pagan mindset was that, although I had been active in a christian church for 15 years of my life, that experience failed to equip me with the techniques necessary to create and maintain a sacred or spiritual life.
  • On 4 Jun 2003 at 15:21, [Xephyr’s cousin] wrote: Isn’t that the truth? I had the same experience. However, I know some people that have really managed to grow a deeply spiritual life within the context of the catholic church. Yet another affirmation that it wasn’t my true path – there wasn’t anything to sustain me at any depth.

It’s the nature of the human beast to align the soul with life experiences. One can find spiritualism anywhere experience lies. It’s an entirely internal process, and it’s whatever you convince yourself it is. It is possible to take various elements of the smorgasborg of Christian , dogma, and popular myth and construct a deeply held personal that allows one to connect spiritually in a daily way. However, this sort of thing is generally discouraged and certainly not taught by the church.

Let’s put it this way: you can construct a meaningful spiritual world using elements from fiction (“Wizard of Oz”, “Atlas Shrugged”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, etc.) for example. As long as what you believe is sufficiently complex for your needs, it will serve to assist you in connecting spiritually. Catholicism has been built from generations of powerful, personal, pagan beliefs: this tapestry of symbolism, myth, and devotion serves as the foundation, roof, walls, and duct tape that holds together the old Roman lie of one god, one church, and one people. It’s not surprising that people would be able to derive a sustaining personal faith from whatever elements of that ancient tapestry they could collect. The problem for the church is that if people go off and start defining spiritualism and faith by themselves, they may discover that the pope and his minions, and all the protestant hierarchies as well, are totally unnecessary for the purpose of celebrating faith.

    • When I realized that Christianity wasn’t about religion, but about political control, it dawned on me that by abdicating responsibility (“He died and took away my sins”), the Christian believer also loses control of their spiritual life and puts it in the hands of their priest and whatever hierarchy stands above them. The church has no incentive and every disincentive to teach ritual techniques other than the most simplistic. Thus those raised in a church often have no spiritualism outside their church.
  • Interesting thought. Not sure I ever looked at it from that angle.

Let’s extend this idea bit. The history of Christianity, especially as the Christians tell it, is shocking, confusing, and somewhat inconsistent. You’ve probably heard it at least once. And you may have wondered what it was about this angry, jealous god and the dead guy-on-the-stick that got everyone so worked up. Let me make this easy for you: forget about the Jews, Jesus, Yahweh, Mary, the apostles, the cross, and the miracles, because they’re not really important now and certainly weren’t important 2000 years ago. The rise of Christianity has nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with (a) the rising supremacy of Greek culture in the fading , (b) the need of the Roman Emperor to consolidate political control at all levels, and (c) the populist message promulgated by early missionaries. (The drunken sex orgies that characterized the earliest “Christian” meetings didn’t hurt. Oh, have you never heard of those? It’s not something Christian historians like to wave around. Just note that ‘feet’ or ‘thighs’ were common biblical allusions to genitalia, so when people are going around washing each other’s “feet”… well… you get the picture.)

Culturally, the ancient Roman Empire was a tapestry of Etruscan, Greek, and Egyptian philosophy and faith, interwoven with whatever local traditions happened to be in vogue. The archetypes of the dying god, the virgin mother, war gods, and spiritual atonement were very common across the empire, as was the worship of the Emperor as a living god. The Jewish worship of the protective war god Yahweh was popular among those who also worshipped the protective gods of their cities, homes, and families. The idea that Yahwah was the ONLY god was laughable, even to the Jews. The Jewish emphasis was on worshipping Yah to the exclusion of the other gods — which wasn’t something the common Roman was too keen on doing. This was what made worshipping Jesus so appealing — he’s got the number on this protective god, but doesn’t requre exclusive devotion.

Also, at the same time that this Hellenized Judaism was spreading, worship of the Persian Mithras and the Egyptian Isis was also highly in vogue. This is important because when Constantine (who backed Christianity because it was politically expedient in his battles against the co-emperors) decided there would be only one religion — one that worshipped him exclusively — he made it known that whomever would wish to continue leading a religious community needed to do so under the aegis of this new faith-by-committee. His trick was to say that every ‘congregation’ must agree to the tenants of this new faith, or everyone involved can die by the sword — very persuasive! Thus, Christianity was born from elements of Jewish, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythologies. Truly, as they say, a universal faith! Don’t forget the 7 centuries of ecumenical councils which were required to really define and nail down what ‘Christianity’ was, followed by an East/West schism that mirrored the political realities of the Roman Empire.

When the economic and military elements of the Western Roman Empire collapsed, the political hierarchy of the Empire (which had for a millenia been identical to the church hierarchy) survived in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. Remember that for the last few centuries of the fading Western Empire, the military was simply whichever barbarian tribe they could bribe to fight off the other barbarian tribes. After the Western Empire finally failed, the Church aligned itself with (here’s a shock) whichever barbarian tribe they could bribe. In fact, the history of the Church is one of alignment with whichever European army was the strongest.

“Salvation through faith”? I think not. Try “power through intimidation.”

    However, I’ve read that this same kind of transference can happen in pagan covens where there is too much leadership from someone.

Indeed. Pre-Christian pagan cults were frequently little more than personality cults, centered around a particularly charismatic figure or family. At the same time, everyone had city gods, household gods, family gods — even ‘universal’ gods — which were worshipped in homes, at work, in city parks, everywhere, all the time. The personality-focused cults attracted devoted followers, but rarely exclusive devotees.

Modern day cults, Christian or otherwise, are frequently centered around spectacularly charismatic speakers who draw in devotees who look to others to provide their spiritual sustenance. There will always be those who prefer their faith pre-cooked and pre-packaged. And then there are those who like to grow their own roots and fruits and create a daily faith. Is one better than the other? It’s hard to say. I think the best thing is to make it easier for those seeking the spirit to learn to use techniques and gain focus such that they can cook for themselves, as needed. This has been my focus for a few years, now.

    • Mid winter festivals getting out of hand with drunken orgies and wild frivolity? Make it into a church event and everyone has to behave!
  • What amazes me is the fear that must have existed so that this crazy idea actually worked!

Yes, fear was a factor at first. But once it became the cultural norm to look to the church for all things spiritual, it was a relatively simple trick for the church to co-opt all manner of previously pagan activities. Not only seasonal festivals like Easter and Christmas, but also harvest festivals, child blessings, marriages, and funerals. Not one of these activities is endemic to Christianity, but all have been absorbed into the body of church dogma because after a while, people started demanding these services from the church. Kind of a combination of cultural force and monopoly power, if you think about it.

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