I am now getting into deeper waters with this little series I have invented. We need to turn to Christianity, certainly the dominant faith throughout much of the development of the ancient to the modern world. Before I allow people to accuse me of being a mean-spirited atheist or some kind of devil worshiper (which, by the way, is really just another sect of Christianity), I must give you a full disclosure: I refuse to call myself an atheist because I believe that that is just another religion (albeit disorganized), a belief dependent on what other people believe. I am ‘non-religious.’ I think organized religion and random cult-like beliefs are simply political parties. In fact, political parties are a type of religion too, at least for the true believers. Joseph Stalin famously knocked down the statues of saints outside of abandoned Russian Orthodox churches and replaced them with statues of . . . Joseph Stalin, removing the concept of God and replacing it with the idea of a Supreme Leader every bit as worthy of worship.
I will throw out a crumb to those who do believe and say that I think that religion has provided some good to the world, regardless of faith. It has helped to organize communities, helped to raise awareness of problems in the world. It has donated tremendous amounts of time to helping others and, going way, way back in time to the stone ages when the first prophet looked up into the sky and watched the sun rise and said to himself, “There must be something more . . .” And thus from religion comes one of our most important human qualities: That caveman saw the dawn of imagination, creating the idea of a god to humble all men. . .
“Lies in the Ancient World, Part III”
So Rome conquered the world. They rampaged through every nation within their reach and imposed a barbaric (and sometimes almost democratic) rule over all the people who were re-enslaved. It was a decadent society with more freedom than in the days of Egypt, but the slaves were treated perhaps even more harshly, not just worked to death, but more often raped, tortured or even eaten just for the perverse fun of it.
Going up to the future, to the end of Roman conquest, we find the troubled Emperor Constantine, worrying about a coming battle, wondering what would happen to Rome if they were actually defeated. How would he go down in history? Would anyone even remember his name?
By 313 AD Rome was rife with divisions. Judaism still mumbled in the background, the Jews the only culture that prioritized education at the time and therefore smarter and slier and far more capable of forming successful conspiracies and undermining the Republic than anyone else.
But there was another group that was rapidly growing. Going back well before his time Constantine thought about the slaves’ savior, Jesus Christ. Who was that man? And why were there so many contrary and sometimes violent rumors about the nature of Christ and what will happen if he returns?
Now Jesus Christ is a fascinating figure in world history. He, like Moses before him, was the leader of an outright slave revolt. But his method was different. He was a missionary, an evangelist trying to convert troubled souls into a new way of life. His message was one that most–even the opposition deep down–had difficulty denying. He said: just be decent to one another and try to love one another and stop hating and avoid your enemies and the world could be a so much better place. Work together, stop resenting those who have more than you and live a peaceful life under the glory of whatever bright, shining sun you choose to believe in. If it is Mars or Neptune or even the darkest ancient lord living underneath the earth, be joyous in your faith and accept everyone equally.
Quite a message in a world where sometimes believers were thrown to lions to be devoured for the entertainment of audiences.
Christ knew what he was doing and conspired with a number of other sharp and sometimes radical Jews seeking to destroy the Roman Empire. But Jesus got too popular, had too much influence over the slave population and the slaves were by far the majority of the citizenry. Jesus was a problem. Jesus had to go.
So this political dynamo was banged up to the big stick and left there to suffer for all eyes to see. It was a warning: don’t speak out, know your place, or suffer the brutal consequences.
But the followers (or actually his partners in crime) of Christ had an idea of how to continue their campaign after Jesus died. It was a superstitious time. People believed in dragons and sea monsters and golems and titans and monsters of every sort roaming the earth with predatory glee. The world was flat and if you sailed far enough away from the empire you were bound to drop into an abyss, an endless, bottomless pit that today we call outer space. These were the people that still needed riling, these preliterate, hard-working, desperate people.
So the myth of Jesus Christ was formed–another lie that has had devastating consequences, both for good and evil, throughout the history of the world, even up to RIGHT NOW.
But what was the myth and how did it grow and how did time change it as we evolved further and further away from the era when this brief revolt occurred? First of all, there needed to be a mystical explanation to gather the people into an even more fervent, blind faith in an ever changing world. Christ has returned. We are dirty, filthy people and many of us look the same, we Arabic people with the same beards, the same unkempt hair, the same eyes and clothes and feet and the same scars. Let’s find someone who looks a lot like Jesus, tell the folks an angel pulled away the rock (we’ll make some kind of lever to move that big fucker enough for a man to sneak through) and that Christ has returned to save them! It’s great! People will love this story of hope!
As time went by and Jesus’ friends all died out a whole new series of myths arose to consume the Jewish faith, because that’s what the early Christians were, still Jews with a new nugget to expand upon when an angry God got too oppressive.
Someone said that Jesus was so good that he must be the Son of God, the one sent to redeem humanity. God’s kid came down and died for you! Can you understand that? For you, with all your sins and flaws and you better listen to the new ideas we’re about to make up if you want Jesus to come back again and save your soul!
In those early days there was an oral tradition of story telling, a campfire with the people sitting around listening to the adventures of Heracles and Perseus and the defeat of all the demon hordes who tried to destroy humanity. And then there was the story of Jesus, that miraculous savior who came into the world to pull it forward, out of the age of monsters. Jesus had only one real foe–a nearly all powerful devil, a fallen angel who tried to conquer God much like Caligula or Nero attempted to blot out the human spirit. And this fallen angel–let’s call him the brightest and most powerful of them–knew everything there was to know, knew all of God’s secrets and was cast out of Paradise because he knew too much. And so he reigned in the darkest pits of a place called Hell, an underground prison of lava and fire and torment and somehow this traitor managed to rise up again and take over these hordes of sinners, and you’d better watch out or Lucifer’s gonna get you! Just like the skeleton and zombie hordes the enraptured listeners to tales feared, Satan became a favorite bad guy and they wanted more more more!
But there were also different ideas about Jesus himself, and further narratives of his earliest followers. For example: did Judas truly betray Christ or did he make the ultimate sacrifice to his name, to his reputation, and to his very soul by following Jesus’ order to turn him in? Because without Judas, without the crucifixion of Christ, he is just another rabbi preaching the gospels. Judas should be celebrated, according to some Gnostic texts.
Other stories expanded on Mary Magdalene and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–all of these figures got their own spin-off and sequel to and became hits in their own right. Some people hated certain stories and those eventually died out, crushed or censored or lost to the moment in time when they were popular like a Blake Edwards movie or Marvelous Marvin Hagler. And the most popular ones caught on, established a better following, and as the times got more severe and the end of Rome approached–the end of the world!–things took a darker and more urgent turn. Thus: Revelation.
So Constantine is worrying so much that he decides to have one of his slaves tell him the story of Jesus. It is a hopeful tale, right? Maybe it can cheer me up and inspire me to fight this war.
That night, or so he claimed, Constantine dreams of flags with flowing red crosses upon them, the symbol of a bloody crucifix that represents Christ. Holy shit, he says to himself: that’s how we do it! We take the swirling thing that so many of the soldiers are starting to believe in and the ideas that keep the slaves from killing themselves and use it to inspire them in battle and say that the enemy are disciples of Satan! Yes! I’m the greatest coach of all time, leading my team to victory! Huzzah!
So after Rome predictably slaughters the enemy Constantine sees the only way of maintaining a somewhat peaceful reign is to accept the thing that these people believe in and declare it a state religion with me as Pope!
This manipulation of the masses–yes, this great big lie–ended Rome as it was and created a new style of rule: The Holy Roman Empire. You know, that faith that led us into the Dark Ages and committed repeated Inquisitions and Pogroms on people who rejected their way of life. It was really the beginning of genocide because prior to that when massive groups of people were killed, it was not based upon race or faith (even though many Jews died in Rome under the monarchs–this was not because they were Jews; it is because they were seen as toys, as balls of yarn to their playful kittens). Now there was a group to kill: the non-believers. The heretics. Convert or die! Convert or Die–!
Next: The Dark Ages, The Publication of The Bible and the Revolution of Islam