Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Inventing Christianity

Recent head to head issues of Time and Newsweek featured cover stories about the mythical and historical origins of Christianity.

It seems no one who actually met Jesus ever wrote about him. None of the apostles wrote anything. Indeed, nothing was written at all about Jesus for decades after his death, and the few historical mentions of this man, one of many at the time calling himself a "messiah," were cursory.

Indeed Christianity, as a religion distinct from Judaism, did not gain wide favor until the rule of Constantine, centuries later.

Christianity was invented and reinvented to fit the needs and cultural norms of disparate societies hundreds of miles and hundreds of years apart. And these re-inventions and re-interpretations continue today.

What were the actual names of the two Marys? What were the actual names of the apostles? The religion has been stripped of many of its Middle Eastern roots to be more palatable and accessible to the cultures of Europe and the Americas. The reminders of this in Time and Newsweel remind me of that famous statement a woman once made: "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

Christianity is big business, bigger than ever. It's commercial not just at Christmas but 365 days a year, with televangelists and Christian country singers and the peer pressure for tithing and building expansions - probably not what Jesus had in mind.

It amazes me that only about a third of Americans believe there is enough scientific evidence to support the "theory" of evolution. And it seems more than a third believe in the existence of angels.

I remember as a kid thinking the Christmas story was a pretty good story, and I wore my monk's robe in the church pageant. But I don't ever remember believing in angels, not really. And pretty soon, I saw it all as a parable built to prey (and pray) on our various insecurities and wishes.

Last night, I attended a solstice party at which, around the roaring yuletide fire, we were asked, as we threw our traditional oak twigs into the fire, to say what we wished for in the coming year. And I said I hoped that more people would act bravely, basing their values and actions on the facts, rather than fearfully, relying on faith.

A lot of people say they fear new ideas. I fear the old ideas more.

Especially if there's not much evidence to support the claims those old ideas make. The old ideas have gotten us into a lot of trouble, and I suspect it will be scientific objectivity and secular good sense that are our best hopes for relieving some of that trouble.

Here is to old-fashioned virtues and new ideas.


At 12/23/2004 8:36 AM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...

Bravo! Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful commentary. It was a pleasure.
-Existential Ramble

At 12/23/2004 11:46 AM, Blogger Carm said...

I concur with Literary Tech - Bravo!!!


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