Thursday, 2 April 2009

Christians Persecuted for Exclusivity

This is an interesting article about the reasons that Christians, rather than other religions, were the key persecuted group in ancient Rome. In brief, it argues that Christians were the target because they adopted a new faith at the expense of the old, ancestral gods; whereas in a polytheistic culture, accepting new gods was approved if and only if homage continued to be given to the ancestral gods. Persecution of Christians took place because of exclusivity by the believers.

Perhaps one reason that the Church is not persecuted very much in the West is that we haven't walked away from our ancestral gods. Our ancestral gods connect us to others in wider society, establishing a common point around which to relate. Abandoning them means jeopardising that connection point in favour of something new, the Church.

The Church is the place in which this connection is established through the community of the Spirit. It's the place in which there is no social division (no Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female). It's the place in which the power of God is exercised to level the constructs of human society. It also can't be entered by birth, so it doesn't fit the category of an ancestral god.

Our ancestral gods are those things that we've inherited without realising it. Pierre Bourdieu would call it doxa; the thing that goes without saying, because it comes without saying. Others would suggest that it's the inculturation of Christianity by the prevailing social order. To abandon the ancestral gods means to identify what really is Christian and what really isn't, and to pursue the Christian without paying attention to the ancestral.

But to do this means moving in a positive direction, moving towards something. We can't use prohibitions to define Christianity because that's a negative movement, a movement away from something. Rather, we must define Christianity positively, as a command to do something, not a command to NOT do something. Herein lies the brilliance of Jesus' command, "You shall love."

"You shall love." In this limited space, I won't be able to do the command any justice - certainly not to the extent of Kierkegaard's Works of Love. However, it's enough to say here that this command requires us to be active, not passive. And in the activity of love, we will move away from the ancestral gods, from the doxa that we've inherited, and only then could we be Christian.
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