Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Manger Upends the World

It’s the things you don’t expect that you have to watch out for.  Disruptive Thinkers usually sneak up on society from the most obscure backgrounds. 

Take the boy born in a manger over 2,000 years ago.  He had been prophesied about hundreds of years before by a people beset with ever present suffering.  Bouncing from subservience under one Empire to another, time and again, the people who called themselves Chosen sought the one who would rescue them from servitude.  They wanted a Messiah. 

When He finally arrived, and claimed the title, the established order was incredulous.  Under the relatively stable, but chafing, rule of the Roman Empire, the Jewish scholars of the day thought their Messiah would lead them to military victory over their captors.  Instead, he foretold that their most sacred building, the Temple built under Solomon, would be dismantled stone by stone within decades.  Much to their dismay, it was – in 70 A.D. 

Shaking up the Status Quo
He performed miracles on days of rest and preached a gospel of love and forgiveness.  He claimed that He alone could intercede with the Almighty.  The traditions held to for many generations by followers of the One True God were under assault by a radical carpenter from the backwater town of Bethlehem.   The Old Law was being replaced by a New Covenant, unsanctioned and implemented in a way only an insurgency could keep alive.

After He was killed, at the age of 33, the true revolution began.  The followers of His teachings began multiplying.  They believed He had risen from the dead, and eyewitnesses to the event wrote of what they saw.   They spread from the Levant to throughout the known world.  Some went to Africa, some to Gaul, some to Persia.  They all carried the same message – Individual Salvation was possible if you accepted the sacrifice of the man who claimed He was the Son of God himself. Even more revolutionary was the concept that not only was God interested in a relationship with the Jews, but now all Peoples were included in His community.
The authorities throughout the Empire were not pleased.  All but one of His twelve primary companions, known as the Disciples, were martyred for their belief in this strange religion.  The other, John, was banished to the barren Isle of Patmos.  Phillip was skinned alive, Peter crucified upside down.  Some were beheaded and others drawn and quartered.  .   

His followers were persecuted harshly as they began to spread.  Roman patricians reveled in watching wild animals tear the flesh off of suspected Christians in the Coliseum, yet the movement continued to pick up steam. 

It's a special kind of revolution that inspires this kind of self-sacrificial ethos.  

The upstart religion struggled to gain traction for a few centuries, but in 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine adopted it as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The influence of the Son of Man, born shunned from the world, would from that point forward be immense.  For good and ill, the world order was irrevocably changed. 

Christianity became the main religion of Europe following the split and then collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  Philosophers like Augustine began to parse out the teachings of Jesus, setting the framework for the intellectual side of the religion.  World history was officiallyassembled around the presumed birth of the Messiah.  “Before Christ” became the old epoch – Anno Domini delineated the modern era.  Even modern, more politically correct historians use this dividing point to differentiate the human timeline.  The “Common Era” is still defined by this one birth.  

Whose brilliant idea was this, again?
Love for one’s neighbor morphed into something political and militaristic as the second millennium AD dawned.  King’s wanting glory but professing piety sent Crusades to capture Jerusalem multiple times.  They were successful for a bit, but ultimately utterly crushed by military leaders adhering to another powerful religion – Islam.  This enmity would not die for hundreds of years.  It still helps define modern geopolitical struggles. 

As Catholicism, Christianity's official standard bearer, became more powerful, the religion turned theocratic.  Corruption began to pervade the upper reaches of power, and the infallibility of the Pope was soon questioned by an upstart monk in Germany.  Following the posting of his 95 theses, Europe was plunged into sectarian war for hundreds of years.  Kings rose or fell because of adherence to one strain of Christianity or another. 

During this time, all was not warfare.  Christian Monks were some of the foremost scientists and thinkers of their age.  Their devotion to piety allowed them much time to think, and they wrote tracts trying to explain one phenomena or another.  The arts saw an explosion in genius, mostly around religious themes.   

Soon, persecuted religious minorities began to leave their native continent as a New World opened.  They too fought bitterly amongst themselves over religion, but in the end found that tolerance and acceptance of differing beliefs made for a stronger Union.  Along with Democracy, religious freedom became the norm in the Americas.  The pulpits of the Revolutionaries were the first places where insurrection was discussed and widely disseminated. 

Christianity was used as both a bulwark and point of attack for the institution of slavery.  Harsh masters quoted some passages, brave abolitionists smuggled oppressed people out of the South supported by other teachings.  The leaders of the Civil Rights movement, most notably Martin Luther King, were men of the cloth.  The teachings of Christianity helped unite disparate movements. 

The remnants of Christianity remain in Europe – spectacular churches, stunning art, entrenched traditions – even as personal adherence plummets.  Meanwhile, developing countries in Africa and Asian, both free and otherwise, are seeing rapidly increasing grown in this once purely European venture.  Nearly every country in the modern world has some Christian presence. 

Pretty good for a dude from Bethlehem
It is one of the most remarkable, dramatic and long-lasting movements in the history of humanity.  It has morphed, adapted, and spun-off many denominations.  The best selling book of all time contains its teachings.  It has been vilified, revered, caused many to die in its name, and many more to find life and freedom in the same.  All this from a single Man from an obscure village in an ancient, tradition bound society.  Believe in his teachings or not, there is no questioning the Disruptive nature of Jesus' life and the institutions he started.  

So with all that in mind, Merry Christmas! 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article brother. Geography and history of the world come to my mind.

    It is rather curious to see how all centuries BC led to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being exalted in Jerusalem. The echoes of Egypt and Rome and the East (with three famous representatives from there) where heard two millennia ago in Palestine, and the ties of the whole modern world to Israel are absolutely undeniable.

    All in all, humanity seems less lost to me now. Thank you, and let the whole world praise Adonai! Glory to the King, for he alone will last forever. Elohai, Elohim.