Christianity is little more than paganized judaism–catholicism maintained pagan monarchy. Islam is nothing more than reinvented-remarketed Judeo-Christianity minus the trinity with a more local prophet and minus a king. It took several hundred years of the early church to merge the renegade Jesus with the pagan environment in which he fought for change. Rome undoubtedly corrupt and besieged by too many frontier wars, nepotism, crop failures, and disease (plague) foundered and the marginalized poor and nonRomans were able to come to power over several hundred years. And when they did they made being nonChristian illegal.
When Christ spilled the tables of the money-changers and chased the animals from the temple courtyard he was chafing at Roman rule. Evangelicals and others love to use this story as a parable against money and materialism and the corruption of the church as sole location of spiritual practice.
What they miss is that Jews had no other place to gather ands practice. Passover was a time when other Jews came and participated and needed to exchange their local money for Roman currency. It was also a time to trade and barter animals for food and money. They couldn’t do it elsewhere because for the Romans the Jews were an evil element that did not recognize Roman temples, idols, and imperial godliness. The Romans tried to contain them. Jesus can’t go fight the Romans but he can get pissed at his fellow Jews for being complacent at their oppression.
For pagans a place of worship might indeed be used for sacrifices, idol worship, food redistribution, and sex. Our modern notion of sacrifice sounds evil but in fact sacrifice was more the ritual slaughter of animals for feasting as a group. It’s really not far different than the industrialized Kosher or Halal where a priest blesses the animal and then it is bled to death for consumption at that time. Islam has maintained this Jewish practice while Christians have not though churches still do a lot of feasting including the ever popular whole-hog pit roast.
The belief that Christ was a god-man would have been anathema to Christ. He never thought himself the son of god in any other way than any paternally religious person would consider themselves the children of their god. Indeed, the notion that man could be god came with rationality and humanism with religion where Plato’s forms was extended to Aristotelian logic where a pure human was one of Plato’s forms where no perfect human actually exists but there is a perfect form that somehow drives or creates the extent instantiations.
It’s also pagan. Zeus, Jupiter, is god and man. Christ would have run from this as Jews had no belief that god could be a man and Christ himself never claimed to be god like though he claimed miracles. Miracles were not the big deal then they are now. We think of miracles as some rarified instance of suspension of physics. Near 0 CE science as empirical knowledge codified as we know it lagged far behind the vastness of mystery, mystery religions, and objective knowledge. There were miracles everywhere, all the time, as perceived by the people. Narratives of experience were true. The eyes did not deceive for most.
For Jesus truth meant being a better Jew, a Zealot, closer to the Torah. For his pagan converts it meant combining idols, miracles, and human gods with Jesus’s implorations to be better Jews. The Jews were to arise against Rome and rebuild their oppressed empire. This led to further persecution and Rome finally sacked, burned, and tore to the ground all of Jerusalem. And rightly so. regardless of what one thinks of Rome its usurpation was desired by the Jews and the hope for a Messiah, a new Moses, was rampant. He would bring justice and power to the chosen ones here on Earth. Heaven was a pagan concept.
Rome does collapse while the marginalized claw to power through a fragmented Roman citizenry. Truth as a new narrative arose to provide a flag, a banner, an ideology that is supposedly different than all the rest. Often the best way to merge disparate groups is to create a new name to which all may gather. This saves face for the outliers and humbles the majority while creating a bigger tent that seems more equal.
I was reminded of all this yesterday listening to Reza Aslan on NPR (pitching his book “Zealot, Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”) First Muslim, then evangelical Christian, then apologist Christian, and then finally Muslim again, Aslan’s journey is a rediscovery of the religion in which he is born. What turns him back to Islam? His realization that Jesus was a man and the casting away of the trinity as remotely tenable.
Aslan speaks much about the disparity of Islam which though involves a quarter of the world’s population is the most diverse religion because it has no central authority and as such the biggest issue of Islam is not the Mideast but the farther reaches where syncretic practices make Islam diverse. He is most interesting in stating that Jihad is is a cosmic war, a war of heaven here on Earth.
American rhetoric of “war on terrorism”, Aslan says, is in precise “cosmic dualism” to Al Qaeda’s jihad. Aslan draws a distinction between Islamism and Jihadism. Islamists have legitimate goals and can be negotiated with, unlike Jihadists, who dream of an idealized past of a pan-Islamic, borderless “religious communalism”. Aslan’s prescription for winning the cosmic war is to not fight, but rather engage moderate Islamic political forces in the democratic process. “Throughout the Middle East, whenever moderate Islamist parties have been allowed to participate in the political process, popular support for more extremist groups has diminished.”
Here is a video of an interview.
He has an excellent point about democracy. It is not fair, just, or enlightened, it merely means the people voted for it. Majority rule is an extension of might makes right applied to populations.
While I agree that the West is not going to resolve the issues of Islam, is a bystander, I do insist that the unifying aspect of Islam is the Koran and the Hadith and dealing with Islam as an ideology is a viable way of destabilizing the negativity of this document and modifying the Hadith to be more humane. I do disagree with the disfluence of the West, globalization and social media exposes people to ideas they receive no other way. I also disagree with his idea the education doesn’t change people but only relationships do. Right now with the bent against intellectuality and education there is a penchant to say it’s all about relationships. A potent choice but one not always available to many–”sleeping with the enemy” is not an ubiquitous solution.
Instead, I go with Paulo Freire‘s development of critical pedagogy.
Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education described first by Paulo Freire and developed by Henry Giroux as an “educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.”
You can see a recent Jon Stewart interview with Aslan here.
Here is an interview with Sam Harris.
Jim Newman, bright and well