A Brief History of Christianity

We watched Hacksaw Ridge the other night. It’s the Hollywood depiction of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enlisted in the Army during WW II and saved the lives of 75 men.

That’s one of the storylines in the movie. Desmond was also a Seventh-day Adventist who endured a considerable amount of torment and harassment because of his faith after he enlisted in the Army.

There’s one thing the US Army and organized religion have in common: conformity. Marching to the beat of a different drummer is highly discouraged in the Church. It’s essentially against the law in the Army.

I’m going to give the Army an edge in achieving conformity over the Church nowadays. KP, push-ups, bullying and blanket parties–I’m sure the Army no longer condones the last two tactics of enhanced peer pressure/alternative conformity techniques–be that as it may, they are very effective tools.

The Church hasn’t had that kind of control over people since the Inquisition. If the Inquisition were still in effect, I’m going to say the Church would win. Torture and possibly being burned at the stake beat the hell out of peeling potatoes and doing push-ups when it comes to getting your goddamn mind right.

I’ve never had my faith tested like Desmond. I’m not sure how I’d respond if it were. I’d like to think I’d stand firm in the face of opposition, trial and tribulation, but you’ll never really know until it happens.

* * * *

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that religious persecution has existed as long as there has been religion. And I’m going to guess that almost every religion has had their time in the spotlight when they waged a holy war or two against others that didn’t believe the same things they did.

I claim to be a Christian, so I’m probably more interested in how Christians have been persecuted. Besides, I want to keep these posts relatively short.

The first Christians were essentially Jews who thought they had seen The Messiah, however, the vast majority of the Jews didn’t see it that way. In regards to ‘persecuting’ the first Christians, the Jews saw their actions more along the lines of disciplining their misguided brethren. You know, for the sake of conformity.

Eerie Preview of Something I’ll Write About Someday: There was this guy named Saul. And he had a part in the death of at least one Christian martyr, possibly more. I’m going to have a lots more to say about Saul/ Paul of Tarsus.

In a previous post I stated the followers of Jesus tried to convince the rest of the Jews that their version of Judaism was the path all of the Jews should walk, but the majority of the Jews rejected that idea.

The Council of Jamnia was convened by the Jewish leadership late in the first century, and it may have been when the Jews decided to exclude the followers of Jesus from attendance at the local synagogue, but that was the extent of their decision. They certainly didn’t call for the deaths of all the Christians.

It wasn’t until the Bar Kokhba Rebellion that there was a clear delineation between the Jews and Christians in Judea. Simon bar Kokhba was the leader of the Jewish revolt that bears his name, and like a thousand other guys before him, he claimed to be the Messiah.

The Jewish leadership, and Simon, wanted all of the people to support him, and they urged the kooky followers of Jesus to get on board. After all, this Simon guy, he was the Messiah. And that’s when the unstaunchable breach between Jews and Christians opened. The Christians replied that they couldn’t support Simon. They already had a Messiah.

* * * *

A lots has been written and said about the Roman persecution of the early Christians, but they were only the latest in a very long list of peoples that had incurred the wrath of Rome. Ask the Etruscans. Ask the Carthaginians. Ask the Gauls, the Huns, the Celts and Picts. Or the Dacians.

There’s no doubt that the Romans made many early Christians martyrs, but it’s not as though the Romans were intent on wiping out the Christian faith. Nero possibly needed a scapegoat after the Great Fire in 64 AD, and blamed the Christians, and had a lots of Christians killed to death.

After Nero, persecution of Christians mostly ebbed and flowed throughout the empire until the reign of Diocletian. There are records of some misguided early Christians petitioning Roman officials to be killed to death so they could become martyrs! Martyrdom had a special status like unto a Fast Pass+ at Disney World®. Virtually all of the first saints were martyrs.

When Diocletian became emperor, he decided to restore good old fashioned Roman values and religion, and this newfangled Christian religion was one of the things that could no longer be tolerated. He issued a series of edicts against Christians in the year 303 AD.

The Great Persecution resulted, and many Christians were imprisoned, tortured or executed. When Diocletian resigned as emperor, most of the persecutions ceased, and by the year 311 AD they ceased entirely. Thirteen years later, Christianity would become the official religion of Rome.

The Romans loved many things, but they appear to have had an almost obsessive desire for order, uniformity and conformity. And because they were the biggest bully on the playground, they could kick the shit out of almost any other kid on the block until they agreed to get in line, or were exterminated.

It was this love of uniformity that led the Emperor Constantine to convene the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The early Christians were hardly united in what they believed, even the Church hierarchy wasn’t always on the same page, and for Constantine, that was unacceptable.

Constantine invited bishops from all around the known world to Nicaea to discuss the issues and establish, for the first time, an uniform doctrine of Christian belief. You can look it up if you want to know what the controversies were. The results of the Council were hardly unanimous, and a great deal of bickering and backstabbing went on for years. And because Constantine was a Roman, he probably ordered the execution of most of the dissenting members of the Council and their followers, you know, for the sake of conformity.

* * * *

Christianity would flourish. The Church would become incredibly powerful, and Christians would start persecuting non-Christians. Remember the Crusades? There were at least nine major campaigns, and it’s doubtful that anything meaningful was achieved by any of the crusades, beyond the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

I’m sure if I had been alive back during the time of the crusades, I would’ve been one of the crusaders, eager to defend my faith and free the Holy Land from the hands of the fucking infidels. And I would have devoutly slaughtered anyone that stood in my way, or I would have willingly got dead in the process.

The only reason I mention this is I was once in the Army, and during that time my country was fighting a war in the far away country of Vietnam. I had no moral objections to killing back then, and if I had been sent there, I would’ve done my best to kill the Vietcong, if that’s what the Army had wanted me to do. Even if we were foreign invaders that really didn’t have any business being in Vietnam.

There’s nothing on earth that would move me to take part in a war or a crusade if one were called for today. I have yet to see any examples of violence accomplishing anything but more violence.

I’m living in one of the most devoutly Christian countries on the planet. There’s a very slim chance that I’ll experience any ill will because of my religious beliefs. It’s beyond doubtful that my faith will ever be put to any sort of test.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with that. I’m not especially eager to be taunted and teased. After all, I was a psych nurse for thirty years…