The nasty flipside to the old adage that all politics is local is that many of us may not see beyond our noses, our front-door steps, our neighborhoods, our racial/ethnic tribes, or our economic class. We may not even see beyond our own noses to really see our own interests. If we don't see the landfill piling up next to a poor neighborhood, not only does it not exist but neither does the garbage we keep putting there. If we live in the poor neighborhood, we are apt to blame the Undesirables du jour.
Myopia is not natural. It is not genetic. It is rather an offshoot of a modern, "capitalist" authoritarian liberal government. This government seeks these divisions and their peculiar ignorances, in order to perpetuate its rule over us by making it easier to manage the various flocks we are put in to. Unrest among the whites, blame the blacks; among the blacks, the immigrants are over-running us. Etc.
One of the persistent places this manipulation and management of the masses occurs is in the area of religion.
As someone born in the West, this religion is bound to be Christianity, which is a peculiarity in itself. It has, as one activist put it, a "possum" in it. Official religion is not about religion at all but rather about the maintenance of power, so just when you think it has spiritual lessons to teach and to actualize, The Good Ship Jesus delivers its human cargo ot the new world.
Christianity is but one of the master-class weapons to whip the people into line, so a few things must be clarified about this peculiar religion, its mascot, and the people who have managed him [and us] for nearly two millennia.
A lot is attributed the man we know as Jesus, and a lot negated. His birth was predicted as the coming of a king of kings. He is quoted as having said some pretty wise, astute things, told some very revealing stories, taught, healed, lead. He was resolutely celibate, unmarried, and fatherless. He was crucified, rose from the dead, and growing numbers of gullible people await his return performance. He was born, lived, and died a Jew.
Two thousand years and counting the Christians wait for this Jewish scholar. I thought Dicken's Miss Havisham had gone off the deep end wearing her molding, smelly wedding gown waiting for the return of the groom who stood her up at the altar in her youth, but this Christian crowd takes the Guinness Book Prize. The Christians wait for someone whose first stop would be the nearest synagogue, not the archdiocese of New York City.
I have dared question the Christian dogma since I was in grade school, fortunate that my mother did not subject me not only to its propaganda - we all, as I said, get that even passively; but also she denied me its "community." Community is a more reckless thing to throw stones at if one feels a certain dependence on it, which is why so many battered spouses and cult members stay rather than flee even when the Kool-Aid is served. I did not flee, because I was never there, thank God.
To me, Christianity is only an anthropological fetish that has unfortunately consumed the world. The possible lessons of the young Jew are mostly lost.
But this is what power wants: anything to justify its human rights crimes and never, ever to put Jesus' communism into practical effect.
My questions took a great leap forward after I watched HBO's "Rome" series on DVD. The Christian's mascot-Messiah was not a character in that excellent series ... or was he?
I liked the series so much I went out and bought Suetonius' The Twelve Ceasars and Anthony Everitt's Augustus. History and the management of the masses seem to work at cross-purposes, because as a master class you don't want your proletariat to know too much about what is really going on, or, as one of the 19th century's cronies put it, "not to let too much daylight in on the magic."
This magic includes the design of the public school curriculum, which I as a veteran public school history teacher am a bit familiar with. The 10th grade World History curriculum in California begins not with ancient Greece or Africa but with the French Revolution. This means skipping almost halfway into that thick textbook (US History begins not with the genocide of the indigenous population but with the US Civil War, which only makes sense if you understand our history has been one long race riot].
So, when I read Suetonius's opening chapters about Julius Ceasar and Octavius [aka, Augustus], not only were light bulbs going off, but also fuses were breaking. The biographer is as interesting a writer as any People Magazine reporter: facts, hearsay, and gossip galore. Sex, of course. Both Julius and Octavius liked to experiment sexually with other men as well as with their wives, Julius much more so than his successor. Both calculating, ruthless, of course.
The Roman imperial roots of Christianity were apparent in the lives and myths of these ceasars.
Hagiographers were busy making gods of men since Julius Ceasar, and embellishing all sorts of tales to support their scholarship. It continued right up to the Christian myth and Jesus' hagiographers.
If it is true that were God not to exist, we'd have to invent him, the Romans proved this in the ways they elevated Julius Ceasar to godlike status, Octavius his successor to a god of the gods, and set the stage for the making of the young carpenter into an imperial superstar.
The official myth making around these Roman chieftains has striking parallels to the official myth making around a certain young Jewish boy who would have lived 14 years under the rule of Octavius.
The hagiographers of Roman times knew what to do to wipe the shame of Julius Ceasar's murder off their collective consciences. They took it a few notches up the wrung for Octavius, and it's not a far stretch of the imagination that the same proletariat who ate that popcorn up in the first instances would need it again for a purported Mascot-Messiah.
Almost immediately after Ceasar's murder - perhaps one of the bravest acts in human history, to kill a tyrant - the people agitated and the deification began. The 55-year old tyrant was said - per his dream of the night before - to rise up to Jupiter. A marble monument was erected and people prayed to it, made oaths before it, sacrificed animals to it.
A cult star was born. It might have taken off had his successor not bettered him.
The Octavius hagiography goes further, from his conception in the Temple of Apollo while his virgin mother slept there and was visited by the god himself to his image being put on altars. Great omens reportedly preceded his birth (and his bedding in what Suetonius describes as a "food pantry," which doubled as his nursery ["Away in the manger, no crib for a bed!"].
The Roman people, like the Jews, were told before Octavius' birth that the gods were set to provide them a king-savior, which agitated the elders of the Roman Senate so much that they decreed that no male child could be reared for a year.
But one senator, upon hearing the news of Octavius birth declared "The ruler of the world is now born."
Stories of the newborn Octavius disappearing and being found on rooftops gazing at the sun or silencing the croaking frogs abounded. After his funeral, one witness said he saw Octavius' spirit rise to Heaven, but Suetonius doesn't record if this was the first, second, or seventh day.
Much of the folklore surrounded Octavius parallel Jesus. The rationale building up the Octavius myth is, of course, raw power. People in awe of and made to seem dependent on demi-gods are less likely to see a tyrant: the state can continue unobstructed in its imperial mission. Julius Ceasar took Spain. Octavius took Egypt. Tiberius famously annexed England.
The sun never set on ... oh, but that is a different empire.
It is somewhat better known that our high Christian holidays were preceded by high Roman pagan ones, and the dates of those older pagan ones (coincidentally I'm sure) happen to be the same as our Christian holy days. Some group of Crusading bureaucrats knew how to get the people to swallow this new day, they needed the same wine in the new bottles.
Speaking of pilfering, it's pretty clear from the history that the Pontiff's office itself - right down the the magic ruby slippers - was stolen from pagan Rome: again, to keep those agitated masses from tearing burning embers off funeral pyres and torching the homes of the elites, as they did after Ceasar's murder.
And, so, how to swallow Jesus as mascot, messiah, and justification of so much [further] turmoil?
Whether Jesus the Jew existed or not is immaterial. Octavius is but a figure of Roman imperial power, not to be exagerrated. Jesus' expressed ideas were certainly not novel to anyone studying the historical record before the French Revolution. You find ancient Greek, African, and Asian philosophy laced throughout the pronouncements of this Jewish carpenter.
If he did exist, like Octavius, he would have to have access to teachers and learning, which were not permitted slaves, who like our growing, modern, impoverished working class of today, had no souls.
If he did exist, he not only would have been married but marriage in the Roman world was not the fetish it pretends to be under the modern Christians: people married and divorced all the time as promiscuously as they might have a new robe of clothes designed. Without public ridicule.
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean Jesus the man is not a remarkable person, any more than Barack Obama before he courted the favors of the reactionary Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is remarkable. He is, and his positions are equally discernible to posterity - Jesus', that is. But so too were Mr Obama's.
Like his prototype, Octavius, Jesus was claimed to be the son of God, their mothers both visited by angels [well, Apollo, reportedly disguised himself as a snake]. Each have gained remarkable statures in support of state power - Christendom and the massacres of dissidents and Inquisitions to finish off the rest.
Is this Jesus?
Irish playwright and pamphleteer, George Bernard Shaw, distills the rebel man we know as Jesus quite well, weeding out the Paulist and Council of Nicea crap we've come to associate with this imperialist mascot:
"The doctrines in which Jesus is thus confirmed are, roughly, the following:
1. The kingdom of heaven is within you. You are the son of God; and God is the son of man. God is a spirit, to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and not an elderly gentleman to be bribed and begged from. We are members one of another; so that you cannot injure or help your neighbor without injuring or helping yourself. God is your father: you are here to do God's work; and you and your father are one.
2. Get rid of property by throwing it into the common stock. Dissociate your work entirely from money payments. If you let a child starve you are letting God starve. Get rid of all anxiety about tomorrow's dinner and clothes, because you cannot serve two masters: God and Mammon.
3. Get rid of judges and punishment and revenge. Love your neighbor as yourself, he being a part of yourself. And love your enemies: they are your neighbors.
4. Get rid of your family entanglements. Every mother you meet is as much your mother as the woman who bore you. Every man you meet is as much your brother as the man she bore after you. Don't waste your time at family funerals grieving for your relatives: attend to life, not to death: there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, and better. In the kingdom of heaven, which, as aforesaid, is within you, there is no marriage nor giving in marriage, because you cannot devote your life to two divinities: God and the person you are married to."
Shaw concludes his assessment thus:
"Now these are very interesting propositions; and they become more interesting every day, as experience and science drive us more and more to consider them favorably. In considering them, we shall waste our time unless we give them a reasonable construction. We must assume that the man who saw his way through such a mass of popular passion and illusion as stands between us and a sense of the value of such teaching was quite aware of all the objections that occur to an average stockbroker in the first five minutes. It is true that the world is governed to a considerable extent by the considerations that occur to stockbrokers in the first five minutes; but as the result is that the world is so badly governed that those who know the truth can hardly bear to live in it, an objection from an average stockbroker constitutes in itself a prima facie case for any social reform." [Shaw, "Preface on the Prospects of Christianity", Androcles and the Lion 1913]
But why bother taking a classically educated teacher and making him the foundation of the slave-trading imperial world? Jesus' teachings as distilled not only by Shaw, but also by Christian anarchists, like Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, and the liberation theologists would seem to run counter to the muck we have been treated to by the master-class, who head churches, who bless troops sent to secure oil and spices, who trade in human cargo, and who starve the poor in honor of trade.
This Jewish teacher exemplified popular ideas, dangerous ideas to the master class. Not new ideas and not original ones, but ones that caught and continue to catch popular imaginations. We do not want to be ruled, lorded over, mastered by men, women, or pirates who would sacrifice our community and will to do right to one another.
Historian Peter Marshall suggests why.
"The legacy of Christianity is not moreover merely repressive. On the one hand, there is a conservative, quietist, and authoritarian tendency originating in the Pauline Church in Rome; on the other, a radical, communal and libertarian one which emerged from the Jamesian church in Jerusalem."
Oh, Paul! Essentially what he helped manufacture as surely as Octavius' hagiographers was not Jesus but the anti-Jesus. Not a community organizer but the Anti-Christ, set on destroying what is human. And we've been made not only to worship this menace to society but also justify so many communal and national crimes on him.
In a cynical maneuver worthy of Obama's shift to the reactionary DLC, the emperor Constantine did convert to Christianity on his deathbed, in a last attempt to save an empire fraying at the seams probably since Tiberius' reign. This is what happens to beasts who get too big, too slow, and needing to consume more and more resources which means creating more and more slaves and conquer more and more of other people's land.
In doing so, Constantine ultimately did not save the Roman world but he did give a tacit legitimacy to a version of old teachings taught by the young Jew. But with this infamous conversion this cult had a powerful collaborator: the state and establishment, which meant at minimum one could never, ever put those celebrated teachings into practice but keep them hanging up in the air with Jupiter and Octavius' placenta.
State power is always a bad marriage, as witnessed by the joining of the state and academia, or the state and modern journalism. This produces lies and a lot of strange careers.
Jesus unfortunately was not around to stop this marriage, the corruption of these ancient, communist, anti-master class ideas with state power. And as a mere teacher, not a messiah, it would never have crossed his mind.
Emperors are other creatures. According to Suetonius, Octavius was most peeved at "his name [being] vulgarized by its constant occurrence" during his lifetime and put an imperial stop to it. He seemed to resist deification, but he must not have understood the fraud magic the state employs to sucker the people.
Too bad this other "ruler of the world" could not have articulated an opposition to this same vulgarization. It might, one hopes, have stopped Paul, the councillors at Nicea, and the bishops of Rome, kings, and queen-empresses from handing us the anti-christ as religious fetish.