Thursday, January 10, 2008

The roots of our preoccupation with heaven…

...and our (by our I mean Christian) nasty tendency to alienate ourselves from this world can be traced as far back as Augustine. Rome having been recently sacked in 410 was shaken to the core and alarmed. Growing sentiment in Rome suggested that it was due to the empires espousal of Christianity as the official religion of the state. There was an outcry to have the old Roman religious practices with their plethora of gods revisited. Augustine rallies to the defence of Christianity with a brilliant treatise, De civitate Dei.

The book presents human history as being a conflict between what Augustine calls the City of Man and the City of God (a conflict that is destined to end in victory of the latter). The City of God is marked by people who forgo earthly pleasure and dedicate themselves to the promotion of Christian values. The City of Man, on the other hand, consists of people who have strayed from the City of God. The two cities are not meant to represent any actual places or organizations, though Augustine clearly thought that the Christian Church was at the heart of the City of God.

It is clear that he was also referencing Rome as the earthly city which would pass away. Thus heaven become the focus of the church and conveniently enough the Church holds onto control and steps in to fill the void left by deposed and deserted leaders of Rome at the time. The focus on getting into heaven arguably helps to keep the poor satisfied in their lowly status by focusing on the gain they would receive after this life. It also helps focus the activity of the church to getting as many people into heaven as possible and keeping them going there. Arguably you can pin a lot of the oppressive and evil things the Church did on this undercurrent – indulgences, penance, even the Crusades.

We covered this material in History of Western Civ today. Christianity is so intertwined with Western Civ. One of the things that is dawning on me is a sense of contextual power we (Christians) have had over time.

For some time now I have wondered why it seems that there is such an aggressively antagonistic attitude toward Christianity in secular (and even more so in educated secular) society. I mean relatively speaking we are very much a minority in terms practiced religion - in Canada – so why all the fuss. I'm beginning to see Christian influence throughout our history in the light of how influential we have been to the shape of our world. I don't think we really take into account how our history precedes us. It also makes me question how much I really want to be identified with what has been at times a very embarrassing past.

Translation of picture: By the authority of all the saints, and in mercy
towards you, I absolve you from all sins and misdeeds and remit all punishments
for ten days. - indulgence as sold by John Tetzel.

1 comment:

Natasha said...

This has been one of the biggest issues I have had with identifying myself as a Christian (especially down here, as you study the history of both Native Americans and slavery). Reading many of the historical letters regarding those two issues alone will literally make you sick to your stomach, as horrific torture, intimidation, etc. are all spelled out in the name of Christianity. With the exception of Christ's life and the years immediately following, Christianity is possibly the most disgusting history I have ever learned of. I really struggle with what to make of it all and how it affects my faith today. Certainly, it has given me a great deal of empathy for those who don't believe what I do.