The biggest injury to that “Great Leap Forward” towards an open, egalitarian, universalist society (to borrow Mao’s phrase and put it to much better use) was actually the shattering of Christendom. This came via the triple hammer blows of (1) the Black Death and the tremendous socio-economic upheaval it produced [now there was the pandemic of pandemics!], (2) the Reformation followed by the Wars of Religion, and (3) the Enlightenment, which, despite all its protestations to be the Age of the coming of the great light of emancipation from superstition, opened the doors wide to the tsunami called the French Revolution.
For the early disciples, things were much more difficult than anything we face here in the post-Christian West where the name of Jesus still has significant recognition. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness many western believers have are the result of centuries of holding a privileged position in society and a preponderance of cultural influence for over a millennium. Now that is largely gone and we don’t know how to cope. We’ve forgotten how to begin again.
Why? What do these masses of the underclasses see in him that we of the rich and self-sufficient Western uber-class cannot or choose to no longer see? Jesus identified most profoundly with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the forgotten, those of no account. He challenged the mighty and powerful of the elites of whatever sort. The oppressed and hopeless and least esteemed are still those that flock to him, just as it was two thousand years ago. And, just as it was two thousand years ago, the rich despise him, mock him, and seek to kill him/get rid of him.
To be able to give the Gospel accounts a fair hearing, we have to do two things: (1) recognize our own operative worldview-paradigm for what it is, along with its limitations, and (2) understand, at least to some extent, the context in which the Biblical stories happened, including the operative worldview-paradigms of that time and culture.
The current Climate Apocalypse, or any other immediate global crisis (e.g., Terrorism, drug plagues, AIDS, etc.) crying out for radical resolution aside, we as a species, and as individuals dependent for survival on our Planet’s hospitality, remain in the identical position of all generations since Nimrod (a real historical figure, by the way) promised the world deliverance sometime in the third millennium BCE. Over 5000 years, we have record of many promise-makers and claimants to Divine and semi-divine status offering themselves as the looked for saviours ready to make things right and save their people from their calamitous situations.
What is the mystique of Rome; what lies behind it? Deep beneath what we see played out we find a hunger that longs for a final answer. It is a spiritual thing—the quest for the last best realm that will endure and bring true, lasting, unbreakable peace and harmony into the life of humanity, giving everyone a fair shake, a fair chance to be the best they can possibly be. It is more than a hunger, it is the most basic need all—to know who and what we really are and are really made for. We know it cannot be found in our endless wars and destructive, competitive behaviour—our addiction to assert ourselves above others which brings only more of the same in return as we seek to “get even, get back.”
Rome incarnated a direct claim by humans to establish an eternal kingdom on earth by right of conquest and coercive power. Local gods could bow and be absorbed into Rome’s in order to survive, or be annihilated like those of the Carthaginians and Druidic Celts. The Jews and Christians challenged Rome’s nature at its root. Both paid a massive price in millions of lives for continuing to seek and honour the true Creator.
The Creator’s love is on free offer 24/7 “as close as your jugular vein.” You don’t have to understand much anatomy to know that the jugular keeps you alive as long as it brings the blood back to your heart in a continuous flow. So too with our invitation to “kiss the Son while he may be found.” Some day those who wait too long or refuse too many times will no longer be able to find him or get close enough to “kiss him.”
Progressive ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’ suggests the best possible future as a least-painful, most comfortable, safest possible sort of existence for the greatest possible number, perhaps with a little adventure thrown in from time to time to add a little ‘danger’ and ‘risk’ (which seems to be a necessary stimulus for progress to continue). The goal seems to be survival for the species for the longest possible time-span.
Is this enough for our species to
thrive? Or is it really a chimera which
would, in the long run, stultify and smother who and what we really are?
It seems that appealing to high philosophical principles and the light of Reason and Science alone simply does not inspire much hope or commitment among the ordinary unwashed masses who just don’t know any better.