Caught Up Short« an older post

Christian Atheism


I recently started reading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I'm not intending to power through this book as I do with other books, I'm lingering on this one. As such, I'm also reading the introduction, by Gregory Hays, who wrote the modern translation that I'm reading (and, wow, the difference a good translator makes!). Backgrounds help a lot with understanding the why of things, why a thought process, why an action. Helps with the understanding, won't always explain, but often helps.

This paragraph struck me as fascinating:

Another area where Marcus’s policy continued that of his predecessors related to a small and eccentric sect known as the Christians. In the course of the next century they would become an increasing problem for the imperial administration, and they were prominent enough in Marcus’s day to attract an extended denunciation from a certain Celsus, part of whose work “Against the Christians” still survives. The sect met with contempt from those intellectuals who deigned to take notice of it (Marcus’s tutor Fronto was evidently one), and with suspicion and hostility from ordinary citizens and administrators. The Christians’ disfavor stemmed from their failure to acknowledge the gods worshipped by the community around them. Their “atheism”—their refusal to accept any god but their own—endangered their neighbors as well as themselves, and their reluctance to acknowledge the divine status of the emperor threatened the social order and the well-being of the state.

Read it again.

[Christians'] “atheism”—their refusal to accept any god but their own—endangered their neighbors as well as themselves...

Well, doesn't that just explain all? (The correct answer is yes here.)

It does, and it goes a long way to explaining the bulk of hard-edge (right AND left) Americans.


Interesting comment. Of course, the alternative - to *not* insist that there is actually one god, is logically inconsistent (if the various gods in some way contradict one another in terms of claims of existence, supremacy, etc. - which they pretty much all do). If you want to assert that religion is fine so long as it isn't exclusive in its truth claims, you are gutting the religion of its center and purpose, which is to describe truth.

And the endangerment meant is not some sort of 21st century tolerance or relative truth. It was the assumption that refusing to worship Rome's patron deities (including the emperor himself, as of the end of the first century) would anger said patron gods or undermine the divine favor of the empire. This is a charge that continued for another roughly 200 years despite Christianity's ascendency first as a permitted religion and then the official state religion of Rome. It reflects the same kind of exclusivist view as the Christians were being accused of, because it asserted that the Roman gods had to be worshiped.

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