Can we trust religions to stay moderate?

Do you know why the fish is the ancient symbol of Christianity? Odds are you’ve never really thought about it, or considered it another oddity in the religion. However there was a time when the cross was not the official symbol of the Church. Instead, it was the fish (now often referred to as the “Jesus fish”). While they suffered prosecution at the hands of the Romans, many would use it as a symbol to demarcate their secret meeting places. The use of the cross as a symbol did not start until 312 AD, when in October of that year Constantine, who was fighting to become the Emperor of Rome, adopted the cross as a sign of his impending victory over the forces of Maxentius. Some say that he had a dream the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that prophesied his victory over his rival, who’s forces nearly doubled his. In his vision, he was said to have seen the cross and heard the words: “Conquer By This”.

His victory left him with few rivals, and as he continued to consolidate his power, he managed to convince the other emperors (by then, the Roman Empire had been divided) to make all religions legal, giving special privileges to Christianity. By 320, his rival Licinius has reneged, and once again persecuted Christians. Constantine took the opportunity to rally his allies, and they defeated the pagan emperor of the East. Licinius’ defeat made Constantine the only emperor, and he was to be unopposed until his death.

Constantine was a pragmatist, and at first he gave no special favor to Christianity, despite the fact his victories were largely contingent on their strong support. However, he later decided orthodoxy would prevent religious conflict, and so he established the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD to remove the schism which had formed in the Church due mostly to the Easter controversy, as well as the growing Arian movement (which taught Jesus was not part of the Trinity).

The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome drastically changed the Church. The symbol of the fish, which had long represented life, was replaced by the darker and more ominous cross. The previously passive and peaceful religion of Christianity had become a violent, repressive organization using its political power to effectively enforce their rule and edicts on others. By ‘Romanizing’ Christianity, Constantine had essentially made it a religion of war, not of peace.

As they consolidated their power, the Church began to systematically destroy any evidence of other pagan religions. Any works that violated the Nicene Creed were either suppressed or completely destroyed. What followed was a thousand years of brutal tyranny, prosecution, and religiously motivated wars. We call this time the ‘Dark Ages’.

Although the modern face of Christianity now more closely resembles its earlier form, the documents that eventually formed the Bible were brought together to create a political religion to control the masses and provide unprecedented power to the Church. Only during the Enlightenment did we succeed in breaking their stranglehold. The result was the modernization of our civilization.

Can we trust Christianity, or any other political religion (such as Islam or Hinduism) not to revert back to their combative and primitive selves? The answer is an emphatic no. Although it may be mild and nonthreatening now, moderate Christianity is only possible because it has adapted itself to our modern ethical understanding. There is no reason to believe this will continue to be true. As religion becomes more marginalized in our society, its more primitive and violent elements resurface; one only needs to listen to the utterances of religious conservatives to realize how tentative their modernity is.

Comments (3)

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    There is only 2 things stopping the Theistards from bringing on the 2nd DarkAges. 1: the law of the land we now fight hard to keep intact. And 2: the multiplicity of religions who help keep a back pressure on the movement of the Xtians. It is all about 3 things Control,Control & Power and has nothing to do with some Sky-Faery. The theocracy of the USA was predicted by a number of SciFi writers and thankfully their preditions are no better then the buy-bull ones. Islam is doing it now, Hindus are getting all frisky in India and the Xtians will try as soon as they think they can do so and have had some limited success in small backwater countries.

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    Jake I have to disagree with you on this one, I think that moderate Christianity is our modern ethical understanding, the majority of our secular-moral values are no different than the values of a cafeteria Christian, in fact most of these have been cherry picked from Christians or other religions. There is a small extremely vocal minority who still cling to some of the more archaic values of their religion but I think that the moderate Christians are more closely related to secularists than Bible-literalists.

    So much of the Christian doctrine is not actually in the Bible, for example the Unity of the Trinity which was decided at the Council of Nicea (as you mentioned in the article). And even early commentators on the Bible such as St. Augustine said that the Bible is poorly written, terribly ambiguous, and filled with contradictions. Thus there was a need to move beyond Bible-literalism and form a certain interpretation of the Bible. Nietzsche had a rather funny comment on this saying: “There has only ever been one Christian, and he died on the cross.”

    The history of Christianity has been a move away from the Bible, not towards it (with a few exceptions). The current zeitgeist has been moving towards docility with religion, and although there may be a small (albeit vocal) minority who think differently I don’t think that there is any chance of a resurgence of the dark ages. At least not on the same scale, there may be small outbreaks of sectarian Christian violence such as in Ireland, but I doubt there will be another era of Christian imperialism.

  • avatar

    Bastard Soap

    What you don’t understand Aaron is that these people don’t understand that! What you said is true there has been a systematic humanisation of the christian doctrine but the people don’t realise that this happended against the bible and not because of it. They are moving in the right direction but they don’t know why. Until they ripudiate the divinity of the bible and realise what went wrong the last time the dark ages will always be around the corner.

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