“the North feels the clip, which shows Kim dancing and Kung-Fu fighting, ‘seriously compromises Kim’s dignity and authority.'”
“the North feels the clip, which shows Kim dancing and Kung-Fu fighting, ‘seriously compromises Kim’s dignity and authority.'”
No need for a long post here and I certainly won’t try to change anyone’s opinion. I just wanted to point out one small blurb in this BBC article.
“It brings the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the current offensive to 18.
The deaths of so many soldiers on a single day will shock Israeli society, the BBC’s Chris Morris reports from southern Israel.”
The number of Palestinians currently killed in the Israeli invasion as of 7/20/2014 stands at 425.
So if I understand this correctly, 425 Palestinians does not shock Israeli society but any more than a few soldiers of their own killed is shocking?
Seems the media continues to be very pro Israel. I read news from a number of sources around the world and in more cases than not the Palestinians are described as terrorists while that word has never been used to describe the Israelis.
Furthermore, in the opinion sections of most dailies I’ve already seen pro Israel pieces aplenty. Know how many pro Palestinian pieces I’ve seen in the Western media?
Now that you’ve read the above you might think I’m pro-Palestine? I do not support either side. In one quick paragraph here is how I see it.
Israel has a right to exist. The Palestinians have a right to not be enslaved by Israel and create their own state. Israel should quit oppressing the Palestinians and the Palestinians should quit terrorizing Israel. There you have it.
Unfortunately, I do not see things getting any better. I see war for the next three centuries unless another world war redraws the maps again.
Looks like Russia could climb back up to enemy #1 again after a brief 25 year lull. When the USSR fell the attention turned to random, disorganized terrorists who tried very hard to bring down planes full of innocent people,,,, but Russia actually does it.
A leopard never changes its spots I suppose.
I came across this article today and had to comment.
What I find hard to comprehend is that we have more education, more knowledge and more science readily available to our populations today than at any other time in history. Yet, our societies cannot shake free from thousand year old beliefs full of magic, fairy tales, and made up stories (many of which have since been discredited) that make up religion.
Here we have two seemingly intelligent men who have risen quite high in politics. Yet they demand that the UK is a “Christian” nation. They are correct that Christianity took root in the UK and have influenced the country for 1,500 years. In this case the UK is a Christian nation.
But the UK was pagan before the Christians came so wouldn’t it also be fair to say the UK is a pagan nation or is 1,500 years the cut off.
I had to laugh when I read this:
“We are also a very tolerant nation. In fact one of the great Christian values is tolerance and respect for other people, people of other faiths, other views. So I think our Christian heritage sits very comfortably alongside our plurality and our tolerance as a people.”
Yes, if we read the history books we see how tolerant the English are/were of all the countries they colonized. The list is rather long and can be found here. I’m sure all the natives really appreciated the Christian tolerance of the British when they were being invaded and subjugated.
As a consequence of colonization there has been mass immigration to the UK from the colonized countries which certainly hasn’t sat well with the white natives!
It’s not that the conservatives didn’t try to stop it. Just a quick look on Google and I came across one of the most famous speeches against immigration called the “Rivers of Blood speech” . In this speech a conservative member of Parliament tried to warn his countrymen about the dangers of letting in all these colored colonial subjects into the UK!
Well, Enoch Powell was right; this is why London is now called Londinistan.
It seems to me that the demand the UK be known as a “Christian” nation is just a cry to try and hang on to the past, a past when there weren’t very many immigrants, which is what old conservative white men do best. Their ancestors went out conquering other nations and when the mess comes back to haunt them (albeit with a 300 or so year lag) they get all upset about it.
But to throw them a bone, I would say that Europe is vastly more tolerant of immigrants than most countries in the world. Change comes slowly and the immigrants should do their part and try to fit in to the host culture. After all, if their culture is the most important thing to them, then wouldn’t it serve them well to just go back?
If the old white men want to call the UK a Christian country let them do so. With so many immigrants holding other beliefs the UK is actually a multi-religious country no matter what a couple of old Tories say.
It’s just a shame that no matter how the argument turns out, Christianity, while it does have its good parts, is just one more way for mankind is trying to explain his own existence, which like the other religions, is not based in facts.
In the end, these two Tories are simply saying that since the traditional bed time story of the UK has been read for the past 1,500 years it should really be considered the official bed time story and that’s that.
21st century capitalism through a 1st century worldview! (MBA and Christianity??)
It simply amazes me that with all our progress and all our magnificent universities of learning that have no comparison throughout history, the majority of humanity is still bound by the ancient beliefs from a time when humanity knew very little about anything!
Perhaps the reason is that we do not have a solid explanation for these basic questions and therefore invent stories to comfort us against the terror of simply not knowing?
1.) Where am I from?
2.) What am I?
3.) Where am I?
4.) What does the source, the origin of all creation?
So what spurned this post? We’ll this advertisement I just saw on Facebook.
Being rather familiar with Christianity, I have a hard time reconciling true Christianity with an MBA. An MBA is learning how to best increase profits, nothing more. True Christianity is divesting yourself of all you own, your family, friends and following Christ. I fail to see how the two are compatible.
This world I live in seems to get more ridiculous as time goes on.
Just for the record I wonder how Christians would react if they saw an advertisement for an MBA with a Muslim worldview, or a Jewish worldview? This just shows that the people who created this add live in a bubble and know very little about the rest of the world. Therefore, why value is their “worldview?” It would be like asking a child their opinion of a college course!
New Year 2014
I usually like to write about an event while it is actually happening. This year I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to write for Christmas and am a little bit delayed for the New Year. So today, I’m forcing myself to get my thoughts down.
This New Year’s Eve we did not go to any special parties, dinners or anything like that. So I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of the last sunset of 2013 and the first sunrise of 2014. For the sunset, I got on my bike and rode up the mountain which takes about an hour. Up there on that mountain I reflected on why we make such a fuss over the change of years. After all it is just a way for us to keep track of one more revolution around the sun.
I took a look at the Facebook posts and is was very clear that everyone was excited and in great spirits. Then I made a connection.
As I stood up there on the mountain overlooking the ocean I realized that the New Year and those that gaze out over the sea have much in common. The New Year represents possibilities, the unknown, a change for the better! So too does the ocean. Looking out over the vast sea towards the horizon the portal through which one could change their lives entirely if they only gain the courage to set foot on the boat or airplane and go!
The New Year gives us a reason, an excuse to wipe the slate clean and start again. But just as those who stare out over the ocean and wonder must step on the boat or plane to turn their fantasy into reality, so too must the NYE reveler act to bring about change in their life. They must open those doors to possibilities instead of passively waiting for their hopes to come to them.
As I look back on 2013 I am most grateful for my experiences and the fact that I’ve recorded most of those experiences. What is life if not just an accumulation of our experiences? Experiences shape us, make us who we are. Everyday we wake up and experience life. Making morning coffee, reading the news, learning about the Roman empire, living overseas, these are all experiences. In fact from the moment we are conceived until the moment we die is all just an accumulation of experiences combining to form one big life experience.
Therefore, I really cannot see how anything could be higher in terms of importance than trying to have a good life experience and helping others do the same. Everything we do, every goal we set is in the hopes of having some sort of experience.
Now, for 2013, I had plenty of wonderful experiences and I find it very valuable to try and record these experiences. The important thing is to know when to put the camera down and really soak in the moment, taking it all in and making it part of who I am. But I also like to relive these moments and thus take plenty of pictures and video. Having the picture above helps me remember how beautiful that moment was although it was quite cold! To be all alone on that mountain in the cold as the sun has set and darkness advances is a truly wonderful experience.
The next morning I awoke at 5:00am and went to the Bay in order to catch the sunrise. Just as 2014 is the beginning of the New Year full of all its possibilities, the sunrise is the beginning of a new day full of possibilities and excitement.
People often make resolutions and how imagine how things will be different in the new year but this could also be done with each and every sunrise. Each single day is going to contribute to how the year 2014 turns out so wouldn’t it be an excellent idea to wake early and appreciate all the possibilities and opportunities that this nascent day could bring?
At 36 years of age, I have come to a concrete realization that this world I live in is completely absurd.
It is similar to a lucid dream, where the dreamer becomes aware of the improbability and often outright impossibility of his surroundings and thus realizes he is dreaming while inside of the dream.
I have had the good fortune to travel the world, learn languages and delve deeply into the mindsets of other cultures. These fortunes enabled me to escape from the fishbowl of a small environment and see the enclosure from the outside, as well as compare it to all the other enclosures I have been recently exploring through language study and travel. Through these studies I found such a sense of freedom and excitement that I have never been able to stop or quell my desire for more information, more learning. I found freedom from established traditions, mindsets, beliefs and biases. I found great excitement for the unknown, the new, the exotic, the blasphemous, the feared and the heretical.
Recently however, time, money and obligations have limited my actual travel but in its place have come books, magazines and a need to devour more knowledge. A great discovery I’ve recently made is Lapham’s Quarterly. This publication pulls the golden nuggets out of history and complies them in a neat publication according to a central theme. I have decided to pay much less attention to the daily noise of the news, the gossips and the outright stupid splashed along the T.V. screens. Instead I have turned my focus to books, mostly historical nonfiction, and anything similar to Lapham’s Quarterly that really adds to my knowledge and gives me a greater understanding of this world I currently occupy.
Through these studies, travels and continual quest for more knowledge and in order to simply make sense of my surroundings, I’ve come to the conclusion that this world I live in is absurd. Now that I’ve given my introduction let me put down some examples from the silly to that which has changed the course of the world.
1. High Heels
– Once cannot venture outside without seeing multitudes of women wearing the most ridiculous form of footwear that while being extremely uncomfortable, also causes grotesque foot problems such as bunions. The high heel was designed in 17th century Persia as a riding shoe so that the rider could stand up in the stirrups and maintain balance while shooting his arrows.
After I learned this I can no longer look at women in high heels the same way. I do not find them as an attractive addition but rather as an absurdity akin to one wearing over sized clown shoes.
2. The suit and tie
We men did not escape this evolutionary comedy of the fashion trend either. The origin of the tie is that it was essentially a bib worn to protect the shirt from stains. The bib has just gotten smaller. The suit on the other hand came out of military uniform fashion. The military is regimented, disciplined and serious. The businessman being formal in all his dealings must give an air of seriousness and formality and thus what a better fit than the military uniform without the military trappings? So here we are, men running to our office to sit in our cubicles typing away in a modified military uniform and small bib.
Once you know the origins of why things are the way they are life becomes completely bizarre.
I have recently been reading books on WWI and II as well as checking the facts on many historical wars through Wikipedia. The conclusion I’ve come to is that war is absurd. What is even more absurd is how quickly a leader can convince the people about the “just” reasons for the war.
World War I is the most raw example of this. In brief, a rather significant regional assassination happens and then due to country alliances we end up with millions dead. It is as if monkeys wrote the framework of this play and gorillas carried it out. We do not retain the right to consider ourselves separate from the animals. The absurdity of the reasoning behind the war combined with the very real consequences are simply incomprehensible.
As for the absurdity of reasoning for war, this has happened very recently in my country. The slogan is “defending freedom.” Now whenever war or soldiers are mentioned this is what a good portion of the population mindlessly blurts out. Need to start a war? Just have the leaders say we are “defending freedom.” This slogan has had some wear and tear but still has at least another decade of durability before it is worn out.
My conclusion is that humanity is still very primitive and that this period in our evolution will be looked upon millennia from now as just branching off from the animals. For any reason, any reason what so ever millions and millions can still be convinced that extinguishing the life of another is the appropriate solution for whatever ideology, belief or passing issue of the day holds sway.
It is as though we are not fully conscious. For if we were fully conscious then the fibers of creation should tear apart while everyone screams in writhing agony for the atrocity, the unnatural, the unthinkable that has occurred.
4. Religion – Christianity
I hold no qualms with the overall spirituality and trying to connect ourselves with that which is unknown yet pervades everything including our own existence. I also am inclined to give a bit of a pass to those that need religion, a set framework to tell them exactly what to do since the majority of adults are unable to discover a spiritual side on their own. Most adults no longer advance mentally/intellectually and thus how could anyone expect them to make progress with that which cannot be seen, experienced directly or understood?
To get straight to the point here, after all my travels, experiences, studies, meditations, reflections and so on, I can definitively say that Jesus was just a man. I have extricated myself thoroughly from the fairy tale, the bedtime story that we use to sooth our fears about that which we do not know but which we pretend to hold every answer (unless it is a mystery of course *inside joke for those raised Catholic*).
To stand up against 2000 years of history which has reshaped the world, billions of believers and an institution which has outlasted governments and call it nonsense is frightfully empowering as well as bewildering. This belief, that a simple peasant is the son of the unknown which in our feeble minds we call God. This God, the soothing blanket which keeps us warm and secure against that unknown void, that veil behind which nobody has seen yet everyone must go is a creation of our own imagination. It is my opinion that we cannot even conceive of the true nature of the Great Spirit, الرحمن, יהו or whatever we have decided to call the unknown.
I have been connecting the dots for some time now and the tapestry is complete. Now, explaining exactly how I’ve arrived at this point would fill up a book which one day I may write but one can find clues in my previous posts from the past. But let us just say that a good many things in the Bible have turned out to be fabrications, metaphors, or just plain wrong. The world was not created in 7 days, humanity didn’t start with Adam and Eve, Jesus had brothers and was married and many of the miraculous acts happened in other cults/pagan beliefs long before Jesus.
If Christianity were a corporation it would have gone out of business a long time ago. Anyone who puts their money and belief in a corporation that has been so wrong so often throughout history would be an investment opportunity for the slow witted.
So why do so many people believe? The reasons are as varied as the stars but I would say the main reasons are tradition, security and the need to believe there is something more than the disappointment that is often found here in this existence.
The ship guiding my belief out of Christianity set sail a very long time ago and has visited many ports. I recently read a book which seems to me as my final bill of lading summing up what I already knew and putting it in a well researched, organized intellectual format. That book is called “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan.
Jesus was just a man and I feel as though I’m in a dream when I see so many clinging to this fabricated story even though we have more universities and more learning than at any other time in the history of the world.
The old religions die hard.
Most people at this point will either have stopped reading or want to know what my own opinion on creation/reality may be. People are so eager to know the opinions of those they disagree with not so they may consider the idea but rather to have the opportunity to defend their beliefs. One cannot readily do this until they know the beliefs of the other.
In any case, here is my belief.
I have no idea where I am, what I am or where this environment came from. All I know is that I have thoughts. These thoughts come and go and I do my best to control them.
This “I don’t know” is a very thought out, deep, reflected upon statement. It is just as probable to me that we are in a computer program designed by a highly advanced civilization as it is that this universe is some advanced biology student’s creation and we sit upon a shelf in a small jar surrounded by millions of other universes in small jars. The reader of this post may scoff but I have not said that I know we are in a small jar, I’ve said the opposite with a very clear “I don’t know.” The jar example is one possibility out of infinite possibilities the majority of which I believe I cannot even comprehend.
The book that really got me thinking about this was “Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story ” by Jim Holt. He interviewed the brightest minds as well as researched the major philosophers in trying to discover the answer. Obviously the book never comes to the supreme truth and Jim’s own opinion is hidden in an unrelated paragraph in just one sentence in the middle of the book that most people might miss.
I enjoyed reading all of the theories but one of my major takeaways was the realization that I cannot comprehend these theories the way the men who created them can. Any one of them would take me years of study and even then I know I do not have the raw intellectual fire power to get there.
So all I can do is continue to explore and be completely fascinated as well as a little terrified at not having the answer. All I know are what my senses, studies and inquiries have gathered. Here we are, talking monkeys on a biological rock flying through space where only a fraction of us are trying to figure out what is going on while a good majority are quite certain they know the secrets of the universe, the divine and everything in between already.
This dream began with my birth and will end with my death. The longer the dream persists the more bizarre it becomes. The best I can do is to be nice to my fellow dreamers, help those having a nightmare and try as hard as I can to fly.
1. The anti-communist movement was just really an anti-populist movement. The well off, not wanting to share the world with the general population. Keep them suppressed. After defeating the communist, break the labor unions. They, the oligarchs, didn’t want organized labor. Keep the population as poor and dumb as possible, so they will fight each other for the crumbs we give them.
2. The Indo-China war, called the Vietnam war was about many things:
a) Enrich the weapons companies who are your buddies. They are euphemistically called defense companies.
b) Perfect Guerrilla Warfare techniques, also observing the psychological effects of a long term campaign.
c) Run heroin out of the Golden Triangle, to fund global covert operations, and also to pocket profits.
d) And of course, run an anti-populist movement, called an anti-communist movement, in an area that just wanted to be free of imperialists.
3. A good amount of the population in the United States, are some of the most over educated dummies in the world. They over specialize in a field, but don’t have a clue of how the system they vote for and support, really rapes their fellow citizens within the country, and around the world.
4. The Presidents, that the population so proudly elects in the United States to represent them, are puppets. Even Bush #2 was, believe or not.
5. Every time the general population starts to get any type of footing, the oligarchs in charge change the rules, to throw them off balance.
6. Public schools in the United States are outlets for teaching propaganda to kids.
7. Investigative commissions such as the 9/11 commission, Watergate commission and the Warren commission are a bunch of crooks, covering up for crooks. These should really be trials in the criminal courts.
8. Globalization means that the oligarchs are going to make as much money as possible, standing on the back of people across the world, including at home.
9. The CIA is an arm of the United States military industrial complex, that furthers the economic interest of the elite technocrats.
10. In 2005, the United States balked about the sale of Unocal to CNOOC, a Chinese oil company. Unocal was later bought by Chevron. On hindsight, in 1995 Unocal owned the mineral rights to hydrocarbons in western Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has the 3rd largest natural gas reserves in the world, but is land locked. Unocal proposed the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. This pipeline was to run through Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban, through Pakistan, into a power plant located in Western India. The plant needed a cheap source of natural gas, in order to be affordable for public consumption, so that the operators of the plant could turn a profit. This power plant was built by Bechtel, generators supplied by General Electric, and was to be operated by Enron.
In 1997 an expanding China proposed its own pipeline, from eastern Turkmenistan, through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, to western China. That pipeline is done and operating ( no war needed ). Logic would say that energy hungry China wanted more access to hydrocarbons, and it wanted to extend its current pipeline from eastern Turkmenistan to western Turkmenistan, to tap the reserves that Unocal owned, hence the purchase attempt by CNOOC.
I saw this post on Google + and it was so good I had to borrow it. I have re-posted here so that I’ll always have it.
Written by: Yonatan Zunger – from Google +
Since I’ve heard that there’s some kind of religious festival going on this weekend, I thought it might be an interesting time to write something about the history of how Christianity came to have such a blend of non-Christian origins in it. There’s actually a very interesting history to this: in essence, it isn’t so much that Christianity absorbed external elements, as that through the tumult of the first six centuries CE, a bunch of European religions mixed and combined, and the Christianity we know today was the result of that — it got its name on the label, so to speak.
To realize how big the difference between what came out and what came in is, just pick up the Christian Bible and read through the discussions between Jesus and the Apostles. This was, originally, a Jewish reform movement, responding to the particular skews and corruptions that had shown up in the (Pharisaic) leadership, concerned with economic reform, (e.g. Luke 12) a hard shift away from ritual towards personal piety, (e.g. Matthew 15) and a serious mystical trend. (Largely cut out of the “canonical” texts, but very present in the Egyptian texts) The first radical change came with Paul, who was interested in converting outsiders — something that the earlier “followers of the Way,” as they called themselves, had very little interest in. But if you compare even Paul’s early churches with (say) medieval Christianity, or even most modern branches, you’ll see very little in common. How did this happen?
Let me start by setting up a few bits of history. We’re in the Classical Roman Empire, say around the year 100 CE. Rome is expanding everywhere; there’s a well-practiced routine when a new barbarian tribe is encountered. The Romans make offerings to the gods of that tribe, saying that they will build them a temple in Rome if they let this tribe be joined to the empire; then they go to war, win, and start to fold yet another tribe into the center. The erection of that temple isn’t something accidental: it’s part of what’s called the “Pax Deorum,” the peace of the gods, and what it really is is a public statement that these new people are being folded in to the society. These conquered barbarians aren’t at quite the same level as true Roman citizens, but they’re part of the Empire now, and light-years above those barbarians outside the gates. The physical mechanisms of the Empire are backed by a deep civic notion of “Romanitas;” to be a Roman is to be part of this great thing, to have a particular relationship to the outside world: we will conquer you and you will join us. And to be part of Romanitas is to have the weight of the Empire behind you.
And then it stopped working. Hadrian makes it halfway up Britain and builds a wall; and the Romans start to realize that they’re at the logistical endpoint of where they can conquer. A climate cycle drops food production down and leads to widespread famine and disease across Europe. Worse climate cycles to the east start to push nomadic tribes further out in search of resources, and they start to hit an already-weakening Empire. Without the constant influx of resources from conquered tribes, the underlying lack of planning in the Roman economy (and system of succession) starts to show; and from about 180 to 280, the Empire essentially collapses into an infinite sequence of famines, plagues, civil wars, and barbarian incursions. The last of these wars, the War of the Seven Emperors, is ended in 287 when Diocletian personally executes his last rival, and sets up a new regime.
Diocletian’s empire was very different from Caesar’s in a lot of interesting ways, but the one I want to talk about today is that notion of “Romanitas.” Once, to be a Roman meant that you were ready to conquer everyone that you met; but the later Roman Empire was in no state to do such a thing. The central question of civic identity — of what it even meant to be a part of this empire — didn’t have a good answer, and with it, the whole question of what held the Empire together at all was up in the air as well.
Now switch over and look at the religion of the time. If we rewind back to the year 100, the Latin word religio had a very different meaning from what we think of today: it was the set of public rituals that the society participated in. These were tremendously important in a lot of ways. First of all, they were a key economic glue. Roman society didn’t have a notion of “taxation” in the modern sense; but instead, leading citizens were expected to regularly have sacrifices to the Gods to honor their good fortune in various things. At a sacrifice, animals would be killed, their first fruits given to the Gods with various prayers, and what followed is what we would today call a “big damned barbecue.” A Roman could expect to go to a sacrifice every week or so on the average, and this was the primary access that most Romans had to meat. (So when I say “key economic glue” I mean “a major part of how the society got access to food.”) Second, they were the way in which people defined their civic nature. Today, we define our nationality in terms of things we learn in school, what we read in the papers and discuss in the media — all things which didn’t exist in Rome. The expression of nationality was the common rituals that people went to. (And this, incidentally, is why the cult of the Emperor was so important: by sacrificing to the Emperor, you were indicating your loyalty to the Emperor and the Empire) Public actions were the main way that people communicated their thoughts.
One thing you may notice is missing from that list is anything which resembles our modern notion of “faith.” This wasn’t an unfamiliar concept, but it wasn’t considered to be part of “religio.” People had household gods with which they had a personal relationship, and actual priests had relationships with their gods, but nobody was generally expected to have a deep and abiding religious faith in each god that showed up through the gate. But the urge for deeper religious experiences was certainly there, and ever since the time of Alexander the Great (around 300BCE) one of the main ways this manifested was in “mystery cults.”
Mystery cults were the religious secret societies of the ancient world. You could join some of them by simply walking in the door, and for others you had to know someone, but what they all had in common was that you would be initiated, participate in secret rituals, gradually learn more and more of the secrets of this god. These cults often taught a combination of mysticism, philosophy, and theology; they offered a chance to see into the world beyond; and they offered a close confraternity among the members. And they were quite separate from “religio” proper, bearing it about the same relationship that gentlemen’s clubs in Victorian England bore to Parliament.
There were a few categories of mystery cult which were becoming particularly popular in the first few centuries CE. The first was the cult of Magna Mater, which was basically the worship of Isis gradually transmuted into a pan-European religion. Consider that ancient Egyptian religion was already extremely, incomprehensibly ancient: the pyramids are a great work of the late Stone Age, as much older than the Romans as the Trojan War is older than us. The knowledge of hieroglyphs had already passed out of the world, but the infinite number of mummies and inscriptions and magical practices were still very much there. Add on to this that, even thousands of years earlier, Egyptian religion had highly favored spectacular, awe-inspiring temples where people went for rituals, healing, miracles, surrounded by fire, strange smokes, talking statues — and that this tradition was still very much alive — and you have a great factory of religious beliefs which were immensely popular in the Roman world.
Second was Mithraism, a religion that we still understand relatively little. Mithras was a warrior-god, of Persian origin; he has many similarities to similar warrior-gods spread across the Near East, not least the version of Yahweh worshipped in the western Levant which later became a core part of Judaism. In Rome, his worship became very popular among the army, starting with soldiers who had served in the east. The rituals were very secret, part of the brotherhood of joining the Roman Legions; underground caverns, secret dances, sacrifices, rituals that we know very little about today because they were actually fairly good at keeping their secrets, and quite deliberately didn’t write many things down.
The third was ascetic monasticism, something which never really caught on in Europe but which was a huge deal in Egypt for hundreds of years. There was a tradition of hermits retreating off into the desert to pray, fast, and generally mortify themselves, and these hermits were considered to be avatars of purity itself, holy, powerful, capable of great magics, and mad as a bag of clams. (As a side note, The Book of the Fathers, a book on how to be a good monk written in fragments from the 4th through 10th centuries, has lots of examples of the stories of early monks, who were basically Christian Egyptian ascetics. Something like two thirds of these stories end with either “and then he/she starved to death” or “and then he/she died in a sandstorm.” These guys werehard-core.)
And Christianity — Paul’s Christianity, the kind that wanted to spread — joined in to this mix. This early Pauline Christianity worshipped in secret, because it was defiantly anti-religio; this was honestly a holdover from its Jewish roots, with the Jews being rather famous for their (often violent) unwillingness to sacrifice to other gods. But it had many other familiar features: secret meetings in (literally) underground churches, intense personal faith, mystical healing, close confraternity between the followers. Unlike many of the other mystery cults, it was built fairly strongly around concepts of morality — another holdover both from its Jewish antecedents and from Jesus’ own focus on reforming Judaism towards personal religiosity.
These religious traditions competed with each other pretty openly. If you read Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (arguably the first novel), you’ll see all these conflicts show up in people’s daily lives. Laws were passed banning Christians from serving in the army — it would destroy unit cohesion, you see, and the men might feel uncomfortable. (Le plus que ça change…) And they also combined: Christianity became popular in Egypt, and people combined it with both Egyptian asceticism (to form the seeds of monasticism) and Manichaeanism, another Persian import from which Christianity got its notions of the duality of God and the Devil. The healing magics of Magna Mater stayed popular across the board, and Christians found themselves doing basically the same things.
(There’s a whole history here, too, of how these religions related to the earlier Roman political order.)
And around the year 300, these religious and political trends started to come together. The political order of the old religio made less and less sense: giant, formal, public rituals to the gods of old Rome didn’t pull people together the way they once did. But the underlying needs behind them, both civic and economic, were still there. By the time of the civil war that followed Diocletian’s retirement (a very interesting story in its own right), Mithraism was in a bit of a downturn, apparently not providing quite enough mysticism relative to simple brotherhood; Christianity had folded most of the magical elements of Magna Mater into itself, and had done a better job of conversion through its strategy of focusing on women, and soldiers, many of whose mothers had been converts, started to use it as their secret brotherhood ritual. Against this background, Constantine (one of the warring emperors) made it the quasi-official religion of his army, and soon after won control of the Empire.
What happened here was that a religious trend of secret societies, previously illegal in many situations, which thus tended to forge close relationships among the practitioners, suddenly became an official Thing which people realized they could further their careers by converting to. Many is the Roman nobleman of this period who went to bed one night, a contented pagan, and woke up the next morning a bishop, and a few hundred thousand solidi poorer. (That was the going rate for a bishopric) But this new religious system had communal identity baked so deeply into it, and held people together well enough (after all, that’s one of the big things Constantine used it for!) that it started to become a substitute for this now-missing identity.
Several things happened over the next hundred years which reinforced this, but perhaps the most dramatic was the sack of Rome in 410. It’s hard to express how world-shaking this was: imagine if, on 9/11, rather than destroying the Twin Towers in New York, the Taliban had simply marched in to New York City andsacked it, and the government was powerless to do anything about it. That’s roughly what happened then. And yet: the Goths who sacked Rome left the churches untouched — they, too, were Christians. Augustine used this as the jumping-off point for his book, The City of God, which crystallized the ideas that had been building up over the years: Christianity united its believers in a sort of world-spanning empire. This notion of Christianity as a social identity, rather than as a religious faith, became the cornerstone of European society for the next thousand years.
This answered the question of “how do we deal with those barbarians?:” If they were Christians, then you could use this common language of Christianity to establish relations with them. If they weren’t, you could convert them or kill them — or point your own friendly barbarians their way. It also provided a new social glue for the society, so long as everyone came over and converted.
And what you might notice is missing, again, from this picture is the modern notion of “faith.” It was important that everyone be a Christian because that was part of being part of the Empire, but the details weren’t quite as important. So the common variety of “conversion” in the Late Antique Empire went something like this:
A priest shows up in a village. The village is generally having some kind of major problem or another, whether it be a failed local irrigation system, or a famine, or a plague. The priest calls people together in the name of his god, and fixes the problem: either by prayer, or by getting people together to fix the well, or by pulling in external resources. (Most of the time, incidentally, the priest didn’t successfully fix the problem, in which case he simply would move on to the next village and try again) On success, the village praises God and converts. They have to give up “pagan rituals” — i.e., they have to adopt the forms of Christianreligio rather than whatever they did locally. But the underlying importance of the sacrifices (economic, civic, etc) was still there, so what was important was to do them in a Christian way. Do them in a church, not a cemetery. Praise a saint rather than a god, and so forth.
And then the priest would move on to the next town, racking this up as yet another successful conversion. But nobody was left behind in this town who actually had a particularly deep understanding of Christian doctrine; and in fact, owing to how bad travel was in the Empire at this point, it was often 100 yearsuntil the next priest would reach a particular village! So Europe “Christianized” by adopting a shared set of practices and religious language, but not a shared religious faith in the modern sense of the word.
The results of this weren’t fully appreciated until nearly a thousand years later, during the Counter-Reformation: in response to the rise of Protestantism, the Catholic Church started to try to root out “heresy” in its own world, and discovered (much to its shock) that the average Christian had absolutely no ideawhat the religion was supposed to mean. (A truly fascinating account of this can be found in The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, which studies the record of the heresy trial of some random schmuck who was grabbed by the Inquisition. The title comes from his attempt to explain just how the world was created.)
So when we talk about a “Christian syncretism,” what was happening wasn’t that Christianity deliberately or accidentally took on bits of other religions. Rather, most of the conversion of Europe — and very similarly, most of the conversion of other parts of the world later on — happened very quickly, with groups of people agreeing to take on the structural forms of Christianity, praying to saints in churches and so on, but with very little emphasis on constructing a shared “faith” in the modern sense.
In fact, this modern notion of faith came largely out of the Protestant reformation. The Protestants started out with a notion that people should have a direct, personal familiarity with scriptures and a much more personal relationship with God: ideas which hadn’t really entered much into the Christianity of the preceding millenium. The Catholics, in response, tried to “purify” their own faith and make sure that everyone was on the same page, using much the same techniques which they had developed for ensuring that there were no secretly practising Muslims or Jews in Spain after the Reconquista. (Yes, I know. You were expecting that the Spanish Inquisition would show up in here at some point.) Several centuries of spectacular bloodshed later, it was a commonly accepted idea in all branches of Christianity that Christianity was, first and foremost, about individual faith, and a common understanding of doctrine was what bound Christians together. But this hadn’t actually been a feature of Christianity ever since the days of Paul, and the Christianity of the 19th century is a very different beast from that in too many ways to count. It was a new thing.
So today, when people tell you about how Christianity has “borrowed” ideas from non-Christian religions, or that this or that holiday is actually a pagan festival in disguise, your surprise isn’t coming from the fact that Christianity ever was really a common religious language rather than a unified faith: it’s coming from the fact that, over the past few hundred years, Christianity has deeply rewritten its creed, and largely forgotten its own history. These things aren’t alien to Christianity at all: they’re the deepest part of its origins.
For more information, some places to start:
The best sources of all on this subject are books. Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints or The Rise of Western Christendom give an excellent snapshot of the Late Antique transition and can get you started looking for other things. Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms is a great way to see what ground-level faith in the sixteenth century looked like.