Happy Easter

The two biggests dates on the calendar of the Christian Church – Easter and Christmas – have their origins in pagan festivals.

It shouldn’t upset Christians to hear this; all it means is that Christianity won. There are still pagans around, but Christians own a lot more real estate.

This is something the early Christians learned from the Romans: when you’re conquering people, it works best if you change their culture. Make your own culture indispensible, and people will pay taxes without complaining. The Romans built things – roads, bridges, amphitheaters, baths. People who didn’t have these things started to want them. Before they knew it, they were speaking Latin.

The Romans didn’t like Christians when they first started popping up. Part of the Roman plan for world domination was to let everybody keep their own religions. They built temples to their own gods – impressive-looking buildings that sent a message: our gods are bigger than yours. People paid attention. It didn’t hurt to offer sacrifices to a few extra gods. In the ancient view, the gods’ realm is vast.

There were a couple reasons the Romans didn’t like the Christians. First, the Christian God insisted on being the only real god, that all the others were fakes. Instead of being pleased when the Romans wanted to build statues of their God, the Christians got mad. Their God didn’t like statues.

Secondly, the Christian ideas about everybody being equal threatened to upset Roman family values. Everybody had set roles and responsibilities in Roman society. Whatever your lot in life – slave or free, male or female, rich or poor – you were supposed to stoically go about being whatever you were.

At any rate, the Christians won because they were smart, and they offered something the pagans didn’t have.

In the early days, Christians celebrated Christmas by fasting. People who had converted to Christianity sort of missed the revels of Saturnalia, and would sneak into the parties, returning a few days later to resume the Christian lifestyle. This created a lot of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the enemy of sincerity. It undermines belief by suggesting that it doesn’t really matter.

The Christians could see the writing on the wall. Why couldn’t they celebrate Christmas with a feast, instead of a fast? The feasters could remain good Christians, and have fun at the same time. This gave the Church a big boost in membership. As Christianity grew, the Church got more control over pagan traditions, and shaped them to their own ends.

The Bible wasn’t written in Latin, but Latin became the language of the church. It was the language everybody spoke – the language of law, rhetoric, graffiti, erotic poetry, comedy, and political satire. As it mutated into Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, the Church held on to Latin. It was the monasteries of the middle ages that preserved (and sometimes censored) much of Latin literature.

The Church made itself indispensible. As the Romans had built temples and theaters, the Church built cathedrals and schools. Christianity wove itself into everyday life. People were baptised, confirmed, married, buried in the Church. A life outside the Church became unimaginable.

Everybody dies. This eventual fate plays a part in all religions. In the Roman religion, the underworld was perceived as a vast, realm of shadow where everybody went after they died, even heroes and emperors. The idea of reward and punishment in the afterlife wasn’t invented by the Christians, but they used it most successfully.

In a world where life was all about the struggle to survive, and nearly half of all children born didn’t make it to adulthood, the idea that something better might be waiting after death gave people hope. Some historians emphasize the rigid control that the Church of the Middle Ages exercised over people’s lives, manipulating them into paying for cathedrals and monasteries, but there is another aspect to this control.

Christianity gave a sense of order and meaning to the lives of people who probably wouldn’t live much beyond the age of thirty. People have hope when life has meaning.

Happy Easter.

The preceding words reflect only my own beliefs and opinions, and are not intended to put down or insult anyone else’s beliefs.  dax


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