The Return of Christendom

Well, the Internet is shaking because Anne Rice has left Christianity. Not exactly, however. In her own words, according to her Facebook page, “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” For years I have observed decent people “quitting” Christianity because the name has been co-opted by intolerant, bigoted Neo-Cons who more often than not have political agendas in mind. I think the battle has been lost, the trademark name of Christianity must be surrendered to those who claim it most loudly. The meek have disinherited the earth. How many Catholic students have introduced their comments to me with “Christians say…” as if Catholics aren’t part of the club?

There was a perfectly good word for what Neo-Cons are calling themselves. It used to be “Christendom.” Harkening back to the imperial days when Orthodox Christianity ruled the East and Roman Christianity ruled the West, Christendom implied the power and the glory in its very name. Beyond a religion, it was a system of rule. The world was fine as long as everyone stepped in line to a magisterial faith that held the only set of keys to Heaven. Then Islam. Then Reformation. Then Enlightenment. The keys began to jangle amid many others on that divine keyring. Christendom seemed pretentious when there was no military might to back the strappado or red-hot iron. Christianity was but one belief system, deeply fragmented, among others.

Under the vision of James Dobson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and their minions, Christianity in its Neo-Con armor has once again become a forum for abuse and intolerance. Bearing little resemblance to the ethics and outlook of the carpenter of Nazareth, this religion would find an easy home in imperial Rome or medieval Aragon. As Ms. Rice notes, she is committed to Christ, but not a Christian. Although my impotent voice bears little weight in this overly loud and hyper-productive world-wide web, I would humbly suggest that Christendom be reinstated, instead of Christianity, to describe the Neo-Con religion. Christendom, after all, retains the imperial bearing and absolute authority the movement craves. Those, like Ms. Rice, who prefer to follow the teachings of Jesus might then have use of the traditional term of “Christian” once again.

Who’s Your Mummy?

Yet another paternity suit appears in the news as promiscuous fathers try to slink off into the pages of history. This time, however, the kid is famous and his father will bask in reflected glory. Scientists in Egypt have been doing DNA tests on King Tutankhamun, “King Tut,” to determine the father of this most famous of pharaohs. Nor is this an idle bit of trivia, since it may rightfully be claimed that American interest in ancient Egypt was born with the discovery of Tut’s tomb in 1922. Art Deco styles began to emulate ancient Egypt, and even skyscrapers in Manhattan incorporated pharaonic stylings. If it weren’t for Tut’s wealth, this experiment wouldn’t garner any public interest at all.

Tut's famous visage from Wikipedia Commons

In a classic case of ancient meets modern, the paltry wealth of Tutankhamun’s burial dazzled American imaginations. Here was a guy who matched the American dream – young, exceptionally wealthy (by even today’s standards), and powerful. Not just a metaphorical god, but a literal one as well. And yet his kingdom was troubled. Was it his father (Amenhotep IV, aka Akhenaten) who launched Egypt into turmoil with an unwanted religious revolution? The state reacted strongly, foundering under this uniformity of a religion that many couldn’t accept. Young Tut was forced to recant, if he hadn’t already rejected the reforms of his predecessor, back to the “old time religion” of eternal Egypt.

We may not know for sure who his father was, but King Tut remains a symbol of the power of religion. Ancient and modern believers alike ascribe strongly to their perceptions of the true religion. No one knowingly accepts a false religion. The truth claims of religions are sometimes mutually exclusive. What seems to have brought about the collapse of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt was the insistence on a religion not widely accepted, but enforced by the government. Considering the religious outlook of the James Dobsons, Pat Robertsons and Sarah Palins of our own political landscape, such a collapse becomes comprehensible. Religion must be allowed its freedom to be sincere. Those who believe only because forced to do so will soon place their own child king on the throne, regardless of whom his father might have been.

Rushing in Where Angels Fear to Tread

As my daughter’s public school undertakes its humble efforts to raise funds for the devastated nation of Haiti, contributing the little that unemployed children can raise, Rush Limbaugh unapologetically proclaims that Americans shouldn’t contribute to the earthquake relief. The New Jersey Star-Ledger notes that on Wednesday Limbaugh declared that Americans already support Haiti through their tax dollars and shouldn’t feel the need to contribute anything beyond that to the poorest nation in our hemisphere. This is true Christianity, according to the Neo-Con gospel.

Rush Limbaugh basks in the limelight as the outspoken representative of the “Gott und Ich” school of religious politics. With an estimated annual salary around the $400 million mark, Limbaugh comfortably sits back and watches the world burn around him. Together with James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and others who support the new, compassionless version of Christianity (Christianity 2.0), they inveigh directly into the ears of high-ranking politicians with coarse voices declaring that God wills for them to be the sole arbiters of what is right. I only hope that Americans are really listening. Really listening.

Religion has always been a form of social control. From earliest times, those who claim to know the will of the gods tell others what they need to do to placate the angry deities that hover all around. Earthquakes are the work of such angry gods. What do they demand? Listen to your local priest. America has been beset with a plague of Religious Right voices that are well-funded and so parsimonious that seldom can the gentle voice of reason be heard. While Limbaugh enjoys his enormous wealth kids who have never known anything like basic comfort are dying in the thousands in a nation right next door. And the people say, “Amen.”