Monday, February 4, 2008


I was researching a totally different subject on the internet and stumbled onto two sites for groups working to reconstruct and work with Celtic and Hellenic traditions. There are thriving non Christian, indeed non monotheistic communities in this country. And I think it scares the heck out of some of the conservative Christian groups in this country and conservative Muslim groups overseas. Thanks to the World Wide Web believers separated by Geography can get together virtually. And in most places, there ain’t thing one anybody can do about it. And it’s driving the Inquisitors crazy

Church and state do not walk hand in hand in this country, not officially anyway. You wouldn’t believe it to watch the presidential campaign, though. I can just imagine someone running for any office telling the world “I worship Dionysus actually; please join us at the festival down by the river next week.” Just imagine the scramble. And the number of reporters on their laptops trying to find out just who the hell Dionysus is, was, whatever.

And even when church and state get a little too chummy for comfort, the church still lacks the power to force obedience. Christianity and Islam both share a history of forced conversions in the old world. And for Christianity genocide and forced conversions in the new world are shameful reminders of cultural arrogance.

The political empire of Rome may have fallen centuries ago, but it was replaced by a religious empire that still endures. Pontifex Maximus is one of the titles of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. It was also the title of the high priest of the Roman state religion, and after Augustus was elected to the post, the title was held by the emperor.  The empire didn’t fall it just put on new clothes. And every so often, there’s a kid watching the parade who whispers to his/her folks “why doesn’t that person have any clothes on.” Usually followed by the parents leaving abruptly, square peg firmly in tow. Said square peg not to be seen in public until it has been firmly anchored in one of society’s round holes.

Many of the Protestant reformers turned out to be just as ambitious. Reformers and dreamers from St Francis to John Wesley have tried to tip the scales towards caring for the poor, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners and attempting to act as peace makers. Wesley preached more than a half dozen times on the sermon the mount alone. He also allowed women to preach. That freedom ended barely twenty years after Wesley’s death.

The church isn’t to blame for the problems it inherited. Slavery was common in the ancient world and the Romans carried it to new highs (or is that lows). Defeated soldiers and their families sold into slavery choked out the free farmers in many areas. Free farmers found themselves and their families sold into slavery for debt or failure to pay their taxes. Slaves rebelled and the army put them down. Bloodily.

It is to blame for accepting or at least turning a blind eye to those problems in return for political and social respectability in the short term and political power in the long term.

Ok, enough about the past. This is ancient history. Trouble with ancient history is that it doesn’t stay in the past, it keeps tripping us up over and over. One example is the  Roman answer to corporate agriculture. Some of the ancient latifundia had as many as twenty thousand slaves working on them. Latifundias 20 centuries ago or big agriculture now, the little guy still gets it in the neck.

Without the power to coerce the church has to compete on a more level playing field. Granted it’s going to take a long time to build a playing field that doesn’t resemble Mt Everest. I don’t expect to find to find a couple of earnest missionaries for Athena or Apollo a la the Mormons knocking at my door any time soon.

We had a couple of those the other day. They seemed a bit puzzled when I told them “we have our own beliefs, thank you. Have a nice day.” I kept mum about the details. Mom’s a Methodist, that wouldn’t have been a problem. I can only imagine their reaction to a Celtic Methodist hybrid; with the emphasis on the Celtic part of the mix.

And I doubt we’ll find t-shirts with the logo “My goddess gave birth to your god” at the local Target in the near future. That would put the kettle on the boil, wouldn’t it?

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