Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
Christianity was a movement of, by, and for the poor and oppressed within the Roman empire. It began as a Jewish movement, among the poor and oppressed immigrant Jews who lived throughout the empire, but it struck a chord with others as well.
Christianity was not the first or only movement for the poor and oppressed in the Roman empire, but it was one of the first that combined this type of movement with religion and sacred texts. The Jews had a history of revering texts as sacred and using those texts as a grounding for their beliefs and their culture. This was not the case with most other cultures, whose beliefs were more fluid and more open to change. There is no Greek or Roman equivalent to the Pentateuch, no "official" text that defines their beliefs. This tradition of sacred texts helped to cement the Christian message in ways that were uncommon among the "gentile" cultures.
It would be too much to call Christianity be beginning of class consciousness among the poor, because there was class consciousness among the poor before Christianity, but Christianity is perhaps the first merger of class consciousness among the poor with a significant written framework that was used to universalize the movement and spread it throughout the empire.
Christianity represents a step in the evolution of class consciousness and class warfare, which was specifically produced by a merger of Greek and Jewish tradition. Christianity gives us a look at the ancient world from the perspective of the outsiders, and in doing this it is one of the the most significant ancient examples that we have of the views of the oppressed in their own words.
This is in part because we had a class of people, immigrant Jews, who were at the same time non-citizens who opposed the status quo, and educated enough to read and write in Greek.
This is both a virtue of Christianity and also its problem.
The rise of Christianity in Rome is what it would have been like if a movement among southern slaves in America had overturned the government and scholarship of the United States.
Would there have been some justice to this? Yes, there would have been.
Would the views, beliefs, and teachings of slaves have been representative of the most well educated and enlightened individuals of the day, or indeed even of the average freeman? No, of course not.
Both the early Christians and the American slaves had very valid moral platforms, but moral platforms don't provide knowledge, education, and an understanding of how the world works, etc.
Christianity was a morally virtuous movement of the uneducated masses, who, like American slaves, used the words of respected thinkers of the time to point out the hypocrisy of the times.
The so-called words of "Jesus" are like American slaves quoting the Declaration of Independence, which they did in their writings, and using them to show the hypocrisy of the times, to rub the words of the respected thinkers in the eyes of the citizenry and in the eyes of their oppressed brothers and sisters to show that the words are good, but meaningless because they are empty in their application.
Christianity puts the words of Plato in the mouth of God. Christianity cursed this world because the Christians saw the hypocrisy of the earthy systems.
From a scholarly perspective, however, it is just as wrong to take the writings of American slaves, where they roughly quote Jefferson, and claim that these were original ideas of the slaves, as it is to take the words of the Jesus character where he roughly quotes Plato and claim that they are "his" original ideas.
They weren't original ideas, but they were, perhaps, original applications.
This is where I believe having a scholarly understanding and appreciation of Christianity and the Jesus myth affords a greater respect for the religion than actually believing in the religion itself.
Christianity isn't the teachings of one "man", some otherworldly leader; it is a collective expression of class consciousness, and the work of many different writers and thinkers among a class of oppressed people. To take the words of these people, these real human beings who were struggling for justice, and put them in the mouth of a god is an insult to humanity.
That these people themselves did this, however, is nothing more than a reflection of how stories were told at that time, and a reflection of their own abused lack of self worth.
These people had to create a god to say the things that they felt too powerless to say themselves.
This is why the gospels, indeed almost all of the writings in the Bible, are anonymous. They are anonymous both out of practical concern and out of a lack of self worth, which is very clear in the New Testament writings.
To take a moralistic movement of the uneducated underclass of ancient Rome, no matter how deserving of respect the movement might have originally been, and elevate it to the status of the most sacred set of beliefs and a paragon of both virtue and knowledge, however, is absurd, blind, foolish, self-destructive, and, I would argue, irreverent!
The poor and the oppressed and the disadvantaged deserve our respect. We should be working to help these people and to put an end to the institutions and social structures that contribute to the conditions of poverty, ignorance, and discrimination. However, the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged, while they can teach us things about respect and human dignity, are not sources of education, knowledge, governance, and institutions.
The problems created by the rise of Christianity are the same problems that we have seen with the movements of the poor and oppressed in recent history, most notably the Communist movements. Christianity and Communism are very similar, both historically and ideologically. Both were movements of poor and oppressed people, who despised the existing social systems and sought to overturn them. The problem is that when people who have been oppressed come to power they tend to undermine and destroy the fruits that had been created by their oppression. A certain amount of social, cultural, intellectual, artistic, and material wealth is created by empowered members of society at the expense of the exploitation of others, however these creations themselves are good and valuable.
Greek scholars were able to study and investigate nature and understand how it worked because of the system of slavery that afforded them the luxury of being able to spend time and resources on investigation and education.
The under classes were deprived of this education, and indeed some of them came to despise it. Unfortunately, when underclasses or underclass ideas come to power, as in both the rise of Christianity and Communism, wealth (of all kinds), though perhaps ill-gotten originally, is destroyed and lost.
Yes, Christianity represented the hopes and dreams of oppressed people, but it never did, and never has, represented the knowledge and tools of enlightened people. The challenge is, and has been, to unite these principles, but this can only been done by bringing the oppressed up into a wealth of knowledge, not by bringing knowledge into the poverty of the oppressed.