Monday, August 6, 2012

From Religious Freedom To Persecution

The Roman Empire had freedom of religion. You could beleive in a wide variety of gods. People did. We call the religious environment paganism but that could mean a lot of different things. People were trying to find god in many ways and it was all good. So why the persecution of Christians? It happened because Caesar did something that was perfectly consistent with most people's religion. He asked that he be worshipped as a god. Most people had many gods and had no issue putting Caesar along side them. They owed allegiance to Caesar anyway. Was worship really all that different?

It was really only Christians and Jews that simply could not worship Caesar as god. They believed in one God. That was a central tenet of their faith. Adding Caesar as god would deny monotheism and fundamentally change their religion. They would not do it. The Jews had shown their willingness to die for this. Eventually the Romans decided to leave them alone because they pretty much kept to themselves. Christians didn't do that either. They were constantly evangelizing.

The point is that the Roman Empire didn't try and attack Christianity, at least not at first. What they did was pass a law that they thought any reasonable religion should be OK with. Even when some complained they just assumed the fuss would die down after a while. They didn't get it. The Christians could have their god along side Caesar. That was good enough for everyone else. What is the big deal?  Their version of religious freedom allowed for so many gods how could anyone think they were being unreasonable?

In modern times we have something similar happening. We allow for freedom of religion. We have all the major faith groups and a lot of the fringe ones as well. So what is the problem? If you make a law that Christians can't live with there can be a problem. The law won't have to do with someone making anyone god. That is from a different time. Our law will likely have to so with sex. Either gay marriage, contraception, abortion, female clergy, something along those lines. It is going to be something western society has deemed to be totally reasonable. That is where it will begin.

From there it will follow the Roman pattern. We think we are better than the Romans. Our leaders would not demonize Christianity to hide their own incompetence like Nero did. They would not publicly execute the most respected Catholic bishops like St Ignatius and St Polycarp. We will not get local massacres of Christians from time to time. We are just so much more evolved than Roman society. Those things could not happen anymore.

I am not convinced.  How much of our good behaviour is due to God's grace and how much is due to man really getting less evil? I think it is 100% grace. That means man is still capable of great evil if he leaves the grace of God. I fear we will see proof of that.

So where does the HHS mandate fit into this? Not sure. It is good to see the bishops get it. It is disturbing to see the politicians do not. We will see about the courts. If this was the only issue I would not be concerned. The truth is the society is getting less and less tolerant of sexual morality. If you say any sex act is ever morally wrong you are going to be attacked. All that is needed is some pretense of public good. That is some rationalization for forcing everyone to do X. That will be our "Caesar is God" moment.

Update: Mark Shea makes a similar point He also includes a quote from Chesterton which of course says the same thing better than either of us.

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