Victim Corrupted Into Brutalizer: The Wedding of Christianity and Empire

How did Christianity come to serve as the colonizing force of empires?  How did Christianity enthroned become so different from Christianity prosecuted among the lower classes?  How did Christianity go from an ideology of the oppressed, to dictating its ideology with an imperial sword?

Look at Jesus, the center of Christianity.  How do we get from a man telling society to take care of the orphaned and widowed, and give away their possessions, to the genocide of entire continents, and a system that works only for the greed of a few?

The world has not known Christianity as it was spoken from its founder’s lips.  Sometimes it seems the Christian message bled and died on the cross with Jesus.  Everything since has been increasing perversion of what the one and perhaps only Christian stood for.  His entire philosophy has been murdered and desecrated.  American Christianity, which evolved from European Christianity, is much like the body snatchers from horror movies.  Those who knew the original would not even recognize the cruel zombified husk of today.  Look at any common artistic rendering of the Jesus, and his skin has been whitewashed.  Middle eastern skin pigments proved unpalatable for a figurehead symbol of the European model of empire.  All the revolutionary words of Jesus have been scrubbed with the acid of conservative politics.  Nothing about this man has not been defaced by the empire that conquered in his name.

The world has known nothing but Christianity tied toxically to the imperial system.  Throughout Christian history, everyone from despots to humanitarians have claimed the Christian name.  This shows Christianity tends to reflect the culture and people espousing it.  Very little attention has ever been payed to what someone like Jesus actually said, even under this religion that purports to deify him.  Most forms of Christianity merely served as a mirror to amplify aspects of whatever culture it synthesized with.  Empire found certain psychological effects of Christianity immensely useful to their domination, and so became welded tightly to a blood drenched cross.

To begin explaining this phenomena, this wedding of Christianity and empire, we have to go far back as Constantine. Constantine is where theocracy entered the world on a scale more systematic than perhaps had been seen before.

Constantine’s empire saw the potency in the Christian message to unify large masses of people under the direction of a ruling class. Pushing with military force on one side, depriving a people of food, shelter, and other basic necessities on another, snares a people in attrition. Then religion is offered to them. They are allowed to come under the empire’s banner as a groveling version of their former selves, recast in the image of their conquerors. In this way Constantine laid the blueprint for the world’s colonization.

The spread of religion under the Constantine model was a classic example of creating a problem then benefiting from offering a solution.   Christianity and the empire both needed broken people. In this way, empire and Christianity are a perfect symbiosis for each other.

Christianity is not a religion that thrives in peaceful times of plenty. Rather, Christianity has always thrived among squalor, among material conditions so bad the aurora of heavenly hereafters gains a desperate appeal.

Even today, rarely do people convert to Christianity when not under crisis.  Conversion stories don’t typically go “everything was going right in my life.  I was happy with my career, my family, my place in the world, and then I decided to be a Christian.” No, Christian conversion rarely seems to be the conclusion of happy, mentally healthy people.  If you listen to any testimonial soap opera put on by a church, conversion stories typically go “I was a ___ (drug dealer/party girl/gangsta/anarchist), then _____ (something really bad and mentally traumatic) happened, and I became a Christian.”

Cultural conversions to Christianity similarly rarely occur unless a people are under crisis.  A thriving non-Christian culture has their own spiritual ways.  It is only after a culture is broken and maimed into submission that the knee is bowed to Christian teaching.  And as that knee bows, a psychological subservience is conditioned.  Formerly proud and strong people are taught their lowly place holding up the economic and social palanquins of the empire’s elite.

Nietzsche equated this tendency in Christianity with resentment of everything strong-hearted.  He saw in the Christian religion an enshrinement of psychological pathology, a glorification of everything broken and insane with destitution.

Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.

Here the prevailing pastime, the favorite remedy for boredom is the discussion of sin, self-criticism, the inquisition of conscience (…)  Here body is despised and hygiene is denounced as sensual; the church even ranges itself against cleanliness (—the first Christian order after the banishment of the Moors closed the public baths, of which there were 270 in Cordova alone). Christian, too, is a certain cruelty toward one’s self and toward others; hatred of unbelievers; the will to persecute.

This psychological pathology and giving up on the world served to pacify the masses who adopted the Christian worldview. The conquests of European empires made foreign cultures ripe for Christian propaganda by stealing their dignity and pushing them toward material desperation. Christianity in turn enfeebled these foreign cultures, so that the empire could gobble them into its lower classes. Christianity conditioned people to become the perfect slaves, perfect subordinate women, perfect expendable soldiers. Basically, Christianity conditioned the lower classes to revere the chains the ruling class placed on them.  In this way, Christianity and empire fed and benefited each other’s climb to power.

To see how entwined the power structures of Christianity and empire became, one needs only to look at the Catholic Church and Rome.  In both is a rigid hierarchy that takes a pyramid shape. Power concentrates into the hands of a few through ever more exclusive social classes. Women are denigrated, as are minorities, because injustice and inequality are how power condensates. At the top is a one percent that steers the rest of the classes through various coercions, manipulations, and shows of brute force.

The church and the empire wedded so tightly that this pyramid structure came to permeate the whole European worldview. The tendency to condense all power to a one percent whose benefit the rest of society unconsciously labored for came to dominate both religion and state. Rome fell apart. The Reformation splintered Catholicism into a dozen different interpretations of Christianity. Yet this pyramid hierarchy stayed intact, evolved, and guided how European states conducted themselves in the new world.  This evolution of the pyramid, the further wedding of Christianity and empire, will be explored in the next post about Christianity and colonization.

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8 thoughts on “Victim Corrupted Into Brutalizer: The Wedding of Christianity and Empire

  1. Two things.

    First, Constantine never instituted theocracy. He signed the Edict of Milan, which merely legalized Christianity, in AD 313. He himself only accepted Christian baptism on his deathbed. Greco-Roman paganism and Eastern religions remained legal in the Roman Empire for another hundred years, give or take. It was his successors that formalized Christian theocracy, gradually and over time.

    Second thing, about the public baths. They were railed against by Christian moral authorities not because of any aversion to physical cleanliness, but because they were a gathering place for prostitutes. I feel prostitution should be legal, but it was legal just about nowhere in medieval times, so Christianity wasn’t acting out of turn by the standards of the time.

    It’s a myth that medieval Europeans didn’t bathe often, and that this lack of bathing was attributable to Christianity. It’s true that some monks didn’t bathe as a way to demonstrate their vows of poverty, but this would only have been understood as such by a wider society that considered bathing important.

    Yes, they didn’t take the daily baths we do (you wouldn’t either if you had to haul the water yourself or pay someone to do it for you), but they were generally as clean as any other society on Earth at the time, with two exceptions: the Mongols, who didn’t bathe out of dedication to their god Tengri, who ordered them not to foul water; and many Native societies, whose frequent baths were commented on by European explorers in their journals.

  2. Again I feel that the words of another express my feelings better than I:

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Mahatma Gandhi

  3. …that wedding between church and state has, I think, resulted in entirely too many sacrifices being made to the god of power…

  4. “…that wedding between church and state has, I think, resulted in entirely too many sacrifices being made to the god of power…” And greed, Brent.

  5. Pat,

    I gave your comment about greed a good deal of thought. I think “greed” and “power” are facets of a sickness born of the polar/linear thinking of western civilization; this may become apparent if one frames the matter as one involving a zero-sum game.

  6. The conquests of European empires made foreign cultures ripe for Christian propaganda by stealing their dignity and pushing them toward material desperation. OH YES! I am continuing writing about Collective Amnesia – next up is Misogyny and Witch Hunts…
    Brent, thank you for this blog!

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