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Monday, 18 January 2010

Christians as atheists - resisting empire

 In some of the early conflicts between the Christians and the Roman Empire, the Christians were described as atheists because they reused to acknowledge, offer incense to the emperor. This was not a matter of religion as a category of intellectual belief in one god, the Christian one as a matter of individual or personal choice, rather than another god, the roman one.

There was no distinction between religion and politics. The early Christians saw themselves committed to membership in a polis, in which Jesus was Lord, a lordship manifested as the suffering servant, not the Emperor, whose lordship was maintained through the use of coercion and violence.  This stance relativised the absolute claims of the Roman Empire. Hence the term atheist that was applied to those who refused to conform to the claims that violence and power were the ultimate source of authority.

Such an atheism with respect to the claims of the empire committed Christians to the way of peace - the Beatitudes formed a key part of the catechism for those wishing to become disciples in the first couple of centuries. There is I think room for such atheism to become the norm once again in the church. To resist again the claims of the state to ultimate control over our bodies as participants in war is a form of atheism which is strongly supported by the Gospels.

The State has taken on the aura of religious authority, it is upheld by a form of civil religion of which the clearest public outcroppoing can be seen on Anzac Day. The state claims final authority over our bodies and our resources to sustain its war making apparatus. We need more atheists, like the early Christians who will resist these religio/political claims that sustain the cycle of violence.


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