Good News: Nero is Back

Conservative commentators from every part of the spectrum right of Obama have recently noticed an ugly turn in the discourse of the Left toward overt hatred of their ideological adversaries. More and more of us have seen that the knives are now suddenly out, the claws no longer sheathed. Leftist politicians forthrightly share their fervent hope that such as we might die, and do not stop either to consider whether it is just, or proper, or polite to say such things, or having said them, to repudiate the evil that perfuses their hearts. Furthermore, with the Obama presidency the cult of personality, of the Dear Leader and his wife, so reminiscent of the Perons in Argentina, has reached a new florescence. The regal appearance of Queen Michelle at the Academy Awards last week, bestowing the regime’s approval on the most popular folks of the Hollywood amen chorus (backed up by members of the Praetorian Guard), was only the most recent instance of this trend. And while we may react with horror to this turn of events, most folks take it in stride, or even rather like it. It makes them feel comfortable.

What’s up? It’s the First Century all over again, that’s what. The old Imperial cult that deified Caesar is back. And orthodox Christians are now in the same relation to the state cult that they were in the days of Nero: unruly, disloyal, seditious, essentially treasonous fanatics, a threat to public order and propriety, insane and wicked sinners against public piety, and in the event of any public disaster the first scapegoats.  

When Augustus deified his adoptive father Julius Caesar, the move had a great deal of precedent, if not in Italy and the West, then throughout Rome’s eastern possessions. Everywhere east and south of Greece, the local King of each polis had always been understood as the persona, the vicar, of the god or angel – the son of God Most High – who ruled over and protected the nation. So the Augustan deification of Julius Caesar, and of himself ipso facto a divine son of a god, was a brilliant move politically. It provided to Rome’s subjects a way of understanding the relation of their fatherlands to the Empire, a way to parse their devotion so as to maintain their local cult and culture (thus its continued economic coordination, its production, and its tax revenues) while ensuring their superordinate loyalty and subservience to Rome. Their local politan gods were subject to the cosmopolitan god of Rome, whose son and vicar was the Emperor. Rome’s subjects were likewise. They could continue in their private devotions to whatever gods they chose – those of their ancestors, or (as the commercial and cultural melting pot of the Levant – the crossroads of the whole world – kept on cooking) of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Hindus or Persians, provided they also made public obeisance at the altar of Caesar divus.

The Imperial cult was a key factor in maintaining peaceful, prosperous international relations under Rome’s aegis. It grounded the over-arching authority of Rome, and of her laws, in just the same way that her subjects had always grounded their own laws: in the ordinations of the gods.

Only one nation was excused from public worship of the Emperor: the Jews. For Rome knew that, alone among the nations, the cult of Israel forbad such idolatrous obeisances, and hoped to avoid the errors of Antiochus Epiphanes, who had profaned the Temple with pagan rites (this was the famous abomination of desolation) and so provoked the successful Maccabean revolt (which muddled the western flank of the Seleucid Empire and opened an opportunity for Rome). As it turned out, of course, no matter how they tried to coddle the Jews, the Romans fared almost as badly as the Seleucids. The Jews were stiff-necked, rigorous, devout, and valiant, and they rebelled again and again, despite crushing defeats that inflicted millions of casualties. Their valor is really rather staggering to contemplate. It is a good question whether Rome ever made a dime on her investment in her Hebrew possessions and tributaries.

Despite the almost continuous turmoil in Israel and Judah, the overall effect of Roman rule for most peoples of the Near East was an unprecedented era of peace.

In the end, what mattered most to people, not only in the East, was the fact that the emperor had brought peace, and that he was the guarantor of eternal peace – he as an individual, and, by virtue of passing on office and status, his successors … Augustus had brought lasting peace, thus he was the Soter, the Saviour. The emperor was truly venerated as a god in the Gentile world, and as we know from inscriptions, occasionally people prayed to him and asked for help in need and illness.  

-          Carsten Peter Thiede, The Cosmopolitan World of Jesus, p. 36.

Remember how Obama was going to heal all wounds, stop global warming and halt the rising of the seas? People really believed that stuff, subcortically; a lot of them still do. They believe Obama is a brilliant, wonderful and good man, who would by now have ushered in a new Golden Age if it were not for the perfidious intractability of the Evil Republicans. Seriously, I kid you not: I have heard people talk this way.

When Rome burned in AD 64, Nero’s heroic measures of public welfare intended to succor those who had suffered in the disaster did not suffice to stem a persistent rumor that he himself had caused it (cf. Hurricane Katrina, the Twin Towers, and so forth). He needed a scapegoat. He chose the Christians, who like the Jews had refused to participate in the idolatrous imperial cult, preferring their own son of God (puts “render unto Caesar” in a different light, no?), but who, unlike the Jews, had no cultural tradition exculpating them for refusing such participation. On the contrary: by 64, Christianity had burst forth from its original base among the Jews and taken root in every gentile nation of the Empire. Having freely chosen their total devotion to Jesus, and the rejection of the Imperial cult entailed thereby, gentile Christians were without excuse. They paid dearly for it.

As a consequence, to get rid of the report [of his own culpability for the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

-          Tacitus, Annals XV.44

“A class hated for their abominations … by the populace.” Sounds uncomfortably familiar, doesn’t it?

Thus began a grand tradition of state persecution of Christians. It persisted until 311, when Constantine and his fellow Caesars, whom he eventually superseded, agreed to tolerate us, despite the fact that we had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that [we] would not obey the institutes of antiquity.” Constantine’s own conversion to Christianity was, among other things, implicitly a straightforward and utter repudiation of the old Imperial cult. Constantine was indeed officially anointed of the Lord, but was not himself personally a son of God.

That sublime recusal perdured throughout Christendom for 1700 years. It is now over, and the civil cult is once again arrayed against Christianity. The only difference is that nowadays the cult of the cosmopolis is atheist.

What may we expect?

There will come a disaster. It won’t be global warming; our future persecutors have been preparing our culpability for “climate change” for a couple decades now, but the climate isn’t changing, and the hoi polloi seem to be losing interest in the idea. The disaster will be something different; perhaps an economic or fiscal collapse, followed by food riots. Perhaps it will be manufactured, blown up out of all proportion by the press, but really not so bad in reality (when have we ever seen that happen, eh? Eh?). Perhaps our rulers will set the fire themselves.

We will be the scapegoats.

And that will be great! It will provide us tremendous new opportunities to win the glorious merits of martyrdom in the persecutions that would follow. It will purge and purify the Church, strengthen and perhaps even unite her again. Who knows what prodigies of sanctity might then appear? Keep the faith, brothers and sisters. You’re going to have to die anyway, so you might as well die for the Lord God Almighty, no? Can you think of anyone you’d rather die for? What better way to go, than to be a hero?

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20 thoughts on “Good News: Nero is Back

  1. You probably have bought into the big lie that Michelle Obama’s appearance on the Academy Awrds (and really, don’t you have better things to obsess about) was something unprecedented, which was, of course, a complete fabrication.

  2. Yes the US is so dominated by atheists that there is not a single atheist in the Senate, which is 85% Christian. When was the last time you heard of a declared atheist getting elected to any prominent office whatsoever?

    The politics of the US is dominated by Christanists. For a dominant group to run around saying “help help I’m being oppressed” and fantasizing about persecution is quite pathetic.

    • I didn’t say that all who profess and call themselves Christians are in danger of persecution. I said that *orthodox* Christians will likely gain an opportunity at some point to make the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom.

      Those “Christian” politicians running around gaily repudiating Natural Law, and employing state power to mandate and enforce its contravention, are by definition heretics. Their first loyalty is to liberalism, which contradicts Christianity. Kathleen Sebelius is a good example. Such people will be at the van of any persecution of orthodox Christians.

      • Precisely. Onecertain makes a good point: the difference between our situation and that of the first Christians is that their ranks were not rife with heresy. Friend and foe alike bear the name of Christian; but few (and greatly persecuted) are those who are worthy of the title.

    • Mr. Certain, have you been in a coma for the past couple decades, or perhaps in some remote area without access to the news? I’m not sure what else could account for your perception that Christianity is not under organized attack from all quarters.

      True, Christians are not being fed to lions, but there is more than one way to persecute. Christianity has been purged from the public square so effectively that Christmas trees are “holiday” trees; some businesses have forbidden their employees to wish the customers “Merry Christmas”; high school valedictorians have been forbidden from mentioning their faith in their speeches; God has been banned from VA funerals; seniors are not allowed to say grace at senior centers; God is being purged from public markers and museum exhibits; religious groups are being forced to fund abortions via ObamaCare; Christians, when present, are often portrayed in a negative light in popular entertainment; Christianity is curiously absent from historical dramas; crosses that fall in cemeteries are not allowed to be re-erected—the list goes on, and on, and on.

      I feel I can predict your response to this, Mr. Certain, but I will not pre-empt you.

      • Christmas trees are “holiday” trees…

        The horror! That is exactly equivalent to Christians being tortured to death in the public arena for entertainment!

        Christians, when present, are often portrayed in a negative light in popular entertainment…

        Such a martyrdom you 21st century Christians must endure. Saint Stephen was stoned to death, you must endure being “portrayed in a negative light”. Exactly the same!

      • True enough, onecertain. But to be fair, Bill did begin by making the very same point you do: Christians are not being fed to the lions.

        Yet.

        No one is suggesting that the predicament of Christians is as bad yet as it was in Rome in 64. The point rather is that for the first time in 1700 years the power of the state is arrayed against Christians, throughout the West. Our experience with that sort of thing in the 20th century Warsaw Pact and Russia suffices to indicate where things are headed here, absent another Great Awakening.

      • onecertain, Saint Stephen was portrayed in a negative light BEFORE he was stoned to death: Acts ch. 6. Which is the point.

      • Well, we’ve seen someone fired by their manager for refusing to affirm her lesbian “marriage”. We’ve seen parents denied the ability to opt their children out of a class program normalizing same-sex marriage. There was the high-school student who wrote the “con” side of a pro/con school newspaper article on same-sex “marriage” that he was asked to write and for his trouble he was hauled before the assistant principle and berated for hours on end and threatened with suspension. Then there was the case of the lesbian that converted to Christianity and had to flee the country with her biological daughter because a court insanely awarded custody to her creepy ex-“spouse”. The guy who helped her escape has been arrested.

        Granted, none those are public torture and execution, but is that the standard we have to meet before anyone else feels compelled to speak up?

      • James Kalb ‘The Tyranny of Liberalism’ p129

        “A man who arbitrarily imprisons me or confiscates my property is a tyrant. Institutions and general ways of thinking that destroy the social institutions and relationships that make me what I am; that attack the family and abolish gender distinctions, communal ties, and traditional moral standards; that drive religion out of public life and tell private associations what members to choose and why – these are also tyrannical.

        Imprisonment and exile are punishments because they deprive a man of his social setting. The intentional destruction of that setting is plainly worse. Genocide was originally defined to include the intentional destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups. Liberalism does that to all national groups by abolishing the constituents of nationality. How can that be acceptable? When everyone must praise such actions as incontestable demands of justice, when it is all but impossible to make protests heard and critics are treated as enemies of humanity, when the existence of any higher standard is denied, then the tyranny, however maintained, takes on a totalitarian quality.

      • I hate to invoke the Third Reich here—Godwin’s Law and reductio ad Hitlerum being the Internet shibboleths they are—but it is relevant.

        Before the Nazis started murdering Jews, they demonized them. The propaganda and repression started before the killing.

        We have gone from the most popular entertainer of his time, Bing Crosby, portraying a priest and winning an Oscar for it (Going My Way won a total of seven Oscars) to priests and ministers and the like being portrayed as wimps (Downtown Abbey), deviants (Land and Order), and murderers (The Da Vinci Code).

        This is the point we are making here, Mr. Certain. Perhaps you can see that.

      • How many Catholics were fed to the negros during the ridiculous government/establishment-sponsored “civil rights movements”? Was this not *explicitly* an attempt to destroy a particular way of life centered around the Catholic parish through violence, intimidation, theft, denial of the right of association and the right to protect your community and even (often and implicitly) the right to protect your own life?

        Why do you think we live in the suburbs? Because we are in exile.

  3. The US is dominated by atheists who are declared Christians for the votes. If the politics of the US were dominated by Christianists, the US would hardly have moved from “Congress shall establish no religion, but the states may” by way of “The states shall not either” all the way down to banning school prayer.

    • Or Roe v. Wade and the classic “Personally I’m opposed, but I can’t force my belief that reaching into a womb with forceps and rending an innocent human to pieces is evil on others.”

  4. Our regular reader and former frequent commenter Ilion has lately found it impossible to comment on this, or on several other WordPress sites. So he emailed me about this thread, and we had the following exchange. Ilion wrote:

    Even as a child — keeping in mind that I was raised in churches that advocated and assured one and all of the pre-mill rah-rah — I have always believed that in my lifetime we would see State persecution of Christians in America.

    I responded:

    I never did, until just a few months ago. Things seem suddenly to have accelerated, and new thresholds crossed almost daily. Gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar in 1980; now the Justice Department files a brief at SCOTUS in support of Federal mandation of it in California, contra the will of the voters. The next step will be state denial to religious bodies of the legal power to marry anyone unless they are willing to marry men to each other; a direct state interference in a liturgy.

    And, as with the Romans, so with the liberals: we Christians are reviled, not because we actually commit any crimes, but because we are “haters.”

    Ilion replied:

    I wanted (and still want) to believe that I would never have to directly face the particular temptation one faces in a climate of State persecution. But, even as a child, I thought it wishful thinking to imagine that American Christians would forever remain immune from active persecution. Admittedly — considering that until Reagan, all of our politicians and rulers gave every impression of being entirely copasetic with surrendering America to the Soviets — I had expected State persecution of Christians in America to commence long before the year 2000.

    I don’t think the immediate next step will be to go against churches and pastors who decline to perform homosexual “marriages”. First, they’ll prepare the way by going after photographers and caterers and such who decline the business of engaging homosexual “marriages”.

    But yes, as with the Romans, we are and will be further reviled; not because we commit any crimes, but because we are “haters” (meaning, of course, that they hate us because we will not join them).

  5. Brad Miner ‘The Compleat Gentleman’ p49

    In war they were the first into battle and the last to retreat. In business they were both scrupulous and honorable. The heroism of the Templars in battle (they refused to be ransomed when captured, and they never apostatised) fulfilled St Bernard’s exhortation to them (in De Laude Novea Militiae or In Praise of the New Knighthood) as knights of Christ (militia Christi) battling the infidel to remember how:

    “blessed [it is] to die there as a martyr! Rejoice, brave athlete, if you live you conquer in the Lord; but glory and exult even more if you die and join your Lord. Life indeed is a fruitful thing and victory is glorious, but a holy death is more important than either. If they are blessed who die in the Lord, how much more are they who die for the Lord!”

  6. A century or two ago there was Protestant hegemony in America. Half a century ago there was a Protestant-Catholic-Jewish cultural consensus. That consensus has unraveled. There is an on-going culture war, and it is not going well from the standpoint of most of the readers of this blog. It is not the first religious or cultural war, nor will it be the last, unless history is viewed as one continuous war with only phases and pauses between campaigns, in which case it is all of one piece.

    There are places in the world where Christians are actively persecuted. In the U.S. vandalism, church burnings, and shootings are yet sufficiently rare as to be generally limited to deranged individuals. The Supreme Court has countered some of the Obama administration’s attempts to tightly circumscribe religious freedom. Nevertheless, the current state of the culture war is unsettling. The Obama administration has become more arrogant, thin-skinned, and hostile to some faith communities and specifically to the Catholic hierarchy. There are places in the culture that are well represented on the Internet and in parts of the media that are openly hostile to religion in general and to chastity and modesty in particular. The primary religious divides in this country are no longer denominational but social with conservatives arrayed against liberals within each denomination.

    We are not living in the First Century or in the Sixteenth. Sufficient unto the century is the evil thereof.

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