Saturday, July 28, 2007

Emperor Bush II

Today I opened a conversation with the line, "So, on the drive up, I was thinking of Emperor Constantine ...," and my good friends Wes, Anitra, and Bonnie thought that was pretty damn amusing. Once they stopped laughing, I expounded upon my great insight over lunch.

President Bush, as you are most likely unaware, recently criminalized the anti-war movement by signing an Executive Order that clears the way for the seizure of your property if you interfere with the war effort. While this probably wouldn't actually be used unless, oh, say, martial law were declared, it's there, and the vice is closing.

As one analysis on the website of the Centre for Research on Globalization put it,
This latest executive order criminalizes the peace movement. It must be viewed in relation to various pieces of "anti-terrorist" legislation, the gamut of presidential and national security directives, etc., which are ultimately geared towards repealing constitutional government in the case of an impending "national emergency".

The war criminals in high office are intent upon repressing all forms of dissent which question the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. The executive order combined with the existing anti terrorist legislation is eventually intended to be used against the anti-war and civil rights movements. It can be used to seize the assets of antiwar groups in America as well as block the property and activities of non-governmental humanitarian organizations providing relief in Iraq, seizing the assets of alternative media involved in a critique of the US-led war, etc.
Which brings me to Constantine. As I grew up Catholic, I learned that Constantine was the benevolent Roman Emperor who found God, ended the regrettable practice of feeding Christians to lions, and made theirs the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, thus paving the way for Catholicism for which we are all eternally grateful.

Jacob Burkhardt, the great classicist and historian who had the distinction of being Friedrich Nietzsche's mentor, offers a more nuanced version in his astonishing work The Age of Constantine the Great. In this, he describes a Rome coming unglued at the seams. Religious practice in 300 CE varied so widely as to be almost incomprehensible. What united them all, however, was a hatred of the Christians, who offered a convenient scapegoat for the many military setbacks that assailed the Empire.

Constantine's genius was in recognizing that a.) this negative blood lust was an unsustainable downward spiral, and b.) that the dizzying array of pagan cult practices that typified Roman religion had no center and was incapable of offering a unifying idea. Christianity, however, had this straight line of authority from God thing going on that was rather appealing, and offered numerous other points of unity as well. But only if some uniformity could be created, for there were a number of unsettled issues.

It's been said that the law is like a sausage. You really don't want to know how it's made. The same can be said of Christianity.

Among the outstanding issues was the question of whether divinity was innate, or something external and in need of mediation by a third party. There being power to be derived from the latter formulation, Constantine acted decisively, giving us the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which Catholics everywhere now treat as if it were pretty much the entire fucking Bible.

The Gnostics, on the other hand were screwed. It was Great to be a Christian under Constantine, but only a certain party-line-towing sort of Christian. For the others, the killings continued. To make things interesting, after he killed you, he would destroy your family as well by seizing all of ones property and assets. All heretical texts were to be destroyed, under penalty of death and penury for your family.

So, apparently, this is just what Empires do.

It's interesting that the property seizure tactic was pioneered against those accused of drug crimes, which few will step forward to defend, and has now been cleared for use against the rest of us.

A few months ago, I'd have argued against impeachment proceedings as being too divisive and tactically stupid. I no longer believe this. The greater evil, I think, would be to allow the legacy of this Presidency to remain unchallenged, and leave in place the considerable damage he has done to Democracy and the constitution.



John said...

"the entire fucking Bible" is a lovely phrase. Nicely anthropomorphizes the Good Book, a la Walt Whitman's description of his own book (paraphrased), "he who holds this book holds a fucking man."

ITMFA = Impeach The Mother-Fucking Asshole?

Tim Harris said...

Impeach The Mother Fucker Already

Anonymous said...

"The Gnostics, on the other hand were screwed. It was Great to be a Christian under Constantine, but only a certain party-line-towing sort of Christian. For the others, the killings continued."

If you think the Gnostics suffered after Constantince, consider what happened to the Jews. (And kept happening.) Since the Jews also had a "straight line of authority from God thing going on" (considerably straighter than the early Christians), wonder if it would have been a better choice for the world for Constantine to declare himself a Jew. Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews don't usually hang around with each other, but I don't think there've been too many interdenominational killings.

Ana said...

I just found your blog.
Thank you for saying truths.