A Christian Nation
By Alan Caruba
December 9, 2013
It is a habit of mine to revisit the classic literature of the past and, with the advent of Christmas coming at the end of this month, I picked up an excerpt from Edward Gibbon’s famed “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that addressed in part the role of Christianity.
Gibbon’s vast knowledge eventually filled six volumes. The first three volumes were published in 1776 and became a bestseller. The final three volumes cemented his reputation as a historian.
Gibbon (1737-1794) not only possessed a vast body of knowledge, but also a felicity of prose that enhances the pleasure of reading him. His history of Rome also contained open criticism of organized religion which no doubt evoked a great deal of debate.
The religion of Rome, however, being polytheistic with many gods could only be called organized insofar as temples to those gods were built wherever it exercised its power. Suffice to say, the then new religion of Christianity was declared illegal and Christians were widely persecuted.
Initially, the adherents to Christianity were Jews. Gibbon notes that “The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregations over which they presided, united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ.” Judaism had been around for three thousand years by that time, but there were a variety of factors that kept it isolated and limited in numbers. It did not actively proselytize and the requirement for circumcision was a deterrent. Judaism also had many restrictions such as dietary laws and requirements that further reduced its attraction for the masses.
All that changed with the advent of Saul of Tarsus, now known as St. Paul, a Jew who experienced an epiphany that threw open the doors to the philosophical and historical basis of Judaism. “Christianity offered itself to the world, armed with the strength of the Mosaic law and delivered from its fetters,” wrote Gibbon. “The divine authority of Moses and the prophets was admitted, and even established, as the firmest basis of Christianity.”
“The promise of divine favor, instead of being partially confirmed to the posterity of Abraham, was universally proposed to the freeman and the slave, to the Greek and the barbarian, to the Jews and to the Gentile.”
“When the promise of eternal happiness was proposed to mankind, on condition of adopting the faith, and of observing the precepts of the gospel, it is no wonder that so advantageous an offer should have been accepted by great numbers of every religion, of every rank, and of every province in the Roman empire.”
The Roman empire had reigned supreme for almost 300 years when Christianity came on the scene and would last another 200 until, in the view of historians; it became too tired to maintain itself. It stretched across the known world from the British isles to India, exacting taxes and offering protection. By the third century it could not be effectively governed from Rome and split into two factions, East and West, seen today in the Eastern and Western churches.
Christianity offered something that Judaism did not; the promise of life after death, of Heaven, and, conversely, a vision of Hell. Neither the prophets, nor the sages of Judaism devoted much attention to what occurred after death. Instead, the emphasis was and remains the means by which one can pursue a life of proper behavior based on the interpretation of the Torah or Old Testament.
Gibbon wrote “It was by the aid of these causes, exclusive zeal, the immediate expectation of another world, the claim of miracles, the practice of rigid virtue, and the constitution of the primitive church, that Christianity spread itself with so much success in the Roman empire.”
The gospels were composed in the Greek language “at a considerable distance from Jerusalem” and after gentile converts had grown in numbers. “As soon as those histories were translated into the Latin tongue, there were perfectly intelligible to all the subjects of Rome” with some exceptions.
The conversion of Constantine in the fourth century made Christianity the official religion of Rome. It is estimated that, by then, almost a third of the population had previously embraced Christianity and the empire had already begun to decline. In the early 400s, Rome was conquered by the barbaric tribes of northern Europe, the Gauls, Visigoths, and others. Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages.
In time Christianity would spread to much of the world though it would compete with the more ancient faiths of Hinduism and Buddhism, and the tribal faiths of Africa and the New World.
In 632 A.D. Islam, the invention of Mohammed, would spread as much by the sword as by its doctrine. It is the enemy of all other religions and its persecution of Christians is a warning to the world. Mohammed told his followers, “The sword is the key to heaven and hell.” These days, the Middle East is being cleansed of Christians. No accommodation can be made with Islam.
"Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation,” said President Barack Obama on June 28, 2006. A true Christian would never have uttered such words. America was and is a Christian nation. It is a lie like so much else Obama has to say on any subject, but in this case they both acknowledge the role of Christianity in the founding and history of the nation and contain a stealthy intention to undermine its present role.
Gibbon’s great work about the fall of Rome is a warning to all present empires and great powers. It fell because it lacked a doctrine of virtue as much as from the attacks by the barbarians who finished it off. Today there are new barbarians and the defense of civilization falls heavily to the worldwide Christian community.
Alan Caruba is an American public relations counselor and freelance writer who is a frequent critic of environmentalism, Islam and research on global warming. In the late 1970s Caruba founded the PR firm The Caruba Organization, and in 1990, the National Anxiety Center, which identifies itself as "a clearinghouse for information about 'scare campaigns' designed to influence public policy and opinion" on such subjects as global warming, ozone depletion and DDT.