Christianity, An Urbanized Faith

Christianity can be said to have been formulated by and for city dwellers.  Rome was certainly Christianity’s nursery, and the great outlying cities of Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus and Alexandria served as its teething rings.  As Roman domination surged after Octavian became sole ruler of the Roman world (as Augustus, 34 BCE), the cultural attractions and economic allure of Rome developed steadily.  Augustus was a patron of the arts, and maintained close friendship with Ovid, Horace, Vergil, and Livy.  The phrase “the Augustan age” became a synonym for this timeframe in which literature and architecture triumphed.  This environment was to influence events that would result in the initiation of a defiant new cult that would evolve into Christianity.  There arose, as a consequence, a subtle urban style about the faith’s character quite unlike the world’s more nature-focused faiths of the peasantry.  This has led some scholars  to assess Christianity’s elaborate atmosphere as the most unnatural religion in the world, for it functions not so much on what one may feel inwardly but upon what one wills.  That, of course, reflects the traits by which the Roman Empire rose to domination.

Christianity, taking root in Rome, could be evaluated as a religion in determined disregard for the natural world, for the alleged supernatural conception of the savior, the miraculous overrule of normal limitations, and the alleged physical resurrection from death have nothing to do with the world in which we live.  That, of course, is the intent, and the tribulations of the natural world are openly scorned in Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Somehow that doesn’t ring true if God the Father created this world. 

Nature, “in the likeness” of the power and force that is personified as God, is amoral (neither good nor evil) in its implementation and operation.  Pagan reverence of natural energy involvements as minor gods tended to offer mankind nothing greater than a numb resignation that this life experience is all that one could ever expect.  That didn’t set well in a willful and thriving urban environment that expanded and prospered while extending respect to the belief systems of conquered peoples.  Despite this extended tolerance, the empire found its governance being repeatedly disrupted by the civil disobedience of those of the Jewish faith.  In face of these continuous disruptions which threatened the stability of the empire it seems more than a bit peculiar that it was in this timeframe that God suddenly found it necessary to dispatch his only begotten son to instruct the (Roman) world in the technique of gaining heavenly favor.  In defense of the new Christian cult so influenced by urban abundance and self-alienation from nature, it dared to throw off the sense of resignation and pursue a more joyous prospect of an ultimate payoff.

In city life it was easier to ignore the seeming indifference to the struggle for life that appears to underscore nature.  The religion that arose within the Roman Empire was shaped instead to appeal to human nature’s deepest yearnings for joyous, abundant life.  Christianity was offered much like a divine lotto game: if you picked the right choices, you won; if chose wrongly you gained nothing.  It offered unsupportable promises, sweetly frosted with hope.

Many of the urbane principles that came to define Christianity were polished in the environment of the outlying major cities.  These were then later revamped and stamped as canon in which belief and doctrine and dogma and rites were held to be more important than one’s inward and indefinable life experiences.  Like a map of city streets, these codes were marketed as the best means to arrive at one’s desired destination.  The young faith was blueprinted in an architectural style, an assemblage of parts—not exactly a faith that grew organically or spontaneously.  Devotion to the resultant set of principles was declared to be the only thoroughfare into the willed love of God.  The only thing not provided for was the need for occasional rest stops.

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3 Responses to “Christianity, An Urbanized Faith”

  1. Some very good critique here. The ‘re-discovery’ of the desert fathers might bode well for contemporary Christianity.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by C.M. Houck, C.M. Houck. C.M. Houck said: New blog post: Christianity, An Urbanized Faith http://bit.ly/b142Db […]

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