Commercializing Spirit

Religious invention, like any marketable product, needs a variety of representations and catch phrases to keep sales appealing and active.  In western religious practice one of those tools, especially as taken over in Christian practice, is the use of the word “saint.”  That word is commonly traced back as translating some derivative of the Hebrew qados and/or the Greek hagios.  In both cases these words were applied primarily to the gods that inspired awe and therefore warranted adoration.  Those in the business of selling belief  found it profitable to extend the meaning to include those persons or things that allegedly held a unique relationship to the gods.  The devised ploy was that a special relationship of certain persons had been divinely set apart from the corrupt world and made sufficiently clean—that is, rendered “holy” by man-concocted magic rites so that legendary persons or objects could be used for sacred theatrics.

The political minded priests of Yahweh at work in Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE declared that anyone devoted to their god constituted the “holy people” of Israel.  This necessitated that the priests indulge themselves in a bit of flim-flam, for “holy” in this use did not imply any moral sense: it was simply the priestly claims of having been especially selected as God’s people.  Behind this priestly indulgence in sales technique, the true purpose had nothing to do with the people’s personal spiritual advancement; it was totally focused on attaining and maintaining material/political advantages for their belief project.  Thus the followers of the Yahweh priests were declared to be “holy people”—in their meaning a nation set apart (self-segregated) for worship or service to God under priestly administration.

This false sense of spiritual entitlement that was introduced into the “faith” that was being manufactured in Jerusalem cultivated characteristics that guaranteed that the faith could never reflect the diverse and all-embracing power that they claimed to serve.  Creation, as priests of Yahweh presented it, is said to be managed through a system of favoritism and discrimination.

The rise of a counter doctrine was inevitable, especially since the devotees to the politics of spirit fostered in Jerusalem had made for unending skirmishes throughout the young musclebound Roman Empire.  The initiation of the cult that was to become Christianity happened to feature a man cast as a Jewish rebel whose name happened to be derived from the Torah’s militaristic and brutal messiah named Joshua.  Thus in the anthology that would evolve as the New Testament there is found a heavy draw upon all things Jewish. 

The new faith movement was conceived and fleshed out primarily in Rome, not in Jerusalem, but the early authors did have a certain amount of personal familiarity with the governing families in Jerusalem.  As the Christian counter-movement evolved, it also borrowed strong attributes from other religious cults of the time–Mithraism, Orphism, Gnosticism, even Stoicism, etc.  Also, various authors brought different colorings to the new cult, among which was the absorption of the Jewish notion of a special category of  persons who pleased heaven and which also appealed to the egos of attracted converts.  Thus, since the people of Judaism had been presented as “holy ones,” there had to be allowance made which placed the young competing “faith” movement on a competitive base with the unruly Jews.  Consequently, God suddenly found himself possessed with a whole new variety of “favorites.”

The political minded authors of the new Christian cult therefore cleverly incorporated into the new holy works the idea that those who comprised the new church were “holy” and called them “saints” because they were allegedly set apart for God (not by God), and the church itself was the alleged New Israel. So we now read in Romans 1:7 (written c. 100 CE when the authors were restructuring the earlier Christian strategies), that Christians are artfully referred to as God’s own people.  This theme is also implied in 1:1 of Philippians, undoubtedly written much later than the 64 date that is commonly insisted upon.  At the time when Philippians was penned, Roman annoyance at the Jews spiritual conceit and arrogance was being channeled into a strategy of spiritual intimidation; this intent would reach it orgiastic conclusion in the book of Revelation (written c. 135 CE) where a new Jerusalem is allegedly to be lowered to Earth after Christ’s aggressive judgment is passed.  The rest of the Roman world was apparently meant to continue.

As the Christian movement grew over the centuries and its influence spread from Rome across Europe, the religious movement became something of a replacement for the collapsed Roman Empire.  It cannot be said to have been exactly a godly blessing for the world.  The first recognized “saints,” of  course, were the disciples given in the cult account.  From that starting point every figure ever presented as a “saint” throughout Christian history has in some manner advanced the corporate church itself—and not one of those “saints” can be said to have advanced mankind’s understanding that the universe responds directly to each person if each person learns to approach it in sincere reverence.

Today, locked in its time warp, the Roman Catholic Church is still indulging in the old self-promotion tactics, and plans are in place to elevate the late Pope John Paul to “saint” status.  All that is needed for this celebrated recognition is a miracle that can be credited to him.  As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

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