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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas, the Great Inclusion; PART TWO

Christmas; The Great Inclusion
Part two- Saul of Tarsus

What do you do when you have a struggling new religion and you just can’t get it off the ground. You’ve got some new ideas, some fresh perspectives… you want to get the word out.
Yes, this is what the early Christians faced. The Romans had really done a number on them. Early Christians were a sect of the Jewish faith. Oh yes. They were Jews. It is a little recognized fact, much to the chagrin of the KKK that Jesus was in fact a Jew. I don’t know that he ever denounced the Jewish faith as a matter of fact. But I digress.

So, here we had the Romans actively persecuting the Jews. They had the audacity to give the Romans the proverbial finger. And the fledgling religion was caught up in the struggle. The once great Jewish nation was nearly cleansed from the earth as the great Roman armies invaded to clear the insurrections. Oh no… the Christians were not the first to go after the Jews (oh… but back then the Christians were Jews!).

So, here we have a decimated nation with a new sect impoverished by the cleansing of war. And in its Jewish state, it had moderate acceptance but was not growing. In fact, in all likelihood, it could have died had not Saul of Tarsus come along.

Saul described himself as an active persecutor of the new sect early in his life. He was a fundamentalist Jew and a legal Roman citizen. There was no room for these free wheeling liberal hippies spreading love all around. Persecution in those days was not an act of publishing pamphlets and yelling hatred in the street. No, it was a driving people from their homes, whipping and killing sort of thing. Somewhere along the way, he had a vision where upon his heart was changed. He saw the error of his ways. Love was the answer and he joined the new liberal sect. Although he never met Christ, nor was he given an assignment by one of the authorities, Saul took it upon himself to spread the good word.

His first act was to change his name. For you see, you need to do something to convince people that you’re not the same ole murdering SOB they used to know. A name change is good. It completely eradicates all that old history… at least it did back then. Paul traveled and could see that the easiest way to grow the membership was in the liberal act of inclusion. He stepped outside the borders of Judah and started teaching to the Gentiles, those not born to the Jewish cast. He was ridiculed by the fundamentalist Jewish Christians for this act. Are we confused by this liberal, fundamentalist, conservative ping pong ball yet? Okay… let’s let it go. The thing to see here was that Paul was an inclusionist.

The practice wasn’t a new idea. Egyptians, for example took no chances. They would write prayers from just about every known religion to include in their burial rituals just to make sure their loved one would be properly carried into the afterlife. Believe it or not, there are Egyptian burial records with even Christ mentioned in later years.

But this was a first for the new faith. It was not to be the last. Religious sanctity depicted in art… holy angels with halos, for example, would be taken from the old Greek religions.

Paul would come to be the principal figure in shaping the structure and very nature of the new Christian faith. Christianity ceased being a Jewish sect with the acts of Paul. New members coming in from surrounding nations carried it to a new faith to stand on its own… sort of.

It needed more followers. And to do that, the Christians needed to attract people with better marketing. That marketing would lead to the unofficial policy of inclusion. Other religions and nations had long held traditions which they could not abandon. Christianity gave them a way to follow the new path and still hold on to their closely held traditions. For Christianity would embrace those traditions and make them its own.

The holiday we now celebrate as Christmas would become an amalgamation of many traditions from many cultures. Now this, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Copyright 2006 by Cindi Jones RSS feeds allowed.

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