Friday, December 7, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 9 Part 1

In Chapter 9 of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes lays out why the theological differences between paganism and Christianity is so important. He is brutally honest about the reality of the human condition:
[We are] borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away [from God] by the desire of pleasure and various lusts…our wickedness [has] … clearly shown … its reward, punishment and death…
The great conundrums of the human experience have always been suffering and death. Mythologies, religions, and even political systems always try to explain why they are necessary and how to move beyond them.

In the pagan world-view, the gods are petty beings that cause all kinds of problems. When they become angry, natural disasters follow. Thus, the sacrificial system that pagans employ is based on the hope that such offerings will keep a certain deity placated as to avoid disaster. When disaster inevitably happens, it is explained away by claiming that the sacrifices made were not enough.

Note that within the Judeo-Christian religious system there is also a sacrificial system; however, rather than placating God it is a teaching tool used by God to help humanity understand that it was not
possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified
by anything other than God Himself.

when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us…
Christ Himself became the sacrifice so as to pave a path for all of humanity to overcome suffering and death by entering into His Kingdom.

Note how vulnerable the pagan sacrificial system is to abuse by those in power. If one has the ability to either predict or manufacture disasters, this knowledge could be used to demonstrate how the gods are angered by political opponents or by certain philosophies, activities, etc. It is ripe for using in order to oppress those under the influence of the pagan power structure.

Christianity is a threat to those interested in power. It always has been and always will be. Christ empowers the individual to move beyond the influence of power. By trampling down death by death he removes fear for those who have faith in Him. Those in power have nothing to hold over or threaten a Christian. This is why the martyrs were able to endure. The Roman Empire exerted all of the power it had at Christianity and still the martyrs endured and even convinced others in the face of death to accept Christ.

Thus, in a world where the Empire is pagan and has the ability through magic to manufacture disaster and death, the pagan system of sacrifice is going to be a tool of those in power to keep and maintain that power. In turn, any Christianity/Church analogue is going to be understood to be an existential threat to those who wield that power.

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