What We Can Learn from the Failures of Rome

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn (the columns date from 42 BCE) in the Roman Forum. Photo by Courtney Perry.

As I expected, Christianity’s cultured despisers (many of them from within) took great offense at my daring to suggest that the Roman Empire was not unmitigated evil. Instead, I suggested that the legacy of Rome is ambivalent — good and bad. (As David Sessions brilliantly showed yesterday, hot-takes are swallowing the Christian blogosphere, on both left and right. Facebook and Twitter hot-takers gleefully troll me anytime I write a post that offends their sensibilities. This now comes with the territory of blogging.)

Nevertheless, anyone with a modicum of common sense cannot help but be impressed with the feats of the Romans, especially as you stroll through the modern city that is built upon the ruins of the empire.

And yes, they are ruins, because Rome fell, and it fell hard.

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In Praise of Empires

Courtney and I are in Rome this week, compliments of Focus Features and A Different Drummer, to visit the set of a movie based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. We are embargoed from writing anything about the movie (yet), but my fifteenth trip to the Eternal City has brought on some thoughts.

Among Christianity’s critics from within — especially my own tribe of progressive Protestants — it’s fashionable to disparage empire at every turn. Empire, it seems, is responsible for everything that ails our faith.

Oh, and Constantine was an asshat.

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true.

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Our Trip to Italy

It wasn’t so much this:


It was more of this:

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The Message from Rome: Slow the Hell Down

I first walked into Ibiz leather shop in 1989 as a college student, and I walked out with the nicest belt I’d ever owned. I walked back in yesterday, took the belt off my waist, and handed it to the daughter of the man who’d sold it to me years before. Her parents opened the shop on an alley in the ancient city in 1972. They still work there, as does she, these many years later. She cleaned my belt, punched another hole in it (alas!), and we talked about the many and various items that I’ve bought from her over the years.

It’s a bit cliché to talk about the slower pace of life in the Mediterranean countries, especially in Italy, but it’s also accurate, and apt. All is not bright in this country — they’re on their 50-something government since WWII, the government is rife with corruption and in-fighting, and the weakness of the Italian economy may be the thing that brings down the Euro.

A lot has also been made about the recent report that Italy is losing population. It’s one of the few countries in the world that is getting smaller. It won’t be able to compete in the global economy, some fear, without a higher birthrate and more, more, more.

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