It was today, the 27th of October in 312 that the general and would be emperor Constantine, later called the Great, claimed to have a vision of a cross in the sky and heard the words “With this sign, conquer.”
I’ve commented on this moment in the past. In 2011 I titled my noticing of this date “When Religions Go Bad.” In 2016 I titled it “One Could Say Today is the Day the Devil Took Over Christianity.” And in 2018 I headed it “The Festival of Cutting a Deal With the Devil.”
I guess that shows my feelings on the subject.
I often comment “all religions are false.” Here’s a signal marker of why. Not all of it. Mostly, the problem I find with religion is the crowd control element. Which, is, of course, something that calls for nuance. In reality while sometimes crowd control, it is more about social cohesion. A part of religion that appears to be important, after all its the main project of religion as I’ve seen it over history.
There is, I need to add, a corollary, “all religions are true” part. That’s the mystical impulse that notes the entanglement of the individual and the world itself.
But today, that vision proclaimed by the would be emperor. And the mess of it. It’s a very good marker for the great turning that would make Christianity as we know it today. The product of politics.
Although to be fair the threads that would weave into what we think of as Christian orthodoxy had long been taking shape. And what would become normative wouldn’t actually take its full form for a bit yet.
But as a marker for something before and something following, it certainly works. With, as I’ve already confessed with less than satisfactory conclusion, at least to my heart.
Even the Protestant Reformation wouldn’t touch much of the theology that would be set in place with that story of sin and redemption that sits at the heart of Trinitarian theologies. Actually in some ways not a bad story. It has some deep truths about it. And, I’ve seen how people grow deep within that story.
I was talking with a friend about our mutual admiration for Tony Hillerman and his Navajo detective stories. We particularly are impressed with his respectful and knowledgable presentation of religion. My friend noted one of the interesting points in it was that while Navajo an Hopi religion exist side by side, whatever conflicts might arise, they never arise because of religious differences. I have my religion, you have yours. I’m not trying to say there is universal religious tolerance here, but within this moment the descriptions are just that. If Christianity had that sense of openness, then, I think, there can be doorways into the deep with which, while not mine, are pretty obviously there. And, I’ve seen it happen.
The problem, and it’s enormous, mostly comes with believing it is a fact on the ground, hard history, and something to be defended with that sword that conquers.
Today science, secularism, and intimations that much of the Christian story are no more likely than the stories of Greek or Roman divinities are probably the first intimations of a religion holding tightly to it being historically true beginning to fray.
Not that I would put serious money on Christianity having had its run. But, I do think a new sign has presented. But where it will go, how it will conquer, that’s certainly yet to be written.
Various Fundamentalisms, Christian and otherwise, are certainly on offer. And, people are buying. And there’s something else going on, as well.
There are signs and portents. Hesitant. Unsure. Unclear.
Invitation. Tumbling into the mystery.
Invitations. Of not knowing as the intimate way.
Seeing through a glass darkly, as the good book tells us. At least in the ever lovely King James Version. That is it.
Only don’t know. It is the mother of science. It is the mother of toleration. It is the mother of all gods and the mother of our calling out to all gods.
Openness, curiosity, not knowing is the mother of all good.
That’s the sign I notice. That’s the new vision being sung from a hundred different voices, from a hundred different island caves.
And in this next round, this next turning of the wheel, may it be the one that conquers.