As I am sure you have all heard, Senator Bernie Sanders recently impugned Russel Vought for his Christian beliefs, calling them hateful and islamophobic. Others in cyberspace will comment about the unconstitutionality of this kind of action (never mind the indecency of Sanders in refusing to understand what Vought meant by his comments). Here, all I wish to bring to your attention are the comments of a Roman historian, Tacitus.
Tacitus lived from A.D. 56 to A.D. 120. His Annals contain one of the earliest statements about Christians from outside the New Testament. In describing the actions of Nero Caesar, during the great fore of his reign, Tacitus says that the Christians were blamed for it, to remove suspicion from Nero. He also tells how a great multitude were rounded up and punished, though not for the fire but for “odio humani generis convicti sunt.” Translated this clause reads, “they were convicted for hatred of humanity.” Senator Sanders is expressing the same sentiment as Tacitus.
The reason for this is that both Tacitus and Sanders are imperialists. What I mean by an imperialist is one believes that many different religions, cultures, and languages can coexist under the same government. The government that holds the power over these multifaceted groups is called an empire. Rome was the greatest of the ancient world, America is the current empire of the modern world. More could be said about the nature of an empire, but here the multiculturalism of an empire is what needs to be highlighted.
But to maintain cohesion within the empire, those who rule it must inculcate some form or unity and toleration between the various peoples under their sway. In Rome, this unity was expressed an inculcated by participation in Roman cultural activities: the gladiatorial combat, chariot racing, paying divine honors to the emperor. All Romans did these things, no matter the cultural background they originated from. Except the Chriatians.
The paganism involved in most, if not all, of the Roman cultural acts of solidarity was forbidden to Christians on account of their adherence to the Holy Scriptures. The Romans, however, saw this, as Tacitus put it, as hatred for humanity. “These Christians insist on non participation in our collective cultural life. They must hate all men of sense and culutre!” And hence Tacitus can say that Christians hated humanity.
The cultural context of our day is also an attempt to inculcate imperial unity and cohesion. Hence, the great agitations in our society over “discrimination”, “racism”, and “bigotry.” These terms are bandied about to supress any thoughts or actions that do not conform to the cultural acts of solidarity which are necessary for the cohesion of the empire. Hence, in Bernie Sanders view, the basic belief of Christianity, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, is seen as hateful to other faiths. And hence, a danger to the cultural cohesion that the servants of empire wish to maintain.
Over a thousand years ago, our forefathers in the faith dealt with this same species of “bigotry” from the cultural elites. These things have already passed over the Church, and it would appear that they are rising again in our society. The experiences of our forefathers in the faith would be a helpful guide for the Church of this generation, especially since the context of a tired crumbling empire is the context in which we live and in which the Church was founded and grew.
As Solomon said: nihil sub sole novum, nec valet quisquam dicere, “Ecce hoc recens est!” Iam enim praecessit in saeculis quae fuerunt ante nos.
There is nothing new under the sun, and no one can say, “See, this is unprecedented!” For, long before, it has already happened in the generations that went before us.
Statue of Tacitus, outside Austrian Govenrment building