Three hundred years after Jesus died on a Roman cross, the emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Christians, who had once been persecuted by the empire, became the empire, and those who had once denied the sword took up the sword against their neighbors.

–Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, p. 74

You know… I’m surprised Christianity isn’t a more frequently-cited example of what can happen because of cultural appropriation.

13 responses to “after

  • doubleinvert

    Some guy read me the riot act a while back for suggesting this. Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism. It was later imperialized, colonized, and appropriated. If “Western Buddhism” is appropriation –and I’ve heard a great many people suggest this– then so is Western Christianity.

    • Coyote

      Really? Why the strong reaction?

      …Anyway, it’s one of those things where the amount of time elapsed makes it feel less so, and I don’t think it’s as straightforward as that, but it’s not *not* and issue.

      • doubleinvert

        I think the idea of cultural appropriation is a hot-button issue for a lot of folks, it seems. Christianity as we practice it today exists because of it being assimilated. That which had been Middle-Eastern had been made European. This is only me guessing, but this particular guy was very unhappy with the idea that Western Christians appropriated their religion.

  • Siggy

    All religions are appropriated by each new generation. I don’t think it is correct to take a principled stand against people transforming their religions.

    • Coyote

      ..ehh I think of taking a sect originating in Judaism and transforming it into an antisemitic empire as a distinct dynamic from passing things on to the next generation.

      • Siggy

        Right, but in the post you didn’t say “antisemitic empire”, you said “appropriation”. I’m saying that the appropriation argument is wrong and too broad, while e.g. the Rachel Held Evans quote is more to the point.

        • Coyote

          So are we faulting “appropriation” as mislabeling or faulting “appropriation” as a concept?

          • Siggy

            I’m saying that appropriation is not relevant to this case. Is it wrong that the Roman emperor adopted Christianity, or is it wrong that he adopted it and then went on to do bad things with it?

            There are various reasons why I might think that appropriation of a religion might be wrong. But I have no reason to believe that appropriation necessarily leads to the degradation of the moral quality of the religion. Basically, I have no reason to believe that an early religion is “better” than its later interpretations, even if those later interpretations are dubious. Sometimes the original religion is dubious too.

          • Siggy

            For example, suppose that a westerner really likes meditation, and decides to “convert” to a stereotypical view of Hinduism. This is appropriative and wrong. However, this person’s religion is arguably better than real Hinduism, since at least he isn’t imposing a caste system on an entire people?

          • Coyote

            …being uncomfortable with the idea that a westerner could be “better” than Indians because of an arguably western colonialism-influenced caste system, but also not knowing much about Hinduism in general, I’d like to request that you relocate your analogy.

            Anyway yes obviously the act of hurting people is the central Bad Thing. And in discussions where “cultural appropriation” is named as part of a matrix of Bad Things — where that discussion is already happening — I think that Christianity makes for an evocative but complicated example.

            Since… things like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc., happened *after* gentiles took over.

            Call it coincidental, I guess.

          • Siggy

            I’m dancing around the point that I really don’t think early Christianity is that great, but presumably that’s a point that you disagree on. Truly, one of the terrible things about Christianity, is that everyone seems to think that returning to its roots is an improvement. To make any changes, people feel the need to justify it by saying it was there in Jesus’ teachings all along. This strikes me as a pointless and harmful exercise.

            As you know, I regularly critique the atheist movement, but I would never ground my criticism in the idea of being truer to [insert atheist leader]. No seriously, that guy was a jerk.

            I do in fact think it is a coincidence that the Crusades and Spanish inquisition happened after some discontinuity in tradition. There are discontinuities in tradition all over history, and you just have to go far back enough in time to find it. In this case, you seem to be going back 8 centuries. This is not remotely compelling.

          • Coyote

            Oh, so that’s what you’re doing.

            I don’t feel like I know enough about early Christianity as an era or a theology to make that particular statement. So, uh. Don’t worry, you don’t have to talk me out of it.

  • epochryphal

    yessss. or at the very least the trouble with Official State Religion (hark, ye “America is a Christian nation” sayers)

    i’m also reading some about the enforcement of Shinto by the japanese government, both as a mandatory “not-religion-just-culture” that the US abolished post-WWII, and on the subjugated population of Korea, and how christianity was often used as a site of resistance against imperialism (and against capitalism, much to the chagrin of western missionaries). and this is in the past 200 years. (bonus, shinto wasn’t even framed as a religion until contact with western christianity.)

    thinky thoughts about imperialism and religion and culture.

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