What is our Christian innovation but good, clear authority? We owe no allegiance to any king before God, and after God we each owe allegiance to some other king, endowed by God with a limited right to command us. Curiously alone among the faiths, we unmistakably recognize Him as a benevolent authority commanding clearly.
With its kind of authority claim, Christianity stands alone. Polytheists of all stripes vary wildly even within their stripe, as the faith always comes down to individual gurus or individual versions of Mars or Jupiter. New Age crystal gazers and certain pagans posit a vague benevolence, but it is a life-force we command and harness. Chinese ancestor worship doesn’t fit, for dead men tell no tales. Buddhists as such lack a loving King. Jerusalem the dispersed and Mecca the confused, elder brothers and younger cousins of a sort, do not speak as clearly as Rome.
That God, at the end of a brief sojourn while having his glorified Resurrection body, would as his last act appoint an office manager and a supervisory staff of eleven is remarkably audacious, even novel. On a moment’s reflection, the practicality of this thing reveals, as in the satisfying click of a lightswitch, a wryness about God. Of course that’s the right way to do it, say the pagans, why didn’t anyone think of it before?
Neither Hindus nor Romans ignored authority in other spheres. They worshiped Ceasar, for all pagans worship power, but the Ceasar was more real than their gods or their worship of gods. Why were their versions of deity without a transcendent body of believers, as solid as a rock and larger than the realm? Perhaps pagans knew their versions of deity were versions of deity.
This is rather explicit in Greece and Rome, where each city patron was of a version. If Cicero is any indication, pagan men of letters didn’t really believe in their gods, or at best believed only very casually. For pantheon grew as the Empire did, the local barbarian goddesses marrying the foreign Roman god in a show of syncretism. There is something simultaneously careless and showy about the casting of lots and, say, Mithraic baptism, which rings as hollow as anything of spectacle. Where else can you slaughter a bull, bathing in and drinking its steaming blood?
So paganism is the pursuit of God, and a showy pursuit of God, and then a bad pursuit of God if a pursuit at all. Feeling is all we’d have to go on and our efforts feel fruitless. It is a bottom-up effort ending bottom-up. Can there any surprise? When we know our pursuit is our own creation, if kept alive it soon becomes the pursuit of an experience. Tastes being different, of course some will prefer one version of Jupiter over another. Protest accretions, if you want, but never terribly loudly.
Mobbishness is scandal among us — think judgmental pride, though heaven knows we do it — by the nature of our faith. In stripes upon stripes of paganism, there is something worse even than mobbishness, which at least gets things done. In practical paganism comes again and again the dishonesty of casual, off-handed diffidence.
1. INT. Young man, dressed as a MESSENGER, glances around and rushes as fast as propriety will let him through a large VILLA. Decorated sumptuously in blues and purples, here a potted fern and there a colorfully painted stone column, it is a place of wealth and luxury. Messenger doesn’t seem very impressed by all this, though the finery is designed to draw the eye — away from the armed GUARDS at the doorway. We hear talking, in jovial Latin, behind a blue curtain as the messenger approaches. He shows the guards that he has a message. After cursory examination of the seal, looking bored, the two let him pass.
2. INT. We stay back beyond the curtain until such time as the messenger delivers his scroll to the CONSUL. The Consul, surrounded by some houseguests, wears prominently some symbol of authority. Reading the note, he soon nods yawningly, handing a few denarii towards the messenger without looking. We come up to a MEDIUM SHOT and the Consul’s words are for the first time audible. He talks to his friends, who chuckle knowingly at points.
Think of that! One of the backwater provinces has a new god! No sense in being unaccommodating. What’s one more among many? (Confidentially) You know, I always did say all these gods were all the same. Rather tedious, really, but clever men can make use of it. Sometimes I think that old crook Verres had the right idea.
(At this there is less laughter, so he finally turns to the messenger) Might as well let this one in, too.
(Points delicately at a part of the scroll, whispering inaudibly with frantic respect)
What do you mean, “They said no?”