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Christmas as a Nonviolent Alternative to Imperialism
Imperial “Peace” This is a declaration about celebrating the birthday of Emperor Augustus. It comes from the League of Asian Cities in 9 B.C.E. (“Asian” in the Roman empire meaning eastern Turkey and its surroundings). Emphasis ours:
Since the providence that has divinely ordered our existence has applied her energy and zeal and has brought to life the most perfect good in Augustus, whom she filled with virtues for the benefit of mankind, bestowing him upon us and our descendants as a savior – he who put an end to war and will order peace, Caesar, who by his epiphany exceeded the hopes of those who prophesied good tidings, not only outdoing benefactors of the past, but also allowing no hope of greater benefactions in the future.
Monument: Ara Pacis Augustae, the "Altar of Augustan Peace," as reassembled
The method Augustus used to “put an end to war” was by fighting and winning an especially large civil war. And what the Romans meant by their Pax Romana was that they could commit mass executions “in peace” – and these were especially intentionally brutal. They could allow shockingly massive feticide and infanticide (especially against baby girls and the disabled) “in peace.” They could set things up so that rich people caused the vast majority of people to live in poverty “in peace.” They could have coups, riots, and brutal quelling of riots, and yet still say they were having peace. They could even have full-fledged battles, because those weren’t major wars. In short, they asserted a rather strange idea of “peace.” A Nonviolent Alternative In contrast, many of the words emphasized above are more familiar to us from the Christmas story. Many people nowadays are unaware they were ever applied to the emperor. But anyone living at the time would know: an alternative way of seeing those words was being proposed, by applying them to someone who was emphatically not a brutal ruler.
Painting: The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622
We see contrasts in the Christmas story: The location of the birth was deliberately humble and among those in poverty. The marginalized (especially shepherds) were prominent in the story. Women (Mary and Elizabeth) were active participants in the story – especially important when unborn babies (Jesus and John the Baptist) are also major participants in the story. Power? Of these two competing visions for what “peace” means, which birth has millions of people centuries later still singing songs about it every year? How many of us even know without googling what was common knowledge at the time – when Augustus’s birthday was? How many of us find the nativity scene above familiar and know the characters, but aren’t familiar with the Augustus “peace” monument – and would have to have the characters chiseled on the side explained to us? How many of us now only know the mighty emperor at all mainly because he’s mentioned once in the Christmas story (Luke 2:1)?
Blog Post: Speech in Front of Planned Parenthood on Early Christians For our final post of 2019, and appropriate to the season, we have remarks from CL Board Member Rob Arner when he spoke at the March for Life in front of the Warminster Planned Parenthood on November 2: The Early Christian Tradition. Because Rob’s speech covers the history of the consistent life ethic from centuries long ago, we hope this will also be of interest to those who aren’t Christians themselves. It’s gratifying to know that the history goes deep.
Past Holiday Editions In 2010, we showed “It’s a Wonderful Movement” by using the theme of what would happen if the peace movement and the pro-life movement hadn’t arisen. We also had quotes from Scrooge (against respect for life) and a Martin Luther King Christmas sermon. In 2011, we covered the materialism-reducing “Advent Conspiracy” and offered two pieces of children’s literature: a 1938 anti-war cartoon called “Peace on Earth,” and the anti-war origins of “Horton Hears a Who,” whose tagline – “a person’s a person, no matter how small” - is irresistible to pro-lifers. In 2012, we had a couple of quotes showing the pro-life aspects of two prominent Christmas tales: A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Scrooge, and the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We also quote from John Dear about Jesus as peacemaker and Rand Paul about the 1914 spontaneous Christmas Truce; he then related it to the culture of life. In 2013, we shared several quotations reflecting on Christmas. In 2014, we offered a quotation from a lesser-known Christmas novella of Charles Dickens and cited the treatment of abortion in the Zoroastrian scriptures. In 2015, we had a list of good holiday movies with consistent-life themes – check it out for what you might want to see this season. We also had information on Muslim nonviolent perspectives. In 2016, we mentioned that “The Magi were Zoroastrians” and detailed how good the Zoroastrians were on consistent-life issues. The ancient roots of the consistent life ethic do run very deep! In 2017, we covered Interfaith Peace in the Womb. In 2018, we detailed Strong Women against Violence – Connected to the Holidays.
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