We Tolerate Being Told What to Read

16th-century fresco depicting the Council of Nicaea. (Fresco in Capella Sistina, Vatican). Wikipedia

I was listening to a podcast: Rob Bell invited John Philip Newell to Largo in Los Angeles. I felt compelled to transcribe his remarks about empire and its relationship to the sacred.

A Transcription

It was in the fourth century that Christianity got into bed with empire. That was when our religious tradition became wedded to power. I believe there were many inconvenient truths within our Jesus wisdom, inconvenient to empire.

Jesus challenges the falseness and injustice of empire at cost. There’s so much in that Jesus wisdom stream that was inconvenient to empire. In order for Christianity to be retained as religion of empire, a lot of the inconvenient stuff was pushed aside.

It was in the fourth century that the empire decided which books should come within the canon of holy scripture.

In what other area of life would we tolerate being told what to read by a council of men appointed by the empire?

But we have quite passively read what they told us to read. But the reality is that there were many other testimonies to Jesus that had been written, and in the fourth century when those writings didn’t make it into the canon of prescribed reading, many of those writings had to be hidden away, many were destroyed, and many of them became fragmented.

One of the interesting things that’s happening at this moment in time, I mean in the 20th century in a place like Nag Hammadi in Egypt, the earth threw these writings back up at us.

Some of those writings have a radically different vision of what Jesus was teaching. So, we need to ask lots of questions about what was happening in the fourth century. That’s when many of the doctrines that have come to occupy central ground — like the doctrine of original sin — that’s when those doctrines came into sharp articulation, because that is convenient to empire. Empire doesn’t want to hear that wisdom and sacredness is at the heart of the people. Empire wants to dispense truth from above and find a form of religion that will control the people, not revere the people. And similarly, empire does not want to hear that matter is sacred. And by empire I’m not just meaning the Roman Empire. I’m meaning the British Empire. I’m meaning the American Empire.

If matter is sacred, then we can’t do whatever we wish to it.

The Robcast Episode

This was transcribed from the recording starting at 34:35.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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