I was a Muslim refugee once. I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to gamble your entire future on a one-way ticket to a foreign land, what it’s like to fill in the forms, not knowing for sure what the right answers are. I know what it’s like to fear rejection, deportation and the dangers that await you back home.
….it was my high expectations that made last Friday’s executive order on immigration so puzzling. It was, apart from anything else, clumsy. It caught border protection agents and customs officials by surprise. It sowed confusion and fear among travelers, immigrants and legal permanent residents. Its poor execution was a gift to the president’s critics.
In halting the entry of all refugees, and in appearing to be directed against Muslims — including even those who had worked for the U.S. military as interpreters — it was much too broad. In temporarily banning citizens from just seven countries, however, it was also too narrow (citizens from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and several North African countries have also been implicated in terrorism).
True, the president had made clear back in August that this was part of what he intended to do. “We will have to temporarily suspend immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism,” he said. “As soon as I take office, I will ask the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to identify a list of regions where adequate screening cannot take place. We will stop processing visas from those areas until such time as it is deemed safe to resume based on new circumstances or new procedures.”
But what got lost in the hysteria that followed last Friday’s announcement was that these are temporary measures, not the foundation for future policy. As Trump said in August, his administration “will establish a clear principle that will govern all decisions pertaining to immigration: we should admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people … In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles — or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country. Only those who we expect to flourish in our country — and to embrace a tolerant American society — should be issued immigrant visas.”
If that is still the Trump administration’s plan, then it has my support.
The story of Christ, it seems, is now coming out of the closet. In Creating Christ: How Roman Emperors Invented Christianity, James S. Valliant and C. W. Fahy present new evidence to show that the Roman emperors have played a critical role in the development of Christianity. The Romans and the Jews were the two dominant cultures in the 1st-Century CE. The Romans were the conquerors, but the Jews, not ready to accept defeat, had launched an apocalyptic rebellion.
Valliant and Fahy argue that the “Roman government, in direct response to this bitter clash of cultures, created Christianity.”
The Flavian general Vespasian and his son Titus were the Roman emperors in the era when the key tenets of Christianity were formulated. Both Vespasian and Titus had proclaimed that they were the messiahs of the Jewish prophecy—this was part of their official propaganda and imperial cult. Their strategy seems to have worked because during their reign peace was achieved, and many Jewish leaders of that period accepted Vespasian and Titus as messiahs.
“Was their arrival in power and glory as the princes of peace the advent of Jesus’s prophecy? Or is it possible that Jesus’s prophecy was written while these Flavian emperors ruled in order to prove their messianic pretensions after they had conquered Judea?” Valliant and Fahy ask in the first chapter, “Crux Dissimulata.”
The authors cite several facts: the Gospels have been written during the reign of Flavian emperors, who attained power after crushing a religion inspired rebellion of messianic Jews some 40-years after the alleged death of Jesus — few friends of the Flavian emperors make an appearance in the New Testament — the oldest Christian catacombs were the original burial site of the relatives of the Flavian emperors — the husband of Vespasian’s granddaughter was counted among the first popes of the first Christian church in Rome.
The coins that were being issued in the millions by the Flavian emperor Titus indicate some kind of linkage with early Christianity. These coins bear the symbol of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor which is also the symbol that the Christians used to symbolize Christ for the first three centuries before the Emperor Constantine replaced it with the symbol of the Cross.
By taking all of this evidence into account Valliant and Fahy reach the conclusion “that Christianity is somehow intertwined with imperial Rome.”
In the book’s introduction we are informed that Creating Christ is the result of a 30-years of research. The book is extremely evidence based—it covers a large number of historical and religious texts. It surveys artifacts and coins from that era to find new details. That it covers such a vast expanse of evidence in 383-pages is, in my view, a feat of concision. Here I can only look at some of the major features of the book to give readers a feel of its content and arguments.
Valliant and Fahy reject the popularly believed theory that the Christians were being persecuted by the Roman emperors. “The evidence suggests that the persecution of the Christians was not at all common before the Christian faith started to become the official state religion of the Roman Empire under the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century.”
The basis of the theory that the Christians were being hunted down and slaughtered by the Roman empire is the famous account of the 2nd-Century historian Tacitus. In his The Annals, Tacitus has suggested that the Roman emperor Nero tried to pin the blame for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE on the Christians. But Valliant and Fahy assert that there are many flaws in Tacitus’s account.
In 64 CE, the Gospels had not been written—they would not be written until the Flavian era that followed Nero’s rule. Also, the very few Christians who existed in that period were the “tax-paying citizens who render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and turn the other cheek while walking the extra mile for Romans.” It is unlikely that Nero would vilify and prosecute such people who were essentially the supporters of the empire.
Valliant and Fahy suggest that Tacitus is “confusing one group of devotees of a Jewish messiah with another group who were, indeed, creating very serious trouble for the Roman government and were, in fact, quite active in Rome at that time.” In other words, the Christians that Tacitus is blaming for the Great Fire were the hardcore group of messianic rebels. The historian, Flavius Josephus, a Jew who adopted his Roman name after being captured by Vespasian during the Jewish War, has commented extensively on the messianic rebels.
The view that the book presents of the role that Flavius Josephus has played in Christianity is dramatically different from what is popularly believed. Josephus’s major work, Wars of the Jews, was produced during the reign of Vespasian with official Roman approval. He was also the author of works like Antiquities of the Jews and Against Apion. He believed that the Roman victory over Jews was inevitable and he was remarkably Christian. Understandably, he was regarded as a traitor by his fellow Jews.
It is noteworthy that Josephus’s books were written during the same period when the Gospel was written, and “there are striking similarities between the stories told about Jesus, Josephus, and the Apostle Paul. The most remarkable coincidence between Josephus and Paul, however, is a dramatic event that both of them experienced: a shipwreck on their way from Judea to Rome.” The parallels between the lives of Josephus and Jesus are equally striking. For instance, Josephus has narrated a story where he emerged alive after three days in a tomb.
“So, after spending three days in a cave while presumed dead, Josephus is revealed by a woman to be alive after all. Jesus spent three days in his tomb, as well, which was also a cave, before he was discovered by a woman, Mary Magdalene, according to all of the Gospel accounts.”
The book conducts a detailed survey of the writings of Josephus to draw out the similarities between his ideas and that of Jesus and Paul. The ideas of these three personalities were in complete sync with the official Roman propaganda. Valliant and Fahy make the allusion that Josephus may have had a rather direct role to play in the writing of the Gospels.
“In the works of Josephus, we are surely at the confluence of the same ideological rivers that produced the Gospels. And, while it may never be possible to determine the authorship of the Gospels with certainty, in the circle of semi-observant “Jews” surrounding the Flavian court we have certainly found a number of leading candidates. They were at the same place at the same time and shared the same background, education, agenda, and even the same iconography with the earliest Christians.”
The Flavian Roman Emperors were travelling down a well-trodden path when they encouraged the development of a new religion for legitimizing their rule. The Roman monarchs who preceded them also used foreign religions to establish the legitimacy of their rule over their newly conquered subjects. Julius Caesar, for instance, had claimed descent from Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the Greek epic, The Iliad.
Considering that inventing new gods was the Roman way of maintaining sway over conquered people, it would have been strange if the Flavian emperors had not used a foreign religion to demonstrate their divine favor and legitimacy as rulers. The miracles that Vespasian is said to have performed are similar to the miracles that the Gospels attribute to Jesus. There are striking similarities between Jesus and Titus. “The prophecies of Jesus in the Gospels readily lend themselves to establishing Titus as the Jewish Messiah.”
One of the side-effects of the symbiotic relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity is the rise of anti-Semitism in the world. “The Gospels systematically, even melodramatically, absolve the Roman Empire of any culpability for the death of Jesus, laying the blame exclusively on the Jewish people with such heavy hand that it inspired centuries of anti-Semitic retribution.”
At the age of thirteen, Ayn Rand decided she was an atheist. Her reason: “the concept of God is degrading to man.” One major form of this degradation is religion’s effect on genuine values, including sacred values. This idea is prominent in her early writings and continues to be featured in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as well as in her nonfiction.
In this lecture and Q&A, recorded at Objectivist Summer Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada, philosophy professor Robert Mayhew examines this aspect of Ayn Rand’s distinctive approach to atheism.