Mr. Bookworm and I, with great pleasure, watched the first season of Rome, an HBO show that begins shortly before Caesar crossed the Rubicon and ends . . . well, I won’t tell you. It’s a fabulous production — gorgeous to look at and, aside from a few historical inaccuracies aimed at punching up the story-line, extremely accurate historically. As such, it gave a window into what an incredibly cruel and violent people the Romans were. I mean, really frighteningly violent, with every powerful person his own little Marquis de Sade.
As we were nearing the end of this season’s production, Mr. Bookworm, who is a committed atheist, launched into an impressive, but somewhat ill-informed attack, on the Bible. He contends that the stories are terrible and that it’s just a big canard that there’s some sort of morality involved. It would have been a more impressive declamation if he’d known that the Hanukkah story isn’t in the Bible, and had been able to distinguish the Old from the New Testament.
This little riff would have vanished into the ether if we hadn’t immediately after watched the “Making of” video about Rome. Both the historical advisor and the producer made precisely the same point. Both noted that the Romans were incredibly religious, contantly praying and sacrificing (often violently or sexually) to a vast panoply of Gods. Then, both pointed out that the Roman religion was completely unrelated to morality. Finally, each added that cultural morality as we know it today — and with it a huge decrease in casual, day-to-day cruelty, came after the Judeo-Christian religion arrived. I forebore to say anything.
While I kept quiet with Mr. Bookworm, I do have something to say to all of you who celebrate Christmas this year. Have a wonderful holiday, and one made particularly wonderful by the knowledge that your religion — while it has had some fits and starts, and while some practioners have taken longer to back off from cultural cruelty than others — has been one of the great civilizing institutions in our world.
(I’ll be blogging intermittently, if at all, over the next couple of weeks. However, DQ has promised to try to blog and all of you know that he does some of the most fascinating posts ever to grace this blog.)