Faith History

Jesusism-Paulism, Part V: The People of the Book

John Boyd, the American Air Force Colonel, wrote that there were five stages to victory. In the first two, Penetration and Isolation, one’s forces enter the enemy’s networks and began tearing it apart. In the last two, Reorientation and Reharmonization, the old world is refashioned in one’s desired image.

There is only one grand choice, but that choice is critical. If, for the third stage, one chooses Subversion, one desires to “take-over” the enemy. The enemy’s house — his many mansions — should be viewed as one’s future property, and so their substance must be preserved while the deed is (re)-written

Christianity, a political philosophy that could accurately be described as Jesusism-Paulism, was designed to Subvert the Roman Empire and seize her institutions in order to remake them. Jesus summed up the essence of subversion — the conquest of force by the service to force — in one line:

If someone [a Roman soldier] forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matthew 5:41

Of course, there is another strategy. Instead of attempted to take-over, one might take-down. One might Subdue the enemy, destroying what is his, and win through war instead of through peace. Six centuries after Jesus, another Semite elucidated that strategy

Submission Through Victory

It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.
The Spoils of War:67

The Rule-Set Revolution of Islam had begun.

Muhammed ibn-Abdullah was clearly aware of Christian victory over the Romans. Muhammed changed two basic strategies of Christianity, by transforming it into a strict monotheism and optimizing it for victory in chaotic conditions. Yet these are details compared to his grandest innovation. Muhammed focused his faith not on the Most High or on His Son, but on a Rule-Set. Islam is, at its core, is not Muahmmed and is not Allah. Islam is the Holy Koran.

Muslims were the first “People of the Book” in all history. The earliest Semites were tribalists who wished for their gods to protect their families, and Judaism falls into this category. Jews may be thought of as People of their Father and Mother. The land of the Jews is given to them because of descent from Abraham:

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Genesis 15:17-21

and his wife, Sarah

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” … Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
Genesis 27:15-22

The Christians, meanwhile were the People of the Son

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:20-23

Muhammed saw a basic weakness in loyalty to a personality or Holy Family: ruleset corruption.

An essential difference between Christianity and Islam is that the faith of Jesus focused on resiliency while the religion of Muahmmed centered on resilience. Resiliency is “the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity.” The Christian takeover of Rome exhibited resiliency because the faith could adapt to problems, through unifying mechanisms such as the Nicene Creed. However, Muhammed wanted Islam to have resilience instead. Resilience, the capacity of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and then, upon unloading to have this energy recovered, focuses on recovering the initial form. Christianity as practiced during its take-over of Rome would not be operationally the same as Christianity after the fall of Rome, because the needs of a 4GW force in its early stages are different from the needs of a 4GW army in its later stages. However, Muhammad wanted Islam to be the same everywhere, he made his words into a universal ruleset.

To Christians flexibility was not a problem — only Jesus was the Word of God and revolution could “unfold.” The purpose of Christianity, after all, was not Law but Love, and Love is a magic cloud beyond words, but it is not measurable and not objectively verifiable.

To Muhammed this was a problem. As he said:

Say: “Of your ‘partners’ is there any that can give any guidance towards truth?” Say: “It is Allah Who gives guidance towards truth, is then He Who gives guidance to truth more worthy to be followed, or he who finds not guidance (himself) unless he is guided? what then is the matter with you? How judge ye?”

Mohammed was the first theorist in all history to define religion exclusively as rule-set adherence. Jesus and Paul had integrated a 4GW strategy — loving your neighbor — in with faith in order tow in. But Mohammed integrated every strategy into the faith. Contract law, criminal law, family law, even military strategy were elucidated before hand. Mohammed viewed Judaism and Christianity as failed because of the memetic drift they experienced.

Judaism and Christianity both “unfold” over time. Judaism can accurately be described as a Religion of Life because the focus is on the promulgation in this world of offspring of Abraham and Sarah. All Jewish Laws must be interpreted as rules to guide the People of Life. A Jewish Law that works against Life is not, in this context, being properly understood. Christianity can accurately be described as a Religion of Love because the focus in on the promulgation of loving kindness as described by Jesus and Paul. All Christian Laws must be interpreted as guide to the People of Love. A Christian Law that works against Love is not, in this context, being properly understood. In contrast, Islam can accurately be described as a Religion of One Ruleset, the Koran, in opposition to all others. The only proper Rules are those that spread the Ruleset. As a genetic program, Islam is frighteningly advanced.

It is fair to say that Judaism is Tribalist, Christianity is Ideological, and Islam is Totalitarian. Not in some particular implementations, but in their meaning and purpose.

The victories of Islam were swift, and they kept coming. A well evolved super-organism, the Ruleset and its Armies move conquered all of Roman Empire, Roman Iberia, all of Roman Asia outside of Anatolia. Fleets would soon sail to the indies, and assist in the flow of labor from Africa to the empire through slavery.

Much worse for the Christian Revolutionaries, the shattering attacks would not stop. The Cosmopolitan Empire, imperfect as it was, of the Greek Christians would be less and less able to export the security a Cosmopolitan faith like Christianity required. The old Maoism of Greco-Roman Civilization, which Christianity aimed to conquer, would re-emerge and the Western Church would fall pray to the barbaric tribalisms of a petty continent.

Islamic ideals would challenge Christianity as the fumbling counter-insurgency of the Romans never could. Before the Christian Revolutionaries could even calculate their losses, the Islamization of Christianity had begun.

But that is a post for another time…

Jesusism-Paulism, a series in six parts
1. Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You
2. Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better
3. Every Man a Panzer, Every Woman a Soldat
4. The Fall of Rome
5. The People of the Book
6. Embrace and Extend

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15 thoughts on “Jesusism-Paulism, Part V: The People of the Book
  1. I'm probably treading on dangerous ground commenting on this, but what else is new? 😛 Anyway, at risk of inserting foot in mouth, I can see one contradiction and one missing piece of information, here.

    The contradiction is that the teachings of Jesus and Paul you've quoted- while excellent for taking over an empire- aren't necessarily so great for defending against invaders. They do allow for the gradual co-option of occupying forces, but not for the formation of armies to prevent the occupation. Could it be that Christianity was distorted long before Muhammed was born? Could it be that- as actually practiced- Christianity was far more flexible in its strategies than implied?

    The missing piece of information is the diversity within Islam itself. Sunni is different from Shiite is different from Ismaeli is different from African-American Islam. Sufi is different from Wahabi is different from assorted local traditions. Could it be that Christianity distorted Islam even as it was distorted itself? Could it be that Islam was far more flexible in ITS strategies than implied?

    So, what am I missing?

  2. I read the first part, and it is straightforward. But the question in my mind is: what was the strength that the Christians lent to the empire?

    If it the strength of their resilience- getting them to pass parts of Roman culture as well as Christian- then the strategies you describe are entirely consistent with that strength. I would go so far as to say it worked beautifully, considering the endurance of the Latin languages.

    But you briefly mentioned Christian warriors. If the strength the empire gained was a new source of motivated troops, then the strategies you described weren't being used. A certain BRAVEHEART scene aside, you don't go into battle to turn the other cheek! The only tribute given to an enemy is the business end of a weapon, and the enemy's equipment is only carried if it's been captured. (Can't resist the pop-culture reference here) What's love got to do with it?

    More broadly, I'm wondering where the boundaries of this chain of thought lie. You yourself said:
    “It is fair to say that Judaism is Tribalist, Christianity is Ideological, and Islam is Totalitarian. Not in some particular implementations, but in their meaning and purpose.” But why the difference in implementations?

    Assuming the strength of the Christians was on the battlefield, was it just a matter of their deciding not to follow their own rules for a while? Were they following explicit rules other than the ones you mentioned? Were they distorted by the threat of the barbarians long before Muhammed was even born? Similar questions could be asked about the variation amongst the Muslims.

  3. At risk of oversimplifying and introducing bias, it sounds like the strength the Christians brought could be summed up as “The willingness to take responsibility for the empire's wellbeing”.

  4. Phil – thanks! 🙂 Where's it weak? Where does it go wrong? How can I make the post or the series better?

  5. What I had been stumbling to articulate over our last few rounds on the subject, you have explained magnificiently! Rule-set vs. Ideals is (I believe) the central friction between Christianity and Islam.

    As to your questions to Phil, I can't think of way to improve the post. As for the series, get on with part VI!


  6. Mike,

    Glad you like the series!

    It seems that Christianity and Islam are going for different mental processes — Christianity relies on the altruistic, eusocial, “fairness-oriented” parts of the brain, while Islam tries to propagate through specific-action-based repetition.

    There's implications for educational style [1] and even martyrdom here, but I need to think them out…


  7. Michael,

    Thanks for the excellent post — it feels wonderful to get back to this series!

    Jesus and Paul's strategies on subversion of the state flow seamlessly into rules on controlling the state. I discuss this in the first part of the series, written in summer 2005.

    Going forward, what are you thinking of when you write “Could it be that- as actually practiced- Christianity was far more flexible in its strategies than implied?” I am curious.

    On Islam — I've written on the Sunni / Shia split before, and I think it's fair to say that Islam is particularly interested by Arian and Catholic Christianity. The greatest of the early Islamic innovations would have been Caliph Mamun's Mutazilite heresy [1], inspired not by Christianity but by Greek philosophy, but such is a post for another time… 😉

    (If you are interested with criticisms of this series more generously, Curtis has kindly provided some [2,3];-)


  8. “Assuming the strength of the Christians was on the battlefield, was it just a matter of their deciding not to follow their own rules for a while? Were they following explicit rules other than the ones you mentioned?”


    The anthropologist Marvin Harris, in his book “Our Kind” [1], makes some great points about how states utilized the 'non-killing religions'. He uses that term to differentiate between those religions that believed in human and/or animal sacrifice for pleasing the gods and those who did not.

    1. The necessity for redistributive feasting (animal sacrifice) became less important. With large states, this was crucial, since taking care of the basic needs of the lower classes had become too difficult to manage, particularly also since a growing population combined with a reduction in available resources made the very concept of winning loyalties by ensuring the welfare of the subjects implausible.

    2. With a growing population and the complexity of empire, the notion of using captured foes as sacrifices for the gods, or alternatively, the notion of merely killing all enemy combatants, was superseded by the need to incorporate enemies into the state/empire. Whether as slaves or fully incorporated citizens, the inflow of workers was necessary for maintaining the viability of the empire.

    3. Members of 'non-killing religions' were therefore ideal (valuable) candidates for citizenship. Instead of outward displays of worship (sacrifices), such religions focused on internal spirituality or an internal connection to God. When suffering and personal sacrifice became key ingredients for assuring salvation, the state's inability to directly supply the needs of its citizens through ceremonies and holidays related to animal sacrifice became less of an issue: if the poor stayed poor and struggling, they would more likely see this as a spiritual test rather than a failure of the state. Furthermore, when captured, these believers would not likely struggle or revolt against the state and would therefore be more peacefully incorporated and provide the necessary labor required for sustaining the empire; their 'meekness' made them valuable.

    4. Ultimately, the perception of citizenship within the empire offered an 'out' to the non-killing aspect of such religions. They could kill as self-defense if threatened by a foreign foe, or else they could kill as part of a holy crusade or holy war. Because personal hardship was a test of faith in God, dying on the battlefield during holy wars was not so much of an issue; they would be rewarded in heaven. This made them ideal soldiers for the state.

    5. In general, bodily rewards — feasting, sexual pleasures, physical comfort, and so forth — were superseded by spiritual rewards, or the promise of heaven in the afterlife. I suppose that unlike the Muslim concept of paradise, these spiritual rewards were not cast in the image of bodily rewards. This renunciation of worldly or mundane rewards provided a free pass for states, since states could only offer the things which non-killing religions renounced.

    6. [My interpolation] Interestingly, however, all the above played a larger role for the body of Christians in the common classes rather than for Christian leaders, who because of previous institutionalization of the persecution of Christians sought specific worldly protections out of the state that was benefiting from all of the above. Whereas suffering might have been a 'Christly' virtue, the Christian leaders recognized that living Christians would be necessary if such suffering and meekness would continue to serve the state's goals — i.e., the bodily, mundane needs of Christians would need to be met. Part of that agreement with the Roman state involved the rights of property ownership for the Church and the right of the Church to oversee the wealth distribution of its adherents; as Harris says of Constantine,

    “Not only did he stop the persecution of Christians, but he confiscated the treasures and estates of the old Roman gods and godesses, turned them over to Christian bishops to build new churches (sometimes with the stones of the old temples), and established imperial funds to indemnify Christians for their suffering and for expenses incurred in feeding the poor. Constantine changed the whole legal structure of the Empire to accommodate Christian principles. He permitted celibates to inherit property, prohibited divorce, condemned concubinage, forbade gladiatoral games, and prohibited animal sacrifice. One of Constantine's most important acts was his legalization of bequests to the Church. As Robin Lane Fox points out, this was a particularly sensitive issue 'because of the clergy's special presence at the moment of death.' “

    So we see a general movement from the state's directly supplying the needs of her citizens to a Church's supplying those needs. This reminds me of that scene in Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence is asking for artillery for his Arab fighters and later, when he's out of the scene, the diplomat says, it'd be damned difficult to get the artillery back after the war. Constantine gave the Church the ability to become economically independent from the state, with a set of core adherents (dependents), and Rome never retrieved that power.


    [Note: whenever I am sent to the verification page for this post, the link to the book is substituted for my site link, and I'm pretty sure that my name will become linked to Amazon when I hit submit! An odd bug.]

  9. Michael,

    EXACTLY right, and that's just what Tom was getting at when he wrote [1]:

    “And here's the most amazing/infuriating part: you can't think systematically about the future until you master this most essential rule set–love your enemies more than yourself.

    Not pity them. Not get inside their heads. Not access their worldview.

    That's all child's play–parlor games for TV talking heads.

    I mean, really love them more than yourself. Connect in the worst way–humbling, humiliating, can't-look-away.”

    The Christians were willing to take responsibility for the Empire's wellbeing not just when they where winning, but when they were losing. They loved the Empire more than their flesh, and after they won they loved all those who opposed them (the apparatus of the Empire, the Christians who renounced the faith to live, etc etc etc). They chose love instead of tribe and instead of justice. They accepted centuries of thankless, scorned humiliation. And for that they conquered Rome.


  10. Thanks for the vector – nice to discover this, albeit more than a year late…

    Interesting take on “Rule Set Orientation”. However, weren't the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees all about rule set orientation too? I certainly agree that the early Christian church saw the value of expanding their ranks to Gentiles (q.v. the Jerusalem Council in 50AD), conceding that staples of Judaism (e.g., circumcision) were not necessary to worship Jesus. But I also believe you had a powerful rule set fabric in Judaism (such as painting the lamb's blood over your doorway during Passover).

    Also, as Michael noted in his comment above, there is not really “one” Islam — to wit, the divisiveness between Sunni and Shi'a. Once Islam gets their own Westphalia, we may really begin making progress toward enabling and advancing Globalization. And for those who are readying their rebuttal letters, I say to them: Muhammad was the ULTIMATE supporter of Globalization. Before he began The Recitation, his job was as a cross-border mercantilist!

  11. Shane,

    Thank you for your excellent comment — one of the great parts of blogging is that a discussion on Iraq can morph back into political theology!

    The cataclysm that Judaism experienced in the first century cannot be exaggerated. The destruction of the temple obliterated the traditional Jewish religion, ceding leadership to a far more intellectual class of Pharisaical (that is, Rabbinical) Judaism. Simultaneously, as Stark has written [3], Christianity represented a “reform Judaism” that enables Jews to preserve their religion while shedding their cultural distinctiveness.

    The Shia/Sunni split is primarily a political, as opposed to a theological, divide. Aside from specific claims over which figure should-but-is-not-leading (the sedavacantist Calpih or the occulted Imam), the only real division is that Shia Islam represents one of Islam's legal schools, while the other four major ones are in Sunni Islam.


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