A cursory study around the inception of Christianity tells a story. Specifically, the stork delivers the babe in swaddling cloth to an Israeli household with an abusive Roman wife-beater for a husband, a resentful older brother (Judaism), and matures into a loved-or-hated-but-never-ignored Mediterranean icon. These influences in the formative years leave a lasting mark on the identity and formation of Christianity.
Amid the ominous campaign of an increasingly empirical Rome, a weary, broken Israel gets a headline, a miracle baby, future quarterback of the local high school. The hopes and expectations are unavoidable; Jesus is screwed. But while Jews make much ado about the kid, the Romans yawn. Their Hellenistic society has heard all about sons of gods and the prophetic lore around their births, lives, and deaths. The locals wonder if he can save their pride, their nationalism, and their very souls.
When Jesus pulls a Vince Young, even the Jews yawn, at least most of them. The post-Pentecost disciples can’t sell Jesus’ jersey door-to-door, let alone retire it. This intra-Jewish disagreement sends the agents of Jesus packing. They trade him to the Gentiles; even Rome is more interested in him than Israel.
When Rome adopts Jesus, they beat him. The paternal insecurity, jealousy, and fear of Rome nearly kill the movement. As is so often the pattern, children of abusive parents become abusive parents. When the table turns, a violent Christianity bursts forth. Jesus has long died, but they carry his corpse as they march, they exaggerate the story ‘til they create a legend, a Frankenstein of their own projections, a demagogue at last, stored full of resentment and a desperate need for attention.
This is the legacy. These are the genes that brought us a 20th century Christianity–forged out of such tensions. Adaptations along the generations, driven by the will to survive, spawned a diverse family tree. St. Augustine once said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” However his legend survived, Jesus still makes the cover of Time every year. It isn’t pretty, but it endures.