Archaeologists continue to excavate one of the most significant discoveries of our time: a graveyard for Roman gladiators in the ancient city of Ephesus. The skeletons of 67 gladiators have been examined by scientists, corroborating the evidence from literary sources about the rigor of their training. The bulk of the evidence proves that these gladiators were sequestered from society, fed a lavish diet, and enjoyed expensive medical treatment. They were heroes, idols, over-paid athletes.
All for one purpose: spectacle.
The spectacula Romana displayed the excesses of the Roman Empire to a public hungry for such diversion. Exotic beast hunts, sickeningly creative executions, and staged combat scenes involving hundreds of fighters were constructed to appeal to public bloodlust. The fact that the spectacles also included free food for the public caused the first century poet, Juvenal, to lament: “The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses.”
Emerging scholarship is finding remarkable parallels between the training periods of ancient gladiators and early Christians preparing for martyrdom. Both were major actors in the arena spectacles. Both were carefully selected by their communities. Both were fed a special diet. Both received the sacramentum, or sacred meal, the night before the spectacle.
Are you following this? Early Christian martyrs mimicked the training of the gladiators who would gruesomely kill them. They had to train harder than the gladiators, because their subversive plan was to beat their Roman executioners at their own game.
The early Christians refused to be the butt of spectacle. They sought to subvert the spectacle.
History repeats itself.
The most exciting thing about the Christian life today is we are once again caught in a society of spectacle. Visit Times Square, invest in the $9 billion dollar pornography industry, flip on American Idol…spectacle is the air that we breathe, a powerful “empire of illusion” meant to blind us from the slavery of consumerism.
The only hope for our society of spectacle is the Christian movement. We must once again seek to subvert the spectacle.
This blog is a counter-spectacle; a counter-spectacle to the value system of our society which is now defined, in the words of Walter Brueggmann, by “technological, militaristic consumerism.” In the end, the blood of spectacles is spilled over ideas and ideals.
Let us Christian people stand up in the arenas of spectacle once again, and champion our ideas and ideals.
We will find that our ideas and ideals have always been superior to spectacle. Story is better than spectacle, and the Christian story continues to drive kings and presidents to their knees. A theology worth dying for is better than secularism, for in the words of Chesterton, “the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no ideas at all.” And generosity is better than consumption, for we all of us are called by God to be benefactors, not consumers.
In short, we will find that in the center of the arenas of spectacle, Christian orthodoxy is all that we need.
This is my manifesto.