"Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, [Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion... The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."-Tom Paine
1945 in Egypt, in the land just above the bend of the Nile, north of the Valley of the Kings, across the river to the city of Nag ´ HammÃ di, near the hamlet of al-Qasr, under a cliff called Jabal al-Tarif an Egyptian Bedouin, Mohammed Ali, was out gathering sabakh, a nitrate-rich fertilizer for the crops that he grew in the small hamlet of al-Qasr. He was aghast to stumble upon a skeleton as he dug and bewildered when he uncovered a two-foot high earthenware jar. A bowl had been placed over the top, and it was sealed with bitumen. At first, the Bedouin thought an evil genie was within, but when he shook the heavy jar he heard things moving and thought it might be gold. He smashed the jar open and out fluttered pieces of gold particles that he tried to catch, but they disappeared. When he peered into the jar, he was dismayed only to find twelve leather-bound books. Mohammed Ali is illiterate, so he placed no great value on books but was confident he could sell them and make something for his troubles. So he carried the jar filled with books back to the homestead.
Ali also happened to be a fugitive from the law, for he had wielded the weapon that spilled the blood of a patriarch during a violent incident in a generation-long family feud, not so very long before. After a few days of mulling over possibilities, he decided to give his find to the local Coptic priest for safekeeping. He feared the authorities soon would be lurking about to confiscate his possession before he could realize any money from it.
His mother had also been ripping out pages to keep the home fire going, and I often wonder what ancient treasures she burned. Who knows what was lost. Anyway, the priest passed it onto his brother-in-law, a traveling tutor, who brought the books to the Coptic museum in Cairo on October 4, 1946. The ancient compositions, written in Coptic that had been translated from ancient Greek were leather-bound pages of papyrus, and no doubt the gold dust that Mohammed Ali witnessed was from papyrus fragments that had broken off. Under the leadership of UNESCO, Egypt, and the American scholar James Robinson, these anthologies and collections of texts with titles like the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene have been translated."-Keep Hope Alive, available August 2006 http://www.wearewideawake.org/
Further down the road from where Dan Brown's fiction left off are the now transcribed Gnostic/intuitive/"heretical" treasures of the Nag ´ HammÃ di Library. These ancient texts provide no answers but they do provide us with the knowledge that 2,000 years ago there was lively debate on who Christ was and what he was on about.
The most decisive event in Christianity occurred when the Emperor Constantine legitimatized the Christian faith. Early Christians were not called that, but were known as a follower of The Way. The Way was what Jesus taught and in a nutshell that is: nonviolent resistance and love for every other: a very radical concept! Up until Constantine, Rome persecuted and crucified followers of The Way, and they were all social justice radicals who treated others the way they wanted to be treated and honored all persons as sacred. Things changed when the followers of The Way- led by the institution- acquiesced to be protected by an earthly king and Augustine corrupted the gospel with his "Just War Theory."
Both a patriarchal and monarchical state and church were formed at the same time. Power struggles and debates were common among the early Christians. Individual churches determined which texts were read, and they all had their favorites. Constantine sought to unite his empire, and uniting the church was a savvy political move. He announced he would pay for fifty illuminated copies of scripture to be bound, and thus the biblical canon was established and sealed. There was fierce debate amongst the bishops about what should be included and what left out.
"The proto-orthodox, who had now become the dominant voice, determined what was heretical for everyone. The proto-orthodox demanded much-loved scripture to be burned, usually because it did not fit their understanding of God.
What Dan Brown has done for 21st century Christianity is open a much needed window to allow the debate and wonder of why the life of Christ still compels and repels; calls and eludes.
Dan Brown's imaginative fiction allowed the wind of debate and awe and wonder of the mystery of Christ to blow through the houses of Christendom and shake things about some.
William Blake penned, "Imagination is evidence of the Divine" and "We have it in our power to begin the world again." Tom Paine
Tom Paine called for an American constitution-empowered by the people- that would create a democratic government and guarantee freedom to all, and above all else freedom of conscience and worship and required separating church and state, and in that spirit he wrote regarding Independence Day:
"Let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know... that in America THE LAW IS KING."
Forty years ago Thomas Merton was mysteriously electrocuted in a freak accident and died after speaking at a peace rally against the Vietnam War. He stated just hours before his death, "What we are asked to do at present, is not so much to speak of Christ as to let him live in us so that people may find him by feeling how he lives in us."
"I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion... The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."-Tom Paine
Let the revolution begin...