This post was submitted by Alice Beck Kehoe, professor of anthropology, emerita, at Marquette University.
Steve Bannon, Breitbart News. Standoff of a man, his sons and fellows against encroachment on his land. Christian Warriors Battling for America. What would Jesus do?
For 5,000 years and counting, speakers of Indo-European languages––that’s English––have spoken a macho line of fighting a world of demons. Indo-European speakers hear and read thousands of stories of men and their gods winning glory in battle. Even a man of peace, like Martin Luther King, Jr., is seen marching with his men against enemies. The languages’ basic structure says the nouns in sentences do something to their objects. That’s not universal in human languages, not by far (think Chinese). Anthropologists know well that languages channel thought; when Indo-European does not allow a verb to stand alone denoting action (as Navajo does), its speakers automatically figure a power hierarchy of noun over object.
Margaret Mead insisted that warlike natures are not genetic, but rather instilled by cultures. Cooperation, not combat, is what natural selection strengthened in our species. Humans have extraordinarily long childhoods for learning cooperation and learning through cooperation. Humans live long after their reproductive years, another extraordinary feature, their “Grandmother gene” extending the guidance of people whose survival attests to their social abilities. All of us (at least those of us who read these posts) live in societies that are, over time, mostly peaceful – yes, even those whose seemingly endless civil wars make the headlines. So how come so many Americans and rightwing nationalists in Europe feel so embattled?
Archaeology reveals Indo-European speakers swept westward over Europe from the Russian steppes in the Bronze Age around 3,000 BCE. Wielding battle-axes, these horse-riding warriors obliterated most of the farming communities in Europe. War priests carried elaborate solid-hilted swords and battle-axes, symbolic and actually deadly. Aristocrats traveled across Europe to buy weapons, helmets, horse gear, and battle chariots. Those along the seas built raiding ships. Only farmers and hunter-fishers in far northern Europe, and the Basques in the high Pyrenees, kept their languages; everyone else throughout Europe spoke Indo-European. Zeus and Wotan, Indra and Thor, fully armed, eternally battling Evil and Chaos, became their gods. Bards sang of glory won through battle.
Rome extended its empire, its Indo-European language and its culture, eastward into Judea about the time a radical pacifist named Yeshua of Nazareth preached equality, gentleness, and love for all. A Roman official had him crucified. His disciple Paul dropped out the more radical parts of the preaching, for example the equality of women; this version of “Christianity” caught on, incorporating more and more Roman, Indo-European culture. By 310, a Roman general, Constantine, had a Christian bishop traveling with his army. Marching to Rome, Constantine saw a vision in the sky, probably a sun halo with sundogs. Describing it to his army’s bishop, Constantine was advised it must have been the letters chi and rho, signifying Christos, Greek for anointed––as for Emperor, Constantine’s ambition. By 327, these letters superimposed were an icon; they look like a battle-axe with crossed swords.
Constantine worshipped Sol Invictus, that is, Invincible Sun, Apollo. Constantine’s father came from a Germanic nation along the Danube, and his mother was Greek. Scandinavian and Germanic nations along Rome’s borders were infiltrating the politically volatile empire. In 312, Constantine fought a rival for title of Emperor at the gates of Rome. Flush with power when he won, he generously allowed Christians to have a temple in Rome. He enjoyed discussing religion with bishops, but he refused baptism as he would not become a Christian. He was the Anointed Emperor. Over the course of eight centuries, kings in Europe accepted the Christianity proselytized from Rome, usually not interfering with local beliefs and rituals, indeed building churches where shrines existed, melding Indo-European gods and ethos with Christian saints. Indra became St. George spearing the dragon, bishops blessed Crusaders.
This is the heritage of millions of Americans of European descent. Eager to fight in the name of Jesus––ye gods, what a paradox!
For nearly a century, billionaires have underwritten militancy against others, beginning with Henry Ford’s virulent battle against Jews and Rockefeller’s Foundation supporting efforts to govern the behavior of American citizens. Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell organized rightwing Christians to train their youth to infiltrate government. Newt Gingrich and a host of talk-show anchors yammered vigilance against satanic threats. The rapid rise of home-schooling pushed by evangelicals, megachurches enveloping every aspect of congregants’ lives, everything from Christian music to Bible museums surround parents and children. Militancy’s ethos is directly contrary to the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Christian America’s huge militant faction is pagan. It is the Indo-European worldview driving to conquer, as it has for 5,000 years.