Christians and cathedrals

Crystal Cathedral

Jesus famously said “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), but since the fourth century, christians have been building enormous cathedrals for him. Why?

Roman Empire

The early christians were persecuted by the Roman authorities, but when Emperor Constantine made christianity respectable in 313 CE, he began to establish large churches in sacred locations, for example, where famous saints were supposedly buried, and named them after the saints. The models for these basilicas were Greek temples and Roman public buildings.

Many of these and other features of these cathedrals were pagan in origin. Constantine’s motives are unclear, but he appears not to have been a christian at the time. It seems part of the design was to separate the newly created clergy (which Constantine copied off pagan religions) from the ordinary believers, and give them exalted status. Cathedrals were not off to a good start.

The Middle Ages

In medieval Europe, the church was powerful and rich. Tithes were extracted from the poor as well as the rich, people had to pay for baptisms, marriages and funerals, and were motivated to be buried on consecrated land in the belief that this would assist them attain salvation and heaven. Churches and cathedrals were built from this wealth, often with finance and support from the rich, who could then hope to gain credit with God. While glorifying God was the supposed motivation for these large and ostentatious buildings, pride and competition were surely a major factor. Many of the rich were buried inside, or adjacent to, churches and cathedrals, which they hoped would speed their souls to heaven even faster.

Thus medieval cathedrals, for all their grandeur, were based on values often quite contrary to the Jesus they supposedly celebrated.

Here and now

Fast forward to the twentieth century, especially in the US, and cathedral building was still popular. Often built by entrepreneurial christian pastors, one cannot help wondering about the motives – is it for God’s glory or human hubris?

One of the most famous is the Crystal Cathedral in California, completed in 1981 at a cost of $US18 million (about $US80 million in present day values). In 2010, the church which used the cathedral was declared bankrupt, and the building was sold to the Catholic Church and renamed.

And then there’s Evangel Cathedral near Washington – an extravagance in itself, but more spectacular is its website (don’t skip the introduction – it was once well described: “if the death star had a website, this would be it!”).

These cathedrals seem to have some things in common with cathedrals down the ages – an enormous cost that could well be spent on ministering to the poor, extravagance in design, and the elevation of the clergy over the ordinary person.

When will we ever learn?

Photo: courtesy C Arnold and Wikipedia

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16 thoughts on “Christians and cathedrals

  1. myrthryn says:

    One has to remember that it was in the fourth century that the lamb was taken off the crosses and replaced by a man, often modelled after the pagan deities or an emperor. putting a face on any saviour like that is sure to provoke the building of fine housing for the images of god(s).

    This occurs because man in their search for meaning and emotional relief from the fear of death, created gods, and when impersonal deities failed to ease the fear of an evolving man, personal creators were created. QED

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  2. unkleE says:

    “This occurs because man in their search for meaning and emotional relief from the fear of death, created gods”

    I suppose this might well be true, but how do you know?

    “when impersonal deities failed to ease the fear of an evolving man, personal creators were created. QED”

    It’s one hypothesis I suppose, but it doesn’t seem to me to address much of the evidence. What evidence would you put forward to try to show your hypothesis is true?

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  3. ignorantianescia says:

    Wow, that was a weird experience. I think some sounds even resembled a lightsaber. All they need is text scrolling up and some compositions by John Williams.

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  4. myrthryn says:

    The easiest way to see how true this is would be attempting to correct every occurrence of “in a better place” with “can’t suffer anymore, or is just dead”
    One would find out how quickly they get countercorrected. People have a hard time letting go.
    The best argument for the non-existence of a personal god is the fact that there is zero proof. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I could say a six foot rabbit named Harvey created the universe. I would then have to prove my claim. Just because noone else believes it doesn’t make it false. If everyone but you believed it, it wouldn’t be true either.The proof of a personal God falls on the shoulders of the believer.
    I once believed … and it was Biblical evidence that brought my non-belief.

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  5. ignorantianescia says:

    I disagree, myrthryn, that proof is required. What is required is sufficient evidence, whether rational or empirical or preferably both, that indicates a personal God. So I think arguments like the fine-tuning argument do suggest a personal God exists.

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  6. unkleE says:

    Hi again, Myrthryn, thanks for visiting and commenting.

    I notice that you demand proof for God, something strictly speaking even science cannot deliver, yet you offer no evidence at all for your anti God assertions. It seems to me that you know the answer you want, but perhaps I am wrong about that.

    This is really a bit off-topic here, but if you want to continue the discussion of evidence for and against, why don’t you visit my other website, read Why believe? and then go the the small Discussion forum I have set up there and let’s talk about our respective views.

    I once didn’t believe, and it was Biblical evidence (and other evidence) that brought my belief, for 50 years now. Would you like to discuss?

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  7. myrthryn says:

    Ah, hit which personal god would that be? The JudeoChristian one? The evidence would recommend against that one , considering the low morality of Yahweh. By this I refer to all the sanctioned misdeeds and the atrocities openly committed by μim. One must remember the places where Yahweh either forced free will, or was corrected by μis own creation.

    These were the types of things that caused my rejection of an imaginary relationship.

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  8. unkleE says:

    G’day Myrthryn

    Thanks for your continuing involvement here.

    I am a christian, so the God I am talking about is the God revealed in Jesus – the God of grace and forgiveness, the God who loves and serves his creation. What do you think about that God?

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  9. myrthryn says:

    It would seem that you are inclined to throw the old testament away when discussing this. I’d hate to think that you’d do that as the new has supposedly grown out of the old.

    Old testament aside, there is ample evidence within the new to keep busy. There are enough contradictions to dance on the head of a pin. From the glaring differences of multiple accounts to the blatant borrows from paganism to the obvious misquoting of old testament books. Lets not forget the lack of historical evidence of this man called Jesus.

    People can dance around that stuff all day long but never make any headway.

    There are other arguments against him. This man, if existed, wasn’t even that much of a moralist either. By not teaching against the maltreatment of women, children, and slaves, he labels himself as a charlatan of the highest degree. He would have spoken against the practice of infanticide in all societies including the judean one. He doesn’t seem too concerned with the ills of society,the pains of the world. Instead, it was follow me, love. me, do the will of father. Your suffering will be less after death, because I do little about it now, and now a little magic. That is if he wasn’t a complete fiction made up by men who love control.

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  10. unkleE says:

    Hi again Myrthryn,

    It seems like you are less interested in evidence than you first said. Let’s take your three claims in your recent comment.

    “It would seem that you are inclined to throw the old testament away when discussing this.”

    You are mistaken here. If you check elsewhere on this site, you’ll find that I advocate an appropriate use of the OT, not “throwing it away”. This is in accordance with the teachings of Jesus who said quite clearly that the New replaces and fulfils the Old, and on many occasions said that his teachings updated or replaced the OT teachings.

    “From the glaring differences of multiple accounts to the blatant borrows from paganism to the obvious misquoting of old testament books. Lets not forget the lack of historical evidence of this man called Jesus.”

    Have you read the views of the best historical scholars on these matters? Each of those three statements is either partially or totally contradicted by the consensus view of secular scholars.

    (1) The multiple accounts are in fact a strength of the NT, because few ancient documents have such multiples sources with many copies of each. it is only when we have this amount of information that we can check the reliability of the documents, and the NT comes up very well. Yes, it is true there are some discrepancies,but much less that people sometimes make out, and they are no problem for historians.

    (2) The scholars are almost unanimous that there are no borrowings from paganism. Your sources for this are either very old (say a century out of date) or one of a handful of scholars who opposes the consensus, or not scholars at all.

    (3) Again, the scholars are almost unanimous that there is quite sufficient historical evidence for Jesus, and again, it is only a couple of genuine scholars and some non-scholars who say otherwise.

    “He doesn’t seem too concerned with the ills of society,the pains of the world.”

    This too is a strange statement, for most scholars say Jesus was very involved in the social issues of his day. Have you not read his teachings on the treatment of women and the poor, his criticisms of the rich oppressors, for example?

    So three statements, all three contrary to the evidence. Now we could go one of two ways here. If you are interested in the best scholarship on the matter, as I am, we could discuss the evidence. If so, this comment section isn’t the place (this is way off topic), and I invite you to either go to the forum I referenced before, or ask me for some posts on these topics where you are free to comment and discuss. I can give evidence (references and quotes) for every one of the statements I have made here.

    Or if you are not really interested in the evidence, let’s not spend any more time on all this, as there is no point in discussing evidence-free comments. What do you think? Best wishes.

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  11. arkenaten says:

    Shame, UnkleE, poor Myrthryn doesn’t know you well enough yet, and you throw a ‘consensus of scholars’ at him. Tsk, tsk. Give the poor man a break! 😉

    For what it’s worth, and more on topic, I read a while back that the Catholic Church is the largest independant owner of real estate in the world.
    MacDonald’s (Ray Croc) was second. LOL!

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  12. ignorantianescia says:

    Do you question there exists a scholarly consensus on that a reasonable if modest amount of facts about Jesus can be known? If so, do you have any evidence it does not exist?

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  13. unkleE says:

    “Shame, UnkleE, poor Myrthryn doesn’t know you well enough yet, and you throw a ‘consensus of scholars’ at him. Tsk, tsk. Give the poor man a break! “

    I’m sure he’s big enough to take care of himself in the dark woods!

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