Pick Your Favorite Pagan

Have you ever counted how many times Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Russell Crowe, and Andy Whitfield have been in togas? Hollywood, even historians, loves to draw parallels between ancient Rome and modern America. It indulges in protean examples comparing Roman blood sports, gluttonous banquets, sexual deviations, and imperial wars to our own modern counterparts.

I used to ask my history students: With so many pagans to choose from, who’s your favorite? If you were to pick a starring part for yourself, who would you select? Almost every time, the winners were gladiators and empresses. Now if you think about it, their choices were pretty typically all-American:

* Today America has its very own gladiatorial class. Great brutes of toned muscle who enter our arenas in splendorous battle-gear to the cheers or jeers of the masses in the coliseums of our great cities. Just like the Roman athletes, ours have been scouted, trained, motivated, and sent charging into the field of play with a pre-progammed passion for victory. One difference. Then victory meant life. Today it means a ring, a trophy, or at least a phonecall from the emperor in Washington

* Today’s empress classes are not found in Roman palaces or Tuscany villas. And yet they are often very much cut from the same imperial cloth with which to preen before enviously adoring masses at these same events. Indeed, our empresses like Rome’s will often be gifted with one of the surviving brutes of toned muscle, later in their very own bed chambers

You really don’t have to push these comparisons too far to discover why most of my students chose gladiator or empress. What’s interesting, though, is how a few of them actually picked a non-pagan from that pagan era. They mentioned the Christian martyrs!

When I pressed them on it, their explanations were revelatory. “Those were among the few authentic Romans back then!” “At least you can admire their kind of belief!” “Besides, if they were right, automatic free card into heaven!”

I’m not sure the martyr-choices were entirely serious. Nor am I sure there are any real counterparts among us today. But lets say there are. Who might they be? And why? Obviously they would come from society’s counter-culture. Those few who break ranks from the-way-we-are majorities in order to stand apart from the safe. To stand above the consensus. To stand at the edge of some new and brighter shoreline.

Like who……?

I have some examples in mind. But let me bow out and ask you. Oh…? You’re not sure…? Please, I’m hoping you can find at least two or three still left.

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