Arts, Media, and Entertainment


You've probably heard about the new HBO series Rome. Costing more than $100 million, it's the most expensive television production ever. Whether the producers succeeded at re-creating ancient Rome for the viewers or not, they have succeeded in doing something else: making the case for Christianity. The goal of Rome's producers was to depict "the complexity and color that was ancient Rome," which, according to the series co-creator and writer Bruno Heller, had "more in common with [desperate] places like Mexico City and Calcutta than quiet white marble." The quest for authenticity went beyond sets and costumes to morals and religion. According to Heller, what makes the Romans so dramatically interesting is that they were "a people with the fetters taken completely off. They had no prosaic God telling them right from wrong and how to behave." In Rome, "mercy was a weakness, cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honor, loyalty to yourself and your family." Heller's creation depicts this brand of morality in two ways: the first is through what the characters do. They consistently act and speak like people for whom might makes right. Promises made to others are broken without a qualm, and they are supremely indifferent as to how their actions affect others. The second way is less subtle: sex. Rome is filled with sex, nearly all of it gratuitous. It shows a culture that was depraved—which, incidentally, Christianity, when it came to Rome, cleaned up. But, as Rome amply demonstrates, the greatest difference between pagan Rome and the Christian era was ideas that we now take for granted: the sanctity and dignity of human life. You see, life was cheap in pagan Rome. Even the most powerful Roman could not count on dying peacefully in his bed. Unwanted children were left out in the woods to die in what came to be called "exposure," and the poor and sick usually went unattended. Then there was slavery. Rome's chief way of financing the empire was to invade its neighbors, loot their wealth, and enslave its people. By some estimates, one-third of all those living within the empire were slaves. That's why slavery is treated in the series so matter-of-factly. There was no moral reason to treat it otherwise. Finally, there was the status of women. Even if they weren't slaves, Roman women "belonged" to their husbands or oldest male relative. Men literally held the power of life and death over the women in their lives. It was Christianity that changed all this and created what we think of as "civilization." Christianity kept much of the best of the Greco-Roman civilization while purging it of its pagan cruelty and excesses. By depicting what Rome before Christianity was really like, Rome, the TV series, makes a powerful, albeit unintentional, case for faith in what the film calls the "prosaic God" who tells us "how to behave." Now, I don't recommend you watch Rome—it is violent and pornographic. But you ought to know about it, because when you hear people denounce Christianity as the chief source of oppression, tell them that HBO has spent $100 million to prove that's not the case.


Chuck Colson


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