About Corazon

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Religion v. Science

and the Pitfalls of Literalism
in Both Camps

This past week I purchased a book on my Kindle Fire (thank you, God for the Kindle Fire) that I have been wanting to read for quite a long time: Proof of Heaven by Ebon Alexander. The book chronicles the alleged near-death experience of Dr. Alexander, a revered neurosurgeon who fell into a deep coma that completely rendered his neocortex (the part of the brain that allegedly controls human conscience) completely inactive.

Of course, there is nothing unique about Dr. Alexander's claims of his "spirit" journeying to the beyond.  Thousands of people from all cultures have made such claims.  But there are a few special circumstances surrounding Dr. Alexander's account.  First, it is a documented fact that the "thinking" parts of Dr. Alexander's brain were totally shut down for at least seven days.  Second, as an accredited neurosurgeon, who has lectured at schools like Harvard and Yale, Dr. Alexander was inherently a skeptic of things like near-death experiences.  As a result, Dr. Alexander attempts to analyze his experience through the lens of a scientist as opposed to the traditional approach that most survivors of NDE's take.

With all of this being said, I wish I could report that I found Dr. Alexander's book particularly enlightening.  Sadly, I was very disappointed.  The book, which seemed more like a bio of Dr. Alexander's life rather than an account of his experience, was, for me, a huge let down.  I also found little scientific analysis into his experience (for example, Dr. Alexander stated that "all of his questions" were answered by "god" but he never tells us what those questions were.  Not very "scientific.").  Long story short, the book was a lot of fluff with very little substance (in my opinion).

Anyway, the intent of this blog post is not to provide a review of Dr. Alexander's book.  I mention it here as a lead-in to a much larger and more difficult topic that never seems to go away: the topic of religion v. science and how both sides cooperate/clash with one another.  And whether you believe him or not, Dr. Alexander's story is the perfect illustration of just how messy this topic can be.  Even though most of us will never have the "privilege" of experiencing a NDE like Dr. Alexander, we all come to the same crossroad that he arrived at: where does human reason and scientific inquiry end and divine light and spiritual faith begin?

Of course, there is no possible way to answer this question and my simple little blog post will do little to address it today, but I do think we can clarify a few of the "rules of the game" that I find particularly troubling.  After all, it is impossible to even attempt an honest discussion on an issue like this if both sides cannot agree on a general code of conduct.  This is my goal today.

The first fact we must accept is that religion and science, though operating on fundamentally different playing fields, are essentially two different languages trying to tell the same general story: who are we? where did we come from? where are we going?  Religion, which is inherently dogmatic, resistant to change and often dictatorial in nature, provides a nuanced view on things like morality, kindness, charity and forgiveness, and the eternal value these intangible attributes have over what the palpable world offers.  Science, on the other hand, is self-reflective, always changing and based on verifiable realities, which places almost all value upon the provable, observable and rational.

And though these differences in approach to truth seem to regularly lead both parties into a head-on collision with one another, I believe that most of the wreckage comes as a result of both parties being either unwilling to concede any ground on even the most basic of principles and/or taking ridiculous cheap shots at the other side's weakest elements.

Take for example the works of scientists like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan: two men whom I admire for their scientific expertise and prowess with the written and spoken word.  Few men in the scientific world have the ability to inspire and persuade as Dawkins and Sagan do.  But their powerful prose notwithstanding, I am regularly disappointed to see these (and other) accredited scientists resorting to childish attacks on the low-lying fruit of religion.  They treat religion with such blatant contempt that it becomes impossible for them to be truly "scientific."  In other words, they take the worst of religion, portray it as a rigid monolith, that when compared with the best of science (which is fluid and evolving) makes any and all believers look like ridiculous, uninformed buffoons.  Such an approach is both unscientific and immature, and certainly unworthy of "sophisticated" minds like those of Dawkins and Sagan.  It is cheap shot, bush league nonsense.  In short, men like Dawkins and Sagan may be/have been great scientists, but they are/were piss-poor theologians.

But as is the case with any dysfunctional debate, it takes two sides to tango.  When we look at religion's contempt for science, we often see reason and common sense being replaced with suspicion and paranoia masquerading as "faith."  Religious leaders, bent on preserving the "integrity" of their holy books, resort to some of the most ridiculous arguments in human history.  Men like Ken Ham, who cannot accept the FACT that the world is billions of year old, have twisted reality to such an appalling level all in the name of protecting the Bible.  Such a narrow-minded view of reality, all in the name of literal biblical Christianity, is an embarrassment to religious people everywhere.  For men like Ken Ham the bottom line is this: Religion has had to concede so much ground over the years because of the FACT that so much has been proven wrong.  To believe, in the modern era, that Adam and Eve were the first human beings, living in a perfect garden only 6,000 years ago, until a talking snake convinced Eve to eat a naughty apple, thereby causing death and sin to enter the picture, which eventually caused a man named Noah to build a magic ark to save all animals from a global flood, isn't an example of a person's faith; it's an illustration of a person's ignorance.

But there can be a balance between both science and religion.  As Galileo stated during his bogus trial:
The Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go...In my mind God wrote two books. The first book is the Bible, where humans can find the answers to their questions on values and morals.  The second book of God is the book of nature, which allows humans to use observations and experiment to answer our own questions about the universe.
Admittedly, there is a lot wrong with Galileo's summation, but I think that we all can see what he was getting at.  At the risk of sounding insensitive to scriptural literalists, taking the Bible, Qur'an, Book of Mormon or any other holy book as literal, factual undeniable truth is, at best, stupid.  But to discredit the moral lessons found in scripture for those same reasons is equally stupid, and the scientists who regularly slam scripture for such reasons would do well to watch their tongue.  After all, I wonder how scientists might react if theologians were to judge their mistakes by the same standard.  Whether taking the form of alchemy, the four humors, social Darwinism, or bloodletting (which killed our first president), science hasn't exactly batted 1.000 either and would be equally wrong to claim literalism.

Of course, Science doesn't judge itself by as strict a literalist standard and does a MUCH better job of learning from its mistakes than does religion.  After all, science doesn't claim to know the will of God.  But science does make it a regular practice to discredit that which requires faith, as if faith were a hindrance to an honest quest for truth.  But such an approach makes a mockery out of some of the basic elements of humanity...that being primarily our HUMANITY.  As Emily Dickinson wrote:

Faith -- is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not --
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side --
It joins -- behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

So if taking too literal of a religious or scientific approach is a bad thing then what is the solution?  I'm not sure there is one.  Perhaps it would be a good starting point for both religion and science to take the best from one another.  Science would do well to recognize that there is much about the world that is not provable, verifiable or testable but is still a reality (dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity, etc.) and that much of what religion esteems of worth (kindness, charity, etc.) cannot be tested in a laboratory.  There is real value to sincere prayer, meditation, positive thought, and devout devotion.  To simply say, "I don't need church" is far too simplistic.  Sure, I would agree that one can live a good life without a faith, but a faith doesn't hurt.  In fact, it helps...a helluva lot.  As a recent Gallup poll shows, those who go to church are, by and large, happier, more successful and more charitable.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Attending church, like attending school, helps us to grow our understanding of what faith really is.  Benamin Franklin once stated that, "Genius, without education, is like silver still trapped in the mine."  Might I be so bold as to say that faith/hope/charity, without religion, is like silver still trapped in the mine as well.

On the flip side, religion would do well to recognize that science has CONCLUSIVELY proven some of religion's most archaic ideas and teachings to be completely untrue.  As a result, religion is going to have to learn how to be flexible.  This is where science blows religion away.  Nobody (or at least very few) in the scientific community get as crazy as those of the religious community when their ideas/beliefs are challenged.  Science is about challenging EVERYTHING, and religion would do well to challenge at least a few things.  As Thomas Jefferson apty stated:
Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.  Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there is one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
Questioning things is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith.  In fact, I believe that an argument can be made that any faith, without a healthy dose of honest skepticism, isn't really faith at all.  It is both right and good that we change how we think about the nature of God.  For example the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent god doesn't even exist in the oldest Hebrew texts of the Bible.  It may just be a mistake based on the Aristotelian thought of the Medieval era that God was nothing more than a mystical but simple unmoved mover.  Perhaps he isn't the celestial dictatorial magician we think He is but rather a teacher, motivator and persuader of good?

The bottom line is this: anyone who insists upon taking an absolute, literalist approach to either religion or science could probably benefit from learning a little more about religion and/or science.  After all, there is little REAL merit in the atheist argument that tries to explain away religious belief through reason and psychology.  To the believer know this: you don't have to listen to their ilk.  In the end, all they are saying is something like this:
"I'm an atheist because I am strong, rational and thoughtful; you're a believer because you are all about wish fulfillment and emotional response.  Therefore religious people are weaker, less sophisticated and more prone to deception that us atheists." 
Again, the Carl Sagan's and Richard Dawkins's of the world are far more eloquent in how they say it, but make no mistake; this is EXACTLY what they are saying...and it's bullshit.

And for the religious zealot who rebukes any and all verifiable claims of science by simply regurgitating the line, "because the Bible says so," all I can say is...GOD HELP YOU!  Your INTENTIONAL stupidity does your cause no good, but instead weakens the hand you have been dealt. Instead of taking such a hard-lined stance on what your holy book says, try to simply accept truth wherever it can be found.  I've often wondered as to whether or not biblical literalists believe in Jesus or in the Bible?  Or if Muslim literalists believe in Allah or the Qur'an?  In other words, has your holy book become such an idol for worship that you cannot look past it any longer?  Are you seriously that diluted in your thinking?

I don't mean to be harsh but sometimes harsh speech can shake people from apathy.  I think I have said enough.  Instead, let me leave you with the words of astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, from his excellent book, Death by Black Hole.  He writes:
Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion...history reveals a long and combative relationship between religion and science, depending on who was in control of society at the time.  The claims of science rely on experimental verification, while those of religion rely on faith.  These are fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to knowing, which ensures an eternity of debate wherever and whenever the two camps meet.  Although just as in hostage negotiations, it's probably best to keep both sides talking to each other.
I couldn't agree more.  What is most important is that we keep talking...a lot...and often.  Both sides stand to lose too much by backing into their respective caves and relying exclusively on their own "truths."  Or as Albert Einstein put it, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."  In conclusion, I leave you with the words of the good Doctor Ebon Alexander.  Perhaps his near-death experience illustrates the strange but important dichotomy that exists between religion and science better than I originally thought:
Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself. 
But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
Only time will tell I suppose.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Future of the GOP

If we learned anything from Tuesday night's general election it is this: American demographics have changed.  Now, I'm not one of those "doom and gloom" types who think that this change is bad. Quite the contrary.  I think that much of this change is good.  Demographically, America is NOT the country it was, and that's ok.  Throughout our history, American demographics have always been in flux.  For example, Catholics, who were largely detested by our founding generation as an undesirable segment of the population, are now the dominant religion in the nation.  Irish immigrants were also seen as an unwanted rabble who infested the countryside, eroding America's "pure" culture with each new arrival. Yes, it is safe to say that the old cliche of America being a "melting pot" has not written its final chapter.  In today's America, Latinos are, far and away, the fastest growing segment of the population.  And they HATE the GOP.

And rightfully so.

The fact of the matter is that the Republican Party has done little to nothing to accept those who do not fit their incredibly narrow vision of what an "American" is supposed to be.  In short, it seems as though anything outside of being a White, Evangelical, Bible-thumping, gun-toting, flag-waving, Rush Limbaugh-loving, Muslim-hating, meat-eating, apocalypse-loving "patriot" is unacceptable.  And guess what, the GOP has paid the price...big time.  

Last night's defeat (not just in the Presidential Election) reveals just how out of touch the GOP has become.  Instead of being the party of acceptance, they are the party of exclusivity.  Instead of being the party of innovation, they are the party of paranoia.  Instead of being the party of the future, they are the party of archaic irrelevance, and if they don't get their act together soon they will continue to pay at the ballot box.  

Here are just a few things that I believe need to change with the GOP:
-Climate change is real, Adam and Eve were not the first Homo Sapiens to walk the earth, evolution is a non-debatable fact and creating public policy based on the Book of Genesis is stupid beyond explanation. 
-Women who get pregnant as a result of rape is not God working in a "mysterious way." 
-Gay people don't cause tsunamis. 
-Corporations aren't living beings and there is nothing "socialistic" or "Marxist" about having them pay more in taxes (unless you want to call Adam Smith, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, etc. "socialists."). 
-Latinos aren't "taking over" America...but they also aren't going anywhere either.They are, by far, the fastest growing segment of the population.  Get used to it. 
-Dinosaurs were not on Noah's Ark. 
-The "end of days" is not a good campaign slogan, nor is it something to gleefully look forward to. 
-The flavor of the "Tea Party" was just sour grapes and that "party" is now officially over. 
-Being smart, educated, sophisticated  etc. are virtues  not vices.   Joe the Plumber is NOT the ideal, salt-of-the-earth example to put on a pedestal. 
-Conservatives are NOT more patriotic, brave and righteous than any other American of any other "brand." 
-Your future rests not with EXCLUSIVITY but with INCLUSION.  Quit trying to define people by such a narrow and limited set of ridiculous rules. 
-Quit trying to "restore" America to some lost "glory day" when things were better.  Bottom line: America has NEVER embraced what the Tea Party was selling...NEVER!  There is nothing to restore.  Move on. 
-Obama isn't a closet Muslim Kenyan who is going to take your guns and put your family into a FEMA camp. 
-Ronald Reagan would hate your guts.  Sorry, it's true. 
-Glenn Beck is an idiot. No joke, he really is a stupid guy. 
-There is no secret Muslim plot to infiltrate the American Congress and replace it with Sharia law.
But all hope is not lost.  With all of the problems/craziness that has hijacked the Republican Party over the past decade, I still maintain that the GOP could easily become the dominant force in American politics.  Of course, changes (more than those mentioned above) will have to be made, but change is a good thing.  It is time for Conservatism to replace the crazy with confidence.  

The Republican Party is at an important crossroads.  On one hand, they could elect to double down on their wacko "we're mad as hell and not going to take it any more" message of fear, doom and gloom and pseudo-patriotism, or they could return to their "glory days" of old.  Let us not forget that it was the Republicans who were on the cutting edge of innovation in the 50s and 60s.  It was Eisenhower who created NASA, passed the Interstate Highway Act, pulled us out of Korea, avoided entrance into Vietnam, was an early advocate for Civil Rights, encouraged science, math and greater scholastic pursuits, and challenged the Russians on the battlefield of innovation and progress.  This is the REAL legacy of TRUE Republicanism.  

Plus, I still believe that the Republicans could annihilate the Democrats on economic matters.  The free market (when it is truly free for all) is an idea that the overwhelming majority of Americans support.  Sadly, Republicans have done more to damage that ideal in the past 25 years than anyone.  The notion that deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and "trickle down" economics (which is nothing more than a nice way of telling people to enjoy the scraps) simply does not work.  A truly FREE market is one that protects the Middle Class from the greed of those holding all the money.  As Adam Smith, the father of capitalism stated:
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor...The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess...It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion. [my emphasis].
It is also time that the GOP accept the FACT that it is time to become more inclusive of others.  Let's face the the facts: Latino voters OVERWHELMINGLY supported Obama and the Dems. last night.  This was one of the key deciding factors in the election.  The GOP has done an atrocious job of courting Latino (and other minority) voters for quite some time and now they are paying the price.  If this trend continues, the GOP can forget about residing in the White House (or taking/controlling the Senate/House) for quite some time.  It's just a fact.

But, there is hope.  To my GOP friends, let me introduce you to a man who not only would bridge the Latino gap but would avoid a lot of the pitfalls that have been mentioned above.  He is a man who is pro-life but not in the psychotic way that the Sarah Palin's of the world are.  He is a true fiscal conservative who opposed the stimulus, has passionately pushed for limited spending, cutting entitlements and defense, and demanded the balanced budget amendment.  He is in favor of energy independence, increased funding for NASA, and accepts the reality of climate change.  And though he is far from perfect, he is, in my opinion, the future of the GOP.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you all to the 45th President of the United States of America (yep I am calling it now):

......................

......................


That's right; Marco Rubio is the front runner for the GOP in 2016.  This guy is a tough combination of good looks, eloquent speaking and hard-nosed politics.  I don't see anyone on the left who could tangle with him (maybe Cuomo?).  Plus, he delivers Florida AND closes the Latino gap (hell, he probably swings it to the GOP).  This is your guy, conservos.  Mark my words: Marco Rubio will be your candidate (if he wants it) in 2016.  

Let the campaign ads begin...just give us a few weeks.  =) 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Final Predictions for Tuesday's Election

After months of campaigning and speculation, after millions of dollars spent, after all the debates, commercials and bickering of pundits on both ends, the Presidential Election of 2012 is about to come to an end (thankfully!).  It has been a close race.  At times, Obama looked like he would sail easily into a second term.  But just when the race looked over before it started, Mitt Romney made a game of it and began to contend (and even lead) in a number of important states.  Bottom line: this has been a close and entertaining race for quite some time.  Both candidates have a decent shot of walking away with this thing.

With that being said, all good things must come to an end.  Come Tuesday, America will either have a new President-Elect, or will be looking forward to another four years with Barack Obama at the helm.  So, without further delay, here is my FINAL PREDICTION for Tuesday's presidential election:

***This is an hour-by-hour breakdown of how I believe the night will go.  All times are Eastern Standard Time***

-------------------------------------------------

7:00 p.m.:
Polls close in six states (Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and the first battleground state of the night: Virginia).  Five of the six states will be declared almost immediately, giving Romney the early lead.  Virginia will take a while before a winner is declared.  It will also be our earliest indication as to how the night might go.  In the end, I think Romney will win the state, but if he wins by more than a few percentage points it might be an indication that he could have a big night.  If, however, Obama wins Virginia, I think it might foreshadow bad news for the GOP. 

After the first hour, I have Romney leading 44-3, with Virginia still yet to be decided.  Too close to call.

7:30 p.m:
Polls close in three states (North Carolina, West Virginia, and the ALL IMPORTANT Ohio). West Virginia will be the only state to be called right after the polls close (for Romney).  North Carolina and Ohio will still be too close to call.  It will take a while before a winner is decided.

By 7:30, I still have Romney leading 49-3.  Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina still too close to call.

8:00 p.m.:
This is the hour when we will finally get a good idea of what things are going to look like.  Polls close in sixteen states, including the important swing states of Florida and New Hampshire, thereby giving us at least 1/3 of all the Electoral College map.  Romney will easily grab Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri, while Obama finally takes his first "real" bite of the map, grabbing Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and (perhaps a bit late) Michigan.  Obviously, Florida and New Hampshire will be too close to call at this point.

At the close of the second hour, Romney still leads 130-107, with Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Ohio all too close to call.   

8:30 p.m.:
Polls close in Arkansas, adding to Romney's lead.  136-107 Romney at this point.

9:00 p.m.:
Polls close in 14 more states, including swing states Colorado and Wisconsin.  Romney snags Kansas, North and South Dakota, Arizona, Louisiana, and Wyoming, while Obama closes the gap by winning Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin (which may be a bit late). Colorado is still too close to call. 

At the end of hour three we have a virtual tie, Romney leading 170-169. (Or Romney 170-159 if Wisconsin is still too close to call -- but will eventually go for Obama in my opinion).

10:00 p.m.:
Polls close in six more states, including swing states Iowa and Nevada.  Romney easily takes Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, and Montana, while the President wins (albeit a little late) Nevada and Iowa (which also may be too close to call for at least a while). 

In addition, I believe that by 10:00 we will have Virginia and North Carolina declared for Mitt Romney, while Obama will claim New Hampshire.

We are late into the evening and Mitt Romney still leads 216-203.

11:00 p.m.:
The final states of the west close their polls, all going for Barack Obama.  California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii aren't even contests, and Barack Obama takes his first lead of the night, jumping ahead 263-216.

Key swing states: Florida, Ohio and Colorado are still too close to call, but it is getting close!

12:00 a.m.:
The final state (Alaska) closes its polls, giving Romney 3 more votes.  Obama still leads 263-219.

And finally, late into the evening, the three remaining and all-important swing states (Colorado, Florida and Ohio) are declared. Mitt Romney claims Florida, while Barack Obama takes Ohio and Colorado.  The night is over, and Barack Obama wins reelection, 290-248.

Interestingly enough, if we gave Mitt Romney Ohio, Barack Obama would still win (272-266).  In other words, if Mitt Romney is going to win, he better take some additional states earlier on in the evening (perhaps Wisconsin, Iowa or New Hampshire?).

There you have it.  It takes the whole night, but I am predicting that Barack Obama wins a second term in the White House.  He edges out Romney by 42 electoral votes (and an even closer popular vote).  It will be a close night, but unfortunately for Mitt, I don't see him coming out on top.  Maybe I will be wrong, but I think he has a tough road to the White House.  Close isn't enough.  But if he does win, it will be because Romney picks up a couple of additional key states.  Those key states, in order of importance (bold states I am predicting for Romney), are:

1.) Ohio
2.) Florida
3.) Colorado
4.) Virginia
5.) Wisconsin
6.) Iowa
7.) New Hampshire

Romney MUST pick up at least a couple of the states (not bolded) on this list. If he doesn't, Obama is virtually guaranteed the White House.  The easiest scenario: Romney wins Ohio and New Hampshire.  That would give him 270 exactly. 

In addition, I believe there are two states to watch that could serve as a "barometer" of sorts for how the night might go: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  N.C. is likely to go for Romney (it is the most conservative of the swing states), but Obama carried it in 2008.  If Obama wins N.C., it could indicate that the night is likely to go his way big time.  Pennsylvania, on the other hand, could be a good indicator for Romney.  The state hasn't gone red in almost 25 years, but Romney has made things competitive there over the past couple of weeks.  If he were to somehow win (though unlikely) that would be a huge (death) blow to Obama.  But if he is even relatively close (within a couple of percentage points) it could mean that Romney will be a bigger competitor than previously thought.  Keep your eyes on those two states for sure.

So, with all of that said, enjoy election night!  There really is nothing like watching history unfold before your eyes!  And make no mistake, that is what Tuesday is all about.  Take it all in and enjoy it!   
And now...finally...NO MORE CAMPAIGN ADS!!!!!

At least for a little while.

50 days until CHRISTMAS!!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

1,700th Anniversary of Milvian Bridge: The Most Influential Battle in History

Situated just outside of Rome, and stretched across the Tiber River is an old stone bridge named Ponte Milvio.  Originally built in 206 B.C., this bridge served as a main thoroughfare to the capitol city of the Roman Empire.  It is a peaceful and well-preserved monument that serves as a beautiful ornament to the natural beauty of the Roman countryside. 

But 1,700 years ago this week, the Milvian Bridge was anything but a calm and peaceful place.  In fact, it was the sight of arguably the most important and influential battle in world history: The Battle of Milvian Bridge.

To be able to truly understand and appreciate the importance of this battle, we need to travel back in time to an era when Roman might was at its peak.  The year is 285.  The Roman Empire is under the reign of Emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (Dioletian).  Emperor Dioletian had just delivered Rome from a period marked by military and social anarchy, and a long-awaited, but unsettling sense of peace had finally fallen upon the great empire.  Unsettling due to the fact that “Barbarians” lay and wait at nearly all of Rome's borders.  Franks and Goths surround the Rhine region in the North, while Persian invaders are a constant threat in the south.  War was on the minds and hearts of nearly every Roman frontiersman.  Emperor Dioletian was also troubled with the lack of cohesion that infested his army and empire  The Western (Latin) world had all but separated itself (culturally and socially) from the Eastern (Greek) portion of the empire, and both seemed content to live without the other.  In addition, a newly emerging movement, originally started by an unlikely but charismatic peasant Jew named Jesus of Nazareth, had begun to spread throughout the empire, angering pagan traditionalists like Emperor Diocletian.

As a result, Emperor Dioletian elected to open a new chapter in Roman History by creating what he saw as a permanent solution to Rome's problems.  By creating what became known as the Roman "Tetrarchy" (rule by 4), Diocletian divided the empire in half (the Western Latin and Eastern Greek), and assigned two rulers to each half: an "Augustus" to rule, with a "Caesar" to assist.  Diocletian assigned himself ruler of the Eastern portion, while his friend, Maximianus, ruled the west.  Under this system, each Augustus/Caesar duo would (ideally) be able to address the needs of the empire with greater efficiency.  And for Diocletian, he would be able to more successfully eradicate the "infection" that was Christianity.

To assist Maximianus in the west as Caesar was a young but very successful military man named Constantius Chlorus.  Chlorus was your typical rags to riches story.  As the son of poor peasants, Chlorus should never have become a great leader, but his military prowess and bravery proved irresistible to the Empire.  Chlorus quickly climbed the ranks of power, eventually becoming second in command (Caesar) of the West.  To keep him loyal, however (you could never TRULY trust a peasant), Diocletian had Chlorus' oldest son, Constantine, live with him in the East. 


As a "hostage"/guest in the East, Constantine grew up seeing first-hand the progression and attempted suppression of this strange new religion called Christianity.  Like many earlier emperors, Diocletian saw Christianity as a vulgar and lame movement of the ignorant masses.  It's doctrine of forgiveness and suppression of worldly wealth surely appealed to the peasantry, making Christianity a possible threat to the security of the empire.  It is therefore no surprise as to why so many Roman leaders sought its eradication.  In addition, Constantine benefited from living in the East by experiencing a culture different than his own.  It would be an experience that would define him for the rest of his life.  

Now, fast forward a few decades.  Diocletian is dead and Rome has (once again) plunged itself into Civil War.  Constantine, who was finally reunited with his father, was busy fighting the "savage" Picts, who were natives of a strange island called Britannia. Sadly, Constantine's father had fallen mortally wounded on the battlefield, leaving his son in change of the army.  Back home in Rome, things were even worse.  A young man named Maxentius had taken control of the capitol city and proclaimed himself the ultimate ruler of the empire.  There was only one problem: Constantine was his father's son, and he (along with his army) didn't want to see Rome fall into the hands of Maxentius.  Long story short, Constantine turned his army towards Rome to "liberate" the empire.

"BY THIS SIGN YOU SHALL CONQUER"   

For nearly 5 years Constantine and Maxentius remained at constant odds with each other over the throne of the Western Roman Empire.  While Constantine had the love and backing of his father’s army, and had proved a very capable military leader, he still lacked one very important asset: control of Rome itself.  Maxentius had not only the backing of the Roman Senate (who would have backed anyone that ruled the city) but he also had the luxury of being on the defensive.  Constantine had the massive burden of having to bring the fight to Rome’s doorsteps. 

Finally in late October of 312, Constantine's army was greeted by the forces of Maxentius on the outskirts of Rome.  The final decisive battle was just days away, and Constantine had to quickly figure out a way for his army (outnumbered 3-1) to defeat the entrenched forces of his foe.  Legend has it that on the eve of the great battle (October 27th) Constantine separated himself from his army to find a moment of solitude and reflection.  It was during those moments that Constantine, according to his historian Eusebius, looked up to the sky and saw a burning cross upon the sun with the Greek letters XP (Or the “Chi-Rho,” the first 2 letters in the Greek word for Christ) entwined with the cross.  Constantine then claimed he heard a voice say to his heart, “In hoc signo vinces” meaning “By this sign, you shall conquer.” 

Knowing that this sign represented Jesus Christ, the hero of Christianity, Constantine took the heavenly manifestation as a sign that the Christian God would lead him to victory.  As a result, Constantine ordered the Chi-Rho image to be placed on the shields and uniforms of his soldiers.  These first "Christian soldiers" would be the first to march into battle with the cross at their vanguard...even though most probably had no clue what it represented. 

THE BATTLE

Very little is known about the actual Battle of Milvian Bridge.  What we do know (again, most coming from Eusebius) is that Maxentius' superior numbers and entrenched forces were unable to stop the onslaught of Constantine's army, which forced Maxentius and him men to flee across the Milvian Bridge.  Unfortunately for Maxentius (and certainly a "divine" intervention to Constantine), the Milvian Bridge suddenly collapsed under the weight of the fleeing army.  Maxentius' body, which had plummeted with his men into the depths of the Tiber, was fished out on Constantine's orders, beheaded, and put on a pike as a trophy for Constantine's triumphant march into Rome (VERY Christian of him). 

But not only did Constantine and a decapitated Maxentius march through Rome's gates on that cold October day 1,700 years ago.  Christianity, which amounted to maybe 10-15% of the population (but was growing fast), received its greatest victory.  With his victory at Milvian Bridge, Constantine (forever after remembered as Constantine the Great) became the premiere leader of Rome.  And remembering his supernatural experience at Milvian Bridge, Constantine granted Christianity the chief seat at his table.  The religion that had primarily been a movement and belief of persecuted peasants was now the sanctioned faith of the most powerful man on the planet.  Eventually the entire western world and billions across the globe would convert to its teachings and embrace the Christ as the one and only true God. 

To truly appreciate the importance of Constantine’s victory at Milvian Bridge one should imagine the world as it would have become had he lost.  Maxentius would have been hailed the supreme emperor of Rome, and the pagan gospel of his ancestors would likely have continued as the premiere faith of the empire.  Christianity would have continued to be an institution that in the eyes of most aristocrats was undesirable and evil.  Its patrons would have most certainly continued to be persecuted and hunted like dogs.  The Nicean Creed, along with the formation of the Papacy (which all took place under Constantine's eye) and other institutions would have never occurred.  This in turn would mean that the invading Germanic tribes, like the Franks and the Goths, would never have become Christians to the massive degree that they became.  

Sure, Christianity was a growing and flourishing movement at the time of Constantine, and one could argue that eventually the faith would have spread even further.  However, there is little doubt that Constantine's stamp of approval gave Christianity an advantage it had never before experienced.  The subsequent evolution and development of Christianity (primarily through its Roman Catholic roots) would never have happened without Constantine and his victory at Milvian Bridge.  As a result, the Christianity we have today would have looked VERY different (if it would have survived at all) without Constantine's initial spark. 

Christians today owe their FAITH to Christ.  His doctrine and teachings are the defining markers in the lives of billions.  With that said, Christians today owe their CHRISTIANITY to Constantine.  The brand of Christianity, with its 1,700 years of evolution and development, all trace back to a random little bridge that spans the Tiber River.  Without Milvian Bridge, it is likely that you, me and every other professing Christian would have a VERY different type of faith today, even if that faith were still Christianity.  Of course, I'm not saying that Constantine was somehow more important than Christ himself; only that his impact (starting at Milvian Bridge) should have its due recognition. 

Milvian Bridge: the most influential battle in world history!