Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Bread and Circuses?


As I have been trying to spread the word about our new blog, I have had more than one person ask me, "Why Bread and Circuses?" I would love to tell them and everyone else for that matter that the idea was entirely mine and that I had no help whatsoever. I would love to say that, but I would be lying--actually my brother Josh thought up this name without any help from me. When people have asked me this question about the name of our blog, I knew that eventually we would need to make a post giving its relation to our experiences at FBCH. First a little history would be in order:

During the years of the Roman Empire, there were some who used entertainment and food in the form of great feasts, Roman games, and grand circuses to divert attention from the current political injustice and unrest.

"In Juvenal's time (55-127 A.D.), the Roman Republic was but a distant memory as the power of the emperors grew stronger and stronger. The once proud Senate that had witnessed the splendid orations of Cato and Cicero, dominated and weakened year after year by the succession of dictators, atrophied into a figurehead of an institution. However, Juvenal felt that the populace took the duties of citizenship far more seriously during the days of the Republic than in the virtual dictatorships of the Caesars. He lamented that the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and longs eagerly for just two things, bread and circuses."

"Those scornful words 'bread and circuses,' or 'panem et circenses' in Latin, become more meaningful when you understand that Roman citizens became increasingly addicted to free distributions of food and the violent gladiatorial and other contests held in the Colosseum and the chariot races of the Circus Maximus. He felt that Romans had lost the capacity to govern themselves so distracted by mindless self-gratification had they become."1


"The Plebeian and freed population of Rome vastly outnumbered the Equestrian and Patrician classes, and their lives were much harder. Many had no jobs, little money and little food. Augustus, realizing that the masses of average Romans had to be kept both fed and happy enough to remain peaceful, began the system of patronage we now refer to as "bread and circuses." He gave the people food by means of grain distribution and legislation of food prices and free entertainment such as chariot races, gladiators, lavish spectacles in amphitheaters and the Circus Maximus."2

When I read about this Roman society and their appetite for more and more free entertainment and grandiose circus-like events, I could not help but immediately think of FBCH. They wait with bated breath for the next magnificent show and each one must outdo the last--the next big day--the next "famous" guest--the next fabulous fall or stupendous spring program--the next narcissistic event on the church calendar!


Just like the people of Rome during the days of the Republic, at one time FBCH was not ruled by one strong and charismatic personality! Just like the citizens in Rome under the direction of dictatorial Caesars became lazy and complacent with simply "not rocking the boat", I believe many of the good and decent people of FBCH have likewise adopted this philosophy. The picture of the impotent Roman Senate during the time of the emperors pictures almost perfectly the good men on the deacon board at FBCH--they are nothing more than a rubber stamp for anything the preacher/emperor desires to do or refrain from doing.

Much of what goes on in Hammond in the guise of ministry is nothing more than "free entertainment" in the form of panem et circenses! When you read about the Circus Maximus does any FBCH event come to mind? I can certainly think of a few!

Stay tuned...

Matthew Richards

1 Taken from article "Bread and Circuses" by Thomas James Martin
2 The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy


Remo said...

That must explain the insatiable desire for peanuts and cotton candy during the prelude!

PT Barnum said...

have you ever given any thought to possibly setting up some vendors at the FBCH services? I know that Mr. Boyd is putting together a portable snack shop to park outside of the church and compete with the other hot dog stands. Maybe you could get a piece of the action by getting some guys to work the aisles during the service with pretzels, nachos, diet sodas, king sized candy bars, and slices of pizza--everything minus the beer of course. I think this could be a big money maker! ROFLMHO!!!!


rabbi-philosopher said...

A friend of mine sent me a response.

"What I see as keeping people away or driving them away from the church is not the feminized music, but the simple lack of doctrinal content both in music and preaching. Example from our own church: music is generally 7-11 type choruses with few good doctrinal hymns; most of service is taken up with announcements, mission trip reports, urgings for evangelism, and testimonies from those who have done all of the above. Sermon ends up 20 minutes or less, more jokes and illustrations than biblical content. No wonder people might not want to continue attending (and yet this is one of the largest SBC churches in the area!). I don’t see this as much as a success formula as a stagnation formula, i.e. keeping immature Christians on the level of spiritual babies, failing to educate them doctrinally and biblically (which, if done, would likely solve the remaining problems that continually seem to be harped on: missions, evangelism, tithing, etc.)."

James Spurgeon said...

A similar parallel can be found in Orwell's 1984. The largest segment of society is made up of the "prols" who are kept happy by entertainment and a lottery so that they never question anything that happens, nor do they care, as long as they are given a new lottery winner on a regular basis and the hope that they might be next.

PT Barnum said...

heh mcr

why don't you leave my father out of this!

your submissive wife (w/an edge)

PT Barnum said...

just so you all know that last comment was made by my lovely wife. She is absolutely right and I will leave her father out of any future ramblings! I didn't even know she read this crazy blog--I better change my tone!


PT Barnum said...

heh honey,

since you wrote a nice note back to my comment you might just get= hot dogs,cotton candy,elephant ears,fried vegetables,snow cones and a lemon icee for dinner tonight !!

PT Barnum said...

can we also invite the Elephant Man?


Christian said...

I have heard the preaching of First Baptist Church of Hammond and it talks of winning souls to Christ through repentance of sin. If it takes putting on a circus to bring sinners under the gospel, put on a circus brother! Amen.

PT Barnum said...


You must have attended on a strange day--was there a special speaker that week?

God doesn't need your three-ringed circus in order to bring sinners under the sound of Gospel preaching.

I prefer expositional preaching of the Word by a humble servant rather than screeching by a narcissistic ringmaster.

Come back and see us sometime!