To Live and Die for Jesus: Social and
Political Consequences of Devotion
to Jesus in Earliest Christianity
Typically, religion involves a significant social dimension. Beliefs, rituals, ethical/moral scruples — these all characteristically find expression socially, whether in participation in the religious acts of a given group, or through interpersonal relations shaped by religious convictions and teachings. Moreover, religion often is part of what comprises and identifies a given social group, such as a people, a nation, or a tribe. We typically are members of such “traditional” social groups by birth, and the religion of such groups is typically “inherited” along with the rest of what it means to be part of them.
Even “voluntaristic” religion — that is, religion that people subscribe to by personal choice (through conversion, for example) — characteristically involves a social dimension. To make this or that religious affirmation typically involves associating with others who share one's particular religious stance. The social entity with which the convert associates might be small, such as a localized circle of fellow adherents, or it might be larger, perhaps a religious movement, a sect, or a denomination. The geographical extent of such a larger social entity may be local or trans-local, perhaps even international. In some cases, the social composition of a voluntaristic religious group, whether local or broader in scope, may cross lines of ethnicity, gender, age, economic level, and social status.
But, whether a person's religion is an inherited tradition or a voluntary choice, there is a social dimension, and there are social and even political consequences involved that are to be reckoned with in understanding any particular religious affirmation. To join in expressing the religious