Tuesday, March 8, 2011

But Seriously, How'd Christianity Become so Popular?

It wasn't always popular, after all. But people have never stopped flocking to the Good News.

People have made the Cross into a kitchy jewelry icon,
The cross. A symbol of wealth and success.
Christmas has been turned back into a pagan holiday,
Does not make me think of Jesus.

and Christians take the blame for everything that ever happened, even when there's nothing to be blamed for

But it's an easy way to endear yourself to your followers
 You will know them by their fruit.

....face it, many people nowadays like to give off the appearance of Christianity in order to make people like them more. Christianity is easy to believe, novel, romantic (for those who care about the story at all), helpful to one's social standing, economically appealing in order to get a large consumer base, and a source of good stuff to quote to make yourself sound wise and good.

Wait, what?

On the other hand, those who dislike Christianity assert that it's intolerant, sexist, an attractive myth, etc etc.

Stop, stop it now!

Nothing is right about these views. Neither one. Christianity may have been morphed in the public perception into a convenient fairytale, or alternately an oppressive theofascism, but this is not Christianity, and it was NOT easy to attract converts in the beginning.

How hard is Christianity to believe? We live at a different time and place than 1st century Greece, Rome, Jerusalem, etc. It's conceivable that if Christianity as it is currently understood started today, it would easily catch on for reasons easily thought of. But would it's message really have been easy to believe for the people that the Word went out to in the early days of the church?

The goal of this post is to highlight key points of disagreement about Christian Doctrine that would have ensured that it would NEVER have caught on, much less lasted thousands of years, long enough to become as popularized and romanticized as it is today, unless there was something tangible behind the claims made.

The following is a more concise version of a very good article found here: http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html. Since I have no more information to offer, I'll instead try to make bullet points.

If Christianity was not true, why did it succeed?

1. Crucifixion is shameful. One who undergoes it is disgraced and humiliated in an utter loss of power and status. A crucified Messiah would have been seen as a contradiction in terms to anyone, especially the Jews, who were expecting the triumphant Lord (the Jesus we recognize in the Second Coming), not the suffering servant. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) Greco-Roman society was highly attuned to a sense of honor, much like the ancient Japanese and Chinese. It would be better to commit suicide than to die a dishonorable death, in their eyes. If the crucifixion were true, the only way the believers could have overcome the shame of it would be if the resurrection was also true.

2. Don't make your key character out to be a nobody. Make him be a king or a nobleman of some sort. At the very least give him an honorable career. Jesus had none of those things. He was the bastard son of a carpenter and what would only be assumed to be a slut and adulteress of a mother. He hailed from Galilee, which is like saying "from the wrong side of the tracks" times 100. Romans were incredibly stereotyping of Jews. Making Jesus out to be a Jew might've helped the Jews be accepting of Him, but it would have worked against them with the Romans. Imagine bringing a Jewish man to Hitler, and Hitler sending him to the gas chambers, whereafter many Jews and Nazis alike start to claim that the gassed man rose from the dead and was God Incarnate. Though the Romans didn't inherently want to kill Jews, the concept is the same. You would not convince the Nazis to make a Jew their leader, and you would not convince the Romans either.

3. Physical is the wrong kind of resurrection. The Jews were expecting the resurrection to occur at the end of the world and to be a spiritual one. To raise a physical body from the grave was disgusting and unclean. There was an idea that you would leave the physical behind and ascend to a higher plane of being. To return to a fleshly body would offend the Jews' sensibilities. Not to mention that they believed all people would be resurrected at the same time at the end of the world. Raising Lazarus, for example, and Jesus, before the end would have been problematic for them to accept as well. As for the pagans, resurrection was seen as something impossible, so persuading them would not have been easier. Lastly, preaching a physical resurrection of the Messiah was not necessary and could have been avoided by saying that Jesus was 'taken up to heaven' like Enoch, Elijah, etc. It was unnecessary to emphasize a bodily resurrection, and that makes it all the more likely that that's what actually happened--otherwise, why preach it?

4. Seemingly novel ideas/religions would be seen much like '60s counterculture rebellion against the establishment. Christianity claimed antiquity by tracing its roots through Judaism, but critics pointed out that they can't claim Judaism and observe none of the practices of traditional Judaism. Christianity was the arrogant innovator, the new kid on the block who insisted that their way was the only way, with no precedent.

5. A demanding belief system. No drunk orgies with temple prostitutes, no hoarding the wealth, no guarantees of a nice lifestyle--in fact, it guaranteed persecution, pain and all manner of discomfort for everyone involved. You have to give up anything that you desire more than God. What absurdity! Christianity certainly didn't appeal to the senses.

6. Intolerance of other belief systems. Christianity was THE WAY, and all other ways are WRONG. How offensive! Still is today, to many people. How much more so in the Greco-Roman world, where tradition and precedent decided truth. Christianity refused to believe the Roman gods, and demanded that others stop believing in them too--they were overthrowing the established religious order! And under Roman culture, Christians, like the Jews, were seen as atheists due to their staunch refusal to worship the traditional gods.

7. Historical connections. Numerous claims of connection to well-known people and places were made in the Gospels. If any of these claims were fabrications, Christianity would have been uncovered as a lie and people would have refused to believe it utterly. People would've known, too, because in that culture, everybody was in everyone's business. Talk would spread. It simply would not have been possible to find 'weak-minded people' that would be easily fooled into believing lies. Moreover, we know for sure that the Gospels were written and complete by a certain point in time. The suggestion that false connections were invented hundreds of years later is unsubstantiated. The claims were made at the time. Either they were false, dooming Christianity, or they were true, which would give critics nothing to accuse, and explain why Christianity attracted converts. Christianity was subject to very thorough investigation, owing to its numerous truth-claims. If you want to start a false religion, you make obscure references and keep it vague. You don't do what the Christian Gospel writers did.

8. Social martyrdom. Those who violated cultural norms and social values "would be subject to measures designed to shame them back into compliance -- insult, reproach, physical abuse, whipping, confiscation of property, and of course disgrace....The Jews would dislike you, the Romans would dislike you, your family would disown you, everyone would avoid or make sport of you. Furthermore, men like Paul and Matthew, and even Peter and John, gave up lucrative trades for the sake of a mission that was all too obviously going to be nothing but trouble for them. It is quite unlikely that anyone would have gone the distance for the Christian faith at any time -- unless it had something tangible behind it. "

 9. Human and Divine can't be two in one. Jews today have this as one of their main issues with Christianity--I just recently spoke with a Jewish man about this. Simply put, a man cannot be God. God cannot be a man. That's really all there is to it. That, aside from the eating, sleeping, sweating, stinking, going to the bathroom, etc. Jews can't fathom the idea of someone being 100% man and 100% God. They're not the only ones with that problem, however. How could Jews ever have been converted in the beginning without tangible evidence behind the claim that Jesus was Divine?

10. No classes: 'neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.' This is a common concept to us, but only because our society's roots are in Christian teaching. To the ancient world, this would have been inconceivable. Your class was your identity. You were expected to behave a certain way depending on what your identity was. Male, act male. Slave, act slavelike. Jews, act Jewish. But Christianity disrupted the throne of one's life and redirected one's identity from self, to Christ. Our identity is in Him. This would have been a bigger problem in the ancient world than you might be able to imagine, today. I think I have an analogy: try telling a gay man that his homosexuality is a choice, that he is rebelling against God, and that he could be more fulfilled in his life if he gave up his homosexual ways. Note his reaction. Then consider that that's how any given class would've reacted to the notion that people weren't required to observe strict social constraints, but that they were called to abandon them.

11. Don't trust the testimony of women. You can observe this in action by reading about how Islam treats a woman's testimony--a woman cannot testify on her own; there must be at least one man witness, and either one more man or, barring that, two women--one to keep the other straight in case she forgets something. This is from the AD 500s. 500 years previous, this ingrained stereotype that women were untrustworthy was deeply embedded in Roman, Greek, and Jewish conscience as well. To point out that women were the first to discover Jesus' tomb, and to admit that women were leaders in the early church would have immediately disqualified Christianity from consideration. It's automatically suspect because of the involvement of women as witnesses. It would've been very easy to change the story to say that the male disciples found the tomb empty, if appearances were important, unless there was a strong desire to tell the truth in the author and there was truth behind the claims he was making.

12. Don't trust the testimony of country bumpkins. Poor social standing translates into unreliable witness (even to some extent today, it does. Nowadays it's more related to what your degree is, and whether you have a position of authority). Speaking of positions of authority, Christianity had none of the 'power cards' of authority for much of the beginning. Paul was a minor help, and only later did people in high places begin to endorse Christianity. That doesn't explain how it grew to that point to begin with.

13. You can't keep a secret. You'll have to read the explanation on the link. Suffice it to say: No, it would have been impossible for any of the believers or authors to conjure up fibs about anything current, because word would get around, and gossip would fact-check their claims in a short amount of time, and call them out on their bs if they weren't being honest. "So now the Skeptic has another conundrum. In a society where nothing escaped notice, there was indeed every reason to suppose that people hearing the Gospel message would check against the facts -- especially where a movement with a radical message like Christianity was concerned.
The empty tomb would be checked. Matthew's story of resurrected saints would be checked out. Lazarus would be sought out for questioning. Excessive honor claims, such as that Jesus had been vindicated, or his claims to be divine, would have been given close scrutiny. And later, converts to the new faith would have to answer to their neighbors. Checking the facts would provide "grist for the mill" (since it would be assumed it could help control the movement).
If the Pharisees checked Jesus on things like handwashing and grain picking; if large crowds gathered around Jesus each time he so much as sneezed -- how much more would things like a claimed resurrection have been looked at."

14. An ignorant deity. If Jesus was God, how come He didn't know everything? Not knowing who touched Him in the crowd, not knowing the hour of His return--isn't God supposed to be omniscient? So how can this guy be God? This would not have been easy to explain in the short term, and would have done significant damage to any attempt to connect Jesus to the Divine.

15. A prophet without honor. Prophets are supposed to be honorable. Jesus pled guilty to crimes of blasphemy and sedition. In other words, if He came today, imagine the difficulty of trying to preach the Divinity of someone accused of treason against the US government, homophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism (he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, after all) and hate speech? How likely do you think the liberals are going to be to follow someone like that? They'll hardly follow Him nowadays, anyway!
Moreover, the "if you're really God, why don't you come down from the cross?" insult is no less applicable then than it is now. Muslims and Atheists scoff at His 'inability to rescue Himself,' and so His accusers on the day of His death did also.

16. Associating with the wrong people: tax collectors, prostitutes, telling stories of a Good Samaritan helping someone on the road. That's like if He today told a parable of a muslim or a Nazi saving a Jew who had been beaten by a gang of Christian thugs. As offensive as it is to us today, it would've been offensive to them then. If that's not offensive to you, try imagining a serial child molester saving a young girl from being raped. That's the kind of story Jesus told to make a point. We don't want to consider these people to be good. Why tell the story if the whole point was to deceive people? There's truth behind it, that's the only conclusion.

17. Encouraging people to check the facts. If you want to make false claims, you don't specifically tell people where to go or how to determine whether or not your claim is true or false. You also don't stake it on a single, flimsy lie. False religions thrive on vagueness and isolation. Christianity was neither vague nor isolated.

So the question, originally, was how did Christianity become popular? While analysis can be made of the present poor state of Christianity in the US, there's only one logical reason why Christianity caught on within the first few decades and centuries: It's True.

I encourage you to read the entire link if you have time. It is an excellent resource and really drives home the point that Christianity should never have succeeded if it wasn't true. This has profound implications for everyone who hears the message.



1 comment:

  1. This link corrects and elaborates on a few important points about the movie Kingdom of Heaven, in case anyone is curious, after noticing Renald de Chatillon up there: http://www.richardwarrenfield.com/essay029.htm