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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Why did Christianity survive?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (32640points) April 8th, 2012

The myths of the virgin birth, the godman bringing salvation, and the resurrection are not unique to Christianity. They were common in the ancient Mediterranean. Here’s one source among many.

What was it about the Christian myth that made it durable?

Was it simply because they won wars and thus were able to write the histories as the victors? Was it the alliance with Rome when the emperor declared it the state religion giving the sect access to power and money? Or was it something else?

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53 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Simple. It was God’s plan.

smilingheart1's avatar

Because Jesus Lives! Remember there is good and evil in this world right until it wraps up.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@john65pennington : But if the ideas that Christianity are not unique, why did they endure? Other religions of the ancient Mediterranean espoused the same ideas, yet we currently don’t worship Osiris. Why?

john65pennington's avatar

I never answer questions about religion, because it always starts a fuss and I am not in a fussy mood.

It’s what you, believe as an individual.

If all the other religions failed and Christianity survived, it was God’s plan.

Blackberry's avatar

I have no idea, but I’ll guess. One of the religions was going to come out on top, anyway. They’re like competing companies. It may have been the right circumstances for that particular culture, religion, and government (because they had that kind of power). They got enough followers and it just spread like wild fire.

ro_in_motion's avatar

“Was it simply because they won wars and thus were able to write the histories as the victors? Was it the alliance with Rome when the emperor declared it the state religion giving the sect access to power and money?”

Yes to both. Given that the Roman Empire pretty much created Europe they had a huge base of operations. As these people were brought into the Roman Empire, the religion spread. The Spanish did a great job of finding America and missionaries were there from the beginning.

There were other, concurrent sects of Christianity that died out because they couldn’t grow beyond the area they were created in. This also goes a long way to explain how other religions expanded and solidified.

What made Rome so powerful was that they had learned how to capture and keep vast territories for long enough that the Roman belief system (and, among others, their language) had an effect visible even today.

ro_in_motion's avatar

@john65pennington and @smilingheart1 : Who then is responsible when, say, the Muslims/Buddhists/Atheists become the primary religion?

Likewise, do you believe that if you had born in, say, Iraq that you’d be defending the Quran as much as you do the bible?

JLeslie's avatar

Just guessing….maybe because they recruited members? The Christians also had/have quite a bit of power, and Christianity was the law back in the day in areas of the world. In American some Christians still want to govern according to their interpretation of the bible. They used fear and punishment. Maybe those other religions did some of the same and still did not survive? I don’t know enough about it. Judaism has survived without recruiting people, but the numbers are incredibly small, and the religion is in a precarious position. Ironically the violence against the Jews is probably what keeps them so united, even when so many Jews are not religious.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Like @Blackberry alluded to, even if it wasn’t Christianity it would’ve been some other religion in its place. Humans just have a need to fill the void left by not understanding something.

digitalimpression's avatar

I find it hard to provide a serious answer when someone words things as you have.
“What was it about the Christian myth that made it durable?”

I always know (on fluther) that religious discussions will be futile… but being reminded so early on in the life of a question (the beginning) is enough to make me avoid prolonged interaction.. being that it is more torture than conversation. As you can see.. @ro_in_motion has already started things off with a bang…. leading us down that ever-persistent road towards confusion, anger, and misunderstanding. No thanks.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Keep_on_running : I wonder why we humans have that void of not understanding. Why do we need to fill it with the Christian god? Why not fill it with ancestor worship such as the Chinese practice?

ro_in_motion's avatar

@digitalimpression Sorry, that argument doesn’t work. You makes a strong negative statement and don’t provide any citation.

I get it that you have an belief in Christ that’s unshakable. Cool, it’s your life. However, not everyone is Christian and many Christians do not believe a lot of the Christ stories. If you can’t share your reasoning beyond ‘I believe in Christ and there’s no talking about it’, then you’re really not participating in the discussion at all.

Apparently you believe in circular arguments a la ‘The bible is inerrant because the bible tells me so’ is not ever considered as a valid argument.

The question asks you why it survived and others didn’t. That is a rich field that has serious scholarship behind it. It certainly is worth thinking about and discussing.

Your being a clam on Fluther seems a contradiction in terms.

Ron_C's avatar

The old Greek and Egyptian mythical religions lasted for thousand of years, now it is Christianity’s turn. Christianity is diminishing as we speak that is why its practitioners are so vehemently defending it.

Hopefully Christianity will be replaced by rational thought and beliefs based on knowledge, not myth.

JLeslie's avatar

@Keep_on_running I used to think that, but then I was in a discussion where Christians accused athiests of the same. I found it interesting how they looked at it. That scientists had to have a scientific explanation instead of just accepting God created it, or made a miracle, or whatever was in question.that it was the religious person willing to accept they do not understand.

ro_in_motion's avatar

BTW, here’s the specific source page that @Hawaii_Jake was referring to:

Blondesjon's avatar

One word: plastics.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake and @JLeslie

I’m sorry, my intellectuality does not span so far as to be able to expand further on previous said post. Ooh bouncy ball!

DominicX's avatar

I believe it had everything to do with Rome. Christianity took over in Rome because the Roman religion was more a state religion; it was inherently political. The emperor himself became a god in their religion. It was also esoteric and many people who practiced it didn’t really know what it was all about; some chants and rituals used archaic Latin that people, even the elite, didn’t understand. So when you combine a religion that people are loosely affiliated with and it’s mostly political rather than spiritual with a religion that is intensely spiritual and involves devotion (devotion so great as to lead to martyrdom) it begins to overtake. The Roman religion also didn’t care about “conversion” which is so important in Abrahamic religions. The Romans just wanted people to pay tribute to the emperor (which was partly religious for them). They weren’t trying to substantially convert everyone they conquered.

Once Christianity reached the level of the emperor, it was only a matter of time before its influence spread with Roman influence (which was quite extensive).

And I find it interesting that we easily refer to the Roman and Greek religions as “myth” but it’s scandalous to refer to the mythological elements of the Abrahamic religions that way. And gee, you think it has something to do with the fact that no one practices the Roman/Greek religion anymore?

tinyfaery's avatar

War. Missionizing. And the complete colonization and imperialism smaller cultures.

Pandora's avatar

The ones most likely to die out would be the ones requiring human sacrifice. They probably caught on to the fact that they would all eventually be up for grabs and it didn’t ever really seem to appease the volcano Gods. Or they were too dumb and never moved away from the volcanos and they went up in smoke.

ro_in_motion's avatar

I also have a technological answer: By moving the center of the religion to Rome, they had access to the benefit from the fact that this large city had a plethora of scribes that could begin the process of writing down the beliefs and distributing them again via specialised labour. Likewise, Rome had probably several magnitudes of readers than, say, the area around where Jesus is alleged to speak.

Plucky's avatar

I think part of it is because Christianity was forced upon people. Simple as that.

Pandora's avatar

Maybe, it survived because its not a myth. Just throwing that out there. :)

tinyfaery's avatar

Buddhism, Hinduism and a plethora of religions are much older. Just putting that out there. ;)

Directmale's avatar

You are obviously a non-believer. Maybe it is because it’s rooted in truth, not fiction. I am sure that over the 2000+ years since Christ there have been some inaccuracies but those don’t make the crux of the story false.

amujinx's avatar

@Directmale If the story of Jesus is rooted in truth, why did it rise above the plethora of other stories which bear remarkable similarities to the story of Jesus? Just saying that the story is true or you believe it to be true does not actually make it so.

I would say part of the strength of Christianity is that it built on an established religion with a basic story that already had a following. It allowed it to draw from two general pools of people who didn’t have to drastically alter their beliefs to encompass it. As time went on, Christianity changed it’s holidays to encompass pagan beliefs to further grow it’s influence. The fact that Christianity managed to merge with the Roman Empire and meld with pagan beliefs, I believe, made it a more enduring religion than those of Mithra or Osiris, for example.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Paul, he was a Roman citizen and had access to travel freely. This allowed him to travel all over spreading it.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Because the Roman religion was expensive and exclusive as hell to participate in. It was bad luck not to help out if you were poor or a slave, but basically, yeah, you weren’t getting to do many sacrifices to get gods to help you out with anything. Women (other than the teeny handful of Vestal Virgins) weren’t allowed to have any power, and there was no afterlife.

Christianity, on the other hand, offered help to the poor, an afterlife and eternal salvation for everyone, and (at least for the first few centuries) let women be deacons. Christianity appealed to the masses, as no other religion (including Judaism, the only other monotheistic religion) did at the time.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Pandora The Roman religion really didn’t have much human sacrifice, and when it did, it was normally self-sacrifice (suicide). It did have a lot of sacrificing of animals, though.

ucme's avatar

Ith a mythtery.

kess's avatar

The most convincing lies are based on the most powerful truth…

So without Truth that Lie could not even surface, Muchless persist.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@kess : What on Earth are you talking about? I really am curious.

jerv's avatar

1) Christians are more warlike, bloodthirsty, and sadistic than many other religions. That is not nearly as true now as it was centuries ago, but the fact remains that they were one hell of a military power at one point.
They say that there is no such thing as an Atheist in a foxhole, but you also find very few at sword-point, tied to a stake in the middle of a bonfire, or hanging from a gallows. In fact, many people will adopt a religion (or at least fake it) to avoid those fates.. though that failed to save many civilizations.

2) Marketing. If someone tells you that they are The Son of God, you will have a hard time selling that to most people, However, if you have the charisma to sell it to a few and they start exaggerating your greatness and spreading the word to others who in turn do the same and you go viral, you’re going to take root a lot easier regardless of whether you really are who you claim to be.
Charles Manson managed it, So did Jim Jones and L. Ron Hubbard.

@john65pennington I’m not sure whether that is a circular reference or just blind faith. I am inclined to believe the former because every God has/had it in their plan for their religion to survive. But the real question is how Christianity managed to hang on when others have not, and I have yet to see you address that satisfactorily.
You are correct that questions about religion are sometimes best left unanswered so as to avoid fights and hurt feelings though.

Harold's avatar

Because it is not a myth. Very simple really…............

DominicX's avatar

@Harold I wouldn’t call it simple. Hinduism has survived centuries and centuries as well. Yet I’m sure many Christians would consider Hinduism nothing but myths…

Sunny2's avatar

About a hundred years ago, I took a college Philosophy course called “Christianity in the Greco-Roman Period” that covered this subject. The final answer was economics. Most people had lives of really extreme poverty and other severe hardships. Besides borrowing ideas and rituals from the pagan religions so that Christianity was more familiar to the converts, Christianity offered hope that things would be better in the next life, in heaven. People needed to believe that there was something good ahead and a reason for enduring the life they were living here on earth. Hope was a big factor for Christianty’s survival.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Sunny2 That seems to be the conclusion of historians and religious studies academics everywhere; I’ve heard it (and my answer, which was roughly the same as yours) in 3 different classes now.

jerv's avatar

@Harold If it were that simple then humanity would’ve avoided a lot of bloodshed.

Then again, claiming that it is not a myth is asserting faith as fact, and since not all of us share your faith, what you said can be taken as a grave insult. Please choose your words more carefully, just in case a militant non-Christian takes your words as provocative; you seem too nice to be subject to the sort of abuse that can result from insulting the core beliefs of others.

whitenoise's avatar

If 1000,000 people (over time, or all at one, doesn’t matter) flip a coin, then likely one or two of them will throw 20 heads or tails in a row.

These people will feel special and people witnessing it will see it as a miracle, maybe even divine. Still it is the result of pure chance.

I think it went like this: it was pure chance and at the end of the line, that in itself is hard to believe. We now even tend to attribute divine intervention to it.

Our species is ill equiped to deal with randomness and chance.

whitenoise's avatar

@Sunny2 that seems true for far more belief systems than Christianity. So that may be an enabling factor, it shouldn’t be the conclusive one.

Harold's avatar

@jerv, I apologise for any insult, as none was intended. I do see your point. I responded to a question that states Christianity as a myth as if that were fact, as I know some people believe it to be. You are right, we all need to be more sensitive of each other.

Ron_C's avatar

@Sunny2 “People needed to believe that there was something good ahead and a reason for enduring the life they were living here on earth. Hope was a big factor for Christianity’s survival.”

I expect that is the ultimate function of religion. Make the people think and look forward to a better after-life and they are easier to control in the present. That is why the religious hate atheists. Since atheists understand that you only get one life and this is it, they are not accepting of repression and misery imposed by an unjust government.

Qingu's avatar

Constantine’s making it the official religion of the Roman Empire was obviously huge, and much of Christianity’s spread was due to military conquest.

But before Constantine, early Christians distinguished themselves from other religions by actively proselytizing. It is of course true that Christianity is very similar to “mystery cults” common at the time. But the whole point of those cults was that they were secret/elite societies. Judaism was a tribal religion of the “chosen ones” and conversion to Judaism was uncommon. Early Christians, on the other hand, were exhorted to be “fishers of men.”

Christianity was the only religion in the Roman Empire with an effective marketing strategy.

Charles's avatar

“Was it simply because they won wars and thus were able to write the histories as the victors? Was it the alliance with Rome when the emperor declared it the state religion giving the sect access to power and money? Or was it something else?”

Probably a little of both. Also, taking advantage of the insecure, uneducated, naive nature of a lot of humanity. Same basically applies to all religions. Religions are pretty much geographic and cultural – they aren’t spread out evenly. The common denominator is the perpetual brainwashing of kids: Christian moms and dads brainwash their kids, Islamic moms and dads brainwash their kids, Hindu moms and dads brainwash their kids, etc.

sinscriven's avatar

Christianity’s spread can be attributed to Constantine. By the Roman Empire adopting it as a state religion it turned Christianity from a growing cult into an established religious and political superpower. The Council of Nicea happened so that all the Christian leaders could be all on the same page, with the Emperor himself picking and choosing parts of texts that would lead to the bible that were the most useful to establishing and keeping control of the state’s people. This is where the books were chosen, where certain gospels were made heretical, where the influence of women on early Christianity were erased.

I think it stuck because it was a beacon of hope. Most people living during these times, and especially later in the middle ages were living pretty wretched lives and subject to the whims of landowners and kings. The idea that someone is looking out for them and that the crap that is this life, is a prelude to an afterlife of infinite happiness probably sounds damn appealing to them back then as it probably does for Christians now.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Two clarificatory notes:

(1) The word myth means “a traditional story, especially about the early history of a people.” The implications of fictionality it carries came about derivatively due to the fact that myths are typically incapable of being directly verified.

(2) “God did it” or “because it’s true” are not answers to this question, even if God really did do it or if Christianity really is the true religion. Truth is demonstrably insufficient for success (there are many true things that people routinely fail to believe), and the question asks about the historical mechanisms by which God did it (if, indeed, He did do it).

Paradox25's avatar

This question is extremely easy to answer; power and the influence that came as a result of this. There can always be another religion that overtakes Christianity in the future, so would I say this is the result of God’s plan too?

jerv's avatar

One thing to keep in mind here is that times have changed enough that what worked in the past may not work nowadays. People used to be a lot more superstitious than they are now, at least in the modern areas of the world, and considering that a large percentage of Humanity lives in areas with internet access and indoor plumbing, that means “most people”. In fact, many people are outright skeptical; if you turn water into wine these days, people are going to look for hidden plumbing or the second glass. It’s not like the old days where they would either call it a miracle or burn you for witchcraft.

smilingheart1's avatar

@ro_in_motion, yesterday was actually Resurrection Sunday in Christian understanding, not Easter Sunday. And that makes all the difference. Only Jesus insisted that the the world’s inhabitants needed saving from sin – certainly the world’s prophets have not made this assertion. Jesus also went on to put action to his words through solving the problem of sin in his death, burial, conquering of the consequence of sin: eternal death as opposed to eternal life which he offers to all who will take him at his word. Jesus came to give us all something: LIFE, to free us, not put us in bondage!!! All these things can be discovered by any sincere seeker. I work at an industrial factory and we are a microscim of all ethnicities and I assure you the practices of these folks are vain rituals producing a form of godliness but not freeing the heart to love and be loved and that is what it is all about. Jesus does not want to take anything from you – only give to you.

I am letting this note flow out without all due jot and tittle of watching for the objections which of course flow freely on a site such as this. Just as yesterday was a busy day of celebrating this victory of relationship in Christ that is open to all personally – today and all days are now extra busy with the birth of twins in our family, so I am not on Fluther regularly at this time. It takes researching historical facts and being open to explore to ever begin the journey that may well result in true light for hearts and minds. I wouldn’t blame anybody for not beleiving in a God that isn’t for them and makes their life harder and bondaged. Who the heck needs that. None of us do. Why not spend a little time in the “red letter parts of the Bible” where Jesus himself speaks and see if he doesn’t offer something we all need: Life, freedom, hope, joy, forgiveness, light, lightness to our step, peace not fear and a new sense of purpose for each of us individually.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@smilingheart1 : Yesterday was certainly Easter. It says so on the calendar.

I’m very heartened that you find succor in your beliefs. However, I for one simply do not believe in sin. Therefore, I need no salvation, nor does anyone else in my view. No one judges me but me.

In the end, you haven’t answered the original question posted above. What events occurred to enhance the standing of Christianity so that it lasted to this age? Where are the historical facts? This is not a thread for proselytizing but for searching for factual information.

The Egyptian pantheon lasted for thousands of years, but it passed on with time and with the incursions of the other Abrahamic religion Islam. Why?

The Hindu religion is older than Christianity and Islam. It’s still flourishing. Why?

Buddhism is older than Christianity and Islam. It also flourishes without the need to evangelize. Why?

The history of Christianity is bloody and tortuous. It is rife with war, murder, and usurpation. Why?

The majority of humans on this wide world do not believe Jesus was a god made man, and yet they go about their lives with aplomb. Why?

Perhaps these are questions for another thread. Forgive me.

ro_in_motion's avatar

@smilingheart1 It is wonderful that you have a belief system that brings you such joy. Nothing I say here is meant to denigrate or negate your belief.

I’ll start by agreeing with @Hawaii_Jake ‘s post just above mine. The question isn’t ‘Is Christianity the only source for salvation’, rather what made it grow so quickly.

I assume you believe in Hell. Simple question: Is there anything your child could do … anything that would cause you to lock him up in the basement and torture him daily for the rest of his life? I’ve never heard anyone sane claim they would do that. The Christian god does that for eternity. That’s more than demanding a little.

I have been told by Xtian friends that if you never hear about Jesus and the religion, if you die you go to heaven. Why would any just person ever discuss Jesus with such a person? If the goal of belief is to go to heaven, the most Christian thing one could do is to keep one’s mouth shut!

Likewise, I would never take a son to be killed in order to placate a god who might as easily be a delusion.

I have read the bible several times. Both with Xtian and non-believer annotations. [There was a recent study that showed that atheists, on the whole, knew more about the bible than believers.] There are more than a few provable mistakes in the bible involving history and geography. Right up there on the list is that there is no contemporaneous mention of Jesus in history. Josephus is often cited as having written about Jesus but most scholars now believe that that information was added by a scribe copying Josephus’ text and was not written by Josephus.

But even ignoring that, I have major problems. The OT god is a really horrible deity. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be involved with him. The Adam and Eve myth is a great example: they make a ‘mistake’ and everyone born after them is punished? Again, I can’t even imagine this as a model of jurisprudence. Likewise, as a god, he could have said ‘Ooops, you’re all forgiven now’ instead of doing the whole Jesus thing.

I also take issue with literalist interpretations of the bible. Again, the Universe is not 6000 years old. Dinosaurs did not exist when mankind was around. There was no world-encompassing flood. The ark as specified could not have carried all those animals. (And god tells him to take more than 2 of every animal). What about saltwater/fresh water fish? One of those would die during a worldwide flood. The list goes on.

And then there’s Leviticus. A chapter that I always mentally subtitle: ‘WTF? This guy is crazy.’ It is with more than a little anger that there are ‘bedrock’ Xtians that use this book to discriminate and persecute gays. However, I have yet to meet someone who adheres to the other prohibitions this awful man wrote.

I absolutely reject a religion that justifies war on the basis on someone else’s religious belief. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christian and Muslim) have all done this.

My own personal philosophy is ‘by their works you shall know them’. I would much prefer a world where a person’s religion was a closely guarded secret. Once you get to know someone, it would be acceptable to ask. We’d have a lot less strife.

OK, I have gone on far too long – this is what happens when I respond to something before my morning coffee. My apologies. If you’d like to carry on this conversation then let’s do it via messaging as opposed to doing so here.


Note: The use of ‘Xtain’ is not derogatory. The following is from Wikipedia’s entry on ‘Xmas’: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” as early as 1485. The terms “Xpian” and “Xtian” have also been used for “Christian”. The dictionary further cites usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from “educated Englishmen who knew their Greek”.’

Qingu's avatar

@smilingheart1, I’ve read the Bible and I find little of what Jesus said to be all that different from a typical Roman-era mystery cult leader. The Osiris-based cults also preached resurrection and salvation. They were simply more exclusive than Christianity was (or became).

noraasnave's avatar

Christianity only survives because of the %10 of Christians that care about others and try to foster a lasting relationship with the God of creation. The other 90% give the world plenty to hate Christians for, most of their crimes are already mentioned here in answers to this question or in the lives of those answering this question. I think one would be hard pressed to find a person that hasn’t been judged and in other ways maligned by a Christian.

The label is improperly affixed to many who probably don’t deserve it, and shunned by those that probably do.

Being called a Christian was originally a smear campaign in ancient Antioch because Christianity was hurting the lucrative Statuette business, because at that time Christians were doing so much good in that city. Hard to believe these days, because Christianity comes with so much collateral damage.

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