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Author Topic: The Success of Christianity.
EDanaII
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Yes, you heard me. [Smile] Not the Origin's of Christianity, as some have already erroneously posited.

OK, it weren't because Constantine needed some kind of symbol to "dupe" his troops or something like that, 'cause, unfortunately for him, his troops never did buy into that whole "Christianity is a lot like Mithras" thingie, even if that was ever his intention.

Nope, you gotta look elsewhere to understand why. And it's actually very simple, if'n ya know where to look.

As with most politics, Roman politics was a struggle between classes. For Rome there were two primary classes: the Patricians and the Plebs. Or, if you prefer, the Conservatives and the Liberals, at least for the purposes of my position. [Wink]

You see, the Patricians were, in fact, the Traditionalists, holding on to the old ways in a way that also helped them hold onto power. The Plebs were among the poorest of Rome; the "odd man out" always looking at the Patrician's and wondering why they couldn't have their share of the pie too. And the only way that they could was to effect change. And that they did.

From the Wikipedia article, above, on Plebs:
quote:
Even so, the "Conflict of the Orders" over the political status of the plebeians went on for the first two centuries of the Republic, ending with the formal equality of plebeians and patricians in 287 BC. The plebeians achieved this by developing their own organizations (the concilium plebis), leaders (the tribunes and plebeian aediles), and as the ultimate weapon used the secessio, by which the plebeians would literally leave Rome, effectively boycotting the city. This is recorded to have happened five times, although only the last (in 287) is believed to be accurately documented.
It actually didn't end there, but by then, the Natural Law concept that we recognize as "the consent of the governed" was already recognized. Gaius Marius, Julius Ceaser and Octavian (Augustus), all fully understood the power of the Plebs. All of them (and others) used, and learned from each other how to use, that power. Ultimately leading to both the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.

Roman Religion, like much religion of that time, contained morality, but it was by no means the kind of morality we associate with modern religions. Roman's had little conception of "submitting to a higher power." They were, in fact "the higher power" so they could act as they pleased and often did and none more so than the Roman Patricians. Their relationship with their gods was more like a business relationship than a pious one. If, for example, they happened to piss Jupiter Optimus Maximus off, they'd fry him up a sacrificial bull and all was cool again.

Enter Christianity. A Religion of the poor and of the slaves. A religion with a fundamental message that it's Roman contemporaries did not have: "Be good to each other." A religion that did not bargain with God, but which, rather, contained a bargain from God: "if ya follow these ten simple rules and just play nice with each other you can come and party with me up here when yer ready." And a religion that would not recognize any other gods, on fear of never getting that invite. Damn that First Commandment!

To a lot of Roman Plebeians this was a lot more appealing than having to suck up to this god or that and constantly buy favor to ensure a place in the afterlife. After all, it was pretty clear to most Plebs that couldn't afford to do so in the same way a Patrician could. Many couldn't afford the snot of a bull, let alone burn an entire one just to appease Him or Her. So, why not Christianity? Obeying ten common sense based rules to ensure a place in Heaven was definitely a lot less expensive.

Unfortunately, the Patricians just didn't get it. "Dude?" they asked, "Why are you waistin' yer time worshipping some dead mystic when Jupiter has always been there for us? Why are you kissin' this Jesus' butt? He's dead, after all. The only thing Jesus ever built was his grave! But for Jupiter we couldn't have built Rome!" Adding to Christian woes, when things went wrong for Rome and the Christian's didn't bow down to a Roman God, then it MUST be their fault that Jupiter was STILL pissed!

Enter Nero and a subsequent series of persecutions and tolerances. I believe that these persecutions were an attempt by the Patricians and those sympathetic the Patrician view to get something they did not understand and feared under control, unfortunately for them, I believe it backfired. Rather than everyone else taking up the torch to burn more Christians, most Roman's ended up asking "What's all the hubbubum, Bubbus Maximus?"

In the words of Tacitus, a contemporary of Nero:
quote:
And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero [falsely accused] as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Nero’s scapegoats were the perfect choice because it temporarily relieved pressure of the various rumors going around Rome. [...] Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. [...] All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.
Tacitus, I suspect, was only voicing the opinions shared by many Romans, hence the periods of tolerence that followed each persecution, with the last one, the "Great Persecution," being the final straw. And all through these periods, many Romans, many Plebeians, were left to ask "what's the big deal?" This only made them more sympathetic to the Christians and more likely for them to hear of this bargain that God made with his "Chosen Ones." A bargain that guaranteed a good afterlife for only the price of 10 little Commandments, one Golden Rule and some change.

The Great Persecution ended in 311, two years before Constantine's Edict of Milan.

And the reason for Constantine's adoption of Christianity? Beyond his stated ones, that is? It certainly was not, as Cytania suggests, "simply as a new symbol for his troops." It was more likely a realization, mirroring the realizations of Marius, Ceaser and Augustus, that the real power lay with the people. And by the time of Constantine, it had become obvious that some of the people had become Christian.

This is no different than the Democrats of today casting their lot with minorities and the cause of civil rights, and it's no different than the Republicans casting their lot with religion and traditional values.

It was politics, pure and simple.

Ed.

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RickyB
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pretty good post. There were other reasons of course for why xianity caught on, but its populist appeal (I mean that in the best way) is high up there.
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TommySama
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"How Christianity Came to Be
For Teenagers"

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kenmeer livermaile
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...and they began thumping mightily. Mightily, mightily, they thumped, until lo, there were Bibles.
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EDanaII
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quote:
pretty good post. There were other reasons of course for why xianity caught on, but its populist appeal (I mean that in the best way) is high up there.
Thanks Ricky.

Of course, it's more complicated than that, but I wanted to keep my post short -- and still it was long -- and relevant to Cytania's post.

Christianity certainly was "born in blood" but not the way Cytania was suggesting.

Of course the question that's most relevant, as posed by Cytania in the other thread, is whether or not Christianity would be as popular today without Constantine's help. That is an important question. But for Constantine, would Christianity be a billion-fold, as it is now? We can only guess. [Smile]

Ed.

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canadian
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I would guess not.
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EDanaII
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And you could be right. But a fact that remains was that Christianity was growing popular in ancient Rome DESPITE the persecutions against it.

This makes me inclined to believe that it would not have gone the way of Mithras either...

Ed.

[ October 23, 2006, 12:33 PM: Message edited by: EDanaII ]

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canadian
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That's a good guess.
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flydye45
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From a political stance, streamlining religion made a lot of sense. Instead of 12 different sets of priests, temples, omens, and political hangers on, he went with one.

Think of the savings in oxen if not the pure amount of gold, marble et al needed from the 12 Gods, the half dozen mystery cults, and all the local godlings. One could see some of the same influence in the later Iconaclasts destroying so many religious ornaments.

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Richard Dey
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I think Cytania and ED disagree a lot less than they'd like to think. I see no incompatibility between the two positions. And I agree with Flydye too.

Moreover, I am with those who hold that the Eleusinians, the Christians, the Antinoists, and the Mithrists are all of an ilk. The are all mystery religions -- and a mystery to me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraism . To me, the argument at the end is marshmallow fluff.

N.B. the article's reference to the recessive declination through the zodiac. That is the clue -- and why the fairies danced their way into the Age of Aquarius. That's why Jesus is associated with the fish -- not because he converted some fishermen.

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Richard Dey
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I suppose that would have made more sense if I'd mentioned that Castor and Polydeuces the Spartan twins, the water carriers, were gay. So too were the Mithra's twin torchbearers, Cautes and Cautopates -- sacrilegiously omitted from the not-very-good Mithra entry at Wikipedia. The twins are Aquarius. Greece didn't need Mithraism; it already had its own 'mythreion' in Ganymedes and Ganymeda. That's a pun ;-).

Manichaeanism was another mystery religion which obviously had an influence on Christianity. All these religions had 'death and rebirth' as their sacred-king themes.

Tommy's crack that all this is 'religion for teens' is well taken, but, after all, the answer to the question Does the Universe have an End? is a simple Yes or No -- though determining the answer may be going 3 feet in a mile-square maze.

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Richard Dey
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Oops, ED missed the 3rd class: the Greek pedagogues, the teachers of the patricians; and the fact that the Greeks had more political influence on those whom they did not teach than on those they did should not be overlooked as a mere contretemps. Without the warning, the Empire might well have imploded under the Romans rather than the Christians!
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Richard Dey
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And a 4th point! Who says that Christianity -- in comparison to the classical Greeks and Romans was a "success" [Mad] ? Tie them to the stake!
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EDanaII
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Sorry, Richard, but I count 1 billion + and growing as a success. If you take all the Roman pagans who ever lived and total them up, I doubt that the total number would reach anywhere near where Christianity is today. I think you just better get used to that. [Wink]

@ Flydye45:
quote:
From a political stance, streamlining religion made a lot of sense. Instead of 12 different sets of priests, temples, omens, and political hangers on, he went with one.

Think of the savings in oxen if not the pure amount of gold, marble et al needed from the 12 Gods, the half dozen mystery cults, and all the local godlings. One could see some of the same influence in the later Iconaclasts destroying so many religious ornaments.

Just to point out, Fly, Constantine didn't actually outlaw any of the existing Roman religions, that came later.

But I do agree with your main point, although I prefer to characterize it as Monotheism vs. Polytheism. I'm inclined to believe that monotheism works better for a society because, with one god, you're effectively "marching to the beat of the same drummer." Whereas, with polytheism, social cooperation is a little harder: "I don't wanna row to this beat! I'm gonna row over there now!" [Smile]

Ed.

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flydye45
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Did not state sponsership change? Which means he's not paying for all those bulls himself. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Constantine no longer put state funds into temples, instead financing Christianity.

Yep, I totally agree with Richard. Temples which couldn't self finance shouldn't exist [Razz]

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EDanaII
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State sponsorship changed only to _include_ Christians, not to exclude anyone else. Some funds were diverted to Christians, but only at the expense of "decaying pagan temples." Emperor or not, if Constantine had completely swept away the old religions and favored Christianity solely, his rule would not lasted very long.

You can find a summary of his changes on Wikipedia.

Ed.

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Ron Lambert
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Constantine turned to the Christian church because it was the only organized entity in the empire that showed stability and reliability of its leadership, during a time when corruption of public officials and betrayals and treason against authority were the rule rather than the exception.
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rightleft22
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How is success being defined?
Number of “believers”, domination, political power, power in general, wealth or transformation?

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EDanaII
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For my position, the "number of believers" is sufficient, although I think the others you list are relevant too.
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Richard Dey
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Yes, ED, but how much of Xianity would survive if it were treated like the business it is: taxed?

I must say, if the political is the personal and the religious is the personal, I judge those religions a success which have convinced me [Wink] .

Impersonally, I look at Christianity and do not see one religion. To me Christianity is an umbrella of cults; the umbrella may be open, but it's upside down!

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Serotonin'sGone
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quote:
Impersonally, I look at Christianity and do not see one religion. To me Christianity is an umbrella of cults; the umbrella may be open, but it's upside down!
Hmm, as opposed to your cult of gay mythology? By the way, I've been meaning to ask -- do you have a name for your cult beyond "Unnatural Selection" or do you just leave it at that? I mean, it's not a bad name for a cult, but it lacks pizazz. Something like "Order of the Herm" or "Misogynists for the Re-establishment of Organized Child Rape" (M-ROC-R) might lead to better recruitment.

[ October 25, 2006, 01:31 PM: Message edited by: Serotonin'sGone ]

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RickyB
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I think the success of christianity had a lot to do with a sub-conscious striving for a common denominator that would keep the "known world" in contact once Rome falls. That's my pet theory.
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Redskullvw
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ED

good post all around. Short and damn accurate as far as the historical sourcing. I think the conclusions you draw are pretty logical and self evident.

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EDanaII
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Thanks, Red. I appreciate it. And you're right, the facts are self-evident, which is why I decided to post them, for those who either didn't know them, or who chose to deliberately ignore them. [Smile]
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