• guanyun
    12
    Hi, I am preparing my post-graduate entrance examination(philosophy), after I read the Chinese version of medieval philosophy of religion, our textbooks tend to explain the birth of Christianity in terms of class struggle, but I wanted to know the subtle reasons why people chose Christianity over other religions in the first place.
  • Jackson
    1.6k
    Hi, I am preparing my post-graduate entrance examination(philosophy), after I read the Chinese version of medieval philosophy of religion, our textbooks tend to explain the birth of Christianity in terms of class struggle, but I wanted to know the subtle reasons why people chose Christianity over other religions in the first place.guanyun

    Because they are taught it as children.
  • jgill
    2.1k
    Born into the prevailing religion. But over two millennia ago it offered a kinder, gentler God than the brutal gods of the time. Also, it garnered support from the ruling class since it referenced "Caesar's coin". Too complicated a subject for simple answers.
  • Agent Smith
    5.2k
    Great question!

    First, why are people attracted to religion and second, why Christianity?

    The answers to these questions may be found in a book on psychology rather than in holy scriptures. If all the options (religions) are lies, truth can't be the reason for making a choice. Maybe we select the religion that, as some say, pull on our heart strings, hits the right buttons in a manner of speaking.
  • Pinprick
    901


    I think the idea that we are capable of “choosing” our beliefs is somewhat of a myth. For the most part, beliefs are ideas we’re attracted to, or ideas that contain something we value like truth or utility. I couldn’t just choose to believe in Christianity just because I wanted to. There are also many others who are aware of the same facts, arguments, etc. as I am, but simply cannot stop believing in Christianity. Beliefs are involuntary.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    our textbooks tend to explain the birth of Christianity in terms of class struggle,guanyun

    That's the Marxist explanation, isn't it? Do you think that might be tied to the culture you're studying in?
  • Tom Storm
    4.3k
    but I wanted to know the subtle reasons why people chose Christianity over other religions in the first place.guanyun

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spread_of_Christianity

    As a first step this may give you some pointers. Don't forget that while Christianity may have endured for centuries, like Islam, the early faith is quite different to the faith it has become.
  • guanyun
    12
    yes, our textbook is explained by Marxism, but I don't want to read only one interpretation, because then I can't reach a full understanding.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    Commendable!

    There is of course a huge library of materials pertaining to the spread of Christianity in Western history. As said above Wikipedia might be a starting point (although if you're in mainland China, I believe Wikipedia is blocked there.) But the Wikipedia article says in part:

    Various theories attempt to explain how Christianity managed to spread so successfully prior to the Edict of Milan (313). In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that Christianity replaced paganism chiefly because it improved the lives of its adherents in various ways.[43] Dag Øistein Endsjø argues that Christianity was helped by its promise of a general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world which was compatible with the traditional Greek belief that true immortality depended on the survival of the body.[44] According to Will Durant, the Christian Church prevailed over paganism because it offered a much more attractive doctrine, and because the church leaders addressed human needs better than their rivals.[45]

    Bart D. Ehrman attributes the rapid spread of Christianity to five factors: (1) the promise of salvation and eternal life for everyone was an attractive alternative to Roman religions; (2) stories of miracles and healings purportedly showed that the one Christian God was more powerful than the many Roman gods; (3) Christianity began as a grassroots movement providing hope of a better future in the next life for the lower classes; (4) Christianity took worshipers away from other religions since converts were expected to give up the worship of other gods, unusual in antiquity where worship of many gods was common; (5) in the Roman world, converting one person often meant converting the whole household—if the head of the household was converted, he decided the religion of his wife, children and slaves.[46]

    The sources given in the Wikipedia article are as follows:

    Burkett, Delbert (2002), An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-00720-7
    Van Daalen, D. H., The Real Resurrection, London: Collins, 1972
    Dunn, James D. G. (2009), Christianity in the Making: Beginning from Jerusalem, vol. 2, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8028-3932-9
    Ehrman, Bart (2014), How Jesus became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Harper Collins
    Grant, M. (1977), Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, New York: Scribner's
    Mack, Burton L. (1995), Who wrote the New Testament? The making of the Christian myth, HarperSan Francisco, ISBN 978-0-06-065517-4
    Maier, P. L. (1975), "The Empty Tomb as History", Christianity Today
    McGrath, Alister E. (2006), Christianity: An Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 1-4051-0899-1
    Vidmar (2005), The Catholic Church Through the Ages

    In a general sense, the best approach is to try and select one or two books that express different perspectives and try to arrive at a balance of them. Good luck with it!
  • Moses
    137


    The short answer is that the Bible is a book which stands against the notion that might makes right. It is a book that holds even kings accountable and considers all as equals before God. It stands against the notion that the poor are low or that the disabled are inherently broken. Instead of worshipping nobleness or high birth or strength it affirms the fundamental dignity of all and reminds one that all will be judged by God after death.
  • 180 Proof
    8.7k
    ... the subtle reasons why people chose Christianity over other religions in the first place.guanyun
    All I can add is that "the subtle reason" is also (primarily?) historical: in the early centuries of the Common Era, Pauline Christianity had offered a more optimistic "by faith, not deeds" alternative to the non-Christian cults of "fate" which provided very little "hope" to the vast majority of people who were poor, sick, homeless, orphaned, women, prisoners and/or enslaved that they could be "saved" from their "fate". Christianity had promised "salvation" via "personal faith" (i.e. in the "hereafter" the oppressed would be rewarded with "Heaven" and their oppressors would be punished with "Hell") – in contrast to other popular, older cults which had sacralized "impersonal fate" (or fortune) – a genuine opium of the masses. :pray:
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    The seeds of what became Christianity were first scattered among the Jews by a Jew -- Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus preached, healed, and performed miracles. Apparently his brief active ministry (just 3 years) was quite compelling. Jesus died at the hands of the Romans by crucifixion. We are told that he was resurrected from the dead.

    What began as a small circle of friends who knew Jesus grew and came to include people who had only heard about Jesus through the efforts of his disciples and Paul. The number of people who believed that Jesus was a prophet/savior/Son of God was at first very small. There was for the first decades no specific formal beliefs, no institution to speak of, no formalized ritual, no scripture.

    Apparently the people who were first attracted to Jesus found his story very compelling. These first Christians are the people you should (if you could) ask "Why did you become a Christian?"

    Eventually the church developed beyond the Jewish community and became large and well enough established that it began to need staff, organization, formalized ritual, specific beliefs, and scripture (foundational documents). By a century after Jesus' death, these elements were coming into being. The Christian Church became another among many competing religions. A major break came their way in 312 when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and decreed it the official religion.

    After Constantine, Christians didn't merely compete with other religions, they worked towards shutting them down, closing their temples, and demanding conversion. So, a lot of people converted because it was the safest course to follow.

    Guanyun, where your question becomes cogent again is over the long history of Christianity when individuals have decided to leave their pagan beliefs behind and become Christian. There may be advantages available to converts, but apparently previously uninformed people still find the story of Jesus compelling.

    You can ask the same question about Karl Marx: It's not surprising that many people in China think Karl Marx is very important. What is VERY surprising is that some Americans read Marx (who is very unpopular in the USA) and decide that he is right. Apparently they find his narrative compelling. The same can be said for people who adopt a belief that is very different than what they had previously believed. The new belief gives their life new meaning, more meaning.

    Another answer to your question, why, is that when and where Christianity became the cultural norm, there was virtually no alternative to being Christianity. One was born into it. No decision was necessary.
  • Tom Storm
    4.3k
    The seeds of what became Christianity were first scattered among the Jews by a Jew -- Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus preached, healed, and performed miracles. Apparently his brief active ministry (just 3 years) was quite compelling. Jesus died at the hands of the Romans by crucifixion. We are told that he was resurrected from the dead.Bitter Crank



    Of course, there is no real consensus that much of this actually happened. While I am not a mythicist, it seems fairly clear there may have been some itinerant preachers who could have been repackaged as the putative Messiah over the years. We have no independent sources or real knowledge of events here and the gospels (some consider to be a kind of fan fiction) were written decades after the 'events' by anonymous writers.

    We could ask why any religious tradition takes off - Islam, Zoroastrianism, Scientology, Falun Gong... It seems the case that humans are hard wired to worship and adore. Generally it's a mix of an attractive story and levels of state endorsement or persecution that drives the process.
  • guanyun
    12
    Thanks, guys, I think I may have asked a unclear question. The birth of Christianity clearly involved political, economic and psychological factors, and cannot be answered simply. But now at least I know how to begin to understand the birth of Christianity, instead of just believing in the one answer that was put in front of me. Thank you again for your answers, this has helped me a lot.
  • hwyl
    74
    Well, compare Christian and Greco-Roman pagan afterlifes - heaven is a huge selling point, like marketing gold. And you didn't really need to do anything very difficult to get there. Whereas even if you led a very exemplary, virtuous life without any lapses you really didn't get much of a pay-off in the dismal and dispiriting pagan life after death. A Christian could debauch and murder through his life and get to an eternal paradise via deathbed conversion. Which policy would you buy in those dismal pre-modern conditions?
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    There are, indeed, so many points on which one can / should wonder about the veracity of the gospels. After all, the gospel writers were separated from the time and place of Jesus' life by many years and many miles. I assume there was somebody named Jesus, but was he really JESUS or was he a character imagined into existence?

    You've heard of the Jesus Project? A group of scholars sifted through the gospels trying to nail down what, with certainty, could be attributed to Jesus. There wasn't a lot left when they finished. It isn't that they found the Sermon on the Mount of little value; it was just that there was little there that would connect it specifically to one particular man.

    The Church needed foundational documents, and it produced them. Did Jesus say to Peter, "On this rock I will found my church"? I wasn't there, so I don't know. BUT if he didn't, it was inspired writing on some editor's part to put those words in Jesus' mouth. Peter, Paul, and the other disciples were long dead, so who would complain?
  • Tom Storm
    4.3k
    :up: Never look a gift messiah in the mouth, BC. I shall check out the Jesus Project.
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    Whether you "could debauch and murder through life and get to an eternal paradise via deathbed conversion" is not something one can attribute to Jesus. This is more the approach of a corrupt bureaucracy (aka holy mother church).
  • hwyl
    74
    Of course they edited those texts - it clearly seems that Jesus' contemporary followers expected him to return to the world in their lifetimes. They had to think of something when the Second Coming stubbornly kept not happening. Of course, this is based on the wide academic consensus that an actual Jesus figure did exist though very little is known about him except via the church tradition of posthumous texts, some canonical, some not.
  • hwyl
    74
    Whether you "could debauch and murder through life and get to an eternal paradise via deathbed conversion" is not something one can attribute to Jesus. This is more the approach of a corrupt bureaucracy (aka holy mother church).Bitter Crank

    Well, be that as it may - Jesus apparently left pitifully few instructions after himself, so they had to do the best they could. Jesus might have originated the church, but it was de facto created by others quite long afterwards and when we think of Christianity we really do think of the church(es), not Jesus directly. Paul was the main begetter but even his thinking was profoundly reshaped by later church organs.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    I shall check out the Jesus Project.Tom Storm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Borg . Particularly cool scholarly member of that school.
  • jorndoe
    1.9k
    Let's not forget that following Jesus' demise, Christianity turned into a number of (fanatic) factions, not a single dominant homogenous unified movement, which would take some centuries still.
    Celsus (≈ 175, well versed in Judaism), commented on the zealous rivals, and Theodosius I (347-395) decreed them "demented lunatics" in 380 — except for the Roman Catholics of course, now rubber-stamped by the empire.
    But, with the backing of the Roman empire, Catholicism eventually came out on top, and outlasted the empire.
    By 1350 the Catholic church had eradicated the Cathars, for example.
    Christian involvement in anti-Semitism is a matter of record, including the founder of Protestantism.

    Today (for some time), Christianity (like Islam) primarily maintain numbers by enculturation and indoctrination.
    (Why else would anyone believe that a Jewish carpenter supernaturally fed 5000 then 4000 with a handful of food?)
    When the requisite religious creeds tell them to do so, there's an element of self-sustaining propagation involved.
    If memory serves, Sunnism overtook Catholicism in numbers worldwide around the turn of the millennium, and Islam at large is projected to overtake Christianity at large in some decades.

    Christians remain world’s largest religious group, but they are declining in Europe (Pew Research Center; Apr 5, 2017)
    Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group (Pew Research Center; Apr 6, 2017)
  • Tom Storm
    4.3k
    Today (for some time), Christianity (like Islam) primarily maintain numbers by enculturation and indoctrination.
    (Why else would anyone believe that a Jewish carpenter supernaturally fed 5000 then 4000 with a handful of food?)
    jorndoe

    Worth remembering too that there are many Christians who see the Bible as a book of allegories, not to be taken literally. This was the Christian tradition I grew up in (amongst the Baptists and Anglicans). A most famous example of this form of progressive theology is Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, who spent his professional life as a cleric working to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism.
  • universeness
    2.1k

    I think the majority of the reasons already cited by others so far just about cover the op.
    Especially @Wayfarer's quotes from Bart Ehrman etc.
    I think there is also the fact that humans are social animals and 'need' or/and are compelled to join groups or unite in common cause.
    This manifests in many interesting ways, including such as 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' or Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic fans, many of whom hate each other due to the sectarianism associated with each team, yet they will 'come together'/tolerate each other when they support the Scottish national football team, especially when they play against England.

    Christianity is just another 'team,' that a human can adopt as a familial support system which offers them a sense of purpose and makes them feel they 'belong' to something important. I think all humans need this.
    I place christians, or theists in general, in my personal list of 'teams' or 'groups' of 'duped fools.'
    I have 'faith in,' or 'I trust in,' the intentions/tenets/actions of science and most scientists.
    So in that sense, I have picked the team I support.
    I find sports boring so I am glad there are 'other team types' out there you can affiliate to.
  • baker
    4.7k
    yes, our textbook is explained by Marxism, but I don't want to read only one interpretation, because then I can't reach a full understanding.guanyun

    How many different sources do you think you need to consult before you will reach full understanding?

    instead of just believing in the one answer that was put in front of me.guanyun

    If your aim is to pass exams and complete your degree, then you should probably stick to "the one answer that was put in front of you" or at least show that you prefer it.

    This principle for academic success is the same everywhere.
  • baker
    4.7k
    but I wanted to know the subtle reasons why people chose Christianity over other religions in the first place.guanyun

    By now, we can only speculate. The craving to feel special, to view oneself as morally superior to others (_eternally_ morally superior to others at that), the craving to see oneself as victorious over life likely played a part.



    All I can add is that "the subtle reason" is also (primarily?) historical: in the early centuries of the Common Era, Pauline Christianity had offered a more optimistic "by faith, not deeds" alternative to the non-Christian cults of "fate" which provided very little "hope" to the vast majority of people who were poor, sick, homeless, orphaned, women, prisoners and/or enslaved that they could be "saved" from their "fate".180 Proof

    IOW, yet another instance of the class war.
    It's the one theme that persists throughout Christian history: Christians as the innocent victims, Christians as the martyrs, Christians as the righteous. The prospect of being in the gutter, and yet superior to others has got to be one of the strongest ego boosts there is.
  • 180 Proof
    8.7k
    An existential coping strategy (e.g. Pauline Christianity) for those who already had been vanquished by perennial "class warfare" (e.g. Roman Slavery-Imperialism) was not itself "class war" (e.g. revolts by Spartacus et al) but merely a narcotic (Marx) to balm their despair.
  • baker
    4.7k
    merely a narcotic (Marx) to balm their despair.180 Proof

    cda6a38315966ec411fab82dc962eaf319f0ae4b

    A "narcotic to balm their despair" that resulted in world domination.

    An existential coping strategy (e.g. Pauline Christianity) for those who already had been vanquished by perennial "class warfare" (e.g. Roman Slavery-Imperialism) was not itself "class war" (e.g. revolts by Spartacus et al)180 Proof

    In terms of motivations, it was class war. At first, they just didn't have the sticks and stones for it, so it might at first not look like much of a war at all, but they more than made up for it later on.

    389364-Daily-Battle-Prayer.jpg

    Atomic_cloud_over_Hiroshima_%28from_Matsuyama%29.jpg
  • guanyun
    12
    I realized that indeed my aim was to take the exam, and I also realized that it was difficult to achieve a full understanding, but I had to have a deeper and reasonable understanding, given that the Chinese exam was very difficult and there were very many competitors.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.