Many people are convinced that Christianity was devised by unscrupulous men who planned to set up a new religion aimed at manipulating and controlling the masses. This assumption is often brought forward when the conversation touches on the role of Christianity in history. But is there any evidence for it? To answer this question we must go back to the beginning of the Christian church.
Christianity arose in the 1st century AD in the Roman province of Judea. Right from the beginning, it was very unpopular both among the Jewish and the Roman leaders. None of them appreciated the idea of a poor carpenter’s son being God incarnated in human flesh, then being crucified for the sins of the world and after three days in the grave resurrected from death and uplifted to Heaven. This story was inconceivably blasphemous to the Jewish leaders, and according to the Bible this concept was the only charge the Jewish leaders had against Jesus:
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. (John 10, 33)
To the Romans, it was a tremendous provocation to claim that Jesus was God in human flesh because they regarded their own emperor as a god of semi-god. Christians with that kind of belief were therefore very ill-regarded and often hated because they did not recognize the Emperor as a god and would only worship Jesus as Lord and as the Creator of the whole world. Therefore exclusion from society, persecution, and often death were released upon them.
So, if this story about the Creator of the world incarnating in human flesh as a poor man, was fabricated with the purpose of attracting people from the Jewish synagogues and from the Roman people in general, then it was the worst imaginable story they could ever have come up with. Anything else than that story would have been better. Nothing in such an absurd story would ever fit such a purpose. If the purpose was to gain power over the masses, then they completely failed it! In fact, the story must have seemed so absurdly and struck someone as the absolute worst imaginable story to spread across the entire Empire if the goal was to capture people from the different Roman and Jewish communities to exploit and manipulate them. All they succeeded in was to summoned fire and brimstone upon themselves and the people who swallowed the hook and believed it.
Christianity grew relatively fast in numbers and spread throughout the vast Roman empire. The more Christians were persecuted the more came into the ranks. There seems to be no logic in that. The only reason why people would ever – with their right mind – “buy” this far out story could only be because they found solid evidence for its credibility.
There were absolutely no advantages for people to choose Christianity, and the founders of Christianity had absolutely no tools in their toolbox to persuade – neither smooth-talk nor intimidation to force people into this new religion.
Important fact: What separated Christianity from the pagan religions was that it emerged among the common people (often the poorest), whereas the other religions were elite-powered and government protected state-religions. Christianity emerged out of the low-status, poor people, but they had absolutely no gain by becoming Christians. On the contrary, they would have been far better off if they had stayed in their local communities as obedient Jewish/Pagan worshippers. Be becoming Christian they would almost certainly lose everything.
Look at it from the perspective of a jew. To become a Christian he or she would be cast out of the Synagogue and lose all privileges. The same would happen to a Roman citizen who was integrated into Roman society and into the pagan religious system. So whether you were a Jew or a Roman, you would be considered an outcast, and a traitor, if you became a Christian, and you would lose all your privileges associated with being an integrated and accepted part of society.
The Christians were therefore at high risk of being persecuted and put to death. They were treated as traitors against the Roman state and against the emperor. For 300 years Christians were at risk of losing their life in the cruelest way because of their faith. During these times, whether you were a Jew or a Gentile, if you chose to become a Christian, then it was associated with great risk and it required both deep conviction and courage.
So tell me, what attractiveness was there for an individual in the Roman empire to change his or her pagan religion for this new Christian religion? What was the “carrot” in it, figuratively speaking? And what was the “stick” used to control people with fear? Was it the promise of eternal life after death or was it fear of eternal hell? No, because the pagan religions had already built-in these features, so why swap your old belief system with a new religion where you knew you would lose all social credit in the Roman society and become ridiculed, persecuted, and maybe killed by the pagan rulers? What “carrot” could the 12 apostles use to tempt the pagans and the jews to lure them to become Christians? What “stick” could they use to bring new believers into the Church? It had to be something that was not already available in the Roman state religion? They had nothing to offer except the truth! No worldly gain – only worldly loss – became their lot in life.
People must necessarily have believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They must have been convinced that he was the Messiah prophesied about in the Scriptures, or else they would never have left their secure life. They chose this religion, not because of any possible gain or because of fear, but because they were deeply convinced in their hearts that the prophecies about the Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There is no other reasonable explanation. And this is wild! This means that thousands and many more thousands of people must have studied the Old Testament Scriptures and concluded that the prophecies about the Saviour of mankind had been fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Everything else makes no logical sense.
No one in the early Christian church had any control over the believers. Not any one of the 12 Apostles benefitted from their faith in terms of worldly power or control over their flock. None of them lived a life in ease. They were all persecuted and, except one, they were all executed because of their faith in Jesus. Most Christians lost their jobs and were cast out of Roman society. So if the postulated plan with “inventing” Christianity was to controll people, it utterly failed!
So why did Christianity continue to grow in the Roman Empire when everybody quite early must have recognized that the plan had totally failed – if the plan was to control people? No leaders of the church had any gain, any advantages but only loss seen from a materialistic end economic perspective. Christianity continued to grow despite persecution and total loss. Why?
But then in the third century a change occurred in the Roman Empire which dramitically affected the Christian church. In the year 313 the Roman emperor Constantine the Great suddenly legalized Christianity and ended the persecutions and embraced Christianity as the new elite cult in society. What he really did was to transform Christianity by adopting the pagan cults from Sun worship, transfer its rituals and symbols into the church, and mold them into a pseudo-Christian terminology. The whole idea of the gospel was messed up and distorted so that only certain rudiments were preserved, but the spiritual content was totally distorted into a perverted misrepresentation. And Constantine set himself up as the head of this deformation of the true Christian faith. A deformation process that continued and was perfected through the centuries of the history of the papacy.
The truth is that the Roman pagan version of Christianity was no longer Christian at all, but a full fledged pagan religion with a facelift that kept alive sudden elements and and sprinkled an artificial flavor of Christianity on it garments. After Constantine’s transformation of true Christianity into what has come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, it became the cult for the elite in the Roman Empire, and now all critics of it were again persecuted as heretics as they were before. For several centuries Christians who held fast to their faith in Jesus Christ were exposed to terrible afflictions and sufferings – no instigated by the Roman Catholic Church. Where was the “carrot” and the “stick” for the Christians who fled the persecution of the papacy’s armies? They chose to flee and live live in lonely, desolate areas in forests and mountains with their faith kept alive, hidden away from the papacy. If they were found they were persecuted, tortured, and killed.
So when the Catholic Church gained power and began to persecute, it is very true that the this “Christianity” became an elite cult that controlled its believers by manipulation, and by inducing fear, etc. Nothing has changed in that religious system today.
The only religion the Roman Empire could not succumb was Christianity, and to some extent, not Judaism either. All other religions were relatively easy for the Roman Empire to absorb because all polytheistic religions rest on basically the same foundation and principles:
- Salvation by your own “good works”.
- Strict submissiveness to (daily) rituals and church leaders.
- Belief in many gods/saints – on for every aspect of life: Sailing the sea, fertility, abundant harvest, a happy marriage, victory in war, etc.
- [the list of similarities is very long…the rest will come soon!]
These pagan principles are all incorporated into the catholic church. Therefor in our day the Roman Catholic Church is also able to embrace all world religions once again, from Islam, judaism, Hinduism, buddism etc. But once again they will have a big problem with true biblical founded Christians, because they will NEVER conform into an elite state-cult-paganized-religon where they will be victims to manipulation and control and even become controllers themselves. Catholicism was founded on and inspired by pagan religious cults from antiquity the Medo-Persian, the Greek, and the Babylonian mystery religions.
It is VERY true that all these ancient elite state-cults were set up in order to manipulate and control the common people by “carrot and stick”. But true Christian religion was neither a controlling power or has been controlled. It has from its very beginning and to this day, been a force in the world that can never be controlled by any elite (political or religious). True biblical faith is always moving forward up against the wind, against popular beliefs. True Christians will always belong to an unpopular, small minority. Neither a “stick” nor a “carrot” will be able to control them. Only the Spirit of God can. People who claim to be Christians but who are under the control of an elite’s use of “carrots” and “sticks” are not true, free Christians, like for example the Jehovah’s Witness which is a top-down controlled organization.
Globally, religious persecution is Christian persecution
Jesus said: “Anyone who will follow in my footsteps will also be subjected to ridicule and persecution”.
Why would anyone in his right mind choose to become a Christian and follow in the footsteps of Christ, if everything you gain from it is to be ridiculed, persecuted and maybe killed? Anyone who takes the time to study history must be able to see that the allegation that Christianity was, and still is designed to gather followers who can be manipulated and utilized for personal gain, is simply not true. There is something much deeper at stake. And what is that?
This headline is from Newsweek: ‘Persecution of Christians Is Approaching Genocide Levels, Report Finds: Christianity ‘Is at Risk of Disappearing’