Extremely little was written about Jesus when he was alive, but if he was a historical nobody, how does one account for the popularity? How does one account for the dedication of early Christians who were persecuted and murdered before Rome adopted the Christian faith? When people are willing to face torture and death for what they believe in, that truly is a remarkable kind of loyalty.
But that willingness to sacrifice doesn't prove divinity, and Christianity certainly doesn’t hold the monopoly over such devotion. When it comes to a “convert or die” proposition, most people choose the first option. But there are some that accepted brutal torture and death rather than convert to Christianity under the Spanish Inquisition. Does that dedication prove that their non-Christian beliefs were divine?
Scientology and Mormonism tell us that the “if people believe it, it must be real” argument is invalid. You can get people to believe in anything, even the divinity of a science fiction novel. But what if there is a really big number of believers? Can they all be wrong? It is estimated that there are 2.2 billion Christians which is very impressive. However, this also means there are 4.8 billion non-Christians which is an even bigger number.
Those who are devoutly and dogmatically Christian will assert that the only explanation for the popularity of Jesus must be that the claims of divinity are true. But an objective examination reveals that the popularity can be explained without magic.
8 Reasons for the popularity of Jesus Christ and other religious beliefs include:
1. The words, as selective as they may be in the scope of the Bible, of love and tolerance attributed to Jesus attract many followers.
2. The church (when under good leadership) provides social support, traditions, customs, brotherhood and other commonalities that have served to strengthen communities.
3. Any religion that promotes large families has evolutionary advantages in survival.
4. Nomadic religions have evolutionary advantages over local gods that are immobile.
5. The ruling class found the religion useful to subjugate the peasants and therefore promoted it. Turn the other cheek and don’t worry about subjugation in this life because there will be pie in the sky when you die is just the philosophy that rulers want for their subjects. Christianity allows the establishment of a priesthood and church that can be leveraged to grant tyrants divine authority. Christianity and political power have walked hand in hand for many centuries.
6. Ever since the adoption by the Roman Empire, this religion has spread throughout the world by the brutal force of powerful nations. In my own area of the globe, millions of South Americans and African Americans call themselves Christian. But in examining history, was this due to the words of a book or the blood of swords and whips?
7. Heaven and Hell. The great promise and the great threat. Love Jesus and you exist forever without fear of death. Don’t love Jesus and burn for all eternity. That rhetoric makes a powerful marketing campaign for those who are susceptible to the persuasive forces of superstition and fear.
8. Child indoctrination is powerful. Typically children will carry on the religious beliefs of their parents. The religious beliefs of today’s generation is mostly due to logistics, which makes any divine truth claim suspect.
-James Kirk Wall
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James Kirk Wall
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