Humor Magazine

So, About This Christianity Business . . .

By Davidduff

Yes, I'm afraid this is yet another example of this blog-owner rambling on about a subject of which I know very little.  Thus, you will be aware that much of what I am about to write is based on supposition rather than academic learning.  In this instance, I am back to my wonderment at the speed with which Christianity spread and was accepted.  Of course, I have to beware of my modernistic superiority in assuming that in an age of no railways, cars or aircraft, travel was nigh on impossible.  Well, no doubt it was for most people but for a select few, plus the ever-present entrepreneurs who plied their trading on horse, donkey or camel round the edges of the Mediterranean, or those prepared to venture by ship across the sea, travel was commonplace.  Paul the Apostle, of course, stands as the perfect example of the international traveler of his day and what he may have lacked in luggage he made up for by carrying that most dangerous of all baggage - The Message!

So the word went around, surprisingly quickly, and perhaps its success was due, in part, to the nature of what I might call loosely, the Mediterranean world, or to be precise, the main cities which were tiny compared to their modern counterparts.  Rome (inside the city walls), for example, was only about five square miles in area.  Thus, a speaker with a message to impart could very quickly broadcast it with just a few speeches in a public place and then have it re-enforced by word of mouth.  On top of that, scribes could fairly quickly copy original scrolls which could be passed around in the higher levels of society.

So getting 'The Word' out was not too difficult but why did people, if not flock to it instantly, nevertheless, take it up in considerable numbers with such enthusiasm?  I can only offer one explanation (without an appeal to the supernatural, of course!) and that was what I might call 'market testing'.  I have virtually no detailed knowledge of the 'gods' of ancient Rome and Athens but from the little I do know they strike me as very obviously anthropological.  These randy, naughty 'gods' are simply human beings writ large!  Yes, you might sacrifice a sheep, or even a virgin (if you can find one in Rome!) in order to ensure that your wife bears you a son, or that next year's harvest comes in without problem, but somehow such gods do not inspire - what's the word? - reverence, perhaps.

But even an ill-taught, semi-Christian like me recognises that the message from Jesus Christ was of a very different order of things from that demanded by the pagan gods.  First of all, this was a religion that puts you - yes, you! - the individual you! - at the very heart of its sacrament.  Never mind the tribal elders, the princes, the kings, the emperors or even the bloke next door, this is just between you and God whose message has been brought to you via His son on earth.  That individuality, that direct connection between ordinary Man and Woman and a God must have been very powerful to ancient peoples.  Second, of course, is what I might call, in marketing terms  - The Big Promise!  Yes, said the message, life is hell, real hell in ancient times particularly if you were poor but if you followed the teachings of Christ and lived your life according to his fairly simple to understand precepts then life would probably remain a hell but when you died you would earn your place in heaven.  I guess most ordinary people knew they didn't stand much chance of ever improving their lot on earth - unless they could summon up the courage to mount a rebellion, kill the emperor and take over themselves - but here was a way of reaching a second life of limitless possibility.

Perhaps I am being overly cynical.  As I indicated two posts down, ancient Rome gradually fell into corruption and license much of which was based on a huge slave population.  Most Roman citizens went along with it, much as we are doing today, but human nature is never entirely one thing or another and there must have been a growing feeling of revulsion at this decline and fall of civic behavior.  Perhaps, as one of my commenters mentioned, much of it sprang from the matrons and wives who abhorred the rampant sexuality that their husbands indulged.  I don't know but the speed with which the Christian message was devoured must have reasons.

It is, of course, an irony of epic historical proportions that this earlier, leaner, simpler message, perhaps only two or three generations after Christ himself spoke His words, was quickly entangled in dispute over interpretation and as the Church organisations formed and struggled for supremacy amongst themselves, the essence of the message was lost - along with countless zillion lives - during the struggles for power in the following two millennia.

"What a piece of work is Man".  That, of course, is Shakespeare but in this instance I prefer the modern American interpretation!


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