From Jerusalem To The West

 

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      The question of why particular countries in Africa, Europe, and the Americas are essentially Christian nations is best resolved in a two-step process of first analyzing the origins of Christianity and then determining how the belief is passed from generation to generation. This chapter will explore the origins of Christianity and the voyage it made before establishing itself as the dominant religion of the West. We’ll see how mere chance determined this part of the world’s Christian beliefs and how just a few minor alterations in history would have created an entirely different planet due to the subsequently altered religious distribution. The next chapter, The Psychology Hidden Behind Christianity, will discuss religious convictions as they pertain to individuals and their offspring.

 

Jerusalem To Rome

      The early spread of Christianity is almost entirely attributed to the Apostle Paul. His letters to neighboring regions, especially the one to the Romans included in the New Testament, were widely influential in changing local religious views. Before the purported arrival of Jesus Christ, the original Hebrew religion, as found in the Old Testament, was an unfathomably harsh one. If you’ve taken the time to read the Old Testament in its entirety, you’ve probably noticed that God was consistently angry and vengeful for what appear to be petty reasons. He even threatened to kill people for excuses most of us would consider insane if offered by an ordinary earthly individual. Records made shortly before the Common Era (otherwise known as the BC period) indicate that the support for this deity had about run out of steam. This natural fizzle is nothing new considering that dozens of religions have flourished and vanished over the past few millennia. Paul, however, was convinced that the idea of Christ renovated the old religion. Thus, he altered the formerly distant and spiteful God into a loving and fair ruler. In fact, the makeover was so drastic that some virtually extinct sects of the new religion believe the god of the New Testament is an entirely different god than the one depicted in the Old Testament.

      Paul also dropped an array of incorrigible requirements for converting to this new persuasion, including the most deterring one of all: circumcision. In order to garner a larger following, he also emphasized the aspects of Christianity possessing universal appeal. The most notable of his addendums, the gift of an afterlife, may have been essential for the conversion to be successful. Furthermore, Paul took an additional step toward creating a more accessible belief system by proclaiming that anyone could get into this afterlife regardless of any immoral behavior previously exhibited by the new believer.

      Because few people are readily content with the idea of their own mortality, it’s perfectly understandable that many would want to jump to a religious persuasion offering a gift of eternal life. Paul was clearly one of many who was self-convinced that he would never truly cease to exist. Quite predictably, fossil records from the era in which historians now think that beliefs of an afterlife began indicate a concurrent expansion of the human skull around the frontal lobe of the brain, the location at which we appreciate our mortality. In essence, religion was born when we saw death coming. God’s afterlife could be nothing more than the product of a human defense mechanism against death. All creatures fight for their earthly survival; man has tricked himself into believing he’s immortal.

      In the first century CE, Rome was in an obvious state of religious and governmental flux. The traditional Roman and Greek religions were rapidly falling out of favor with the citizens of the Empire. Zeus, Jupiter, and company were scarcely observed in religious ceremonies. The Caesar was the closest thing to a god that the people of Rome had ever experienced. In addition, many of the other government officials were corrupt without a thriving religion to provide moral guidelines. At the same time of this spiritual downfall, a highly advanced road system was being laid throughout the Empire to expedite information exchange. These coalescing factors provided the perfect environment for a novel way of thought to remodel their society. Had the citizens of Rome enjoyed a solid religion and governmental stability, they certainly would have quickly rejected Christianity on the grounds of having no practical use for it. Thus, the fate of Christianity as a dominant world religion would have already been doubtful without its acceptance by the powerful and influential Roman Empire.

      Christianity eventually arrived in Rome to a warm public reception because the religion was the first with intricate detail and organization to reach this region of the globe. A large collection of recorded events and stories from which potential members could gain the religion’s essential lessons also accompanied the movement. Such inclusions were great new concepts for the Romans who previously had religions founded on abstract ideas. Before Christianity, the closest thing to an afterlife that previously established religions ever offered the Romans was the concept of Hades. While this mysterious idea permitted their souls to be saved, it wasn’t clear exactly what transpired after their deaths. Heaven, on the other hand, was a remarkable refuge where they would sit alongside their god and savior while singing praises to them. Furthermore, this wonderful gift had only one prerequisite: accept Jesus as a personal savior. Such coherent simplicity was obviously a vast improvement over the older vague religions. While Christianity did have strict guidelines, the followers were seemingly immune from God’s post mortem punishments if they had received forgiveness for their sins. Even though Christians are adamant about living what they consider a respectable and moral life, they cannot deny that God also admits rapists and murderers into Heaven under the provided guidelines.

      Christianity had a couple of great psychological factors working in its favor centuries before modern psychologists recorded the foundations of the science. First, Jesus prophesied his own return within the lifetime of certain individuals who personally witnessed his miracles. There are several passages in the New Testament reinforcing this essential idea, and we’ll discuss these statements at length in future chapters. If the Romans desired to avoid eternal damnation in Hell, they absolutely needed to act quickly before it was too late. Once Jesus returned, the offer was seemingly void. A sense of urgency is always useful in coercing people to behave a certain way. For example, if product discounts in a store are only valid for an extremely short period, researchers have demonstrated that people act impulsively by making purchases they would not have otherwise made in a normal setting. If a significant percentage of people behave this way with small discounts on material possessions, how many would take the chance with eternal damnation by postponing one simple task? When Jesus’ return prophecies eventually failed, however, it was necessary to alter the predictions into ambiguity.

      The second great attraction was the initial ban of Christianity from practice and observance within Rome. As we all know, when you can’t have something, you want it even more. This rule of human nature fueled the desire for the religion, similar to the way that Prohibition fueled a desire for alcohol in 1920s America. The fact that the government didn’t allow people to drink made the idea of consuming alcohol more enticing than ever before. Coincidentally, the height of the Empire’s expansion in the early second century was concurrent with the prohibition of Christianity. As a result, word of Jesus Christ spread throughout the entire European continent via their improved road system. By 380 CE, Christianity had become such a widespread belief that Emperor Theodosius recognized it as the official religion of Rome. Even though the Empire was collapsing during his reign, it still held large portions of present-day France, Spain, Portugal, and England. As we will see in a moment, these countries were the most vital in shaping the West.

 

Christianity’s Failure

      While Christianity was making its numerous rounds throughout Rome, missionaries also pushed the beliefs on societies farther to the East. However, in deep contrast to the citizens of Rome, inhabitants of these regions didn’t welcome the religion with open arms. The key difference between Eastern Asia and Rome was the presence of previously established, easily understandable, and consistently observed religions. By 1000 BCE, India already had Hinduism, a set of beliefs founded on their sacred Veda books. These written tales of the world’s verifiably oldest surviving religion were widely distributed centuries before Paul was even born. Since Hinduism was firmly rooted in Indian culture, Christianity had very little impact in the region. Likewise, large portions of Asia, including China, had Buddhism by 500 BCE and a written moral guideline, the Tripitaka, by 200 BCE. Needless to say, efforts in bringing Christianity to China overwhelmingly failed as well. Hinduism and Buddhism still respectively stand as the third and fourth largest religions of the world.

      By the dawn of the Middle Ages, followers of Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism had long established their respective belief systems as the dominant world religions. However, Christianity was the only one of the three that often resorted to violent tactics of conquest and conversion. Its only competitor in crime would be Islam, which was already several centuries behind its more ancient counterparts. Shortly before Columbus rediscovered the Americas, Christians cast a quickly growing Islamic following out of Europe through a series of wars and crusades in the eleventh through fifteenth centuries. Their access to the Atlantic Ocean effectively closed, Muslims would have to be satisfied with forcing their religious beliefs across the Eastern Hemisphere. Consequently, we see a great expansion of Islam throughout large parts of Africa and Asia. Israel, a predominantly Jewish country, is now completely encompassed by Muslim nations. Because Islam was virtually unopposed in the East, it rapidly flourished to become the second largest religious preference in the world. Christianity, on the other hand, stood unopposed at the gateway to the West.

 

Europe To The Americas

      The Roman Empire may have been a distant memory by the 1600s, but it left its mark on Europe through the continued presence of its last principal religion. English Christians made their way to North America in order to escape persecution of harsh religious governments. It wouldn’t be long before these immigrants succeeded in murdering or converting several native tribes out of a desire to occupy the eastern third of the continent. France was a trifle more humane to the natives, but they still forced their way into occupying the middle third of the continent. Roman Catholic Spain claimed the western third of the continent as well as most of Central and South America. Portugal, another Roman Catholic country, occupied present-day Brazil. In short, all four countries that conquered the Americas had some form of Christianity as their only publicly accepted religion.

      The United States, the region formerly held by England, would eventually buy France’s claim in the Louisiana Purchase, an acquisition of definite threat to Spain’s presence in North America. The idea of Manifest Destiny, the popular belief that the Judeo-Christian god wanted Americans to rule the continent and firmly impart their ideologies to others, spread quickly in the 1840s. Because of this misguided belief, Christian Americans murdered large numbers of native inhabitants and started wars with Mexico, the region formerly held by Spain, to force them out of the western territories. Greatly weakened by their recent war for independence, Mexico eventually agreed to give up their claims as far south as the present-day border.

      By 1865, the Union freed the slaves held by the Confederate States of America. Some of these former human possessions decided to return to Africa, bringing their coerced Christianity with them. To this day, Protestant Christianity dominates the land above the US/Mexico border, while Roman Catholicism is dominant in the regions to the south. Africa is now a balanced mixture of Islam and Christianity.

 

Why Does Christianity Dominate The West?

      One very influential missionary had a desire to spread the idea of Christ. Paul passed the new Hebrew religion onto the Romans through his persuasive skills for writing and speaking. As the citizens of the Empire were desperate for a new religion, they were quite open to the change that Christianity offered. The vastness of Rome then allowed Christianity to spread throughout much of Europe. Before the Empire collapsed, Christian believers had well established their religion in the regions that would play a key role in shaping the West. No other religions, with the exception of the much weaker Islam, were interested in conquering and converting societies with contrasting religious viewpoints. Thus, a lack of viable threats allowed the European Caucasian population to flourish unopposed across the Atlantic Ocean. With this unmolested liberty, the proportion of the Christian world increased to nearly one-third of the present-day religious preference.

      If Paul had decided against becoming a Christian, or if Rome wasn’t in need of stability, Christianity may have never survived in Europe. In this case, the West could have been free from the burdens and oppressions of religious nonsense. If Islam had formed quicker or sooner, Muslims may have been capable of forcing Christians to release their hold on the Atlantic. The West would then be susceptible solely to Islamic faith. As it stands, the West is a Christian region because Christianity was simply in the right place at the right time.