The Early History of Christianity

By Reuben.

Today I’m showing  a guest post by Brian Hughes, on the roots of Christianity. I sent a random email to Brian earlier in the week asking for his thoughts on the subject and so here they are. Enjoy:

Wouldn’t it be excellent to be able to stand back (on a very high rooftop for preference) and study the evolution of Christianity, from an unbiased wall-to-wall perspective, taking in all the unsubtle kinks and added twists along its chronological route that transformed it from what was basically a ‘good idea created by a socialist hippy’ to the ‘buggered up, war mongering, anachronistic heap of old crud’ that it is today?
Well you can. It’s called history. You might have heard of it.
Here’s what happened.
Did you know that Jesus was actually crucified on a tree stump? That’s right, according at any rate to early versions of the gospel, quite a number of which are kept in a locked room at the Vatican, only accessible by the select few (such as BBC executives with extremely deep pockets). It was the Emperor Constantine who changed the design to that of a cross, because it better suited his political ends. You see Constantine was a Mitheras worshipper, who in later life (when he realised which direction the political wind was blowing and thought that a convergence of opposing religions might stop all the squabbling that was keeping him awake at night) allegedly converted to Christianity (despite the fact that, in reality, he was still buried in the Mitheras tradition). As part of this conversion he ‘invented’ the chi-rho cross, still used in some of the fiercer Roman Catholic strongholds to this day. The chi-rho consisted of a cross (as you might expect) with ‘P’ symbols on the arms, contained within a circle.
The ‘P’ in the chi-rho was the symbol for Mitheras, the sun god, which was why Constantine put it there.
Mithraism itself originated in Persia circa 400 A.D. but there aren’t half a lot of similarities between it and Christianity — far too many for healthy young enquiring minds. Mithraists, for example, believed in the trinity…long before Christians invented their third enigmatic member, the Holy Ghost. (What the hell is a Holy Ghost anyway? A bed sheet that’s been eaten by hungry moths?) In Mithraism baptisms were also common, using the sign of the cross on converts’ foreheads. Sunday was the day of worship. The chief festivals were what Christians would now call Christmas and Easter (after all…it’s a bit hard to fathom why New Year, which by rights ought to take place on Jesus’ birthday, actually happens one week later) and Mithra himself was born in a cave, to a virgin, on December the 25th, and died, during ‘Easter’, on a cross.
Hence the chi-rho!
Mithra was also considered to be the saviour of the world, the messiah if you like, his death having occurred to save everybody else on the planet and secure them an eternal afterlife.
All of this, 400 years before Jesus was even born. Talk about plagiarism. (So much for the ‘Gospel Truth’, eh?)
Constantine also gathered the Christian leaders of the day together (Christianity was a bit fractious even then) to produce a final consensus on what should, and, perhaps more importantly, shouldn’t be included in the New Testament.
That’s where the other versions of the gospel come in…the ones that didn’t quite make it to the final edit. One of these now missing books is apparently a lengthy surreal poem all about God and the sun and cellophane flowers and what have you, whilst another reckons that Jesus was gay. (No seriously…it does. So much for the Da Vinci Code.) That would explain a few matters, but let’s not bother going there.
So the New Testament, as we know it now, consists of a few (edited for content) stories written about Jesus some considerable time after his death, concentrating mainly on his ideas and his parables and so forth, with an awful lot of added Mithraism such as his childhood and his resurrection and so forth, for seasoning.
And that’s how it was for several centuries — the two religions mixed into one, with a sprinkling of other Pagan deities thrown in for good measure (which is where the holly and the ivy at Christmas originate, and the Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies), the Christian God sharing his throne with other Pagan Gods as and when it suited. And everyone was happy and got along fine and witches weren’t burned and the old ways weren’t stamped out.
The only trouble was that Constantine, being emperor and everything, had made Rome the head of this new conglomerate religion, which was fine at the time. However, several centuries on, and power hungry authorities being what they were decided on a more fundamentalist approach to the Christian doctrine. They’d already abandoned the ‘give your money to the poor’ line, and the ‘humble yourself’ routine, and the ‘if thine enemy strikes you offer them the other cheek’ stuff. After all, what’s the point in being the head of a big organisation if you’ve got to be pleasant to snivelling little peasants all the time?
That’s when matters took a turn for the worse. The early Christians who’d tried to understand the nature of the universe through scientific experimentation and logical debate etc. (it was all part of God’s great plan, they believed, to unravel the workings of his creation) were suddenly shunned, slandered and eventually dumped on from a great height…namely Rome. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ had a silent amendment added to it by the church authorities, that being: “Unless the church decides that it’s all right, of course” and, as often happens with the best laid plans of mice, men and Roman emperors, matters spiralled out of control.
Anyhow, I’m probably as bored of writing this now as you are of reading it…so if you want to find out more I suggest that you go and do some research for yourselves. This sort of stuff’s worth bearing in mind though for future arguments and debates about the nature of religion. As Tony Robinson once put it, “How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?”
Dangling prepositions aside, he had a point I reckon.

And now, dear readers, what are your thoughts?

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19 Responses to The Early History of Christianity

  1. Reuben says:

    It’s certainly very interesting. Quite different to Scientology which just consisted of a B-grade science fiction novelist having fun with people’s minds.

  2. It’s kinda like Star Wars Prequel trilogy. We start off with cute little Christianity, all nice and fluffy. In the middle, we signs that some serious shit is brewing. By the end, we see its downfall and rebirth as Darth Vatican.

  3. Brian says:

    And in the end days we have Father Jack Hackett and Sister Wendy…

  4. nlthinking says:

    Oskar:
    “We start off with cute little Christianity, all nice and fluffy.”
    I know I’ve defended Jesus as a person before, but I feel you are portraying him as less radical and dangerous than he actually was. For instance, his ideas that people’s ‘evil’ thoughts are equally bad as evil acts and that his followers should hate all other humans relative to their love for him (god) are both extreme and could easily lead to unjustified guilt, even self loathing. People cannot control their thoughts and feelings, yet Jesus was condemning them for not doing so.

  5. Brian says:

    “People cannot control their thoughts and feelings.”

    Bollocks. You might not be able to, but you really shouldn’t lump everybody else into that category.

    “We start off with cute little Christianity, all nice and fluffy.”

    The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

  6. nlthinking says:

    Oskar:
    I can never tell if you are being serious Brian, but if you genuinely believe that you can controll your thoughts, then I cannot think of a response except that you are mistaken. According to Jesus, if you think a lustful thought about someone you are not married to, then you have commited an act equal to physical adultery. Likewise, if you feel a flash of anger towards someone, then you are guilty of murder, as you have effectively killed the person in your mind.
    You may have been reffering to the ability to restrict ourselves from acting on our thoughts and feelings, in which case I would agree with you and confirm that it is a skill I have.

  7. Brian says:

    Ah…now that’s a different kettle of fish. There’s a big difference between not having negative thoughts and not being able to control them. The idea that people ‘can’t control their thoughts’ implies that…well, they can’t control them once they’ve had them. This would rule out freedom of choice and personal responsibility, of course, and, as far as I’ve always understood christianity, old J. H. C. was trying to get us to admit to our flaws and fight back against them.

    One of the very earliest christian sects, in fact, held a great deal of store by questioning their own motives and ethics, along with those of Jesus and God as well (they were a bit of an odd bunch), believing that the only way to self-awareness and/or enlightenment was through constant re-examination of both themselves and their beliefs.
    Of course, they soon got scribbled out of the official Christian textbooks…not to mention existence.

  8. nlthinking says:

    Oskar:
    “old J.H.C was trying to get us to admit our falws and fight back against them.”
    Indeed, but in doing so he was just continuing a tradition that started somewhere around Moses. I believe Jesus’ radical teachings were that we had to simply admit that we are completely terrible and can’t change that, but also feel guilty about it. Fortunately, we have him to die and make sure that our inherant “badness” will not count against us (provided we feel sufficiently guilty).

  9. Brian says:

    That’s one interpretation. Not the one I’d have come up with I must admit…more like the one that the Catholic church abides by nowadays, to be honest. But I’m not a christian, or a theologian, so I couldn’t care less. All I was saying was that the early christians had a very different interpretation of the gospels than the later ones.

  10. nlthinking says:

    Indeed, for holders of universal truth, they seems to have had some quite different ideas. I know that the interperatation that i specified was just one of many, but obviously some people do regard it as the right interperatation, which makes it dangerous (for them and those who come into contact with them).

  11. Brian says:

    “…some people do regard it as the right interperatation…”

    Catholics mainly. I was brought up in the Anglican church (if anyone can actually be ‘brought up’ in the Anglican church…I’d just sort of amble down there during Harvest Festival, and only then because I fancied the vicar’s wife) and their general attitude was, “Look, who cares if God or Jesus ever existed, just try and behave in a civilised manner.” I attended my first catholic funeral about a year or so ago. I was stunned. Far from being a celebration of the deceased’s life, it was all ‘Thou shalt rot in hell’ and ‘You are evil’. If it wasn’t for the bouncers on the door I’d have walked out. I don’t like being told what to think and say by some despotic old pervert in a dress. Last time I’ll ever attend one of those…even if they did have mushroom vol-au-vents at the wake.

  12. Oskar says:

    “who cares if God or Jesus ever existed”
    To be honest with you, that doesn’t sound like actual christianity at all. I would say you were attending more of a community group in the guise of a religious group (apparently it is quite common for the this to be the case back in the Motherland {Brittain}).

  13. Brian says:

    Oskar,

    The Anglican church is the only officially recognised church in Blighty (every other church requires a registrar to be present at weddings), but it schismed quite dramatically with the Church of Rome fairly early on, holding onto its Pagan aspects with far greater leniency towards such beliefs than the catholic authorities ever did. The development of the C of E is complicated and long-winded, but because of the early schism, nowadays it’s actually closer to the original pre-Constantine (and immediately post-Constantine) christian beliefs than just about every other christian church on the planet.

  14. Oskar says:

    I am well aware of the history of the Anglican church, but I cannot see how claiming the existence of a God is irrelevant is compatible with any version of Christianity.

  15. Brian says:

    Oskar,

    You’re sounding more and more catholic.

    As far as I can see — and I must admit, I can only judge by the attitude of the rather absent-minded but basically approachable vicar we had when I was a kid — the Anglican church prefers to adopt the general concept of Jesus’ teachings (except when it comes to camels and needles’s eyes and rich men finding it hard to go heaven…I’ve yet to find a religion that’s actually stuck to its original socialist prinicples) rather than condemn everyone else as being evil. The C of E is every bit as old and recognised as catholisism (Constantine was the Governor of York before he became emperor, after all), so, whether you consider it to be compatible with christianity or not is probably irrelevant.

    My own experience of church amounts to lots of little old women fussing round the vicar (‘Isn’t he wonderful. He shouldn’t have married that slut’ etc), singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ at the Harvest Festival, and jumble sales featuring mad old biddies with deadly walking sticks. And that’s where I’m content for it to end.

  16. Oskar says:

    Are you saying that the Church of England isn’t a form of Christianity?

  17. Brian says:

    Nope…I’m saying it’s probably the oldest surviving form of Christianity. All the other versions, especially Catholicism, aren’t Christianity at all, just the end result of centuries of bending the original concept out of shape.

  18. Oskar says:

    Now you’r sounding like the people who say ‘we evolved from chimpanzees’. Catholicism and Anglicanism are equally old, both are surviving and both are forms of Christianity.
    Christians are those who claim to follow Christ’s teachings and Jesus certainly had a god as a keystone to his teachings.
    If it is true that Anglicanism does not require a belief in god, then I would suggest that Anglicans are the ones who are not really Christians at all.

  19. Brian says:

    Oskar,

    I suspect that 99.9 per cent of so called Christians aren’t Christians at all, in the same way that 99.9 per cent of diplomats aren’t diplomatic and 99.9 per cent of ‘free thinking people’ are condemned by their own narrowness of vision.

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