How NOT to Start an Ancient Religion
October 11, 2002 7:19 PM   Subscribe

How NOT to Start an Ancient Religion Not so much a DIY guide for time-travellers as "a list of 16 factors to be considered -- places where Christianity 'did the wrong thing' in order to be a successful religion." Hopefully thought provoking...
posted by agentfresh (22 comments total)

Now you've done it. . .
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:44 PM on October 11, 2002

Here's the first nit that steps forward for me to pick, regarding Factor #7 -- Stepping Into History, which boils down to "If claim #1 is proven false, that opens the way to doubt others -- all the way up the line to the resurrection."

Very fine and good, if people are completely rational creatures. But they're not. Now, the Jehovah's Witnesses have claimed, many times, that Big Things would happen during thus-and-such a year. I think most of us will agree that the world has not, as of late 2002, ended. Therefore, there must be no Jehovah's Witnesses around any more, because some of their claims have proved false. But then who's that knocking on my door?

"It is impossible that Christianity thrived and survived without having its ducks in a row in this regard." If people want to believe, they will. Facts, or lack thereof, be damned.
posted by Guy Smiley at 8:31 PM on October 11, 2002

i don't particularly appreciate the escalating ammount of christian ideological tirades that are being posted to this site. several were posted today for instance, like that sneaky little "Q" site. but the thing about meFi folks is we actually pay atten tion, so you won't be converting any folks around here. why don't you just move along and cut the cutesy "wild and christian guy" b.s.
the best thing that can happen for you here is we all stop reading metafilter, disgusted as ever with christian demagoguery, for having taken away a valuable resource from our lives. or maybe, hopefully, matt just kicks your ass off the boards.a
posted by alpha60 at 8:32 PM on October 11, 2002

about the "Q" thing, sorry, I read that somewhere else. it was a site that pawned off some kind of interest in scientific oddities on folks along with the message: christianity is really okay. but from my perspective: christianity is all well and fine, but ijust don't need another collection of cheaply printed little find the light booklets in mmy life. which is what this post is all about, moving those cute little ironic booklets onto the web. to you i say, in homage to the butthole surfers: "satan! satan! satan!"o
posted by alpha60 at 8:38 PM on October 11, 2002

Guy Smiley:
Good point. It won't be a great point until the Watchtower's been around for 2000 years.
Also, reporting the past and predicting the future aren't exactly in the same boat, are they?
From the Posting guidelines page:
"A good post to MetaFilter is something that meets the following criteria: most people haven't seen it before, there is something interesting about the content on the page, and it might warrant discussion from others."
If the above post doesn't meet those criteria I apologize...
posted by agentfresh at 10:13 PM on October 11, 2002

alpha60, this was a "christian ideological tirade"? Boy, are you sensitive. Just for your acting like a git I'm going to go ahead and discuss this link, and with any luck I'll upset your little tea-cart.

To be sure, this is a frustrating piece despite a cute premise. Its conclusions are often merely sarcastic restatements of the question; there isn't a great deal of historical scholarship here, only Biblical scholarship, and there isn't much logical argument. Nevertheless it manages to raise some interesting points. The Q&A format is more of a straight-line setup for the intended-as-ironic punchlines than a successful framing device. If this had been written as an introspective essay it would have been much more interesting.

I don't, then, find it as thought-provoking as it could have been. The things-not-to-do are all turned on their heads as things-to-do-anyway, and intended to prop up the idea that Christianity succeeded not because it did the right thing, but because it was, by faith, right anyway -- even though it did the "wrong" thing. The writer could have gone beyond tract literature devices, and obviously has the knowledge to do so, but chose not to.

I would have found much more interesting an approach that saw things that were done wrong not so much as obstacles to overcome by miraculous success-in-spite-of-itself, but as moral quandaries. What of the era before Christ became widely accepted as the Messiah? What of the early schisms, as with the Gnostics, to which the author alludes but does not elaborate? What of conversions by the sword, Constantine, papal politicking, the Inquisition?
posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on October 11, 2002

interesting stuff, agentfresh. the realm of christian apologetics is fast becoming my favorite....
posted by jennanemone at 11:09 PM on October 11, 2002

dhartung, what is a git? and don't worry, there will always be room at my tea cart for you. and agent fresh. to you, and particularly mr. fresh i apologize. obviously there was something of interest there to someone, and i was quite rude, in retrospect. i'll have to watch that. and i'll start saving the bible tracts folks foist on me every day for you guys. the other day i got one disproving various kinds of animist religions, in spanish. interested??
posted by alpha60 at 11:17 PM on October 11, 2002

They bash christianity and then praise islamism?
posted by zerofoks at 1:22 AM on October 12, 2002

Still nothing here that refutes my theory that christianity was the brainchild of a bunch of drunk Roman fratboys out to prove that the unwashed masses would believe anything.

Forget proving the existence of god, christians would go a long way if they would just prove that JC was an actual person.
posted by mischief at 1:46 AM on October 12, 2002

Apologetics. Bah. The arguments you linked all require that one believe the Bible is historically accurate or that the nature of its truths are propositional, two things most atheists or nonChristian folks won't agree on. Hell, a good many Christians don't agree on those points.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:37 AM on October 12, 2002

There's nothing new about this line of argument. It's been around for at least 1,800 years, since Tertullian said "Certum est, quia impossibile est" ('It has to be true because it's impossible' -- usually misquoted as "Credo quia impossibile"; fuller context here). But I guess it's as good a hook as any for a Christian apologetics thread.
posted by languagehat at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2002

mischief: "Forget proving the existence of god, christians would go a long way if they would just prove that JC was an actual person."

Although this is probably not the place for it, I think mischief just opened a new line of discussion. Since Christianity is, of course, a "faith," obviously there are going to be some things its followers, including its apologists, accept as absolute truth in the absence of tangible evidence. Compounded with this is an opinion Fyodor Dostoevsky introduced: hey, what if a Christian discovered believing in JC got him nothing? What if JC never even existed? If that discovery actually changes things, then the person was never a real Christian to begin with.

I guess what I'm saying is, in my life, I don't care if JC was never a real person. There's an ideal his life stood for that I think I'd like to emulate in my own life. And if you look at Christianity as what it is -- faith in a particular ideal -- I think you might be less likely to... well... say shitty things to people like "Still nothing here that refutes my theory that christianity was the brainchild of a bunch of drunk Roman fratboys out to prove that the unwashed masses would believe anything." So yeah, thanks a lot.
posted by jennanemone at 8:29 AM on October 12, 2002

Wow, there are so many bizarre conclusions in this article that I hardly know where to start, but it seems to me that the most fundamental error here is his assumption that the beliefs of the Roman aristocracy had any relevance at all to the hundreds of thousands of largely common folk that embraced Christianity in the centuries after the crucifixion. What would it matter to them whether or not Jesus died a "shameful" death in the eyes of their Roman masters?

Also, even a cursory examination of Christianity should've revealed to Mr. Holding that its early success was in large part due to its rejection of obedience to suffocating dogma (at least before the Catholic church got ahold of it) and law as a basis of salvation, along with the willingness to accept anyone into the church no matter what their background. Even today, this forms a large part of Christianity's appeal.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2002

Christianity's appeal comes from the fact that you get to drink wine at the end of service. Unless you're a Protestant in the South or Midwest, that is.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:46 AM on October 12, 2002

This apologist's chain of reasoning depends on Christianity being, as he terms it, an "impossible" religion--but his description of its impossibility doesn't altogether seem to jibe with recent (by which I mean 20th century!) scholarship on its origins. That's before one touches on his definition of proof, etc. I'd hardly term the link a "tirade," but as far as the tradition of Christian apologetic is concerned, this is pretty weak stuff.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:05 AM on October 12, 2002

Forget proving the existence of god, christians would go a long way if they would just prove that JC was an actual person.

While admittedly it is from a distinctly Christian perspective, The Case for Christ is a good starting place for a bunch of people who are trying to do just that.

A statement like that seems magnificently ignorant, at least to me, on the level of something like "All Muslims are Terrorists".
posted by hughbot at 12:22 PM on October 12, 2002

languagehat: I recall seeing a similar line of argument in (I think) CEM Joad's "Recovery of Belief" - that Christianity must be true because it managed to survive into modern times despite the blatant corruption of its leaders in the late mediaeval Catholic church (debauched Borgia popes, etc).
posted by raygirvan at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2002

Hrm, saw this on fark and commented, here's a repaste:


What a ridiculous article. They are basically saying since they don't think Christianity would 'take off'... based souly on their own opinion, if it wasn't true, then it MUST be true!!

How stupid can you get? Seriously, Look at the history of Mormonism. Why would anyone, anyone believe in a religion started by that Joseph Smith guy. Historically, he's an Obvious phony who just wanted to get laid by a bunch of women.

Or look at Scientology! Just 50 years old, a religion created by a money grubbing, sucky-sci-fi writer.

Yet BOTH of those religions are thriving.

The only religions I can think of that had 'legitimate' founders are Islam and Buddhism, after all, Muhammad was a King and Buddha was, supposedly, a pretty cool guy. But I don't really know about all the religions out there.

Btw, I'm not trying to say that Mormonism or Scientology are somehow 'worse' religions because the people that founded them were goofy. I'm just saying that an ignoble beginning is not an anacident to a failure of a religion. I certainly don't think Islam is a better religion then Mormonism, just because Muhammad was a king and Joseph Smith was an asshat.

(as an aside, Let me state for the record that I do think Scientology is a stupid, bad, and potentially evil religion)


Finally, I'd like to point out a huge flaw in logic that is present in this article. Basically what they claim is this:

1) There is a set of things (I'll call property A) that would cause a fake religion to fail.
2) Christianity has these properties.
3) Therefore, Christianity cannot be a fake religion.

But, if they are wrong about #1, then #3 is not proven. In fact, the authors of this page give no evidence that #1 is true other then their own opinions! Well farking amazing! Why not just give their opinions first and skip all the intermediate steps? It would have made just as much sense.


I'll leave this as an exercise to the reader.

1) What do you think has a greater chance of being true, that Christianity has been proven, without question absolutely true, or that some morons on the web are simply wrong about what it takes to start a religion?

2) does this also prove that scientology, a religion with an equally stupid beginning must also be true? I mean, who would believe in space ships and xenu and the like? That's just retarded. And how can both scientology and Christianity be true? Or is there something wrong with this method of proof.
posted by delmoi at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2002

There are so many good comments...I don't want to jam up the screen by answering...but let just say this.
This article wasn't meant to be the all-or-nothing grandstand play for Christian apologetics. I think it has some glaring weaknesses, BUT I think it raises some legitimate questions.
And on the Christian/Scientology analogy: the key difference is that Scientology doesn't open up with galactic Federations, Xenu and Theatans in volcanos. It opens up with the completely rational notion of improved mental health. The Xenu card doesn't get played until you've invested good chunks of time, money and emotion into the Technology. The ol' bait and switch.
Christianity pretty much starts with impossible bit: some carpenter from the middle of nowhere was God in the flesh, died and rose again for your salvation.
Anyway, good comments, good points and good behavior.
Long live MeFi.
posted by agentfresh at 3:35 PM on October 12, 2002

Jenna: What is so 'shitty' about offering an alternative and far more plausible explanation? Or, don't you give intelligent design any credence?
posted by mischief at 9:31 AM on October 13, 2002

Nothing's "shitty" about your "alternative." However, whether you choose to believe it or not, Christianity is, for its followers, about "intelligent design," and I for one give this brand of design plenty of "credence." Way to imply, by the way, that Christianity falls outside of "intelligent" design. Now, if you would rather the Miracles of Science and Hip Skepticism be your own personal faith commitment, then go right ahead. Everyone believes in something. But suggesting that Christianity was devised by "drunken Roman fratboys out to prove that the unwashed masses would believe anything" is, yes, kind of shitty.
posted by jennanemone at 12:57 AM on October 17, 2002

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