The Last of the Christians

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 8, 2009 in General Atheism

Last year, Time Magazine published The Last of the Zoroastrians, a touching portrait of the last days of the world’s oldest monotheistic revealed religion, Zoroastrianism. Once “the dominant religion in a swathe of territory spanning from Rome and Greece to India and Russia,” Zoroastrianism now claims fewer than 200,000 adherents.

Will this be the condition of Christianity in a few centuries? If so, maybe one day Time will publish an article something like this…

The Last of the Christians

Tuesday, January 12, 2371

salt-chapel

A young Christian kneels to pray in the underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Thirty miles outside the bustling megalopolis of Bogotá, in the deserted plaza of an old Spanish Colonial town named Zipaquirá, a Christian priest in plain white robes walks to his underground cathedral for the last time.

“This is where people have come to baptize their children for hundreds of years,” Father Martinez says with a melancholy smile.

Baptism is an ancient Christian ritual in which a priest sprinkles “holy water” on the head of an infant to cleanse it of “sin” – a cosmic evil force that pervades the world. Christians believe this helps to secure the infant’s immortal “soul” for a glorious afterlife in a spirit realm called Heaven.

Martinez has performed hundreds of baptisms in the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, but he did his last one two weeks ago. The cathedral has been sold to the government and will be converted to a museum. Once the center of Christian worship in the greater area of Bogotá, there are not enough Christians left in the region to support the cathedral.

Though most people today have never met a Christian, their religion used to be the dominant faith of the West, including all of Europe and the Americas. It was Christian Europe that saw the birth of science in the 18th century, and its stories and theology are represented in most of Western medieval and renaissance art.

Worldwide, there may be as few as 120,000 Christians left. Though small in number, their faith shaped moral and metaphysical thinking for nearly 2,000 years since its birth in the Middle East around 30 C.E.

Christians believe that Yahweh – an immortal, all-powerful, and perfectly moral god – spoke the universe into existence and later revealed his laws and values to ancient Jewish prophets like Moses and Isaiah. Then, around 4 B.C.E., Yahweh slept with an Israeli virgin and she conceived his son, Jesus – half man, half god. Jesus lived a perfect life, performed miracles, and told people to prepare for the time when Yahweh would create a new planet for them where there was no evil or suffering. Jesus was killed – a perfect sacrifice to atone for the evil deeds of all humanity, just as the Jews had sacrificed animals to atone for their evil deeds. But then he came back from the dead and flew away into the spirit realm. Today, Christians pray to this spirit-Jesus for comfort and assistance in their daily living, and believe they will go to Heaven to see Jesus when they die if they have lived a good life.

Despite their shrinking population, Christians remain divided over whether they should marry non-Christians or make use of the latest medical advances in life extension. In particular, Christians resist consciousness uploading as being against to the plan of Yahweh for their immortal souls. Some claim it is the work of Lucifer, one of Yahweh’s former warrior angels who betrayed his master and is now a main source of evil and deception in the world. Today, Christians remain a tight-knit and secluded community that strongly encourages marriage within the faith and reliance not on scientific medicine but on prayers to Jesus.

According to Maria Fischer, a Christian biology student at Jerusalem University in Israstine, the small Christian community there is accepted by the populace because they “represent a proud history” going back thousands of years. Still, Maria worries about the future of her community. “Christians have lived in Jerusalem for over 2,000 years,” she says, “but there are so few left today.”

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Alden April 8, 2009 at 7:46 am

Not a chance.  It’s far more likely that the philosophical underpinnings of modern atheism will be recognized to have crumbled (which, in fact, they already have).

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anselm April 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

Actually, the media is so secularized that many articles on current Christianity kind of read like your post–i.e., as if they are doing an anthropological study of a strange tribe.  The academy is the same way, since Christianity is passe in their world, which is probably why W.L. Craig’s opponents so often appear complacent and unprepared when they face him.

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Alex April 8, 2009 at 9:04 am

One can only hope. Though I wonder if it will be replaced with something like Scientology…

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Anselm April 8, 2009 at 9:31 am

Alden: Not a chance.  It’s far more likely that the philosophical underpinnings of modern atheism will be recognized to have crumbled (which, in fact, they already have).

I think the biggest threat to atheism (or really, secularism more generally) is the striking fact that the most secularized societies (e.g., Western Europe) don’t seem willing to reproduce themselves–i.e., they have birth rates far below the rate needed to even replace the current population.  In Western Europe, they have allowed large Muslim immigration to obtain workers, and those Muslims have a high birthrate; so ironically, Europe may become predominantly Muslim in 50 years or so.  If the U.S. becomes secularized and its birthrate plummets, it won’t become Muslim, but the center of gravity for Christianity will continue to shift to the global south (witness the Anglican and Methodist denominations, where global south members now outnumber Western members, and thus control is shifting to Africa, Asia and Latin America).

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jesusfreak574 April 8, 2009 at 9:51 am

Your characterization of Christianity is strinking because it is blatantly erroneous.  Generally your work is more careful than that, although if this post summarizes your understanding of Christianity, it’s little wonder why you’re an atheist.

around 4 B.C.E., Yahweh slept with an Israeli virgin and she conceived his son, Jesus – half man, half god.

Simply put, no.  Christians do not believe that Yahweh had any sort of sexual relations with Mary.  And Jesus is believed to be fully man and fully God, not half of each.

Today, Christians … believe they will go to Heaven to see Jesus when they die if they have lived a good life.

That is not a Christian position.  Christians believe they cannot live a good life because they are morally bankrupt beings.  They desire to live a good life, but know they will sin.  They believe that they will go to heaven if Jesus pays for their sin for them.  Dying on the cross allows Jesus to make that substitution, and he will pay for the sins of those who repent and place their faith in him.

If your post was intended to not convey the position of Christianity clearly, then you did a fine job, and please ignore my comments.  However, Christianity in America is being contaminated by culture, leading to many people who think they’re Christian believing in such silly things as getting to heaven by being good.  It’s not Christian, not Biblical, and won’t work.

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Teleprompter April 8, 2009 at 11:10 am

Alden: How have the “philosophical underpinnings of modern atheism” “crumbled”?
Anselm: Yes, the birthrate means that there will probably be more religious people around, but that by no means necessitates that religious claims are valid, just because its adherents may have a higher birth rate.
jesusfreak574: I assumed that this satirical article was purposely written with a misunderstanding of Christianity to reflect what may occur in a society undergoing a diminishing Christian presence.  It seems that this overly narrow characterization is a subtle part of the satire.

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Anselm April 8, 2009 at 11:53 am

Teleprompter: Anselm: Yes, the birthrate means that there will probably be more religious people around, but that by no means necessitates that religious claims are valid, just because its adherents may have a higher birth rate.

Of course I agree with you here and wasn’t implying otherwise.  It is just an interesting sociological question as to why that is the case, and I don’t have the answer.

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lukeprog April 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Anselm: I think the biggest threat to atheism (or really, secularism more generally) is the striking fact that the most secularized societies (e.g., Western Europe) don’t seem willing to reproduce themselves–i.e., they have birth rates far below the rate needed to even replace the current population.

Yup! Couldn’t agree more.

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lukeprog April 8, 2009 at 2:17 pm

jesusfreak574: Your characterization of Christianity is strinking because it is blatantly erroneous.

No, no, I didn’t intend it to be accurate! This is a piece speculating about how Christianity might have evolved into something different in yet another 300 years, and also how the media might misread the doctrines of a religion for which there are few remaining adherents, just as with the Zoroastrian piece in Time Magazine.

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jesusfreak574 April 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm

lukeprog: No, no, I didn’t intend it to be accurate! This is a piece speculating about how Christianity might have evolved into something different in yet another 300 years, and also how the media might misread the doctrines of a religion for which there are few remaining adherents, just as with the Zoroastrian piece in Time Magazine.

Ah.  I am much relieved.  Sorry for misunderstanding.

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Larro April 8, 2009 at 3:44 pm

A BRILLIANT alternate (?) future perspective. I loved it!

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Keri April 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Great article! I loved it =)

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dgsinclair April 11, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I’m not sure this post makes its point about Zoroastrians.  While their numbers surely have declined, and perhaps their beliefs are misrepresented, there is really zero chance that this will happen w/ xianity – unless we are all raptured out and all that’s left are the cultural Christians who didn’t really believe in the first place.  And their doctrines probably DO match what is written here.

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michaelfeb16 May 13, 2009 at 9:15 am

ITT: Chrisitians denying their superstitions will have the same fate that other such superstitions have faced for thousands of years.

Christianity [i]will[/i] die out just as every religion that has ever existed has. What, if anything, replaces it is irrelevant.

To believe that your misplaced faith is correct because you believe it is arrogant and disrespectful to the millions of people who grew up in another time or place (because religion has little to do with chosen belief and everything to do with childhood brainwashing and threats).

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Charlie May 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Alden: Not a chance.  It’s far more likely that the philosophical underpinnings of modern atheism will be recognized to have crumbled (which, in fact, they already have).

atheism will never go away like Christianity can after all  “we are all atheists I just believe in one less god than you”

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haledsdfbgvsyd May 15, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I’d have to agree and say that atheism is pretty much here to stay. Disbelief has been with us since when the Greek city states were the dominant force in Europe, and unless there is definitive proof of a deity there will always be doubters.

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James Chastek May 18, 2009 at 7:43 pm

All the eras in the piece are still dated from the year of Christ’s birth. JUst a funny observation.

There is some bite to teh point, though. The unity of time the future author takes for granted only arose from the work of a lot of old monks trying to date the year of the Incarnation. Absent this, we would probably go back to the system of having many calendars with no relation to each other. The future author, if this piece were written, would not write in “2371″, nor would he speak of “4 B.C.E”. Calendar systems are not like names (like “thursday” from “Thor’s day”) if Christianity were really gone, the unity of the calendar would collapse into flux, and history will begin to be understood in relation to whatever calendars the tyrants will decree- just as it once was.

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lukeprog May 18, 2009 at 7:55 pm

James,

Really? I don’t see the problem. We can count today’s year from whatever arbitrary point we choose. Choosing a year 4 to 6 years after the supposed birth of Jesus of Nazareth as the “split” year between counting forward and counting backward is just as good a choice as any other. I don’t see how time or history would “collapse into flux” if Christianity dies out!

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Lorkas May 19, 2009 at 5:22 am

Especially since so many academics are already using C.E/B.C.E.

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Ziggy May 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Well, when you put it that way, Christianity sounds freaking awesome!

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