The Explosion of Early Christianity, Explained

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 22, 2010 in General Atheism

Redated from Feb. 28, 2009
Do we need mass conversions to explain rapid growth?

Do we need mass conversions to explain rapid growth?

In just 300 years, Christianity grew from a small Jewish sect in Galilee to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. How can we explain this?

A popular explanation is mass conversion. Acts 2:41 reports that Peter converted 3,000 people with a single sermon. Early church historian Eusebius wrote that the apostles “went on to other countries and nations with the grace and cooperation of God, for a great many wonderful works were done through them, by the power of the divine Spirit, so that at first hearing, whole multitudes of men eagerly embraced the religion of the Creator of the universe.”1

Modern thinkers tended to agree. Yale historian Ramsey MacMullen wrote that Christianity grew so quickly that it must have had “successes en masse.”2

Christians explain these mass conversions with supernatural miracles; proof that Christianity is true! Even atheists think the early Christians must have been such good preachers they converted whole audiences. Whatever the explanation for mass conversions, it seems that Christianity could not have grown so fast without them.

At least, that’s what we thought until 1996, when somebody actually bothered to do the math. That man was Rodney Stark, sociologist of religion.

The math is pretty simple. Let’s do it ourselves. We need two numbers: a early starting count of Christians and a count around 300 C.E. Here’s Rodney Stark writing about the starting number:

For a starting number, Acts 1:14-15 suggests that several months after the Crucifixion there were 120 Christians. Later, in Acts 4:4, a total of 5,000 believers is claimed. And, according to Acts 21:20, by the sixth decade of the first century there were “many thousands of Jews” in Jerusalem who now believed. These are not statistics. Had there been that many converts in Jerusalem, it would have been the first Christian city, since there probably were no more than twenty thousand inhabitants at this time… As Hans Conzelmann noted, these numbers are only “meant to render impressive the marvel that here the Lord himself is at work” [1973:63]. Indeed, as Robert M. Grant pointed out, “one must always remember that figures in antiquity… were part of rhetorical exercises” [1977:7-8] and were not really meant to be taken literally. Nor is this limited to antiquity. In 1984 a Toronto magazine claimed that there were 10,000 Hare Krishna members in that city. But when [researchers] checked on the matter, they found that the correct total was 80.3

So let’s say there were only 1,000 Christians by the year 40, a full decade after Jesus’ death.

As for the ending number, at 300 C.E., historians have made many estimates, usually around 5-8 million.4

So, Christianity may have grown from about 1,000 believers in 40 C.E. to about 5-8 million in 300 C.E. – just 260 years. That would require a growth rate of 40% per decade, as shown by this table:

Year Number of Christians, given 40% growth per decade
40 1,000
50 1,400
60 1,960
70 2,744
80 3,842
90 5,378
100 7,530
150 40,496
200 217,795
250 1,171,356
300 6,299,832
350 33,882,008

That really is tremendous growth. Now we can ask, does this kind of growth require mass conversions?

As it turns out, this matches almost exactly the growth rate of the Mormon church over the past century. Mormonism has grown at 43% per decade, and without mass conversions.5

Exponential growth explains the explosion of Christianity perfectly. In fact, it also explains why Christianity seemed insignificant until about 300, when it suddenly became a huge force in the Roman Empire.6 The growth rate remained the same, but in terms of absolute numbers, Christianity would indeed explode around that time – from 6 million to 33 million adherents – if it tracked with the growth rate of Mormonism.

So, the early growth of the Christian church is impressive, but no more impressive than the growth of Mormonism.

And in fact, Christianity had several advantages that Mormonism never had.

For example, Christianity was the only missionary religion in the Roman Empire. Jews and pagans did not try to convert each other. Christianity had that field all to itself. Contrast that with the world faced by Mormonism, in which dozens of missionary religions compete with Mormonism for new adherents.

Second, Christianity was an exclusivist religion. If an ancient Roman converted from one brand of paganism to another, he was free to keep his old gods. One brand of paganism gained an adherent, and another did not lose one. But Christianity was intolerant of other beliefs. If someone converted to Christianity, then Christianity gained an adherent and paganism lost one. This was also true of Judaism, but Jews did not evangelize. Mormonism is also an exclusivist religion, but it is competing mostly with other exclusivist religions (Christianity and Islam).

Third, Christianity offered equal status to women, who had very low status in Judaism and in Roman society. Instead, Mormonism actually offers women lower status than in the society at large – hardly an attractive feature to half of all potential converts to Mormonism.

Fourth, we have no mention of primary evidence relating to Jesus that ancient people could use to defend or discredit Christianity. In contrast, primary evidence that discredits the bogus career of Joseph Smith is easily available, because he lived in the modern era.

Fifth, Christianity competed only with Judaism – which had no missionaries – as a text-driven religion. Texts are a powerful way to spread, unify, and preserve religious movements, and the pagan world had few of any importance.7 In contrast, Mormonism had to compete with dozens of other text-driven religions during its infancy, most notably orthodox Christianity and Islam.

Sixth, after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, whole villages thought it best to “convert” to Christianity,8 and entire cities of barbarians “converted” with their leader when their settlement was subsumed in the Roman Empire.9 Mormonism has never benefited from such state support.

Even with all these disadvantages compared to early Christianity, Mormonism seems to have slightly outpaced the growth of the early Christian church.

Clearly, we have no need of mass conversions or magical explanations. The early growth of Christianity is, actually, much less impressive than the growth of Mormonism in the 20th century, which required neither mass conversions nor miracles.

The explosion of atheism

There is another problem for Christians who want to say that the explosive growth of early Christianity must be due to God. Compared to Christianity, atheism grew even faster during the 20th century. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (the most respected source for religious demographics):

The number of nonreligionists…  throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900… to 918 million in AD 2000… From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, [atheism and agnosticism] are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians.

At the early Christian rate of 40% per decade and 3.2 million in 1900, non-believers would have only numbered 74 million in 2000, not 918 million. The growth rate of non-belief in the 20th century was 76% per decade.

The percentage-of-world-population gain for atheism was even greater. Christianity claimed about a third of world population in 1900, and claims the same today. Hindus stayed at 1/7th of the world total throughout the century. Buddhism and paganism have declined. Islam went from 1/8th to 1/5th – not through freedom or education but through unprotected sex. In contrast, non-belief during the 20th century skyrocketed from 0.2% to 15.2%! Clearly, the gods are not winning.

Of course, atheism is not a religion, so the comparison is not fair. But what are Christians supposed to make of this? Did Satan strike a big blow to Yahweh, who is now losing the battle? Did a god who likes atheists take over? Or is our planet – which became literate and educated as never before in the 20th century – finally growing up?

  1. Church History, III, 37.3 []
  2. Christianizing the Roman Empire, p. 29. []
  3. The Rise of Christianity, p. 5. []
  4. The Rise of Christianity, p. 6. []
  5. Stark and Bainbridge, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” Review of Religious Research, 26 (1984) 18-27. []
  6. The Rise of Christianity, pgs. 7-10. []
  7. In fact, texts may explain why a Gentile Christianity came to dominate the earlier Jewish Christianity of Jesus and his disciples. It was the Gentile Christians who did the most writing. []
  8. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, IV, pgs. 37-39. []
  9. See The conflict between paganism and Christianity in the fourth century by Arnaldo Momigliano, p. 78. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

DW February 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

nice post.

From what I remember hearing growing up in church, many christians will probably think of this (or already think of this) as the ‘falling away’ predicted in II Thes 2:3, that has to occur before ‘the rapture.’ So whether they admit it or not, my guess is that alot of christians who think we are in the end times actually welcome this growing loss of faith by the general populous as a fulfillment of prophecy.

the growth rate comparison between Mormomism and the early church is fascinating.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 1, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Interesting fact:
Rodney Stark is now a Christian, teaching at Baylor.
http://www.rodneystark.com/

“I have always been a “cultural” Christian in that I have always been strongly committed to Western Civilization. Through most of my career, however, including when I wrote The Rise of Christianity, I was an admirer, but not a believer. I was never an atheist, but I probably could have been best described as an agnostic. As I continued to write about religion and continued to devote more attention Christian history, I found one day several years ago that I was a Christian. Consequently, I was willing to accept an appointment at Baylor University, the world’s largest Baptist university. They do not require faculty member to be Baptists (many are Catholic) and I am not one. I suppose “independent Christian” is the best description of my current position.”

http://www.cesnur.org/2007/mi_stark.htm

  (Quote)

cartesian March 1, 2009 at 10:18 pm

By the way, I know that doesn’t affect any virtues of your argument (which is no doubt very interesting). I just thought it was worth mentioning.

I guess it’s relevant in this way: clearly this argument does not rationally defeat Christianity, since the guy who is more familiar with this argument than anyone else is himself a Christian (and, presumably, rational).

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 1, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Lol, I was going to mention that but forgot. I was going to say something like, “And this isn’t some crazed atheist trying to debunk Christianity. Stark actually IS a Christian.”

Certainly, these facts don’t defeat Christianity, only Christianity’s claim that there must have been miraculous mass conversions in its early history. Also, it is one more pebble on the mountain of evidence that supernatural explanations keep being replaced by natural ones, every time we look a bit more closely, a bit more carefully.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 2, 2009 at 10:18 am

>>Also, it is one more pebble on the mountain of evidence that supernatural explanations keep being replaced by natural ones, every time we look a bit more closely, a bit more carefully.>>

That’s the part where you lose me. What you’ve shown, at the very most, is that the rise of Christianity CAN be explained naturalistically. (But surely we already knew *that*).

How do you move from that to the claim that here a supernatural explanation HAS BEEN REPLACED by a natural explanation? How do you move from the bare possibility to the claim of actuality?

You’ve described an illicit “retreat to the possible.” This looks like a brazen and fallacious “advance from the possible.”

  (Quote)

Jeffrey March 2, 2009 at 11:39 am

Great post!

One thing that should be mentioned is that Mormonisms grew while the population as a whole was growing, unlike the first several centuries AD. I didn’t crunch the numbers, but Mormons probably got a 20% boost per decade from this. But with all the obstacles facing Mormons, I still agree that their growth is more impressive.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm

cartesian,

>>How do you move from that to the claim that here a supernatural explanation HAS BEEN REPLACED by a natural explanation? How do you move from the bare possibility to the claim of actuality?>>

Occam’s razor. Even Christian apologists accept that when a natural explanation is good enough, we need not tack on a magical explanation behind it.

You are the one who, when it’s show that lightning is a product of electric charges, insists it’s still Zeus behind the electric charges. Do you not see that?

  (Quote)

jared March 2, 2009 at 8:26 pm

hey luke it’s me again. i would like to see how will comment on this article by robert turkel a.k.a jp holdinh. thanks!

http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html

“…only Christianity’s claim that there must have been miraculous mass conversions in its early history.”

and about this one, i do think jp holding holds some interesting point. thanks luke.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 2, 2009 at 11:15 pm

jared,

Holding’s book has been thoroughly rebutted by Richard Carrier, in book-length form:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/

Moreover, Holding is dishonest. He knows that Carrier was paid to research and publish this response, and even brags about it – but does not give Carrier’s name or link to his response.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 5, 2009 at 8:59 am

Hi Luke,
So I said:
>>How do you move from that to the claim that here a supernatural explanation HAS BEEN REPLACED by a natural explanation? How do you move from the bare possibility to the claim of actuality?>>

You replied:
>>Occam’s razor. Even Christian apologists accept that when a natural explanation is good enough, we need not tack on a magical explanation behind it.>>

Sure, in some sense we may not “need” to tack on a supernatural explanation. But your claim is that the correct explanation is the natural explanation. How could you know that?

You also said:
>>You are the one who, when it’s show that lightning is a product of electric charges, insists it’s still Zeus behind the electric charges.>>

Uh, what? When did I say that? If I were an ancient Greek who believed in Zeus, and if I were to find out about electrical discharges, I would (rightly!) reason this way: “Hm, well, it looks like this phenomenon could be the result of purely natural processes, and not the result of some agent. But the phenomenon could just as easily be the work of some agent like Zeus, who is very powerful and intelligent. So I guess I’ll have to sit on the fence about this until I get more evidence concerning Zeus’ existence, attributes, and intentions.”

How does the mere *possibility* of a purely naturalistic explanation somehow command the allegiance of all rational people, on your view?

We don’t think that happens in other cases, for example, that case I described in our debate. If I find “Hi Cartesian, welcome to the beach!” inscribed in the sand near my families beach house, and if I know that it’s *possible* that sandcrabs did the inscribing, I don’t automatically accept the non-agential naturalistic explanation, right? Of course not, since I have this other explanation on which the inscription is much more probable: that my family did the inscribing.

So yeah, I still think you’re making an illicit “advance from the possible.” You find out that a non-agential naturalistic explanation is *possible*. You therefore conclude that it is the actual explanation.

There are counterexamples to that move in general, so I’m wondering why you think it’s a reasonable move.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

Here’s another amusing example in which we wouldn’t move from the mere *possibility* of non-agential naturalistic explanation to the actuality of that explanation.

Imagine that in five years, Japanese scientists make organic robots that are utterly indistinguishable from normal human beings. These robots are, of course, not conscious.

I call Luke and share the exciting, though somewhat disturbing, news. Luke realizes that *POSSIBLY* all his friends and family have been replaced by such robots. This explanation has the sort of austere simplicity that Luke likes in his theories. It only posits the existence of matter and energy, and excludes conscious human persons. It’s just the sort of non-agential naturalistic explanation that Luke loves.

So he concludes that this possible explanation is indeed actual. All of his friends and family, he thinks, have been replaced by robots.

The weird thing is that we don’t have to wait for evidence that Japanese scientists have actually done this. It’s enough that they have *possibly* done it already. Since Luke likes moving from the mere possibility of naturalistic explanations to their actuality, he should already, here and now, make that move and conclude that all his friends and family are robots.

After all, that’s what happened with lightning, right? We learned that *possibly* this isn’t the action of a powerful agent, and so we ought to have concluded that *actually* it isn’t. Right? That’s what you believe anyway. So I’m wondering why you don’t believe that all your friends and family are robots.

  (Quote)

DW March 5, 2009 at 4:10 pm

cartesian.
hi, i’ve been following your last several entries. i think some good points were brought up at the beginning, but i’m lost after the last one. how the japanese scientist / robot story is supposed to be a legitimate analogy for positing a naturalist explanation for lightning is beyond me.

out of curiosity, where do you draw the line for what you chalk up to an invisible agent and what is best explained by naturalism? I genuinely would like to know. I fail to see how the inability to understand something is somehow legitimate cause to believe in the supernatural, as in the case of the greek guy holding out for zeus. I personally don’t agree that one explanation is as valid as the other.

Let me try an example. I am a biochemist and much of my research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, alzheimer’s disease being one of them. In spite of millions of dollars spent every year on the work of hundreds of labs and thousands of scientists across the world trying to figure out what the root cause of sporadic alzheimer’s is, we still don’t have the first clue, and it’s been about 100 years now since people first began studying it. Does that make it ok to think that it might just be god reaching into peoples brains causing plaques and tangles and killing neurons,and ‘to sit on the fence about it until we get more evidence concerning god’s existence, attributes, and intentions’? If not, then why not? What’s the litmus test for supernaturalism?

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm

cartesian,

If I bake a cake in front of you, is it more probable that the cake is explained by the natural processes we see clearly evidenced before our very eyes, or is it more probable that invisible green gremlins, Vahiguru, or distant aliens did it?

If you don’t understand why it’s VASTLY more probable that currently understood natural processes are the more likely cause than totally unknown magical forces, then I have some work to do. Perhaps this, also, deserves its own post.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm

“If I bake a cake in front of you, is it more probable that the cake is explained by the natural processes we see clearly evidenced before our very eyes, or is it more probable that invisible green gremlins, Vahiguru, or distant aliens did it?”

Natural processes, of course. I don’t believe that these other entities exist, or that they would have any reason to engage in this action.

But suppose — and this is going to require a great deal of imagination on your part — that you strongly believe that Hestia exists, that she has a strong desire to bake cakes on occasions like this, and that she has the ability to do it in a way that is consistent with all of our visual evidence. Suppose you REALLY believed that, and that you indeed had good evidence for it.

Then, of course, you’ll at most be on the fence about whether Hestia did it, or whether it was a purely natural process. You may even be convinced that Hestia did it. Importantly, *there would be nothing irrational in drawing this conclusion.*

Similarly, consider that Japanese robot story I told you a while ago. Even if you learn that *possibly* all the apparent conscious personhood you see around you is a result of unconscious robot behavior, you’re not going to suddenly give up your strongly held belief that there are other conscious people around. You strongly believe that there are other conscious people, so Ockham’s razor isn’t going to cut that off for you.

But then the same thing goes with theists. When told that *possibly* the spread of the early church was the result of purely natural processes, the theist isn’t going to just suddenly submit to Ockham’s razor, since the theist strongly believes that God was involved (as you strongly believe that there are other minds in the robot example). So just as it’s OK for you to hold on to your belief in other conscious minds in the robot example (despite the availability of a purely non-agential naturalistic explanation), it’s OK for the theist to hold on to her belief in God’s miraculous action in the early church (despite the availability of a purely non-agential naturalistic explanation).

So to answer DW’s question, I guess something like this is operative:

Given two competing explanations X and Y where Y is purely non-agential and naturalistic, every subject S should accept Y unless she knows that the entities involved in X exist and could/would act in the way described by X.

This explains why you shouldn’t accept the purely non-agential naturalistic explanation in the Japanese robot case: you already know that conscious people exist and could/would act in the way you observe.

But this theory also gives the result that early Greeks shouldn’t abandon their Zeus-lightning-throwing explanation UNLESS in fact they didn’t know that Zeus exists (say because it’s false that Zeus exists, and you can’t know what’s false). The reason we accept the naturalistic explanation is that we don’t believe in Zeus. But that doesn’t mean the early Greek would be irrational in rejecting the naturalistic explanation.

Similarly, this theory also gives the result that theists shouldn’t abandon their God-causing-growth-of-early-church explanation UNLESS in fact these theists don’t know God exists. So to show that theists are irrational in giving up their supernatural explanation, you’ll have to show that they don’t know that God exists, either by showing that their belief is unjustified, or by showing that it’s false. That’s a tremendous burden of proof on you.

  (Quote)

DW March 8, 2009 at 3:32 pm

cartesian, thanks for the answer. but i have to dig a little deeper.
so, by your reasoning, if alzheimer’s is caused by either Y: natural processes that we aren’t fully cognizant of, or X: jahweh, who would be acting in complete accordance with the bible and the beliefs of millions if he were to, for instance, inflict people with a debilitating illness (Exodus 4:11), it would be perfectly rational to think that god is causing alzheimer’s, or for that matter, any other disease for which we don’t have an understanding of the root cause, rather than a natural process. why bother looking for a cure?

or better yet, deanna laney could have thought god wanted her to kill her kids because Y, she has a physical and pyschological condition that made her mentally ill, or X, god really told her to. again , by your reasoning, because she wouldn’t be wrong to ‘believe’ that god was communicating with her, as many christians believe, smashing her sons’ skulls with rocks was perfectly rational. how does simply believing in something bestow rationality on an argument? that’s seems pretty freaking dangerous.

  (Quote)

cartesian March 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Hi DW,
You said:
>>so, by your reasoning, if alzheimer’s is caused by either Y: natural processes that we aren’t fully cognizant of, or X: jahweh, who would be acting in complete accordance with the bible and the beliefs of millions if he were to, for instance, inflict people with a debilitating illness (Exodus 4:11), it would be perfectly rational to think that god is causing alzheimer’s…?>>

So the principle I tentatively endorsed in my last comment was this:
Given two competing explanations X and Y where Y is purely non-agential and naturalistic, every subject S should accept Y unless she knows that the entities involved in X exist and could/would act in the way described by X.

I think you do describe a case in which we have to competing explanations, one purely naturalistic and one not so much. You ask about a subject who knows that Yahweh exists and could/would act in the way described by the non-natural explanation.

I think the answer is “yes,” it would be rational for this person not to adopt the purely naturalistic explanation. What may be luring you toward answering otherwise is the fact that WE don’t believe that Yahweh could/would act in this way (because you don’t believe that he exists, and because I don’t believe he would act this way). So the principle doesn’t apply to US. For US it may be rational to accept the naturalistic explanation.

So consider a more neutral case. Suppose you were one of the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. You’re there when Moses shows up and tells everyone a bunch of crazy crap is going to happen unless the Israelites are freed. You see a bunch of crazy crap happen just as Moses predicts it will. Then, Moses predicts that the Egyptian population will get really nasty boils tomorrow, unless the Israelites are freed. You now have excellent reason to believe that Yahweh exists, and that he would act in this way. Let’s say you even KNOW that. But let’s say you also know that boils COULD be caused by purely naturalistic means.

So when tomorrow comes and the Egyptians all have nasty boils, you have two competing explanations: the purely naturalistic one, and the one involving Yahweh. Would it really be irrational for you to accept the one involving Yahweh? I can’t see how. I think you’d be perfectly rational in accepting the one involving Yahweh.

>>or better yet, deanna laney could have thought god wanted her to kill her kids because Y, she has a physical and pyschological condition that made her mentally ill, or X, god really told her to.>>

Notice that I say “S should accept Y unless she KNOWS” certain things. My explanation of why Laney should have accepted the naturalistic explanation here is that it’s not true that God would act in this way, and so Laney could not have known that. So my principle still gives the intuitively correct result here.

  (Quote)

DW March 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

cartesian, one last try here.
“because I don’t believe he would act this way”
“it’s not true that God would act in this way, and so Laney could not have known that”

again, you make interesting points, but your argument in both cases is that you happen to believe that god would and would not act in certain ways. how do you know? if you are justified in disbelieving that god would cause Alzheimer’s simply because of your subjective belief that he would not act that way, than why is diane laney not justified in having her own personal beliefs about how god would act? just because you don’t believe that god would command her to kill her children doesn’t mean that she doesn’t. it’s not like he hasn’t done it before (Gen 22), whether or not you agree with it, it is in the bible. in that case, either your argument collapses are you are presuming to know both the mind of god and the mind of another human being. If she genuinely believed that god told her to kill her children and that that was a reasonable thing to expect of god based on her belief, how is it irrational by your yardstick of rationality?

  (Quote)

CharlesP June 17, 2009 at 11:53 am

As a late reader of this post I must say thank you because I’ve used the Mormons as examples of more modern religions and their growth curve as an explanation of early christian growth in debates with old friends (who are still christian), but all without actual math to back it up (just some rough estimates of percentage of population in 1st century and such, not an analysis of growth rates).

I’d love to see a similar analysis done of scientology because it would make an even more interesting comparison (because I know many christians who would use the Mormon numbers to say “see, even an incorrect version of God is compelling”, but it’s much harder to defend scientology).  Of course I’m not sure scientology would give you reliable numbers, but that’s universal (what’s the line in Ender’s game? “If you know somebody is lying to you it can be as useful as the truth” or something to that effect).

  (Quote)

Janet Holmes August 16, 2009 at 12:17 am

One of the main differences between christianity and the mystery religions which most members of the Roman Empire adhered to was that the mystery religions were very expensive to progress in. If you wished to be initiated into all the mysteries it was going to cost a lot of money, so the potential pool of initiates was limited to the relatively wealthy. Christianity was effectively free. You had to support the church but you didn’t have to pay out large sums just to learn the gospel message and be ‘saved’.
Scientology is a reversion to the business plan of the ancient mystery religions. If you wish to move up the hierarchy of the initiated it’s going to cost you a LOT of money. This would make it an interesting study. You could see what difference it makes.
Rodney Stark (in the days when he wasn’t a christian and still made sense) pointed out that in order to be satisfying religion has to extract some kind of cost, otherwise it’s all too easy and freeloaders will become rife. So then the question is, how much cost is  optimal for the spread of the new cult? Would scientology spread faster if it was cheaper?
Are they spreading as fast or faster than the mormons?
 

  (Quote)

Bob September 19, 2009 at 7:28 am

And, according to Acts 21:20, by the sixth decade of the first century there were “many thousands of Jews” in Jerusalem who now believed.

Acts 21:20 does absolutely not say that there were thousands of believing Jews in Jerusalem. The reference is to the many thousand of believing Jews that Paul had touched through his minstry during his travels, not to Jews in Jerusalem. In fact, Acts 21:11-14 clearly suggests that Jerusalem was a a very anti-Christian environment – that surely wouldn’t have been the case if there were thousands of believing Jews since as we acknowledge, given its population, that would have made it a Christian city.

Furthermore, given that early Mormonism had at its disposal technologies like railways and the printed word (and less persecution, of course) it makes – by comparison – the early expansion of Chritianity even more remarkable.

Finally, I don’t find the arguments for the advantages to Christianity over Mormonism to be very convincing. In points one and two, Christianity was competing with the divinity of the Roman Emperor and hence was opposed by the full might of the Roman army. All gods were tolerated by the Romans as long as they accepted the Emperor as divine. Both of these points worked against early Christianity more than they worked for it.

Point three also worked against early Christianity. The whole of Roman society did not want such a radical shift in attitudes towards women. This was a further reason for Rome to oppose and persecute the Christians.

In point four, several Roman writers wrote skeptical and derisory passages about the Christians – calling them superstitious, and spreading rumours that they were cannibals. Plus, Jesus was being discredited by the Pharisees throughout the empire, so this point seems historically inaccurate.

In point five, again Mormons had the print press available to them and therefore should have been more capable of reaching more people more quickly. Given this fact, its comparitive growth pales next to that of early Christianity.

Point six, doesn’t explain the remarkable rise of Chritsianity prior to Constantine’s conversion, especially in light of the extremely powerful forces determined to destroy it.

Thank you for your essay, I will continue to read your blog.

  (Quote)

ned March 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Is it not possible that the rise of atheism in the 20th century was due to the fact that it is practically law to be an atheist in China the country with 1/6th of the worlds population. I guess atheism took a sharp leap around 1917 and 1949.
Also is it not possible that Christianity spread so quickly was due to the fact that it was a relief from the religions of the time. It actually liberated people from the rigid and barbaric order the Roman/Greek pantheon had descended into by this time. Paganism in Rome was more to hold the empire together so Christianity was a rebellion against a powerful yet utterly morally corrupt empire.

  (Quote)

Zeb March 25, 2010 at 6:47 pm

This is an old post, but my first thought was, Were these numbers corrected for national population, and population growth? You’d have to consider the total populations available for conversion; Mormonism was drawing converts from Europe within its first few decades, and the western world was booming through the industrial revolution, green revolution, and modern medicine. Rome was declining politically, but I don’t know if that means the Empire’s population was declining or how far afield Christian missionaries were able to reach. Not that the explosion of Christianity adds much weight to its truth claims in my mind anyway.

  (Quote)

Zeb March 25, 2010 at 6:55 pm

And probably a better title for this post would be “The Explosion of Christianity Demythologized.” I’d be fascinated to hear the process explained, and wouldn’t be surprised if a convincing explanation required no reference to the supernatural, but you have not explained at all how it happened. What you’ve shown is that it needn’t have necessarily been supernatural. Decent point, but not the end of the story.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 25, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I recommend you read Stark’s chapter on that.

  (Quote)

İslami Paylaşım Platformu August 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

thanks.

the western world was booming through the industrial revolution, green revolution, and modern medicine. Rome was declining politically, but I don’t know if that means the Empire’s population was declining or how far afield Christian missionaries were able to reach. Not that the explosion of Christianity adds much weight to its truth claims in my mind anyway.

  (Quote)

Taranu November 22, 2010 at 5:48 am

Reformed Epistemology to the rescue :)

  (Quote)

Lorkas November 22, 2010 at 6:19 am

cartesian: “Sure, in some sense we may not “need” to tack on a supernatural explanation. But your claim is that the correct explanation is the natural explanation. How could you know that?”

It looks to me more like theists are saying that the only explanation of Christianity’s rapid early growth is God’s intervention, and this throws a wrench in that.

It’s a rebuttal of the same sort as if a person told me that the only explanation for the sky being bright green is that the Green Lantern is protecting us from aliens. The argument is absolutely over when I point out that the sky is not bright green, and the argument over whether God is necessary to explain the rapid growth of Christianity is absolutely over when Luke points out that the growth of Christianity was not that rapid.

Obviously it doesn’t show that God doesn’t exist, but it shows that the quoted line of argument for his existence fails hard.

  (Quote)

Tony Hoffman November 22, 2010 at 8:35 am

I call Luke and share the exciting, though somewhat disturbing, news. Luke realizes that *POSSIBLY* all his friends and family have been replaced by such robots. This explanation has the sort of austere simplicity that Luke likes in his theories. It only posits the existence of matter and energy, and excludes conscious human persons. It’s just the sort of non-agential naturalistic explanation that Luke loves.

?????

I see two huge, gaping, problems here in your understanding of Occam’s Razor.

One is the prior (incorrect) determination that conscious human beings must be more than matter and energy. On the contrary, under Occam’s razor, we have no good reason to believe otherwise. So you have mistakenly inserted another entity (something other than matter and energy) as your default explanation for the existence of “conscious human persons.” This appears to be incorrect.

Secondly, the REPLACEMENT of all of Luke’s friends and families requires not just another entity (robot, human-seeming beings) than the one that Luke already knows to exist, but also an entity of deceptive replacement. Two extra entities required, so, again, under the razor, no.

So it looks like you have incorrectly used Occam’s Razor to posit the explanation for human beings (requires one more entity than matter and energy), and stated a preference for an explanation that, even were your first explanation correct, still needlessly complex in that it posits an extra entity of deceptive replacement.

Btw, this is a profound misunderstanding of Occam’s razor. Luke may indeed have a great deal of work cut out for him; I’m not sure I’d know where to begin.

  (Quote)

Ken November 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

Let’s make this simpler. The rise of Christianity could be compared to the extraordinary conversion of a lifelong avowed atheist to Christianity.

One could claim that the conversion was miraculous, but then we can point to innumerable instances where militant believers or non-believers converted to this or that religion, and we should be satisfied that these things occur naturally enough. Surely a Christian would rather claim that it was the available evidence that led to the conversion.

Similarly, if we can point to other instances of explosive growth of different religions or even non-religious worldviews, then we have our proof of concept that it occurred naturally. Not so with miracles.

I thought Christians used the early growth as part of the apologetic asserting that Christian testimony has always rung true and was especially compelling to people living at a time nearer to the alleged events — and so the rapid growth is evidence of the assertion that Christianity has great evidence — but not needing to be miraculous at all. Miraculous driven growth seems at odds with free will doctrines in most Christian sects.

  (Quote)

Tony Hoffman November 22, 2010 at 9:38 am

Ned: Is it not possible that the rise of atheism in the 20th century was due to the fact that it is practically law to be an atheist in China the country with 1/6th of the worlds population. I guess atheism took a sharp leap around 1917 and 1949.


Hmm. I don’t k now about “is” against the law in China. This is what I found online for the Constitution of the Republic of China.

Article 36. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

Ned: Also is it not possible that Christianity spread so quickly was due to the fact that it was a relief from the religions of the time. It actually liberated people from the rigid and barbaric order the Roman/Greek pantheon had descended into by this time.

What rigid and barbaric order are you thinking of? Have you read any secular histories of the Roman Empire? Do you understand that Roman “religion” in the time of Christianity was more about expressing a proper respect for the state and the practices of ancestors who had created the Empire, and that religious practice that did not infringe on state authority was widely tolerated?

Paganism in Rome was more to hold the empire together so Christianity was a rebellion against a powerful yet utterly morally corrupt empire.

Well, the term “moral” comes from the latin word “moralis,” which is more about a sense of proper conduct, much of which was informed by Romans looking back at their ancestors. To them, moral corruption was about forgetting or turning one’s back on what made previous generations great, like growing a beard, etc. So it would be anachronistic to view the growth of Christianity based on a sense of revulsion about Roman “morales.”

  (Quote)

Steven November 22, 2010 at 10:59 am

Heh, I’ve always argued that the only reason Christianity prospered is because it appealed to the rich in a time when cults amongst the privileged elite were exploding. That is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Christianity, a religion that shared many of the ideals of the various cults that were sprouting up at this time, managed to remain because, at those times, whatever the elite picked up tended to have a lasting influence on culture. It is also clear that Christianity was very unpopular with the poor Romans. This is just a great article that simplifies the argument.

  (Quote)

Rob November 22, 2010 at 11:12 am

Luke,

How did you account for 19th c. Mormonism’s polygamy and lower infant mortality rates producing more offspring and thus more converts than Christians in 1st century Palestine?

Rob

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 22, 2010 at 11:52 am

Rob,

I don’t know. Stark & Bainbridge have done lots of work on that, though. They’d definitely be the people to read if you’re interested.

  (Quote)

orgostrich November 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I was also wondering about the effect of the fact that 2000 years ago there was a very low childhood survival rate, so I did some really quick calculations:

An exponential 40% growth per decade works out to a 3.4% growth per year, which means that birth rate needs to be 3.4% above the death rate.
Wikipedia gives the average death rate in ancient times as 4% annually, including child deaths (I think.) [It also give 2-3% in poor countries right now.] This gives a total of 7.4% birth rate per year. If that wasn’t including child deaths, then we must account for the 20% child mortality rates in some of the poorer countries in the world (also according to wikipedia). That would brings us to 7.4/.8 = 9.3% births per year.

Wikipedia gives the highest current birth rates in the world at 5%. The early Christians would have needed 7.4%-9.3% to sustain that growth.

This seems to me to be very high but maybe possible, especially if early Christians had a lower-than-average death rate due to a focus on charity (that’s just a wild assumption I have no proof for at all.)

  (Quote)

Jugglable November 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I don’t understand this idea that God recedes as science advances. Science can’t even in principle “explain away” the traditional arguments for God’s existence. If we’re asking why contingent things exist, or why being is intelligible, or why there is something rather than nothing, then even if you are going to refute those arguments you will do it with philosophy.

So, people used to think lightning was the gods. People used to think the floods were the gods. When we explain those naturalistically, it doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not God exists. It simply falsifies one concept of God.

  (Quote)

woodchuck64 November 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Rob,

Luke,How did you account for 19th c.Mormonism’s polygamy and lower infant mortality rates producing more offspring and thus more converts than Christians in 1st century Palestine?Rob  

Why would polygamy produce more offspring than monogamy? I would think polygamy would just result in more single men, not more pregnant women.

Stark’s view of Christian fertility, albeit indirectly:

Here Stark argues that Christianity grew because of its response to epidemics (more of this below) and because it gave women higher status and produced higher fertility rates. Men outnumbered women in the Roman empire, largely due to female infanticide and mortality during abortions. In the church, however, women outnumbered men because Christians rejected infanticide and abortion, and because more women converted. (Stark provides plenty of compelling historical evidence of these claims.) As a result, fertility rates among Christians were higher, contributing to an increase in the proportion of Christians in empire.

http://timchester.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/rodney-stark-on-the-rise-of-christianity/

However, I know of no way to compare this directly to 19th century Mormonism.

  (Quote)

Henry November 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I’ve always thought a simple formula explained the rise of Christianity.

Empire + social unrest + marketing = major religion

  (Quote)

Sly November 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm

*there would be nothing irrational in drawing this conclusion.*

I dispute this claim completely. Please show how such behavior is in any way rational.

  (Quote)

Stig November 22, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Great post. It happens so often that people make extraordinary claims while forgetting to compare their “extraordinary” data to some base rate or control group.

“In contrast, Mormonism had to compete with dozens of other text-driven religions during its infancy, most notably orthodox Christianity and Islam.”

Maybe for clarity use another word than “orthodox” here, since you’re obviously not referring to the churches of Eastern Europe and Asia specifically.

  (Quote)

rob November 23, 2010 at 7:47 am

Why would polygamy produce more offspring than monogamy?I would think polygamy would just result in more single men, not more pregnant women.

Have you met any polygamous families? :) I don’t think it results in more single men but men marrying less desirable (but equally fertile) women. No data to prove that, just basing my opinion on news coverage of FLDS compounds.

  (Quote)

ildi November 23, 2010 at 9:47 am

I google a little, and found this: Status, reproductive success, and marrying polygynously

A study of female reproductive histories from nineteenth-century Utah shows that although women who married polygynously had fewer children, their number of grandchildren was equal to that of women who married monogamously. Women who chose to marry high-status men polygynously traded decreased fertility for enhanced reproductive performance of offspring.

So, it all seems to even out in the wash.

  (Quote)

rob November 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I google a little, and found this: …..
So, it all seems to even out in the wash.  

It’d be interesting to compare 19th c. Mormon polygamous women vs. 19th c. non-Mormon monogamous women. I couldn’t see the whole study but since Mormon’s (i.e. 19th c. women in Utah) have more children on average than non-Mormons and polygamy carried a stigma and might not be accurately self reported I’m wondering how much that study washes out.

  (Quote)

Yamil November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I do not agree with the comparison of Christianity’s and Mormon’s growth. When you compare this two religions you have to consider many other facts and not just six !!! For example… the media, newspapers, magazines and many other help to spread information easily and super fast. Its really hard to compare and consider all the conditions of two different historical times. When considering these, you will always miss something… and that something might be crucial. The growth of Facebook is even more impressive than the Mormon’s !!

  (Quote)

Henry November 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

How did this discussion get diverted to Mormonism? As far as I can tell, the purpose of the post is to refute the argument that the speed with which Christianity spread is evidence of divine intervention. Mormonism is merely offered as one example of a religion that grew at a similar rate without divine intervention.

  (Quote)

ildi November 24, 2010 at 4:15 am

rob:

I couldn’t see the whole study but since Mormon’s (i.e. 19th c. women in Utah) have more children on average than non-Mormons

I don’t think there’s any reason to think that Mormons in monogamous marriages in 19th century Utah had more children than non-Mormons. While it may be true that Mormon polygynous families had more children than monogamous families; they also had more women who were individually less fertile than women in monogamous marriages, this in a culture where marriage was the sole definer of a woman’s status whatever the religious affiliation. It appears that much of the increase in the Mormon population in Utah at the time can be attributed to new immigrants to the region.

  (Quote)

rob November 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

I don’t think there’s any reason to think that Mormons in monogamous marriages in 19th century Utah had more children than non-Mormons.While it may be true that Mormon polygynous families had more children than monogamous families; they also had more women who were individually less fertile than women in monogamous marriages, this in a culture where marriage was the sole definer of a woman’s status whatever the religious affiliation.It appears that much of the increase in the Mormon population in Utah at the time can be attributed to new immigrants to the region.  

http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/EoM&CISOPTR=4391&CISOSHOW=4316&REC=1|

Go to page 1523-1524 to show Mormon birth rates vs. others and that they’re higher.

My point is Luke is saying that since two vehicles are going the same speed we shouldn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. I’m saying enough data hasn’t been presented to know if they’re the same vehicle traveling at the same speed or if one is a F-14 and the other is and F-150.

  (Quote)

Tony Hoffman November 24, 2010 at 9:17 am

How did this discussion get diverted to Mormonism? As far as I can tell, the purpose of the post is to refute the argument that the speed with which Christianity spread is evidence of divine intervention. Mormonism is merely offered as one example of a religion that grew at a similar rate without divine intervention.

Exactly. The claim is that Christianity’s rapid expansion can best be explained based on it being the one true example of supernatural intervention. In other words, that the growth of Christianity can best be explained from the unique credibility of its supernatural claims. But this is falsified by other religions (like Mormonism) whose supernatural claims Christians must deny.

Other religions experienced similar or greater growth compared to early Christianity, so Christianity’s claim that its early growth are unique evidence for its supernatural claims are falsified. That’s all. Move along, nothing more to see here — other arguments will come up, but this one does appear to be officially dead, per this post.

  (Quote)

ildi November 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Go to page 1523-1524 to show Mormon birth rates vs. others and that they’re higher.

The poor dying horse I’m beating is whether polygynous marriages made a difference.

Figure 5 is one crappy graph. The y axis starts at 3, not zero and it gives the number of children by birth year of the mother which makes it very hard to match up the fertility rates with historical events. The lines seem to fall into two clusters; lifetime LDS/converted LDS vs. non-LDS/partially active lifetime LDS/nonactive lifetime LDS. Is there a statistical difference between the groups? That is, around 7 children per woman vs. 8 children per woman for women born in 1840-1850 sounds like it should be a statistically significant difference, but is it? Is there enough of a population in the latter group to make a robust analysis? Should one infer that the lifetime and converted LDS are in polygynous marriages and the other three in monogamous? The only text referring to this graph says:

Genealogical records of persons living in Utah show a high average family size throughout the nineteenth century (Fig. 5). Family size is lower, however, for the earliest members of the Church (those born before 1830) than for those who reached the prime years of childbearing during the period of Utah settlement. This rise in fertility is consistent with the frontier hypothesis that low population density and easy access to land promotes early marriage and large families.

What’s actually more interesting is how high the Mormon immigration rates to Utah were in the 1850s and 60s; according to the wiki page, over 70,000 in the 20 years after initial settlement, from Europe as well as the colonies. According to census records, Utah population went from 11,400 in 1850 to almost 87,000 in 1870. It appears that the initial increase in the LDS numbers in Utah was based on the call to Zion rather than fertility rates.

  (Quote)

rob November 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Great researching but what can all this data about 19th c. Utah tell us about the growth of an ANE Judaic sect? It seems we are still in the dark as to the veracity of this post’s title.

  (Quote)

Hugo November 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Could it also be due to population growth? Back in the day people would have multiple children. If they converted to Christianity their kids would follow suit. Wouldn’t that also account for the growth of Christianity?

  (Quote)

S. Hendrix November 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

Hi Luke,

I follow you blog and I enjoy it very much. I have never posted before. At times I link to articles you have written and share them with others. I shared this one and got a response for which I am curious about how you would respond. Here it is the response, if you care address it.

“The number one factor that explains why certain ideas become popular is Contagion. Contagion is a fancy word for Luck. Because people need explanations for lucky events, they concoct myths to appease their need for explanations.

Thus, Christianity became popular because of Luck. And Atheism has become popular because of Luck. (But, if you’re an Atheist, you need an explanation that makes you feel good about yourself, so you’ll say things like, “Or is our planet – which became literate and educated as never before in the 20th century – finally growing up?”)

  (Quote)

woodchuck64 November 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

rob,

Great researching but what can all this data about 19th c. Utah tell us about the growth of an ANE Judaic sect? It seems we are still in the dark as to the veracity of this post’s title.

The data shows so far that Mormon polygamy likely has no effect on population growth for the purposes of comparing to early growth of Christianity.

A question might be whether an increased mortality rate in ancient times relative to 19th century Mormonism would make the comparison meaningless (as you imply). I would tend to think not, especially because Mormon growth had many obstacles that early Christian growth did not (as listed in the post), so I wouldn’t characterize myself as “in the dark” as to the veracity of the title at all.

However, if you feel you are still in the dark, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_rate and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth and see what sort of numbers you can get by plugging in estimated death rates and birth rates for Mormonism/Christianity. Maybe you can show that modern medicine is mainly the key to Mormon growth and that, therefore, early Christian growth lacks explanation after all (or requires a supernatural explanation).

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm

S. Hendrix,

I don’t know what that means. The author is using unusual definitions, I think.

  (Quote)

rob November 29, 2010 at 6:07 am

rob,
The data shows so far that Mormon polygamy likely has no effect on population growth for the purposes of comparing to early growth of Christianity.A question might be whether an increased mortality rate in ancient times relative to 19th century Mormonism would make the comparison meaningless (as you imply).I would tend to think not, especially because Mormon growth had many obstacles that early Christian growth did not (as listed in the post), so I wouldn’t characterize myself as “in the dark” as to the veracity of the title at all.However, if you feel you are still in the dark, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_rate and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth and see what sort of numbers you can get by plugging in estimated death rates and birth rates for Mormonism/Christianity.Maybe you can show that modern medicine is mainly the key to Mormon growth and that, therefore, early Christian growth lacks explanation after all (or requires a supernatural explanation).  

Mr. Chuck64, I think one could completely account for the growth of Mormonism in every facet and degree and still potentially know nothing about the growth of early Christianity. They are not necessarily related and the variables are more complex than a “this happened now so that happened then” kind of comparison. I.e., Just because 43 became president because his dad was 41 doesn’t mean 44 is the son of 42.

Rob

  (Quote)

kaka December 6, 2010 at 1:59 am

isn’t this just an argument from popularity? i don’t think many useful conclusions on the truth of the matter can be drawn by purely looking at numbers, luke.

i think the number of true christians today is even lower than the amount stated in census data as there are many ‘nominal’ or ‘non-practising christians’ around. there are heaps of atheists in churches. i know some ex-catholics who attended services for years because it was just what their families did on a sunday and they didn’t want to displease their parents. they had no relationship with god, they just sat in the pews playing with their ipods! as soon as they moved out of home, they stopped attending.

  (Quote)

kaka December 6, 2010 at 2:07 am

hi luke, here’s an article which responds to carrier’s argument that the sumerian goddess inanna was crucified. this is the first argument he makes in the article against jp holding.

http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/JesusEvidenceCarrier.htm

i have no idea of the author but there are references which you can check. cheers :)

  (Quote)

S December 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

This is a terrible statistical crunch. First of all, we have no reliable data for the growth of atheism, compaired to say, agnosticism, or simply what governments claim (communist groverments in particular).

Second, and a much, much bigger problem, the idea that Mormonism’s success is equal to early Christianity is incredibly foolish and historically inaccurate. The Roman Empire, at the birth of Christ, had 4 million Roman Citizens, and only a few dozen millions of slaves and subject people. Mormonism has had the ability to grow in a world where the population is exploding; Christianity grew in a world (let us not forget that Rome was not even the first nation to convert; Ethiopia and Armenia were beforehand, and several tribes afterwards- which is another problem, since you completely ignored the growth in those parts of the world) were the population was stable, or during portions, actually decreasing.

Secondly, Christianity was not the only evangelicalizing religion; learn some more ancient history. The cult of the Earth Goddess, the cult of Isis, the Persian Sun God, etc, all tried their best to convert as many followers as possible. In fact, it is unargueable that that time had *more* religions/cults that tried to convert than today. The only real difference is that, back then, most cults and religions were not exclusive, whilst today they are; but that might not have been as much as an advantage as you might think. Anyone converting to Christianity was shunned by all their pagan families and neghibors. Judaism also converted, but on a less successful scale. This is particularly true during the times of Herod Aggripa. It is a myth told by people who really don’t know history very well that Judaism has never been evangelical- in their defence, it hasn’t been in some time, though.

Christianity is individualistic for many reasons. It grew in a varity of areas across the world; areas that had no real contact with each other. It grew without a central authority, or a powerful individual to guide it (as Islam, Buddhism, and other religions typically tend to grow). It grew in a world were the population was not stale, barely inceasing, or actually decreaseing. I’d descredit this poor analysis more if I had time, but I have to go now; perhaps later I shall continue.

  (Quote)

Tony Hoffman December 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

S,

On what source do you base your claims that, ” The cult of the Earth Goddess, the cult of Isis, the Persian Sun God, etc, all tried their best to convert as many followers as possible. In fact, it is unargueable that that time had *more* religions/cults that tried to convert than today?”

Do you really think that “nations” (Ethiopia and Armenia) converted to Christianity? (The term “nation,” as I understand it, is anachronistic to this period.)

You wrote, “Anyone converting to Christianity was shunned by all their pagan families and neighbors.” Really? Do you have a primary source for this claim? Have you read the Martydrom of Perpetua (203 AD), which describes the extraordinary anguish and efforts Perpetua’s family endured to try and bring her back to them, and how it is the Christian Perpetua who proudly shuns her pagan family?

” It [Christianity] grew without a central authority, or a powerful individual to guide it (as Islam, Buddhism, and other religions typically tend to grow). ”

You’ve read the New Testament, right. You understand that Paul’s letters are all about giving advice on how to centrally manage congregations in disparate places? You’ve heard of gnosticism, and other Christian cults, and how Christians were fairly sophisticated at developing hierarchical structures that allowed for variation while maintaining centralized control?

Have you read Elaine Pagels, “The Gnostic Gospels?” Have you even heard of it?

  (Quote)

S January 2, 2011 at 6:06 am

On what source do you base your claims that, ” The cult of the Earth Goddess, the cult of Isis, the Persian Sun God, etc, all tried their best to convert as many followers as possible. In fact, it is unargueable that that time had *more* religions/cults that tried to convert than today?”

I would say so. Multiple Roman Edicts have the effect of trying to placate/ban conversions by multiple religions; including, but not limited too, all the ones mentioned. We have very little primary evidence of the inner workings of most of these cults, but we do have several documents by outsiders explianing their conversion process, and how it led to internal disreput and legal problems.

Do you really think that “nations” (Ethiopia and Armenia) converted to Christianity? (The term “nation,” as I understand it, is anachronistic to this period.)

My English is not good enough to be able to use new words to fit every situation, but I think nation, when all else is not in use, is an alright word for this situation.

Really? Do you have a primary source for this claim? Have you read the Martydrom of Perpetua (203 AD), which describes the extraordinary anguish and efforts Perpetua’s family endured to try and bring her back to them, and how it is the Christian Perpetua who proudly shuns her pagan family?

I admit, useing the term ‘everyone’ was foolish of me, and I apologies for it. Absolutes are only true in math, and should never be used in history.

You’ve read the New Testament, right. You understand that Paul’s letters are all about giving advice on how to centrally manage congregations in disparate places? You’ve heard of gnosticism, and other Christian cults, and how Christians were fairly sophisticated at developing hierarchical structures that allowed for variation while maintaining centralized control?

Correct, but during this time Paul’s letters were simply efforts; a ‘proper’ centralization did not particularly occur until the conversion of Constantine. What you said in the later part of your message proves my point decently; it was the lack of centralization during this period that led to many Christian groups, such as Aryanistic Follwers, Gnostic Followers, etc.

  (Quote)

packman February 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

It’s onerous to search out knowledgeable folks on this matter, but you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  (Quote)

Andrew March 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I’m not sure where you got your figures regarding the Mormon church growth, but in fact the Mormon church has seen a decline in growth rate this past decade or so. I suggest doing more research into Mormon church growth rates. The data is readily available, why not go to wikipedia? It kinda invalidates half your comparison.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints_membership_history#LDS_Church_membership_numbers

- Getting-the-facts-straight-Andy

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser March 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I got the data from Stark’s book, which is from 1996.

  (Quote)

Eli Brayley August 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Some have compared the expansion of Christianity in the early centuries with the expansion of Islam and Mormonism, and thus attempt to lessen the wonder and significance of the rise of Christianity. This is wrong for several reasons:

A. Christianity spread under different circumstances. Islam spread by the sword, subduing people into faith. Christianity rose without the use of the sword and under severe persecution. To be a Christian meant death in most cases. To be a Muslim meant preserving your life. Likewise, converting to Mormonism had not physical threat to your life.

B. Mormonism spread where Christianity had gone before. They did not present a radically new doctrine that cut against the grain of the popular belief. Mormonism presents a moral message much like other religions, with a few unique but fair-sounding claims. It is thus easy to convert from, say, Roman Catholicism to Mormonism. On the other hand, Christianity brought a radical new doctrine of Jesus Christ and Him crucified to a society that was not only not Christian, but opposed to the ideas of Christianity.

C. Both the Muslim and the Mormon claim is non-verifiable. You just have to “trust” that it happened the way they said it did. However, the Christian claim is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and they preached the resurrection the same year Christ had been crucified and buried (only 50 days afterwards). Thus the claim could have been disproven easily. People joined Christianity on the basis of good reason, not blind faith.

D. Islam and Mormonism spread where people were largely uneducated. Christianity spread, not only in Israel where the Jewish faith was firmly held and defended, but in the Greco-Roman world, where philosophy and reason were practised and valued as paramount. In less than three hundred years the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity; and in only a few years after the death of Christ the most educated and anti-Christian Jew, Saul of Tarsus, converted to Christianity.

E. The spread of Christianity happened at the grass roots level, and men and women from every walk of life not only gave their lives to Christ, and sought to win others to Christ, but even gave up their lives for Christ. Thus the method of Christianity’s evangelism was different than both Mormonism and Islam. As said before, Islam spread through fear of the sword. Converting to Christianity involved no fear from the Christians. The spread of Mormonism is due to a massively organized and carefully executed missionary endeavor, where uniformed young men and women are trained in the art of sales and are sent out to do full of mission work for two years, and most young people participate in it. Thus, their growth is not surprising. By contrast, Christianity spread without any organized, uniformed, carefully manufactured system. It spread by regular men and women from all walks of life who simply passed along the gospel message under severe persecution. In Christianity, it was the message that won people over, not the method.

The spread of Christianity is stunning, and its significance cannot be lessened. Only a haphazard handling of the facts would say otherwise. There is no good explanation for the spread of Christianity against the odds and by such methods unless the message was true: Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and true life was to be found in Him.

  (Quote)

Yoo January 11, 2012 at 9:15 am

The comparison with Mormonism is idiotic. Mormonism grew in a demographically expanding world of billions. Christianity grew in a world of millions- and one that was often demographically declining. That alone makes it a foolish comparison- and you should feel ashamed for trying to use it.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }