While thinking one day I began to mention that there appears to be stages in the history of Christian conversion in western society. It goes something like this:
- The pre-Christian world. This, of course, is the pagan world. During this time most people were living with beliefs, gods, and traditions that may of been there since their origins. As a result, these pagan customs are very deeply ingrained into the peoples lives, way of life, world perception, and identity. We may, perhaps, say there was a definite ‘pagan identity’ in the people.
- The conversion. This is when the Christians converted, or tried to convert, the pagan people. The way in which this was done could range from brutal to a matter of teaching people. In general, though, I get the impression that most people were not all that ‘receptive’ to Christianity nor were all the people all that willing to ‘convert’. This makes sense as it means to abandon ones beliefs and ways. Because of this, there was a great ‘conversion resistance’. This resistance generally made the Christians have to resort to great measures in order to guarantee conversion, such as emphasizing the torment of hell if they didn’t.
- The Christian climax. With the growth of Christianity, its association with politics, and its partial success with the people, Christianity reached a climax for many centuries. During this time it appears that Christianity “won”. In actuality, though, it did not. One could say that it “won” only in respect that it became associated with political and social power in the society. Without this association there probably would never of been a Christian climax. In other words, the “powers that be” became associated with Christianity thereby making it a force in society. What this means is that the “power of Christianity” was not found in belief and conversion, as is generally claimed, but in its being used by the “powers of society” which gave it its power. In this way, really, Christianity failed as a belief and a conversion creating what can be called a ‘conversion illusion’ . . . the conversion only ‘appeared’ to work. The truth of this would become apparent in the later stages.
- The failing Christianity. Despite its climax there was always the ‘conversion resistance’ from the very beginning. This became more and more apparent after Christianity reached its climax. Not only were there differing viewpoints about Christianity but Christianity, itself, began to split apart. There began to appear Protestants, Calvinists, Anglicans, etc. with whole other points of views and belief systems. In many ways, this is a sign that Christianity didn’t quite “convince” everyone (the ‘conversion illusion’). As time went on, there even began to appear alternate viewpoints having nothing whatsoever to do with Christian belief and which opposed it, such as science. With all this, Christianity, as a power, began to falter and fail. In many ways, though, these alone did not necessarily bring on the failure of Christianity. The real failure was when Christianity began to no longer be associated with power and society as a result of these new happenings. Once this happened the base of Christian power failed. This shows, again, that the “power of Christianity” was not in belief and conversion. After this happened other points of view would appear that would push Christianity into the background and almost unseen.
- Post-Christianity. Once Christianity failed it lost its power and influence but, being a part of our life for so many centuries, much of its influence is felt in many of our attitudes and points of view. Many Christian points of view and beliefs continued on but without the belief, creating what I call ‘blind Christianity” (I wrote an article on this called “Thoughts on Blind Christianity – some effects of the post-Christian era“). In general, the belief of Christianity is gone but its “customs” continue on in a variety of ways usually without any reference to Christianity at all. People, for example, speak of “loving one another” (a basic teaching of Jesus), or in the importance of the “people” (humanity was called the “body of Christ”), there is a worship of knowledge (originating from having to learn as part of the conversion process), and such. Very few people realize that many ideals and customs we have today actually originated in Christianity.
These stages show some interesting points:
- It shows that conversions don’t work that well. People don’t just ‘understand’ and ‘believe’ as is claimed. In other words, preaching doesn’t automatically make a person believe. It shows that it takes a lot more to believing than ‘understanding’ the belief system.
- It shows that the real ‘power’ was not in peoples belief, conversion, or understanding but in social power, such as politics. In other words, social power defined belief.
- It shows that this social power, and not belief, was so powerful that it created stages or ‘phases’ in the history of Western society. It determined things for centuries, in some cases, and affected how everyone thought and did things.
- It shows that peoples ‘understanding’ or belief, by itself, isn’t as powerful as it seems nor is it as influential as we think. It took more than a persons belief to create the “power of Christianity”. In other words, a person’s belief isn’t the great power that it has been claimed.
- It shows that forcing a foreign belief system into a society tends to split it in two or disrupt it. From the very beginning of Christian conversion there has always been a ‘conversion resistance’ . . . some people just did not believe or convert. Its always been there and, in the end, it won out. In effect, the forcing of a foreign belief system caused a lot of tension and conflict in society which, in the end, helped Christianity fail.
Looking back on it now, Christianity was more like a foreign intrusion into Western society, an alien element that, though it did affect some things, it never could, or did, become fully integrated into the society. In many ways, this set the stage for much of the behavior of Western society in these past some odd centuries as, since then, Western society has done that repetitively, not only to itself but with the rest of the world. In so doing, Western society has spread the basic dilemma’s started by the Christian conversion to much of the world. Now, much of the world is now dealing with the same issues the Christian conversion did to Western Europe many centuries ago. Some big issues include:
- Having foreign and alien things and beliefs forced upon them.
- Being forced to change in some way.
- Being disrupted or split apart.
In effect, the Christian conversion has started a number of social processes in Western society that continue to this day. They have become ongoing systems because they have become an accepted part of social functioning. They have been there for so long that they have become ‘normal’. In some ways, one could compare them to ‘bad social habits’. I speak of a social system that was started by a unique condition and which is continued because it has become ‘accepted’, even though the condition may no longer exist, as an ‘ongoing social process’. Christianity has started such a social process. In fact, its started a number of them. Some of these processes include:
- The creation of a ‘system of disruption’. In other words, a system that repeatedly disrupts the existing state of things and treats this disruption as ‘no big deal’. This has appeared in many different ways, such as politically and socially. Western society continues this process, both in the world and itself, to this very day.
- The creation of a ‘system of intrusion’. This is a system that tends to intrudes upon areas that it otherwise would not intrude upon, such as peoples individual beliefs. Christianity started a process of ‘accepting’ the monitoring and control of what people think, for example.
- The creation of the ‘belief/way of life dilemma’. What this means is that it has made is that we have to ‘understand’ things in order to believe. In this way, belief is not based in a way of life, as usually happens, but by what we ‘think’. In this way, Christianity has made belief center too much on our own understanding and belief. This has made it so that any belief or understanding is ‘abstract’ and ‘intellectual’.
- The creation of the ‘individualistic dilemma’. Because of the emphasis on what a persons understands (to determine that a belief is ‘right’, which is the basis of conversion) it has created a condition where there is too much emphasis on the individual. In other words, it has made the individual the ‘center of the world’.
- The creation of an ‘authority/belief dilemma’. As I said above, the ‘power of Christianity’ was actually rooted in social and political power, not on what a person believed. But we are told that what we believe is what matters. This discrepancy as caused a basic dilemma of belief . . . where does the power of belief really fall? In the post-Christian world, many people have found that personal belief has no power and that, because of the fall of social authority, there is no greater authority to determine belief either. As a result, both social and personal authority have failed. The result is a general ‘no-belief’ stance. Along with this is a general sense that there is no authority causing a ‘no-authority’ stance. This has basically created a large power vacuum and a sense of ‘something absent in society.
As one can see, these themes are familiar themes in the post-Christian era. In many ways, they dominate this later era. These processes are being passed down to the younger generations, and the rest of the world, almost like an inheritance. In some respect, it is the inheritance of the Christian conversion.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen