Friday, October 21, 2011

A fresh start

Aurelian, personification of Sol, defeats the ...Image via WikipediaSo, why did Christianity become so popular? It wasn't particularly quick - I've read suggestions that it became the dominant religiion within the Roman empire within 400 years. I was going to say that change happens fast when you consider that it had to over-turn other religions but the point about it is that it didn't. A lot of Christian liturgy, holidays and so on were nicked from earlier faiths.

However, that leaves open the question of why it did prosper. This seems a good explanation and suggests the success was down to the hard work of Paul of Tarsus who changed it to make it more appealing. It also says that it proved popular psychologically because it coupled
a coherent and attractive picture of how the world worked with a commonsensical moral code.
The Christian idea of the afterlife was much more attractive than that of other religions and, for that reason, appealed to those who had a crappy time in this life. Their reward, so palpably absent from their day to day existence, would become apparent once they were dead. Plus it also gave people a place in the Universe and the illusion of control over their lives.

The Christian God was also a nicer guy than those old pagan deities. The older faiths were all about anger and punishment, plus they were very parochial whereas God was about forgiveness and was universal. And, in Christ, there was an explicit connection to humanity.

Christians were also heavily persecuted during the early days. The Roman games were all about punishing Christians as well as lots of other enemies of Rome. Some Emperors tried to stamp it out by burning books, destroying churches and killing worshippers.

There were alternatives to that early Christianity too. Notably Mithra and the Sol Invictus cult of Rome. Plus there were a lot of mystery cults that disappeared without a trace. Around Europe there were a lot of Pagan religions that were steam-rollered by Rome and then Christianity came along to fill the void in their wake. More so when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire.Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, October 13, 2011

By Toutatis

Thor iPad wallpaperImage by xploitme via FlickrThis discussion on Reddit (I know, I know) got me thinking. I'm aware that many parts of the early church steal and edit earlier beliefs and that the editorial conference for the Bible was quite fraught, but that question about about older gods really made me wonder.

How different would beliefs be if Christianity had not emerged at all? What did Romans believe? It looks like the established achievement metric of belief = favours was well established but beyond that there is huge divergence.

The most exciting part of the discussion, and the reason Reddit continues to delight, was the note that part of the reason Christianity was seen as a threat was because it clashed with many aspects of Roman life. For Romans, as with many other cultures, beliefs define what is permissible. The moral teachings of Christ means that some Roman staples (gladiators, astrology, slavery) were incompatible with a Christian way of life. Given that worship of Roman gods was rigorously enforced you can see how that might be seen as troubling.

It'd be interesting to wonder what kind of society we would have now if Christianity had been snuffed out and the Roman way of life stayed dominant. There would be clashes with indigent cultures around Europe but I'd bet that the various tribes wouldn't be preaching tolerance and understanding.

The rot seems to have set in when Constantine the Great became Emperor. As the first explicitly Christian emperor he preached religious tolerance which literally forced people to live a different way. A vision led to Constantine's conversion, but he was such a canny politician that there may be something else pointing him that way.

I guess the big question is how did Christianity come to pose such a threat? Then there are subsidiary questions about how history would be different if Christianity was missing. The Holy Roman Empire might be a bit different for a start.
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Friday, October 07, 2011

Human overhaul

This is a fabulous discussion of what needs to change in the human body to make it better. It also makes me love the net all over again as I've been wondering about what would need doing and here are all the answers in a handy format for me to work with.

The true future

If we ever meet outer space aliens, us puny humans are going to be at such a disadvantage because our physiology betrays us in so many ways. Take lying.
1967 Soviet Union 16 kopeks stamp. Space scien...Image via Wikipedia
For a start the alien super creatures might use their super space technology, some of which brought them across the Universe to our doorstep, to zap us with a magnetic pulse which makes it impossible for us to lie.

And then there are the many ways that we betray ourselves when we lie - this claims there are seven. I'd guess that the super space technology could analyse most of those in time to information the slug-faced squid given the job of first contact that the humans are trying to pull a fast one.

There approach might be even sneakier, in that they might try to exploit our known cognitive biases so they get the outcome they want. Or even spritz us with oestrogen to skew our responses.

They should also be able to look deeper into the blood flow under our skin to spot more tell-tales. Heavens, we are already on the way to being able to do this via phone so it'll doubtless be a breeze when we are in the ante-room of the bridge on an interplanetary craft.

Of course, this does pre-suppose that we will want to lie to the alien visitors. Or that they will expect us to and will want a way to spot it. Who knows, perhaps alien peoples will, for a while, prefer to do business with us Earthians because we are so transparent and have no way to defend ourselves against such subtle probing.

It might be the case that they constantly expose our lies for what they are and gradually force us to be truthful all the time. Though I'm not sure what penalties they could impose if we do not choose to believe them.

It does also make me wonder about lies. I tell lies all the time to my kids, even my wife but they are not bad lies. They are to spare them information that would spoil things (Birthdays! Christmas!) later on. With the kids I also conceal information for which they are not ready. But there can be lies that I don't know I'm telling. Information that is wrong but I think is right, in that case I'll have all the outward signs that I'm telling the truth but will actually be wrong. Has anyone tried this on religious zealots? Hmm.

I suppose that this might not only apply to aliens. Maybe this is the life we are all headed for in the future, where it gets harder and harder to tell an untruth. And the only way you can lie is to be ignorant.
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