Image 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.