World Without Jesus

We’ve joked about this, but someone is apparently taking is half seriously: what if Jesus was aborted? That’s the question asked at the website of the conservative coalition known as the Manhattan Declaration.

The question basically translates to, “What would the world be like if Christianity had never become successful?” It’s an interesting question, but their answers are phoned in:

The influence of Christ’s life greatly influenced the arts. Michelangelo wouldn’t have painted the Sistine Chapel and there would be no Pieta in the Vatican- further, no Vatican at all.

Fair enough. Of course, the wealthy pagans of the Roman empire were great patrons of the arts, particularly religious art that might gain them favor from the Gods or the Emperor. Had Jesus never existed, the art world would be very different but probably just as vibrant.

Christian writers whose works clearly reflect the conviction that the Earth is spherical include Saint Bede the Venerable in his Reckoning of Time, written around AD 723. In Columbus’ time, the techniques of celestial navigation, which use the position of the Sun and the Stars in the sky, together with the understanding that the Earth is a sphere, were widely used by mariners. Columbus himself saw his accomplishments [of exploring the Americas] primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion. – Wikipedia

See what I mean by “phoned in”? Western culture already knew the world was round centuries before the birth of Jesus. Granted, Columbus was an apocalyptic and he was partially motivated by religious fervor. But he was also motivated by financial self-interest, as were his backers and most of the other explorers. Had Columbus not sailed, someone else would have.

Some of the Manhattan Declaration’s answers are just weird: without the Catholic Mass, wine grapes would have died out. Given how popular wine has been in Europe, I just can’t see everyone giving up on the grape.

I used to think that paganism was on the wane when Christianity arose. But I believe that the historical consensus has shifted, and now the belief is that Greco-roman paganism was very much alive, particularly after the revivals sponsored by Diocletian. So if Jesus had never been born, we might still have some version of that old paganism still around. Probably so heavily evolved as to be unrecognizable, but still the dominant religion of the west.

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  • Michael Mock

    “So if Jesus had never been born, we might still have some version of that old paganism still around. Probably so heavily evolved as to be unrecognizable, but still the dominant religion of the west.”

    Hm… you mean like having the major holidays fall on seasonal turning-points, and involve pagan symbols and imagery like, I don’t know, evergreens and mistletoe and eggs and bunnies? Except that those would be explicitly pagan symbols – or, more precisely, they wouldn’t be considered “pagan” at all… just “religious.”

    I’m pretty sure the Temple of Dionysus would have kept the wine grape from dying out, too. (But would their version of the Holy Trinity feature Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, and Jameson? Inquiring minds want to know.)

    My point, insofar as I have a serious point, is that while you can see, historically, a sort of surface victory of Christianity over older, pagan practices, you can also see a great deal of absorption and continuity. A lot of those practices were adapted or buried, but never really destroyed or removed.

    • NoYourGod

      “But would their version of the Holy Trinity feature Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, and Jameson? Inquiring minds want to know.”

      I’ll start research on that tonight. I may go with the related deity “Michael Collins”, though – the belief being that all bases should be covered.

      • Michael Mock

        Good point. It’d be a terrible thing to be led astray by a false messiah!

  • UrsaMinor

    Another interesting question is whether or not Islam would have arisen in the absence of Christianity. Would Judaism have provided enough of an influence on its own?

    Playing what-if is fun, but if you go that far back, even the smallest historical change can make the present day unrecognizable.

    • jen

      That’s exactly what I was wondering – would we have Islam without Christianity?

      On a broader scale, would we have the kind of religious warfare we’ve seen? (Sure, the Greeks & Romans fought each other – but more explicitly over land than religion, yes?)

      If Jerusalem were not a “sacred” city to multiple religions, what difference would that make to today’s world?

  • Wazza

    Robert Silverberg took a more extreme approach, preventing the Hebrews from ever leaving Egypt and having Mohammed assassinated by the local Roman authorities. He also has the world develop more or less as ours has, mostly because the same technologies come up at the same time. Religion doesn’t figure very much in it at all.

    The continuance of Rome does mean a little more stagnation and a little less liberty, but that’s not traced back to religion either, but depends instead on the fact of what is essentially a world government.

  • Peter

    On a related note, this reminds me of a question I asked a while back.

    [Linkeh moved to Linkeh field] – Teh Srvr Munkehs

    • Custador

      Teh Srvr Munkehs are correct; links to your own personal site need to go in the link field. UF is not your personal SEO resource, m’kay?

  • rod

    The Dark ages would not have occurred, or would have been much shorter without christendom to hold them in their place, perhaps the library at Alexandria would never have been burned, perhaps slavery would never have developed or been justifiable in the US, Michele Bachman and Rick Perry wouldn’t be making asses of themselves. Lots of possibilities. Perhaps, in the absence of Christianity, Islam would never have arisen, or would have taken a different form.

    Really, just a silly game and another entre’ into a discussion of the benefits (or evils) of religion. We don’t live in a world of “might have been”. We live in a world of “what is”.

    • UrsaMinor

      I’m not entirely clear on how the non-birth of Jesus would have prevented the burning of the Royal Library at Alexandria half a century earlier, but it makes an interesting thesis.

      • Nox

        I think rod was referring to the incident in 415 AD.

        Of course it isn’t technically correct to say “perhaps the library at Alexandria would never have been burned” since it was already burned several years beforehand. But the christian mob who killed Hypatia and burned whatever scrolls were left of the library, probably would not have arisen without the rise of christianity.

      • Elemenope

        I thought that archaeological evidence excluded Plutarch’s (and a few other contemporary) accounts from contention (that Caesar accidentally burned it down when he burned his ships) because nearby buildings that would have been damaged in such an incident are reliably attested to have survived beyond that date.

        • UrsaMinor

          You could very well be right. There are a lot of dates in history to remember, and that’s the one concerning the Library of Alexandria that’s lodged in my head.

          Excluding deliberate arson, one still suspects that any large collection of highly flammable objects will eventually meet its doom in an era illuminated solely by candles and oil lamps and lacking any sort of fire-suppression system. I would imagine that the political-religious milieu in which it exists would have very little bearing on accidents of that sort.

    • GDad

      Bachmann: With Iupiter on our side, who can be against us?

      Perry: Y’all go ahead and worship Mercury if y’all want to. He’s a little light in the loafers, if ya know what I mean. I will bring back the traditional values of Jupiter, Apollo, and… um…. oops.

      Romney: I am a firm supporter of whichever member of the pantheon is most popular at this function or event!

      Paul: Caelus and Terra didn’t need all of these rules.


      • Michael Mock

        I’m looking for a “like” button. And, for my own small contribution:

        Trump: Oh, sure Obama promotes the Feast of Ngai, but doesn’t send Saturnalia greetings. How convenient.

  • Bacchus

    I’m not sure how they think that the wine grape would have died out. The Romans loved wine. Not to mention that until very recently wine and other alcohol-containing beverages were generally the only drinks that were reliably free of bacterial and parasitic pathogens.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      See my comment below on Phylloxera.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Ironic that Bacchus wouldn’t be up on this stuff! ;)

  • Fry

    We probably would have colonized most of the planets in our solar system and be on our way to colonizing nearby solar systems by now.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Also, the practice of grafting in resistant American wine grape rootstock to guard against phylloxera has been used globally. Had American rootstock not been available and used, there would be no wine industry in Europe or most places because of the devastating Phylloxera louse of the 1870s.

    Fascinating! So I took a second to look up Phylloxera on wikipedia.

    Grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae Fitch (1855) , family Phylloxeridae)

    is a pest of commercial grapevines worldwide, originally native to eastern North America.

    Wow, how fortunate that the discovery and colonization of America, which these geniuses credit indirectly to Jesus H. Christ, made American root stock available to save the European wine industry from this nasty pest, which was introduced to Europe through the discovery and colonization of America.

    • UrsaMinor

      Yup. See argument, circular.

    • FO

      Yup… Guess what.. A root resistant to a certain parasite is found together with that parasite, because… drumroll… THEY EVOLVED TOGETHER!
      This is awesome. ^_^

  • Kat

    There is debate over whether Jesus was ever actually born, or even existed, and its been discussed on this blog. I’m of the opinion that the mythology would exist regardless of there being any evidence of the person’s existence. Which is actually how most religions work in the first place.

  • FO

    We are in full Chaos mode, and Jesus (if he existed) is the butterfly.
    Speculation is funny, but we shouldn’t even pretend plausibility.
    I think I may make up an argument from “Jesus existed, but died in the womb” to “USA fought WW2 riding dinosaurs”.

    Seriously, if Jesus died in the womb, would this count as sacrifice to redeem humanity of the Original Sin?

    • Nox

      If Jesus died in the womb or was never born, people would have just made up a Jesus.

      The reality we’re already living in establishes that much.

      • UrsaMinor

        Leaving the historicity of Jesus aside for a moment, it still makes a lot more sense to postulate a real itinerant Judean preacher as the ultimate source of the Christ myth. The seed, if you will, around which the mythology crystallized.

        I have a hard time envisioning Jesus as being invented out of whole cloth. As for where the religion went after the man it was originally based on died, well, it could and did go in many directions, so the dominant forms of Christianity that we ended up with, and the world we now live in as a result, were not inevitable.

        • FO

          I tend to think that Jesus is a mix of stories about several different preachers of the time.

          • UrsaMinor

            That is certainly a possibility. Perhaps what has come down to us is an amalgam of stories of various anti-establishment preachers that have coalesced into one mythos.

            • trj

              That seems sensible, seeing as a lot of what Jesus said and did is recognizable from elsewhere.

              Also, Mark, the oldest gospel, didn’t originally mention any resurrection, neither does it (or John) mention Jesus being born of a virgin. Such omissions strongly hint that the stories of Jesus were developing over time, essential attributes being added to his character as the authors saw fit.

      • FO

        Ok, this is alternate fantasy rather than alternate reality, I get that, but according to Christian philosophy (that hasn’t much to do with the Bible) is the life (and fetal development) of Christ necessary to redeem humanity or the important thing is just that he dies?
        I mean, what was God truly after when he decided he needed this sacrifice?

        • Nox

          “According to Christian philosophy (that hasn’t much to do with the Bible) is the life (and fetal development) of Christ necessary to redeem humanity or the important thing is just that he dies?”

          According to Christian philosophy, dying is the important thing that Jesus did and the thing that redeemed humanity.

          There are other aspects of the story which are fairly important to christian philosophy such as Jesus fulfilling certain prophecies, Jesus having certain teachings, and Jesus founding the christian church.

          As the redemption deal is conditional on a christian accepting the deal, it is presumably conditional on a potential christian hearing about Jesus. But if a messiah dies in the womb does it make a noise?

          “What was God truly after when he decided he needed this sacrifice?”

          In reality it would appear to be mostly a reference to the atonement sacrifices prescribed in the old testament. As the story goes, man sinned and someone had to pay.

          • Elemenope

            I’d simply say that the God which could be stymied in his master plan by an abortion is a pathetic God indeed.

            Which leads to the argument I like to reserve for strongly religious pro-lifers, which is if God has foreknowledge of all decisions, why would he provide souls to creatures he knows will never be born? Seems wasteful and stupid for a deity to do so.

            • FO

              Indeed, it is seems very easy to mess with “soul at conception” statements.
              My fav is “Do aborted fetuses go to Heaven?” which I’d expect opening a huge can of worms.

            • UrsaMinor

              I think “wasteful” is a pretty meaningless term when you’re omnipotent.

              Ensoulment-at-conception arguments run afoul of reality in a number of fundamental ways. The two that are the most problematic are, where do the additional souls come from when the growing cell cluster splits to form identical twins, triplets, etc.? And where does the extra soul go when a fraternal twin from a separately fertilized ovum is absorbed and incorporated into its wombmate?

          • FO

            So, if a Jesus embryo dies rather than a full born Jesus, is the sacrifice enough to atone for all mankind?
            Are the two sacrifices of exactly the same value?

  • David Evans

    Eratosthenes (276 BC -194 BC) had a much better estimate of the Earth’s size than Columbus, who was wrong by several thousand miles. Which is why Columbus thought he had reached Asia, and never realized he had found a new continent.

    • Matt P

      Speaking of Columbus and alternate histories (realities?) if you are interested you could pick up Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. It is Sci-Fi written by Orson Scott Card, an avowed Mormon, but he makes a somewhat serious attempt at developing two alternate histories – and developing our current history to its natural conclusion. Excellently written (IMHO) and interesting story. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but perhaps the origins of Christianity lie within?

  • joe

    Christianity is the only one of the three great desert religions with it’s main focus on love and forgiveness as it’s motive power for civilizing the world. Forgiveness replacing retribution would indicate a belief in the evolution of the person and society. A self perfecting soul through experience if you will.

    • Artor

      Most people outside Xtianity don’t recognize love & forgiveness as it’s motive power. It looks very different from out here.

  • Artor

    Roman expansion was starting to peter out when Constantine converted, so while Roman Paganism, it’s Celtic & other hybrids would likely be significant factors, the Scandinavian faiths were spreading aggressively with little Roman influence, and would likely have a prominent place in the mix. Run-on sentences would be holy sacraments even.

    On the subject of alternate history, I have to take this moment to recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice & Salt. It’s an incredibly well-written book that explores what might happen if the Black Plague wiped out pretty much all of Europe, instead of the 30% it did kill. The world would be a very different place without Christendom!

    • DanD

      I have to agree with this one. It’s hard to argue that Christianity had any significant influence on the decline of the Roman Empire or the eastward migration of the germanic tribes. The east/west schism would likely have broken differently, but I would guess that’s about it. Since it is a butterfly effect thing, it’s impossible to say, but I’d picture an eastern Roman empire going semi-monotheistic under Sol Invictus (Roman Paganism with the influence of Judaism and Zorastrianism), and western Europe mostly ending up under the influence of the either the Germanic or Nordic religions, with a strong syncretic leavening of Roman and Egyptian Paganism. This gets you through the equivalent of maybe 600 AD. If a Muhammad analog existed, the religion would be far more likely to involve the worship of Ahura Mazda and/or Sol Invictus than YHWH.

      Trying to figure out where and whether a renaissance could happen gets interesting. Say what you will about the church, but the monasteries did provide centers of learning and art that helped spark the rebirth of Europe (also preserving a lot of the documents that did survive, and how much biblioclasm early Christians were responsible for really is open to debate). I’d guess yes, since Venetian trade patterns likely wouldn’t change much, and I’ve already supposed a maintained Byzantine and Persian influence, but I’ll stop speculating there.

      • DanD

        Sorry, westward migration.

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