Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about the sweet, comforting lies Christians tell themselves. The particular lie on the schedule today hits close to home for me. See, I spent a very, very long time believing it. It’s likely why I had a lot of trouble losing my reflexive, well-indoctrinated awe of Christianity as an ideology–and why I had trouble applying critical thinking to anything associated with it. It was painful to recognize the truth–and embarrassing to accept it. No, Christianity isn’t unique at all among religions. Today, I’ll show you why.
The Kingmaker of Lies.
I’ve lost track of how many Christians I’ve heard talking about how totally different they think their religion is from all other religions.
In fact, from the most pallid, child-rape-condoning Catholic to the most wild-eyed fundagelical snake handler, you can find Christians who buy firmly into this idea. That said, I’m happy to say that it’s far from a universal or maybe even a majority belief. Generally it’s the most fervent salespeople who push this idea.
And I get why so many of those Christians like believing this idea. Any salesperson wants to sell a unique product, after all! If no other product like it exists, then the salespeople of a unique product will make more sales of it.
What I’m talking about here is the advertising principle of scarcity. Simply put, when shoppers believe (truly or falsely) that a product suffers from high demand but low stock, then they’re apt to put their critical thinking capacities — and their general morals as people — on the back burner and rush out to buy that product. They behave in ways that run counter to how they’d normally behave. In that state, they make purchases of stuff that they wouldn’t ordinarily want: clothes that hang in the closet forever, their inner surfaces untouched forever by skin, or a religion that later embarrasses them and becomes a funny story to tell people at parties.
Christian soulwinners operate best and make the most sales from people operating in a highly agitated state of fear. Their product–active membership in their groups–doesn’t appeal much to anybody on its own. It asks too much and returns too little to be a viable product in a marketplace dominated by consent and free choice.
That’s why people who have their lives together don’t tend to become those sorts of Christians.
It’s also why sales-minded Christians rely so heavily on threats in their sales pitches.
A Product of Its Time.
The problem is, Christians parroting this notion help artificially inflate their religion’s scarcity. In reality, it isn’t unique at all.
Christianity is a product of its time like few other things ever could be. It comes from that melting-pot swirl of religions found in the Ancient Near East at the beginning of the Common Era. Borrowing a little bit here and a little bit there, its inventors created a whole new fusion mix to sell.
Its fusion nature may be a big part of why Jews at the time almost completely rejected it–it contained way too much paganism in it for their taste. Their rejection forced Christianity’s inventors and earliest adopters to look to gentiles (non-Jews) to swell their ranks.
I can’t think of any part of Christianity that’s actually completely original. I’ve heard a great many claims from Christians about elements they think are original, but these are either reframed split hairs or simply listed out of ignorance.
Instead, what we find in Christianity are elements that most first-century people in that part of the world would have expected to find in a religion.
Unique Claim: The Incarnation.
As Christian Week tells us, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ into mortal form represents one unique part of Christianity. Maybe that’s why they capitalize it.
Incarnation means that Jesus took mortal form and walked on Earth for a while before having his bad half-weekend. Most Christians believe this event really happened, and moreover, that no other religion features anything like this.
That idea got dismantled neatly when I learned more about paganism. Dionysus, for example, famously wandered the earth for some time. So did Zeus and Hermes. And so did Demeter. In that pantheon, almost all the demigods, like Hercules, were conceived by divine fathers upon mortal mothers–and spent plenty of time growing up on Earth. These godlings often eventually became gods themselves–like Asclepius, the son of Apollo and one of his priestesses. In fact, he and his mother apotheosized at the same time. This god of medicine enjoyed quite a thriving cult for a while there. (Remember that name; we’re coming back to him.)
In mythology, often we see figures that are clearly mythological presented as actual people living on Earth as mortals–like Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri. Scholars have been comparing various mythological characters from the Bible to the Dioscuri for a long time.
And y’all, that’s just the Greek pantheon. Others contain this same idea.
It takes a lot of stretching to come up with the notion that incarnation represents a totally unique claim to Christianity. Their god walked among people? Fine, lots of gods did that. Their god was born in a mortal body? Lots of gods did that, too, while others started out as mortal.
If I were a first-century person weighing a religion’s claims, I’d expect one to make exactly this claim.
Unique Claim: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Got Questions, an evangelical apologetics site, claims that Jesus’ resurrection represents Christianity’s most unique point. They tell us:
Within Christianity, the resurrection is vitally important, for without it, Christianity does not exist, and our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The Bible verse they quote at the end is what gives them that very idea. Very often, the real live totally for realsies Resurrection represents the line in the sand that even the most progressive Christians can’t cross. Everything else can be metaphorical. Fine, whatever. But THIS BIT right here? This bit must have truly actually happened, or else they might as well not bother. (I’ve gotten into enough of these surprising non-versations with enough progressive Christians to know this fact about them.)
However, the myth of the dying and rising god, as religion scholars call it, goes back way, way further than Christianity. La Wiki tells us specifically that this motif comes up a lot in the Ancient Near Eastern religions–which gave birth to Christianity. The Egyptians very famously worshiped at least one god who did exactly that. Its details vary from pantheon to pantheon, but it’s not like Christians are unique in having a god who died and rose again.
Further, it’s worth noting that Christians get this claim entirely from their marketing brochure, the Bible. Nothing about Jesus’ biography can be found in a single contemporary source or document. While Got Questions gushes and squees over their myth’s various details, they forget that literally none of it can be substantiated.
And speaking of substantiation…
Unique Point: Historicity.
Generally speaking, Christians believe that at least some of their religion’s historical claims are true. At least some of the Gospels really happened. Jesus really truly existed as a person. He really truly died and rose again. The miracles happened as described. Biblical side characters, like Joseph of Arimathea, really existed and did the stuff the Gospels’ writers ascribe to them.
And Christian leaders want their followers to believe that having a historical background grants their religion a point of uniqueness that no other religion possesses.
A 1911 paper by a gentleman with the Yale Divinity School puts the problem succinctly:
Is belief in the historicity of Jesus indispensable to Christian faith today? If so, faith has become dependent upon external authority; it has escaped from the priest only to fall into the hands of the critic.
The author, Douglas C. Macintosh, concludes that historicity is not indispensable, if you’re wondering. And he makes a really good case for that argument. As far as he’s concerned, Christians’ lived experiences should work just fine to keep them in the pews. As I do, he seems to think it downright cheapens Christianity for its followers to bog themselves down in historical criticisms–especially when they are so poorly-equipped for that task. Also as I do, he thinks that if Christians ever accepted that all of the religion is mythological, the religion wouldn’t lose all that many believers. They’d work it out.
But if Jesus isn’t really for realsies, if he’s just like all the other godlings out there in humanity’s past and present, then Christianity’s salespeople lose a major source of fear-based marketing. I can see why modern Christians glom so hard onto this idea.
No real Jesus = no real Incarnation = no real Resurrection = no real salvation from Hell = no Judgment Day = no eternity of suffering for a finite lifetime’s offenses against this enraged godling.
The Other Problems With Historicity.
Besides that cheapening effect, Christians face another problem here.
Christianity does have some basis in history. We know whenabouts it began, and where. We possess fragments of its early texts. And we know at least a few of the names and biographies of its earliest adopters. At least a few of its place-names existed, and at least a few of its events really happened–though not in the way that the Gospels’ writers relay.
However, we know these points of fact only because Christianity’s a pretty late entry in the religious marketplace. We’ve almost completely lost older religions’ origins to the sands of time. La Wiki graces us with a whole list of many dozens of religions newer than Christianity. (Biff especially hated this one.) Chances are they contain even more historical references than Christianity does, and theirs are probably way more correct and plentiful. Do Christians really wanna play this reindeer game of more historical = totes for sure more true?
More concerning, these Christian leaders hang their faith on a hook labeled Total Historicity. In doing so, they set their followers up for a collision with reality. All it takes is learning that one historical claim is false for a follower to start wondering what else might be false.
If it’s almost all false, where does that leave the truth?
Unique Claim: Only Their God LOVES His Followers.
The last supposedly unique point I’ll cover today might be one of the biggest claims Christians make about their religion.
Christians love to think that their religion is unique in offering them a real live relationship with their god. Moreover, they think this god loves them in a way that no other gods have ever loved their followers.
What Christians Want to Know, another big evangelical apologetics site, tells us:
His love separates false religions from the Truth of the Gospel. The sacrifice of Jesus is the ultimate example of that love. God, working through the Holy Spirit, is calling everyone to experience the love He offers.
And one church’s website elaborates on that idea:
Other religions have systems of rules to appease their god. Christianity is a relationship with God. . . We don’t have to appease God to receive His favor. He already showed us His love for us by sending Jesus to die on a cross in our place, for our sins. The separation between us and God was appeased, and we didn’t have to do a thing except believe.
A bunch of people just did a spit-take here.
A Big Problem With The Love Claim.
Christians talk a lot about not having to “appease” their god through actions. That’s sheerest nonsense. They appease their god constantly–or at least try to.
The Christians who believe in Hell tend to focus most on these displays–and to live in terror of offending their god through some unknown deed. “Sin,” obviously, sends people straight to Hell. The worst sin of all (that they actually know about) is not loving this insecure, raging, narcissistic god of theirs enough. So the performance of deeds and devotions becomes a big driving part of their everyday routine. Obedience, itself, is a virtue their leaders preach often–and obedience is shown by actions.
As for relationships, if Christians call their religion a “relationship” then they demean real relationships.
Maybe they’re counting completely one-way fan-style relationships, like that of a “Belieber” or a”Swiftie?” Can’t be. Sometimes even fans’ celebrity crushes deign to interact for real with those fans in ways that can be documented objectively. By contrast, a Christian’s “relationship” with their god involves nothing of the sort. This god never ever, ever interacts with anybody in any way whatsoever that can be distinguished as objectively being from him and nobody else.
(Cassidy’s Maxim of Comparative Disparagement: There’s nothing you can compare any aspect of Christianity to that doesn’t insult the compared-to thing, person, or act in some serious way.)
And the Bigger Problem: Threats.
By far the bigger problem with the “uniquely loving” claim is that the Christian god does nothing whatsoever, even in Christians’ imaginations, that looks like loving behavior. Love is more than just a onetime act that nobody even asked for and that many would reject as unethical. It’s a daily show of affection, respect, kindness, and consideration. And their god just doesn’t show them that.
He doesn’t consider his followers as anything close to his equal–or even as adults. They are 100% his inferiors. In fact, they are his children, his sheep, his slaves, and his chattel, and they rejoice in that fact.
He treasures obedience above everything else and brutally punishes disobedience. Sure, he doesn’t make his orders clear at all, but that doesn’t matter. Followers must still try to obey what they think he wants. There’s only one penalty for disobedience, and it is beyond gruesome and horrific.
I’ve said this before and it bears repeating:
The very second that threats or fear enter a relationship, love leaves by the back door.
False Promises of Aid Aren’t Loving Either.
Christians’ god allows his children/sheep/slaves/chattel to suffer the usual problems that everybody faces. In fact, he won’t lift a finger to help them–unless he just wants to, of course. Christians call his aid “miracles.”
But he doesn’t explain how he makes his decisions to help anyone. Disobedience usually disqualifies a follower from divine aid, even if the follower doesn’t know what offended him. But plenty of other stuff disqualifies them too, and this god’s followers will never know what did it.
The only reason I can see for Christians to claim that their god loves them is that someone in the religion’s past decided to write down that he did. Nothing about Christianity brings an observer independently to that idea, that’s for sure.
If I were a space alien watching Christians from the upper atmosphere, the last thing I’d think is that their god loved them even in a mythic, metaphorical fashion.
Well, second last.
The real last thing Space Princess Cassidy would think would be that this god existed at all.
The Supposed Uniqueness of Love, Isn’t.
Five-ish years after I left Christianity, I joined Hellenism (Greek-style polytheism). That’s where a lot of my previous beliefs about Christianity’s uniqueness finally got blown apart.
When I was pagan, I felt far more loved by the gods I worshiped than by my previous god. Hands down. If you want to talk about relationship, I felt I came much closer to the pagan gods there too. I never felt I had to appease them at all, nor to work ceaselessly to gain their approval–like I had as a Christian.
And nobody was more surprised than I was to realize those facts.
Even today, pagans talk about feeling downright wrapped-up in love by their gods. Often, they feel their gods called them personally to worship. Within that worship, they feel that their gods respect them and treat them like adults. These gods expect their followers to better themselves for betterment’s sake, not to pester them, and not to ask for things they could do for themselves.
It seemed to me that everything Christians wanted their religion to be, pagans actually found in their various faith systems.
I don’t think any gods exist now. The evidence definitely lands on that side of the question! Back then, I saw those differences as flowing from the extremely different personalities of the gods themselves. In reality, those differences likely flow from pagans’ source material and their groups’ ideals and social setup.
And whoa nelly, they were biiiiiiiiiiiiig differences.
Finding the Truth.
When Christianity first got started, it faced some heavy competition from other religions active in its area and time.
I mentioned the cult of Asclepius earlier. He–and his daddy Apollo–both enjoyed worship that looked startlingly similar to Christianity. A very similar religion to Christianity worshiped Glycon, which its founder claimed was another son of Apollo. Both these religions were active at or close to the dawn of Christianity. And both possess the elements that people of that area and time would have expected any religion to have–just like Christianity quickly acquired.
As well, I’ve written about a college class that threw me totally for a loop with my belief in Christianity’s uniqueness. In that class, my professor had to gain a verbal agreement with all the fundagelicals in attendance not to get into religious arguments on that score. The topic of the class was the Roman Empire. At the time of Christianity’s invention one popular religion in the empire centered around Invictus (“the unconquered”). By 100ish CE, Invictus got tangled up for good with Sol (a sun god).
The worship of Invictus began well before the invention of Christianity and ran alongside it for a long time. It survived for a few centuries after Christianity’s invention, before dying out when Christians gained dominant power in the 4th-5th centuries. And as I learned in that class, this pagan religion’s god shared a downright disturbing number of traits with Christianity’s god.
Yeah, I had a tough time reconciling my indoctrination with the facts revealed by history.
Back to Artificial Scarcity.
The facts seem crystal-clear to me now:
In its first decades, Christianity’s creators struggled hard to find ways to differentiate their new religion from all the others competing for followers. They lacked the power to simply force people to join and stay joined up. Indeed, the New Testament hints to us repeatedly (notably in 1 John, written around 100 CE) that in those early days Christian groups struggled hard to retain members. Potential customers needed reasons to sign up, and Christianity’s first salespeople needed to find good reasons to give them.
Nowadays we find ourselves very close in spirit to those first years of Christianity’s existence. More and more, Christians lack the power to simply force people to join and stay joined up–and their salespeople must provide reasons for people to choose their product.
Little wonder some of them are drilling down harder and harder on their product’s supposed uniqueness.
I guess their problem now is not only justifying that claim in meaningful ways (which I have never once seen happen), but in making their supposedly-unique product look desirable to consumers. Just because something’s unique, that doesn’t mean I want it in my house.
This supposed uniqueness has become yet another red herring in Christianity–and one resisted by a great many Christians with more sense than that.
I guess a lot of its salespeople find it easier to yammer on and on about their religion’s supposed uniqueness than to give someone a good reason to want to buy their product.
As usual, the biggest problems with Christianity don’t involve its total lack of veracity, but rather how its believers engage with that lack. Christianity is not a unique religion. Even if it were, then uniqueness is simply not enough of a reason to buy something.
NEXT UP: Yep, we’re doing it! Biff’s Big Huge Fight With the Dianic Separatist Lesbians: A Heartwarming Christmas Tale. See you soon!
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