Blog #4: Christianity Through the Lens of Polytheism

During the time Christianity began to rise, the Roman Empire depended heavily on religion. The main religion for the roman empire was polytheistic, the Romans believed in multiple gods and goddesses. Christianity only believed in one god and did not believe in praying down to the Roman Emperor.  The rapid growth of Christianity appealed to many, particularly the less fortunate, the large influence that Christianity had on the people led to the valid fear the Romans’ had towards Christianity because Christians didn’t participate in many Roman customs.

The big idea behind the Christian culture is monotheism, the belief that there is only one God, which is completing different than the beliefs of the Empire. The Roman authorities at first tolerated Christianity because they believed it was just another section of Judaism, which was also monotheistic and was accepted because of its perceived antiquity. But when the Romans realized the Christians didn’t consider themselves to be Jews, the Romans began to feel that Christians should pay homage to the gods. This, of course, is not allowed in Christianity as Christianity preached exclusive monotheism, forbidding its members from participating in the rituals of the state religious cult. Christians also defied prevailing attitudes about Roman military service. There were many who refused to serve at all, and those that did were faced with discrimination and conflicts of conscience due to mandatory attendance at official sacrifices. These rituals were understood as being vital to the maintenance and continuation of the Roman State. By not participating in them, Christians were, in effect, actively undermining the Empire itself. Thus, to be a Christian was in a sense to be a traitor. The Christians were also able to influence many, especially the less fortunate. The poor and slaves had a lot to gain from the Christians being successful. Because their lives were suffering the idea of a new religion gave them hope and made it an easy decision to convert to Christianity. The Romans were alarmed by the powerful cohesion of the Christian communities, which they saw as a rival and therefore a threat to the cohesion of the empire as a whole. These examples of Christians not participating in Roman customs led to the justified fear Romans had towards Christianity.

The Romans’ fear of Christianity led to fortunately short-lived Great Persecution of 303–311. This is where the Romans were persecuting anyone who believed in Christianity. Christians were rounded up and executed if they refused to worship. They believed it was their right to save their religion and save the belief in the Roman gods. Even though they feared the spread of Christianity, in my opinion they didn’t have the right to create what people call these days a genocide.

Due to the rapid growth of Christianity, the Romans had a valid reason to fear this religion. The Romans feared Christianity because Christians didn’t believe in their general customs. Christianity did not believe in the Roman gods or worship the Emperor. For these reasons the Romans were calling them a cult and were executing them to stop the rapid growth.

-Tyler Rogers

Word Count: 513

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97

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