Christianity Through The Lens of Polytheism
Fear among populations can spread rapidly if there are two factors present in a situation: uncertainty, and immense devotion. In the world’s history, this was demonstrated in Rome regarding the Christian population, and also demonstrated in the United States regarding radical Islamic terrorism.
The Roman Empire’s population was a very religious, polytheistic base of people. Prior to the rise of Christianity, there were very few people throughout the region who even considered the possibility of monotheism. The gods that were recognized in ancient Rome were granted credit for creating the Roman civilization. The gods were thought to see over every aspect of life, and some gods were believed to keep an eye over specific aspects of life. The god Mars was treated as the god of war, and was believed to be the one god who would help Rome in armed conflicts.
In Rome, temples were built for the gods. Within those temples, there were rituals performed by the Roman people for these gods. These rituals were performed to hopefully bring good fortune to the people performing the ritual. These rituals helped bring the population fortitude in their beliefs regarding the gods. The population, and government structure was heavily invested in the monotheistic religion. Monotheism started to rise in Rome when Constantine came into power. Constantine was a Roman emperor who came into power in the year 306 AD, and was in power until 337 AD. He is credited with having strong contribution to the growth of Christianity, and monotheism as a whole in Rome.
Under Constantine, Christianity was no longer outlawed by the state of Rome. Constantine ordered the destruction of Roman temples, and also ordered the construction of new Christian temples. This led to a divide among people in Rome, mainly some government officials and part of the population that maintained the polytheistic religion of early Rome. The divide was between the people who clung onto polytheism, and Christians on the other side. There are many reasons for this divide. A man named Gaius Caecillius who was a Roman politician, and judge during the time between 61 AD and 113 AD gave his opinion on the phenomenon in a letter to Trajan who was a Roman emperor from 98 to 117. In the letter, he goes into detail on the devotion to faith that the Christians who he interrogated had demonstrated. He describes that when in the face of execution that certain people would stand by their Cristian faith. He also described that determining punishments for Christians was a very difficult task, because it was easily concealable.
This letter highlights two reasons for the growth of fear among Rome regarding the growth of Christianity. Uncertainty, and conviction were the two largest reasons for fear among the Romans. This idea is almost paralleled in today’s society with American regard towards radical Islamic terrorism. In the Middle East, radical terrorists have demonstrated the conviction to go into a situation where death is an absolute. Suicide bombings, piloted bombings, and warfare with an absolute military power such as the United States Military shows the conviction of radical Islamic terrorists. The factor of uncertainty is paralleled by radical Islamic terrorists in the fact that they do not wear a uniform. People in the United States are scared of Islamic radical Islamic terrorism because there is no consistency in the face, or uniformity among the radical terrorists. Much like how it was difficult to distinguish Christians in ancient Rome.
- Jackson Lee Mitchell
- Word Count: 589
- Pliny, Letters, 10.96-97