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On Religious Complexity

On Religious Complexity

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Published by InTheRockies
The evolution of a religious order
The evolution of a religious order

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: InTheRockies on Jul 02, 2009
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02/04/2013

 
On Religious Complexity
The premise of this paper will deal exclusively with the tendency for religions to grow not onlyin terms of creedal complexity, but in sheer aloofness from their core origins. I will compare thegrowth and evolution of original Christianity with that of the origins of Jehovah’s Witnesses; to better grasp the historical susceptibility of religion to doctrinal drift. Just as the origins of theChristianity began humbly enough only to grow into what is known as the Catholic Church, sothe Watchtower Society also entered existence as truth-seekers only to splinter off from themainstream and devolve into something akin to early Catholicism. Their growth tracks are ex-traordinarily similar.
The Transformation of Christianity
Christianity as a religion
1
grew quite rapidly, from Jesus and his twelve disciples to hundreds of thousands by the end of the first century to over a million by the end of the second.
2
A sect of aconquered people, Christianity was often misunderstood by the Romans as a “depraved and im-moderate superstition” full of strange practices but which Pliny the Younger 
3
claimed strove to-ward a relentless spreading out, ‘captivating people of every age, rank, and sex.’
4
Under Nero thereligion was banned and was viewed suspiciously thereafter by subsequent rulers.
5
In the period following Jerusalem’s destruction, the Jewish nation was essentially wiped out, be-coming no more than a scattered people of small communities. As Paul Johnson put it, “The cen-
1
1
 
 History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science
, Twenty-Fifth Edition, 1910, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Thrübner & Co. Ltd., DrydenHouse, Gerrard Street, W, John William Draper, M.D., LL.D. Professor University of New York, Chapter 2:
[Jesus’] doctrines of benevolenceand human brotherhood outlasted [his death] . . . From this germ was developed a new, and as the events proved, all-powerful society -- theChurch; new, for nothing of the kind had existed in antiquity; powerful, for the local churches, at first isolated, soonbegan to confederate for their common interest. Through this organization Christianity achieved all her political triumphs.”
2
 
World Christian Encyclopedia,
1
st
Edition, 1982, includes membership data for the majority of world religions.
3
 
 Encyclopedia Britannica,
1911, entry “Pliny the Younger”: “Publius Caecilius Secundus, later known as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus(A.D. c. 61-c. 113), Latin author of the Letters and the Panegyric on Trajan.”
4
 
 History of the Christian Church
, Volume 2, Philip Schaff, records Emporer Trajan’s reply to Pliny: “[Christians] should not be searched for; butwhen accused and convicted, they should be punished; yet if any one denies that be has been a Christian, and proves it by action, namely, byworshipping our gods, he is to be pardoned upon his repentance, even though suspicion may still cleave to him from his antecedents. But anony-mous accusations must not be admitted in any criminal process; it sets a bad example, and is contrary to our age . . . The emperor evidently pro-ceeded on political principles, and thought that a transient and contagious enthusiasm, as Christianity in his judgment was, could be suppressedsooner by leaving it unnoticed, than by openly assailing it. He wished to ignore it as much as possible.”
5
 
Church in Rome in the First Century
, Lecture 8, George Edmundson, writing of the Neronian persecution of 65: “The Christians were thencondemned for crimes which were summed up by Tacitus as constituting ‘hatred of the human race,’ in other words they were condemned asenemies of the Roman state and people. The mere confession of the Christian name henceforth in itself entailed punishment. The principle of action, which Tertullian calls the Neronian Institution, continued to be the settled policy of the Roman government.”
Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine
, Eusebius Pamphilius: “It is said that in [Domitian’s] persecution the apos-tle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word .. . To such a degree, indeed, did the teaching of our faith flourish at that time that even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesi-tate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place during it.”
 Apologeticus
, Tertullian, Chapter 5: “Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero’s cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.”
 
tral organization of the Church disappeared.”
6
It was at this point “the Christian Church could nolonger find shelter under the shadow of the privileges of the synagogues.”
7
They had become areligion unto themselves, fully exposed to all grievances and persecutions once leveled againsttheir Jewish heritage.
8
And as the persecutions came upon them, growth followed thereafter. AsTertullian stated: “All your ingenious cruelties can accomplish nothing; they are only a lure tothis sect. Our number increases the more you destroy us. The blood of the Christians is their seed.” Why it grew so rapidly and so completely as to become first a legal religion, and subse-quently the official religion of Rome, is a subject for another debate.
9
Yet, grow it did.The need for unity in the new faith was a natural outgrowth of its expansion. However, the natureof such unity was, and continues to be, a point of contention. Early on, they were in near com- plete harmony.
10
At the time of Jerusalem’s fall, the ‘body of Christian doctrine’ had come intoits own, durable enough to survive a relentless wave of expansion. Yet “it had no organization toit . . . Paul did not believe in such a thing. He believed in the Spirit working through him andothers. Why should man regulate when the Spirit would do it for him. And of course he did notwant a fixed system with rules and prohibitions . . . Worship was still completely unorganizedand subject to no special control . . . The atmosphere was in short that of a loosely organized re-vivalist movement . . . From the start there were numerous varieties of Christianity.”
11
Of these varieties, gnosticism, the religion of knowledge which “claims to have an inner explana-tion of life”, was a primary danger to the young religion.
12
Johnson described it as a “spiritual
2
6
 
 A History of Christianity
, 1976, Paul Johnson, p.44
7
 
 History of the Christian Church
, Volume 2, Lecture 8, Schaff.
8
 
 History of the Christian Church
, Lecture 8, Schaff, “Hindrances and Helps”: Until the reign of Constantine it had not even a legal existence inthe Roman empire, but was first ignored as a Jewish sect, then slandered, proscribed, and persecuted, as a treasonable innovation, and the adop-tion of it made punishable with confiscation and death. Besides, it offered not the slightest favor, as Mohammedanism afterwards did, to the cor-rupt inclinations of the heart, but against the current ideas of Jews and heathen it so presented its inexorable demand of repentance and conver-sion, renunciation of self and the world, that more, according to Tertullian, were kept out of the new sect by love of pleasure than by love of life.The Jewish origin of Christianity also, and the poverty and obscurity of a majority of its professors particularly offended the pride of the Greeks,and Romans.”
9
 
 History of Latin Chr ist ianity
, Book One, Henry Hart Milman, 1867, p. 50: “[Christianity] was ever instilling feelings of humanity yet unknownor coldly commended byan impotent philosophy, among men and women, whose infant ears had been habituated to the shrieks of dying gladia-tors; it was giving dignity to minds prostrated by years, almost centuries, of degrading despotism; it was nurturing purity and modesty of mannersin an unspeakable state of depravation; it was enshrining the marriage bed in a sanctity long almost entirely lost, and rekindling to a steadywarmth the domestic affections; it was substituting a simple, calm, and rational faith and worship for the worn-out superstitions of heathenism;gently establishing in the soul of man the sense of immortality, till it became a natural and inextinguishable part of his moral being.”
10
 
The Apostles
, Ernest Renan, Carleton, Madison Square, New York, 1869, p. 116: “The perusal of the books of the Old Testament, above all thePsalms and the prophets, was a constant habit of the sect . . . They were persuaded that the ancient Hebrew books were full of him, [and] theywere convinced that the life of Jesus was foretold and described in advance . . . Jesus, with his exquisite tact in religious matters, instituted nonew ritual movement. The new sect had not, as yet, any special ceremonies . . . [Their] assemblies had nothing precisely liturgic about them . . .There was nothing yet of sacerdotalism. There was no priest; the presbyter is the elder of the community, nothing more. The only priest is Jesus . .. Fasting was considered a very meritorious usage. Baptism was the sign of entrance into the sect.”
11
 
 A History of Christianity
, Johnson, p. 44.
12
 
The Intellectual Development of Europe
, Volume 1, John William Draper, p. 273: “Gnostic Christianity hadeached its full developmentwithin a century after the death of Christ; it maintained an active influence through the first four centuries and gave birth, during that time, tomany different subordinate sects.”
 
 parasite which used other religions as a carrier.” He also explained that “Paul fought hard againstgnosticism, recognizing that it might cannibalize Christianity and destroy it.” The Corinthiansand Collosians both had sizable numbers of adherents who were “well-educated” and ready tochange with the constant inflow of new knowledge and understanding.
13
Irenaeus, Bishop of Ly-ons at the end of the second century, was also an enemy of gnosticism.
14
The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), stated: “In the period between 130 and 180 A.D. the variedand complicated Christian fellowships in the Roman Empire crystallized into close and mutuallyexclusive societies—churches with fixed constitutions and creeds, schools with distinctive eso-teric doctrines, associations for worship with peculiar mysteries, and ascetic sects with specialrules of conduct.”
15
Wrote John W. Draper: “In the beginning, the Church was agitated by a lin-gering attachment to the Hebrew rites, and with difficulty tore itself away from Judaism.” In do-ing so, their former attachment was replaced bycountless sects, each with its own peculiar creeds and traditions unique to its geographic culture
16
; some mystic in nature, others conserva-tive existentialists.
17
Amidst this flurry of variety, though, Christians remained united in the senseof their standing out as different.
18
 Tertullian, in his argument
 Apology or Defense of the Christians against the Accusations of theGentiles
(c. 200) to the Roman magistrates at the trial of Severus, attempted to give credence tohis faith, dating the foundation of Christianity as much earlier than was generally understood.“The books of Moses, in which God has inclosed, as in a treasure, all the religion of the Jews,and consequently all the Christian religion, reach far beyond the oldest you have, even beyondall your public monuments, the establishment of your state, the foundation of many great cities --all that is most advanced by you in all ages of history, and memory of times; the invention of let-ters, which are the interpreters of sciences and the guardians of all excellent things. I think I maysay more -- beyond your gods, your temples, your oracles and sacrifices. The author of those books lived a thousand years before the siege of Troy, and more than fifteen hundred beforeHomer.”
3
13
 
 A History of Christianity
, Johnson, p. 45.
14
 
 Encyclopedia Britannica
, 1911, entry “Irenaeus”: “The chief work of Irenaeus, written about 180, is his
 Refutation and Overthrow of Gnosis
,(usually indicated by the name
 Against the Heresies
).”
15
 
Entry, “Marcion”
16
 
 History of Dogma
, Volume 3, Adolph Harnack, p. 124:
[The Church] went right back to the Apostles, and deduced from secret traditions whatno tradition ever possessed. Huge spheres of ecclesiastical activity embracing new and extensive institutions — the reception of national customsand of the practices of heathen sects — were in this way placed under “Apostolic” sanction, without any controversy.”
17
 
The Intellectual Development of Europe
, Volume 1, John William Draper M.D., Harper & Brothers, New York, 1876, p. 270: “For severalcenturies, [the Church] became engrossed with disputes respecting the nature of Christ, and creed after creed arose therefrom; to the Ebionites hewas a mere man; to the Docetes, a phantasm; to the Jewish Gnostic, Cerinthus, possessed of a two-fold natur e.”Page 271, regarding the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity: “[The East] was rich in doctrines respecting the nature of Divinity.The [West] abounded in regulations for the improvement and consolation of humanity. For long there was a tolerance, and even liberality towarddifferences of opinion. Until the Council of Nicea, no one was accounted a heretic if only he professed his belief in the Apostles’ Creed.”
18
 
Ibid, p.275: “As a body, the Christians not only kept aloof from all the amusements of the times, avoiding theatres and public rejoicings, but inevery respect constituting themselves an empire within an empire,”

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