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
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.
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
claimed strove to-ward a relentless spreading out, ‘captivating people of every age, rank, and sex.’
Under Nero thereligion was banned and was viewed suspiciously thereafter by subsequent rulers.
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-
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.”
World Christian Encyclopedia,
Edition, 1982, includes membership data for the majority of world religions.
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.”
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.”
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.”
, 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.”