The first thing to understand about Christianity is that it was originally a mere offshoot of Judaism. Arising in Palestine it picked up a whole wealth of pagan influences and traditions; concepts such as virgin birth, God on Earth and resurrection had been around for thousands of years before Jesus in Greece, Italy and Egypt.
2000 years ago the Jews were living in the area we now call Israel but were under occupation from the Romans. As a consequence they began to envision their prophesied Messiah as a military saviour who would give them their freedom.
Exactly who Jesus was is a matter of intense debate, especially as the Gospels overlook the greater part of his life from 12-33. None the less we can be sure that he was a popular Jewish figure and that the authorities were terrified of yet another bloody rebellion.
He was publicly crucified and then allegedly arose from the dead a few days later before ascending to heaven. So far his story fitted any number of pagan beliefs but what came afterwards was altogether distinct.
A multitude of offshoots of Christianity appeared over the next few centuries as different sects fought over what was the religion all about anyway. The Gospels themselves were written at least 70 years after Jesus’ death and in all probability not by people who actually knew him. They were also written in Greek, so unless they were truly guided by the ‘holy spirit’, the likelihood of errors increased vastly with the problem of translation.
After the Jewish uprising of 70 and 130 A.D. the early Christians were anxious to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Jews who were now being thrown out of Palestine. The day of worship was changed from Saturday to Sunday and non-Jews began to be welcomed to the new religion. Thanks to ‘Saint’ Paul, Christianity took on a whole other aspect, shedding the commandments of the Jewish Torah, despite the fact that Jesus himself preached complete adherence.
Christianity was repackaged and remarketed for a brave new world and, with one of the greatest marketing moves in history they targeted the Roman Empire itself. As the first major religion of conversion, Christianity scored their biggest hit with the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was converted by a dream (how pagan). After that it was a matter of time before Christianity spread through the Empire and then to the rest of the world.
Christianity swept over the globe, assimilating local pagan beliefs and wiping out indigenous beliefs and culture wherever it went. Who knows but this might have been a planet of peace and love had Christianity never arisen…
The Christians could never be at peace with each other though and fought bloody wars amongst one another for centuries. The Protestant/Catholic divide was particularly murderous and in many places still is.
Backing the extermination of the millions of indigenous of the Americas and the pogroms against the Jews and Gypsies, the various churches have more blood on their hands than just about any other organisation on the planet.
Yet whilst most of their missionary efforts simply uprooted and corrupted local culture, it must also be noted that health care and education in much of the Third World is conducted by brave Christian missions. In South America they have also often been one of the few forces of resistance against brutal regimes, certain priests achieving an almost socialist movement for human rights.
With 2000 years of Chinese whispers, multiple translations of highly subjective selections of original scripture, it’s anybody’s guess what Christianity is today. Sects range from the fanatical to the bizarre to the mystic. It seems that Christianity, like life, is what you make it.