The Social Factor: The Ethical Standard

Could the ethics of the Christian faith be yet another obstacle it had to overcome in the ancient world?

Discussions on the origin of the Christian faith will tend to revolve around claims of falsehood, distortion, authoritarian control, or simple delusion. The ethics of the Christian faith, if ever brought up, are discussed in light of these accusatory comments. Its ethical demands are just another way religion controls its adherents, some may assert. This is a kind of “looking back” argument that, while it may say some interesting things about certain religious systems in the present (religious abuse (i.e. shaming rather than edifying) is a very real thing), it tells us little about the actual history.

The bottom line is, Christianity was hard. Every vice, no matter how big or small, it forbade. It didn’t allow room for parties lavished in hedonism. It didn’t encourage wealth and storing up treasure for yourself but instead instructed to share it with the poor (and the poor, in turn, couldn’t spend it indulging in their own vices). Nor did it appeal to any of our sensibilities, promising or guaranteeing immediate reward and popularity. Without Jesus and His resurrection the Christians had nothing and, in terms of immediate rewards and sensual gratification, they promised even less, going as far as to say their lives will be teeming with hardships, persecution, and social ostracization. For example, can you imagine the appeal in selling a farm land with the promise that it was going to be desolate for the first 50-100 years-with no event like the Resurrection to guarantee that it will finally start flourishing after?

Certainly, Christianity was not the first faith to have these kinds of ethical standards, nor were they an exclusively Christian invention. Judaism had many of the same demands. But that is where the key to this apologetic lies. We are not saying Christianity was rejected because of its ethical demands. We are making the point that many of the same ethical demands, with promises of greater earthly rewards, could be found in far less offensive systems. Christianity appealed to no one and yet it grew exponentially in a culture where few God-fearers (i.e. Gentile semi-coverts to Judaism) could be found.

So then what did Christianity offer? We will soon see when we reach the end of our journey.

More on the manipulation of the modern church can be found here.