Reading Time: About 5-6 minutes.
“I was excited to read this book until I saw it had about a million pages.”
The above quote was a reaction by one potential reader to my book, In Search of Christian Origins: A Timeline of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. And it doesn’t surprise me. Many would-be readers of the book think it has too many pages, it’s too heavy, too bulky, too big, whatever. I’ll admit that the book is very dense in information. It’s too concentrated to knock off over a rainy weekend and too bulky to easily pack for a vacation.
Why does it have a “million” pages?
You might ask, why did I publish a book with such a disadvantage? The answer is that for true history geeks or even quasi-geeks, I think the pluses outweigh the minuses. And by the way, it isn’t close to a “million” pages. It’s only 851 pages, including the introduction, bibliography, and glossary. After some quick calculations, I’ve determined that if my book was truly a million pages long, it would have 1,175 times more pages. The book would be about 147 feet or almost 15 stories high and weigh in at 2,761 pounds. Of course, that’s all irrelevant, but some people seem to get intimidated way too easily.
As the title of the book implies, it is without doubt a timeline—an arrangement of events in the sequence they occurred. As a timeline, it is also a reference book and as a reference book it is packed with valuable information.
Anyone can read a list of events from start to finish. That’s what most timelines usually are. Other options are to focus on one era of history or one subject at a time.
What makes this timeline different and possibly unique is that I abandoned the idea of listing events. Instead I decided to tell a sequence of stories simultaneously and in chronological order. I went out of my way to include many additional details on people, places, and concurrent events. I thought that was necessary for readers to better understand the events that shaped modern-day Christianity. The extra information also helps link events together, whether they happened five months or five hundred years apart.
Christian history determines much of our lives
Church decisions were made by various Church councils and influential leaders who couldn’t see into the future. Their decisions have echoed down through the ages and led to outcomes they never would have expected. I tried to make those connections.
Examples include, how first-century Christians blaming the Jews for killing Jesus resulted in the Holocaust nineteen centuries later? How did fifteenth century clergy’s interpretations of their scripture result in colonialism and its associated genocides in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? How did Old Testament verses become interpreted to justify racism and slavery?
Like Robert G. Ingersoll, the well-known, nineteenth-century atheist, it became clear to me that the seeds of almost every problem we face in American society today were sown by decisions made by the Catholic, and later Protestant, Churches. Take any currently-controversial subject—women’s rights, reproductive rights, sexual identity, war, poverty, or education and you will see that our current concepts were embedded in Western society when the Church controlled every aspect of life. Once Church councils decided a theological issue, it was pretty much set in stone and took a sustained effort to overturn.
All those Christian ethics and rules were then transported to the New World by devout colonists, missionaries, friars, and conquistadors.
Those of us living today are left to sort through the residue that the Christian Church has piled up for centuries. Moving forward, I hope we can mine any inspirational nuggets of wisdom, morality and justice that the Church may have passed down and dispose of the slag-heap that remains.
By slag-heap I mean believing that anonymous Iron Age authors channeled God when they wrote what later became Christian scripture, overlooking the thousands of scriptural copying errors throughout the centuries until printing presses were available, and assuming first millennium translations from Hebrew to Greek and Greek to Latin were accurate. Just as important is the mistake of trusting the subjective interpretation of scripture by any one clergy member, or even one sect. Those are all things which we are the unintended and unneeded recipients.
The History of Western Civilization
Not only is my book a history of world Christianity, but because of the religion’s overwhelming influence on Europe and its colonies, the book is also a detailed history of Western civilization. Europe was the only continent entirely under the spell of Christianity.
My book, In Search of Christian Origins obviously doesn’t contain every important event in the history of Western civilization. If it did, it would truly be a million pages. But it does show the various effects of the Church’s domination of Western society. As an example, I didn’t include much about the most devastating event in human history—the Second World War. That was because it wasn’t a religious war. Just like the First World War, Christian Catholics and Protestants killed others Catholics and Protestants by the millions.
But in my book, I included much about the Holocaust because that was in essence a religious war within a secular war. It was the culmination of two thousand years of Church-generated hatred for the Jewish people and others they found undesirable. The Church had utterly failed to teach Jesus’s messages of human rights and equality.
As far as war in general. I traced the militarization of Christianity from Constantine in the fourth century. Then, a century after him, Augustine of Hippo provided the philosophical justifications for both war and forcing people to convert to Christianity. I can image Augustine thinking, “God wasn’t really serious about that ‘do not kill’ commandment. We all know that certain people need to be killed, so here is what God really meant.”
How to follow Jesus
Even in the earliest decades, before Christianity was even a religion, there were bitter rivalries between various Jesus’ denominations. Throughout the book, you can observe how one denomination after another sprouted into existence. They all thought they had a better idea of how to be a Christian. I traced that theme throughout the entire history of the religion. Following the turning points, one can see how and why Christianity evolved step by step into its current denominations. Some of these sects I’m certain Jesus would not have recognized as his followers. Instead he would have probably seen them as affluent, hypocritical, and/or sinful—the very same people he railed against in the Gospels.
Another theme I found very fascinating was the geographic expansion and contraction of Christianity. The religion began in the Middle East and some of the first Christian nations were Armenia, Ethiopia, Syria, and Egypt. From there Christianity spread faster in Asia and Africa than it did in Europe.
Christian armies did not take control of northern Europe until the fourteenth century, about the time Nestorian Christianity was declining in Asia after a thousand years of existence. We now know Christianity as a primarily European religion but that was never what it was until the last six centuries.
Many readers’ favorite chapter
History is sometime hard to understand because we have modern minds that don’t perceive things the way people did in the distant past. Because of that, many readers will enjoy reading about the events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries because my older readers can remember those events.
The events may be familiar, but maybe never realized as being related to Christianity. For example, you’ll find stories about familiar names including Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan.
I tried to include as much information as I was personally aware of and many events that I wasn’t aware of but my friends told me I absolutely had to include. Almost any subject related to Christianity is in my book. Since I covered so many subjects in such detail it has become a “brick”—both dense and bulky, but certainly not a million pages, and certainly not to be avoided. That’s not what I originally envisioned, but that’s how it ended up.
To venture past the cover, readers must not be intimidated by its size. They instead must be curious, patient, and courageous. Courage is necessary because what someone learns in my book might clash with their long-held ideas about Christianity. Maybe whoever taught them what they believe didn’t know much about Christian history either.