Europeans, why did so many Europeans want to become Christian in history?
I am asking this on Yahoo UK so can you say first if you are American if answering this
- ?Lv 72 months ago
Because of the social support which the Christian church provided in the Roman Empire and among peoples such as the Goths. After it became the official Roman religion, things accelerated.
- Anonymous2 months ago
The answer will be different for different regions and at different times. Within the Roman Empire one reason Christianity took off compared many similar religions popular at the time was because it was an extremely unequal society and the gap between how government was supposed to work compared to how things actually worked was huge. It really was about who you knew. Christianity not only preached equality of human worth on a spiritual level which was attractive, particularly since it included women as being "worthy" which many ancient religions did not (we tend to focus on the exceptions because they're exceptional), but the organization of the religion soon began to copy how Roman administration was supposed to be run if it wasn't corrupt. It became a kind of alternative state for mutual aid that members of the faith could rely on. For this reason it caught on. Eventually it spread up the social ladder and became the official religion of the empire after which people didn't really have a choice.
Currently in scholarship there's a feeling that Ireland adopted Christianity because they'd raided so many Christian slaves from (formerly Roman) Britain that the religion was catching on not only with other slaves who found the gospel of equality attractive but also among noblemen as many had children with their slaves and recognized their children (raised by their Christian mothers) as legitimate. At the time Ireland was polygamous and succession to kingship was by election from the male descendants of a common ancestor. If you read St Patrick's Confessio it's pretty clear that he wasn't actually the first Christian there. At some point it became politically wise to shift religion at the top because of the great groundswell below since Christianity places a lot of emphasis on kings. It behoved kings to take advantage of that. The whole society shifted religious gears in a remarkable way that did not involve entirely disavowing the pagan past. They are very much an exception to how it happened in other regions.
For the Germanic tribes and later Slavic and Baltic ones Christianity was a way to gain access to a "toolkit for state building." It became an attractive religion around the time these societies were shifting from tribally based kingdoms to primitive true states requiring more complex administration. It meant access to writing and trained clerics and a whole religion organised like the Roman Empire was supposed to have been organised. You could insert it on top of the existing nobility and it would act like a big cargo net holding everything together. In this case kings actively sought out missionaries to come and bring in the new religion. It also gave them an excuse to sever social obligations they didn't wish to be bound by and therefore consolidate power. This was a top down approach.
Also, the idea of a heaven open to everyone shouldn't be played down. There's so much we don't know about the various pagan religions of prehistory, but we do know that the "good version" of the afterlife was restricted often to the nobility and if you were a lucky slave you might get to go be a slave for your master in the afterlife too. Sometimes it was more restricted than that and you had to be a man struck down in battle in the prime of your life or you miss your shot. You could be a mighty warrior but you'd not go to the the "nice" place if you died of old age. For the Homeric Greeks everyone got a raw deal and spent the afterlife cold, miserable and moping around. Life was hard and the thought of a miserable eternity versus "the glory of God" must have been very appealing to a not insignificant number of people.
Not American and not religious either.
PS, a very good read on the subject is "The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity 200-1000 AD" by Peter Brown. The 3rd edition is the most recent. It explains a lot about how Europe came to have the characteristics it has today still and how the foundation was lain during the very end of the Roman Empire. It's one of my top ten books anyone should read.