Monday, June 25, 2018

Another theory about why evangelicals like Trump

This article is another theory on the improbable alliance between evangelical Christians and Donald Trump, the formerly secular, thrice married, "baby Christian" who had affairs with porn stars: 
The article is by Paul Rosenberg, originally on  It is a review of a book by a formerly evangelical historian names John Fea, called Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
Fea argues that white evangelicals are concerned with power, nostalgia, and fear of the future.  He discusses the election of Trump on several timescales.  The most recent events leading to the 2016 election caused the selection of Trump by evangelicals in spite of some much more likely candidates, including Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.  Fea argues that these likely candidates understood evangelicals too well.  They tried very hard to frighten the evangelicals about the consequences of the Obama Administration and their loss of political power.  The evangelicals were so alarmed that they decided a strongman was needed to restore their power, and Trump fit the bill better than Rubio, Huckabee, Carson, or Cruz.  Trump also had the background of his birtherist attacks on Obama as a racist introduction.
Fea also discusses Christianity as it's evolved from further into the past.  Rosenberg adds comments from Seth Dowland from his essay for Christian Century, “American evangelicalism and the politics of whiteness.”  American Christianity was deeply divided by the Civil War, and it remains divided.  The church became segregated and divided between northern white Christians, southern white Christians, and the black churches.  Each strain developed its own culture and concerns.  Black Christians were more interested in Christian hope.  Whites, especially southerners, gravitated toward fear.  They felt that they needed political and financial power, and they didn't seem to trust God to sort out human affairs.
Rosenberg points out that Fea's book seems to disregard that evangelical leaders have learned that politics and religion don't go well together.  This is something that the American Founders tried to guarantee with the First Amendment.  But white evangelicals still seem to be trying to hang on to political power, regardless. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Rob Boston on the Founders

Rob Boston is director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and he is a long-time member and friend of WASH.  He recently wrote an article on the religious beliefs of the Founders, including the first four presidents and Thomas Paine:

Here Are 5 Founding Fathers Whose Skepticism About Christianity Would Make Them Unelectable Today


He argues that the beliefs of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Paine would make them unelectable in today's political climate. 

He is probably right, but this issue points out that the political and religious climate of the Founders was radically different from the one today. For example, in the days of the Founders, they expected to make intellectual judgements about their beliefs as a matter of integrity an honesty. So they questioned the odd, supernatural dogma of Christianity, such as the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the resurrection. 

Today, many Christians seem to be unaware of the odd things that they claim to believe. (However, it is quite possible that the common people in the time of the Founders were also largely unaware of the odd aspects of Christianity or that they refused to ask troublesome questions.) The main attraction of Christianity comes from the nostalgia value of growing up with it, and the feeling of belonging to a congregation. These emotional connections are exploited by the Religious Right in their effort to influence the political decisions of voters, even at the expense of solving their own personal concerns.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Maryland didn't make the top 10

Greta Christina recently wrote an article, "Here are the Top Ten Scariest States to be an Atheist".  The good new is that Maryland and Virginia didn't make the top ten.  The bad news is that Maryland got a (dis)honorable mention.  According to Christina, in Maryland "yet another atheist high school student started a group, whose posters were torn down by other students -- and where actual parents of those students wrote letters to the editor supporting the vandalism, and calling the atheist posters 'an atrocity.'"  The state of Virginia didn't get mentioned.

Many of the people quote in her article are good friends of Washington Area Secular Humanists, and it's good to see them being quoted.  WASH is affiliated with several local Coalition of Reason organizations.  As WASH is in its 29th year, we will continue to work for the benefit and education of secular humanists, and against the discrimination against atheists and people without religion.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Why does Judas get resurrected in "Jesus Christ Superstar"

NBC-TV showed a live production of the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Sunday, April 2, 2018, with John Legend as Jesus. I never saw the stage production before, but I heard the album when it came out in the 1970's.

When the Broadway production and the movie came out, there was some controversy about it. Christians thought it was blasphemous. Jews thought it was anti-Semitic. But after reviewing Google, there wasn't any mention of the part of the production that bothered me the most.

I noticed when listening to the album that Judas committed suicide after betraying Jesus. But soon after, Judas reappeared to sing the big show-stopper song "Superstar." When I listened to the album, I assumed I must have just missed something. But on the NBC-TV live version, the same thing happened. Judas committed suicide, overcome with grief and guilt. Then a few minutes later, clad in a sparkly outfit and escorted by women in sparkly minidresses, Judas was back to sing and dance.

What happened?? There was no explanation for Judas's reappearance. It might have been that the writers wanted the final upbeat number to close the show, and the actor playing Judas was the only one who could sing it.

But as a matter of theology and even of plot, it makes no sense. The production doesn't show Jesus's resurrection, ending on his crucifixion. According to Christian dogma, Jesus was resurrected, and every Christian seeing it knows that, even if it isn't shown. (Actually, the original version of the Gospel of Mark doesn't describe the resurrection either; it ends with the empty tomb.)

But why is Judas back? Certainly, the reason for Jesus's death and resurrection is said to be to save everyone from death. But Judas is back before Jesus died in the play, and Jesus never forgives Judas or raises him from death like Lazarus. Judas is back before there is any theological explanation for it.  He doesn't get touched by Jesus or even have a chance to get an explanation for why he is a cog in Jesus's plan.

The Gospel of Matthew has a passage that describes what is sometimes called the "zombie resurrection." At the moment that Jesus dies, "The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people." (Matthew 27:50)  Maybe Judas was raised as a zombie in this event. He was very energetic for a zombie, though.

The song "Superstar" really should have been sung by someone else.  It could have been sung by Peter, the rock of the church and the first pope, who is known in the play only for denying Jesus three times.  They could have even introduced Paul as the one who not only sang the song but actually turned Jesus into the Superstar.  He had more to do with it than perhaps anyone else.

Although the reanimation of Judas bugs me, what bothers me more is that I haven't seen a comment about it from Christians. The current production hasn't gotten any controversy or criticism, even from hard-core right-wing conspiracy theorists.  Don't these Christians know their Gospels?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Is Star Wars a Religion?

CNN recently had an article about whether Star Wars was related to religious ideas:

The article had a few good comments about the ideas in Star Wars that come from actual religious traditions.  There is no question that a lot of people think of the Jedi in the movie as a legitimate religion and take it very seriously.

But it is worth remembering that these are fictional movies.  In the movies, the supernatural "Force" is shown to be something that at least some individuals can manipulate.  In that way, the Force is not supernatural in the Star Wars universe, since it is part of that natural system.  Since people can actually make something happen because of it, there is objective evidence that it exists.  With human religions in the real world, there is no objective proof that religion actually works.  So believing in the Force in a universe in which there is evidence that it works is considerably different from believing in a religion without evidence.  Of course, there isn't any evidence that the Force works in the real world, since the movies are fictional.

As the article points out, the Star Wars philosophy owes a lot to Asian religions like Taoism.  It is much different from the European and Middle Eastern traditions in the major religions of Christianity and Islam.  The Force doesn't seem to have a personality or will, unlike God.  It also doesn't dictate a morality or ethical system, since there can be both good (Luke) and evil (Darth Vader) people who can use it.  Although certain people can  be trained to use it, there isn't an omnipotent, benevolent entity who looks out for everyone.  So people who want to follow the Jedi philosophy have a major break with traditional religions.

But the biggest question that was raised by the article was about the meeting of Star Wars believers.  That meeting was discussed by CNN even though only 40 people were there.  How do we get CNN to cover a WASH meeting when we have an attendance of 40 people?  Maybe we should all come with light sabers!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Consider counter-evidence to avoid bias

By Mathew Goldstein

Neurologists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of South Carolina (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science watched the brains of 40 self-declared liberal students in a functional MRI. USC neuroscientists compared whether, and how much, people change their minds on non-political and political issues when provided counter-evidence. During their brain imaging sessions, participants were presented with eight political statements that they had said they believe just as strongly as a set of eight non-political statements. They were then shown five counter claims that challenged each statement.

Participants rated the strength of their belief in the original statement on a scale of 1-7 after reading each counter claim. The scientists then studied their brain scans to determine which areas became most engaged during these challenges.  Participants did not change their beliefs much, if at all, when provided with evidence that countered political statements. But the strength of their beliefs weakened by one or two points when provided with evidence that countered non-political statements.

The study, which concluded last month, found that people who were most resistant to changing their beliefs had more activity in the amygdala (a pair of almond-shaped areas near the center of the brain) and the insular cortex, compared with people who were more willing to change their minds. “The amygdala in particular is known to be especially involved in perceiving threat and anxiety,” said USC Psychologist Kaplan, explaining that “the insular cortex processes feelings from the body, and it is important for detecting the emotional salience of stimuli. That is consistent with the idea that when we feel threatened, anxious or emotional, then we are less likely to change our minds.” He also noted that a system in the brain called the default mode network surged in activity when participants’ political beliefs were challenged. “These areas of the brain have been linked to thinking about who we are, and with the kind of rumination or deep thinking that takes us away from the here and now,” Kaplan said.

People will flexibly react to changes in their environment. If a sidewalk or road is blocked then we have no difficulty understanding that we need to consider finding a different route to our destination. But we are not consistently rationally flexible, particularly with regard to beliefs that we link to our self-identity. Instead of prioritizing best fit with the overall available evidence, we may negatively react to evidence that conflicts with our self-identity linked beliefs similar to the way we negatively react to a threat.

People tend to link their religious beliefs to their self-identity at least as much as they do their political beliefs and they also may link their religious and political beliefs together. This is one reason why we should be careful about how we go about justifying our beliefs. We need to be careful to open-mindedly allow the overall available empirical evidence dictate to us what our beliefs about how the universe functions should be. We are prone to reversing this sequence and telling the universe how it functions as if we are each master of the universe deities. The universe is not about us, so what we think should be true, or what we want to be true, or how we define our self-identity, are irrelevant.

To try to avoid this error, my advice to everyone, regardless of whether you are a metaphysical naturalist or supernaturalist, is to consider what would need to be different about our universe to convince you to change your conclusion. Too often, when I ask this question I get pushback directed against the question itself. Not all atheists are empiricists. People react negatively to the question, claiming that it is wrong to talk about an alternative universe, that it is wrong to consider other possibilities, because that is a place of falsehood. It is said that our universe is naturalistic because supernaturalism is impossible, and to even ask such a question is to accept that supernaturalism is possible and thus is a mistake. It is said that supernaturalism is a non-starter and to even entertain it as a possibility is an unwarranted concession.

My response is this: We cannot trust our intuition, or anything mostly rooted in intuition, like faith or hope, to answer the big questions about how the universe functions because the answers to the big questions are mostly non-intuitive and counter-intuitive. So it is a mistake to rule out anything a-priori or to rely only on logic not anchored in evidenced. It is often inconsistent for some assertion to be simultaneously true and false. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that given that X (naturalism) is true it is probably also the case that the opposite of X (supernaturalism) is impossible. But the impossibility of X being false when it is true is not a proper justification for concluding X is true, we still must justify our conclusion regarding X. To justify the conclusion that it is impossible for X to be false, we paradoxically should consider what is missing that would be required to properly justify a conclusion that X is false.

A-priori ruling out even identifying what qualifies as missing evidence favoring alternative conclusions is bad epistemology. Fairly considering what is needed to justify a conclusion entails also considering what would be needed to justify a contrary conclusion. Our justification for reaching a particular conclusion about how the universe functions is incomplete if we cannot identify missing justifications for concluding otherwise. When a conclusion is consistently supported by an abundance of highly diversified, interconnected, and direct empirical evidence it becomes unlikely that the available evidence will change so drastically as to favor the contrary conclusion, so we need not worry that our beliefs will be unstable if we allow the evidence to dictate. When a conclusion is inconsistently supported by rare, narrow, unconnected, and indirect non-empirical evidence then we should not have a strong commitment to that conclusion. Either way, there is no harm in identifying what evidence is missing that would change our conclusion if it was found.

Academic endeavors like science are publicly funded and some Senators and Representatives are prone to threaten to cut funding if they think scientific outputs interfere with their preferred political ideology. Elected school boards make decisions regarding educational curriculums, and elected governments decide if they fund private schools that set their own curriculums. Theism is a popular and often strongly held belief and educators and scientists fear popular antagonism if science is perceived as being anti-theistic. Theists falsely claim that science has a built in bias favoring naturalism, that science has a built-in self-dependency upon naturalism, and therefore science cannot fairly adjudicate the naturalism versus supernaturalism question. Some educators and scientists, many of whom are themselves theists, actively promote this false claim of bias at least in part because it is convenient as a means for avoiding provoking theists. Yes, modern knowledge favors naturalism. But our process of acquiring knowledge is not the source of this bias, the source of this bias is the nature of our universe.

People who imagine themselves living in a supernatural universe are not going to then respect a belittled empiricism that is deemed to lack the ability to challenge theism (note that most of the same theists would probably enthusiastically cite a scientific consensus that prayer works as a confirmation of God). With the false claim that empiricism has a built in bias for naturalism widely accepted it can be small additional steps to conclude that empiricism is similarly biased in multiple other contexts, that empiricism is not the best way to determine how the universe works, and that religion, wealthy business, popular entertainment, and political leaders are the most reliable sources of information about how the universe functions. Not all theists generalize away empiricism, expertise, and modern knowledge this way. But it appears that enough people generalize like this to cause mischief. Today we have wealthy businessman President Trump, maybe in 2020 it will be wealthy talk show host President Winfrey?

Martin Luther King's Why I Cannot be Silent speech

 Here is a link to Martin Luther King's "Why I Cannot Be Silent" speech, posted on  How is it possible that America has gone from a leader who speaks like this:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…" We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. one who speaks gibberish like Trump?? 


But seriously, it is worth reading this speech to see the way that King uses religion as a basis for his call to action.  Humanists need to find a way to do the same thing, but without the religion bit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Evolution of Christianity

by Bill Creasy

This article is written with reference to "Frontline: From Jesus to the Christ, the First Christians", written and produced by Marilyn Mellowes, PBS, 2003, in 4 parts.  Most of the references to archaeology come from this documentary.  I haven't included specific references, but if you'd like more details, ask a question in the comments.

The documentary describes the early years of Christianity, from the life of Jesus to the establishment of Christianity as the Roman government religion. This development can be interpreted as being a result of a group evolution process. (See previous posts here and here.)  The process shows how the doctrine and beliefs of Christianity were modified to be more widely acceptable and to make the religion more successful. But the evolution process was probably not consciously designed or intended by Jesus or anyone else in the church organization.

Part I: Might vs. Right
Jesus probably grew up with a mixture of Jewish and Roman culture. He probably grew up in Nazareth, a suburb of a Roman city. Details of his early life are not recorded in the Bible or any other document. But if he was from Nazareth, archaeological studies indicate that he was near a Roman city. As a carpenter, he likely helped build the Roman buildings. Romans were the political rulers of the Mediterranean area.

The Essenes, an apocalyptic sect of Jews, and John the Baptist seemed to ask the obvious question: If Jews were the children of God, why weren't they in charge instead of the Romans? They expected a dramatic event led by a Messiah to make that happen and restore the Jewish political power.

So Christianity began in the situation of the Roman rule and their military and economic power, in contrast to Jewish ideology that said the Jews should have power instead of being a subject people. This subject status included the Romans being in control of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus was a working-class protester against Roman authority who was likely baptized by John. He may well have thought God was on his side and God's power would defeat the Romans. Many of his followers could have thought the same thing. The crucifiction of Jesus would have been a bitter disappointment that God wasn't helping them in the political struggle.

So, in this first conflict between Roman power and Jewish expectations in the Christian history, the Romans won decisively by brute force. They controlled the government, the military, and the justice system. The punishment and death of Jesus may have been an automatic response of the government to a protester.

But it wasn't a battle on equal terms. The Romans had material and social power. But the Jews had a separate ideology that wasn't directly refuted head on. The ideas that Jews were special and should be in power were passed on even if Jesus and other believers were killed.

Part II: Reinterpreting defeat as victory
Paul and the other early Jesus followers kept their Jewish ideas and reinterpreted them, even in spite of the prevailing paganism of the Roman culture. From their scriptures, they decided Jesus could have been the Messiah even though he was tortured and killed, because that is consistent with the Jewish history. Jews had historically been punished by God for becoming corrupt or straying from true beliefs and practices.

But they came up with a brilliant alternative idea.  The idea was that Jesus didn't deserve punishment because he was perfectly good. The painful death that he received wasn't what it appeared to be; it wasn't punishment. He was a demonstration that God cared about imperfect people enough to send a perfect example.

The idea was that Jesus was resurrected. He became a message about a victory over death in spite of sin and punishment.  Jesus, the logic went, in effect had to die to give his lesson. Death from the Romans wasn't really death, so defeat was not really a defeat at all, and the followers of Jesus weren't really losers. They still expected Jesus to return to change the world and restore political power, perhaps with a supernatural demonstration of Jewish favor by God.

This turned the defeat from the Roman government into at least a victory of sorts, although not the one they were expecting. It showed their ideological superiority even in the face of political inferiority. It turned a profoundly pessimistic story into an optimistic one.

This idea was processed through social evolution of the groups of followers. It survived not because it was shown to be factually accurate. It survived because as it was passed from the originators to group to group, people liked it. The idea was appealing and optimistic, while also being consistent with older Jewish, Greek, and Egyptian stories. These stories involved sons of gods and resurrections.

Paul traveled to different parts of the Roman empire to visit synagogues of diaspora Jews. He found interest among Jews and gentiles who also visited the synagogues or Jewish homes. There were so many competing religious ideas in the "marketplace" that the new interpretations by the Jesus followers weren't immediately suppressed as sacrilege. The ideas gained a foothold of new believers.

The various congregations provided a new source of competition. They survive in descriptions in the book of Acts and Paul's Letters. Some tried to be more Jewish, and some more Greek, some urban and some rural. Paul tried to keep them united and in agreement with his interpretation. 

Meanwhile, Jerusalem itself was attacked by the Romans, and the Temple was destroyed, as described by Josephus, the Jewish historian. This may not have created any new ideology. But the aspects of Christianity that survived were from the outer congregations, not from the ones that was destroyed in Jerusalem, which may have been a center of Jewish Jesus followers.

It may be difficult to ever prove, but the destruction of the Temple may have directly caused a more gentile-oriented Christianity from the mixed outer groups. The groups that included gentiles or non-Jews may not have had a evolutionary advantage or a greater appeal than the ideology of the Jewish followers of Jesus as the Messiah. They simply got an advantage from the coincidental elimination of the Jerusalem competition. By opening the new religion to non-Jews, a large population of new converts was available for growth. The gentiles were less interested in restoring political power for Jews over Romans and more interested in the victory over death as the key, fundamental idea.

Part III: Gospels
The Gospels are interpreted as having been written after the Temple was destroyed (because they "predicted" it). They were done after Paul's letters, and thus after the distant, diaspora congregations were established. They reflected the doctrine and interests of those congregations, which included non-Jews and were in some cases openly hostile to Jews.

The Gospels show evolution from earlier works, but there aren't copies of all those early works. Matthew combines the Gospel of Mark with the sayings of Jesus (known as "Q" among scholars even though they don't actually have a copy of it), into a work directed to include Jews. But it isn't the extreme Jewish apocalyptic thinking of the Essenes that call for political conquest. It was written decades after Jesus was killed by the Romans and political power hadn't come. So the work is more theological and spiritual rather than worldly. In the end, Jesus dies, but that is good news because he is resurrected, even though he mostly appears in private meetings.  Then he goes to heaven without overthrowing the Romans.

The Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts are less Jewish and more gentile, and even hostile toward Jews in some ways. The story of these two books ends with Paul arriving in Rome. Perhaps this was meant to indicate that the early Christians expected to influence, control, or at least confront the Roman Empire in its capitol, rather than overthrow it.

Finally, the last Gospel that was included in the canonical New Testament was the Gospel of John, the non-synoptic Gospel that is different from the other three. This gospel has the most spiritual interpretation of Jesus as the "Lamb of God," the sacrifice to redeem the sins of the entire world, not just the Jewish people.  He lived to demonstrate resurrection after death.

These Gospels are effectively the product of cultural evolution for those first several decades. The competition was done through fairly normal criteria, namely the ideas that attracted followers and financial support were the ones that were kept. It isn't possible to go through the Gospels line by line in this article, but some general points should be mentioned.

The four Gospels have slightly different stories that in some cases are difficult to reconcile. But all of them maintain a sense of history and indicate that the story of Jesus happened in the real world in a recent time. This is done by referring to historical people like Herod and Pilate, and real places like Nazareth and Jerusalem. This practice follows the Jewish books, which are also historical accounts. But it is different from Greek or Egyptian myths, which are mostly set in an indefinite place or time. These myths already had resurrection stories but that weren't clear about who benefited.

On the other hand, the Gospels adopt some themes that are common in myths. For example, Jesus was born from a virgin who was impregnated by a god, a common Greek and Egyptian mythical theme. Jesus does miracles and amazes people, again common in Greek myths but rarer for Jewish texts. The mixture of the Jewish and Greek tropes may have made the text look exotic but also more real to those people who were only familiar with one or the other.
Other gospels have been found that weren't included in the canonical Bible. These indicate that there may have been other congregations that gave different interpretations to the Jesus story. They indicate that writing gospels was not an uncommon effort, and they included different perspectives.

Part IV: Christians vs. Romans, part 2
Out of the regional diversity of Christianity came a selection process among themselves for popularity and numbers of believers.  The most-loved Gospels were circulated.  But by becoming more popular, the sects were gaining attention by the Roman rulers.

Many Christians refused to worship the Roman emperors as pagan gods. This kind of worship was considered an obligation of citizenship to show loyalty to the Empire.  Citizens could worship whatever gods they wanted as long as they also did their duty to the emperors.  Early Christians were considered as Jews, which had an exemption from sacrificing to the Roman emperor because they had an old religious book.  Once Christians were recognized to have a separate and recent religion, they were considered as a superstition. Christians began to get death sentences for avoiding pagan rituals. Their alternatives were to disavow their belief in monotheism and make a sacrifice, or be executed. Some chose to become martyrs to show their faith. It wasn't a large number, but their stories were preserved and admired. They helped make Christianity recognized in the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, Christian sects continued to proliferate and generate new Gospels. Some were heretical, for example the Gnostics who didn't think Christ was a human being, only divine. The Christian leadership selected four Gospels as the orthodox, or "straight thinking", ones. This policy created an intolerance for heretics, the groups who got the story wrong. 

It was a problem for Roman policy, which was tolerant of diverse religions of all kinds as long as the believers also performed their civic duty by worshiping the emperor. The Romans were threatened on the borders and worried that the gods were not favoring them. In the year 250 CE, the Roman government began more systematic attacks on Christians. But by that time, Christians were numerous enough that they couldn't be eradicated.  Eventually, Constantine, the Roman general and later emperor, had a vision that he should honor Christianity, which he thought helped him win battles. 

The patronage of the Roman government made Christianity an established religion.  The Christian leaders became powerful and influential with the government. By supporting particular Christian leaders, Constantine also permitted them to purge the heretical churches that had improper doctrines and supported them by force. The leaders selected the final, approved version of the religion.
Further evolution was seriously suppressed by this political support for a particular version of Christianity. Anyone who tried to make changes was threatened by political force. Although Christianity continued evolving into the Middle Ages, the main formative period finished as new creativity and new directions were suppressed by the end of toleration of variation.

In conclusion, Christianity was developed through a series of competitions. The first encounter between Jesus himself and his personal followers with the Roman Empire was a dismal defeat, by any earthly standard. But the ideas about the Messiah produced a variety of congregations which competed with each other and the nearby pagan groups for support, exchanging ideas and members freely. The groups with the best ideas grew, prospered, and controlled leadership positions. When the Christians again came into major conflict with the Romans, the Christians were able to become the official Roman religion, with some assistance from Constantine. 

The established version of Christianity is an end result of the evolution process. The original plan of Jesus may be lost to the revisions that were made by the various congregations which had their own interests.