In a curious book called "The Religion of the Early Christians," by F. J. Gould* there is a complete description of the method of the evolution of our present form of Christianity, which is probably much different from what Christ taught. In the first place, Jesus was born in the lower layers of the lower Semitic class. His teachings, as far as we know them, were essentially those of protest against the hardness and brutality of existing conditions, yet recognizing the impossibility of remedying them. Hence, He or His followers exalted into the highest virtues all those democratic characteristics found in the downtrodden. They held out the hope of a relief in the next world, to all who could not get it in this. The new ideas were rejected by the upper classes in His own race, the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and rich men, the rulers and the Romans, who believed in different virtues and thought He was subverting their law, order and morality; and so He was, as a matter of fact, and was executed for it. The New Testament does not give an adequate reason for the crucifixion, and pretends to make it an illegal matter.
* Watts & Co., London.
Paul's teachings were acceptable to the lower strata of society who were converted by the thousands to this idea of their personal worth, and the fact that Christ died for them. After Paul's death, they constantly talked of Christ and His philosophy, met in secret, handed down His alleged sayings as oral traditions, adding to them, here a little, there a little, and finally on the principle that the wish is father to the thought, building up a mass of their own sayings which were exactly what appealed to them most powerfully. It is shown that they built up an ideal Christ, who was probably vastly different from the real one, for the process of evolution went on for two generations before the ideal became fixed, and in that time the lower, oppressed strata, without written records, had plenty of time to eliminate all the distasteful things and amplify the agreeable parts of what they believed were His teachings. The result is, that the new religion is a mass of matters acceptable to the meek and lowly, the peasant as compared with the aristocrat, the lower race as compared with the higher, the democrats as compared with the nobles.
It is vastly different from the original Pauline Christianity. Open the Gospels at any place and wherever there is any philosophical statement, it will be found just such as would arise among the lower classes in any society. The Sermon on the Mount has nothing else. It was impossible for the upper classes to be Christians. Worthless beggars are to go to Heaven at once, but a camel can go through the eye of a needle easier than a rich man can enter the heaven of these early Christians. They tell all rich men to go and sell all they have, give to the poor and "become one of us." "To be a Christian you must get down to our level." It is no use to quote other examples, for we would have to quote nearly the whole of the four Gospels. No one knows exactly, by the way, what Christ's original teachings were, except that they subverted the existing social order. The twelve apostles differed widely from Paul, and it was Paul who originated a new religion for the Gentiles, as recorded in his authentic epistles, and this Pauline Christianity was modified by the original Christians to what we find in the Gospels.
No wonder, then, that Christianity spread like wildfire as soon as it had assumed this early form. No wonder it took possession of all those subjugated races in the Roman Empire. The meek and lowly were the first converts, and they finally forced the higher or ruling races and classes to accept it, and they at once made it something different still. It must be remembered that though the Germanic races were homogenous, they were not perfectly so, and that there were strata of peoples. The upper strata were very, very thin, and the common folk constituted the mass. Partly for this reason they were easily Christianized en masse, and they made of Christianity a vastly different thing from what was made of it by Semites in Palestine, or the Semites of the Roman Empire.