If Constantine had not endorsed Christianity, you would probably not even be believing it.
This statement was made to me in a comment thread here. It’s a fairly straightforward argument: the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine was an essential element in the spread of Christianity as we know it today; therefore, it’s stupid to believe in Christianity.
This is Constantine. Ugly sumbitch, ain’t he? Must have been a bad hair day.
The premise is hard to deny. If it hadn’t been for Constantine’s tolerance and later adoption of Christianity, it certainly wouldn’t be what we know it as today. It may have even been stamped out entirely. But the truth of the premise doesn’t necessarily mean the conclusion follows.
See, this argument conceals a major premise which is not easily defended: If the existence of a belief depends on a particular event in history, then it’s a stupid belief.
But this is a ridiculous premise. Every belief is necessarily dependent on some event. Here are a few examples:
- If Muhammad’s forces had not won the Battle of Khaybar in 629, leading to the unification of the Arabian Peninsula, Islam would not have become the predominant religion of the Middle East.
- If Joseph Smith had not grown up in western New York, Mormonism would never have been founded.
- If Martin Luther had not dropped out of law school, the Reformation would likely not have happened.
- If the North had not won the American Civil War, the KKK would have never existed.
- If Karl Marx had not been denied military service, Communism as we know it would not have been created.
History has shaped the world we know; history is the world we know. Every individual’s set of personal beliefs will invariably depend on their place in history, along with an innumerable number of events in history.
The original commenter is apparently trying to argue that the existence of a particular “turning point” for Christianity means that Christianity must be no different from any other religious system Constantine could have chosen. But this argument assumes that Constantine’s choice of Christianity was an accident, disconnected from divine providence….it assumes that Christianity is false.
And even if Constantine’s choice was essentially “accidental” (e.g., he merely chose Christianity because it seemed attractive or because his mother liked it), that doesn’t change anything. There is no reason why an omniscient God could not use “accidents” to bring about the spread of truth.
So, sure: if it hadn’t been for Constantine adopting Christianity, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian. But he did. Good thing, huh?