Yorky, apologies for the delay mate, but I wanted to do a proper reply rather than a rush job, and things have been a bit hectic recently.
Not sure about this mate. Islam, for example, was not an "idea...radically different to what had gone before". The Koran is probably more accurately described as a plagiarised and bowdlerised version of Christianity - which in itself emanates from Judaism and repeats many of its basic ideas.
While both of these points are valid I still think that the changes were sufficient to be considered radically different.
The jump from Judaism to Christianity introduced and entirely new moral framework and the elevation of love as the ruling force (yes it borrowed much from eastern relgious thinking and yes the medieval church did as much as it could to rewind the changes) but in it's time and place it was a revolutionary change in thinking (revolutionary enough as you've pointed out in the past for Gibbon to blame the religion for undermining the Roman martial spirit and hence bring about the fall of Rome).
Islam's radical change was the personal relationship with God based not upon a hierarchical church structure but on the personal reading and interpretation of the Koran. This must be a powerful idea because some 900 years later the same revolution in thought swept through much of Christendom.
The phenomenal 'success' of Christianity and Islam was probably more due to jealous institutions and military conquest. The respective creeds became the ideological fig leaves for class power (sorry to sound like DannyD there). They were 'jealous' because they brooked no opposition when it came to explaining the world. Science, philosophy, history were all commandeered by religion and anyone deviating from the 'authorised version' was a candidate for excommunication and death. Under those circumstances there's no mystery about why Christianity and Islam spread.
Agreed totally. I'd like to think I encompassed all that in my "a lot of luck". Who knows what stunning ideas have died in their infancy through the lack of a driving force to spread them. Interestingly though Islam spread most quickly during the Golden Age, a time when the Caliphates which practised the religion permitted religious freedom. People converted because they wanted to, not because they were forced to (I'm not blind to the huge advantages to be enjoyed from conversion mind). Top down enforcement from the ruling class is probably not a successful policy. Compare the decline in Christianity in the UK from 1917 to 1997 with Russia over the same period. Eighty years of enforced atheism does not seem to have even dented Russian spirituality.
How much people actually understood about the Bible or the Koran is hard to say. Probably very little since for centuries it was impossible to read it in anything except Latin or Arabic. Most medieval historians would say that the majority of 'Christians' in Europe knew very little about the "ideas" of Christianity (One could probably same the same today about the Koran in large parts of the Muslim world).
While that is undoubtedly true about the bible, where Latin was deliberately used as a barrier between the clergy and the people, I don't think that same charge can be levelled at Islam. The use of Arabic was intended as a unifying force rather than a dividing one.
It's even possible that once people were given the tools to read the Bible (in English, French, Dutch etc) the age of atheism dawned and began to spread like wildfire. No armies were behind that spread, no jealous institutions either, but still scepticism, doubt, agnosticism and atheism became the common-sense of the West.
So, a little bus with a sticker on it? Give the atheists a break! It's much better than an inquisitorial and mightily-armed religion spreading its ideas.
I think I'd disagree there. The availability of the bible in English and German fueled a revolution in Christianity and, as mentioned above with respect to Islam, a move to have a personal relationship with God based on reading the New Testament. I think the translations lead to renewed religous fervour. I think modern atheism was more born out of Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant and was more a result of the resiscovery and translation of ancient Greek and Roman texts than it was to do with the translation of the bible.
Can't argue with your final shot, of course it's harmless. I just think it's rather sinking to "their" level and that the money could have been better spent. And by that I mean spent in a way that may have even kept people in the developing world out of the clutches of fundamentalist religion.