Between the fourth and the sixth centuries AD, the christians pushed paganism out of the Roman Empire by transforming the architecture of the Roman towns and cities. They converted many pagan temples into churches. They built new churches in prominent locations. The transformation was so extreme that by the end of the sixth century, the churches vastly outnumbered the pagan temples. In many regions there were no pagan temples left.
For most people, it is a basic need to flock to buildings recognized as holy places for engaging in some form of communal worship. If the temples dedicated to their ancestral Gods are not available, people will go to whichever place of worship is available. By building churches at the sites where the pagan temples once stood, and in other prominent areas, the christians could attract the attention of the masses and persuade them to flock to the churches.
Since the second century, the Romans had been using the basilica in their administrative buildings. The christians adopted the basilica for their churches with the aim of making the masses believe that christianity was a Roman religion. Some historians have posited that Emperor Constantine, who in the early fourth century became the first Roman Emperor to convert to christianity, played a role in making the churches adopt the basilica.
In Ephesus, the pagan temple of Zeus was dismantled in the fifth century, and its building material was used to build the Church of Mary Theotokos. Since this church was located near a port, it was visible to a large number of people who became aware of christianity. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was built on 128 pillars—the christians demolished 127 pillars and left one standing as a symbol of christianity’s triumph over paganism.
In Hierapolis, a series of churches were built along the main axial road. The people of Aphrodisias, a city dedicated to the Goddess of love Aphrodite, refused to convert to Christianity. When Emperor Zeno conquered the city in the fifth century, the temple of Aphrodite was partially demolished and a church with a basilica layout was built. After that there was decline in the worship of Aphrodite.
In the time of Emperor Theodosius, the patriarch of Alexandria proclaimed that the pagans were conducting sacrifices in underground sanctuaries. To punish the pagans, he ordered his monks to occupy the Serapeum and Mouseion. The pagans objected and they refused to vacate the Serapeum and Mouseion. A large Christian crowd gathered and stormed these buildings. They destroyed the statues of the pagan Gods and the pagan holy texts.
An inscription has survived from Bishop Marcus Julius Eugenius of Laodicea Combusta, who lived in the fourth century, and boasted of converting his city to christianity by demolishing its pagan temples and putting up churches with basilica in their place.
In the 630s, when the Arabs emerged from Arabia, they followed a similar strategy: in the lands that they conquered, they demolished the traditional places of worship and built mosques. In the middle of the sixth century, when they conquered Persia, they demolished the zoroastrian temples and in their place, they built their mosques. When most of the zoroastrian temples had been transformed into mosques, it was easy to persuade the Persians to convert to Islam.
In Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and other places, the same strategy was used by the Islamic forces. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century, they converted the Church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Emperor Justinian I in the early sixth century, into the famous mosque: the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. In the last 1100 years, the Christian and Islamic forces have fought intense battles for gaining the power to dominate the holy sites of Jerusalem.
In India, a large number of temples were converted into mosques. Historian Sita Ram Goel has written a two-volume book on the ancient Hindu temples that were fully or partially demolished in the last 1200 years, and converted into mosques. The title of his book is Hindu Temples—What Happened to Them (Volumes I and II).
The community that builds new places of worship by demolishing the old places of worship, or in new areas, has to employ tens of thousands of local labor. This gives them a stranglehold on the local economy. A significant proportion of the local labor that they employ gets persuaded into accepting the faith of their employers. Once these laborers have been converted, they usually take their new religion to the countryside, and inspire others to convert.
To transform the culture of a nation, you have to radically transform its places of worship—this is the important lesson of the history of the last 1500 years. In every nation, where the traditional places of worship were replaced by places of worship dedicated to a new religion, the masses were persuaded to accept the new religion and a new way of life.