August 02, 2005

Paganism Revisited

Let's face it, the political news of late is getting sort of boring. Blah blah, John Bolton, blah blah CAFTA sucks, blah blah Rick Santorum said something that involves furry critters and sex. Great stuff, but by now we get the point. On the other hand, new theories on the origin of Christianity never get old, even after all those centuries! Here's the latest bit of revisionism:
Tom Harpur, the author of the Pagan Christ, has undergone a spiritual re-awakening and believes that the information revealed within his book represent "one of the most far-reaching tragedies in history." Harpur… suggests that during the third and fourth centuries C.E., the Christian Church, "either deliberately, in a competitive bid to win over the greatest numbers of the largely unlettered masses, or through willful ignorance" took a "literalist, popularized, historical approach to sublime truth." Mythological stories that were originally supposed to be regarded as allegory and metaphor became mistakenly transformed into historical fact and the "Christ of the myth became a flesh and blood person identified with Jesus." Central to the tragedy is the idea that Christ was originally supposed to come "in man," and that "the Christ principle was potentially in every one of us," instead, this idea was changed to reflect "the exclusivist teaching that the Christ had come as a man."

If Harpur's claims (based on the earlier work of Godfrey Higgins, Gerald Massey, and Alvin Boyd Kuhn) are true, "much of the civilized West has been based upon a 'history' that never occurred," and the Christian Church is "founded on a set of miracles that were never performed literally." The Pagan Christ deals largely with the work of these three scholars, particularly Kuhn (1880-1963) and uses his texts as the basis of its analysis. For a world that reset its calendar to year zero at the supposed birth of Jesus Christ, the implications of Harpur's revelations are truly immense.

According to Harpur, the term 'pagan' is "almost totally misunderstood today." In fact, it was simply adopted by "emerging Church authorities to denote all who were not orthodox Christians." Harpur claims that the pagans were "persecuted, decried, killed, and ultimately utterly vanquished by the Church," because they "held views of 'the Christ within' that the Church was to plagiarize blatantly – and then cover up with book burnings, anathemas, and murder." After detailing the harsh treatment of Pagans by the Christian Church, Harpur quotes Northrop Frye's (1912-1991) chilling description of Christianity as "a ghost with the chains of a foul historical record of cruelty clanking behind it."
Huh. Now the story I've always heard, the story many have heard, was that the Christian Church, in order to gain as wide acceptance as possible, allowed those who followed pagan religions to keep many of their rituals and beliefs, or combine them with the teachings of Christ. (Much like modern-day evangelical preachers tell suburbanites that they can follow Christ and pursue all the wealth and material profit their hearts desire.) Influence flowed both ways, of course, and the Christian world ended up adopting a number of pagan practices for its own purposes—like, say, the Easter bunny. But I've never heard that pagans were considered pagans because they didn't take the Christian myths literally enough, and were persecuted for that very fact. Very intriguing.
-- Brad Plumer 7:12 PM || ||