In discussions with atheists, one impenetrable issue has been the distinction between the way of the Christ and what is common to all mankind in all ages, except in parts of our own age, called “religion.” The insistence is that Christianity is simply one among many false “religions,” which our enlightened age now knows to be false, with no more to say about the soul than unicorns about taxonomy, mere imaginary fables, etc. The assurance these hold demonstrates that this has in a way become our custom or dogma, replacing all others, and allowing us the new banner of toleration, the only virtue, on whose altar we have sacrificed all other virtues.
This question is far more complex than at first appears. Abraham rejected the religion of Babylon, the idols and false gods, when he came forth from Ur to receive the Promise. He hears God directly, and then is taught by Melchizedek about God Most High, the maker of heaven and earth, as distinct from the gods of “polytheism,” which are made of have come to be. Idolatrous religion is different from Mosaic religion, which is intended to replace it as animal sacrifice replaces human sacrifice.
A crucial teaching is contained in a statement of Paul in his Letter to the Galatians.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature (phusei) are no gods; but now that you have come to know (gnontes, knowing) God, or rather to be known (gnosthenres) by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits (stoichia,) whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.Galatians 4:
To worship the gods is a kind of enslavement to the weak elements, and this is related to the keeping of the calendar. That they are not quite said to know God, but rather be known by God, as through baptism, is of course interesting to us, but here the interesting point regards worship. The Christ receives this worship, as though it were formerly improperly given, and the table of the Last supper replaces ritual. The Christian images were then in conflict with every sort of common practice, but gradually, as the world became Christian, these same things continue- cities, laws, territories and conflicting ways, attempts to influence fortune, hierarchies of priests and honoring of the dead, imaginations of Providence. Then Saint Helen began the recovery of the relics, and the Christians could come out of the catacombs, having suffered the ten persecutions by Rome from Nero to Diocletan. Newton,* for example, blames the early Papacy, following Constantine, with introducing the worshiping of dead men’s souls and images, “mazuzahim,” he calls this. While this may in one side be a proper criticism, whom is it better men honor than saints, and are they really taught to worship them? Christian images and doctrines are conflated with the ancient and what Bloom calls “one’s own,” where originally the Way is a leaving behind of all these worldly things. Let the dead bury the dead. Only then is it possible that “Christians, or Christendom persecute of make martyrs, which of course never occurred in a single instance prior to the conversion of Rome. Again, one might ask, is it not better that the orders be Christian? The separation of Church and state was not yet imagined, but is the answer to this problem bequeathed or donated us by Constantine. The Papal states are especially the place where one sees the conjunction of the regimes of cities and nations with the Christian church. This has now been reduced to Vatican City, and Italy has become a unified nation, after Garibaldi.
The appearances of the word “religion” (threskeias) in scripture are rare and revealing, occurring only 5 times in 3 places, and never in the sense used when Christians speak of what they are doing or praise their own “revealed religion,” for example. It would be interesting to note the first time in history that Christianity was even called a religion. Paul and James use the word, while none of the Apostles or Jesus do so, ever. In Acts (26:5), Paul explains “…according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” The King James version also uses the word at Gal 1:13-14.
“If any one among you thinks to be religious among you, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, the religion of this one is vain. Religion clean and undefiled before God the father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
This may be the only use of the word in a scripture in a sense that is not derogatory, or only semi- derogatory. Neither the Christians nor the Christ see themselves as establishing a “religion,” and their relation to all these things is a continual question, rather than anything clear. The Protestants at first made a great issue of this point and this was correct. Through all human history, humans have always had an understanding of things divine or above the mundane, and have always been concerned with the dead, and often with the afterlife- as in Egypt, though such things are astonishingly absent from the Hebrew scriptures. There have always been superstitious understandings of the causes, and what one finds is that Christians are not excepted from these ancient and local things merely by taking the name of Christian. The meetings of the earliest Christians around the Eucharist or “Lord’s Supper” would replace the meetings as at the Temple in Jerusalem, but there is nothing like what was to occur when the Christian images and opinions descended upon and over the pagan practices in the Greek and Roman world of Olympian gods and ancient ways quite foreign to Jerusalem, and quite similar to the idolatrous practices which Mosaic law replaced in Canaan, once out of Egypt- where the things said and done regarding the afterlife- including penance and forgiveness- are done amid an idolatrous religion. One point that arises repeatedly is that the Christians persecuted no one prior to the Fourth Century, when Constantine made Rome Christian, and Rome, having once persecuted the Christians and Jews especially for not worshiping the emperor continued to persecute, though now it was heretics, as began with the Donatists, priest reinstated who had be defrocked for fearing to face martyrdom rather than turn over the scriptures in the last Roman persecution. Soon Aryan and Catholic would be the issue, and it was one thing after another, though persecutions did become rare from the sixth until the early twelfth century.
In Rome as in Britain, Christianity was simply superimposed upon “pagan” altars. Rome in the 4th century took on an odd combination of Jewish temple and Roman pontificate, replacing the Rome that once persecuted Christians with the Rome that made martyrs of heretics. Changing the images did not end either war nor persecutions. One must wonder at the blessing when the 10 persecutions over the refusal to worship the emperor as a god gave way to the imposition of a unified doctrine. Humans did become more humane over all, with the difference that Christianity would now take the blame for the sins of the city.
Geoffrey of Monmouth indicates how the new religion was simply superimposed upon the pagan orders and images.*
When King St. Lucius, the first Christian king excepting Abgar, turned Britain to Christianity, about 156 AD,
…Once the holy missionaries had put an end to paganism throughout almost the whole island, they dedicated to the One God and His Blessed Saints the temples which had been founded in honor of a multiplicity of gods, assigning to them various categories of men in orders. At that time there were 28 flamens in Britain and three archflamens to whose jurisdiction the other spiritual leaders and judges of public morals were subject. At the Pope’s bidding, the missionaries converted these men from their idolatry. Where there were flamens, he placed bishops, and where there were archflamens, they appointed archbishops The seats of the archflamens had been in three noble cities: London, York, and the city of Legions, the site of which last is still known by its by the river Usk in Glaumorgan, is still known by its ancient walls and buildings. The twenty-eight bishops were placed under the jurisdiction of these three cities, once the superstitions practiced there had been purged away.
History of the Kings of Britain, IV.20
Coilus, the father of Lucius and the son of a Marius, son of Avarargus, had been friendly with Rome and paid tribute voluntarily- this in a time in the second century of the more decent emperors, and between persecutions, though it is clear that Britain is on the fringes of the Roman empire, and able to have kings and become Christian. The Coilus line continues after Lucius and a few usurpations to Old King Cole and his son Cole, the father of St. Helen who married a young Constantius, father of Constantine, and moved to York, where Constantine was crowned (Eusebius).
Now the principalities and powers are to become Christian- an improvement, maybe, though anti-christian ire will result from the evils of the city and crimes committed under the banner of the Christ. The cave does not cease to be a cave when painted over with christian images- though these may better lead up and out. It is the soul of humans that is caved and will see only shadows and artificial copies of the real beings outside the cave.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses and others reject the customs of Easter and Christmas on the basis of this history of the mixing of Christian and “pagan” ways, and holidays may be what Paul means when he writes, “You observe days and month and years- I fear I have labored over you in vain.” The mixture of the customs of Samhein with all Saints day to become All Hallows Eve is a good example- turnips and disguises being much older among the Irish than the honoring of all the saints.The monk’s calendaration- our favorite pastime- is not a part of Christianity as such at all, but has of course emerged from the melding of common festivals and imaginings with a Christian world. Santa Claus is a good example of how these things emerge, as this is a fairly recent folk tale. It is mixed, though, with the gift giving of the three wise men, and there seems no reason we should cease these things. From the beginning the Christians had something like the meeting at Synagogues or at the Temple in Jerusalem surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist or communion.
Shakespeare addresses these local dieties, the Fairies, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The nights are no longer blessed with hymn of carol, and this leads to disorders. The poet aims to restore this intermediary realm to its legitimate expression. With the advent of Christianity and the Socratic discovery of “hyper-ouranian” being, what once were the gods and personifications of the more collective causes regarding the soul or psyche become intermediary beings, and the psychoid is revealed as subordinate to Being. “Love is not a god but a spirit” is how this appears in the Symposium, who ascends with our prayers and descends with answers, which is the work of love. The image of this is the sea between two lands, and the traveler who journeys and returns is liker one who ascends. The gods were in one sense psychic and not being, archetype and not eidos, subject and not object, collective unconscious and not God. The limitations of phenomenology set by Jung for scientific psychology prevent his science from crossing over to a clearer distinction between the “self” or true self and God, the imago Dei from its original.
Isaac Newton, Commentary on Daniel and the Apocalypse, pp…
Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, IV.20; Bede, I.4.