1/03/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carl S. ~
Let me share some recently acquired important information, with a personal spin on it. There are two very different ways of explaining reality: the rational and the spiritual, interpreted as arriving on the one hand, from the ancient Greeks, and on the other, from pagan mystery cults. Seems that the Greeks, after establishing democracy by which they could determine their government and representatives, left the work to their slaves and had plenty of leisure which they used for philosophizing, reasoning, and observing the nature of things. Meanwhile, other pagans succumbed to the allure of the occidental pagan religions appealing to the senses over the life of reason.
These religions were ﬁlled with myths, rituals, pomp and ceremony. They also involved initiation rites into the “mysteries,” enabling the initiate to become as one with mystical forces and the sharing in the eternal life of the gods. This was accomplished through the use of potent plants and/or extreme stress on the mind and body of the individual (Such ceremonial stress is obvious even today, in the rites of some Native American tribes using sweat lodges and mind-altering drugs, and amongst primitive tribes. Some methods never change.)
Of the two interpretations of reality, the pagan one triumphed, and was assimilated into and adopted by Christianity and Islam. This interpretation involved rites such as baptism, in the ﬂesh or spirit, the holy meal, the doctrine of “dualism,” the struggle between good and evil supernatural forces for control over this world, salvation from death and achieving a unity with a god or god-man through sharing in eternal life by believing in them, and participating in the trials and sufferings, death and resurrection of the god. Every one of these beliefs and traditions originated with pagan mystery religions. They are appeals to the sense of wonder, mystery, and fear of death. (For what are the real mysteries, after all, but birth and death?) They all offer “explanations” and methods for dealing with them.
When the mysteries, pomp, ceremony, and rituals associated combined with the military and ruling might of the government under Christianity, their acceptance was required. And thus it went, as every king or other ruler who was “converted” required his whole court and kingdom to follow suit. All of these happenings had, unlike the Greek approach to reality, nothing to do with actually knowing reality; in fact, the mysteries demanded they be the only reality. And because they wielded the power over lives, property, and the indoctrination of the uneducated, they reigned. For human rights and the life of reason, they substituted submission to the deity via his earthly representatives, as traditionally practiced by the Persian and Egyptian gods - representatives of paganism.
The feudal system was created by Christianity. Religious slavish systems of mind alone, with the doctrine of resignation to misery, suffering and death as one‘s lot as a sinner, while promising eternal bliss as the reward for submitting to it, persists even to this day.
Christianity triumphed by political power. In the words of historian Marc-Aurèle Renan: “If Christianity had been checked in it's growth by some deadly disease, the world would have become Mithraic.”
Nevertheless, despite the knowing-in- one's -heart sensual power of religion, the Greek tradition persisted. As the title of the book, “The Swerve” suggests, society was inﬂuenced once again by their traditions. The search for reality through investigation, not faith, yielded rich results, in spite of religious suppression and persecution. Reasonable men questioned, just as ancient Greek philosophers questioned. And eventually, democracy once again looked like a good idea. Knowledge acquired through methods initially begotten by those ancient thinkers is still being fought against whenever it conﬂicts with those still primitive mind-sets hell-bent on their ”mysteries” of access to the divine explanations of reality!
Some things we haven‘t given much attention to. The Enlightenment brought the conﬂict to the fore, where it has been ever since, combining the best of the traditions of reasoning, scientific investigation, education, and the means of mass communication via the printing press. And it has been this way ever since then.
Are we not back to the beginning, where the conﬂict ﬁrst started? Very interestingly, we have education which the pagans, serfs, peasants, and slaves were denied, as a result of the domination of the religious interpretations of reality on Earth and in the Universe. Although we do not have slaves who did the labor enabling those Greeks the leisure to philosophize and seek out the truth of reality, we have substituted machines to do that labor for us, with their benefits. So let's get busy and not waste time. We have access to ancient and present wisdom, here and now, available in most of the world, for the first time in history. We have scientiﬁc training, the proofs of evolution obtained through the scientiﬁc method, and mass communication. We are needed to fill that which is missing.
What is missing in societies is the willingness to face the facts so readily available, and to renounce those ignorant pagan beliefs that have been and are still etched in the garb of moral necessity, tradition, and pseudo-intellectualism. There is still the too prevalent dead-end thinking of religious belief that feels good to so many who are willing to remain ignorant in spite of the reality all around them (think about it). Ignoring begets ignorance.
Somehow, I suspect things are already changing in one important belief supporting the Christian religion: eternal life. The pagan religions, of which Christianity is the offspring, emphasized not only belief in, but identification with, the god as a prerequisite for personal immortality. Christianity went one step further. Because an after death paradise was added to immortality, the religion also, in order to control by fear, added a hell which is also eternal in which to send, you’ve got it - the eternal soul. With paint brush in hand, the religion went blindly painting itself into a corner. As more and more theologians and clergy back away from preaching hell because the subject is a turn-off (and public sensitivity towards torture and the death penalty increases), the hell concept will not be spoken of. Which leaves? A soul which is immortal divorced from belief systems; a belief that immortality is a given, so it doesn’t matter what one believes. Meanwhile, we, like those ancient Greeks, can live fully with our mortal souls.
A father told my wife about her god-nephew changing TV channels. The father asked the boy what was going on. The boy said, “Dad, I have only so many minutes I’m allowed to watch, and I'm not going to waste them watching commercials.” You have only one life. Why, oh why, waste any minute of it praising or living for St. Paul's version of the god Mithras, for Paul's personal delusion of an imaginary redeemer of humanity?
So why, you might ask me, since you feel life is too important to be wasted on religion, why do you spend so many hours writing anti-religious rants? My reply is that you see my motives as negative, but I see them as positive. My own, and the testimonies of others, are actually emancipation proclamations.
Sources: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, and The Oriental Religions in Roman: Paganism (Classic Reprint) by Franz Cumont.