Category Archives: culture

Gregory of Nyssa: your spirit is a copy of God

“Since one of the signs of the Divine Nature is its essential incomprehensibility, in this also must the copy be like the original. For were the nature of the copy comprehended, when the original was above comprehension, the copy would be a mistaken one. But, inasmuch as the nature of our spirit is above our understanding, it has here an exact resemblance of the all-sublime, representing by its own unfathomableness the incomprehensible Being of God.” — Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto

According to the Orthodox Church in America, Gregory of Nyssa was “[e]ndowed with philosophical talent” and “saw philosophy as a means for a deeper penetration into the authentic meaning of divine revelation.”

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Christianity superseded the ancient Mithra mystery cult through violence and rationalism

My intended audience consists of the U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists I’ve known my entire life in various church, school, home-school, and para-ministry circles. 

I’ve previously quoted scholars on the numerous similarities between Christianity and the Mithra mystery cult—similarities uncanny and striking for people who with a conservative, evangelical/fundamentalist perspective.

I’ve also noted, in recent scholarship, the critical consensus seems to be that “Christianity was influenced by the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world,” according to Paul Hedges.

I hadn’t been looking, but I recently found another presentation of the similarities between the Mithra mystery cult and Christianity—along with a startling analysis of why Christianity carried on while its competitor, so similar, died out.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across Religious Platonism by James K. Feibleman, who at the time of publication taught at Tulane University.

(The time of the book’s publication is its own quick story. I had been talking to my students about the currency of sources. Feibleman’s book first was published in 1959, and the copy I found was published in 1971. Is the scholarship still current? Probably: A quick search showed a respected academic publisher had reissued Religious Platonism in 2013.)

The subtitle of the 1971 edition is The Influence of Religion on Plato and the Influence of Plato on Religion, so it includes a short section on Mithraism to which I was drawn because of my previous reading. It includes both a list of similarities and a brief history of their relationship.

“There are many features of the Mithraic mysteries which are reminiscent of the Orphic and Dionysiac cults. But the later religion of Christianity shared even more striking parallels with it. The use of the idea of brotherhood, purification by baptism, communion, a Lord’s Supper, a birth of the saviour on December 25th, a sabbath on Sunday, an asceticism of abstinence and continence, a heaven and a hell, a flood early in history, immortality of the soul, a last judgment, a resurrection of the dead, a mediating Logos which was one of a trinity, and many other resemblances which have often been noted. [This last sentence is footnoted to The Mysteries of Mithra by Franz Cumont.]

“After Constantine had proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, Mithraism suffered persecution but returned again under Julian the Apostate (A.D. 331-353). This was its last victory. As soon as the Christians were securely in power, they invoked the same kind of violence against their enemies, chiefly in other religions, especially Mithraism, that those enemies had invoked against them. Mithraism never again achieved the position of power it held in the third century. By the fourth century Christianity was sufficiently entrenched to enable it to do unto others what had been done unto it, and ‘the Christians, in order to render places contaminated by the presence of a dead body ever afterwards unfit for worship, sometimes slew the refractory priests of Mithras and buried them in the ruins of their sanctuaries, now forever profaned’ [Cumont]. The victory of Christianity was arranged through violence and fixed by establishment, won by the sword and made permanent by philosophy. For the fourth century that saw the ruthless destruction of Mithraism by the Christians saw also the adoption of Platonism by St. Augustine.

“The doom of Mithraism and the triumph of Christianity were spelled out in advance in their relations to Platonism. Mithraism had no relations with Greek culture and so was never able to avail itself of the support of rationalism in general and of Platonism in particular. It could not meet the challenge of a rival—and strikingly similar—religion which availed itself of these supports.”

This is all fascinating and frightening. Again, “For the fourth century that saw the ruthless destruction of Mithraism by the Christians saw also the adoption of Platonism by St. Augustine.”

And, “The doom of Mithraism and the triumph of Christianity were spelled out in advance in their relations to Platonism.” Wow.

Globally, Women Are More Likely Than Men to be Religious, Pew Research Center Data Says

Women are more likely to be religious, and among atheists, women are the minority, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.

The first two of these three graphics are based upon surveys of men and women, ages 20 or older, in 192 countries:
 
Women more likely than men to be affiliated
 
Women make up the majority of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and an unidentified selection of smaller religious groups:
 
Religiously affiliated more likely to be female
 
The United States is sometimes maligned as a religious, patriarchal nation. To the maligners: Why are so many patriarchs atheists and so many matriarchs believers? No one in the U.S. makes a free adult get out of bed on a Sunday morning, and no one makes a free adult hold faith-in-a-higher-power as a background belief. See the graphic below, and consider the population numbers and cultural diversity represented by the listed nations:
 
Atheists more likely to be men in several countries

Should You Perceive Meaning in Nature?

If humans can manipulate some aspect of nature—in other words, if humans find a way to perform godlike miracles with the building blocks of, say, biology—does that mean whatever’s manipulable has no meaning? And, implicitly, has no divine origin? Along those lines, I recently found a quotation from one of the Inklings, and I thought the idea was worth wrestling with.

In the 1970s, Owen Barfield—a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien— wrote: “Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of forboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?”

Isolate the assumption in that question and convert it into a statement: “The more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it.”

I’m inclined to agree, probably because I’ve read enough of Lewis to get an inevitable splash of Barfield, but how true is that statement, really? Is it true often enough, generally enough?

Probably, but then why?

Maybe the more “we” (some group within the human race) find nature manipulable, the more we assume its value is reducible. In other words, maybe humans once assumed nature was set by God in some inviolable way, and when we realized we could manipulate it, suddenly nature seemed violable, therefore less valuable, less absolute, less a reflection of divinity.

The more it can be manipulated, we assume (perhaps unconsciously), the less it must be a creation of a divine power, and if something has less value, it seems to mean less (the way value is applied and understood and designated is a lot to think about). If some divinity made nature, why would mere mortals be able to mess with it?

But along those lines, the ability to manipulate is not a simple either-or situation. It has matters of degree. Should our ability to manipulate nature (a big, abstract ability) be any more surprising than our ability to make a salad from wild vegetables? To make a shelter from trees and branches?

But then there’s that popular Internet meme: “The sciences can tell you how to clone a T-Rex. The humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea.”

At any rate, I’m not sure Barfield was precisely correct in the above quotation. It could be that, on a popular level, certain assumptions about nature, science, and progress became “viral” before the Internet was part of our daily lives. (Late evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, decades before the Internet, once suggested that Americans get their opinions like they catch cold viruses—they’re not sure where they got those opinions, but they certainly got them.) So certain assumptions—and maybe inclinations of attitude—made Western people less likely to perceive meaning, but maybe not less able. Not less able, just less inclined.

Furthermore, whether from a metaphysical point of view or a naturalistic point of view, wouldn’t nature have to be meaningful?

Peter Fonda to Portray Con-Artist Preacher

Deadline Hollywood says:

“Peter Fonda is set for a starring role in The Most Hated Woman in America, the true story of Madalyn O’Hair, an atheist who got the Supreme Court to overturn prayer in public schools. Netflix is financing the motion picture with Melissa Leo starring…

“Fonda will play Reverend Harrington, a con-artist preacher who partners with O’Hair to do a tour of revival meetings to prey on the God-fearing aspect of his followers. Leo will portray O’Hair, the outspoken and overbearing founder of American Atheists, whose eloquent, impassioned speeches in favor of separation of church and state were much at odds with her unethical business practices (the Internal Revenue Service had long-suspected that she moved the organization’s money into overseas bank accounts to avoid taxes).”

Rsad the full article.

Southern Church Gossip

Southern Christians don’t gossip, but their prayer requests sure spread quickly. 
 
gossip

‘IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment’ — CBS DC

From IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com:

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The IRS is getting pressured to begin cracking down on televangelists following a John Oliver segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver blasted televangelists this past Sunday for what he called “seed faith,” where they tell donors they will reap the rewards by giving money to them.

“They preach something called the prosperity gospel which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith – the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest,” Oliver said in the segment.

He continued, “The argument is ‘sow your money into the ground, you will reap returns multiple times over,’ except as an investment you’d be better off burying your money in the actual ground because at least that way there’s a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day.”

Read the rest at IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com.

Note: In the other half of the article, CBS DC includes a quotation from Ole Anthony. While Anthony is a self-styled watchdog for religious fraud, he has been accused of operating a cult. Please see this excerpt of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life In A Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan.