Category Archives: religion

What Cicero saw in the Eleusinian mystery religion and its similarities to Christianity

In Cicero’s dialogue “On the Laws,” a character comments on the Eleusinian mysteries:

“For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than those mysteries. For by means of them we have transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also for dying with a better hope.”

So there you have four points that sound like outcomes from an evangelical conversion experience: (1) transformation from sinfulness to fullness, (2) knowledge of the source of life, (3) joy in this life, and (4) hope for life after death.

That quotation from the Cicero dialogue was found in The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, edited by Marvin W. Meyer. Here I’m including it as an additional note to some of my previous posts about ancient mystery religions, including this one and this one and this one. If you read the dialogue quotation with these three links in this paragraph, Cicero’s character seems to add something more than mere external and descriptive similarities between ancient mystery religions and Christianity. He seems to add something that maps with Christianity in the realm of interiority and values: enlightened living, joy for this life, hope for a wonderful afterlife.

It’s worth mentioning that the two most influential Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, saw these kinds of similarities not as challenges to Christianity but as supports for Christianity. Generally speaking, they believed the myths, poems, and philosophies of the ancient world were different kinds of divine revelation that prepared people for the advent of Christ — in Lewis’s famous phrase, “myth became fact,” meaning myths or pieces of myths were historically actualized and tied together in the Incarnation.

That being said, having been grown up with simultaneous influences of two very different strands of American Bible-skimming fundamentalism, I have to say the ancient mystery religions and their similarities to Christianity are a huge challenge to Christian faith (again, follow the above links). As a friend and I were saying the other night, the ancient mystery religions, sharing so many similarities to Christianity, challenge the assumptions and claims that there never was anything like Christianity before.

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?

‘Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he “disrespected” Islam’ — Metro

This was new to me: Claiming to be a prophet could be an offense to Islam.

Although this alleged offense did not occur in the U.S., the claim to be a prophet is a very American thing.

Prophets were typical in the churches of my youth. Prophets would visit, and we would sit, hoping they would (or would not!) call upon us and give us a word from the Lord. More recently, at least one person was given the title of Prophet, in lieu of Reverend, in the credits for the film The Apostle, recently watched during a Tuesday dinner-and-book group I attend. These days, prophets still roam conference circuits.

In America, prophets are everywhere. The Mormons, members of a uniquely American religion, are led by a prophet.

The following article is about a man in England who killed someone who claimed to be a prophet, therefore presumably disrespecting Islam. Is such a murder typical? No. But I wonder if this will have a chilling effect on those who self-identify as prophets in the U.K. and the U.S.

From the article

In a statement, Ahmed, 32, denied the incident had anything to do with Christianity, instead saying that Mr Shah had claimed to be a prophet and therefore ‘disrespected’ Islam.

In a statement made through his lawyer, John Rafferty, Ahmed said: ‘Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet….’

Read the full story

via Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he ‘disrespected’ Islam — Metro

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.

T.S. Eliot’s Take on The Church and The World

Candidates from both major U.S. political parties have been visiting churches, which seems to make this excerpt from an old T.S. Eliot book quite timely:

“That there is an antithesis between the Church and the World is a belief we derive from the highest authority. We know also from our reading of history, that a certain tension between Church and State is desirable. When Church and State fall out completely, it is ill with the commonwealth; and when Church and State get on too well together, there is something wrong with the Church. But the distinction between the Church and the World is not so easy to draw as that between Church and State. Here we mean not any one communion or ecclesiastical organisation but the whole number of Christians as Christians; and we mean not any particular State, but the whole of society, the world over, in its secular aspect. The antithesis is not simply between two opposed groups of individuals: every individual is himself a field in which the forces of the Church and the world struggle.”

The quotation comes from a broadcast talk delivered in February 1937, then printed in “The Listener,” and later added as an appendix to Eliot’s “The Idea of a Christian Society,” published in his book Christianity and Culture.

 

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult

Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.

Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.