Tag Archives: politics

Christianity superseded the ancient Mithra mystery cult through violence and rationalism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.

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A staggering look at the forces behind the evangelical pick for president

Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump

Pardon the beach-read aesthetic. Here’s the cover of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman.

Updated Sept. 8, 2018, just to say: See this brief review of Dark Star Rising in the Church Times.

Below I’ve pasted my brief Instagram review (with a few minor edits) of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman:

Gary Lachman first became famous as Gary Valentine, bass player and one of the songwriters for Blondie. But since then, he’s become a journalist and cultural historian, writing about the presence and influence of the occult and mysticism in the contemporary world, along with biographies of key historical proponents of esoteric ideas.

One of his previous books, Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen (2008) mapped out the stranger ideas and beliefs behind a variety of political figures, past and present. Now 10 years later, in Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, Lachman has focused on Trump, his background, and some of his advisers, who have found inspiration in writers and thinkers with especially weird and troubling takes on reality.

The New York Times, for instance, has reported on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s admiration for Julius Evola, the late “Italian occultist and esoteric philosopher” (as Lachman describes him) who has found admirers among racists both in the U.S. and Russia, including the American white nationalist Richard Spencer. Oddly enough, now with Russia on the minds of U.S. politicians and national security officials, Putin’s right-hand man Alexander Dugin has made political connections with an Italian disciple of Evola.

Lachman’s research for this book, combined with his background knowledge from writing 20-some books on historical and cultural intersections with the occult, brings to light angles on our current president that most news and commentary haven’t touched.

A few people have left the White House, including Bannon, and a few things have changed since this book was published. But I’ll wager anyone who reads Dark Star Rising will feel even more uneasy about the state of our manufactured politics and the potential for a dark future.

Plumbing not posting

Mostly, I’m grading, traveling with my family to and from conferences, and overseeing the re-plumbing of my entire house—which necessitated the destruction of pretty much all of my driveway—and the much needed remodeling of our bathrooms. Now we’ve got new water and sewer lines out to the street. Soon the entire house will have new pipes, replacing a true hodge podge of cast iron, copper, steel, and PVC lines.

I shouldn’t say I’m overseeing all that.

My wife, having grown up around construction, really has been overseeing everything. She talks to the plumbers, the carpenter, the architect, the guys who were supposed to remove all the chunks of concrete driveway by now. Meanwhile I stand, at six feet and four inches tall, scowling and nodding to give such occasions gravitas. I never understand what they’re talking about.

I’ve still been writing here, just not posting any of it yet.

For about two weeks now, I’ve been working on a post tentatively entitled “A Challenge for Christian Apologists: Brain Scans and Bible Reading,” in which I wrestle with two research studies on how our brains respond when we are listening to someone with a declared point of view. It turns out what we know or believe about a speaker influences activation or deactivation in parts of our brains—and it seems to me this has broader implications within the context of my personal experiences and observations in evangelical and fundamentalist corners of America.

Considering the recent change in my tagline for this blog, I also want to write a post entitled “What is ex-evangelical?” I imagine a few folks, in some local church drama, might want to make that tag into something other than it is. (They’re the ones teased in that old joke: be quiet when you pass through their part of Heaven—they think they’re the only ones there.)

After I had changed the tag, I came across “The Last Temptation” by Michael Gerson in The Atlantic, which if you haven’t seen it already, is well worth your time. The article’s subtitle, at least on the webpage, is, “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

Meanwhile, among the previous posts that lately keep popping up in my blog stats are two you might like if you haven’t already seen them:

Cornell West as jazz man, blues man, as ‘a Christian but not a Puritan’

C.S. Lewis Drank Three Pints of Beer in the Morning—A Letter from Tolkien

I hope to see you again here soon.

‘Marx in Soho’ and the current political climate

Howard Zinn, in his 1999 play Marx in Soho, has Karl Marx say something like, “Why is it that every movement of six people is trying to expel someone?” In Zinn’s imagination, even Marx is exasperated at the ideological zealotry that can lead a group as small as six people (with essentially the same goals and values) to wage an intense purity campaign within its own ranks. It’s food for thought in these times, when someone who agrees with you 75% of the time can be 100% your enemy. There is no room for compromise, is there? Better a scorched Earth than a shared Earth, right? Just to be sure, you have to keep everyone within your ranks pure enough. Be vigilant.

During my visit to the Museum of Communism in Prague this past summer, I saw a display that revealed Party officials would sometimes torture and execute Party loyalists just to keep everyone in line through fear. The display showed mugshots of innocent people who were cherry-picked for torture and execution—even when the Party officials knew they had done nothing wrong. Purity through terror.

Update, Jan. 14: 

While social media hissing is not quite like torture and execution, the condemnation of Margaret Atwood by the self-appointed, self-anointed “Good Feminists” is an example of a vicious purity campaign. Read Atwood’s account in The Globe and Mail.

If the name of Margaret Atwood rings a bell, it’s because she is the author of the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which recently became an acclaimed Hulu series. I teach her essay, “The Female Body,” in one of my writing courses each semester. Atwood strikes me as a feminist icon, but lately she has fallen out of favor with some purists.

The purists’ response to her civil-rights stance underscores my original point in this post. In a world with Donald Trump as president, left-leaning people actually want to target Margaret Atwood? But if you agree with her only 75% of the time, she must be 100% your enemy. That kind of thinking earns you Donald Trump.

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression

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Words against reality

Here’s a gift of insight for all things personal and political:

“The power of words over reality cannot be unlimited since, fortunately, reality imposes its own unalterable conditions. The rulers of totalitarian countries wish, of course, to be truthfully informed, but time and again they fall prey, inevitably, to their own lies and suffer unexpected defeats. Entangled in a trap of their own making, they attempt awkward compromises between their own need for truthful information and the quasiautomatic operations of a system that produces lies for everyone, including the producers.”

— Leszek Kolakowski, “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie” (1983)

Also see: “Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting” and “Christianity as propaganda; Christianity versus propaganda

 

An Important Reason Why Podcasts Are More Popular Than The News Media

The News Media say:

There’s a problem and no institution or government is doing anything to fix it.

The Podcasts say:

There’s a problem and you can fix it—here’s how.

Wait, That’s Generalizing!

Yes, but I recently heard a segment on NPR in which the reporter moved seamlessly from describing a problem through interviews to identifying the fact that no government program exists to address the problem.

And I remember thinking the problem didn’t seem like the kind of thing we Americans usually take before City Council or Congress.

Then it dawned on me that most of the podcasts I’ve been listening to over the last year—like The Tim Ferriss Show, The Art of Charm, The Art of Manliness—had a strikingly different angle.

The podcasts often focus on things I can do to overcome my problems, and the hosts interview people who discovered new resources of resilience, innovation, and ingenuity in the face of difficulties.

Of course not all problems can be solved by an individual on his/her own. Sometimes you, I, need real help from others. Good government can play a healthy role in a civil society.

But consider the general inclinations and the basic outlooks in old media and new.

The old news media assumes, more often than not, that elected officials and governmental bodies are the first sources of solutions.

The newer realm of podcasts, more often than not, tells you how you can be the first source of your solutions.

What a significant difference in attitude.

And the latter is so much more appealing.