MANN TALK: Christian Culture Is Built On a Pagan Base

by Perry Mann
Earliest man worshipped the sun. The sun was his god; for he knew that without the sun he was done. Modern man takes the sun for granted. He even knows that an eclipse of the sun is temporary.
But if he thinks on the subject, he admits to himself that without the sun he too is done and all else is gone. The earth was a goddess; for man knew that if she did not provide a bountiful harvest, he would be reduced to beggary and failing that starvation.  So he prayed to earth goddesses and sacrificed to them with faith that they would arrange for him to have rain, sun and warmth to resurrect seeds to provide the grain for his table.



  Man still, in a pagan manner, worships the sun and the earth but it is a worship that is superimposed by Christian rituals. The Winter Solstice to the Pagans was a time of concern that the sun’s daily diminution would continue; but when it became apparent a few days after the Solstice that the sun was returning, it was a time of great rejoicing and celebration. The Christian fathers decided rightly that it was politic to join the Pagans rather than offend those it wanted to convert, so the Winter Solstice is the birthday of Christ. And thus the holly, fir and red ribbons are as much a part of Christmas as are the creche, cross and Three Wise Men.



 Easter is a Pagan holiday that also has a superimposition: that of the Christian celebration of the Resurrection, another politic move of the church to win over Pagans. Spring is when Pagans rejoiced, thanked their gods for the vernal equinox and that time when the birds returned, the buds bloomed, the grass grew green and every living thing awoke and stirred and regenerated itself in some manner, all to the good of man and all life. Christ rose; but so did everything else the Sunday after the full moon after the equinox.


The Christians, once Constantine established their church as the state’s church, began to give the Pagans a hard time.  It was an eye for an eye instead of the other cheek. According to Gilbert Murray in his book “Five Stages of Greek Religion,” the Christians pinned their faith to the approaching end of the world by fire. “ They announced the end of the world as near, and they rejoiced in the prospect of its destruction….It was widely believed that Christian fanatics had from time to time actually tried to light fires which would consume the accursed world and thus hasten the coming of the kingdom which should bring incalculable rewards to their own organization and plunge the rest of mankind in everlasting torment.”


Thus, it seems that Christians then had more interest in the next world than they did in this world and looked to the church more for salvation than instruction in Christian ethics. The church was looked upon then as now as a vehicle to ride to heaven instead of an oracle to hear how to live.  “John 3:16” is seen along every highway and on ever religious pamphlet but one never reads any where except in his Bible: “Turn the other cheek.”  The promise of Salvation supercedes exhortation to do good for wrong and other ethical exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount. 


If it were ethics Christians felt a need for they had only to search Pagan literature and they would have found essentially what Christ taught. But they were looking for a Heaven hereafter.  In his book Murray quotes a Pagan prayer attributed to “Eusebius, a late Iconic Platonist of whom almost nothing is known, not even the date which he lived:”


“May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest to me; and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me, may I escape uninjured and without need of hurting him. May I seek love, seek, and attain only that which is good.  May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me….When I have done what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends….May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent….May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another. May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends and to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain….May I respect myself….May I always keep tame that which rages within me….May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.”


Christ would have said amen to Eusebius’s prayer. He would have because there is much in it that Christ preached:”Therefore, if thou bring a gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;… first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Saint Paul also would have found compatible concepts: He said that charity suffers long and is kind and it does not envy others or rejoice in iniquity.


 There are other Pagans who voiced their hearts and minds in a manner similar to Eusebius and who even surpassed him in moral eloquence and rational ethics. Christ was not born in a moral atmosphere that was totally Judaic. The Greeks and the Romans had left their moral imprint before Christ came. Thus, the Pagans built a religious and ethical foundation upon which Christianity decided to build in view of its deep-rootedness in the culture of man. That ethics of all religions are similar should engender religious toleration, even of Paganism.    


 

 
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