I have been reading up on all the criticism leveled against my faith and the Bible and since that criticism may have gone viral—it is so accessible over the web and on TV—I thought one or two believers who had some concern might take the time to read my response in this blog.
This reminds me of spiders. I wrote in my first book, Can You See God in This Picture? about spiders: One summer, I had a job painting bridges for the New York State Thruway Authority. One bridge first had to be cleared of the spider nests found under each cross rail before painting. The first few thumb-sized spiders were easy to splat, but after a dozen or so, the phlegm-like goo that resulted began to sicken me. I was not a spider-killer at heart, and this activity was making me nauseous. Too much is too much.
And that is how I have been feeling about the videos and the books that I have been reading and listening to that laugh at my faith and claim to have clear proof that my hope in a future with God is made up, and nothing more than the fancy dreams of a religious man that can’t face reality.
Is it time to kill a few juicy false and vindictive ideas? I apologize in advance for all the quoting and the technical language. As any regular readers must have guessed by now: I am just a believer who has attempted to understand some of the scholarship on this subject, but I remain as dumb as ever. The upside is that I have come to the conclusion that some scholars have a loftier view of their academic achievements than they ought and that on the subject of my Bible and my faith they just might be dumber. With all due respect, here are a couple of quotes from persons I do not wish to denigrate but with whom I clearly beg to differ.
Opponents of our Faith
Acharya S, aka D.M. Murdock, is an independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology. She is a proponent of the Christ myth theory. In her work The Origins of Christianity she wrote: “Basically, there is no known non-Biblical references to a historical Jesus by any historian or other writer of the time during and shortly after Jesus’s purported advent….. From all the evidence it, appears that there was no single historical person upon whom the Christian religion was founded, and that ‘Jesus Christ’ is a compilation of legends, heroes, gods, and god-men.”
Her conclusion is that it is Christianity which has to scientifically prove its claim of a savior; it is not her burden to disprove our faith, So, bottom line: She gets to theorize that believers are living in fantasy land, regardless of how politely she makes that statement work for her.
Payam Nabarz, a Persian-born Sufi … holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University [England]… He is a Druid …and a revivalist of the Temple of Mithras. We take him for an intelligent man. In his The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World he concluded that Christianity derives from a common religious source with the religion of Persia [modern Iran], “It seems there were no copyright concerns back in the years 200 B.C.E to 500 C.E. Otherwise, the competing religions would have been constantly fighting lawsuits.”
Is Christianity nothing more that recooked Persian myth?
Franz-Valéry-Marie Cumont was a Belgian archaeologist and historian who studied the syncretic mystery religions of Late Antiquity, notably Mithraism, an ancient Persian cult. Cumont was a graduate of the University of Ghent (PhD, 1887). I appreciate his scholastic honesty. In The Mysteries Of Mithra he gives us a realistic appraisal:
“The only domain in which we can ascertain in detail the extent to which Christianity imitated Mithraism is that of art.”
He wrote, “The struggle between the two rival religions [Mithras myth in Rome and Christianity] was the more stubborn as their characters were the more alike. The adepts of both
- formed secret conventicles, closely united,
- the members of which gave themselves the name of “Brothers.”
- The rites which they practised offered numerous analogies. The sectaries of the Persian god, like the Christians,
- purified themselves by baptism;
- received, by a species of confirmation, the power necessary to combat the spirits of evil; and
- expected from a Lord’s Supper salvation of body and soul. Like the latter,
- they also held Sunday sacred, and celebrated the birth of the Sun [Malachi 4:2] on the 25th of December, the same day on which Christmas has been celebrated, since the fourth century at least.
- They both preached a categorical system of ethics, regarded asceticism as meritorious, and counted among their principal virtues abstinence and continence, renunciation and self-control.
- Their conceptions of the world and of the destiny of man were similar. They both admitted the existence of a Heaven inhabited by beatified ones, situate in the upper regions, and of a Hell peopled by demons, situate in the bowels of the earth.
- They both placed a Flood at the beginning of history;
- they both assigned as the source of their traditions a primitive revelation;
- they both, finally, believed in the immortality of the soul, in a last judgment, and in a resurrection of the dead, consequent upon a final conflagration of the universe.
- We have seen that the theology of the Mysteries made of Mithra a “mediator” equivalent to the Alexandrian [Christian] Logos [John 1:1]. Like him, Christ also was a μεσίτης, [I Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24 ] an intermediary between his celestial father and men, and like him
- he also was one of a trinity.
- [The Persian religion was a form of sun worship—spelled with a 'U'] ..the ecclesiastical writers, reviving a metaphor of the prophet Malachi [Malachi 4:2 ], contrasted the ‘Sun of justice’ with the ‘invincible Sun,’ and consented to see in the dazzling orb which illuminated men a symbol of Christ, ‘the light of the world.’”
The most noteworthy similarity for me is the so-called “Second Coming” or the Parousia. [Titus 2:13] The Christians are awaiting the return of Christ. Our Jewish friends are looking for the coming of Messiah. The Islamic nations expect the return of Allah. And the Hindus anticipate the appearing of the 11th Avatar of Veshnu, their redeemer god. All on a white horse! The religious world might just have a common source of revelation but it is not Mithraism. Is it possible that God wanted to share some exciting news about His advent with His world? Is it possible that there is an innate awareness of something beyond this life in all men but modern thought has attempted to explain it away because it cannot be put under a microscope?
Take a closer look at some of the similarities between our Christian faith and ancient religions. Many of them are incidental. They are the sheer product of a common form of human reasoning and human organization. Forming small groups or calling each other brother does not prove a common source other than the mere thought process common to all men. [Exodus 18:14-24]
Baptism? My personal view is that because of its significance for initiation into any religious group, it became an important part of Christian commitment. I think God utilized it because of its overarching importance in the religious world which remains just as true today. Baptism, like sacrifices, became types in Christian theology. [Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 10:12] Some ideas, to say it simply, are useful in explaining our new life in Christ. The message of Calvary is the real body of truth, the antitype, although they have been draped in pagan garb. [Acts 17:23]
Oh, December 25? I never did believe that this was the day of Jesus’ birth. Yes, the church borrowed it from a pagan calendar, probably to wrest it away from them like the church attempted to do with October 31 by making November 1 “All Saints Day.”
The Persian religion, according to Franz Cumont, spoke of a mediator. Is this not the heart of the sufferer? [Job 9:33] To me, this is a common hope that someone might approach God on our behalf. Different religions have a varied view of how this might work. Gnosticism has an entire filter system from man to God. On each level up the angelic ladder a being became a bit purer, a little more god-like, a little less tainted by sin, a smidgen cleaner. Mithraism had 7 levels.
Christianity has only Jesus and a torn temple veil. [Mark 15:38; Hebrews 6:19] Not quite the same thing!
Christ makes a Difference
But the difference between Christianity and all other religions and myths is what is noteworthy. The Persian myth spoke of the god, Mithras, awarding the initiate with eternal life through the sacrifice of a bull. Dr. Cumont referred to this animal sacrifice as a “hideous sacrifice for their salvation.” In the christian faith, it is the Savior Himself that is sacrificed [ I Corinthians 5:7 ] and that provides eternal life. This is the vicarious atonement. Hebrews 10:26.
Regarding the alleged parallelism between our faith and the ancient cult, Dr. Cumont candidly remarked,
…in the majority of cases we rather suspect [my emboldening] this transference than clearly perceive it. …. We cannot presume to unravel to-day a question which divided contemporaries and which shall doubtless forever remain insoluble. We are too imperfectly acquainted with the dogmas and liturgies of Roman Mazdaism [The Roman form of the Persian mythology], as well as with the development of primitive Christianity, to say definitely what mutual influences were operative in their simultaneous evolution. But be this as it may, resemblances do not necessarily suppose an imitation.
Can I repeat that?
And the Pièce de résistance is this final quote from Franz Cumont. Read it carefully!
But this strained parallelism could result in nothing but a caricature. It was a strong source of inferiority for Mazdaism [The Roman form of the Persian mythology] that it believed in only a mythical redeemer. That unfailing wellspring of religious emotion supplied by the teachings and the passion of the God sacrificed on the cross, never flowed for the disciples of Mithra [my embolding].
Dr. Gregory Boyd, a professor at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in A. Letters From A Skeptic. wrote:
There is no other belief which does this… Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we created. Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable, that He lived a life befriending the prostitutes and lepers no one else would befriend, and that He suffered firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence.
If you have been threatened with a crisis of faith because of the ramblings of would-be academicians like Bill Maher in his film ‘Religulous’, or the nastiness of a Hichens or Price, don’t be intimidated by their claim to knowledge. Look for the Vicarious Atonement in all other religions. It isn’t there. All myth offers is—well, dare I say it?—more bull [taurobolium].
Stephen Prothero, who claims not to be Christian but who is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University, in his text God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter tells me, if I understand him, that only Christianity offers a creed (an orthodoxy) and therefore is a “faith.” It might be difficult to wrap one’s mind around the idea that in this regard Christianity is unique but the message of Calvary is not borrowed from any religion, cult or philosophy ancient or modern. That should tell us something about the center of our spiritual universe around which all our beliefs and principles and interpretations of Scripture should revolve.
It is often a mistake to refer to a religion as a “faith,” or to its adherents as “believers.” As odd as this might sound, faith and belief don’t matter much in most religions. Often ritual is far more important, as in Confucianism. Or story, as in Yoruba religion. Many Jews do not believe in God, and the world’s Hindus get along quite well without any creed. Today the price of admission to the Christian family continues to be orthodoxy (right thought) rather than orthopraxy (right practice). “We believe,” the Nicene Creed begins, and two hundred or so words later Christians the world over have summarized their collective faith. As the term Christianity implies, this faith revolves around the person of Jesus, whom Christians have traditionally regarded as Son of God, Savior, and Christ (from the Greek word for the Hebrew term messiah, the coming king who will remake the world).
If you got this far, I am honored by your persistence. I shouldn’t stretch credulity by asking you to consider a couple isolated but relevant points.
For years I have been greeting people with a “Good Morning” regardless of the time of day. Those who know me have taken note of this and have at times with humor attempted a correction. Back in Bible college I did this and to my surprise so did the President of the school. It was the conclusion of some classmates that I was mimicking him—but not to my recollection. I never remember hearing him greet me. It had to be more suggestive or subliminal if I did pick up on it from him. It is a good theory that the first known reference to something is closest to its beginning; but, it is a weaker conclusion to deduce that the oldest known occurrence IS the beginning. Did I copy Reverend Emery?
Oh, this whole blog was brought to you by historical revisionism, the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event. And that event? The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Most critics are contemporaries of ours, because this is a current approach to reviewing the meaning and significance of the historical record. Since no historian can write without at least some personal bias there is some danger involved with the process.
- Negation-ism: In attempting to revise the past, illegitimate historical revisionism appeals to the intellect—via techniques illegitimate to historical discourse—to advance a given interpretive historical view. Some believe that the holocaust never happened. Some deny that the Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem.
- Political influence: revisionists can rewrite history to support an agenda, often political, and use many techniques and rhetorical fallacies to obtain the desired results. In doing so, the revisionists therefore engage in deceiving their audience into believing manipulated information. Is it any wonder that Nabarz, a Druid, would attempt to discredit Christian faith? Sean Mccarey, whom I do not know but who I want to quote, in his review—on the Goodreads website—of Dr. Nabarz’s book remarked,
“I quickly discovered that the author does not think there is a major division between … actual historical evidence and stuff he made up. Also he makes some pretty big claims,… without backing them up.”
- Ideological influence: By revising history, therefore, one has the ability to specifically craft that ideological identity. Because historians are credited as people who single-mindedly pursue truth, revisionist historians capitalize on the profession’s credibility and present their pseudo-history as true scholarship.
- Cognitive dissonance: The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system…. Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others. Is it possible that some critics never started with an openness to learn but a preconceived idea they set out to prove any way they could?