Common Ground: The Kinship of Metaphysicians
A syncretic approach to esoteric teachings - the golden threads that connect Pagans, Yogis, Rosicrucians and Masons.
How Christianity Became Pagan
It's well known that certain Christian sects like the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to celebrate the major holidays of Christmas and Easter, because they rightly recognize their Pagan roots. The more I contemplate the issue, the more convinced I become that the Christian Church itself is much more Pagan than its founder ever intended.
This idea may seem confusing, since our modern Pagan movement has always set itself against Christianity as the engine of the Burning Times and witch trials. But wouldn't it be ironic if a religion that began as a metaphysical, idealistic sect of Judaism had morphed, over the centuries, into just an opposing form of Paganism?
I've begun reading Starhawk's remarkable 1993 novel, "The Fifth Sacred Thing." Aside from the brilliance of her future vision, I am struck by the irony of the juxtaposition she posits: a post-apocalyptic world in which a Utopian Pagan society lives in the shared communal spirit of Christ's original followers, while its nominally Christian enemy has morphed Jesus' teachings into something completely opposite to the message of love he had espoused in the New Testament. It's a brilliant placing of the shoe on the other foot, and unfortunately it makes sense - because Christianity began to change in exactly that direction the year Emperor Constantine made it the State Religion of Rome.
Jesus had reinterpreted God’s Commandments to the Hebrews in the light of love, compassion, forgiveness and non-violence - which was one of the main reasons Judaism could not accept him as the Messiah; the ancient texts held that one of Messiah's distinguishing qualities was that he would be a mighty warrior. Christ's insistence on pacifism was so clear to those who had known him and followed him most closely, that for three hundred years after his crucifixion military personnel were not accepted into the Church unless they vowed to give up warfare and killing!
But all that changed when the Pagan warrior Constantine saw a supposedly Christian sign in the sky which promised him victory. He appropriated the formerly pacifist faith, and made it the accepted religion of the State. This was a welcome relief for believers who months earlier had gone in fear for their lives; but Jesus' pivotal teaching of non-violence was sacrificed - or, at least, modified out of all recognition - in order to do it. From that day forward, Christianity became known as a religion that supported nationalism and "righteous" war. It was now possible for soldiers to become Christians. Onward, Christian Soldiers!
The common wisdom is that Rome became Christian. The reality, I think, is that Christianity became Pagan.
Pagans never troubled themselves with considerations of non-violence; on the contrary, it was through battle that one gained status in the community. The Israelites didn't bother with pacifism, either; from the very beginning their God commanded them to defend themselves and to slaughter foreigners whose lands they invaded. The same God, under a different Name, later gave similar instructions to the Muslims. Yahweh or Allah has always been ruthless in destroying His enemies. So have Mars and the Morrigan.
If we ask the historical question, "Which theologically-motivated cultures waged regular war in the Middle East at that time?" we have to answer that it was the Israelites and all their Pagan neighbors. Islam did not yet exist. The new religion of Christianity had begun as a Jewish sect, but Jewish theologians like Paul wrenched it out of Judaism completely and gave it to the Gentiles - who were told that they didn't have to seek favor with God through observing the Ten Commandments and the hundreds of other Jewish laws set down in the book of Deuteronomy. Instead, all they had to do was believe in the person of Jesus Christ. In short, that great teacher was turned into a God figure like Osiris or Mithras. He was no longer a prophet; he was a Pagan-modeled Deity!
So, I conclude that in 313 A.D. when the Church fathers agreed to accept the war ethic of the Roman Empire in exchange for the legitimization of their faith - Christianity completed its process of becoming a Pagan religion!
In the twenty centuries since, Christianity has split into hundreds of disagreeing denominations. One of the main disagreements is between those who think it is appropriate for members of our Armed Forces to declare themselves followers of Christ, and those who stand up for Jesus' original character as the Prince of Peace.
After two World Wars, the battlefields of Europe and America are dotted with millions of white crosses. Is this really what Jesus wanted to be remembered for? Wouldn't it be much more appropriate for our soldiers to be Hindu Kyshatrias, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims or Pagans? The Pagan presence in the US military is relatively small. By rights it should be much bigger!
It is well advertised (though impossible to know the depth of any individual's commitment or understanding) that the majority of American men and women in uniform profess a strong Christian faith; but to my mind this has never made sense, because it involves a psychological disconnect from Christ's teachings. It's like trying to have your cake and eat it too. You can stake your claim on Heaven by professing Christ, but then you can go overseas and kill your enemies, instead of loving and forgiving them the way Christ clearly ordered you to.
Now, please don’t get your noses out of joint. I support our troops! I am sincerely grateful for their unselfish attitude of sacrifice. I am thankful that we have people in every generation who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. It’s just that I’ve never understood why those folks profess to be followers of the Prince of Peace.
In similar vein, the militant Buddhist samurai is just as nonsensical to me as the militant Christian crusader. Both are complete departures from what the original founders believed, taught and intended. Both transmogrifications demonstrate the power of the human mind to rationalize anything it wants, and turn it into something it prefers.