David Robertson is in the midst of an informal debate. The discussion is around the topic “Why Christianity is Reasonable”, and David’s talking when suddenly a guy at the back of the crowd pipes up.
“Everything you’ve claimed that is unique about Jesus Christ can be found in pagan religions that are much much older. From resurrections to births on 25th December!”
Without missing a beat, David shoots back. “You sir are a great example of what is happening in this Wikipedia Generation!” Ouch. David then proceeds to explain why the man’s statement simply makes no historical sense.
I have friends online who regularly throw this claim at me – that Christianity is simply a rehash of older pagan ideas. Of course, Dan Brown popularized this years ago in the Da Vinci Code.
“by fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition there was created a kind of hybrid religion”.
This supposedly pre-Christian God Mithras was supposedly born on December 25th, later died, and rose again after three days.
It’s a great putdown to the keen yet uninformed Christian evangelist, isn’t it?
But it doesn’t take too long to become “informed” about the un-historic and manipulative nature of these claims. Professor Ronald Nash taught for 40 years on worldview, ethics and history. And his response to the “Christianity rehash” idea is stark.
1 – It is a logical fallacy to claim that – just because two things exist side by side – one MUST have caused the other.
2 – The alleged similarities between Christianity and Mithraism are exaggerated by the people who claim it. How? They exaggerate by using Christian language to refer to pagan rituals. Like for example a “Last supper” or “baptism” in Mithraism. The followers engaged in no such thing. The parallels are forced thru use of sloppy, modern language.
3 – The chronology is wrong. The sources of information about pagan mystery religions date to 400 years AFTER Christ. How can a practice – occurring hundreds of years after documented Christianity – affect Christianity? One would need a TARDIS to square that circle.
4 – The New Testament shows that Christian teaching comes originally from Judaism alone. There was an intolerance to influence from Greek thinking.
“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers[a] of this world, rather than from Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NLT
5 – Christianity was originally (and presented thru scripture today) as an exclusive faith. One gives one’s life to following Christ. However the pagan cults were non-exclusive. One could become initiated into the cult of Mithras, and treat it as an addition to ones existing belief system.
6 – Christianity is grounded on events of history. The mystery cults were essentially non-historical, based on myths and pictures. It is a mistake to assume the events described in the New Testament to by mythological. Similarly, it’s a mistake to assume the grounding of ancient mystery religions to be historical.
7 – The parallels that remain reflect the influence of Christianity on Paganism, not the other way round. Historical record shows pagan attempts around AD360 to counter the growing influence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world by imitating certain parts of it….offering a pagan alternative, if you like.
More details here: http://www.equip.org/PDF/DB109.pdf
You know, the internet is an echo chamber for memes and ideas. I for one would like to do what I can to feed some reason into that noise. When you look at all the information – reason suggests that because Christianity is earlier, and a different order than Mithraism, the two cannot be related. Unless, of course, Mithraism sought to emulate parts of the established Christian tradition to gain converts.