It's difficult to talk about this subject without offending people. Once upon a time I took offence, having an inbox for everything that supported my beliefs (on Christianity) and a junk folder for everything else. It's taken a while to develop a more rational, and inclusive belief system.
At university this year I studied the classical play Antigone. This is another story that has been written and copied over and over again. Today we see this 'refreshing of old material' in music, where new cover versions are done of old songs, as well as movies that express classic texts in new and interesting ways. Some make changes that they feel are topical (like the modern Hamlet, set in New York), others try to stick to what they believe is the original version as closely as possible (Passion of the Christ).
What shocked me is the extent to which writers borrowed from popular mythology in the classical period when the Greeks had their great Empire. This is a period that predates Christianity by a few thousand years. As a matter of course, the most popular plays were rehashed, modified, repeated, over and over again. Some would call that plagiarism. Others, just 'retelling'. Much of Greek mythology can be applied to Christianity.
A DVD that explores the issue of the pagan links to Christianity is called The God Who Wasn't There. Newsweek wrote an article on it (you can order it at www.thegodmovie.com). In it they also mention Osirus and Dionysus, as well as a score for various heroes stories (from Apollo, to Robin Hood, to Oedipus). There are 22 traits of the mythical hero (what the author calls The Hero of Tradition). Jesus gets 19, Osirus gets 22. These traits include:
- being of royal blood
- being the son of a God
- being rejected by his people/unable to rule on Earth
- entering a city on a donkey
- dying on a hill
- rising from the dead
- after three days
There are more. When one looks at the number of ancient texts that coincide with these (and many more) plot devices, it's difficult to see the story of Jesus Christ either as original, or special or even to believe they ever happened to begin with.
Recent books have pointed out that the gospel was actually voted into existence, including particular aspects of it. Some folklore has been removed, but much has remained (the walking on water, the devices used above).
The most obvious pagan rituals that were designed into Christianity were December 25 and Sunday (as a holy day). This made Christianity more acceptable to the masses. As a result of those changes, we have Judaism (more ritualised, and with the Sabbath still on Saturday) and its more acceptable (and more palatable to the public)descendant, Christianity.
Some people ask, when one modifies one's belief: "You're just being convenient about your beliefs. You believe what suits you." The irony is, that's what all the religions are - suitable beliefs, some more suitable than others. How much they have to do with actual history (and reality) is debatable. Millions of intelligent people subscribe to them because much of what religion comprises involves morally right living (which makes sense).
What doesn't make sense is the exclusive nature of religions. Where there is only one way, one right, one answer. This exclusivity is what leads to a sort of contract between the follower the system. On a mass scale it leads to war and domination, and human history is filled with examples of it. President Bush has gone to war by labelling countries as an axis of 'evil'. What is 'evil' really depends on your beliefs. Those fighting him describe Bush and his forces as 'crusading armies'. Aren't they? Of course, I don't really believe the war in Iraq is about good versus evil - no one does. But the war started under that pretext. Most do. This is what is so dangerous.
What is important to remember, even when we suggest (or believe) that Christ never existed, is that belief in him can do a lot of good. Of course, in history it's been used time and again to go to war. But it has to be remembered that some people have a quiet faith that enhances their existence. While I no longer believe that serves me (believing in something I'm certain is historically untrue), I do believe that Faith in a Higher Being does serve one. Giving this Higher Being a name can be useful, but often we get stuck on the details, this symbol or that symbol.
I believe there is a Higher Existence, and we should aspire to it. The Now, is a good way to start to become aware of the present magic of the universe. Now, this moment is all we have. It's an expanding creation, and it is awesome.
As soon as we give things names, we limit their power. We ought to have the discipline and open mindedness to see things the way they are, not how we want them to be.