Magi Mike's Blog

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The Christian Slide from Morality to Magic Rituals

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Christianity had certain advantages over most religions of the Roman empire before it. One was its missionary activity—its proselytizing. Pagan religions generally did not proselytize. Members thought to be valuable as members would be approached or recommended, but on an exclusive basis. They had to be morally acceptable, but Christianity was glad to accept those whom the Pagan religions rejected. Novice Pagans were taught by a hierophant what was expected of them and what they were required to know and do as full members. Christian catechumens were similarly instructed, for several years, by a presbyter. With full membership, the mystoi had secret objects revealed to them, and similarly, catechumens had the local Church’s creed revealed to them. The Churches had no united creed until after the Nicene Council, and it was an unpopular move among some bishops to remove its secrecy before catechumens had been instructed correctly.

Not all Pagans followed a religion. Also popular, especially among intellectuals, were the philosophies that offered a world outlook like Stoicism, Epicureanism and Neoplatonism, each of which offered codes of morals and methods of pursuing virtue. Even so, some philosophies had religions associated with them like the Pythagoreans whose religion, Orphism, was to purify the mind, but which also had expiatory rites like the eastern mysteries. So some Pagans sought membership of religions by living lives acceptable to their gods, while others, like the noble emperor, Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic, sought virtue by living a life of philosophical morality.

Christians had a different approach to morality. Its members did not have to be virtuous to become Christians, but instead had to stop being a sinner, and thereby enter communion with God. By rejecting sin—crimes against the will of God—Christianity aimed to make morality central by vigorously preaching sinlessness, with the open threat that sinfulness means the withdrawal of the Holy Communion, and the permanent loss of the afterlife reward of perpetual bliss with God.

Christians’ motives for virtue, despite their modern obsession with free will, was not a fair choice, as it was for Pagans, it was coercion. The Christian God of love was a mask for the wrath and jealousy of a more basic, cruel and primitive Old Testament God. The misery of this life was to be compensated—for the compliant Christian—by an eternal life of bliss, but only when the convert had succeeded in pleasing God. Christ had explained how strict the rules were. The least sin could mean the loss of the eternally blissful life. It was much easier to miss out on the reward than it was to receive it.

Not only that, though. Although the Revelation of John is clear that consignment to the fires of hell constituted a rapid final and permanent death for the sinner, the idea of a never ending torture without death in perpetual flames was a more effective way of ensuring compliance and obedience among the considerable riff-raff that comprised much of early Christianity. The enormity of the consequences of even minor sins was driven into the poor people and slaves who had become Christians in the hope of life offering them something more than constant suffering in their tortured lives. It proved to be a powerful incentive to conform with the rules of the Church, long before anything certain was known about psychology.

W E H Lecky summarized the difference in approaches of Pagans and Christians:

The eye of the Pagan philosopher was ever fixed upon virtue, the eye of the Christian teacher upon sin. The first sought to amend men by extolling the beauty of holiness, the second by awakening the sentiment of remorse.

A History of European Morals

The Christian negative approach has been and still is, as Christians like to boast, sometimes succesful in bringing those who are thoroughly depraved and apparently impossible to reform to such a state of guilt and remorse in the face of the fear of Judgement that they have broken down and promised to abandon their objectionable behavior. The trouble is that the cure is based on promises that are so far from being verifiable as to be opportunistic lies. The Christian seeks to avoid sin in the hope of an eternal reward by living a life of lies.

Moreover, to control the whole of the membership of the Church, the clergy had to maintain that sinfulness was the norm for all human beings by Original Sin—so that the utmost self sacrifice for others could not absolve even the best human being from the need for clerical intervention via the application of the magical sacraments which soon became as essential as or even more essential than sinlessness or repentance for the sinner to qualify for the ultimate reward.

Humanity whose nature and basic instincts are to be concerned for the welfare of other human beings—and even animals—was denounced by Christians as perpetually depraved and sinful unless immunized by the magic and mumbo jumbo of the mass.

2 Responses

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  1. Hi mike, hope you are well.

    I like this post , particularly as it is free from christian bias and dogmatism.
    As you know i have recommended your research as sound basis for reviewing long held beliefs and for casting light into the dark places of religious institutions.
    Whether it is liked or not religions are not above the scrutiny we give to all other political parties.
    I particularly like the point that christianity is full of sinners, which of course should make them a bad lot! So how come they take the moral highground?
    The irony was not lost as it is today, on the more astute of observers, including Mohammed the founder of Islam.

    It takes all sorts to rule the world! At least you can point these things out in a reasonable and reasoned way. We all believe stuff that as we get older we should review. After all we are no longer children.
    Thanks again and keep lucky!


    16 April, 2011 at 5:14 am

    • Hello Sam, Glad to see you back after an interval. I too hope I’ll stay lucky for some time longer yet, but we’ll see. All best wishes, Mike

      Mike Magee

      16 April, 2011 at 7:46 pm

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