The bizarre notion that finding pagan themes in Christianity discredits Christianity


We see this often: "Well, the Egyptians already had the idea of a dying and resurrected God way before the Christians did!"

But Father Dwight Longenecker, discussing Tom Bombadil, quotes C. S. Lewis debunking this silly idea:
Pagan wisdom is a foreshadowing of the Christian gospel. 'If paganism could be shown to have something in common with Christianity, "so much the better for paganism," not "so much the worse for Christianity."'
Read his whole essay, which is quite good.

7 comments:

  1. It seems to me that whether or not it "discredits" Christianity is highly dependent on what someone is trying to "credit" Christianity with.

    If I file a patent application and say "look, I've invented a round object that can be used to roll things around -- nobody has ever done this before!" then presumably people pointing out the millennia-long history of the wheel would discredit that claim.

    If, on the other hand, I offer a wheel for sale and say I think it's a pretty good wheel by comparison to other wheels out there, not so much.

    When I was a kid, the Pentecostal churches I was raised in talked about e.g. Orpheus, Tammuz and so forth as attempts by Satan to "discredit" Christianity by creating fake versions of the Jesus story ... in advance. Over time, I came to see things the opposite way. That is, the Jesus story seemed to be one in a long line of similar stories. Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with it, but its claims to unique status versus similar ones didn't seem very credible.

    Later, instead of rejecting Christianity entirely on the basis of those not very credible claims, I began to see Christianity as part of a long, evolving tradition, and a pretty cool one at that.

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    1. "When I was a kid, the Pentecostal churches I was raised in talked about e.g. Orpheus, Tammuz and so forth as attempts by Satan to "discredit" Christianity by creating fake versions of the Jesus story ... in advance."

      Did you read the Longnecker article? He is claiming the exact opposite!

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  2. Actually it is quite fascinating to see how our ideas have evolved over the millennia.

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    1. Which is... what? Not what Lewis thought?

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  3. Two things.

    The idea of a dying and resurrecting being is not some trivial point for Christianity. It is THE miracle of Christianity. Jesus was supposed to be THE singular case of God acting in history by bringing someone back from the dead. As distinguished Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, argues, for Christians, the resurrection was why the Christian God can be assumed to be the one true God. If there is any other event of resurrection that happens that can be valid, that trivializes the resurrection of Jesús, and Christianity itself.

    Secondly,

    If the story of Jesús shares similarities with the stories of Oedipus, Heracles, or Apollo, that should put us on alert. If you go to someone´s home and find ten kinds of towels which really resemble the towels you have seen in the Hilton, in the Plaza, or the Ritz, you can assume that a) those hotels copied their towels from your friend or b) your friend took those towels from those hotels.

    That the Gospel writers were Greek speakers who were likely brought up knowing traditions of Greek heroic epics and who have written a story with strong similarities to those epics - this should be a very relevant and serious concern for Christians! Not something dismissed recklessly.

    Either way, it is not entirely controversial that Platonian ideas feature in theological themes of Christianity. Paul of Tarsus must have learnt several ideas of Greek philosophers as a Hellenized Jew, and it would have featured in his discussions of the idea that God could manifest on earth in other less heavenly forms. What matters is whether those ideas can be proven correct, not necessarily who inspired whom.

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    1. "Jesus was supposed to be THE singular case of God acting in history by bringing someone back from the dead."

      Ahem, ahem... Lazarus? The story is right in the very same book, you know!

      "If the story of Jesús shares similarities with the stories of Oedipus, Heracles, or Apollo, that should put us on alert."

      Yes, the story of Jesus ought to make us alert. We are in agreement there.

      "Not something dismissed recklessly."

      What in the world are you talking about? None of:
      1) my post
      2) Lewis
      3) Longnecker
      "dismisses" these similarities! Every one of us is acknowledging them.

      Let us say, for a second, that you grant the central claim of the Christianity, for arguments sake: Jesus was God incarnate. Then would it appear strange that people might have had premonitions of the idea of resurrection?

      I think you are working this backwards: you think, "Well, GIVEN that Christianity is false, the story of Jesus must be a copy. And therefore, Christianity is false." But that is just your premise appearing in your conclusion.

      But IF Christianity is true, these stories were premonitions!

      In other words, they offer absolutely no independent evidence one way or the other.

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  4. How does one define paganism, anyway? Anything that's not Abrahamic, Buddhist, Hindu, or New Age?

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