Sunday, April 01, 2018

The God from the House of Bread: A Bridge Between Christianity and Paganism (Part 4)

The Wild Reed's 2018 Holy Week series concludes with Part 4 of Druid author and speaker John Michael Greer's essay "The God from the House of Bread," originally published in the 2012 anthology, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ.

To start at the beginning of this series, click here).


The relationship between the mythic role assigned to Jesus and the sparse historical traces left by his life is a challenging issue for many modern versions of Christianity. Some theologians refuse to draw any distinction between myth and history – if the Bible says that Jesus rose into heaven, according to these interpretations, then that's what happened – and if television reporters had been there, they could have filmed it for the eleven o'clock news. Others draw a distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith," though data on the former is so sparse that it can be (and has been) redefined to fit any dizzying assortment of modern agendas. Still others have come to reject the idea that a historical Jesus existed in the first place.

If Christianity was originally a mystery cult focused on the life force, though, these confusion evaporate. Whatever historical reality might have formed the kernel around which the Jesus myth emerged – and in all probability no one will ever know what that reality was – the spiritual meaning of the myth is not dependent on that reality. In Owen Morgan's sense, there is no question as to the factual nature of the resurrection of Jesus, since it takes place in every sunrise and in the sprouting of every seed. The historical figure around which the myth coalesced is simply not that important; there was doubtless some dimly remembered historical figure at the root of the myth of Heracles, too.

The claim that Christianity's dying and resurrected god was a historical person who lived in the very recent past rather than a wholly mythic figure played an important role historically in giving the newborn Christian church an edge over its competitors. When the fall of Rome dragged the classical world to ruin, however, the elegant mythic metaphors that had made Christianity the most successful of the Pagan mystery religions were reinterpreted in blindly literal terms. Later on in the Reformation and afterward, these metaphors lost the last of their original meaning and were transformed in bloodless ideologies completely detached from the seasonal and vegetative context that once gave them their power.

Nowadays, the obscure historical figure around whose life the original core of mythic narratives clustered lies in the distant past, and attempts to force a literal meaning out of those narratives have long since crossed over into absurdity. The widespread modern notion of the Rapture, in which believing Christians will soon be beamed up to heaven by some miraculous equivalent of Star Trek's transport beams, is a troubling case in point. It's a lightly disguised fantasy of mass suicide – when someone tells their children that Grandma has gone to heaven to be with Jesus, most people understand what that means – and its popularity suggests that the conflict between overly literal interpretations of Christianity's exuberant seasonal myths and the awkward solidity of a world that refuses to fit those interpretations may finally have become too great for many Christians to bear.

Efforts to reconnect Christianity with its origins as a mystery religion of life and fertility have been going on for more than two centuries now, and might have succeeded in revitalizing the old myths and rituals, except for one detail: nearly all these attempts were aimed at discrediting Christianity as just another Pagan fertility cult, and therefore unworthy of respect. It took a believer in a different Pagan fertility cult, Owen Morgan, to realize that the equation could be worked the other way. He saw, as a handful of visionaries since his time have seen, that the ancient worship of the life force is a potent and valid spiritual option in its own right, and that Christian ritual and symbols can readily carry this primal constellation of meanings.

It is only fair to say that many other interpretations of Christianity are possible; many people will find some other way of approach to the Christian faith more relevant to their own spiritual lives, and many others will find no need to approach the Christian faith at all. Central to old Paganism was the realization that different people are called to worship different deities, and the corresponding sense that each person has the right and the duty to pursue his or her own religious path within a context of respect and toleration for the deities of others. Still, for those who feel drawn to the rituals and symbolism of Christianity, the vision of Jesus as an image of the ever-returning life force, and of Christianity as a mystery cult that need not conflict with a wider reverence for the divine presence in the world, may offer unexpected possibilities.

– John Michael Greer
From "The God from the House of Bread"
in Jesus Through Pagan Eyes
(edited by Rev. Mark Townsend)
pp. 157-159

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The God from the House of Bread (Part 1)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 2)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 3)
Advent: A "ChristoPagan" Perspective
Gabriel Fauré's "ChristoPagan" Requiem
A Day to Celebrate the Survival of the Old Ways
Reclaiming the "Hour of God"
At Hallowtide, Pagan Thoughts on Restoring Our World and Our Souls
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Beltane: Celebrating the Sheer Exuberance of May
Beltane and the Reclaiming of Spirit
Beloved and Antlered
Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"
The Prayer Tree

Opening image: Detail from Salvador Dalí's "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" (1955).

No comments: