What on Earth is Prophecy?

Whenever the topic of prophecy is brought up, the great and somewhat disappointing rift between the Christian and his non-Christian brother becomes apparent. The non-Christian will see thousands of Christ figures developed by hundreds different cultures over thousands of years and — taking non-Christianity as a premise — assume that Christ is merely one of many myths, a man embellished into divinity, messiah, and redeemer.

The Christian — and he really can’t help it, so do excuse his behavior — would be shocked if there weren’t thousands of Christ figures developed by hundreds of different cultures. The Incarnation of the Christ is the central event of human history. His cross is the stake around which the world blossoms. Pardon the poetry, but it’s only the logical conclusion of the Christian premise.

I love the similarities between this painting — Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan, by Dirck Van Baburen, 1623 — and Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter.

See, if an infinite being were to enter human history, this event would be all-encompassing in nature. I’ll put it another way: If a man who exists outside of our notions of past, present and future were to come and die for us, this sacrifice would necessarily encompass the past, the present and the future. A timeless act would be the only act uniting men separated by the course of time.

Thus if one wanted to prove that this event did not happen, or at the very least was not infinite and divine in quality, the best thing he could do would be to look to the past and see no images of the Christ there. If it was a blank slate up until the life of Christ, if there was no yearning for a paradise lost, no whispers of a coming redeemer, no myths of the infinite and the finite crashing together, no God-Men, savior-children, no Horus, no Mithra, and certainly no Prometheus tied to a rock, suffering the loss of his liver for his attempt to lift mankind out of the darkness and into the marvelous light of the Gods, well. Then the Christian would and should have a hard time believing the historical life and death of Christ amounts to divine importance.

But as it turns out, the world is and has ever been murmuring the name of Christ.

With this I arrive at another delightful pagan prophecy, or rather, a philosophical prophecy. I came across it in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful little book, Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis points to a passage in Plato’s Republic, in which Glaucos asks the question: If a man were to be born on earth representing the utter fullness of righteousness, what would happen to him?

Here’s the passage:

We must, indeed, not allow him to seem good, for if he does he will have all the rewards and honours paid to the man who has a reputation for justice, and we shall not be able to tell whether his motive is love of justice or love of the rewards and honours. No, we must strip him of everything except his justice, and our picture of him must be drawn in a way diametrically opposite to that of the unjust man. our just man must have the worst of reputations for wrong-doing even though he has done no wrong, so that we can test his justice and see if it weakens in the face of unpopularity and all that goes with it; we shall give him an undeserved and life-long reputation for wickedness, and make him stick to his chosen course until death….the just man, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified. (361c-362a, Desmond Lee’s Penguin edition, p107).

Now again, there’s two false ways to view this passage, just as there were two false ways of viewing Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue. It’d be a stretch to say that this is a prophecy of Christ in the manner of the Old Testament. It would be silly — pious perhaps, but still silly — to view this as the direct product of the Holy Spirit, and not as a passage in a dialogue on whether it is better to be just or unjust.

On the other hand, it’d be moronic to dismiss this passage as only coincidentally coinciding with the historical event of the crucifixion, for there is clearly a reasonable and logical unity between Plato’s theoretical event, and the actual, historical event.

Lewis gives us a better way:

“Plato is talking, and knows he is talking, about the fate of goodness in a wicked and misunderstanding world. But that is not something simply other than the Passion of Christ. It is the very same thing of which that Passion is the supreme illustration. If Plato was in some measure moved to write of it by the recent death—we may almost say the martyrdom—of his master Socrates then that again is not something simply other than the Passion of Christ. The imperfect, yet very venerable, goodness of Socrates led to the easy death of the hemlock, and the perfect goodness of Christ led to the death of the cross, not by chance but for the same reason; because goodness is what it is, and because the fallen world is what it is. If Plato, starting from one example and from his insight into the nature of goodness and the nature of the world, was led on to see the possibility of a perfect example, and thus to depict something extremely like the Passion of Christ, this happened not because he was lucky but because he was wise.  If a man who knew only England and had observed that, the higher a mountain was, the longer it retained the snow in early spring, were led on to suppose a mountain so high that it retained the snow all the year round, the similarity between his imagined mountain and the real Alps would not be merely a lucky accident. He might not know that there were any such mountains in reality, just as Plato probably did not know that the ideally perfect instance of crucified goodness which he had depicted would ever become actual and historical. But if that man ever saw the Alps he would not say “What a curious coincidence”. He would be more likely to say “There! What did I tell you?””

Again, it goes back to the question of what, precisely, is prophecy? If prophecy is viewed as a eyes-rolled-up, here’s-your-future, no-other-explanation-but-the-supernatural, then yes, Plato’s prophecy is no prophecy at all — it is merely coincidental. If prophecy must be separate from Reason in order to be prophecy, than the only views we could hold are those of the non-Christian and those of the — for lack of a better term — ultra-pious.

But if prophecy amounts to telling the Truth, then the cramped horizon expands beyond the Christian, the Jew, and the mystic. Prophecy becomes the province of the honest. AnD let me be the first to claim that any man who looks at the world and declares it fallen and in need of a savior, and to resolve this tension goes on to create the story of a divine being giving his life for mankind, dying and rising again, that this man — on the most fundamental, human level — is being honest.

We’re creeping up on my main point, The Prophecy of Indie Rock. Do stick around for a few more posts.

The Difference Between a Martyr and a Victim
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and LOVE My Smartphone
No, Christianity's Not Eurocentric (But You Kind Of Are)
Bettering Your Boring Christian Playlist: Jenny & Tyler
  • musiciangirl591

    weird, yesterday, my boyfriend’s cousin was talking about the comparison between Jesus and Horus (i was out camping for the weekend so i wasn’t using my computer to see your other posts!), thanks for writing what i wanted to say because i didn’t want to cause a fight :P

  • whatalune

    “Prophecy becomes the province of the honest.” Wow, I am flabbergasted by the truth and poetry of that statement! A+

  • Jen

    Maybe it’s just because you referenced C.S. Lewis, but I just thought about Narnia. In The Last Battle, Chapter 15, they have a whole converstaion about how the mountains and the woods are all like the ones in the Narnia that they had left, but bigger, brighter, and “more real like the real thing.” I always figured it was about the perfection of heaven, brining everything to their maximum, but since Jesus is God, is makes sense that he be the real thing here. The idea of a savior is good- you know you need help. So an actual savior has to be, in some way, real. If it can be that simple. You made a post a while ago about there neeeding to be an infinite because we want it. It’s like that I guess. Making the transition between wanting something and then believing it’s possible is hard though.

  • InvictusLux

    This will go over the heads of most readers and some will not know which side of the topic you are on here and become alarmed at the apparent similitude between the Christian salvation story and the pagan “stories”. Good write up though.

    Of course pagan BEFORE CHRIST every saw an allusion to Christ in Horus, Attis or Mithra until 1700 or so years AFTER He came; at a point in time when men became educated (ironically by a university first system developed by The Catholic Church) learned to read and write in larger numbers.

    Some just don’t understand what prophecy is for. It’s not so much to make it so one can personally profit from it in the here and now as it is a means for God to ratify His Word. Some should ask “what good is prophecy at all if it does not benefit anyone?” The Jews in spite of possessing thousands of years of prophecy unwittingly f0llowed prophecy to the jot-and-tiddle; rejecting the ONE person who claimed to be the promised Messiah of prophecy; turning Him over in the worst sin humanity could possibly commit – Deicide. The irony is that the Jews, experts in scripture, then went on to follow at least 2 subsequent false messiahs historically down stream of Christ (and got slaughtered and lost Jerusalem). So much for the bearers of scripture being experts in it – the price of truth is terrible to those who mishandle it. God has His own purposes and ratifies His Word by the most conspicuous examples of human folly that prove no one on earth could have invented this stuff. No one engineers and manufacturers their own suffering and humiliation – not by design. We Catholics should learn a lesson from the Jews. We should be very keenly aware of our responsibility and not become as complacent in our security of “salvation”. We are just instruments of Divine Providence.

    More on topic. All humanity has some natural human light and discernment of Divine Truth – even when in a fallen and depraved state. God let Cain live for a purpose – He has a plan for all of humanity. These pagan mythological cases of similitude with Christ (which are not really all that similar) reflect the the principals of prophecy in the same way that God made Ballam’s Ass speak to admonish its dumped payload – the pagan prophet Ballam. Ballam at least came to his senses to serve God in the same way pig iron can be made into a sword with a bit of heat and annealing. Ironically, the skeptics never pick up on the blunt clues.

    By the way, the apologetics refute any Christological borrowing from pagan sources. More here: Is Catholicism Pagan?

    • Vision_From_Afar

      “By the way, the apologetics refute any Christological borrowing from pagan sources. More here: Is Catholicism Pagan?”

      No one in their right mind is out to prove Catholicism is Pagan. The fact that your article uses Crick tracts as stereotypical arguments means they’re arguing from the extreme end of the discussion.
      No, Catholicism isn’t pagan. I think that even the repudiation found in your link makes a fine argument for early Christians being influenced, but not borrowing wholesale, from pagan cultures of the time (see the repeated references to circumcision).
      The fact that most Christians refuse to even acknowledge the possibility of cross-pollination (har har) with pagan cultures is what makes most non-Christians gnash their teeth.

      • InvictusLux

        Bravo good points. Catholics embrace their unique universalism – we are after all the most human people on the planet and embrace the negative lessons as core principals (where anathamas come from) of all the cultures and go out of out way to bend the fun pagan ones our way (makes recruitment easier and more inclusive). People forget that EVERYTHING we have today came to us first through pagan sources – even our barbaric language and alphabet that the atheists and skeptics use to lampoon and hurdle goliath gars of criticism at us.

  • Jon

    I agree with your post but I’d also like to point out that Horus, Attis, and Mithra are ALSO very different from Christ (unlike your image would have us believe).

    Horus, for example wasn’t even born on December 25th…and even if he was scripture doesn’t say that is when Christ was born. That’s just when Christians celebrate the event.

    The “Zeitgeist” film is historical garbage and is one of the main perpetrators of dishonest historical comparison that that image represents.

    From r/Christianity’s FAQ

    “Those claims almost all stem from Acharya S (Dorothy Murdock) and Gerald Massey. The first can only be said to be willfully selling a convenient fiction to move books and the latter seems to have been genuinely ignorant. It should also be noted that there are just as many, if not more, differences between Jesus and these other ancient figures as there are similarities.”

    And some Atheists / skeptics rebuke Zeitgest here for being historical trash.


  • Noe

    I can’t help but view the Christian who “would be shocked if there weren’t…” as a construct. Where are any such Christians, among the millions of them over the centuries, apart from Lewis, Tolkien and their circle, and a small number of their influences? Where, given that such expectation is a logical conclusion of the Christian premise – is it to be found in the early centuries of Catholic theology, that the seemingly-typical Christian would be taught its “expectability” in other belief systems, or those of their own? Where are the records of the application of such a principle in the works of missionaries to the worlds peoples, who seemingly held these expectations?

    • Noe

      I ask this as someone who REALLY REALLY wants to believe that the historical Church actually did abide such a view of foreshadowing and prefigurement (Brazier’s “C.S. Lewis and Christological Prefigurement” in the heythrop Journal doesn’t offer one, but does a fantastic job of mapping and fleshing out Lewis presentation), I’ve found scant that would suggest such is true, maybe two lone sources among the Church Fathers – and the few in ‘opposition” to prefigurement that feed the embarrassing “diabolical mimicry” accusation.

    • ladycygnus

      Well, in the Catechism it states that some knowledge of God is attainable by pagans, “The human person: with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. the soul, the “seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material”, can have its origin only in God.” (CCC 33 – essentially quoting the bible)

      There is also CCC 522, “The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the “First Covenant”.195 He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.”

      Although the second passage doesn’t cite a source, if the Bible says that pagans can know something about God and can be guided by the truth then it would be expected that they would have some shadow of a story retelling this truth. I know you are looking for something in between the bible and Lewis, perhaps someone else can find other items through history. At the very least I don’t know of anything that says “the pagan religions are completely false and have no truth in their stories”

      • Noe

        Other than noting a “dim expectation” in their hearts, I think taken together, they’re more a comment to Classic philosophy. I’d love to see the paper trail to that dim expectation line, it sounds something like Tolkien’s counsel to Lewis at early-AM Oxford, that became “Mythopoeia” – and it is “7 months pregnant” with potential – but in the same cautious way Lewis doesn’t go too far in suggesting the discernability of foreshadowings in “Miracles” – leaving open the creative component of such awakenings in the heart, not expecting to find precisions like shared numbers of disciples, truly ‘virgin’ births, birthdays, etc, which are bullocks the more one looks at the ‘parallels’. Lewis also notes the proximity to myth that Judaism has in its history the further back in it’s own textual origins (footnote in chapter before “miracles of the new creation”, I think). I think it’s interesting that both “parthenos” in Greek and “betulah/almah” in Hebrew (present in the prediction that a young woman/virgin would bear a child, etc, in Septuagin Isaiah/Hebrew Isaiah), are not exacting words for virgin – hindsight as 20/20, even with Divine prophecy/ Mortal myth and the Man who exceeded the parameters of all that was pagan and Jewish?

      • Noe

        Hebrew Scriptures DOES consider the pagan deities, at times, “imaginations” and even demons – but the Jewish interpretations cease having the same authority once Christ enters and offers his interpretations, and it’s very common for Catholics who’ve only heard of Lewis, et al, to consider everything non-Christian “utterly false” – that’s why “catholic answers live” can get tedious for me… Also post-Ressurection in ‘opening’ the eyes of apostles to understand scripture, etc.

    • InvictusLux

      St. Paul certainly saw it in the cultures he visited. After all he appealed to the Athenians and their hedging honorary in the monument to the unknown God (Acts 17:22-31).

      And I bet the entire early Jewish Christian sect was amazed and stunned silly when The Way was opened up to the pagans (Gentiles) who brought with them the new traditions of “not eating Kosher” and dying for their faith at the hands of their countrymen.

      • Noe

        But there is the vice versa – the Jewish christians had to be counseled not to demand they become Jewish first – which would seem to go against a widespread conviction that foreshadowings were expected by the Church of grasped as such by those who believed them; pagans showed a willingness to deny (not see as “fulfilled”), their paganism by adopting Jewish stuff via conversion before being Christians, while becoming Christians and by being “God-fearers”, those willing to abstain from the Pagan cosmology. The unknown God could be understood as precisely NOT foreshadowing; he’s simply not known for who he is – AT ALL – there’s not Pagan narrative that Paul ties Christ to in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anna.dawson.9 Anna Dawson

    Thanks for expounding on that!

  • Vision_From_Afar

    The Christian — and he really can’t help it, so do excuse his behavior — would be shocked if there weren’t thousands of Christ figures developed by hundreds of different cultures.

    That, right there, is why most arguments on this end with both sides wanting to bang their heads against a wall. Where the Non-Christian attempts to step outside the mythos, the Christian cannot (and I have wondered if some would call those who can, “true Christians”), and so the two continually talk past each other. We have the Non-Christian attempting Reason devoid of Belief, and the Christian melding the two into an inseparable, inescapable argument of…“There! What did I tell you?”

    Quite frankly, I think Kipling put it best:
    “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

    • Matt

      Your comment is spot on. One cannot argue or think his way to believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There is plenty of evidence out there on both sides of the ledger. In the end, you must choose to believe Jesus is who he says he is or not. The only way to truly know God is through a personal relationship. Scripture (and these other myths or prophecies, whichever term you prefer) give us clues about him, but in reality he wants to dwell in our hearts. The only way to really know this is to open yourself to him in a sincere way and acknowledge your dependence on the Creator for everything including your very ability to think. Then ask him to reveal himself to you and agree to be open and follow him wherever he takes you.

      The fact that you seem so concerned about denying God attests to the fact that he is real… otherwise why waste your time? If God doesn’t exist then why be concerned about the Christians and their silly little myths? Instead, turn off the computer and go take a walk in nature to relax yourself.

    • ColdStanding

      “We have the Non-Christian attempting Reason devoid of Belief…”

      There, in that sentence is the horn of the modern secular mind’s dilemma: How can a mind that, and this is incontrovertible, both believes AND reasons be expected to produce reliable results when constrained to think via reason alone (sola ratio!!).

      • Vision_From_Afar

        You’ve got the right idea, but I think I was too vague in my original statement. The problem isn’t with the modern secular mind, but the modern Non-Christian mind, dealing with Reason, but not the same Belief.
        It is via this difference that we get inter-religious conflict. Working from the foundation of Belief allows for Reason to reach entirely logical conclusions that are vastly out-of-bounds for his fellow man who happens to be building from a different foundation. Many make the argument of “My house is the only way to build a house, so why are you so wrong in your house, neighbor?” without considering that perhaps not everyone wants to live in the same house.
        I fully understand the Christian mission and impetus (there is only one God, and the only way to get to him is thru Jesus, so we’ve got to save everyone we can), but many Christians fail to recognize that they are building that entire worldview (with a good dose of Reason, of course) on the foundation of Belief. Take away the belief that there is only one God, and the house falls apart from the foundation up (even the Bible says this). The problem lies in those who, whether Muslims in Iran or Evangelicals in Middle America, decide that they must be the HOA of this neighborhood, and all houses not containing at least an identical foundation must be torn down and re-built to “code”.

        • ColdStanding

          Hmm, you’ve lost me there.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Let me try to break this down further.
            Secular/Atheist => Reason utterly devoid of Belief
            Christian => Reason founded on Belief in the Divintiy of Christ as son of the One True God
            Muslim => Reason founded on Belief in the Holiness of the teachings of the Prophet
            etc., etc.

            Logic is a tricky beast, often traveling roads laid out from the starting point, without considering crossroads or parallel tracks.

            My point (I think, because reading it over I’ve now confused myself a bit, so I apologize for my ramble) was that after a point in Religious growth, a point that most world religions have reached, the original “foundation” (namely the Belief without any benefit of Reason) becomes lost inside the “house” (bits of Belief and a lot of Reason to encapsulate that Belief within a workable worldview (things like “Why does God…?” and similar theosophical musings)), to the point where stepping outside of the “house” becomes not only unconscionable, but heretical to boot. Those standing in their own houses (religions) suffer from the same problem, and so everyone sees their own argument as entirely reasonable, but no one else’s makes sense.

            If this is still confusing, it’s probably my fault, so I apologize in advance. Cheers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryliziz Mary Liz Bartell

    Christ fulfills the Jewish/Hebrew prophesies that were made long before he was born. How many people really predicted any of these other historical figures 1200 or 400 years before they were born? How many of them have Churches that trace their Holy Orders back to the time of their Earthly ministry? (+2000 years for Christians). I think we can safely say that if our Faith wasn’t a true faith it would have died out long ago. People can deny their belief in Jesus all they want, but that makes them mighty ignorant of the facts that he did indeed fulfill the Prophesies of his birth, and that his Sacraments are Grace- endowing real tangible experiences with God today. Jesus is real, he’s alive, and he’s here. Eucharist wins! There’s no Horace Hosts or Attis adoration chapels around is there, they didn’t declare themselves the Bread of Life did they? Just checking the facts.

    • Itarion

      Here are some facts for you:
      Horus, a member of the Egyptian pantheon, was worshiped constantly under various names for three thousand-ish years, from 3100 BCE to the Roman conversion to Christianity by Constantine around 300 CE. As a side note, Constantine himself proclaimed that other religions were to be tolerated, so it’s probable that some sects of Egyptian worshipers remained until the conquest of Egypt by Muslim armies, meaning that it wasn’t even Christianity that killed Horus worship. Horus has your god on duration of worship.
      The continuance of a belief is not an argument for the veracity of a belief, otherwise Japanese Shintoism is clearly more true, as it has been present (again continuously) in Japanese culture for longer than Japanese has had a recorded history. And there are still many alters, shrines, and buildings dedicated to the Shinto Kamis, or spirits.
      And, of course, the Japanese have a very strong miracle to back up their beliefs as well: the original Kamikaze, which means literally the wind of gods/spirits. This is not the suicide pilots you are familiar with from WWII class. This was a wind which sunk a huge fleet of Mongolian invader ships in the year 1281.

      • aomeyrat

        The nature of worship should be considered when assessing the potential truth of it. Horace was part of a pantheon of gods, and not the center of church in the way that Jesus is, nor did he produce the same kind of devotion. Like other myths, his was circulated, but it’s questionable whether this amounted to genuine faith complete with theology and tradition. After all, they aren’t around now for a reason. These myths have not held up at all to any serious scrutiny the way Christianity has. These myths did not produce any martyrs. They did not have a law or line of prophets. What they had were kings who used the myths to legitimize their rule. They had monolithic idols erected with slave labor. They had scared rich men trying to preserve their corpses for as long as possible, stored in the biggest tombs imaginable, since they were inevitably dubious about their fabricated afterlife.

        The remnants of these ancient religions seem to betray a group of people desperately trying to make their gods and miracles real. They had to enforce their religion upon the people; they didn’t convert. When this didn’t work, these religions became mystery cults and wooed people by providing ideal networking prospects and some comforting sermons. When the important people either left the cult (for Christianity), or when certain followers thought about validity of the cult for more than a few seconds and saw how wrong it was, these cults dispersed. They functioned more like clubs than actual churches. It is these that Constantine decided to tolerate, probably because he knew they would run their course and die out like they always had.

        Shintoism seems to fall into this group of myths and should not be compared with Christianity. It doesn’t require active worship -hence, no one really knows how many “Shintoists” there actually are – but serves more as a cultural, and formerly a monarchical, legitimizer. It is tradition for tradition’s sake, and it has very little relevance outside of Japan. In fact, Buddhism is often coupled with Shintoism to make it actually work as a religion. The “miracle” Kamikazi proves nothing, except Shintoism’s role in promoting Japanese nationalism, and probably how ill-suited Mongolians were to navigating across water.

        On the contrary, the continuing mission of Christianity versus other religions indicates a fair amount of veracity of its beliefs. The overwhelming adversity faced by Christians from its founding up to now and the virtues exhibited by disciples in response to that adversity show that there’s really something to it. The centuries of ink devoted to defending it, explaining it, promoting it, and adoring it, make it different from any myth. The throngs who worship, pray, and change inside and out, show that this religions, unlike other religions, is not adopted but adopts.

        • Itarion

          Yes, Horus (please spell other gods’ names correctly) was part of a pantheon. However, if you look at the Egyptian pantheon, you’ll notice that Horus is the “most powerful,” so to speak, as the leader god of the pantheon. This is because he had the largest following for the vast majority of the duration of Egyptian Dynasties. This puts it on par with Christianity for relative adherents. (I’m comparing Christianity across the world to Horus worshippers on Egypt because currently it is easier for ideas to travel. Thus, during its height, Egyptian religion had a much harder time moving around than Christianity does now.) Further, Horus worship was most certainly a “genuine faith” in its tradition and theology. There was an entire priest class dedicated to the study of the pantheon. (Much like in every religion.) Also, the grand monument pyramids were discontinued (something about grave robbery, i think) and most of the pharaohs are buried in the Valley of the Kings, a natural canyon with a lot of caves built with no slaves at all.

          Also, ad hominem against millennia dead men is not really worth it. Beyond that, why are you assuming that they did not actually believe the gods that they posted all over their tombs and had their bodies dried and preserved for? When most people profess a faith, it is because they honestly believe that which they are professing.

          Could you perhaps explain to me how these religions were forced onto their adherents? I would think that if one man tried to make ten thousand men believe and act as though they believed a certain religion, you’d end up with a bloodbath. Imagine that Congress were to pass a law requiring that a person had a religion. There are some 2% of the US population who would certainly respond very negatively and possibly up to 15% would. It isn’t easy to make someone act against their nature without some heavy handed violence, for which there is no evidence in the Egyptian region.

          When the world “cult” is used to describe older (dead) religions, it isn’t used in the same way as to describe Scientology. It refers instead to the presence of a set of beliefs, under which definition Christianity is also a cult. The specific definition of a word being used to very important to the meaning of a statement. Further, they functioned precisely as churches, with adherents of the faith/cult/thing going to the building seeking blessing. Constantine decided to tolerate these because of the sheer number of adherents to non-Christian religions at the time.

          Shintoism is a religion, same as Christianity. Ancestor or nature worship is a relatively common aspect of older religions. In fact, every religion prior to the arrival of Judaism worshipped anthropomorphized aspects of the natural world. Disregarding a belief system as not a religion simply because it doesn’t fit with how you feel religions should be does not change the fact that the religion in question is a religion. Furthermore, Shinto beliefs and Buddhist beliefs are so radically different as to be nearly incompatible. As for it being a monarchical and cultural legitimizer, that is what every religion is. “Religion is considered by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” -Seneca

          The fact that something continues for a long time does not make it true. Allow me to direct your attention to Hinduism, the Indian (East Asia) religion of choice. It dates back to (at the very least) 2600 BCE, putting its origins further before the birth of Christ than the birth of Christ is before now. Clearly, by your own argument that duration is equivalent to veracity, Hinduism is twice as true, and then some, as Christianity. The disciples exhibiting virtues in defense of their chosen religion says more about the disciples in question than the religion. As for centuries of ink… Millennia of stone carvings are way harder to accumulate.

          And who said anything about adoption? A lot people are born into it. In fact, the majority of people just stay in or near the religion of their parents.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            :slow clap:

          • aomeyrat

            To claim that there was no violence or persecution in the Egyptian kingdoms is ridiculous. They enslaved and conquered many–after all, they had to build their gargantuan monuments somehow. It was a religion that was imposed by a political authority, who was both king and god. Therefore, the survival of their religion were linked with the fortunes of their leaders. Their religion, priestly class, and all their adherents were relegated to Egypt. If you want to attribute their failure to spread to bad transportation, I suppose you can, but if the fervid Horus-worshiping really lasted until the time of the Roman empire, their faith could have spread like any other. Instead, it seems like they abandoned their pantheon of gods (which now included some added Roman gods) and opted for Christianity, or later, Islam. This happened all over the Roman empire, and continued all throughout the world for centuries. I suppose you can say that some newer religion (scientology), or ideology (atheism), will supplant the monotheistic ones just like they supplanted the ancient polytheistic religions, but that would remain a mere prediction, not a fact to feel smug about. From a historical perspective, the worship of Horus along with the other thousands of gods created, was effectively invalidated and replaced by a truer belief system in Christianity. Your quotation from Seneca, beloved tutor of Nero, applies quite well to the ancient religions he encountered, including the Egyptian ones; hence, the wise men and commoners eventually rejected them.

            I’ll admit I’m out of my element, talking about Shintoism. Still, I’ll still maintain it isn’t a religion in the sense that Christianity is. It seems more like a traditional practice maintained in Japan alone. As long as you’re Japanese and appreciate trees and waterfalls, you probably qualify as a bona fide Shintoist. Of course, some people might go further than that, but it’s hard to tell. I have to rely on Wikipedia to see what they are since there’re none around me. If you want to argue the facts of Shintoism, I’ll refer you to the link– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shintoism–and you can edit their article.

            In the case of Hinduism, it’s hard to say what it is at this point. Like Shintoism and the pagan religions of yore, it remains within India and hasn’t really spread. Furthermore, it has evolved into innumerable cults and communes that bear little resemblance to one another. There’s no orthodox Hinduism; it seems pretty easy going overall. Even disciples of other religions can somehow count as Hindus. There doesn’t seem to be any authority or central tenets held in common, except that it’s an old religion that existed in India and that Indians are born into it–or, it’s something exotic and different, and westerners can join a commune, give all their money and attention to a guru, and hopefully find themselves.

            I say that Christianity adopts because it wasn’t originally imposed on anyone by some authority figure. It was received; people had a choice between following or not. In the early church, following Christianity often entailed fatal consequences while following a popular cult or the Roman pantheon often promised social promotion. And yet they still chose Christianity and decided to tell others about it even if they could get killed in the process. This fervor continued throughout church history despite the wars, heresies, and rivaling faiths. Unlike other religions, Christianity transcended the boundaries of politics, ethnicity, and geography. It spread, and its adherents continue to affirm their beliefs in it freely. Sure, many kids are born in Christian families and take up the faith of their parents, but at some point they’re asked if they really want to do so on their own volition or not. Many did and still do, but–as the many objections on this comment thread suggest–many didn’t and still don’t.

            To me, there’re some key differences between various faiths and non-faiths. They result in fundamentally different cultures, different followers, and different histories. Drawing broad parallels with different religions tends to oversimplify religion and too often obscures the issue at hand.

  • Nick Childers
  • Jacob

    This is excellent; most Christians or non-Christians who bring up these similarities do so in order to disprove parts or the whole of Christianity; many of us who attempt to cling to Christianity in its entirety are often left awkwardly trying to deny these similarities. Rather than engaging in fruitless arguments against the accusations you not only “take the bull by the horns” but quite effortlessly toss it to the ground; you show with clarity that these similarities are not an awkward embarrassment that we need to avoid, hide or refute, but really these very pagan myths and their similarity to the Incarnation and Resurrection reflect that “the world is and has ever been murmuring the name of Christ.” Thank you!

  • Redbaron998

    The problem with many of these comparisons are that they are historically untrue to the pagan religions. For example Horus was certainly not born of a virgin. Here is a good website to debunk theses kinds of myths: http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/JesusEvidenceCrucifiedSaviors.htm

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1125166276 John C. Wright

    I am not sure I understand the point of the first image, which pretends to show parallels between Christ and pagan figures. Are you mocking the parallels because they are wrong, or are you admitting the parallels are right but saying this does not necessarily mean Christ is a human invention like a pagan myth?

    Because the parallels are either wrong or misleading.

    Wrong: Horus was most certainly not born of a Virgin. His father was Osirus, who was torn into 14 pieces by his evil brother Set. His sister and wife Isis regathered 13 of the pieces and brought him back to life, but he was required to go into the underworld. The fourteenth and missing piece was his male member. Isis found it separately, had sex with it separately, and from that union brought forth Horus the sun-god to avenger his father’s death. That is hardly parthenogenesis.

    Wrong again: Mithra was not born of a virgin in the myth of his birth for the simple reason that we do not know what his birth myth was. We know very little about him but his name, and that his sacred cult among the military involved painful ritual hazing and bathing in the blood of a bull, perhaps to gain bullish strength.

    Misleading: Attis was not crucified, he was castrated. Here is what Pausanius says about his birth: “Zeus, it is said, let fall in his sleep seed upon the ground, which in course of time sent up a daemon, with two sexual organs, male and female. They call the daemon Agdistis (Cybele). But the gods, fearing Agdistis, cut off the male organ. There grew up from it an almond-tree with its fruit ripe, and a daughter of the river Saggarios (Sangarius), they say, took of the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child. A boy was born, and exposed, but was tended by a he-goat. As he grew up his beauty was more than human, and Agdistis fell in love with him. When he had grown up, Attis was sent by his relatives to Pessinos, that he might wed the king’s daughter. The marriage-song was being sung, when Agdistis appeared, and Attis went mad and cut off his genitals, as also did he who was giving him his daughter in marriage. But Agdistis repented of what he had done to Attis, and persuaded Zeus to grant that the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay.”

    Technically Attis is born without a father, in this case coming from a goddess (a river nymph) who embraces the fruit of an almond tree grown up from a divine castrated member from a divine hermaphrodite (who is the opposite of virgin born, springing from the seed of Zeus with no mother). Other versions say she ate the almond. Others say it fell into her lap and she became pregnant from that.

    Pausanius does not name her, but poets call her Nana. The nymph may or may not have been a virgin. Nymphs are not known for their chastity.

    Pausanius mentions no resurrection after three days , but only a miraculous preservation from decay. Other versions mention a yearly death and rebirth similar to that of Demeter’s daughter Proserpine, symbolic of the cycle of seasons.

    A better example of virgin birth would be Hephaestus, who sprang fully from the womb of Hera without the aid of her husband, or better yet Athena, who sprang from the brow of Zeus fully grown and armed and armored.

    I freely admit there may be other versions of these stories I have not heard.

    I have gone on too long: my point is that the parallels are simply not parallel. Is that little image a joke on the people making such arguments? Or do they mean it in earnest?

    • James H, London

      Once again, the estimable John C Wright comes up with the goods. It helps to have a classical education, wot?

      As usual, Atheist attempts to debunk Christianity rely on one part circular reasoning, another part half-truth, and two parts bare-faced lying.

    • Jacob

      John C. Wright; judging from Marc’s post, I think the image has very little to do with his main idea. I suspect that he included the image to grab people’s attention, and turn the argument on its head. It’s very common for people who want to discredit Christianity to throw ignorant images like that around. There are many other problems with those ideas, such as the Dec. 25 date; I haven’t checked them all, but the Babylonians for one used a lunar calendar with floating months (similar to that of the Jews) meaning that it would be entirely impossible to have an equivalent to the Roman Dec. 25, based on our solar year. But as I said, i don’t think Marc is promoting these ignorant ideas.

      People see one of those images (full of so many falsifications as you point out) and immediately think that they’re going to get some good Christian bashing. Instead Marc delivers the opposite message; similarities between Christ and myths only serve to strengthen Christ’s central role in the whole of Creation.

      His point (as I understand it) isn’t that there are exact Christ stories out there in the myths, just with different names, but that elements of Christ’s story (virgin birth, salvation of Mankind, death of the perfect man) are scattered out there (in isolation) because humanity yearns for Christ’s salvation of the fallen world. While he doesn’t really expand on the idea, these elements, as you so nicely point out, usually exist in isolation, otherwise surrounded by rather un-Christ-like stories; but nevertheless, the very existence of these isolated elements still point to this “murmuring the name of Christ.” If they were perfect parallels, it would be much more than a simple “murmuring.”

      You’ll notice that Marc’s actual arguments don’t really rely on the (false) information in the image. His main point is best given in the second section about Plato and Socrates. It would be absurd to ask anyone to think that because of this one observation of Plato’s that we are supposed to think Socrates’ life was parallel to Christ’s; yet this one element in isolation still offers a kind of imperfect “prophecy” (as opposed to the perfect Biblical ones) as Marc observes.

      It’s interesting that the parallels in Virgil’s 4th Eclogue are actually a bit stronger; perhaps as the time of Christ’s birth drew near (and it’s worth noting that the birth of the Virgin Mary would have been even much closer at hand!), this “murmuring” became a little stronger, and just a little clearer.

      In any case, I don’t think Marc is promoting the silly image he offered us. I think, like you said, it’s “a joke on the people making such arguments,” or, perhaps more correctly, setting the scene to show how contrary that way of thinking is to Christianity.

    • http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/ Nate Winchester

      Bravo! I’d love to see this expanded on length at your blog so I can reference it next time these stupidities are brought up. (like this one)

      Also, a reading recommendation for old myths since there’s so much misinformation out there nowadays.

  • http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/ Nate Winchester
  • http://www.facebook.com/jonmdewey Jon Dewey

    “Again, it goes back to the question of what, precisely, is prophecy? If prophecy is viewed as a eyes-rolled-up, here’s-your-future, no-other-explanation-but-the-supernatural, then yes, Plato’s prophecy is no prophecy at all — it is merely coincidental… But if prophecy amounts to telling the Truth”

    well English in normal usage distinguishes between prophesy and prediction. Both talk of what will happen in the future the difference is that prophecy claims the divine as its origin and prediction claims man.

    What you are proposing is radically redefining prophecy to include all true utterances. But to what end? I can see nothing but confusion resulting from your private definition. If we actually did what you suggest and made prophecy == true utterance. Then we’d need to invent a new term for everything which was previously called prophecies, so we could intelligently talk about them; redefining a term doesn’t change the character of things it previously described.

    • Aaron Lopez

      You are narrowing your view of prophecy if you simply think it’s ‘divine prediction’. That’s why we’ve got words such as clairvoyance and soothsaying to fill the gaps.

      How many prophecies do we know that DO NOT speak IMMEDIATELY to the people it is relayed to? If you analyze a prophecy, you will fine any sort of prediction of future events is primarily in service to the *truth* of the matter, a truth which rings just as true to the past, present, and future. It is not a prediction for the sake of prediction.

      So Marc’s suggestion that we start understanding prophecy as “Truth” (capital T because it is essentially of divine origin) is not a redefinition, but a clearer understanding of what prophecy really is.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonmdewey Jon Dewey

        I should correct a point I previously said “prophecy claims the divine as its origin” I should have said “prophecy claims the supernatural as its origin”, it is more generic than just the divine in our language. As a Christian I only trust divine prophesy but that isn’t related to the English definition.

        “capital T because it is essentially of divine origin” Thanks for the explanation of the capitalization scheme. I hadn’t noticed that. Though, the extended quote from Lewis didn’t seem to be arguing for any divine inspiration of Plato’s comments, rather it seemed to pretty explicitly argue for hypothetical insight, maybe it could be argued that God guided Plato to that truth, but that doesn’t come from Lewis’s quote. Either way, using, ‘true utterance of something God explicitly guided someone to’, is still a huge redefinition of prophesy. If we up the ante, and say God is directly speaking through the person in classic ‘Thus saith the Lord’ fashion, we don’t arrive at a description of prophesy rather, to be precise, we arrive at a description of an oracle, something prophets also give.

        “How many prophecies do we know that DO NOT speak IMMEDIATELY to the people it is relayed to”
        Huh, how is this relevant? I imagine these fall in that category: most of the prophesies concerning Jesus and much of revelation neither of which were understood seem to have been understood when they were given. But I don’t think that matters because I fail to see how this is relevant to the definition of prophesy. Just because a prophesy about the future is understood and means something to people that hear it, like say God’s gonna smite this place, and people understand that to mean, get out of dodge, or maybe I should kill that troublesome prophet, doesn’t mean that the prophesy isn’t about the future.

        “It is not a prediction for the sake of prediction.” I’d agree, prophesies have reasons they are given, and are often accompanied by oracles from God instructing action or explaining something. The prophesy element or what prophets do establishes their credentials as speaking for God. At least that is how it is used in the Bible. See Deut 18: “20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” 21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”
        Ezek. 33:33 “When all this comes true – and it surely will – then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
        Really, boils down to common sense; if someone can prophesy things which come to pass then you should pay attention to what they have to say and it makes sense to call them a prophet. If they can’t, they have no business claiming the title prophet.

        “That’s why we’ve got words such as clairvoyance and soothsaying”
        Err no, neither clairvoyance nor soothsaying, work as a synonym or substitute for the traditional definition of prophesy. For that matter, neither does divination for the same reasons soothsaying fails.
        As far as I know has 2 senses
        (1) not really relevant but a 6th or psychic sense
        (2) specifically *seeing* the future, parts of revelation could be considered this depending on your stance on how literal it is. Properly speaking this isn’t even a subset of prophesy but rather would be the basis for some prophesies, as it is a visual sensations and prophesy would be its communication.
        Soothsaying is a somewhat archaic word and essentially the same thing as prophecy except that it’s used to describe prophesies with pagan origins as opposed to divine ones. This is why it is used a number of times in the NKJ for things prohibited next to witchcraft, and divination, never for God’s prophesies. More modern translations don’t use the term at all. Even the 1st page of Google results reveal its use in connection to magic, at least in popular game form, and thus the pagan usage.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

    When a woman claims to have a virgin birth nowadays, we would call her crazy or a liar. Not the mother of god. I’m sorry, but I find this post absolutely ridiculous. If you look at various beings from a historical perspective, you can see the absurdity of their claims. And yet when your religious icon has those exact claims, he is fulfilling prophecy? If you want to know what prophecy is, I will tell you. It is confirmation bias. Just because someone of some standing in ancient times said something that can be loosely translated to confirm a story does not give you grounds to claim that prophecy is true.

    Another thing about prophecy that you have to realize is that at times either the prophecy or the Bible was changed so that they would match. It isn’t that hard to fake prophecy, especially in those times. All they would have to do is observe something, and claim to have prophesied it. Or better yet, predict a big bunch of crazy stupid things such as virgin birth, and then forge a document “proving” all your prophesies.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jared-Clark/100003276108344 Jared Clark

      There are only two words to describe the existence of the Catholic Church: impossible or miraculous.

      You can look at the fruits–that we have fostered the growth of science and art and philosophy, human rights and charity and education, that we are simultaneously the most diverse and unified organization on the planet, but history is more important here. We have an unbroken line of leaders going back to the Apostles, who were eyewitnesses. If you are to be believed, then not only were these men and many of the other members of the early Church, who were also eye witnesses, living and dying in poverty for something they knew to be a lie, but the Church also not only survived centuries of persecution, heresy, schism, and poor leadership, but thrived in it, for no reason. The Faith has not merely survived, but grown!

      It is not Christians who need to explain away reality…the fact that the Church still lives, and lives strong, is witness enough. It is the non-Christians who need to explain away for their view to make sense.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    Dao De Jing:

    “There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it; – for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.
    Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.

    Therefore a sage has said,
    ‘He who accepts his state’s reproach,
    Is hailed therefore its altars’ lord;
    To him who bears men’s direful woes
    They all the name of King accord.’

    Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.”

    This is another instance of other truth in other places, which seem prophetical.

  • MotherSetonsDaughter

    I may be over-simplifying this, but is it possible that if Satan can only corrupt what already exists, then an excellent way for him to sow doubt about Jesus fulfilling prophesies would be to plant corrupted examples of the same to proceed Him? I first got this idea when I heard a Protestant minister [wrongly] criticizing the Catholic Church for what he mistakenly described as “worshipping” Mary. He used as his proof text
    Jer. 7:18, which refers to a pagan “Queen of Heaven”, obviously worshipped prior to Christ’s birth. It just occurred to me that Satan probably had a hand in the establishment of that pagan practice to sully the Blessed Mother’s rightful possession of that title.