Is Catholicism Pagan?

I’ve enjoyed welcoming a good number of new readers to the blog since coming over to Patheos. The comment box has been filled with lively discussion, and I always enjoy attracting some of the err, more eccentric readers who are out there. Here’s a comment in response to a picture post I had of Pope Benedict.

What nonsense – the Pope is a demonstration of the old fish hat from Philistine times and the worship of Mithras the mythical son of the sun god who died and rose on the third day know as “the Son of God”, “the Saviour”, “the Lord of Lords”, “the Good Shepard”, “the way the truth and the light”, “the redeemer” and “the Angel of Light”. Mithras’ disciples were baptised in his blood which magically washed away their sins and obtained them a ticket to nirvana if they simply believed. Perhaps Catholics should learn more about the 13 catacombs below the Vatican where the Illuminati are indicted in another sort of sacrifice… or the ET skulls that were found when they renovated the Vatican’s library… any idiot that thinks they can obtain some benefit from murdering another being in a bloody sacrifice as got to be insane… The Truth Will Set You Free and the Vatican’s evil empire is about to implode.

Geesh! I hardly know where to start! ET skulls that were found when they renovated the Vatican’s library? Where are they? But then they wouldn’t exist anymore would they– because the Vatican in cahoots with the One World Government covered it up!! You can read all about it here, and remember it was on the internet so it must be true! And remember…when there’s no evidence for a conspiracy theory that just goes to show how effective their cover up is.

Readers who are not totally initiated in the arcane mysteries of the “Catholicism is just old paganism warmed up” conspiracy theory may not pick up the reference to the “old fish hat from Philistine times”. This is the fascinating theory that the bishop’s miter is a pagan carry over from the garb of the Philistine priests of Dagon from Old Testament times. The theory was developed from a picture which is supposed to be an ancient drawing of a priest of Dagon. Never mind that the Philistines didn’t do art like that or that the religion of Dagon died out thousands of years before Christianity. But if you’re a conspiracy nut you mustn’t let facts confuse you. I’ve written more about the Dagon priest-Bishop’s miter link here.

Protestants of the more extreme variety have always tried to condemn Catholicism as being paganism warmed up. Tenuous links with ancient religious practices and images are tied together with the conspiracy theorist’s usual wide eyed ingenuity. Linguistic links that seem to make sense (until you study the history of language) are woven together to build up a case that ancient paganism evolved into Catholicism. In fact there are links between Christianity and paganism, just as there are links between Judaism and Christianity. What they don’t stop to ask is whether this matters or not. Catholics put flowers in front of the image of Mary. Hindus present flower offerings to their gods. Does this mean Catholicism is derived from Hinduism? Do Catholics make pagan flower offerings or is it simply that it’s kind of nice to have flowers around the place? They smell nice and they look pretty. This post explores the issue further.

The fact of the matter is, there are some elements of Catholic thought and religious practice that connect with paganism. But that does not necessarily prove a causal relationship. Just because two things are similar does not mean that one influenced the other. Furthermore, Protestants who protest at “paganism” in Catholicism will have to answer to the fact that there are “pagan elements” in the things they believe and do. Shall we equate their baptism by immersion to the “baptism” of the followers of Mithras? Shall we equate their belief in the Virgin Birth with the Virgin Birth of Horus the Egyptian deity? For that matter, is their reliance on their Holy Book make them the same as Muslims?

Similarities do not prove a causal connection, nor do they prove that a particular practice or image or belief is untrue or wrong. Like the Hindus who put flowers in their temple, so religious people from many different cultures and religions do similar things and have similar beliefs. Different tribes from around the world worshipped the Sun. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, given the knowledge they had. When the Christians built their churches facing East were they secretly worshipping the Sun god like pagans or was the answer more mundane? Maybe what they said they were doing is the obvious and clear answer: “Our churches face East toward the rising sun because we are worshipping the Son of God who rose in Jerusalem and is the Light of the World.” There may be links between Christianity and paganism, but does that mean Christianity is wrong or that paganism was right?

What I mean is this: Every religion–paganism included–is right inasmuch as it points to the Christian truth.  Christianity’s relationship to paganism is similar to its relationship to Judaism. Judaism is the fore-runner and the pointer to Christianity. Same with the ancient pagan religions. They were debased and primitive, but they pointed in their own way to the fulfillment that comes through Christ the King. I’ve uploaded an article I published in This Rock magazine which goes into this in more detail. It’s called Paganism, Prophecies and Propaganda.

C.S.Lewis summed it up when he observed that the similarities between Christianity and paganism didn’t bother him. What would have disturbed him greatly is if there were no similarities between Christianity and paganism. Rather than the similarities disproving Christianity, it was the similarities between Christianity and all the other world religions that validated his Christian faith. If all the world’s people worshipped in a particular way and were drawn to certain beliefs and practices and one religion came along and drew all that was good and true from them and fulfilled them all, then that must be the religion that is most true.

If you’re interested, I’ve written a few other connected articles about this topic. This article for Crisis Magazine squelches the idea that Christmas is a pagan carry over, and this post from guest blogger Ed Blanch gets satirical about the dumb secular “Catholicism is paganism” critic.


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