We’re All Pagan
The second point to make to the Protestant who blames Catholicism for being pagan is to point out that the things he believes have links with paganism too. He may think that veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ‘pagan’ but the doctrines he holds to could be seen to have pagan antecedents as well. He believes in the Virgin Birth and the incarnation, but pagan religions are full of stories of Virgins giving birth to god-men. Does he believe in the Resurrection? Does he celebrate it at Easter? How does he fit that in with the common pagan myths of the dying and rising god who was worshipped annually at the Spring time of the year? Does he believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?, the Ascension?, Baptism? The Eucharist? All of these beliefs and practices have their parallels in paganism. He can’t blame Catholics for being pagan in some beliefs and practices while he himself happily endorses beliefs that might also have their origins in paganism.
This is the crunch of the argument. Your Protestant friend should realize that there are links between paganism and Christianity and that this is natural because the church was born in a particular culture and that culture was bound to influence it, and there is nothing wrong with this happening. From the very beginning this was considered to be good missionary method: find what connects with the Christian story in the culture you are preaching to, make the connection, build on that and use it to share the Christian gospel through images with which they are familiar.
Finally, remind your Protestant friend that this is precisely what we see taking place in the New Testament. So in Acts — St Paul preaches in Athens and sees in the temple an altar to an ‘unknown god’. He pickes up on this and uses the concept to preach the gospel. Sometimes the ‘Catholic is paganism reborn’ argument moves from practices like praying for the dead or the veneration of saints to accusations that Catholic theology is infected with pagan philosophies like Gnosticism or Platonism.
At this point remind your Protestant friend that St John used the existing Greek philosophical concept of the logos (the Word) to articulate the doctrine of the pre existing Son of God and the incarnation of the Son of Man. Remind them that St Paul uses the concept of ‘the mystery of godliness’ throughout his writings, and in doing so is connecting with his pagan audience’s awareness of the mystery religions. Likewise the epistle to the Hebrews with it’s talk of an ‘earthly temple’ which is an image of the ‘heavenly temple’ is steeped in a Platonic metaphysical understanding.
The secular critic of the Catholic faith also argues that Catholicism is simply a re hash of paganism. His argument comes from the humanistic understanding of the history of religion. It goes like this: “All religions developed when human beings were primitive. They looked at the sun moon and stars and were awed by them. They gave them personalities and made up stories about them. These became the gods and goddesses of ancient myths. Then they thought there should be just one god. This god became the God of the Hebrews and then then Christianity emerged from the Hebrew religion, but took on lots of the traits of paganism too and that is why it was so successful.”
Having equated Christianity with all the other primitive superstitions they can smugly dismiss its claims. The final answer to both the secularist and the fundamentalist is the same. It requires an explanation of just how and why there are connections and links between Christianity and other religions. Continue Reading