Archives for posts with tag: History

I have spent years in personal study of Church history. I left the faith because of it. If Christianity got something wrong then I want to know about it. I will no longer defend it a priori. I will subject it to the same critical investigation I subject any other religion or truth claim to. But that also means I must be willing to accept it if something is proven true about its claims.

Similarly I will not tolerate it when lies are spread about it. Not because I must defend a dogma or am emotionally committed to it, but because I want the truth. Even if the truth of the particular issue does nothing to convince me of her central claims. I spent too many years digging into Church history to give into conspiracy theories and Fundamentalist agendas. I spent too many years agonizing over the sea of contradictions that engulf Christian claims. I want the truth and I will follow that truth wherever it leads. So far it has led me far from the gates of the Church and at this point I see nothing pointing me back there. But I remain open minded.

Brace Yourselves The 'Easter is Pagan' Posts Are Coming

As it is coming up to Easter I am beginning to see the usual anti-Christian “Easter is Pagan” memes. I used to see them promoted by rabid anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Evangelicals (I used to be one). Then I became more moderate and liberal and they died away. But as I left the faith and began making connections with atheists, skeptics and agnostics I began to see them bandied about again. And from the very highest authorities right down to the average skeptic who is just fed up of the bullshit.

it must be said right off the bat that all reliable sources point very strongly to the fact that Easter did originate as a Christian holiday. We have Melito in 150 speak of Pascha as something well established and practiced worldwide by the Catholic Church. This is a mere 50-70 years after it is thought the last Apostle died. One generation. It is therefore clear that it was the central holiday of Christendom since the very beginning. It was simply a continuation and “fulfillment” of the Jewish Passover. This is the most widely accepted theory. The one that fits all of the facts the best. Sure, that version may be wrong, but I generally try to listen to what the experts are saying, and in this case the jury seems to be in. Yes, there was evolution. Christianity has evolved since the beginning and continues to. Another reason I rejected it. The claims are that it is the faith once delivered to the saints. It is supposedly eternal and unchanging, but history tells us a very different story.

The reason I reject Christianity is because of the inherent uncertainty in its historic claims coupled with the absolute demands of the religion under threat of eternal hellfire. The threats do not match the level of certainty and the difficulty level at which its truth claims are discovered. Faith is a completely unreasonable demand upon which to base your eternal welfare on. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinions on the history of Christianity or on the Bible. I rejected Christianity in major part to allow me to fully question and test it without fear of hell. If at some point I come back to believe it is true then well and good. If some god out there damns me to eternal flames for wanting actual evidence for the things I believe then screw that god. And I seriously doubt a being capable of creating this universe is so small minded and simply wicked as that.

Atheists and skeptics are usually the best when it comes to analyzing the claims of religion and demanding evidence in support of these claims. But to often they give into wild theories about the origins of Christianity. Sad to say but this is simply because they want it to be true. Some claim, for example, that the central figures from the New Testament are stolen from previous cultures, Mary/Isis, Jesus/Horus, Lazarus/El-Azarus,” It just shows me how unaware of the facts these people are and how willing they are to believe a lie when it suits their agenda. Perhaps this phenomena is not just a religious one. Confirmation bias can happen to anyone at anytime. The supposed Jesus/Horus connection, which Bill Maher regurgitates in his otherwise insightful documentary Religulous, is completely without evidence in the slightest. There is simply no evidence to suggest any of the things said about Horus are true. I haven’t looked into the other supposed connections, but I have a strong suspicion based on what I do know that they are also made up.

From the beginning the festival was called Pascha (which is derived from the Aramaic word for Passover) and still is in most non-English countries.. The name Easter is of somewhat uncertain origin, but is most likely Northern European and refers to the goddess Eostre, who was mentioened by Bede in the 8th century. Most scholars feel that Bede had no reason to make this up as it did not help the image of Christianity at all. The month that Pascha fell on was “Oestre-month”. Exactly like how Thursday is named after Thor’s Day. There really is not much more to how Pascha got called Easter than that. The connection to a pagan goddess is incidental and only because she had her name attached to a month. So these critics of Christianity have misunderstood where the true connection lies. It refers to the time of the year.

There may be some connection between Eostre and Ishtar. I have not found any evidence as of yet to suggest this. But even if there was it would only suggest that the worship of a pagan goddess made its way from the Middle East to Northern Europe at some point in the ancient past. No big deal there. Scholars since the 19th century have understood there may be a possible proto-indo-european link between the various “dawn” goddesses (Eostre is derived from the word dawn).

Did pagan accretions add up over time? Most likely. The connections are mostly local customs that grew up slowly and quite apart from any official attempt by the Church to “paganize” Christianity.

Much of the confusion surrounding these issues was first brought upon us by Fundamentalist Evangelicals attempting to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and skeptics have simply fallen into it because they think it helps their cause. Many of the connections are simply not there or are misunderstood.

Constantine gets blamed for a lot of things he didn’t do. He didn’t change the Bible, he didn’t introduce the Trinity, he had very little to do with the Gnostics, he didn’t introduce Christmas and he didn’t change Easter from a pagan festival to a Christian one.

The issue Constantine dealt with regarding Easter was one of dates and times. The Quartodecimans celebrated it on the 14th of the month (quarto=4, deciman=10) in keeping with the Jewish Passover, which they believed was the Apostolic practice. Wikipedia says:

“Constantine enforced the prohibition of the First Council of Nicaea against celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the day before the Jewish Passover (14 Nisan) (see Quartodecimanism and Easter controversy). This marked a definite break of Christianity from the Judaic tradition. From then on the Roman Julian Calendar, a solar calendar, was given precedence over the lunisolar Hebrew Calendar among the Christian churches of the Roman Empire.”

If I’m not mistaken the East still celebrates on the Jewish day, while the West celebrates on the Sunday after it. The East says there way is the Apostolic way and is the very day Passover was celebrated, the West says Jesus rose on a Sunday (the change was also encouraged by strong anti-Semitic feeling).

After reading this I’d recommend you read another article called Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You. It’s another critique of the modern skeptical enthusiasm to show the pagan origins of Christianity that simply do not exist.

One rule of thumb is that with any historic claim go to the sources. If someone is claiming to be relying on sources ask to see them and read them for yourself. This usually dismisses most outlandish claims.

As skeptics we must test all claims not just the ones we don’t like. We accuse the religious of confirmation bias and in most cases rightly so. We should therefore not be found guilty of it ourselves.

The Council of Nicea and the reign of Constantine are fascinating subjects, but not for the reasons that Evangelical Fundamentalists and ill-informed skeptics think so.

Constantine changed the face of Christianity and the world. But he did not introduce any religious holidays. He did not tamper with the Bible. He did not invent the Trinity. He did not give us the Roman Catholic Church. He did many things, but he didn’t do any of that.

There are a couple of resources I would recommend. On the top of my list would be A. H. M. Jones’ Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. A joy to read. I have it in paperback, eBook and audiobook. It’s one of the few book I’ve ever reread.

The next book I’d recommend might be Decoding Nicea by Paul Pavao. If you can pick out the religious leaning then I think that book might be interesting as it deals with he primary sources of the council and addresses the misconceptions and lies that have gone around about it.

I know the author personally though we have parted ways since I left the faith. He doesn’t like engaging with me anymore.

Once you read these two books you could then read the sources for yourself and they should make a lot more sense to you.

The website hosts all the primary sources for Nicea under it’s councils section.

This is a response to a person who assumed I was a Catholic simply because I defended the position that Church history mostly favours Catholicism (and even then it is more favourable to Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism)
“It seems you assume much without knowing my story or the true facts of Church history. Just to make things very clear I am a non-believer. A very honest and emotionally painful journey to find the truth of Christianity eventually led me out of it. I was taught and I believed not to trust in man’s opinions, but only God’s truth. But no matter where I turned all I saw was man’s interpretations. How to determine man’s opinions from God’s truth? I didn’t seem to be able to find an infallible rule for doing this. And the further back I went all I saw were more opinions. But those opinions were very different from the ones today. Until it dawned on me that all of “God’s truth” is simply man’s opinions, set in dogmatic stone. Yet, this unchangeable truth changed! There is no scientific method in theology. Only opinions. That’s why we have 40000 denominations, with more every week and an ever evolving theology going in ever wider variants.
Call Catholicism heretical if you wish, and indeed it does include many modern innovations not found in the first 300 years, but I challenge you to show me any Christian before, say, Tyndale, who didn’t believe in Baptismal Regeneration. When you don’t, ask yourself why no Christian after the death of the last Apostle and for the following 1500 years until around the time of the Reformation (except for Gnostics) taught salvation alone apart from works.
You are left with three possible explanations.
1. The Church failed and disappeared immediately after John died and was only revived after Luther reformed the Church. This is known as Restorationism and forms of it are taught by various Christian groups such as Mormons. The problem with this view is that from a spiritual perspective it would appear to make Satan victorious over Christ as Christ declared that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church. Of course that is not the only way to interpret that verse, as gates are not known to be offensive but defensive and so a more logical interpretation is that of an offensive Church breaking down hell’s gates and releasing the captives. Still, if Evangelical doctrine is the pure doctrine and salvation is as they teach then there was no Church to attack hell for 1500.
2. The true Church only survived underground very soon (though not immediately) after the death of the last Apostle. The date typically given is around the time of the Nicean Council, though it is taught that Catholicism was already growing into the monster it would become when Constantine supposedly took the helm of the Church in 325. This view was made popular by authors such as J. M. Carroll’s Trail of Blood and E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church. It assumes that Evangelical doctrines were taught by the Apostles but that Satan moved immediately to start corrupting them. Proponents of this view point to the Corinthian and Galatian churches and to Gnosticism as a general movement as very early examples. It is then taught that Roman Catholicism then began to take grip and eventually smothered the true Church. So that it had to go into hiding. Groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists and Donatists are used as early examples of this pure church. Later groups such as the Paulicians and Bogomils are used then as well as the Waldensians, Lollards and Moravians later still.
You even have KJV Onlyists latch onto this view and say that the true Church also kept the true Bible preserved all those years in the Alps. They have gone so far as to say the Waldensians were actually direct descendants of the Apostolic Churches and went into hiding in the Italian mountains for centuries and centuries. Preserving the Latin Vulgate along the way until it could get into the hands of the godly reformers and eventually translated into the infallible KJV! This is how desperate people get when history and facts don’t go their way.
The problem with this view is that all of these groups were widely divergent in their beliefs against one another. The earliest groups were all essentially Catholic in their beliefs, just like the main Church itself. There is no Evangelical church to be found during that time. The problems they had were with orthopraxy. Almost any group today would be far too lax in comparison with the main Church of that day, never mind the strict Novatianists. The Paulicians and Bogomils were Neo-Gnostics. The Waldensians still believed in many central Catholic doctrines when they formed, but did evolve slowly. The Reformation can, in many ways, be seen to start with John Wycliffe, culminating in Luther’s act of revolt on 31st October 1517.
Both of these positions suffer irreparably from what we can actually know about history.”
I have been accused at different times of reading back into history something that is not there. So I have called pre-critical Christianity Fundamentalistic, to which it was said that Fundamentalism can only refer to a movement started in early 20th century America by men like R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon and continued on by others such as H. A. Ironside up to people like Jack T. Chick and his ilk today.
I have also been accused of ignorance because I refer to the text used by Jews in the first century as the Masoretic.
All I can say is that my only crime was not adding the prefix “proto-” to these ideas. I still hold to the undeniable reality that pre-critical Christians were fundamentalist in thought and action and that the Jews in the first century read from a source that closely resembles the Masoretic we have today. While Christians in the first few centuries before Jerome read almost exclusively from the Septuagint.
So let me say this instead. Christians, before the advent of modern science were proto-fundamentalists. Jews in the first century read, what scholars call, a proto-Masoretic text.
My favourite philosophy is Existentialism. Philosophers have identified various thinkers throughout history as proto-existenialists. Augustine of Hippo would be one example. And this without much controversy. You can find the list near the bottom of this page:
The practice of ascribing to earlier generation a title that is unquestionably of later origin is fine within proper boundaries. Augustine was not an Existentialist. Hell, most existentialists were not Existentialists! But it is still perfectly acceptable to ascribe certain beliefs of his as existential in nature. What later philosophers described rather exactly, earlier thinkers saw in more vague terms.

At the same time I totally agree that it is possible to read something back into history that isn’t there. To illustrate this I will refer you to this article:
It’s a fine line to walk. We have many Restorationist Christian groups such as Anabaptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of Christ, Baptists, Mormons, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestant splinter groups.declaring to be in a long line of dissenters against the Roman Catholic Church. The worst case I have ever seen is Jack Chick’s “Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?” It is full of lies and half-truths and pure fabrications. If you are not easily led I recommend reading it for a laugh. Many of the groups mentioned have thankfully distanced themselves from earlier attempts by Church historians tying to find genuine links with every group possible that had any disagreement with the Catholic Church. So we have the absurd situation where Baptists are trying to claim Gnostics, such as the Paulicians, as their spiritual and doctrinal forefathers.
My point is this: genuine connections in thought or practice are possible to find, without turning these into a type of absolute lineage akin to the idea in Catholic theology of Apostolic Succession. Pretty much the only thing many of these groups have in common is their opposition to the main body of Christians. Even their reasons for disagreement are often radically different.
The same can be said for the Catholic and Orthodox. Physical lineage is not the same thing as actual agreement with the doctrine and practice of the early Church, especially the Ante Nicene Christians. Calling yourself Catholic and showing some supposed unbroken lineage proves very little. The changes (especially in Catholic theology) are so vast as to make something like Newman’s Development of Doctrine absolutely essential in this critical age. yet Newman does exactly what I am accused of. Reading into Church history something that simply isn’t there. So what does he do? He looks for any old scrap of similarity and says it was a “seed” that grew into a great oak tree in his own day… Yeah right Newman, pull the other one please…