Pagan Gems and Christian Fluff

Pagan Gems and Christian Fluff

My Facebook friend, Sisterlisa Bertolini (who has a blog called SoulLibertyFaith) regularly posts comments that are springboards for interesting discussion, like this one:

In my studies of ancient paganism history and their beliefs, I have come to the conclusion that either Christianity is more pagan than Frank Viola has indicated in his book OR God was telling the pagans about himself all along. Perhaps we’re all really pagan and exploring the Divine. Maybe we should stop arguing so much about it & be at peace.

If one were to google “what is unique about christianity” he or she would find all kinds of gems and lots of fluff, too. Like this quote:

Christianity is also the only religion that recognizes the hopeless gap between man and a Holy and Righteous God, teaching that salvation can only be obtained through God’s grace. All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort.

This statement is composed of bits of truth and lots of fluff. Let’s sort it out:

1. “Christianity is the only religion…” Christianity is one name given to two concepts – religion and relationship. The former is the most common use of the word, in both definition and practical application, in my opinion.
2. “the hopeless gap between man and a Holy and Righteous God” – the gap is recognized, indeed, and sadly, it is overemphasized and even worshipped in a way. Traditional views leave that gap there for eternity and punish/shun anyone who claims otherwise.
3. “teaching that salvation can only be obtained through God’s grace. All other religions teach that salvation can be achieved through human effort.” – this is true in one sense and false in another. Christianity (the religion) in its orthodox view teaches salvation as the drowning man grabbing hold of the salvation-life-preserver or the dying man swallowing his salvation-medicine, but the truth is the grace of God makes a living person out of a pile of bones. The former scenarios show effort on the part of man while the latter example demonstrates it is truly all God’s work.

This is what I believe Sisterlisa Bertolini is talking about; correct me if I’m wrong, Lisa. Christianity (the religion) can be lumped right in there with all the non-Christian religions, because even though God has done something unique, they have gone and made a mess of it, as Jesus pointed out:

…gathered together unto [Jesus] are the Pharisees…and having seen certain of his disciples with defiled hands…for the Pharisees, and all the Jews, if they do not wash the hands to the wrist, do not eat, holding the tradition of the elders… Then question him do the Pharisees and the scribes, “Wherefore do thy disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but with unwashed hands do eat the bread?”

and he answering said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, hypocrites, as it hath been written, ‘This people with the lips doth honor Me, and their heart is far from Me; and in vain do they worship Me’, teaching teachings, commands of men; for, having put away the command of God, ye hold the tradition of men… and many other such like things ye do.”

…And having called near all the multitude, [Jesus] said to them, “Hearken to me, ye all, and understand; there is nothing from without the man entering into him that is able to defile him, but the things coming out from him, those are the things defiling the man. If any hath ears to hear – let him hear.”

And when he entered into a house from the multitude, his disciples were questioning him about the simile, and he saith to them, “So also ye are without understanding! Do ye not perceive that nothing from without entering into the man is able to defile him? because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats.”

And he said, “That which is coming out from the man, that doth defile the man; for from within, out of the heart of men, the evil reasonings do come forth, adulteries, whoredoms, murders, thefts, covetous desires, wickedness, deceit, arrogance, an evil eye, evil speaking, pride, foolishness; all these evils do come forth from within, and they defile the man.”

I do believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone, from every walk of life, every background, orientation, religion, etc.  In this sense, Christianity (the relationship, not the religion) is unique.  God stirs in the hearts of all different kinds of people, making preparations for their “born again” eyes-to-see-ears-to-hear-experience, where they recognize how salvation does not come from their own efforts, but it has been accomplished on their behalf by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  They can’t help but be radically changed, so much so, that the awakening could be described as being born a second time.

Some people are further along than others in the work of the Spirit that leads to this spiritual awakening, though.  Take for example, a hypothetical Muslim man.  Like his Christian neighbor, he believes in the God of Abraham, although he calls him by a different name, based upon his religious tradition.  He struggles with the idea that his good deeds will not outweigh his bad deeds and that he could end up in Hell instead of Paradise, because he fell short of the standard.  It seems to him that every time he makes an effort to do the will of God, there are two or three or more situations where he screws up.  He is “with fear of death, throughout all [his] life, [a subject] of bondage.”  His dissatisfaction with his religion’s failure to give him peace and hope is the beginning of his awakening.  Many practicing “Christians” feel this same dissatisfaction, not really sure if they have “believed” in the manner prescribed for keeping one out of Hell.  Perhaps the Muslim man will spend his entire lifetime in this state, or, perhaps his eyes will be opened.  If his eyes were opened, it may be that by the Spirit of God he understands that God has rescued him from sin and death, that his post-death security is not found in himself, but in God.  This, essentially, is the same faith Abraham had – knowing that God can and will bring resolution to the tension of existance as we know it, but not ever knowing how God would do it.  In other words, not knowing Jesus Christ.  That’s right, Abraham did not know Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately for the man who practices Islam (and more times than not, for the man who practices Christianity) religious tradition does not adequately explain how God accomplishes salvation on our behalf.  In our hypothetical situation, the Truth has set the man who practices Islam free, but he is missing a Name for that Truth (Jesus calls Himself “Truth”).  He unknowingly believes in the power of Jesus Christ, that the work of Jesus Christ is effective for him, personally, to be free from fear and living in the glorious truth, but he has yet to be introduced to the One and only Jesus Christ, Who “seeing, then, the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself also in like manner did take part of the same, that through death he might destroy him having the power of death – that is, the devil – and might deliver those, whoever, with fear of death, throughout all their life, were subjects of bondage…”

I see Christianity (the religion) as pagan these days.  Christianity is part of a long history of human traditional ceremonious efforts to overcome fear of death.  These traditions are important for one reason – they point out that something is wrong, a puzzle to be solved, a problem to be fixed, a prisoner to be set free.  The universal desire to be reconciled to the Creator is demonstrated through various mythological archetypes such as ritual sacrifice, offering of crops/goods/(these days, money) to the Deity, the virgin birth, prophetic announcements/fulfillments, a Messiah figure, etc.  Some religious traditions can even boast of actual evidence to support one or more of these mythological archetypes.  To me, this is proof that God whispers the same longings and the same truths to all people for all time.  How we interpret these ideas is where we go all wrong.  In calling Himself the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” and specifically stating, “no one can come to the Father but by me”, Jesus did not draw a line in the sand between Himself and the mythological archetypes, He declared Himself as the fulfillment of that universal longing for a Redeemer found in the various archetypes.  He isn’t saying, “your archetypes are pagan-devil-worship,” he is saying, “your archetypes are like kindergarten drawings of quantum physics.”  Jesus effectively silences the storm between all those claiming various religious traditions and practices in this three part claim, basically saying, “whatever ideas you have about making right what went wrong, these ideas were meant to help you recognize Me, the Ultimate Idea, the fulfillment of every religious standard.”  Some may ask, if Jesus effectively silenced the storm, why does the storm still rage?  To this I respond with E=mc2.  In other words, Christ (slain before the foundation of the world) has accomplished it, but because we live in the dimension of time/space/matter, we must consider relativity.  We do not yet see it accomplished, because we are struggling to wrap our brains around a concept that defies linear (time – bound) thinking.  There will come a time, a culmination or end result of the Plan of the Ages, where we see the storm calmed, everyone at peace with their Creator and with each other.

…God our Saviour, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth; for one God, one also mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all – the testimony in its own times…


  • Lanny A. Eichert June 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    They can’t help but be radically changed, so much so, that the awakening could be described as being born a second time. So, Alice, does that mean there is a time and date (day, month, year) attached to this awakening?

    • admin June 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      Hello, Lanny. You would need to talk to people directly to get an answer to that question.

      • Lanny A. Eichert June 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm

        Well, aren’t you a people; after all I addressed the question to you.

        • admin June 10, 2011 at 12:32 am

          Personally? I am not exactly sure when I realized what Christ had done for me. At age five, I believed that He lived a perfect life, died, and rose again. And I didn’t want to go to Hell, so of course I walked down that isle, got baptized, jumped through the hoops. I also cried in my bed at night thinking about the horrors of the afterlife for the majority of mankind. I was a really spiritually confused child. I knew God loved me, but I couldn’t understand why He didn’t love everyone else. Somewhere between 11-13 years old I decided that if Hell is real, then God is a sadistic monster, and I wanted nothing to do with Him. I then proceeded to live as someone without hope until I was 21 or 22. God met me in a drunken 2am Bible study and told me that I belonged to Him. I was really bothered about that, since I had made up my mind to reject Him. But He kept bothering me. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night for like three nights in a row. Finally, I got honest with God and told Him that I had a real problem with Him throwing the majority of mankind in an eternal firepit, and that if He wanted me to trust Him, He would have prove religion was wrong about Him. He assured me that I would have the proof and that He was not as religion had made Him out to be. I still didn’t want to be a “Christian” because it seemed like a list of rules, a boring life. But I really felt like if I kept stiff arming Him, I would be miserable and lose sleep over my sinful condition for the rest of my life. Something inside of me died then. It was basically a moment of realization – I can’t do this any more. I can’t fight God. He’s God, for God’s sake. And I knew He would have His way with me. I was angry for about two weeks, but at the same time, happy that my sins were no longer a stumbling block to my knowing Him and being reconciled to Him, relieved that death would not be able to do away with me, and curious/hungry for spiritual knowledge. A Jehovah’s witness knocked on my door the very next morning and talked to me about the reasons why eternal torment in Hell is an erroneous teaching. Isn’t that funny? They have so much wrong, so many stupid rules (cult behavior), so far off base in so many ways, yet on this one subject, they possess the truth. I have no doubt God sent them, to help me along. Of course, I was eventually red-flagged by the elders as a no-bible-study person, because it became evident to them that I was not going to join the Watchtower Club. I grudgingly went to church after about a year. I played church for almost 15 years until I learned that church is a who, not a what. About two years ago, I was “born again” again. You see, I thought that whole time that I knew God, and in a way I did, but it was as if He decided to step closer and let me see Him as I had never seen Him before. I saw His glory. I have never been the same. Seriously, my spiritual life was like a seed that hadn’t been planted yet. All the potential there, ready to go at any time, but just sitting on a shelf. And then God pulled me off the shelf and planted me. My shell broke. It was very painful. But there’s actually a green plant that has emerged from the dark soil. I have fruit! So when is my date/time? 5ish, 11-13ish, 21-22ish, and 37ish. That is about as specific as I can get.

          • Lanny A. Eichert June 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm

            I decided that if Hell is real, then God is a sadistic monster, and I wanted nothing to do with Him. I got honest with God and told Him that I had a real problem with Him throwing the majority of mankind in an eternal firepit, and that if He wanted me to trust Him, He would have (to) prove religion was wrong about Him. A Jehovah’s witness talked to me about the reasons why eternal torment in Hell is an erroneous teaching. Isn’t that funny? They have so much wrong, yet on this one subject, they possess the truth. He assured me that I would have the proof and that He was not as religion had made Him out to be.

            As you showed above and throughout your post you found a way to make your “God” the way YOU wanted Him to be while all the time refusing to have Him the way He is.

            “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” closes with a populated undissolved Lake of Fire without remedy. He is how His Revelation closes: a thoroughly JUST God Who keeps every word He declares.

  • Lanny A. Eichert June 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    They can’t help but be radically changed, so much so, that the awakening could be described as being born a second time. Could be described, well, I wonder how could be that is when Jesus Christ Himself so described it that way in John 3. I’d say could be is very certainly affirmatively declared being born again, wouldn’t you.

    • Lanny A. Eichert June 10, 2011 at 12:45 am

      Jesus is the one who initiated the term and Nicodemus tried to understand it by making a question connected to physical birth and Jesus continued by explaining the likeness and the distinct difference. The likeness because He continued to use the term and the difference being the source or origin of it. John also in 1: 12 & 13 furthered it as well maintaining the association with birth. I don’t believe we can escape there being a likeness which is a one time momentary incident lending itself to identifying a time and date of that occurrence.

      The radical change is also reflected in 2 Corinthians 5: 17 & 18a where an immediate abrupt change is described by the aorist of passed away (old things) and also the perfect of become (all things … new) and furthered by the source of all being God. There is only one moment when something is NEW.

      So why do you evade a time and date for the new birth?

      • Lanny A. Eichert June 10, 2011 at 1:01 am

        Got your answer 15 minutes too late. You answered my question June 10, 2011 at 12:32 am, thank you.

  • Sisterlisa June 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I think that is a good way of explaining it. And for folks who are not familiar with the language in which you described it, I believe there are others who can explain it in a way they can relate to. Relational. It’s all relational. If we can’t effectively find a way to relate to people, how will we ever come to understand one another? When we take the time to listen and discuss things with others then we miss out on identifying that they really do get it. Then we miss out on some spectacular friendships. They just may not have come to understand the Divine Truth in the same way we do through Christian lingo. God speaks to people through various ways. People from all walks of life have come to understand sacrificial love and the Divine can express that love of his for them in a way they can relate to. Even if they never hear the English translation of the name “Jesus” or even if maybe they had a very poor representation of who Jesus is, He can still get people to understand him. If we think He can’t express his love for them, they we have a small limited view of his power. I also find that some folks who say they don’t believe Jesus is the way, have gotten a carnal limited explanation of who he is and what he does. So I don’t get too caught up in the popular key phrase lingo that many Christians put out. When we speak in terms of spiritual concepts, they get it…or maybe they had gotten it a long time ago and “we” missed that.

  • Mary Vanderplas June 10, 2011 at 5:23 am

    What you’re saying is, I think, what Paul was saying in Acts 17, when he observed – not disparagingly, I don’t think, but in a positive, affirming way – that that the people of Athens were “extremely religious…in every way” (verse 22). He recognized in their pagan worship a quest for truth, a quest for relationship with God – which is the human quest. It’s what I hear you saying in the statement “Christianity (the religion) can be lumped right in there with all the non-Christian religions…” and in your references to the search for peace and hope (which religion fails to give) and to the “resolution of the tension of existence.” We have a God-shaped hole, as it’s been said, which religion seeks to fill.

    Paul affirmed, too, that the Athenians’ (pagan) worship was directed to the one true God – whom they didn’t know but who nevertheless was present and the object of their worship. I think this is what you’re saying about people who have not been introduced to Jesus Christ “missing a Name for that Truth” – or, as Paul put it in addressing the Athenians, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (verse 23). What this means, among other things, is that we Christians do not have a corner on God/Truth; we do not bring God to anyone. God is already there, and the object of worship. What we do is to give testimony to the fact that this God is the One who has revealed himself and acted in Jesus Christ. This, to me, is profound. It saves us from the arrogance of thinking that only we Christians (and Jews) are in touch with God. It also says that we are all children of the one God, the Creator and sustainer, and prevents us from an “us-them” mentality when it comes to how we relate to people of other faiths and people of no faith.

    I love what you say about the spiritual awakening that takes place in the hearts of “all different kinds of people.” “The wind blows where it chooses…” And I agree that often the beginning of this awakening is the recognition that human efforts to achieve peace and find meaning are futile.

    I like, too, what you say about the universal longing for redemption being manifested in the rituals of religion and about the value of these things in pointing us to Christ. And I’m intrigued by your thought that the reason we are not yet living as those who are one with God and one another is that we are unable to see God’s vision for the cosmos already accomplished.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  • Lanny A. Eichert June 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Lots of people deny reality to avoid disturbing thoughts. So it’s great news, isn’t it, that we are all on the path to God. Get real, will you. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1: 28) they fashioned other gods they way THEY wanted them to be.

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