Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Historicity of Christ and More on Mithras

Well, there are some people who are saying that Christ was not a historical figure but rather based on a conglomeration of mythical constructs, most especially the god Mithras, whom I mentioned somewhat in my last post. I'm not going to defend the historicity of Christ, cause I just can't prove anything. But I will defend that Christ isnt Mithras. Here's why...

Mithraism focuses so much on astrology as to be silly. Mithras slays the bull of heaven, representing the decline of the age of taurus and the dawn of the age of pisces, in order to bring salvation to the world. While I definately see the parrallels in terms of it being a savior cult that requires a sacrifice, which Christianity certainly is and does, the astrology just isnt there in Judaism the way it is in Mithraism.

Jewish astrology didnt really get going until c. 300 AD anyway. The stuff before then wasnt really keyed to doctrine so much as it was keyed to early Jewish fatalism. People being born on specific days exhibiting specific results etc. This doesnt even violate an omniscient and omnipotent God perspective since God could simply decide on which day someone would be born.

Also, Judaism was the most resistant to change of any of the religions in the Roman empire at the time. Their refusal to atleast accept Roman gods into their beliefs caused no end of difficulty with the occupying Roman forces. The Roman soldiers believed Judea to be the most miserable place to be stationed. The Jews really really didnt like being occupied, but more than that they didnt like being told what to believe. Every once and awhile they'd rebel and the Romans would have to reconquer them. The most famous instance of this is during 70 AD when Titus sacked Jerusalem and raided the temple. So you can see why it is highly unlikely that the Jews contrived Christ out of existing pagan practices.

Another thing that some people bring up is that all the records of Christ were written well after his death and by people who were already Christians themselves. This isnt really true. The author Suetonius, who admittedly did live awhile after Christ, writes in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars that during the reign of the emperor Claudius, he was forced to do some bad things to the Jews because a man named Chrestus had the Jews causing a disturbance. Most scholars believe this Chrestus to be a reference to Jesus Christ. Suetonius doesnt really have any reason to embellish this story at all, and it is only mentioned in passing so it is fairly believeable as far as ancient texts go. Some scholars believe that this repression of the Jews occurred as early as 43 AD. The actual year for the birth of Christ is somewhat debated, but most the range is somehwhere between 4 bc and 4 AD. So, if Christ lived 33 years, he could have died as late 37 AD, making only 6 years between his death and the activities of the early Christians in Rome. So, if those who claim a Mithraic influence are willing to admit that the beginning of the Christian movement happenned at the same time as the biblical context, then that just doesnt really leave enough time for the pagan practices to have modified existing Jewish beliefs so radically.

In addition, if there were to be a crossover between Mitrhaism and Judaism it is unlikely to have created a pacifist as the primary prophet. Mitrhaism was only open to males and was predominantly found among the soldiery. This would coincide better with a Davidian style Messiah who comes to reunite Israel with military might, which was what the Jews believed would happen anyway. As it was, Christ was clearly a pacifistic figure and stands in contrast to both the Jewish and Mithraic traditions in that regard.

We also know that St. Peter and St. Paul were executed in 64 AD after the great fire in Rome during the reign of Nero. As an aside, Nero's accusations that the Christians set the fire could have been more accurate than history is willing to believe. Apparently, the early Christians had quite a few converts among the fire brigade, so even if they hadnt committed arson they might very well have simply let it burn. But back to Peter and Paul, it isnt unreasonable that they could have been alive, as the gospels state, during the ministry of Christ. Unless we believe that they were simply preaching lies to the people, it isnt unreasonable to believe that Christ was a historical figure.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Holidays, Christmas, and Mithras

A lot of people have been making a big stink this year over the use of happy holidays rather than merry Christmas in advertisements. D-Train made a good point about this when he asked if these people would prefer that the commercialization of the season became more focused on Christ. The problem here that I see, is that the commercialization is the holiday. Or rather, the culture is the holiday and the commercialization is one of the biggest parts of it. These people who are protesting don't really understand what wicket they are trying to defend. The holiday of Christmas has more pagan elements than Christian ones anyway. The Yule log is pagan, the Christmas tree is pagan, the day itself was borrowed from the birthday of the god Mithras. It's is interesting to me how religious leaders can rally people to protest percieved attacks on religion but won't rally people to volunteer time or talents. It would make more sense to me if the attacks against Christmas they are trying to defend against were actually attacks. As it is, I think that it is simply an attempt at religious inclusion which I see as only positive. Even if these are attacks, Christmas isnt going away and people know that. No one has Happy Hannukah ads on TV, but I would bet that it still gets celebrated. If preachers don't trust their parishioners to honor the holiday without tv ads, then I don't know why they are preaching at all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Virtus and Gynotheosis

The highest virtue among the Romans was virtus. In fact, we get our word virtue from virtus, or more acurately from the latin word vir. Vir means a man. Virtus, by extension, means courage, respect, fairness, humility, dignity, clemency, and piety. Or, in short, manliness. The Romans associated all these qualities with what makes a man a man. They held up this idea of manliness which also meant conforming to the mos maiorum, the customs and ways of the ancestors. Since they figured descent patrilineally, it is in essence men being manly by upholding the ways of men who went before.

The church similarly has well defined gender roles and traits which it ascribes.

Men are told to be strong priesthood holders and to be righteous and upright in all things. They are told that the onus of providing for a family is upon them by divine right. They are told that they are to "preside" over their families. But we are also constantly told that we are unworthy. Discussions about pornography, in my ward atleast, imply that all men are unable to prevent themselves from seeking out internet porn. Discussions abound regarding how computers ought to be out in the open so that we are not tempted. We are told that we ought to have our wives put passwords on the computer, so that we can only use it when they allow us. This discourse isn't even aimed at those with porn addictions, but all men. So why the negativity? We hear the counsel to stay away from porn pretty often, so I guess it must be a widespread problem. But the way the discourse is being held there isnt any distinguishing between the porn looking men, and the non porn looking men. We all need artificial restraint.

While that is unfair and casts men in a light that is unfavorable, the real problem is with how the church treats women. We are told constantly about how amazing women are. They are lauded in conference and elsewhere. We are told somewhat jokingly that a bishop is chosen by picking the most righteous member of the ward and then calling her husband. There is no doubt that for the most part the women of this church are righteous and upright, but so are the men. So why the rhetoric? If women were equal, then why do we need to talk about how great they are? It seems clear the roles of men and women aren't equal in this church. Whether that's bad or not I suppose is a different question. So the problem comes with pacification. Whether it is intended or not, the constant reinforcement of female superiority keeps most of them from ever asking for equality. It is similar to native americans being depicted as the noble savage. As long as they are held up as better in some way then they won't ask for more. Alternatively, those with the power to change their position for the better will see no need.

So what can be done? Or, does something need to be done at all?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Morality and Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, known typically as Cicero, was the greatest Roman orator. He also was a philosopher and wrote long essays about how to be moral and how to live a happy life. My favorite essay is De Officiis III, or On Duties Three. It is the third in a series of philosophical works which were written ostensibly as letters to his son in an effort to show him how to live. In On Duties III, Cicero puts forth a code of morality. He says that in order to determine our actions in any given circumstance, that we must ask ourselves three questions.

1. Is a thing morally right or wrong?

2. Is it advantageous or disadvantageous?

3. If apparent right and apparent advantage clash, what is to be the basis for our choice between them?

His assertion, much like that of Spencer W. Kimball in The Miracle of Forgiveness, is that true advantage and true morality can never be separated. While Kimball discusses this in terms of repentance and some people who claim to be better off having sinned and repented, Cicero says that any action which is truly advantageous by definition is truly morally correct. He says that since men don't have perfect knowledge that they still have "second class obligations", essentially that they are still obligated to judge advantage and morality to the best of their ability.

Cicero qualifies this by saying that the ability to be perfectly moral is therefore dependent on having a perfect knowledge. If you can't perfectly understand the consequences of your actions, then you can't determine whether they are truly advantageous or not, and thus cannot determine whether they are truly moral. So, you can see why I like this kind of argument. This means that some actions which are conventionally considered immoral can become moral if the result of those actions are truly advantageous. We see this kind of dilemma rather often in the scriptures, in the Book of Abraham when God instructs Abraham to lie about Sarai, the killing of Laban, and elsewhere no doubt. So it is clear that the commandments we have been given are given because they are almost always moral, not because they are immutably so. An example my friend D-Train always used to put forth is, if it's 1942 and the SS knocks on your door and asks if you are hiding any Jews, you best tell them no whether you are or not.

Cicero states that each man ought to identify his own interest with the interest of all. So an individual's morality is based on the advantage of the group, not necessarily on personal advantage. He states that all men have identical interests and by helping each other we help the body politic of which we are a part, and thus help ourselves. This sort of attitude, if enacted, works wonders.

Cicero states that any instance in which there is an apparent difference between right and advantage, it is simply due to a mistake. We cannot properly interpret the situation because we lack that perfect knowledge. He states that this binding of advantage and right is the law of nature and that nothing can deviate from it.

So as you can see, the parallels between Cicero and LDS thought are pretty big. Cicero, having died a few years before Christ was born, wasnt a Christian or even a monotheist but he seems to have arrived at quite a few brilliant moral conclusions several decades before the adult ministry of Christ and 1800 years before Joseph Smith. We have been told by revelation and by the Prophets to search out the best books. Was Cicero divinely inspired? I dont know. But I know that the fact that I read his works has been advantageous to me, and therefore good.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Innaugural Post

Welcome to De Rerum Natura. This site will be a home to discussions of doctrine, culture, and the relationship between mormondom and the classical world.