Today I want to continue our discussion from last time about myth and ritual. Just a reminder: a myth in sociological terminology is something whose truth or untruth is totally irrelevant. Also, a ritual is the reenactment of a myth, although the connection or even the myth itself long-lost in the mists of time. Having said that, let’s get on with the discussion, focusing mostly on Christian myth and Christian ritual.
Obviously, the myths that are most important in Christianity are The Canonical Gospels. it is these four books that form the core of Christian mythology. The interesting thing about the four is that each one takes a somewhat different perspective and also has different source material that the author, whoever that may be, had available. Christians tend to treat the Gospels as if they were real history, written by the authors to whom these books are attributed. The problem is that the oldest known copies are dated to at least a couple hundred years after the death of Jesus. So, the claim that these books were firsthand accounts of the life of Jesus is pure unadulterated hogwash. just as Homer did not witness the Trojan war or the writer of Beowulf is not present at the battle queen Beowulf and Grendel, so the Gospel writers were not present during the life of Jesus.
Another important point about the Gospels is that each one has its own particular theological perspective. The Jesus of Mark’s is far different from the Jesus of John’s. What this tells me is that, to be brutally frank, each Gospel writer had his or her own agenda, his or her own particular axe to grind. That is true not only of the canonical Gospels but also of the Gnostic Gospels, like the gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Philip. As I have said elsewhere, the four books of the canonical Gospels were selected by the Church Fathers, the powers that be in the second or maybe third century after the Crucifixion from all the available texts of the time. The criteria for their selection probably had very little to do with their “truth” of any of the gospels. Rather, they were chosen because they suited the political purposes of the Church Fathers.
It is even possible that what we called the Gospels of the New Testament were deliberately written, not by some saintly Christians, but rather by self-serving Romans who wanted to somehow create a mythos that would help perpetuate the existence of the Roman empire, thereby preserving the power and status of these Romans. I realize that that sounds very cynical to most Christians, but it would not be the first time or the last time that something like that was done. Consider the whole Nazi mythos that was basically created by the Nazi propaganda machine to make it possible for the Nazis to gain absolute control of Germany and the German people. In times of crisis, especially when things are very hard economically and there is a great deal of political oppression, as was the case in Judea at the time of the birth of Christ, creating a mythos like this would not have been hard. In fact, it probably would have been rather necessary. What may have happened is that some small group of disaffected Jews created the mythos of Christ, either intentionally or unintentionally, and that mythos was co-opted by those people who wanted to preserve the power of the Roman empire 400 years later.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called Christianity “a slave religion.” What he meant by that was not that it was a mythos that appealed to slaves or people with a slave mentality, but rather, Christianity creates a slave mentality in the masses. Christians believe it is better to turn the other cheek then to resist evil. Christians believe that human beings are born basically evil and weak. That is why we need all kinds of laws, both religious and secular, to keep us from killing each other. The underlying metaphysical assumptions of Christianity do not foster freedom and responsibility, although many Christian preachers spout all kinds of platitudes about Christian freedom and Christian responsibility. Christ did preach freedom and responsibility, but that is not what Christianity teaches today. This is one reason why I consider Christian orthodoxy, both Catholic and Protestant, to be the greatest heresy of all, and the founder of that heresy is the person Christians refer to as St. Paul.
In most of his letters, Paul talks about all these rules and regulations for proper Christian behavior. Things like women being quiet in church and sitting separate from the man . people being celibate rather than indulging in their passion . Paul saw sex, just as did the Jews of that time, as the root of much of the evil in the world. After all, sex was punishment from God for our sin in the garden of Eden. It is this whole idea of Original Sin that is at the basis of the rather negative view of human nature that is the foundation of the Judeo-Christian traditions. It was to free us from this ball and chain called Original Sin that Jesus came into the world. He wanted to give us back that freedom we had in the garden of Eden. The myth of Original Sin has been used for thousands of years to control humans and perpetuate rigid societies. Contrary to the myth of Original Sin, it is my contention that the humans who lived in the garden of Eden were not the ignorant boobs they are portrayed to be in the book of Genesis. Rather, they were free individuals with a strong sense of responsibility. It was not God who punished humanity for this so-called Original Sin. It was other humans who used it to gain political control. Until Christianity and Judaism and Islam get over this idea that human beings are inherently evil and the need to be control like so many sheep we will never see the Second Coming!