ON THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PAGANISM AND CHRISTIANITY

Pagan transition to ChristianConsider the ending of the Declaration of Independence.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

What is honor? Why would it be sacred? Honor is not easily defined, but perhaps it is safe to say that to have honor we must be honorable.

honorable (adj.)

early 14c. (mid-13c. as a surname), from Old French honorable, from Latin honorabilis “that procures honor, estimable, honorable,” from honorare “to honor” (see honor (n.)). Related:Honorably.

“Now, George, you must divide the cake honorably with your brother Charlie.”–George: “What is ‘honorably,’ mother?” “It means that you must give him the largest piece.”–George: “Then, mother, I should rather Charlie would cut it.” [“Smart Sayings of Bright Children,” collected by Howard Paul, 1886]

Honorable men and women live according to a code of conduct that embodies certain principles. Americans of the 18th Century lived according to the principles taught in the Bible. Did they have disagreements about how they should interpret the Bible? Yes, but they eventually agreed that Bible taught they should allow everyone the freedom to live by the dictates of his own conscience.

Why do people become Christians? Every Christian has their own story. Did I become a Christian because I wanted to be a Christian? No. When I was younger, I was like that little boy named George. I wanted the larger slice of cake, but I am fascinated by history. So I studied history. In time I reached the conclusion that I could not make any sense of history without studying Christianity. So I started to read the Bible and study it. Then I learned how much God loves me, and I was ashamed I had not returned His love.

How did Christianity change the world? What made the life of Jesus the most important event in history? Writers far better than I have written about this. So I have excerpted a passage from such a writer’s book, Heretics by G. K. Chesterton. In what follows, Chesterton comments on the ideas of one of the heretics who served as the subject of his book. Here he explains the differences between what the ancient Pagans believed and what Christians believe.

Let me set about making the matter clear. There is one broad fact about the relations of Christianity and Paganism which is so simple that many will smile at it, but which is so important that all moderns forget it. The primary fact about Christianity and Paganism is that one came after the other. Mr. Lowes Dickinson speaks of them as if they were parallel ideals—even speaks as if Paganism were the newer of the two, and the more fitted for a new age. He suggests that the Pagan ideal will be the ultimate good of man; but if that is so, we must at least ask with more curiosity than he allows for, why it was that man actually found his ultimate good on earth under the stars, and threw it away again. It is this extraordinary enigma to which I propose to attempt an answer.

There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If anyone wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas. Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.

The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)—the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.

As the word “unreasonable” is open to misunderstanding, the matter may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this is not true of any of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues. Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.  (from here)

Chapter XII Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson of Heretics is too long for one blog post, but there is another virtue. Therefore, here is one more paragraph.

It has been the boast of hundreds of the champions of Christianity. It has been the taunt of hundreds of the opponents of Christianity. It is, in essence, the basis of Mr. Lowes Dickinson’s whole distinction between Christianity and Paganism. I mean, of course, the virtue of humility. I admit, of course, most readily, that a great deal of false Eastern humility (that is, of strictly ascetic humility) mixed itself with the main stream of European Christianity. We must not forget that when we speak of Christianity we are speaking of a whole continent for about a thousand years. But of this virtue even more than of the other three, I would maintain the general proposition adopted above. Civilization discovered Christian humility for the same urgent reason that it discovered faith and charity—that is, because Christian civilization had to discover it or die. (from here)

When they read Chesterton’s words, some will counter by saying Jesus was a genius, merely a great philosopher. Christianity was just an evolutionary leap forward in Philosophy.  But how could a poor carpenter and His twelve disciples (just ordinary men) have invented and spread this philosophy we now call Christianity?

We also must wonder about Jesus’ miracles and the miracles His disciples performed in His name. Were these too just inventions by the men who wrote the Bible? The New Testament was written by Jesus’ contemporaries, men who had seen or spoke to those who knew Him. If Jesus was not the Son of God, these men had to know better, and all they could expect from their “inventions” was martyrdom.

Therefore, we have a puzzle. We have men with nothing to gain who gave their lives to spread an odd philosophy, and we have accusers who say they either lied or they were deceived. When we think about that accusation of lies, why aren’t we filled with wonder? Why would anyone tell lies to promote the virtues of faith, hope, charity, and humility?

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2 Responses to ON THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PAGANISM AND CHRISTIANITY

  1. Paul H. Lemmen says:

    Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.

  2. Rob Barkman says:

    I appreciate the listing of all of the current day creations that are rooted in Christianty. Very interesting! I’ll need to read more of Chesterton. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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