The Sources Of Some Christian Beliefs And Practices

While the Holy Bible is an excellent source of information for the general understanding of godliness, spiritualism and mysticism, it is not a very useful source for understanding some Christian beliefs and practices. The reason is that the Old Testament focused extensively on pre-Christian Judaism while the New Testament offers scant information about the lives of the major individuals who laid the foundation for Christianity. For example, the New Testament does not say much about the lives of Jesus Christ, his father, mother, and siblings. This is why there is so much confusion about what actually happened. Increasingly, some people believe that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and had children while others discount the notion that he was married.

Moreover, the New Testament has only four gospels written or attributed to John, Mark, Mathew and Luke, in addition to the Act of the Apostles, Revelation and a few other works. On the other hand, it is believed that there are up to twenty gospels in existence. It appeared that the four gospels, Revelation and the other writings, were selected for inclusion in the Bible because they reinforced the intentions of the church leaders and Emperor Constantine who formalized the official doctrine that constitute Christianity today. Due to the fact that the Holy Bible contains only four gospels in the New Testament, a comprehensive picture of what actually happened during the days of Jesus Christ cannot be drawn since they only provide a partial picture of the total experience.

Another problem is that it appeared that the Bible was put together in a manner that created gaps in the credibility of some of the stories. For instance, it is stated in the most widely read editions of the Bible that Adam and Eve were the first human beings created by God. Well, other Jewish writings indicate that the first female created side by side with Adam was Lilith, not Eve. Both were considered equal in every aspect and Lilith insisted that the equality must be maintained. According to the story, Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam and there was a fall out between the two. Even persuasion by a higher authority failed to compel her to be subservient; eventually she was banished from the Garden of Eden. Thus, Eve is a replacement for Lilith. Similarly, the story about Adam and Eve giving birth to Cain and Abel too sounds incomplete. The reason is that if Cain killed Abel, it means that he was the only male remaining, after his father (Adam). In that case, he might have probably married one of his sisters or go somewhere else to get a wife to procreate the world. If he went somewhere to get a wife, that means that there were other humans on earth at the time of Adam and Eve. Thus, the story is not fully explained. Another perplexing thing is that if Christianity originated from Judaism, as demonstrated by the mixing of the Old and New Testaments in the Holy Bible, why is it that the Jews do not seem comfortable with the New Testament’s version of the Messiah?

In any case, the Christianity which most people in the world associate with today was organized through the supervision of Emperor Constantine of Rome. By converting to Christianity after experiencing a miraculous incident, he Christianized the Roman Empire. By so doing, all the Roman colonies were compelled to Christianize. The official doctrine of Christianity was first formalized in 325 AD in the Council of Nicaea.

Reasons for the Adoption of Pagan Practices

As the church worked hard to spread Christianity in Europe, the Europeans resisted the effort to convert them. When the Roman Empire failed or collapsed, it was replaced by the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church became the Holy Roman Empire and the pope became the head of the empire. Thus, the pope simultaneously served as the spiritual head of the church and the political leader of the empire. The church carried out vigorous campaigns to Christianize Europe but the Europeans rebuffed the effort and continued their pre-Christian religious practices. Therefore, to facilitate or fasten Christianization, the Holy Roman Empire applied various strategies, including the adoption of pre-Christian pagan traditions, instituting the inquisition, engaging in crusades, declaring those who oppose the church as heretics and dealing with them uncompromisingly.

It seems that Pope Gregory I was the first church leader to encourage the adoption of pagan ways. However, Pope Gregory III was the leader who concretized the adoption of the pre-Christian ways. As a result, the following pagan or pre-Christian European religious practices were adopted to make Christianity palatable to the Europeans:

1. Easter originated from a Pre-Christian European religious tradition. The word “Easter” is derived from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess known as Eastre. A festival was always conducted in her honor during the vernal equinox as a way to celebrate the coming of spring. The Christians adopted it to celebrate the spiritual rebirth of Jesus Christ after the Good Friday.

2. Lemuria: A Pre-Christian Roman ritual that was often celebrated to honor and placate the dead on May 13 of every year. To ensure conversion, the church initiated the “All Saints Day” to fall on the same day as the lemuria. Thus, the church used the All Saints Day to honor Christian saints just as the Romans used the Lemuria to honor the dead. The church, in order to reduce the impact of the paganistic celebration of Lemuria, moved the All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1 to reduce the effect of the celebration of Samhain, as indicated below.

3. Samhain Night: A Pre-Christian Celtic ritual which normally takes place on October 31 of every year. The day is used to honor the spirits of the dead and other spirits. It was believed that the dead and other spirits roamed the earth on that night. The ancient druids (Celtic religious priests/priestesses or shamans) used the ritual to foretell or predict future events. Moreover, it was believed that it was possible for humans to experience other worldly beings that night. The Samhain is now referred to as the Halloween.

4. The Night of Mystical Revelry: A night in which the ancient Romans celebrated Pomona – the goddess of Gardens and Harvest. The festival used to take place on 1st November of every year . The ritual was spread throughout most of Europe when Rome colonized the continent.

The church combined the “The Night of Mystical Revelry with Samhain by establishing the “All Souls Day” on November 2 in the tenth century. Thus, the All Souls Day is dedicated to honoring all dead Christians, just as the Pre-Christians had done with the Samhain. For example, in today’s Mexico, while the Christians honor dead Christians, the Native Americans honor their dead in compliance with their non-Christian religion. Similarly, in some parts of Europe and the United States, the Halloween, which is the off-shoot of Samhain, continues to be celebrated.

The church also helped to institutionalize and reinforce the “Trick and Treating” part of the ancient religious practices by encouraging Christians to offer prayers to uplift the souls of the dead from purgatory. In other words, just as the pre-Christian Celts and others offered prayers and gifts to the dead, spirits and God during harvests and when honoring the dead, the Christians too adopted the idea and hoped that dead Christians who were in purgatory would be helped to ascend unto heaven during the All Souls Day. Today, while the Christians celebrate the All Souls Day, both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the Halloween on October 31 by tricking and treating.

By creating parallel Christian rituals to honor the dead, the church tactically made it possible for those who rejected Christianity to finally embrace it. To ensure the accepta

nce of the religion, the church had to compromise some of its principles.
However, in 1486, Pope Innocent VIII published a book indicating a connection between witchcraft and the devil. With this connection established, the Pope finally abolished the pre-Christian religions of Europe. This resulted in the enthroning of Christianity as the official religion in Europe and some parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Today, it has spread all over the world.

Religion and Cultural Practices

It appears that every religion is closely associated with the culture(s) it originates from. Resultantly, Constantinian Christianity is closely associated with Judeo/European cultures, Islam is associated with the Arabic culture, Hinduism is associated with the Hindu culture, Shintoism is connected to the Japanese culture and so forth. Since this seems to be the case, there are other facets of Christianity that are by-products of the cultures of its origin. In this regard, the following beliefs and practices are also adopted into Christianity from pre-existing cultures:

1. The idea of a founding ancestor or leader emanating from God is also a pre-Christian tradition. In other words, the idea of a founding individual being the son of God is borrowed from an old religious tradition. There are many instances to cite from.

a. The Pharaoh Akhenaten of ancient Egypt was believed to have descended from a sun God known as Aten.
b. The Dogon ethnic group in Mali believed to have descended from Nammo who was created by the sky God Amma.
c. The Norse (Viking and or Scandinavian people ) believed that their thunder god Thor was the procreation or a product of a Protector God and a human mother. In this case, a sky deity mingled with a human woman to produce the powerful hero ancestor.
d. The Chinese believed that they are the descendants of a sky God known as Huang Di. He is believed to have descended from heaven on a flying dragon to help create the first Chinese Empire. After he had successfully done so, he flew back into the heavens on the back or belly of a flying dragon.
e. The Greeks have many stories of gods intermingling with earthly women to produce extraordinary beings. For instance, Hercules is believed to have been a product of a deity (Zeus) and an earthly woman.
f. The Zuni ethnic group (Native American) in the United States believed that they are descendants of sky people known as the “Kechinas.”
g. The Cherokees (Native American) people also believed that they are descendants of sky people known as “Makavians.”

2. The concept of monotheism (one God) was conceptualized and practiced in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Israel before the Christians adopted it through Judaism. Evidence gathered from the discovery of the Migdol Temple in Amman, Jordan confirms the fact that various groups were preaching and practicing monotheism.

3. The Christian belief in the universality of mankind and the need to “love thy neighbor as either self” is greatly influenced by the philosophy of stoicism which existed in the Greco-Roman world before the emergence of Christianity. It actually began in the 3rd BC.

4. The cross is a pre-Christian religious symbol that the Christians adopted. The Egyptians, Indians, and Native Americans used it in their traditional religions before Christianity.

5. The symbolic eating of the bread and drinking of the wine to reflect the body and blood of Jesus Christ during Christian communion, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, is greatly influenced by pre-Christian religious practices. The ancient Egyptians started the idea when the body of Osiris was consumed symbolically by the priest to attune with the spirit of the god.

Thus, the idea of God or a Supreme Intelligence sending down someone or procreating an extraordinary human being to help move the world in a certain direction is very pre-Christian. It was adopted during the Council of Nicaea Conference to spell out the principles that constitute Christianity.

One of the unfortunate things about religious education in the world is that religious knowledge is highly propagandized. This seems to be the case, particularly in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East. As a result, children are often taught only the principles associated with both Christianity and Islam, based on the Bible and the Koran. On the other hand, the religious, political, and social histories of the religions are rarely taught. Apparently, many children of African descent grow up with very little knowledge of the histories of their adopted religions. This is why many people are not aware of the three major Crusades that led to the rivalry between Christianity and Islam. Therefore, many adherents of Christianity have no clear understanding of the reasons why certain practices are carried out in Christianity.

Conclusion

While many Christian principles and practices cannot be found in the Bible, they have become part of the accepted rituals performed by Christians throughout the year. They become part of the beliefs and practices of the religion because during its formative years, it was not accepted by a majority of the European population despite the vigorous efforts of the church to convert them. To thrive and gain adherents, it had to adopt some of the pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices that existed in Europe. So, Christian leaders, throughout the ages, adapted very strategically. Thus, Christmas Day (December 25) is one of the pre-Christian celebrations that Christian leaders adopted in order to encourage conversion to Christianity, even though Jesus Christ was not biologically born on that day.

Written by
Priye Torulagha
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3 comments
  • I honestly do not mean this as a disrespect, but from the opening statement it is obvious that you are not “trained” in Theology or Divinity. The “knowledge” that is purported expounded is what that Holy Bible calls “human wisdom”; in other words, “limited” wisdom. When one reads the Apostle John’s account of Christ’s life, remember when he said that if all the events of Christ’s life were to be written, all the books of the earth would be insufficient to pen them? (John 21:25) The focus of the Bible is to give us enough information to effect that life change for our good and that of our fellow man. In that, it’s purpose is very well achieved. As you know, each time you read a particular scripture, there is fresh insight and calling for a renewal of zeal. (Abi we never even do dat one finish). It isn’t every topic that anyone should attempt to write on, for the sake of being a writer. For those who truly submit to and follow the scriptures as it is written, there is enough there to turn your heart and life to love the loving God of the Bible. The Bible is veiled to those whose spiritual eyes are blinded (by various things eg pride). I do admire your literacy, but let’s be careful. God does not want us adding or subtracting from His word. If this article were to sow doubt, it may succeed in some people (and their soul’s loss might be a responsibility). On a larger scale, many have tried to discredit, dilute, weaken Christianity for centuries without success. Because it is true, real and it works.