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Sep-14-2009 02:22printcomments

The Pagan Christ

“The end of Christianity is coming because there is a system undergirding the traditional ‘economy of salvation’ which is more concerned with preserving its own power than exploring the truth.”-Harpur
Check out Tom Harpur's book where it is available for purchase,

(CALGARY, Alberta) - BOOK REVIEW: The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light

Tom Harpur, Author

Tom Harpur is a Canadian author, broadcaster, columnist and theologian. Ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1956, he worked as a journalist for thirty years at the Toronto Star newspaper, twelve of which were as the newspaper's religion editor. He has written a number of books on religion and theology, ten of which became Canadian bestsellers and two of which were made into TV series for Vision TV.

Harpur is a Fellow of the American Religious Public Relations Council and his biography is included in the American Who's Who in Religion.

Literalism in religion

There are several colonies of Hutterites in Alberta. Founded by Jakob Hutter in the 16th century, they are a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, emphasize minimal contact with the outside world along with an absolute pacifism. The conflict of their beliefs with society at large, resulted in hundreds of years of wandering through many countries in Europe and to North America. The Hutterites may soon be on the move, again.

Alberta Hutterites had initially won the right to not having their photograph taken for drivers' licenses on the ground that it violated their religious beliefs and that driving was essential to their way of life. In May 2007, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the photograph requirement violated their belief that pictures qua images are prohibited by the Second Commandment.

About eighty of the nonphoto licenses were in use at the time. But, in July 2009 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 4-3 that a Hutterite community must abide by provincial laws that make a digital photo mandatory for all new driver's licences as a way to prevent identity theft.

Hutterites are literalists in that they take the second commandment literally and brook no variations or relaxations. This phenomenon, argues Tom Harpur, is the source of the overwhelming harm that religion inflicts on society.

He agrees in principle with the rabid atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, about the damage that religion does:

“Most of the atrocities committed by the Church and its more rabid followers down through the ages have been directly inspired by literalist thinking. The lies, for example, behind all the anti-Jewish bigotry and hatred that has so tragically marked the history of Christianity almost from its inception, and that culminated in the Holocaust.

"The Church did not kill six million Jews, obviously. But centuries of a literal reading of Passion narratives—especially the words, in Matthew, ‘His blood be upon us and our children’—and the anti-Jewish teachings of a continuous train of Christian theologians down to and including Martin Luther himself, made it possible for the Holocaust to occur.

"Even at present, hatred towards Jews, homosexuals, Muslims and others is still being encouraged in some quarters by extreme biblical literalists. The biblical exposition given [in my book], I repeat, utterly destroys this dangerous fundamentalist exegesis once and for all.”

-concluding that:

"We will never have peace on earth as long as literalism controls religions."

His solution to this religious predicament is that “Today’s Christianity needs a cosmic yet inner Christ, not some personalized idol in a narrow cult that bids all the world to come to it—on its terms alone. People need and want a connection to God that has already been planted in the soil of their own hearts and minds.”

This is because, he says,

“The old literalism simply cannot withstand the probing modern thought, research and scholarship. What was never history to begin with can’t masquerade as history any longer. This makes a major, decisive turning point in Christianity’s overall story. It brings with it the hope of a much more spiritual belief system and experience of God.”

The result for Tom Harpur personally, he says, is that

“I have indeed found for myself, in the course of all the emotional and intellectual wrestling involved in coming to grips with this material, not just a deeper faith but a far more bracing, more intellectually honest, more tuned-into-the-universe-itself kind of belief system than I ever dreamed possible.”

For example, he says, “the personal Jesus concept is truly a limiting, and deeply divisive, dead end. The historical evidence simply isn’t there….What is more, it commits idolatry, by making a flesh-and-blood-man into God—thus forever alienating Jews, Muslims, and believers of a host of other religions, and making full religious harmony on the planet a perpetual impossibility.”

It is this literalist, religious fundamentalism, that underlies all the ignorance in American society today. People have been duped, not just in this century, but for the last fifteen centuries.

Ancient Beginnings

Ancient religions were deeply connected to the realities of the universe at all levels. “What we need today is not a further rationalizing and de-mythologizing of the Bible accounts, but rather a re-mythologizing of them in order to see their eternal significance as we have never seen it before. The need is not to peel away the myth, as I used to think, but to use it to penetrate to the spiritual heart of what it has always been trying to tell us.”

“Ancient peoples did not believe their myths. They believed in them, in the sense that they believed in the truth beneath the stories.”

How the Fraud Worked

It began a few centuries after Christ. “It is the premise of this entire account that very early on, in the third and fourth centuries C.E., the Christian Church made a fatal and fateful error.

"Either deliberately, in a competitive bid to win over the greatest numbers of the largely unlettered masses, or through wilful ignorance of the true, inner sense of the profound spiritual wisdom it had inherited from so many ancient sources, the Church took a literalist, popularized, historical approach to sublime truth. What was preserved in the amber of allegory, it misrepresented as plodding fact….

"The great truth that the Christ was to come in man, that the Christ principle was potentially in every one of us, was changed to the exclusivist teaching that the Christ has come as a man. No other could match him, or even come close. The Dark Ages—and so much more—were the eventual result.”

The Bible was a total plagiarism of Sumerian and Egyptian mythologies. The Hebrew sacred books were all Egyptian in origin. Horus and his mother Isis were the forerunners of the Madonna and child. Horus, too, had a virgin birth, and was a “fisher of men with twelve followers”.

In Christian mythology, points out Harpur, “There is nothing the Jesus of the Gospels either said or did—from the Sermon on the Mount to the miracles, from his flight as an infant from Herod to the Resurrection itself—that cannot be shown to have originated thousands of years before…

"Everything—from the star in the east to Jesus’ walking on water, from the angel’s pronouncement to the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, from the temptation in the wilderness to the changing of water into wine—already existed in the Egyptian sources.”

St. Augustine acknowledged this: “The very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients also, nor was it wanting from the inception of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, at which point the true religion which was already in existence began to be called Christian.”

Harpur: “The evidence of close similarities between Christianity and other ancient world faiths is massive, detailed and extremely specific, and quite incredibly far-flung, stretching from the Vedic wisdom of India to the Norse myths of Scandinavia, the legends of the Incas, and the original spirituality of the indigenous peoples of North America.”

“Comparative religions studies reveal that almost every traditional faith the world over rests on a central story of the son of a heavenly king who goes down into a dark lower world, suffering, dying, and rising again, before returning to his native upper world. Acted out in a moving, multi-faceted dramatic ritual, the story tells how this king/god wins a victory over his enemies, has a triumphant procession, and is enthroned on high.

"Comparative religions scholars have made lists of thirty to fifty such avatars or saviours, including Osiris, Horus, Krishna, Bacchus, Orpheus, Hermes, Balder, Adonis, Hercules, Attis, Mithras, Tammuz of Syria, Thor (son of Odin), Beddru of Japan, Deva Tat of Siam, and many more.”

“The only difference—and it was quite radical—between the Jesus story of the New Testament and the many ancient myths depicting what seems the identical combination of concepts and characteristics is that nobody among the ancients, prior to the full-fledged Christian movement, believed for one moment that any of the events in their dramas were in any way historical.

"What counted were the deep, timeless spiritual truths behind or beyond the fictional packaging. There was one primal, central myth—originating undoubtedly in Egypt—and all the rest flowed from that. In Christianity, however, the myth was eventually literalized. Jesus was historicized. The consequences of this were to prove very damaging over the centuries to come. A believer had to put his or her trust in Jesus alone to know both divinity and ultimate resurrection.”

The Cross

For the first six or seven centuries C.E. Christianity was represented either by an empty cross or one with a lamb on it. The first known likeness of a man on a cross is from about three centuries B.C.E., of Orpheus. The lamb was replaced by Jesus on the cross in 692 through the Trullan Council. Christianity “rests on a foundation of falsehood and forgery.”

More literalism: “The King James translation of the ‘end of the world’ has done a lot of harm. The Greek text always uses words that explicitly signify the end of the age, cycle or eon, not the end of the cosmos itself.”

The Spirit Within Us All

“The primary truth of human culture presented by all sage religions of antiquity is that there resides deeply embedded in the core of our basic constitution a nucleus of what, for want of a better designation, must be called a divine spark or ‘sun’….All the sun symbolism of religion, ancient and modern, is an attempt to express this one salient truth. All the Christs of antiquity were denominated as sun gods. We all share in this one primordial ‘fire’.”

Origen [early Christian scholar, 185-254] taught reincarnation, karma, and universal salvation as Christian doctrines but was excommunicated by the Church within three hundred years of his death. Among other things, he said that a literal understanding of Christ’s crucifixion was a doctrine “only fit for children”.

In the fifth century Pope Leo the Great had to order church members to stop worshipping the sun. Easter is fixed as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, the day when day and night are equal and days start becoming longer.

Says Harpur: “It’s a cosmic, solar, and lunar event as deeply rooted in religious traditions originating from sun-god worship as one could conceivably imagine. Traditional Christianity, I have come to realize, has forfeited a great deal of its vital historical connection with the natural world and the cosmos as a whole by a deliberate downplaying of the significance of this solar-lunar connection.”

“Horus indeed was the archetypal Pagan Christ….The result was a kind of plagiarism but in a badly warped and weakened edition. What was timeless and universally applicable in the Horus myth eventually became tragically locked into a single person, time and place; what had been esoteric and symbolic was made exoteric and historical.

"Instead of an ideal and divine principle—the Christ—working in every heart, all of God’s evolutionary thrust for humanity was locked up exclusively in one personality—the ‘personal Jesus’. Myth had been misread as biography. Countless millions ever since have had to look beyond, to an external, morally unreachable Saviour, instead of being empowered by the saving grace of the ever-coming Christ spirit within. This is what we need so badly to rediscover and apply.”

The Catholic Church as the Stumbling Block

“A lot of misunderstandings and hardships remain today because Churches such as the Roman Catholic Church still insist on taking the Eucharist passages in the Bible so literally. That’s one of the chief reasons that Rome refuses to engage in intercommunion with Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Churches that take a more symbolic approach.”

Which to Believe— History or the Bible

The periods of the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius are among the most documented of ancient history, but there is absolutely no non-Christian reference to or awareness of Jesus’ existence.

The most obvious lacuna is Jesus’ apparent resurrection. If Jesus had actually returned from the dead it would have been the most incredible event in the entire history of man and news of it would have spread around the ancient world in a matter of weeks. Yet a few Christians in Palestine were apparently the only ones to know anything about it.

“Luke tells how a decree went out from Augustus that ‘all the world should be registered’. The trouble is that there is absolutely no trace—in a well documented period—of such a decree. It’s simply a means of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for theological reasons. The Messiah had to be of Davidic descent, and thus from Bethlehem. Luke says the birth occurred while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

That means it could not have happened before 6 C.E., the year we know he took office. At the same time, Matthew says Jesus was conceived while Herod the Great was in power in Judea.

But Herod died in 4 B.C.E.! The authors of The Jesus Mysteries point out that Mary’s real miracle, if both references are taken as genuinely historical, was ‘a 10-year pregnancy’. For Matthew, Jesus’ hometown was Bethlehem. For Luke, it was Nazareth.”

Spirituality as Truth; Church as Falsehood

“Ask yourself, Is a poem true? Can it contain truth of infinite value even though its content is symbolic or fictional? Are the plays of William Shakespeare true? Sublimely so, when it comes to matters of the human heart and human spirit. Yes, though fiction, they are supremely true. But they are not exact history, nor can they ever be. That precisely is the case with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I find, in such an in-depth approach, excitingly fresh grounds for both faith and hope.”

“By literalizing and making a pseudo-history out of the Jesus story—by making all the ancient wisdom exoteric and commonplace—the Church turned that triumph into a pyrrhic victory of staggering proportions. Ignorance and unquestioning faith were championed, frauds were passed for sacred truths, dissent of any kind was labelled heresy, and within a short time, all of Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. Only a much later return to the so-called Pagans, Plato and Aristotle, injected sufficient rationality and philosophy into Christian theology to keep it alive at all.”

“Once you assume historicity and train the full glare of historical research on the Bible, the entire edifice begins to crumble. As I have argued, it is not about history, unless by that you mean the inner story of the human mind and heart in its dealings with the divine.”

St. Gregory Nazianzen [330-390], a respected theologian of the early centuries wrote to his friend St. Jerome, saying: “Nothing can impose better on a people than verbiage: the less they understand, the more they admire….Our Fathers and Doctors have often said, not what they thought, but that to which circumstances and necessity forced them.”

Religion for the 21st century

Near the end of his book, Harpur quotes St. Paul: “When I become a mature man, I put away childish things.” The childish things in this case are the literalism, false history and spiritual denial. “The single vast theme (in fact, the central teaching) of all religion is the incarnation of the divine in the human.”

The End of Christianity

“A rational, cosmic faith not only is possible but indeed is the only thing that makes sense in our fast-changing pluralistic world.” At the beginning of the book, Harpur quotes Richard Holloway, the former primus of the Church of Scotland: “The end of Christianity is coming because there is a system undergirding the traditional ‘economy of salvation’ which is more concerned with preserving its own power than exploring the truth.”


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which explains why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class—a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue, although a lot of his views could be described as left-wing. He understands that who he is, is largely defined by where he came from. The focus for Daniel’s writing came in 1972. After a trip to Europe he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Alberta, and Calgary in particular, was extremely conservative Bible Belt country, more like Houston than any other Canadian city (a direct influence of the oil industry). Two successive Premiers of the province, from 1935 to 1971, had been Baptist evangelicals with their own weekly Sunday radio program—Back to the Bible Hour, while in office. In Alberta everything was distorted by religion.

Although he had published a few pieces (unpaid) in the local daily, the Calgary Herald, it was not until 1975 that he could actually make a living from journalism when, from 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman (1979-1993), Canada’s top business writer (notably a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting with the CBC. You can write to Daniel at:

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Mark Zamen September 21, 2009 6:01 pm (Pacific time)

The essential concept here regarding the damage religion can cause is undeniably accurate; literalism can and does destroy lives. That is one of the salient points of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay Mormon man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others, including co-religionists). More information is available at Mark Zamen, author

Ken Ramey September 15, 2009 3:29 pm (Pacific time)

There are many pathways to the same conclusion, but this book is singing my song. I REST MY CASE.

JOSEDUARDO CASTro e September 15, 2009 12:43 pm (Pacific time)


Daniel Johnson September 15, 2009 9:40 am (Pacific time)

Allan Dines: You're right and Harpur was in error. But it doesn't detract from the impact of the quote. Thanks for the clarification

Allan Dines September 14, 2009 7:27 am (Pacific time)

Richard Holloway was Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is Anglican, and not the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian.

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