Tuesday, 6 September 2016

'The Pagan Christ' by Tom Harpur

I imagine when this book was first published in 2004 it surely caused quite a stir among Christian orthodoxy. Not that the church, along with many of its devotees, hadn't been shaken before - they had. Bertrand Russell springs to mind as do the Gnostics, also  the Theosophists. I guess Bishop John Spong is another,  a contemporary of Tom Harpur of course but still, this book was,and remains, challenging material. Oddly, Tom Harpur is a very devout Christian.

When I read Geza Vermes' 'The Authentic Gospel of Jesus,' drawn as it is from the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, I was left with the distinct impression that Vermes was presenting a case for the history of Jesus. By comparing the works of Mark, Matthew and Luke he was giving us a distilled mix of what he believed to have been said by a historical Jesus, more specifically a Jewish Jesus, rather than underline the church's presentation of their messiah,  their Christ.
I have always thought the legends that have sprung up regarding the life of Jesus were based in reality. Someone, some man, most likely a radical rabbi, lived, breathed and died, almost certainly of old age and after his demise, certain falsehoods were created, fictions based on a range of myths. His ministry, such as it was, hopefully, lasted a whole lot longer than the one ascribed the Christian demi-god which lasted for just the one year. The only variant on that theme was John who suggested Jesus preached for three.

Vermes employed a method of comparison, a sort of separating the wheat from the chaff, whereby he sought out contradictions between church attitudes to early Judaic ideas so that when one was found it was likely to be genuine. You see, early Christians were, in fact, a Jewish sect but were eradicated, both ideas and the people themselves, before being replaced by a Roman made faith. They employed a great deal of book burning along with deleting any detail that may have gone against how they wanted their version of Christianity to be perceived. In short, the religion that exists today is far less tolerant than at its inception. It is a thing of power and control.

Tom Harpur premises a bible that is neither history nor biography but rather a tome riddled with symbolism, a book suffused with ripe myth but not the myth we now accept as being fiction but a myth steeped in folklore yet redolent with an imagery that carries within its representations a divine message. In other words a non-literalist work. The bible is not a thing to be taken literally even if it is a work of literature. 

Harpur suggests that the church, of whom he was ordained as a priest to serve, went to great lengths,burning books, hiding secrets, persecuting those who knew its original truths, simply in the pursuit of making the bible a historical document. 

That  though is not the bone of contention. Illustrating the similarities between a range of pagan Gods, from Horus to Mithras, from Hercules to Krishna is. Harpur begs the question did the gospels, their authors, all of whom wrote the four books decades - in one case one hundred years - after The Christ's crucifixion, amend previously written works which contained the same miracles? It would appear they did.

However, this does not deter Tom Harpur; it does not destroy his faith in his God. What it does do is open the author's eyes to the possibility of each and every one of us being Christ-like, of having Christos within us. Harpur suggests that all the myths of old,  those pagan perennials, are repeated within the gospels as symbolic works that carry a deeper message, a message that needs a probing intellect, one unconcerned with having to prove the existence of a man-god but rather one that recognizes that God (whatever you perceive that to be) exists within the individual.

This  makes perfect sense to me. More so the as I delve into Buddhism, even more so when I read of Zen Buddhism and categorically so having read and listened to much of Jiddu Krishnamurti's work. 

Tom Harpur's book delivers Christianity from its dark past, from those right-wing Evangelists who promote a dictatorial, maniacal God into a future bright with the promise of understanding Christ was never a god made as man but a spiritual force for good inherent within all of us. Sorta makes true the quest for enlightenment. 

"Some foolish men declare that the creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected. If god created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? How could god have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression." - Jinasena

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

1 comment:

Shimmerrings said...

I would like this book. His thoughts on Christianity, according to your review, resonate with how I have viewed Christianity for quite some time.