Christian Cathedrals are forests carved in stone
The story of the moment is the slow collapse of Christianity in Britain, especially among the young. The perception is that all organised religions are under threat in favour of a broader spirituality.
One underlying reason is the politically-correct notion that to choose one faith over another is “discriminating against” all the others and clearly angers some. Given the obvious fact that living involves a whole series of choices and that civilisation is a collection of past decisions, this is a spurious argument that, in the round, is slowly destroying the West, and certainly Britain as a robust, unified country. Obsessive Leftist politics has played a major part in this dissolution of the old faith.
Surprisingly, the Girl Guides are the new centre of attention after their creed was altered, removing references to God and Country, replacing them with Myself and Community.
As someone Christened into the Church of England when young, but who has developed a wider vision of its mission, I’m not surprised by these developments. The real pity is that the latest mass movements are beating up the organised religions for the wrong reasons. The truth is, all major faiths have their source in an original nature religion akin to Druidism (see pictures above).
An added complication is that violent Islamism has turned many people away from religion across the board, while the churches have settled into a comfortable, well-funded rut.
Historically, all religions arose from the same inner realisation: a sense that there is something bigger than us, apparently outside ourselves. This perception is mysticism and affects most people, but some — the mystics — grasp it more powerfully than others.
The best mystics are also capable writers. The two Spanish contemporaries, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila are among the pick of them. St John’s The Dark Night of the Soul is a masterpiece, once you get round the clumsy stucture of it: poetic verses, followed by commentary.
Long research among the religious texts of the world have convinced me that there is no essential spiritual difference between them. As a French poet put it: mystics all speak the same language.
My own understanding, which is being confirmed daily by modern scholarship, is that the only proof we have that someone called Jesus existed at all is a single document of wise sayings, referred to by scholars as “Q”. The Gospel of Thomas, with its 118 sayings beginning “Jesus said …” is almost certainly an echo of it.
The four familiar Gospels of the New Testament were written at different times by what we would now call “novelists”. Luke was the most talented. He put colour, pace and structure into his writings, which included The Acts.
These documents were probably intended as texts for small proto-Christian groups and are widely different in storyline and content. Any similarities are almost certainly explained by succeeding writers copying their predecessors. Q is the one founding source of all of them.
None of the authors knew Jesus personally or could swear that he existed, except by faith or necessity.
Art expert Waldemar Januszczak made a recent TV film in which he showed the first depictions of Jesus in art. They are bland and contain little detail. They bear no resemblance to the florid, almost photographic, paintings of the Middle Ages. Renaissance artists turned Jesus from a cipher in a very ancient document into a potential movie star.
As for the crucifixion, it was an elaborate metaphor showing a “god” who comes down to Earth and suffers in his human body. Look in a mirror and hold your arms horizontally sideways. What do you see? A cross. Life itself is a crucifixion for all of us. The later interpretation of this event is more crucifiction than crucifixion.
There are at least nine other ancient figures who went through similar lives to Jesus: virgin birth, strange stars in the sky, miracles and teachings, grisly deaths: Horus, Attis of Phrigia, Zoroaster, Glycon, Heracles, Dionysus, Romulus, Odysseus, and Krishna.
None of this takes away the necessity for organised spirituality for most people, but a sense of perspective and historical accuracy is essential if one is not to be implicated by default in the appalling violence that periodically overwhelms various religions.
Christianity has been more vicious than most in stamping its mark around the world. Dissenters burnt at the stake for minor infractions, and slaughter on a mass scale that would make Adolf Hitler wince. The religious Crusade in the 1200s AD to wipe out the Cathars in southern France was atrocious. Men, women and children were brought down from their mountain retreat and burned to death in a field without mercy.
Later, St Bernard of Clairvaux said ruefully: “They were better Christians than us.”
Religion then is a social form of mysticism derived from the same instinctive source. The two pictures above illustrate how Christianity across Europe developed from the Druidism it replaced, with considerable violence. The Romans massacred 2000 druids on the Isle of Anglesey, effectively destroying the movement and attempting to wipe the record clean.
It took the romantics of the 19th century to re-establish it as a religion of nature, which Christianity has long demonised as the work of the Devil. Witches were set alight at the stake or drowned in a ducking-stool.
The fact is, Christianity took over much of what is called Paganism in order to placate the local population. Druids had sacred groves in the woods where they held their ceremonies. Cathedrals and Gothic churches are forests carved in stone.
Vegetation and Green Men are depicted in the walls and columns, most markedly at Rosslyn Chapel north of Edinburgh, which is said to be a copy of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Bishops wear robes and decorations not dissimilar to their pagan forebears. Magic — prayer for favours — is rife. Hymns are musical spells seeking friendly outcomes. Underneath there is little difference between the ceremonial of church and grove. They even look the same, and probably sound similar too.
But the Church has become tired and boring to much of the population who regard science as the new voodoo which answers their needs in multiple ways. However it remains true that nothing provides the deep connection with reality that mysticism does at its spiritual best.
We seem to have come full circle from pagan nature worship to a modern realisation that we can only progress in understanding by touching the profound soul of the universe with our own being.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Coming eventually: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.
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