That I Am a Christian is not Religulous

As a teenager, I was watching a foreign film on Showcase in the middle of the night and was rewarded with a simple message delivered in subtitles from a Catholic priest.

The essence of the priest’s sermon can be summed up in one line: “Christianity is not an ethic, but a lifestyle.”

As someone who was already trying to figure out what salvation meant to me, the point really struck home.  Christianity is much more than a shared system of beliefs and values – it’s the complete expression of the person who is committed to Christ and his teachings.

It is this understanding that has kept me firm in my belief in God despite the growing voice of criticism that has been aimed at religiousness in general, although I do think this criticism has been well earned by those religious types who prioritize system over kindness.  The movie Religulous is a perfect example of a much needed call to reason.  I openly admit that I’m fond of this movie, and I admire Bill Maher for trying to convince religious fanatics to open their eyes to the implications of what they profess to believe in – how willful spiritual blindness is an affront to both common sense and compassion.

However, if there’s one thing Religulous didn’t do, it was convince me that my Christianity was ridiculous.

For me, the comparisons between Horus and Jesus that have become more public over the years have actually strengthened my faith.

When someone isn’t apologetic or ashamed of our humanness or concerned with moral perfection, salvation isn’t very high on the list of reasons to pursue a spiritual life.  My spiritual life is all about making sense of God’s mystery, growing in knowledge, and living as peacefully as I can with all living things.  My hope is that our experiences in this world are meaningful and that life now suggests a continued existence beyond the veil.

But I’m not overly concerned about the accuracy of the historical Christ, the efficaciousness of his mission, nor do I care if his life is depicted in the literary shell of Horus or manipulated in ways that fulfill Messianic prophecy.  These things have no impact on my faith.  All I have to remember is that the world changed after Christ lived, and that’s as far as I have to look for any literal transfiguration.

If we take the time to try and make sense of Horus’ place in Egyptian mythology and then contrast his story to Jesus’, some of us will conclude that the archetype for redemption has psychological significance – but I’m not sure how we can use their stories to form uncompromising conclusions about sin, atonement, and salvation in particular.  It’s when we try too hard to create dogmas out of interpretive events that we risk becoming religulous.

The chart below is from the a series of essays called Parallels Between the Lives of Jesus and Horus, the Egyptian, which can be found on www.religioustolerance.org.  This website also provides a more detailed comparison of Horus and Christ, as well as some scholarly insight.

Comparison of Horus and Jesus: 

 

Event Horus Jesus
Conception: By a virgin. There is some debate among scholars about this. By a virgin.
Father: Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Only begotten son of Yehovah (in the form of the Holy Spirit).
Mother: Isis-Meri. Miriam (now often referred to as Mary).
Foster father: Seb, (a.k.a. Jo-Seph). Joseph.
Foster father’s ancestry: Of royal descent. Of royal descent.
Birth location: In a cave. In a cave or stable.
Annunciation: By an angel to Isis, his mother. By an angel to Miriam, his mother.
Birth heralded by: The star Sirius, the morning star. An unidentified “star in the East.
Birth date: Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (about DEC-21). In reality, he had no birth date; he was not a human. Born during the fall. However, his birth date is now celebrated on DEC-25. The date was chosen to occur on the same date as the birth of Mithra, Dionysus and the Sol Invictus (unconquerable Sun), etc.
Birth announcement: By angels. By angels.
Birth witnesses: Shepherds. Shepherds.
Later witnesses to birth: Three solar deities. An unknown number of wise men. 3 They are said to have brought three gifts; thus the legend grew that there were three men.
Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Herod tried to have Jesus murdered.
Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child. An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.
Rite of passage ritual: Horus came of age with a special ritual, when his eye was restored. Taken by parents to the temple for what is today called a bar mitzvah ritual.
Age at the ritual: 12 12
Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. No data between ages of 12 & 30.
Baptism location: In the river Eridanus. In the river Jordan.
Age at baptism: 30 30
Baptized by: Anup the Baptiser. John the Baptist, a.k.a. John the Baptist.
Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Beheaded.
Temptation: Taken from the desert of Amenta up a high mountain by his arch-rival Sut. Sut (a.k.a. Set) was a precursor for the Hebrew Satan. Taken from the desert in Palestine up a high mountain by his arch-rival Satan.
Result of temptation: Horus resists temptation. Jesus resists temptation.
Close followers: Twelve disciples. There is some doubt about the actual number of disciples. Twelve disciples.
Activities: Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He “stilled the sea by his power.” Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He ordered the sea with a “Peace, be still” command.
Raising of the dead: Horus raised Osirus, his dead father, from the grave. Jesus raised Lazarus, his close friend, from the grave.
Location where the resurrection miracle occurred: Anu, an Egyptian city where the rites of the death, burial and resurrection of Horus were enacted annually. Hebrews added their prefix for house (‘beth“) to “Anu” to produce “Beth-Anu” or the “House of Anu.” Since “u” and “y” were interchangeable in antiquity, “Bethanu” became “Bethany,” the location mentioned in John 11.
Linkage between the name of Osirus in Egyptian religion and Lazarus in the Gospel of John: Asar was an alternative name for Osirus, Horus’ father. Horus raised Asar from the dead. He was referred to as “the Asar,” as a sign of respect. Translated into Hebrew, Asr is “El-Asar.” The Romans added the sufffix “us” to indicate a male name, producing “Elasarus.” Over time, the “E” was dropped and “s” became “z,” producing “Lazarus.1 Jesus is said to have raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Transfigured: On a mountain. On a high mountain.
Key address(es): Sermon on the Mount. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7); Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49).
Method of death By crucifixion or by the sting of a scorpion; sources differ. 2 See note above. By crucifixion.
Accompanied by: Two thieves. Two thieves.
Burial In a tomb. In a tomb.
Fate after death: Descended into Hell; resurrected after three days. Descended into Hell; resurrected after about 30 to 38 hours (Friday PM to presumably some time in Sunday AM) covering parts of three days.
Resurrection announced by: Women. Women.
Future: To reign for 1,000 years in the Millennium. To reign for 1,000 years in the Millennium.
Nature: Regarded as a mythical character. Regarded as a 1st century CE human prophet by Jewish Christians. Viewed as a man-god in the Gospel of John, and by Christians in the 2nd century CE and later.
Main role: Savior of humanity. Savior of humanity.
Status: God-man. God-man.
Common portrayal: Virgin Isis holding the infant Horus. Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.
Title: KRST, the anointed one. Christ, the anointed one.
Other names: The good shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, the winnower. The good shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, the winnower.
Zodiac sign: Associated with Pisces, the fish. Associated with Pisces, the fish.
Main symbols: Fish, beetle, the vine, shepherd’s crook. Fish, beetle, the vine, the shepherd’s crook.
 

Criteria for salvation at the time of judgment

 

“I have given bread to the hungry man and water to the thirsty man and clothing to the naked person and a boat to the shipwrecked mariner.” “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me…” Matthew 25:35-36 (KJV).
 

“I am” statements

 

I am Horus in glory…I am the Lord of Light…I am the victorious one…I am the heir of endless time…I, even I, am he that knoweth the paths of heaven.” “I am Horus, the Prince of Eternity.” “I am Horus who stepeth onward through eternity…Eternity and everlastingness is my name.” “I am the possessor of bread in Anu. I have bread in heaven with Ra. I am the light of the world….I am the way, the truth and the life.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. 

(All from the Gospel of John)

 

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Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven

When I was checking my Kindle to see if a book had become available in this format, Don Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, came up as suggested reading.

Since it seemed like a great value and I like reading about case studies involving NDEs, I decided to give it a chance.

I really liked the way the book is written.  The tone is sincere and personal, and Piper seems to provide a credible account of the afterlife, as spectacular as he makes it sound.  Like any person who tries to find words to describe a near death experience, language seems to be inadequate.  Even the brilliance and the intensity of the colours he witnessed are difficult to describe, and, understandably, he struggles to convey existence without the constraints of time.

To go from his depiction of an afterlife to his suffering in the hospital is traumatic even for the reader.  His pain is intense and drawn out, with no end in sight.  You can really appreciate the resistance he experiences when people try to help him, and how he comes to the conclusion that denying others an opportunity to do something nice for him is ultimately selfish on his part.  I found myself relating to this kind of pride, and I think the message is transferable to our own lives.

There are couple big question marks for me.  Don believes he was given his life back because of prayer, which seems reasonable from his perspective.  First, there’s the heartfelt prayer of a pastor who felt compelled to join him in the car when he was already declared clinically dead. Then there were the prayers of family, friends, people in the church, and even strangers who had heard of his accident that he believes helped him survive his injuries.

I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to the power of prayer and its influence on God, but I’m a firm believer in the placebo effect.  But in all fairness to prayer in this particular case, Don had no desire to return to life and he was indifferent to those who prayed for him in the hospital because he wanted to die anyway. His recovery is, indeed, a miracle.

The second question mark is something that is rather disappointing to me.  Don is a baptist minister who has this incredible taste of the afterlife, and yet he comes back to life just as convinced as ever that some people are meant to experience heaven and others hell.  To me, this is the most discrediting part of his story: his theology didn’t change.

When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about John 3:16:  “. . . that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Is it a coincidence that the most popular verse in the New Testament is one of the most polarizing?

The danger is that the verse makes it easy to reduce salvation to a matter of belief.  To someone with Don’s theology, it makes perfect sense that you have to believe a certain way or you won’t be permitted to experience life after death as he describes.

If Don would have had this incredible experience and came back to life prepared to change his fundamentalist ways, I would have an even higher opinion of his book.

So, it’s with a grain of salt that I recommend 90 Minutes in Heaven.  If you fear death, I imagine it can be of comfort to you.