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Friends at the Pantheon


"Things pass, but the essence remains.  You sit, therefore, in the midst of a dream."

- Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

 

People who know me, know that I love Roger Zelazny's writing.  Books, short stories, just about anything he wrote was a big deal to me.  As it happens, though, until very recently I had never read what some critics and many fans consider his best work, Lord of Light.  Besides enjoying the story and its writing, I also picked up some interesting perspective on Zelazny's best-known work, the Amber series.  But as often happens to me with Zelazny's writing, the story started me thinking.  The plot of Lord of Light involves, well, an elaborate charade played out by a few people to retain power and privilege by usurping the Hindu Pantheon and establishing what they mean to be an eternal caste system.  And that contest between truth and what-seems-to-be-truth reminded me of the constant struggle in the real world between truth and falsehood in many of our belief systems.

As I am a Christian, I believe there is true religion, a spirit granted by God to His children exercised in faith, hope and love for each other and reverence for God.  But there is also false faith, as exhibited in such monstrous crimes as the Inquisition, countless witch trials and the abuse of power by countless priests, ministers and puported servants of the Most High.  I am reminded that Satan loves to masquerade in dazzling images of false holiness.  But this falsehood is not limited to some who claim to be Christian, nor even to religion itself. There is also true science and false science, after all, and oddly the spirit of each is consistent with the true faith and the false.  Those who are true, whether Christian, Buddhist, Wicca or Atheist, seek what helps and heals, while those who are false seek to hurt and hate.  We must be careful to consider the essence of what we believe, for it reflects who we are.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had to wait for the Lord to show him his proper role.  Unlike Peter, who knew and loved the truth from early on and who literally walked with Christ as His disciple, Paul was raised to hate and persecute, and his 'Damascus Road' experience was as stunning psychologically as physically.  What made Paul effective as a servant of Christ came in large part from his willingness to speak to anyone, and on their terms.  Jew to the Jews, Roman to the Romans, Paul did not begin his witness by insulting the beliefs of the people he encountered, but set his lessons in the context they knew.  Paul, like Abraham, lived among people who believed in many different kinds of gods, and he won them over through reason and example.  In fact, throughout the history of Man, most people have had to consider more than one choice for their belief system, and even when one religion dominated a culture, there have always been heretics and challengers of the official doctrine.  Too many people forget that the Protestant movement began with an ordained monk of the Roman Catholic Church. 

I am secure in my beliefs.  That is, I am not a Christian just because I was raised in a nation which favors Christianity, and my parents took me to the church where they worshipped.  I went through my rebellion and searches, and looked into just about every major philosophy and creed to choose from.  I returned to the Church after a journey that I won't go into now, for reasons that should be apparent, but I have seen enough of the world to know what the other systems generally offer, good and bad.  In most ways I see things the same way as C.S. Lewis did (though admittedly I shall never be as deep - or concise - as the good Oxford don); that every man seeks out truth and goodness, and - let's be frank - is terrified of holiness when he finds it, for it is alien to our nature and person.  In that regard, our brothers and sisters who celebrate a pantheon are a bit more expressive and open about their feelings, for who could face the One who created all life and owns every breath we take, who judges us on a standard of perfection we cannot possibly meet but by which He lives and acts throughout eternity?  Who could face the author of the mysteries of birth and death, the designer of every day of our lives?  Who could, in a single person, encompass the contrary powers of hope and despair, justice and injustice, care and cruelty, and concepts we cannot even begin to imagine?  Should we who believe in one God, or none, mock those who describe a Buddha to intercede between us and the one who cuts off our breath and spirit?  Should we sneer at the name of Dainichi Nyorai, if the person using that name can thereby focus his prayers to the one powerful enough to overcome all his fears and doubts?  Shall we deride one who listens for the spirit of Gaia, if in doing so that one seeks to respect a world he did not make, and which will be here after he dies?  The old Greek pantheon is not much in vogue these days, but from where I sit I can understand how a simple man just wants to do what is right, and to therefore understand the world as it works.

There comes a decision, that is true.  Thousands of them, though, in a chain of events as one decision leads to the next.  Even if we are certain, completely, that we are right, we might do well to consider what our neighbor believes and why, so that when he speak with him we shall do so in peace and goodwill, rather than as conquest and aggression.  The only people to whom Jesus spoke harshly, were the hypocrites in their beliefs.  Christ went so far as to use a Samaritan as His example of a man who truly loved God by doing what was good, and by focusing on the essence, rather than just the appearance.   

     


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Comments (12)

You would do well to re-res... (Below threshold)
BlueNight:

You would do well to re-research your uses of "countless" in your second paragraph. There are counts.

All numbers on witch-hunts are extrapolations from the most reliable records. The most scholarly number is below 50,000 in 1800 years of European Christianity (fewer than 28 per year). The trials were often carried out by superstitious secular authorities who themselves were then punished by Rome's Church. Belief in the existence of witches was itself outlawed. (This is for correction of scale, not to excuse the monstrous crimes themselves.)

The Spanish Inquisition processed tens of thousands, but killed at most 5000. Again, this is not to excuse the coercions, tortures, executions, or confiscations, merely to correct the scale.

As for abuses in the name of Jesus, Jesus Himself said the religious elite who kept people from God would be cast into utter darkness. They killed Him. It didn't take.

true that... (Below threshold)
gene:

true that

If you enjoyed "Lord of Lig... (Below threshold)
Jay:

If you enjoyed "Lord of Light," you might like Zelazny's "Creatures of Light and Darkness." Similar theme, bizarrely done as only he could do. Cordially,

Thanks Jay. Actually, late... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Thanks Jay. Actually, lately I have shamelessly been trying to finish the fragment that Roger wrote with Ed Greenwoood, called "A Secret of Amber". I call my version "A Thief In Amber". It's buried in the stuff at my personal site, if anyone wants to heckle me for my efforts to write fiction.

Bluenight, I think you miss... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Bluenight, I think you missed the gist of my piece. I am no hater of RCC, and when I mentioned witch hunts, I was also thinking of the protestant versions. And your admission that the numbers cited are "extrapolations" is evidence of the fact that in at least some cases, there was an attempt to deny that trials even took place. Also, human nature being what it is, there are also numerous instances of what can only be called mob lynchings, so I stand by my use of the word "countless"; it more correctly describes the mood and the tenor of the times. I hasten to add that there is evidence of this in many non-Christian settings; some scholars believe that the Aztecs and Mayans in power arranged for their rivals and enemies to be sacrificed on trumped-up charges, and the egyptians were also notorious for killing off anyone who appeared to be a threat to the guys in power, and even the Buddhists sometimes resorted to violence in power struggles in those countries where a priest also held direct authority.

Flipping it around, of course, we also have seen a lot of non-religious violence by people who wanted to remove inconvenient opposition. The communists, fascists, and all manner of tinpot dictators have done so, and I recall that our present word "thug" derives from the Thuggee sect of India, which was often used to extort money and maintain control over much or the rural lands far from Bombay.

Well written DJ, thanks for... (Below threshold)
Matt:

Well written DJ, thanks for a thoughtful piece that I can ponder the rest of this day. I haven't read Zelazny, but C.S. Lewis has always been a favorite. I've been Christian since my late teens, but travel throughout the world and exposure to other beleif systems lead me to many of the observations you post about. Travels also taught me not to be intolerant of other religions, and to be respectful of their places and articles of faith and worship.

Paul at the Aeropagus is a ... (Below threshold)
Clay:

Paul at the Aeropagus is a fine example of Christian apologia.

"They called him Mahasamatm... (Below threshold)
mojo:

"They called him Mahasamatman, and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the maha and the atman, and just called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then, he never denied it either."

Very nice, DJ Drummond. But... (Below threshold)

Very nice, DJ Drummond. But I do not know 'Roger Zelazny' from 'Delaney and Bonnie.'

My guess is you recommend this author, and I will take you up on your recommendation.

As for your essay, I am a bit confused. The substance and conclusion almost sounds like "it matters not what one believes, as long as you are sincere."

This smacks a bit of moral relativism, bolstered by your sentence "Those who are true, whether Christian, Buddhist, Wicca or Atheist, seek what helps and heals, while those who are false seek to hurt and hate."

I have no doubt that many seek to work their way to 'goodness,' or 'Nirvana,' or 'whatever.'

But we all know what Jesus said about 'none good but one...'

Jesus also said, "If you abide in my words, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." The implication being, all others are false - and a prison - no matter how nice or good.

Should Christians sneer or mock? Heavens, no. But when this 'it doesn't matter as long as you are sincere because these Gaia lovers ain't all bad' theosophy invades the Church, I go on the offensive.

Or am I way off base here?

Not at all, locomotivebreat... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Not at all, locomotivebreath1901 (I'm going to be lazy here and just use LB from here on);

I noted that I am Christian, and that includes the part about 'No man comes to the Father but by Me'. There are, however, several difficulties that I was trying to address:

1. Christianity in 2011 is much different in organization and power, than was Christianity in, say, 211.

I have always been troubled by the difference between the modern Christian, who seeks a church home according to his preferences and choice among literally dozens within easy travel of his home, and the early Christian who not only had few choices, but faced real danger just for going to church. I worry about whether we have become too used to having power and influence, so that we expect people to usually be Christian, or claim to be. We need to be able to step back from our own perspective, and seriously consider what other faiths believe and why people choose them. From a witness point of view this is important in order to know how to speak to someone who is not Christian, but more fundamentally, it is important to respect someone's choice even when it's not what we would choose. Too many Christians seem to react to a Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist as someone who either does not know better, or as someone who hates God. My suggestion is that the choice might be something well-considered and reasonable, and in any case we should respect that choice, by showing some consideration for the different belief. There is no record that Jesus ever insulted a Roman soldier for following the Roman gods, or went around threatening Jewish heretics for getting doctrine wrong.

2. There are over six billion people in the world, from a broad range of cultures and experience.

Just what if, suppose Jesus had been born in, say, China or Africa instead of Israel? What if He had shown up in the Industrial age instead of during the Roman Empire? I ask because we have to consider how literally billions of people come to make their choices. I believe in the Gospel, but I do not believe that the Father decided to give some people an easy way to find Him while denying that way to everyone else. That is, I believe that a person who calls himself Muslim may in fact believe in Christ, and a Buddhist as well, in fact just about any religion in dogma could have within them men and women who love and obey Christ. How so? In many of these religions there is an intercessor (like the Buddha in Buddhism) who in truth is Christ. Now, I want to be careful here, because in no way am I saying that you can find God no matter what you believe, and not all roads lead to the Lord, and there are many false teachings a man or woman must guard against, even in some places that call themselves Christian churches ... but if the Lord elects to save someone, He will make their way clear to Him. This was part of the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is contained in the story of Ruth, and it is implied by God's extension of the graft of the gentile believer to the Gospel first offered to Israel. It is a mystery which takes much prayer and a solid foundation in Scripture to navigate without serious error.

3. It is undeniable that some people who lived before the time of Christ, are nonetheless welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.

We know that God was pleased with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and many other men and women who lived and died long before Christ walked the earth. While we generally understand that they too were saved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross, the character of their faith is too often not considered. After all, there was no New Testament before Christ spoke His teachings, and there were no Scriptures in the says of Abraham or Enoch! The 'Word of god' for these men, by definition, had to be the faith which lived in their hearts, and it is that 'essence' which I meant when I wrote of it. Good intentions or some Disney-esque belief that everyone gets a happy ending is not what I mean here, but the eternl truth that God provides for all of us, or rather each of us, to find and either accept or reject. There is a truth which is beyond words or names, and that is the subject I wanted to address here.

Perhaps it is wrong, but I ... (Below threshold)

Perhaps it is wrong, but I have felt for some time that the question God is most interested in is are you in rebellion or submitting to God. In this way it is easier to submit to God when you understand him better, but by no means impossible if you do not. After all, the actual knowledge can be imparted reasonably easy to someone who is willing to accept the truth.

I would dare say that the R... (Below threshold)
Stan:

I would dare say that the Romans persecuted the Christians more than any group in history. They started as soon as Christ was crucified and didn't stop until Constantine embraced Christianity for his own. No telling how many people were sent to the lions or however which way they sentenced to die. Suffice to say their ending was very bloody.

Seems to me that Christians have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the world for the last 2000 or so years. Granted, there were cases that the blame was well deserved and those are listed elsewhere in this thread, but to blame everything on Christianity is not the way to be.




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