Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Truth about Religion?

Angela left a comment on my previous post asking me how I would respond to this YouTube video:

To review, this video is basically about the Egyptian sun-god Horus and how his life (and the lives of many other pagan and mythological deities) parallels the life of Christ. The claim is that, like these many deities, the story of Jesus Christ is simply a contrived personification of the placement and movement of various stars, particularly the sun.

It's interesting (funny?) how the narrator takes his time introducing the pagan gods, but when he gets to the life of Jesus he rushes through it. You can tell by the tone of his voice that he is practically bored by it. "He raised the sick, walked on water, blah blah blah." I imagine he's thinking to himself, "Let's hurry up and get this stupid Jesus story over with so I can debunk it with my my immense knowledge of astrology." Whatever.

It's obvious here that "religion" broadly speaking is not the target, but specifically the Christian religion. We'll see if his star-gazing actually amounts to anything.

The narrator offers various astrological explanations for the characteristics of Jesus and different events in his life. The "star in the East" is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which aligns with the three brightest stars in Orion's belt on Dec. 24th. These three brighter stars are commonly referred to as "The Three Kings" (with special emphasis on "Three Kings", as if that's really going to freak us out). Together they point to the sun when it rises on Dec. 25th. This is why it is said that the "three kings" follow the "star" to the "sunrise" or "the birth of the sun."

The Virgin Mary is the constellation Virgo, or "Virgo the Virgin." Virgo is also referred to as the "House of Bread," which is what "Bethlehem" is literally translated to mean. So, it follows (according to the twisted logic of the narrator) that "Bethlehem" refers to stars in the sky, not a place on Earth.

As for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, this too is explained by the movements of the sun (Sun = Son). From the Summer Solstace to the Winter Solstace (Dec. 25th), the days become shorter and colder, and from the perspective of the northern hemisphere the sun appears to move south and become smaller and more scarce. This chill in climate and the resultant loss of crops signals death.

By Dec. 22nd, the sun itself reaches its final death. After all, it is on this day that the sun sinks to its lowest point, and every day since the Summer Solstace it has appeared to shrink and take a more southern route. However, from the 22nd to the 24th (3 days) the sun appears to stop moving south. It is also during these 3 days that the sun lies within the vicinity of the Southern Cross, or "Crux" constellation. Finally, on the 25th, it moves 1 degree north. Spring, which is begun by this first move northward, brings new life, or "salvation." This, apparently, is the inspiration for the death on the Cross, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

However, the narrator points out that the resurrection of the sun is not celebrated until the Spring Equinox, which is, you guessed it, Easter. This is because it is on this day that the sun officially overpowers the evil darkness as daytime becomes longer than night and the revitalizing conditions of Spring emerge.

Finally, the 12 apostles are "obviously" the 12 constellations, which Jesus, as the "sun", would travel about with. The narrator points out that 12 is a number found often in the Bible (12 tribes of Israel, 12 brothers of Joseph, 12 judges of Israel, etc.) and then finally concludes that the Bible has more to do with astrology than with anything else. Even various icons of Christ can be explained by the zodiac chart, since the middle portion of the zodiac shares a similarity with the halo of Jesus on the Cross.

Pretty interesting, huh? Almost uncanny even! ... that is, until you take a step back from the spectacle and look at the actual logic involved here. The narrator's reasoning is basically this:
  1. The life of Jesus, and the characters and events involved in this life, share a similarity with stars and their placement and movement.
  2. Many other religions share these same parallels.
  3. Therefore, all religion, and especially Christianity, is a load of carp contrived by ingenious men who were inspired by the skies to create a vast mythology. None of it really took place.
Gimmie a break.

First of all, while no one contests the purely mythological nature of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religion, it is a historical fact that Jesus existed. That he performed miracles, had a major following during his lifetime, and was crucified is also historical fact. The rest of the elements of his life can be checked by the Bible, which also has historical veracity, and the witness of those who lived shortly after his death, resurrection, and ascension. If you want to gather the facts of an individual or an event, you go back and read testimony from that time. That's just how you do history, and doing history verifies the historicity of Jesus.

Secondly, there is a logical fallacy at work here called the "genetic fallacy." This fallacy improperly judges a thing based on its history or origins rather than on its own merits (e.g., "No one should read this book because it was written by a drunkard" or "I believe that there is no God because my parents told me so"). In other words, none of the claims of Christianity are actually directly addressed. There is no attempt to analyze or discredit the reasons why Christians believe that Jesus is God, that He was born of a Virgin, that He died and rose again. Instead, an astrological origin is created for Christianity and then Christianity is discredited based on that supposed origin.

What's interesting (funny?) is that this makes the argument twice as weak! After all, the stance of the narrator is based on a fallacy that discredits something based on its origin, and the origin upon which the fallacy is based is itself an error! A similarity between two things does not automatically prove a cause-and-effect relationship between them, and a genetic fallacy does nothing to refute a thing based on it's own merits.

Well then, how do we explain the similarity between various astrological phenomena and the common themes found in the major world religions? I respond with another question: Could it not be that the Creation of God bears witness to His Divine Plan? Whenever someone sets out to create, the fruit of his labor will evidence the creator and the plan that he had in mind. That's a no-brainer.

And so it is with the life of Christ. Before all time, God knew that the Son would become man in the womb of a virgin and that this man would suffer, die, and rise again, conquering death and saving the world. This knowledge, this plan and destiny for the world, is seen in the stars, in nature, and everything that He created because it all comes from Him and bears His mark.

What about the similarities between Christianity and the many pagan religions? This too can be explained, not by the pagan-influence fallacy but by this evidence in creation and the yearning for God and for truth that is placed on the heart of every man. If in fact creation bears witness to God and his plan for the world, it makes sense that men throughout the ages would interpret this creation and come to a knowledge of God that is very similar to the Christian mystery. Human beings themselves share a lot in common, and they often live in similar environments and have similar life circumstances. Thus, they are likely to express their mutual religiosity (human beings are inherently religious people) in similar ways.

Of course, this is just one way to address the similarities between Christianity and pagan religions. However, since my main focus here is that of the video (the relationship between astrology and Christianity) I point you to Karl Keating's article for a thorough treatment of the pagan-influence fallacy.

All of this works to refute the claims of the narrator, and this before we have done any checking to see if his statements about the movement of the sun and the placement of the stars are actually true. One thing you have to always keep in mind is that, when people work in fallacies like this, you can hardly ever trust that what they claim is actually verifiable fact. So, a little scientific research may expose even more holes in the argument put forth in this video.

I hope this helps.

Pax Christi,


Christina said...

The Astronomy isn't terribly bad (at least not as bad as most of these "religion is all star based" claims). Sirius does lines up with those three stars every day of the year, which I've heard called "The Three Kings" once - and not by someone in astronomy. Orion and Sirius are early Fall constellations, which means on December 25 they are setting as the sun is rising. However it is true that if you look at the stars at their rising and follow the line from those three stars through Sirius, you get a specific point on the horizon and 12 hours after these stars pointed to that point on the horizon, the sun will rise at that point.

He does misrepresent a point later, about the sun being "in the vicinity of the southern cross" on December 25 when it stays put for "three days". Cute. I suppose if you consider "vicinity" half the sky away, sure! The southern cross is a, ahem, southern constellation and although the sun is close, it's closest to it near the end of January (in the year zero - in the year 2007 it's February). I certainly wouldn't consider it in the vicinity as it's practically 40 degrees away.

He would have done better to point out that it was "between the southern and northern cross (the norther cross is another name for the constellation Cygnus the Swan)". But even then it's more directly in between those in January and it wouldn't have had the same effect of putting the sun ON the cross (which it never is). You would think someone who studied astrology would know which constellations the sun was in. In December the Sun rises in the constellation of Sagittarius (the teapot or archer), or if you go back to the time of Christ it will be in Capricorn. The Sun rises in Virgo around August (when most Virgo's are born).

I also loved how he reduced the "astrological sign" to the cross with the halo then went through painstaking care to only show crosses with the halo around it. See it's the same! Oh and the part about the crown of thorns was great - he would have done better to point out that the sun's "crown of thorns" or halo is most visible during a solar eclipse, when "darkness is prevailing over the light." That would have been a cool touch.

It would be interesting to know how much of his history is correct about those other religions. I liked your point about how other pagan religions would by nature prefigure Christianity. I personally would be more worried if there was no evidence for Christianity in nature or in other religions, for if something is totally new, then it is almost guaranteed to be false.

phatcatholic said...


Bryan said...

Someone must really like Joseph Campbell. But this reminds me of something N.T. Wright said, that theologians debating this ,is like astronomers having to discuss whether the moon is made of green cheese: just dumb.

Hidden One said...

You know, half his argument dies when you consider that Christ's birth is celebrated on December 25th, and I have yyet to hear someone claim it actually happened on that date. {I could be wrong...}

Anyway, as I recall from a Presbyterian pastor's sermon, Christmas(s) was dated as it is to provide an alternative/counter Mithras' festival, by giving Christians something to do. AFAIK, the date/date of celebration of Christmas was largely unimportant to the early Christian, particularly compared to the importance of Easter, (which is only named after a pagan god in the English language).

Sincerely in Christ,
Hidden One

PS: As I recall, the mission behidn Christmas being dated as it was worked. Well, at the very least, Mithras' cult is effectively toast, anyway...

Lindsay said...

The first thing I noticed about that video was, as Hidden One mentioned, the narrator's insistence on Jesus' being born *on* December 25. It doesn't matter what day we celebrate our Lord's birth on. Easter moves every year--no theological complaints about that. The commemoration and the season (liturgical and atmospherical) are the important parts.

The second thing was the power of music. Was anyone else greatly unsettled by the narrator's choice of soundtrack? I had my volume low, so I didn't have it blasting at me, but his using such haunting music is pretty low. People's perception is affected by background music, whether they realize it or not. My faith has not been shaken, but that music shook me up a little.

phatcatholic said...

Ya know, that's a good point about Dec. 25th. I thought about that while I was watching the video, but I forgot to mention it in my post.

Anonymous said...

you guys realize that he is discussing the pertinance of a solar diety, just like the other mentioned religions in the video.And how mythology is a fertile ground for justification of horrable acts. If anything it expresses the commonality of many accepted religions of the past and how myths are used to shape a code of principles. However, what the video is expressing is that this code can be bypassed if the myth is allowed to segregate god's people into right and wrong sects of religion= war (specially religious war),hate,violence,lack of commonality, lack of love for our brothers and sisters,

i don't know, but to me, it appears that it just might be profitable if people continue to fight and hate. why would the largest untaxed buisness in the world want to turn away its congregations? blind submission to words translated across many languages is prefered! try literal translation a few times, its warped in an attempt at contextual meaning. come on guys, how much later was the new testament written in comparison to jesus's works, we can't even get the kennedy assasination right in less time.
with god's love, not mythological banter,

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