We have been reading a summary* of the anti-Christian argument from " comparative religions," extracted (with enlargements) from a popular manual of anti-Christianity.
The author is well-versed in writing plausibly for that large and uncritical public which thinks, as he appears to do himself, that if an argument is anti-Christian it must necessarily be scientific. Certainly his new publication will carry immediate conviction to anyone who is disposed to be convinced by it and indisposed to analyse the statements it contains.
The title and a good part , of the argument relate to a " Modernist " theory which does not concern Catholics.
If Mr. Phelips wants to attack the " Modernists " we may leave him to it. But his pre-occupation with them leads him sometimes to arguments in a circle that affect the other sections of his pamphlet. For example, he says that everybody admits that the Gospels have been more or less tampered with and were composed many years after the events they purport to record. Therefore the argument that there was no time for heathen doctrines to be incorporated in them falls to the ground. Q.E.D.
Assume half the sceptic's case and no doubt the other half follows plausibly enough. But it is precisely the evident nearness of most of the New Testament writings to the events they describe, the obviously first-hand knowledge of most of the writers and the almost naive simplicity of the bulk of the narratives that constitute one of the insuperable barriers to the theory that the story of Christ's life on earth is a synthetic product compounded of pagan myths.
Here are some more. Three out of four Gospels and all of the Epistles are overwhelmingly Jewish in character. Palestine at the time was notoriously inhospitable to pagan influences. The rites particularly ascribed to Mithraism — the Eucharist itself and the meal of milk and honey taken by the newly baptised—are conspicuous for their Jewish connections (" milk and honey " are the principal Old Testament symbols of the Promised Land). And St. Justin Martyr who discusses both the Eucharist and Mithraism scarcely a century after the Crucifixion shows no signs of having heard anyone suggest that the Eucharist had an outside origin.
As for Buddhist influynfss on the Gospels, on which there ha(-"...4 been so much gaeSS-work, it appears that in all the literature of Palestine, Egypt and Greece' there is no refereoce to anything Buddhist until nearly A.D. 200. 1/
* * * * None of these historical difficulties are met or even mentioned by Mr. Phelips. Nor does his account of the alleged parallels provide any material for meeting them. In a matter in which exact classification and precise dates are indispensable he jumbles together pre-Christian myths and rites with those for which there is no evidence before the Christian era, and insignificant coincidences in points of detail with resemblances based on the universal aspirations of the human race.
The very vaguest analogies are included; for example, the comment on Herod's slaughter of the Innocents is: " The story of the ' dangerous child ' is almost universal. Horus, Zoroaster and Bacchus were dangerous children." Some of those quoted from Mithraism, such as the birth (as distant from the worship) of Mithra in a cave) seem simply contrary to the evidence. And some of the alleged borrowings are not by the canonical Gospels at all, but by the Apocryphal.
The looseness of the historical arguments is gross but the spiritual obtuseness is grosser. No one with a hold on the doctrine of the one infinite and transcendent God taking to Himself human nature could be impressed by superficial resemblances in the account of the birth of one of the " divine men " of polytheism. There is none but a verbal relationship between the terms " mediator " and " sacrifice " as used of Christ in Whom the two distinct natures were joined and Who offered Himself upon the Cross and as used of Mithra, the half-way being who sacrificed the bull.
It is just here, however, that the atheist can least be expected to follow the argument. If he is honest he can correct his historical blunders but even an honest Man, if his spiritual insight is no better than a pagan's—indeed, much less—will have difficulty in regarding the language by which Christians distinguish the God-man from " pagan Christs " as anything more than high-sounding phrases.
Indeed Mr. Phelips is plainly bewildered by the existence of Christians who know his arguments and retain their Christianity.
We can in a measure sympathise. This is not the first time we have written on the subject. Nearly twenty years ago we sat down to write a book on it. It was to be our magnum opus and to end the controversy—on the anti-Christian side.
Even now we recognise that when everything due to historical blundering and spiritual blindness is eliminated there remains a residuum of parallels of one kind or another between Christianity and pagan religious concerning which enquirers into Christianity have a right to an explanation from those who would convince them that the Christian revelation is unique.
Mr. Phelips is right there and in asking for candour. We have been candid about his bad book; we shall, another week, be equally candid about his genuine difficulty.
* Concerning Progressive Revelation. By Vivian Phelips. Watts. is. net.