Fun fact I learned yesterday: the Romans used the Yin-Yang symbol 700 years before the Chinese.
Oh, and this was recorded in the Notitia Dignitatum around 425 AD, meaning the symbol was first used by actual Roman Catholics! Those pagan Chinese were thieves!
Did those sentences sound stupid to you? I hope so, because they are. And I did it on purpose to underscore a big problem with Neopagan polemics, namely that “this thing predates that thing and was therefore stolen.” (A polemical style which, by the way, the majority of Neopagans themselves inherited from their Reformed or Radical Protestant childhoods).
For my part, I believe the Chinese invented the symbol independently. In fact they and the Romans used it for vastly different reasons: the Romans use was to denote a military regiment called the armigeri defensores seniores, while the Chinese usage is well-known. So even if the story of a lost Roman legion settling Li’chien were true, one still cannot rationally claim the Chinese borrowed or “stole” the symbol from the Romans.
Back to the point. This style of argument was created by the early Protestants, especially Reformed Protestants, in order to discredit Catholicism on grounds on “idolatry” and rests on two assumptions: 1. anything “pagan” is automatically bad, and 2. Catholicism is bereft of originality and is evil because it “steals” from “evil paganism” in order to “keep people under control.” The Neopagan version simply drops the “pagan=evil” yet still rests on the assumptions of plagiarism and authoritarianism.
This can be traced as far back as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he makes no qualms about throwing around accusations of idolatry even when it’s unwarranted. A clear example of this is found in Book I, Chapter 12, when he disputes the distinction of latra and dulia by arbitrarily claiming there is no such distinction and he’s going to claim “idolatry” because he feels like it:
The distinction of what is called dulia and latria was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity. For it is plain that the worship which Papists pay to saints differs in no respect from the worship of God: for this worship is paid without distinction; only when they are pressed they have recourse to the evasion, that what belongs to God is kept unimpaired, because they leave him latria.
Within Anglosphere Protestantism, this style of polemic was bolstered in 1729, when Conyers Middleton published his A Letter from Rome, pointing out every alleged similarity between Catholicism and the Cultus Deorum he could find; and he had no problem inventing those he couldn’t find. Middleton’s Letter was so popular that other polemicists started following suit (John Poynder deserves especial mention; in 1818 he attempted this method to connect Catholicism with Hinduism), and Middleton’s Letter was reprinted several times even after the Emancipation of English Catholics in 1829.
Of course, this is also where the Protestant/Neopagan polemical style falls apart. The argument, as most-often encountered, rests on the assumption of plagiarism and/or malice, without leaving room for other intentions, for accidental occurrences, or even the possibility the creativity of two different cultures can lead them both to the same practice/item/image from two different directions.
The Modern Church’s Complicity
In fairness, the modern Church does little to help. In former times, Catholicism openly admitted what she assimilated from paganism along with the reasons why, namely: 1. “pagan” does not automatically mean “evil,” 2. if a practice is good, then it must’ve come from God somehow (this ties in with “Natural Revelation”), and 3. if it comes from God, then the Church need only to re-orient it in order to use it.
A corollary to this is a fourth reason: people have the right to hold onto the traditions of their ancestors, and what is holy and true is not to be denied them. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Christianity historically understood itself as a via media or “middle way” between Paganism and Judaism, with Pagan philosophy considered as “the other Old Testament” (especially Greek pagan philosophy). In fact Catholicism is not alone in this, as Eastern Orthodoxy proudly displays Pagan Philosophers right next to Christian Saints in the monasteries of Mount Athos.
This via media approach, rooted in the Seven Noahide Laws, is also why Christianity is the only Abrahamic religion that allows its followers to eat pork. This is reflected in Scripture, where the Council of Jerusalem references specific Noahide Laws in Acts 15:28-30:
For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things: That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which things keeping yourselves, you shall do well. Fare ye well. They therefore being dismissed, went down to Antioch; and gathering together the multitude, delivered the epistle.
What changed this stance is the advent of Protestantism, especially Reformed Protestantism with its heavy Judaizing tendencies in spite of misunderstanding Judaism; this last part not unique to Protestantism, as most Christians in general either misunderstand Judaism or envision first-century Judaism as a blank canvas on which to paint their own idealized images. (An example of this blank canvas is that older Christian polemicists didn’t hesitate to foster the “stolen” argument onto “the eclectic Jews,” while modern Christian writers have memory-holed this in favor of depicting the Jews as pure witnesses to God’s revelation to his chosen people. The idealized image changes over time, and I doubt that anyone bothered to consult their Jewish friends beforehand.)
After Vatican II, the Catholic Church jumped on a similar bandwagon, though I’m not sure how much of it was an attempt at looking good in the eyes of the “Separated Brethren,” or how much was the result of a sea-change in relations with Judaism beginning slowly in the late 19th century and taking a faster pace during the run-up to Vatican II. It goes without saying, however, that the majority of Catholics have as poor an understanding of Judaism as their Protestant counterparts.
Sidebar: First-Century Judaism
Since I’ve mentioned Judaism and “Judaization,” perhaps it might help to discuss that part of this equation before continuing. Modern Christian imagination paints a picture of first-century Jews as having a sort of cultural purism, separate from Paganism in both word and deed. The reality is that by the time of Jesus, the Maccabean resistance had been over for almost 150 years and Hellenism had at last come to Judea; in fact as Moses Hadas wrote in 1956, in his Judaism and the Hellenistic Experience:
The chief concern of the Maccabean rulers from that point on was to win for Judea a respectable position as a Hellenistic kingdom among other Hellenistic kingdoms; religion seems to have been taken into account only as it identified the separateness of the Jewish nationality.
In other words, once tolerance was won for Jewish practices and Jewish national identity, even the Maccabeans themselves voluntarily adopted Hellenism, even if only to a limited degree. From that point there was no place in Judaism that was “pure” or “separate” from Hellenic or pagan influences, only a matter of degree: the Diapora Jews were arguably more hellenized than their Palestinian counterparts, but both were buying what the Macedonians were selling.
Back to Modern Catholic Complicity
My point here is this: the historic (and especially pre-Tridentine) Catholic position was “Yes, we adopted [insert thing here] from Paganism, what of it?” By backing away from this position as a via media between Judaism and Paganism, modern Catholicism has become complicit in enabling the “stolen from Paganism” polemic, all because it’s afraid of being embarrassed in the eyes of modern Protestantism.
The irony here is that this complicity seems to be primarily a First-World thing, as elsewhere the Vatican officially encourages inculturation for the sake of evangelization, provided certain limits are observed:
The evangelization of cultures and the inculturation of the Gospel go hand in hand, in a reciprocal relationship which presupposes constant discernment in the light of the Gospel, to facilitate the identification of values and counter-values in a given culture, so as to build on the former and vigorously combat the latter. … In tune with the objective demands of faith and its mission to evangelize, the Church takes account of the essential fact that the meeting of faith and culture is a meeting of things which are not of the same order. The inculturation of faith and the evangelization of culture go together as an inseparable pair, in which there is no hint of syncretism: this is the genuine meaning of inculturation.
Yet whole modern Catholicism shys away from this sort of thing in its own backyard, it simply gives teeth to the Protestant and Nepagan polemic, where in prior times the argumant had none. The whole thing reminds me of a comment I vaguely remember, having read it in Latin Mass Magazine back in the 90s: it doesn’t matter how much the modern Church tries to change its image, because “Protestants expect the Catholic Church to act like the Catholic Church, the same way a woman expects a man to act like a man.”
Where Does This Leave Us?
Back in 2007, when the Stregoneria Italiana Project was still alive and kicking, I wrote a series of articles there entitled Neopaganism’s Debt to Protestantism, in which I argued two things: 1. Neopaganism (especially Wicca) is essentially late19th/early 20th-century Protestantism with Jesus and Soteriology removed from the equation; and 2. the polemics Neopaganism employs against Christianity are essentially identical to the anti-Catholic polemics originating within Reformed and Radical Protestantism in general, and Anglosphere Protestantism in particular.
When we consider that most Neopagans were born into and grew up within Reformed or RadProt households, this supposition makes perfect sense. When we analyze the history and literature of Anglosphere anti-Catholicism, we find a perfect correlation.
So where does this leave us? This leaves us at the current word, in the current sentence, in the current paragraph, of a badly-written and meandering blog post about Neopagan argumentation. Yet I regret that much of what I’ve written thus far has taken a top-down view. Let’s change that.
From a bottom-up view, let’s imagine a pagan family who just converted to Christianity. Just because they changed religion, does it mean they would have to give up everything they’ve done before now? Would they have to give up their family recipes, or the traditions that identify them with their nation, tribe, or people?
No, they should not. And Catholicism happily provided a framework whereby recent converts could hold onto their traditions, even if some had to take on an adapted form. Thus the Germans got to keep their trees, the British their burning logs, the Chinese their ancestral rites (albeit after an unjust two hundred-year ban), we all get to paint eggs, and so on and so on. Outside of Catholicism but along the same principles, the Russians even get to burn a woman in effigy!
In retrospect, I would consider this a far cry from “stealing,” and more a matter of families and nations holding onto what was dear to them and passing it to their children. That those children would turn around and call it “stolen” smacks of insult not necessarily to the Church, but to the ancestors who did the preserving.
That’s wild and great! Did they use it as the same meaning, oppositive forces of the universe that live with-in us? I study that a lot in martial arts. It’s the electrical forces with-in us really.
Chinese Taoism: Its History, Principles, Taoism Mountains and Taoism Temples (chinatravel.com)
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| | | | Chinese Taoism: Its History, Principles, Taoism Mountains and Taoism Tem…
Chinese Taoism: Taoism is both a philosophy and a religion, or perhaps more rightly, a philosophy – or way of un… |
Greetings, John! As mentioned in the article, they did not use the same meaning. In fact the meanings are so different from each other that I can’t find anybody suggesting either culture borrowing from the other.
With consciousness and connecting to say God consciousness through meditation and quieting the mind, quantum vibration and different dimensions outside time and space, they the Greeks and Hindus had that down way before Jesus and Christianity was formed. You do the same thing when you pray or do high magic. You’re just using those as props to alter your consciousness and make a connection. to what we call the unseen forces of the supernatural, same thing kind of with Near Death experiences. Jesus just tapped into that world but on steroids. Plus, we don’t know much about his life. He lived in Egypt for a while growing up, so he could have been exposed to other forms of religions. I’ll give you some proof maybe. In Hinduism the have the Chakras or parts of your body that are points for entries from forces of the universe to interact with you or vice-versa. I believe that too. Ther are about seven in your body. For a man the lower one’s deal with cave man stuff like survival, having sex and all of that. The upper one’s deal with the spirit and making contact with other side let’s say God stuff. These points can be in conflict and out of balance too. Jesus talked about these in parables. IMO in a basic way.
Jesus and the Teaching of the Seven Unclean Spirits (spiritofthescripture.com)
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| | | | Jesus and the Teaching of the Seven Unclean Spirits
Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when he states that the unclean spirit who leaves a man comes back with … |
When are you going to write the text / make the vídeo about “why are there no saints anymore nowadays?”
I couldn’t write something like that, because God raises up saints in every generation. We may not know who they are yet, but they’re here among us.
Pablo Escobar, there are saints nowadays. St. Paisios the Athonite, for example, passed away only in the 1990s. He says a lot of very useful guidance for problems we especially are now facing.