Furthest Right

Mithraism and Christianity

If Western philosophy has a philosopher, it is Plato: he outlined the system of thought that preserved the ancient knowledge from our nomadic ancestors who passed down knowledge verbally in the form of metaphorical stories. All philosophy since has addressed his notions.

The core of Christianity comes not from neoplatonism, a type of metaphysical dualism, but from Phaedo where Plato illustrates a cycle between information and matter:

O my dear Simmias, is there not one true coin for which all things ought to exchange? — and that is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice.

And is not all true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter what fears or pleasures or other similar goods or evils may or may not attend her? But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is there any freedom or health or truth in her; but in the true exchange there is a purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice, and courage, and wisdom herself are a purgation of them.

And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods.

For “many,” as they say in the mysteries, “are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics,” — meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers.

In the number of whom I have been seeking, according to my ability, to find a place during my whole life; whether I have sought in a right way or not, and whether I have succeeded or not, I shall truly know in a little while, if God will, when I myself arrive in the other world: that is my belief.

The Platonic view develops across multiple books and does not summarize well in a single excerpt but this short passage expresses his view the clearest: we are here to realize things and will bounce back to a much larger, wider world beyond the physical.

Long ago, when our people roamed the wilds of Europe and Asia, the Proto-Indo-European Faith (PIEF) sustained them, and it had roughly the same idea: a monist conception of the divine and nature, it envisioned Earth as a sort of island among many, and afterlife as another life or lives traveling through those.

Judaism, and Christianity following it, compiled these and other legends, borrowing from the Eddas, Greco-Roman paganism, Babylonian mysticism, and apparently, Mithraism in its concept of the deity:

Before ancient religious reformer Zarathustra (Greek name Zoroaster) gained influence in the region during the 6th century bce, the Iranians had a polytheistic religion, and Mithra was the most important of their gods. First of all, he was the god of contract and mutual obligation. In a cuneiform tablet of the 15th century bce that contains a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, Mithra is invoked as the god of oath. Furthermore, in some Indian Vedic texts the god Mitra (the Indian form of Mithra) appears both as “friend” and as “contract.” The word mitra may be translated in either way, because contracts and mutual obligation make friends. In short, Mithra may signify any kind of interpersonal communication and whatever establishes good relations between people. Mithra was called the Mediator.

There is little notice of the Persian god in the Roman world until the beginning of the 2nd century, but, from the year 136 ce onward, there are hundreds of dedicatory inscriptions to Mithra. This renewal of interest is not easily explained. The most plausible hypothesis seems to be that Roman Mithraism was practically a new creation, wrought by a religious genius who may have lived as late as c. 100 ce and who gave the old traditional Persian ceremonies a new Platonic interpretation that enabled Mithraism to become acceptable to the Roman world.

Zarathustra, like Christ and Buddha, attempted to re-interpret ancient ideas with their meanings and goals intact but in a form more appropriate for an age of symbolism than one of idol-worship and embodied gods. However, the rot that became dualism was present in a religion already that asserted holiness as a property right of the individual.

If we look to the core of the Judeo-Christian religions, we see that they were an attempt to keep up with a changing world. Where ikons and altars could motivate the believers of the past, the new agricultural civilizations needed gods based on a contract between the individual human and the heavens: do what is right and you will be rewarded.

The notion of a “personal god” and therefore a moral god entered the picture. Previous gods were nature-spirits, and therefore had neither morality nor a sense of fairness to humanity; like the winds and the seas, they did what was in their nature and expressed themselves almost like emotions, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

A good deal of what was written in these religions was written to control a population to keep it from doing self-destructive things. That, too, fits with the notion of individualism and equality, because instead of natural selection which picked the best above the rest, the new religions tried to convince good and bad alike to behave well.

It leads to the link between the transcendental and the ideal, which Plato investigates in the context of ideal versus sexual love in a context most modern people would find weird:

Building on Lysias’s speech and his own first performance, Socrates uses the example of man in love with a boy to “defend” the madness of love, an example that allows Plato to illustrate his idealist ontology based on the Forms and his epistemology, which is founded on the concept of recollection or anamnesis. (These passages from the Phaedrus are one of the sources of our concept of “Platonic love”.)

A man whose soul has recently communed with the eternal Forms responds to the boy’s beauty with excitement and passion, but these emotions stem from the memory of the perfect Forms to which is the origin (arche) of this earthly, physical beauty; his love for the boy can transcends the body. A man whose soul has not achieved such a close look at the Forms in their passage through heaven will respond in a more bluntly sexual way, focusing exclusively on the material reality “at hand”.

Although Plato is not fully opposed to sexual gratification–in the conclusion to Socrates’s speech the lovers enjoy an interlude of physical intimacy–the emphasis is placed on the transcendence of the physical body and the pursuit of an enduring friendship based on the love of the Forms–on philosophy.

In other words, the transcendental ideal — the Forms — guide us toward correct action, while getting lost in appearances, social pressures, and desires leads us away from knowledge of how the world works. This goes against dualism since the consistency of the world, both physical and metaphysical, is the root of the Forms.

Christianity situated its equivalent of the forms in a mythical Heaven far away which operated by opposite principles to those of the world.

For what it is worth, Plato knew of suffering from his birth through the tragic political events of his young life:

The text also reveals that Plato was sold into slavery on the island of Aegina, possibly as early as 404BC when the Spartans conquered the island, or alternatively in 399BC, shortly after Socrates’ passing.

In addition, it seems that Plato was a bit of a Chad who expressed biological determinism as a principle throughout his life:

According to Philodemus, at the end of Plato’s life he developed a fever and fell into a delirious state. When a Thracian girl, who was playing the flute—perhaps to comfort him—got the rhythm wrong, Plato appeared to regain consciousness and complained that the girl, because of her barbaric (by which he probably meant non-Greek) background, was unable to get it right.

The combination of Greco-Roman thought and ancient religions like Mithraism was an attempt to make a new religion that incorporated all the juicy bits of the old and by so doing, replaced them. It was an upgrade from idol-worship to symbol-worship designed for a new agricultural age.

Tags: , , , , ,

Share on FacebookShare on RedditTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn