|Destruction of Pompeii, by |
Ivan Aivazovsky (1817–1900)
Let us face the truth: the Christian myth, if not already dead, is dying quickly. The symbols of the religion that once captured the hearts and minds of people everywhere have lost their power in our world. Many people I know are Christian in name only; their lives do not reflect the faith that once shook the Roman Empire to its roots. There are a few that still display the love for others that Christ taught, but these are rare individuals, indeed.
It didn’t take Christianity but a few hundred years to begin laying the foundation for its own demise. The emphasis on apologetics, the dogmatic decrees of the first Church councils, and the politicization of the Church by the Emperor Theodosius I, in 380 A.D. made the young religion rigid and imperious, taking on many of the traits of the empire for which it became the official belief system.
A phenomenological look at the symbolic efficacy of Christianity in its infancy shows that it was empowered by archetypal forces that only occur to such an extent at the dawning of a new epoch in human history. The story had been told many times before. We have heard the similarities with other religions of the virgin birth, the dying-and-rising god, the many similarities with the Egyptian god, Horus, etc. All such tales possess amazing archetypal energy. That is why we still discuss them thousands of years after their creation. There is still residual archetypal power remaining in them, albeit quite diminished (If you’re interested in reviewing the similarities of Christianity with other religions, check out the first Zeitgeist film).
The more Christianity became rationalized, rigid, and literalized, the less Soul it possessed. Its once-powerful archetypal symbols were dilapidated. Its adherents became more and more vulnerable to the onslaught of unconscious forces, which will destroy the person who walks through life unshielded from them in any way. We see this almost daily in our era, a true sign that our society has lost the archetypal protection we once enjoyed. That is why Joseph Campbell taught us to find our own myth, for this is what mitigates the terrible abyss of unconsciousness that we are all potentially susceptible to. Christianity was supposed to have prevented this, but a myth without the power of its symbols is no longer viable and must either be revamped or abandoned.
There was a chance for Christianity to regain its lost vigor during the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the culture of ancient Greece brought about lost ideas of polytheism, art, religion, and democracy, that, if these had been incorporated into the Christian milieu, would have reinvigorated its dying symbols. Credit must be given to thinkers, such as Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, et al. Bruno went to his death attempting to revitalize Christianity with fresh ideas and new symbolic vigor. Church officials wanted him dead, probably because they feared his revolutionary ideas would influence the masses to such an extent that the Church would lose its political power.
Today, Christianity lies broken and fragmented in thousands of different forms. Its once powerful story of humans gaining salvation is marred by all conceivable forms of absurdity. Some believe the end of the world is nigh, and that a figure called the Antichrist will soon rise up and enslave us all; some believe that the King James translation of the Bible is the only translation sanctioned by God; some believe a city of gold, the New Jerusalem, will descend bodily from heaven and land on the surface of the earth, as if this golden city were some kind of interdimensional spaceship; and the Roman Church has been disfigured by scandals of pedophiles in its ranks. I could go on and on. The idiocy is beyond belief. While the world yearns for a new set of efficacious symbols that will transform our lives, Christianity continues to fall by the wayside on the road of human history.
It may be possible to revamp the old religion, but many of its metaphors seem lifeless at this point. I am fond of some forms of Christian mysticism, however. Mystics like Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Jacob Boehme wrote some incredible things. The problem was, these types of thinkers were always on the fringes of the Church, always in danger of being ostracized or excommunicated for their beliefs and practices.
The Epoch of Soul may bring a new form of religion. I don’t know. Perhaps the masses will finally come to the realization that one’s own myth in life is meaningful, powerful, and can bring us all together, once and for all.
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