One topic that fascinates me is religious syncretism, the blending together of different religions into a new religion. Every religion that has ever existed is the product of syncretism. Christianity for instance takes influences from Judaism, Celtic Paganism, Hinduism, Greek/Roman Paganism and Near Eastern Paganism. Islam is a blend of Arab Paganism, Christianity and Judaism.
Is it possible that the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam would ever blend together in the future into a global super religion? Or instead, will people drift away from Abrahamic religion and find contentment with an altogether different set of ideas?
In Arthur Clarke’s 1993 science fiction novel Hammer of God there is a religion called “Chrislam” which is based on Islam and Christianity.
In some parts of Africa, a small number of people have purposely blended Christianity and Islam together in order to get along with their neighbors. (R&E)
And “Chrislam” is also a pejorative term used by Christian leaders in America for what they see as an unholy blending of religious ideas.
If this is an idea that you find interesting as well, read more about it here.
In the past I wrote an article called The Original Trinity, Brought to You By Egypt since the spirituality and culture of ancient Egypt most likely had an influence on the formation of early Christianity. The Cult of Isis was highly popular in Rome before Christianity arrived on the scene. Ideas like the sacrifice of the God Osiris and salvation through his death have strong parallels to the Christian faith, as well as the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus.
I have also written about the shared connection between Hindu and Celtic culture.
Yet another interesting theory to examine is the possible Hindu origins of Christianity. As I have said in past articles, the Ancient World was much more interconnected than modern people believe. There was a great sharing of knowledge and exchange of culture – especially among trade routes. Cleopatra wore Chinese silks. Greek was once the dominant language of the Seleucid Empire – a territory containing what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan. Variants of the Greek language are even still spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan today. And Alexander the Great’s Kingdom stretched all the way to the borders of India. There were even Greek coins minted in northern India for a time.
(Borders of Alexander The Great’s Kingdom. 323 BC)
So what does this all this Greek stuff have to do with Christianity? The New Testament authors wrote in Greek. Greek was the language of scholarship during the years the New Testament was written (in 50 AD – 100 AD). Much of this is due to the spread of Hellenistic culture from Greece into the Middle East by the conquests of Alexander the Great several centuries prior. Yet what this possibly entails is that the early authors of the New Testament (and other early Christian thinkers) were plugged in to the culture and thought prevalent throughout Rome, Greece along with the Middle East. And what is very probable is that Christianity was influenced by the many other cults and religious ideas of the era (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the Cult of Isis, etc.) This is quite likely considering the striking similarities between those religions and Christianity.
Yet is it also possible that the ideas of Hinduism were thrown into the mix as well? I cannot say with complete concrete certainty whether this is true or not, but we do know that there was an interchange between Greek and Hindu cultural ideas in the Hellenistic Empire that came out of places like Bactria and the Seleucid Empire.
Then there are also concepts in Christianity that never existed in the prior Jewish tradition, but do have striking similarities to the Hindu Tradition.
Let me list these below:
Baptism: John the Baptist and his Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This is very similar to the Hindu practice of plunging into the Ganges River to wash away their sins.
The Avatar: Many Christians have said that their religion is unique in that they believe that God came to Earth as a human being in order to teach man how to avoid sin. And yet Hindus believed that their Gods had been doing this for centuries before Christianity ever existed. For instance, Krishna was believed to be born 14 centuries before Jesus’s purported existence. Hindus believe that whenever profound evil spreads widely throughout the earth, the Supreme Being comes to earth in the form of a human person in order to uproot vice and to establish virtue so that the earth may get rid of sinners. Lord Krishna was such an incarnation.
Similar Advice from Krishna and Jesus:
(BG stands for Bhagavad Gita)
‘Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead’ (BG 2:11) with the sense of Jesus’ advice to ‘let the dead bury their own dead’ (Matt. 8:22 ).
Krishna’s saying, ‘I envy no man, nor am I partial to anyone; I am equal to all’ (BG 9:29) is a lot like the idea that God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11 ).
And ‘one who is equal to friends and enemies… is very dear to me’ (BG 12:18) is reminiscent of ‘love your enemies’ (Matt. 5:44 ).
Krishna also said that ‘by human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma’s one day’ (BG 8:17), which is very similar to 2 Peter 3:8.
Early Church Father Saint Augustine praises India:
“We never cease to look towards India, where many things are proposed to our admiration.”
(The Hindu Trinity)
This is an obvious one. Hindus have the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Christians have “The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Similarities in Religious Practice:
The way in which Christianity was practiced by the early church fathers, as well as some modern Christians is also more similar in certain ways to the Hindu tradition, than the Jewish one. In this I’m talking about the practice of asceticism among monks, bells in the church, incense, altars, holy water, chanting prayers on beads and even the serving of sacred bread (prasadam).
What many people today don’t understand is that the doctrine of Christianity wasn’t formed all at once. Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.
So in its formation over time and through hearsay, it can be said that a lot of the Christian religion in the early days of its creation was syncretic jumble of the different cultural and theological ideas in the region, whether it be Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Celtic or Hindu. While it is difficult to say with certainty what traditions did and did not make it into the mix, it is an interesting topic to examine.
So in the scheme of history, Christians may seem like the winners. After all, it is currently the world’s most prominent religion, 33% of people in the world call themselves Christians. Check here for more information about religious demographics. Also, the number of people who call themselves pagans is still very low. .2% of the U.S Population.
Yet if paganism included Hinduism and other non Judeo-Christian, Ethno based religions around the world, it would account for 40% of people around the world.
And then I must further ask, what counts, the label or people’s practices?
If you examine the pre-christian holidays people celebrated in Europe, we actually still celebrate these holidays today, 2,000 years after the birth of Christianity.
Halloween or Dia De Los Muertos is the pre-christian day of the dead.
It is said that Jesus was born in the summer, and yet we celebrate his birthday “Christmas” on December 25th, around the Pagan feast days of Saturnalia and Yule.
Easter is supposedly the day Jesus rose from the dead, and yet the day keeps the name and traditions of the Anglo Saxxon Goddess of birth, Eostre. Bunnies and Eggs are two of her symbols, since they represent fertility.
The days of the week are named after the Norse Gods: Thursday, Thor’s Day.
The months of the year and the planets in the sky keep the names of Roman Gods and Goddesses.
Many Catholic saints are merely appropriated pre-christian Gods and Goddesses. Saint Bridget is one of the most famous examples. She was such a popular Celtic deity, that the church couldn’t eliminate her tradition. Eventually they threw their hands in the air and made her a saint. Many of her sacred fires and temples are still around today.
Also, much Pagan lore is alive and breathing in modern day stories. Everything from fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarfs, wizards and dragons are based on Pre-Christian mythos.
When you look at Christianity itself, so much of it has been changed to appropriate pagan traditions, that it’s more Pagan in practice than Christian.
How many Christians follow the 600 laws of Leviticus? How many Christians follow the ancient Germanic tradition of setting up a “Christmas” tree?
Not saying that nothing has changed over the 2,000 years of the world’s forced conversation to Christianity. Certainly much of the original wisdom has been lost.
Yet to me it seems that people may be Christians in name, but Pagan by blood.