Pagan and Christian Creeds HTML version

13. The Genesis Of Christianity
Referring back to the existence of something resembling a great World-religion
which has come down the centuries, continually expanding and branching in the
process, we have now to consider the genesis of that special brand or branch of
it which we call Christianity. Each religion or cult, pagan or Christian, has had, as
we have seen, a vast amount in common with the general World-religion; yet
each has had its own special characteristics. What have been the main
characteristics of the Christian branch, as differentiating it from the other
We saw in the last chapter that a certain ascetic attitude towards Sex was one of
the most salient marks of the Christian Church; and that whereas most of the
pagan cults (though occasionally favoring frightful austerities and cruel sacrifices)
did on the whole rejoice in pleasure and the world of the senses, Christianity--
following largely on Judaism--displayed a tendency towards renunciation of the
world and the flesh, and a withdrawal into the inner and more spiritual regions of
the mind. The same tendency may be traced in the Egyptian and Phrygian cults
of that period. It will be remembered how Juvenal (Sat. VI, 510-40) chaffs the
priests of Cybele at Rome for making themselves "eunuchs for the kingdom of
heaven's sake," or the rich Roman lady for plunging in the wintry Tiber for a
propitiation to Isis. No doubt among the later pagans "the long intolerable tyranny
of the senses over the soul" had become a very serious matter. But Christianity
represented perhaps the most powerful reaction against this; and this reaction
had, as indicated in the last chapter, the enormously valuable result that (for the
time) it disentangled love from sex and established Love, pure and undefiled, as
ruler of the world. "God is Love." But, as also indicated, the divorce between the
two elements of human nature, carried to an extreme, led in time to a crippling of
both elements and the development of a certain morbidity and self-
consciousness which, it cannot be denied, is painfully marked among some
sections of Christians--especially those of the altruistic and 'philanthropic' type.
Another characteristic of Christianity which is also very fine in its way but has its
limits of utility, has been its insistence on "morality." Some modern writers indeed
have gone so far--forgetting, I suppose, the Stoics--as to claim that Christianity's
chief mark is its high morality, and that the pagans generally were quite wanting
in the moral sense! This, of course, is a profound mistake. I should say that, in
the true sense of the word, the early and tribal peoples have been much more
'moral' as a rule--that is, ready as individuals to pay respect to the needs of the
community--than the later and more civilized societies. But the mistake arises
from the different interpretations of the word; for whereas all the pagan religions
insisted very strongly on the just- mentioned kind of morality, which we should
call CIVIC DUTY TO ONE'S NEIGHBOR, the Christian made morality to consist
more especially in a mans DUTY TO GOD. It became with them a private affair