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Mar 30, 2008


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Yes, I think a lot of people learned this after reading "The Davinci Code", others well before then. I guess I am struggling with the point because it seems like another attack on Christianity post from Ed Cone.

David Wharton

Oh, please, Sam! Not from the DaVinci Code (see the agnostic scholar Bart Erhman's critique of Dan Brown).

You can get a much better picture from Paul Johnson's now rather dated, but very readable History of Christianity.

Anyhow, this thesis has been floating around in various forms for at least a century; doesn't anyone read Frazer any more?

Ed Cone

An ugly and absolutely baseless comment, Sam.

DW, seems that at least some elements go back to the Reformation, or further.


No Ed, posting that quote on a Sunday was the only "ugly" thing here. "Hey, did Christians know that when they go to Church, they aren't really doing what they think they are?"

I understand the history and the factual basis for the quote you posted, but again, what was the point, Ed? What are we supposed to gain from it? What should we discuss? It just seems like an attack on the foundations of a faith that is different from your own, and I don't expect that you would take it kindly if someone did it to your faith, especially on your holy day.

I have questions and skepticism about all religions, and a lot of them with regard to Christianity are due to matters such as those mentioned in your post; but I seriously doubt that your point was to have an intellectual debate on a subject that is highly personal to many people. If a person wants to question their own faith or its foundational basis, they should do that on their own. I don't understand your purpose in drawing attention to such things except to deride or help foster those doubts.


"If a person wants to question their own faith or its foundational basis, they should do that on their own."

So elements of individual religions should not be publicly questioned? Or just not publicly questioned by members of other faiths? What are you trying to say here Sam? Are you implying that there are some rules that should be observed about who is allowed to question certain religions, and when it's ok for them to do so?

Jim Rosenberg

For once, can we please stick to the subject: is Ed Cone a monster who hates all Christians?


Nope. I'm still waiting for Ed to explain his purpose in putting out this post. He might as well have labeled this post "more Christian myths".

cara michele

I just followed Ed's links and then read more on other sites and blogs. The book doesn't seem to me to be about questioning faith or questioning Christianity, it seems to be about questioning the way that we "do church." You may have to be a church-going Christian to get that distinction -- it just seems obvious to me.

Anyway, I can't wait to read the book. It's exciting to me to hear that fellow believers are looking at how we've traditionally gathered together and worshiped and practiced our faith -- since New Testament times -- and they're talking or debating or struggling with whether or not those "traditional" ways are "Biblical" ways, and if the models we use today for "doing church" need to be revised or reverted back to the early Church days. I think that kind of inquiry is a good thing.

I just ordered my copy of "Pagan Christianity" from Amazon. Stay tuned for my review on my blog. Thanks for the tip, Ed. :)


Sam - go easy on Cara Michele, ok? I know that she claims this attack on the foundations of Christianity is a "good thing", and she had the gall to actually order the book - on a holy day no less! - but she's really nice, so cut her a break. Because I'm sure you were going to criticize her too, for speaking approvingly of the book's topic, right? Right?

cara michele

Reading more reviews on "Pagan Christianity"... Wow, this book really elicits some strong reactions! Readers/reviewers/commenters seem to see it as either helpful and challenging or as a direct attack on churches and church leaders. So, controversial? Yes, apparently. Again, can't wait to read it!

And Anthony, LOL!

Ed Cone

Not quite the same thing, but I was reminded of the folks I spoke to in this article, which ran as a sidebar to this article.


Cara, I'm not criticizing the book at all. It merely revives some debates about the history of the Catholic church and its authenticity and how those have translated to Christianity as a whole. I don't mind that the subject is skeptical.

What I don't get is Ed's purpose in posting that one quote. This is a guy who once accused me of being an anti-Semite merely for pointing out that Paul Krugman is Jewish in a post where Krugman was ridiculing Christians.

Steve K.

The "Pagan Christianity" book has been the topic of debate and discussion of "emerging church" circles for several months. For anyone interested in reading more, here's a recap I put together back in January:

Thanks for passing on the info about this book, Ed. As Cara pointed out, this book isn't anti-Christian, it's simply questioning the institutional church structures that many of us grew up in and assume is the norm.

Ed Cone

I have never called you an anti-Semite, Sam. I did say you were "Jew-baiting" by identifying Paul Krugman as a Jew and describing as an "anti-Christian rant" his criticism of a US Attorney who mixed religion and government service. I'll stand by that statement, and by my subsequent statement that I disagree with "the implication that Jews should be singled out for special attention if they dare to critique an overt religious agenda in government."

But at least now I know your motivation for this ridiculous line of attack.

Let's stick to the post, huh?


Ed, you purposely minimize Krugman's comments. He was making fun of a government employees religious beliefs. I pointed out that he was Jewish because he was speaking as someone outside of Christianity and as such really shouldn't be making fun of the religion of others in the manner it appeared to me that he was.

What you are doing here isn't much different. It appears to me that you often have no problem raising skepticism or cynicism about some form of Christianity, yet get ridiculously defensive when some even mentions Judaism in a fashion not to your liking. I have never even done that, but you accused my of "Jew baiting". Well, your top post here reeks of "Catholic baiting", and I can understand why some other Christians might not quite get it because they aren't Catholic.

Catholics did take a lot of their traditions from paganism. That shouldn't be news to too many people. But again, what is the point? "Here's a good book about how Christians (Catholics mainly) don't REALLY do everything according to their professed beliefs. In fact they stole a lot of it from PAGANS." Why the obsession? Do a Google search of "Christians" on your site, and it is quite clear that you are far more obsessed with that religion than your own. If I did what you do on a fairly regular basis, you would probably accuse me of "Jew baiting" all over again.

I don't mind religious discussions, Ed. I just think that someone who is so thin skinned when it comes to his own faith might be a little more cautious and consistent when discussing the faith of others. It's not about Jews vs. Christians or any of the crap that you may try to make it out to be. It's about how Ed Cone is willing to talk or discuss other religions from outside of those faiths versus how he reacts when his religion is discussed- or even merely mentioned in passing for context.


Ed Cone's mom once beat me to death with a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.



"he was speaking as someone outside of Christianity and as such really shouldn't be making fun of the religion of others"

My questions to you still stand. Under what circumstances is it ok for someone to criticize someone else's religion? What is it about religion that requires that criticism of a given faith come only from within that given faith?

Ed Cone

Sam, you say the book is "about how Christians (Catholics mainly) don't REALLY do everything according to their professed beliefs."

But the book is not about "Catholics mainly." It's about Protestants mainly.

The authors say, "[W]e're challenging the entire Protestant liturgy...We Protestants keep repeating a 500-year old ritual with little change."

Also, it's not about people failing to live up to their professed beliefs so much as it is about people investing themselves in form and structure without really thinking of how those things are related to their beliefs.

The book does question the institutional church, but from a Christian perspective. It's interesting stuff for all kinds of reasons, for readers of any religion, or no religion.

Anthony, to be clear, Krugman wasn't speaking as someone "outside of Christianity," he was speaking as an American who believes that public officials should not mix their religion (whatever it is) with their government work. He wasn't "making fun" of anyone's religion, and his own religion was irrelevant to the argument.



I wasn't implying that I agreed with that comment of Sam's - I just quoted it because it was relevant to my earlier line of questioning.


Anthony, that was never my premise.

Ed, the part about pagan rituals is almost entirely specific to the Catholic Church, which was the only Church for 1500 years. Many of the Protestant traditions (except probably for the kettle drums) come from these Catholic traditions. Let me be clear, I am not criticizing the book. I simply find your choice of quotes unfair especially in light of the frequency of your posts about Christianity, or at least the brand of it that you don't care for, as well as your quickness to get defensive over even very minor mentions of your own religion that aren't even critical. The quote seemed designed to call into question aspects of the Christian faith and not for the first time on this blog. Very well then, why? Why are you so concerned about how Christians go about their religious routines and whether they are rooted in unique religious doctrines or paganism? You often seem that you are out to discredit some Christian beliefs.

Anthony, to be clear, let's look at part of what Krugman wrote:

"There’s Ms. Goodling, of course. But did you know that Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota — three of whose deputies recently stepped down, reportedly in protest over her management style — is, according to a local news report, in the habit of quoting Bible verses in the office?

Or there’s the case of Claude Allen, the presidential aide and former deputy secretary of health and human services, who stepped down after being investigated for petty theft. Most press reports, though they mentioned Mr. Allen’s faith, failed to convey the fact that he built his career as a man of the hard-line Christian right."

So quoting Bible verses is seen as an oddity although it is a very common practice among some Christians. Krugman lays it out as if the woman is some kind of freak. What a strange habit she has!

And the press failed to mention that Mr. Allen was "a man of the hard line Christian right" as if his religion is somehow relevant and contrary to what Ed claims, this has nothing to do with Allen mixing his religion with his government work.

And let me quote Mr. Krugman himself in response to this article:

"I think what I added here is some evidence of how broad the movement of Christian right activists into government is."

That is NOT the same thing as mixing religion and politics as Ed would have you believe. Krugman is critical that Christian activists are even in government, as if their firmly held faith should exclude them. This is simply hate speech by Krugman. If we rewrote what Krugman said thusly "I think what I added here is some evidence of how broad the movement of Jews into government is" I doubt Ed would have the same take. That really would sound like the "Protocols".

So here was someone outside of Christianity complaining that there were too many Christians of a certain stripe in government positions. Fine, it is his right to do that, but Ed accusing me of Jew baiting was way out of bounds. The fact that Krugman isn't a Christian was entirely relevant to the position he took in that article because it provided some context. He could have been an athiest for all I care and I still would have noted it for context.

Jim Rosenberg

If you are Jew-baiting, try a nice spread on the hook. Works on me every time.


Krugman must have been Christian baiting as he was complaining that the media "failed to convey the fact that he (Allen) built his career as a man of the hard-line Christian right."

So Krugman thought that Allen's religion should have been mentioned by the media but wasn't and complains about it, but I mention Krugman's religion and I am Jew baiting. I see how that works.


You have got to see the spoof video on Pagan Christianity. It's hilarious.


Thanks for the tip about this book. As a backsliding Baptist, I have found great comfort in the continuing revelations (no pun intended) about the real history of organized Christian religion. I wrote about this on Easter too, with a post called Happy Eostre. No one accused me of attacking Christians, though, which was a relief.


I don't think the Catholic Mass has changed much over the last 1700 or so years, and I see pretty clearly the relationship between both the Old & New Testaments in the Mass. From perusing the book's website, one thing struck me - the idea of more community participation. One Church I belonged to would have people say what they wanted the church to pray for - to be involved in the general intercessions. Another striking item was a criticism of tithing, ironic considering one reading from yesterday: "All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need."
Acts 2:44-45
While not specifically addressing tithing, it addresses the financial community of the Church.

From yesterday's Gospel, while completely unrelated to this post, addresses those that might be looking for some definitive 'proof' of God's existence -
“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Jim Buie

No doubt if Ed posted this link, he would be accused by some of an anti-Christian bias. But I am a heterosexual Christian and I think it is just plain funny.

Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene



I was a bit surprised about the tithing thing too. Maybe because a literal tithe - specifically 10% - is an OT concept? The Acts passage is much more drastic than 10%.

Shorter Acts 2:44-45: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Hmm...

David Wharton

I browsed the sample chapter on the book's website. Although one reviewer says that it's the most important book in two millennia, it strikes me as jst another iteration of a very old trend in Christianity -- the constant effort by passionate believers to shed the accretions of time and custom to gain access to some form of "pure" Christian practice.

For Protestants, this often is framed as an attempt to return to a perceived "Biblical" Christianty, even though the earliest Christians didn't have the NT, since the contents of the NT were written by them, and it was the Church that decided what writings belonged in it and which didn't (and, by the way, everything that the DaVinci Code says about this process is factually incorrect, though the true account is often just as disturbing to naive Christians as the fictional one).

You only have to study a little Church history to find countless such movements in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions: this was behind the activity of people like St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Theresa ov Avila, as well as (of course) Luther, Calvin, and Erasamus.

The fact that a book like this is making a big splash is a testament to Americans' historical ignorance -- and our Biblical ignorance, too. I mean, how carefully can you have read the Bible if you are surprised that things like seminaries and Vacation Bible School don't have a Biblical precedent?

I find the idea that this time we're finally going to get it right -- and all those other reforms just somehow failed -- both naive and presumptous, as well as based on a spiritual fallacy, namely, that any practice not mentioned in the NT is therefore spiritually invalid.


Great post, David. You used some actual analysis to put the matter into context. I find it an interesting discussion in terms of history and the origins of faith- this applies not only to religion but many other practices as well. I just didn't care for the way Ed presented it or how he often presents other matters about religion.

I do believe this topic eventually leads in many ways to the core of the separation between Catholicism and Protestantism. I have done my own reading on these issues over the years, and quite frankly, I am not really satisfied with either branch of Christianity for some of the reasons you mentioned and that are discussed in this book. But being far less steeped in religion than you, I was interested to hear your analysis.

The broader debate over these implications has and will go on for centuries.


As a practicing Christian, I have for several years been aware of the history of many Christian practices, many with roots in other cultures/religions(i.e. the timing of Easter and Christmas, for example). As a matter of fact, many religions are in fact an amalgamation or a twist on previous religions or faith practices, so I don't understand how the book mentioned above is so ground-breaking.

I minored in religion in college and went from a Sunday school understanding of Christianity's roots (i.e. a version of the Bible just dropped out of the sky from God's hands) to realizing the Bible is very much a man-made book with a large time gap between actual events and when books were written and put together. That isn't bad, but Christians just need to be honest about the roots of their scripture and traditions. Many can't because they don't know and pastors may not feel comfortable educating them about this unless members have expressed a commitment to formal ministry. They may not know about the councils of Trent and Nicea, where the books of the Bible were put together. They may not know about the main threads that fed into the Bible and the fact that if you read closely you find inconsistencies, such as in the Genesis account of creation. They may not know that Zoroastrianism had a great impact on Judaism/Christianity and the formulation of beliefs in heaven and hell. They may not know that there are other gods that are claimed to have been born of a virgin and resurrected from the dead or that the Epic of Gilgamesh is another version of the story of Noah and the flood. Other things they may not know: that the Red Sea is supposed to be a mistranslation of 'yam suph' - the Sea of Reeds, a smaller body of water, or that Jahoveh is a mistransliteration of Yahweh (YHWH). It goes on and on.

I used to dismiss all that and say, well the books that are in the Bible were ordained by God and by faith I must trust that what I believe is true even though I may not understand it. But then I thought, couldn't God do a better job of keeping out the inconsistencies? Why is the Catholic Bible different from the Protestant Bible? And why were books like the Gospels of Phillip and Thomas (which paint a different picture of Jesus) excluded? And since I can't exactly call God up and ask him for myself, all I have left are the circular logic arguments that are hard to prove 100 percent one way or another.

Now, I am in the process of reinventing how I practice my faith, being more deliberate in the services I attend and the traditions I participate in. Some traditions I just don't take as seriously as I did before.


Well said, David,
Actually there is a verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes (7:10) that says something along the lines of it is not wise to spend time talking about the "good old days" (those days don't exist).


Honestly, I don't know what all the uproar is about. Does it matter where the ritual or tradition come from, or what it means to the practitioner? Why get ticked off where the ritual came from - just worry about what it means to you when you're doing it. Don't think of communion as ritual cannibalism, think of it as a beautiful way to "commune" with your lord and savior.


There's a group from my church currently reading and discussing this book. Most of us agree with it. Church as conducted in America has become stale and self-congratulatory. We're looking for something different. The book has just provided a little historical perspective.

Ed Cone

"Does it matter where the ritual or tradition come from?"

It does to a lot of folks. Hence the book.

I find spiritual connections in many sorts of ritual, from a Catholic mass to a Quaker meeting, and I feel the power of the very different venues in which those two examples unfold.

But I'm not a literalist or someone who believes that my spiritual life is or should be defined by a particular reading of a particular book, and I'm more likely to catch up on my relationship to the eternal outside of any building or organized system of belief.

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