Dark Waters: Is Christianity a Mystery Religion?

719100_reachingThe academic community commonly makes the assertion that Christianity is a fusion of Judaism and ancient “mystery religions”. A mystery religion is one in which only those who are initiated into some esoteric secret knowledge are privy to the true meanings of the religion. Some scholars say that Christianity adopted its themes of resurrection and the savior-god from middle and near eastern sources. They say that Christianity originally contained hidden knowledge that only some people can approach.

There really isn’t space here to discuss the historical intricacies of this question but perhaps a general notion of the nature of the Bible from one who has read it closely will suffice. For a scholarly treatment of the question see Ronald Nash’s article here: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0169a.html and perhaps Lewis’ discussion of the corn-god in Miracles.

When Jesus taught he taught the common people. His disciples were not all educated men. When Jesus told them mysterious truths they did not understand them most of time. He did not have them undergo any secretive initiation ritual and what they heard from him was written down in the gospels for anyone to read. Perhaps the most mysterious thing Jesus did was to teach in parables rather than plainly: we know he told his inner circle that it had been given to them to understand but to others he spoke in parables. The core disciples were also allowed to see things like the transfiguration that others did not see, although it should be kept in mind that the accounts of even these things are written into the gospel narratives for all to read.

When we look at the message of the Bible we find it to be difficult in its fullness of meaning. It is cavernous and layered. It is not always as simple as we might like and even some of its stories, actual as they may be, seem to themselves be parables for cosmic things we don’t understand. It is not simple, but is it beautiful?

When we talk about the things in the Bible we don’t fully understand do we see mysteries or contradictions? Mysteries are difficult to look into as we do not have all the information. Contradictions are inherently flawed logical systems: they cannot be true since they contradict one another. The Bible is laden with paradox, most of which is in the character of God Himself. But a paradox is not a contradiction, nor is a mystery quite the same as a secret. There is a beauty to a mystery; a sense of wonder and even of fear. A paradox is a marriage; a contradiction is conjoined twins; a secret is a snob in his house on the hill.

I don’t remember who it was, perhaps C.S. Lewis, who wrote that water may be dark either because it is murky or because it is deep. Mystery religions are murky. The Bible is deep.