3. The Sources of Secularism and New Age Spirituality
An understanding of the underlying development of secularism and new age spirituality can be helpful in meeting these phenomena. The historical development of Western mentality shows a clear progression with elements of stability and change. Once these elements have been identified, strategies for triggering change on the foundation of the stable aspects of Western mentality can be envisioned.
Western mentality has a basis of heathen polytheism. All of the European religious systems before the conquest by Christianity were founded on the concept of a pantheon of various gods and goddesses with different functions. These were seen to control the fate of humankind, but demanded worship and various types of sacrifice for propitiation and in order to induce them to act favourably towards human beings. The Nordic gods are still reflected in the names of the days of the week in all of the Nordic languages. The Romance languages preserve the names of the planets, also perceived as gods and goddesses, in the names of the days of the week in the Romance languages. In Western languages people refer daily to the ancient European gods. This is more than a mere linguistic remnant. It is a single piece of evidence for a whole configuration of pagan thought that forms the underlying layer of European mentality.
Christianity was a small sect among many cults competing with each other in the Roman empire in the first centuries of the Christian era. But for a particular historical event, Christianity would have disappeared with hardly a trace. Christianity became the vehicle for the emperor Constantine’s attempts to consolidate his power. He made Christianity the State religion, the purpose of which was to enhance imperial power. In so doing he changed the face and character of Christianity beyond recognition, so that today it has practically nothing to do with the actual teaching of Jesus (AS) and his original followers. There were two matters that needed to be reconciled: these were the stubborn religious traditions of the pagan population and the agenda of the imperial court. These two factors are the seedbeds of modern secularism and new age spirituality.
In the fourth and fifth centuries Christianity laid aside its original teachings and incorporated enough pagan tradition to satisfy the populace and enough imperial aspects to make it useful to the emperor. Polytheism entered Christianity in the form of the Trinity and in the form of saints, who were camouflaged lower deities. The popular Roman cults of personal salvation contributed the idea of a blood sacrifice for sin. The monarchical concept of the church was a stroke of genius, as this above all provided a power hierarchy for imperial use. Thus the primitive Christian doctrines of the unique “fatherhood” of the one true God, forgiveness of sins by free divine grace to all who forgave those who sinned against them, and the total disestablishment of religion, were replaced by teachings serving a completely different agenda.
The doctrine of the Trinity and salvation by a human, blood sacrifice provided a means for the affirming of Church power and thus of imperial power. The Trinity satisfied the polytheistic demands of the populace. But its theological formulation was ingenious from the imperial point of view. Quite simply, anyone who can be led to believe that three and one are essentially the same thing, can be led to believe anything. Anyone who can be led to believe anything, can be controlled. As for the matter of salvation by blood sacrifice, the church became the sole vehicle of personal salvation, without which the soul was eternally damned in hell. The “bloodless” sacrifice of the Eucharist was doled out by the priests to those who submitted to church and thus imperial authority. To the minds of the people, this bloodless sacrifice actually became the blood and body of the crucified Christ, through the magical machinations of the priestly liturgy. Upon taking part in this “cannibalistic” feast, the individual received the grace of salvation. This essentially remains the Christian doctrine and practice today. Upon a foundation of pagan polytheism we find a layer of superstitious magic and imperial control.
Western civilization is replete with many other aspects with a similar origin and development. Baptism is a good example. It has multiple pagan origins. Being “washed in the blood of the lamb” refers to the Roman cult into which one was initiated by being placed under a grating over which an animal was slaughtered, allowing the blood to flow over the body of the person below. Similarly, the practice of sprinkling water on the heads of babies comes from the pagan practice of placing the child under a bull and having the bull’s sperm fall on the head, supposedly giving the child the strength of the bull. In order for the populace to accept Christianity as the State religion, it was necessary to incorporate functional equivalents of such practices. Mothers insisted on them, and had the church not provided them, they would have been carried on outside the church. By accepting them, the church consolidated its power over the populace. Western Christianity contains the seeds of secularism and pagan-based spirituality. They are inevitable.