Freethought Archives > G W Foote > Flowers of Freethought


YOU are requested to read the above title carefully. Notice the spelling of the last word. It is son, not sun. The difference to the eye is only in one letter. The substantial difference is very great. Yet in the end the distinction between the Son and the Sun vanishes. Originally they were one and the same thing, and they will be so again when Christianity is properly understood.

Supposing that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived, it is impossible to know, with any approach to accuracy, what he really was. With the exception of four epistles by Saint Paul -- in which we find a highly mystical Christ, and not a portrait or even a sketch of an actual man -- we have no materials for a biography of Jesus written within a hundred years of his death. Undoubtedly some documents existed before the Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels, but they were lost through neglect or suppression, and what we have is simply the concoction of older materials by an unscrupulous Church.

During the interval between the real or supposed death of Jesus and the date of the gospels, there was plenty of time for the accumulation of any quantity of mythology. The east was full of such material, only waiting, after the destruction of the old national religions under the sway of Rome, to be woven into the texture of a non-national system as wide as the limits of the Empire.

Protestants are able to recognise a vast deal of Paganism in the teaching and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church. On that side they keep an open eye. On the other side their eye is shut. If they opened it they would see plenty of Paganism in the gospels.

The only fixed date in the career of Jesus is his birthday. This is known by every scholar to be fictitious. The primitive Church was ignorant of the day on which Jesus was born. But what was unknown to the apostles, one of whom is said to have been his very brother, was opportunely discovered by the Church three hundred years afterwards. For some time the nativity of Jesus had been celebrated on all sorts of days, but the Church brought about uniformity by establishing the twenty-fifth of December. This was the Pagan festival of the nativity of the Sun. The Church simply appropriated it, in order to bring over the Pagan population by a change of doctrine without a change of rites and customs.

It may be objected that the primitive Church did not inquire as to the birthday of Jesus until it was too late to ascertain it. But this objection cannot possibly apply to the resurrection, the date of which is involved in equal uncertainty, although one would expect it to be precisely known and regularly commemorated. For many ages the celebration was irregular. Different Sundays were kept, and sometimes other days, in various weeks of March and April. Finally, after fierce disputes and excommunications, the present system was imposed upon the whole Catholic world. Easter is, in fact, decided astronomically, by a process in which sun-worship and moon-worship are both conciliated. The starting point is the vernal equinox, which was the time of a common Pagan festival. The very name of Easter is of heathen origin. All its customs are bequeathed to us from far-off Pagan ancestors. Easter eggs, symbolising the life of the universe, have been traced back to the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians.

When the Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ they are imitating the ancient "heathen," who at the same time of the year commemorated the resurrection of the Sun, and his manifest triumph over the powers of darkness. And when the moderns prepare to celebrate the ascension of Christ, they are really welcoming the ascension of the Sun. The great luminary -- father of light and lord of life -- is then (apparently) rising higher and higher in heaven, shedding his warmer beams on the earth, and gladdening the hearts of men.

Churches and altars are decked with vegetation, which is another relic of nature-worship. Life is once more bursting forth under the kindling rays of the sun. Hope springs afresh in the heart of man. His fancy sees the pastures covered with flocks and herds, the corn waving in the breeze, and the grapes plumping in the golden sunshine, big with the blood of earth and the fire of heaven.

According to the Apostles' Creed, Jesus descended into hell between his death and resurrection. That is also a relic of sun-worship. During the dark, cold winter the sun descended into the underworld, which is the real meaning of Hades. Misunderstanding this circumstance, or deliberately perverting it, the early Church fabricated the monstrous fable that Jesus "preached unto the spirits in prison," as we read in the first epistle of Peter. One of the apocryphal gospels gives a lively account of how he harried the realm of Old Harry, emptying the place wholesale, and robbing the poor Devil of all his illustrious subjects, from Adam to John the Baptist.

A volume might be filled with illustrations of the mythology of the Resurrection. Our present space is limited, and we must let the above suffice. Anyone who reads the gospel story of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, with a careful eye and a critical mind, will see that it is not historical. Such witnesses, so loose in statement and so contradictory of each other, would collapse in a few minutes in any court of law. They do not write as spectators, and they were not spectators. What they give us is the legendary and mythical story that had taken possession of the Christian mind long after all the contemporaries of Jesus were dead.

Our belief, in conclusion, is that the Rising Sun will outlast the Rising Son. The latter is gradually, but very surely, perishing. Even professed Christians are giving up the miraculous elements of the gospels. But who would give up the Sun, which has warmed, lighted, and fertilised the earth for millions of years, and will do so for millions of years after the death of Christianity?

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