The Origins of Christianity, part 12
by Revilo P. Oliver
THE GREAT ÜBERWERTUNG, PSYCHIC MAGIC, GOD’S HOUSE, BUDDHISM, AND TAPAS
THE GREAT ÜBERWERTUNG
WHEN WE CONSIDER Zoroaster with historical objectivity, we are awed by the enormity of his religious revolution.
He invented a perfectly good god, Ahura Mazda, whom he identified as the Creator and unique source of all moral probity; and since it is hard to imagine a hermit god, he had his god create for himself a court of divine satraps, so to speak, the six Amesa Spentas, who are simply personified abstractions. They are Volu Manah (“Good Will”), Asa Vahista (“Truth” = What is Right, both physically and morally), Xsathra Vairya (“Righteous Goverment”), Spenta Armaiti (“Piety”), Haurvatat (“Perfection” = Health of all parts), and Ameretat (“Immortality”). These celestial noblemen naturally have their retinues of angelic servants and warriors, but obviously our devotion must be to the one good god. To be saved, we must enlist in his army.
As the antithesis of his good god, Zoroaster invented a god of pure evil, Angra Mainyu, the unique author of all sin and wickedness and of all the suffering of all human beings. This implacable enemy of the good god created his legions of devils to seduce and afflict mankind, and these malignant spirits are simply all the gods of all the peoples on Earth who haven’t been taught to worship Ahura Mazda. And the votaries of those gods are therefore the mortal soldiers of the immortal enemy of Righteousness.
It follows, therefore, that it is the duty of all who have been Saved by Zoroaster’s Revelation to “convert” or annihilate all the peoples of the Earth who worship other gods and thus serve Angra Mainyu in his Cosmic War against the Good.
Zoroaster would doubtless have been distressed had he been able to foresee that no lieutenant of Angra Mainyu could have done a better job than he, for his Revelation brought upon mankind the calamitous epidemic of religious mania that characterizes all “revealed” religions, the anaeretic fanaticism that dares confidently to say “Gott mit uns!” The more rational polytheism of the Aryans and of other races prevented men from taking leave of their senses in that way. You could never be sure of the favor of any god or of the limits of his power. The Athenians honored Poseidon, but that did not avert the squall that spoiled their naval victory at Arginusae. Athena was doubtless pleased by her temple on the Acropolis, but she was not able to save the city that had taken her as patroness, or even her own temple, from Xerxes. And if some gods favored you, you could be sure that the enemy also had gods on his side. In the Trojan war, some of the Olympian gods favored the Greeks and some favored the Trojans, but the most that a god could do was give a little help to his favorites in a struggle that was decided by human courage and strategy and by the impersonal power of the Destiny that is greater than the gods. A polytheist might venerate his chosen gods, but he knew that he would nevertheless have to reckon with reality. But a man who has been Saved by a glorious Revelation, achieving solidarity with an omnipotent (well, almost omnipotent) god, can run berserk with Righteousness.
By inverting the Aryan religion and turning its gods into demons, Zoroaster invented the arrogant zealotry that reappeared so often and so terribly in all of subsequent history. Thence came, for example, the poisonous fanaticism of the Christians, who never doubted the existence or even the power of Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Apollo, and the other gods of the Classical world, but regarded those august, handsome, and often gracious beings as foul fiends,(1) who could not be slaughtered themselves, but whose beautiful temples could be defiled and destroyed, whose votaries could be terrorized or butchered while their elegant homes were profitably looted, and whose supposed patronage of the arts and sciences gave a welcome pretext for sanctifying ignorance, boorishness, and misology. And when the Christians began at last to doubt the existence of the “pagan” gods, we see an ominous fissure in the wall of their Faith.(2)
Zoroaster and his spiritual descendants, Jesus, Mahomet, and many less successful Saviours, made of the world a vast battleground on which Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu (under these or other names) are waging a perpetual war for dominion, over the whole world, and since the two almost omnipotent deities somehow need men to fight for them, every human being must necessarily take part in the desperate war for the world, and if he does not fight for the good god, he is serving the evil one.
It becomes the duty of every “righteous” man to preach the new gospel to all the world, as was done by Zoroaster and his disciples, but when the evil god’s troops are so perversely obdurate to rhetoric that they will not desert their commander, they must be destroyed. Zoroaster, in other words, invented the jihad, the Holy War, and his invention must be regarded as one of the greatest calamities that has fallen upon our race and even upon mankind. When the Zoroastrian cult is described by scholars who have retained the lees of Christianity in their minds, they expatiate unctuously about “spiritual values” and “lofty morality,” but they never think of counting the corpses.
According to the Zoroastrian tradition – and it does not really matter whether that tradition records actual events or holds up an ideal for True Believers – when Zoroaster succeeded at last in bringing the Gospel and Salvation to a king, Vistaspa, that monarch naturally wanted to save the souls of his subjects and he piously gave them the option of being Saved or having their throats cut. Having thus consolidated the Church Militant (with the aid of his courtiers and officers, who, of course, had immediately perceived the Truth of the new religion on the “conversion” of the king, who was the fount from whom all revenues flowed), he was ready to turn his pious thoughts to the neighboring nations, and we are treated to a long chronicle of extremely sanguinary conquests, which are actually called the “Wars of Religion” in the Pahlavi annals. The wars and battles are described in considerable detail. In the first great battle, for example, Vistaspa lost 38 of his sons, 1,163 noblemen, and 30,000 common soldiers, but the wicked “pagans” lost more than 100,000 men. The result is an armistice, but the war is renewed and, after many peripeties and vicissitudes, the True Faith triumphs and the righteous have learned to grant no quarter and to spare the lives of no “infidels.” Glorious are the heroes who are the Sword of God and do what they can to expunge sin with blood!(3)
When we turn from legend to history, the monarchs of the Persian Empire were, as we have seen, pious Zoroastrians and attributed their power to the supposed benefactions of Ahura Mazda, but such religious zeal as they may have felt was more or less moderated by political prudence until we come to Xerxes. He has left us proof of his fanaticism in the inscription in which he proudly records his devastation of the Athenian Acropolis: “there was a place in which devils (daiva) were formerly worshipped. There, by the help of Ahura Mazda, I demolished that lair of the devils and I issued an edict, ‘You shall not worship devils.’ And in the very place in which devils had once been worshipped, I piously and with Righteousness worshipped Ahura Mazda.”
At Salamis and Plataea the Greeks saved Europe (for a few centuries) from a spiritual pestilence.
1. Orthodox Christian doctrine is stated concisely by Augustine, De civitate Dei, IV.I: “The false gods, whom they (the ‘pagans’) once worshipped openly and even now worship secretly, are the most filthy spirits and devils, so extremely malignant and deceitful that they rejoice in whatever crimes are, whether truly or falsely, imputed to them …so that human weakness …may not be restrained from the perpetration of damnable deeds.”
2. Few have perpended the profound significance of the revival of Classical mythology in the Renaissance. The Humanists, who responded to the true beauty of the ancient myths and the noble literature that enshrined them, were able to claim that those gods were only lovely fictions and did not, in fact, exist. That was a drastic weakening of Christian orthodoxy, as was justly perceived by some contemporary Christian misologists, e.g., Giovanni da Sanminiato, whose uncouth Lucula noctis was first edited and published by Edmund Hunt (University of Notre Dame, 1950). Coluccio Salutati ridiculed his Latinity, which, while not so painfully barbarous as much Mediaeval stuff, was syntactically and lexically defective. In an age of reviving learning, that was enough to shut up the holy man.
3. For an attempt to extract some history from the tales, see Professor A.V. William Jackson’s Zoroaster (New York, 1901). There have been later speculations, of course, but when we go beyond the probability that there was a king of Bactria who believed Zoroaster we are lost in a fog, without a single item of historical evidence to guide us.
To be continued
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