Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

The Origins of Christianity, part 14

by Revilo P. Oliver


WHEN A RESIDENCE is sold these days, the new owner almost always makes changes: He has it painted another color, he has the interior redecorated and installs new furniture, he may remove a partition between small rooms or divide a very large room, he may have the kitchen remodelled, and he may make other alterations to suit his taste or convenience; but the fabric of the house, its foundations, its beams, and its walls, remain unchanged.

The foregoing description, condensed and summary as it was, will have sufficed to show that the Christians today are living in Zoroaster’s old house. It has been remodelled here and there, but the fabric remains as it was built, twenty-six centuries ago.

The essentials of the newer cult are all in Zoroaster’s invention: the Good God and the Bad God; their armies of angels and devils; the contested partition of the Universe between Good and Evil; the Holy War for One World of Righteousness; Heaven and Hell and even Purgatory (Misvan Gatu); and the apocalyptic vision of cosmic strife that will end only in a decisive last battle between the hosts of the Lord and the hosts of Satan, which will be followed by the Last Judgement and the end of Time, after which nothing can ever change again. All human beings sprang from a divinely-created original pair, whose descendants, equal in ancestry, are made equal by Faith in the Good God, who fathered and sent into the world a Virgin-born Saviour to reveal his will to mortals, whose sins and merits are accurately recorded by the celestial bookkeeping system in preparation for the Last Judgement, when, incredible as it seems, they will be resurrected, so that, so to speak, they can enjoy the life everlasting in their own persons. The Zoroastrians, by the way, explain that when the time comes, Ahura Mazda’s zealous agents will find and reassemble every particle of the man’s flesh, which was eaten and digested by birds of prey centuries or millennia before; Christians attempt no explanation, but in most churches they still recite the Apostles’ Creed (forged at the end of the Fourth Century and subsequently revised), affirming that they believe in “the Resurrection of the Flesh,” but they probably never think of what they are saying.

We could add numerous details of Christian doctrine that were devised by the Magi in the various Zoroastrian sects: confession of sins (paitita), penance and absolution (barasnom), ceremonial Last Suppers of bread and wine, observance of the twenty-fifth of December as a divine birthday, and many others, including even terminology, such as use of the title ‘Father’ to designate a priest.(1)

Zoroastrianism and Christianity, however, are not identical, with only a change of names and a few minor details. The remodelling has introduced two really striking differences. When Zoroaster emerged from the Virgin’s womb, he laughed to signify that life is good and should be enjoyed, and although the Magi, with the normal concern of holy men for their professional emoluments, devised all sorts of sacraments, rites, ceremonies, and religious obligations to keep their customers at work for them, the religion never lost a decent respect for human nature. The first woman had been the twin sister of the first man, and no Zoroastrian ever thought of a woman as an “imperfect animal” with an insatiable lust for sexual intercourse, “an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors.’(2) No Zoroastrian ever had the Christians’ morbid obsession with sex or thought he or she would conciliate a ferocious god by thwarting and perverting their own nature and natural instincts or, for that matter, by inflicting discomfort and pain on themselves in an orgy of masochism. No Zoroastrian ever thought that it would be holy to stop the reproduction of our species and leave the world uninhabited. No Zoroastrian was ever infected with the insanity that, for example, made Jerome run out into a desert so that he wouldn’t see any of the “evils of nature,” and made Origen castrate himself to appease a god’s hatred of mankind. No Zoroastrian’s mind was ever haunted and distracted by an incubus of imaginary guilt, an Original Sin inherited from a man and woman who had discovered that their creator had equipped them with sexual organs he forbade them to use.(3) No Zoroastrian intelligence was ever so perverted that he felt guilty for living, maddened by morbid obsessions that are sexual in origin, but, by an even fouler perversion, may be diverted into a maudlin guilt because he does not share the squalor of the lowest strata of society or does not sufficiently degrade himself to satisfy the enemies of his race and of his own progeny.

Equally startling is the Christian remodelling of the Good God. Ahura Mazda is a strictly just, honest, and impartial deity: he has ordained certain rules of righteousness for all mankind, and his servants keep a strict account of each individual’s obedience or disobedience. Yahweh, on the other hand, is a god who early conceived an inexplicable partiality for a miserable tribe of swindlers and robbers, who pleased him by observing strange taboos, sexually mutilating their male children, and defecating and urinating in the ways he likes to watch. Having created the world, he spent the greater part of its existence in abetting his barbarous pets as they preyed on more civilized people, and he was their confederate as they swindled and robbed their victims or stole a country they wanted by massacring all the men, women, and children, and even their domestic animals. He even tampered with the minds of kings so that he would have an excuse for inflicting on their subjects every sadistic torture he could devise for the delectation of his favorites. And having been the accomplice of the world’s parasites for centuries, he unaccountably changed his mind and sent them his only begotten son so that they would kill him and thus give him an excuse for breaking his bargain with them. It is no wonder that Christians so constantly talk of their “fear of God” — who wouldn’t fear a deity so capricious, ruthless, and unscrupulous?

No unprejudiced observer could fail to conclude that Zoroastrianism was not changed for the better when it was remodelled by its new owners.

It remains for us to account for the spiritual deterioration in the subsequent chapters of this book.

A judicious reader may inquire why the Zoroastrian religion, if so markedly superior to its successor, so declined that it now engages the faith of only a small colony of about 120,000 Parsees whose ancestors found in India a refuge from Islam. That is one of the historical questions that can be answered without qualification or uncertainty. The primary cause is obvious: In Heaven, as on Earth, nothing succeeds like success, and failure is the cause of failure.

Although Zoroaster’s invention was a “universal” religion and sent out missionaries to preach its gospel to all the world, it became the official religion of the vast and mighty Persian Empire and Ahura Mazda’s fate became inextricably entwined with the fate of the Persian King of Kings. Had Xerxes’ huge navy and army been victorious at Salamis and Plataea, the True Faith would have followed the Persian warriors over Europe, much as Christianity later followed the British regiments throughout the world. It is even possible, I suppose, that we should be Zoroastrians today, worshipping a god represented by an eternal flame on the altar of each community, and pestered by “creation scientists,” who would try to prove to us that Darwin was wicked to doubt that Ahura Mazda created Gayamart so that he could engender Masi and Masanl, the ancestors of all mankind. But I doubt it: Gods, like men, become senescent, and even if they are immortal, if they are too busy or slothful to answer their votaries’ prayers and supplications for a few centuries, they have only themselves to blame when they are supplanted by younger and yet untried immortals.

The spectacular defeat of Xerxes must have shocked the True Believers: Ahura Mazda had failed to keep a promise made through his consecrated Magi, so there were only the painful alternatives: either holy men can be mistaken, or Angra Mainyu was more powerful than his great and good adversary had anticipated. The crisis did not come, however, until 334-330, when Alexander the Great, who worshipped the foul fiends, overran the whole Persian Empire, the Holy Land that was dedicated to the service of Ahura Mazda, who had been either unwilling or unable to defend his own righteous nation. Zoroastrianism became the religion of peasants, barbarians beyond the borders, and old fogies, who clung to the discredited god and traditions that had suddenly become obsolete.(4)

If Alexander had lived to turn his attention and his Macedonian phalanges to Europe, or if the Greeks, who built their cities throughout the former Persian Empire and overawed their new subjects as much by their incontestable cultural superiority as by their invincible arms, had not had our race’s fatal lack of racial consciousness and had not steadily weakened themselves by miscegenation, excessive tolerance, and interminable civil wars, it is possible, I suppose, that the irrational faith and fanaticism of a “revealed” religion would have been permanently discredited – but I doubt it. As it was, the Greek nations of Asia so declined that they, one by one, fell under the rule of virile barbarians from Scythia, the Parthians, and Ahura Mazda had another chance. Since the Romans, also afflicted with the Aryans’ folly, preferred to fight each other rather than extend their empire far into Asia, Zoroastrianism, in various more or less diluted forms, recovered its prestige, and under the Sassanids, the great Chosroës, whose theology was guaranteed by his loyal army, restored the Zoroastrian orthodoxy by forcing the Magi to codify their Scriptures and creed, while his hangmen convinced heretics of their doctrinal errors. But alas, when the hordes of Islam, virile Arabs exalted by faith in their new deity and by the rich plunder he bestowed on them, attacked Persia, Ahura Mazda remained idle and once again proved himself an empyreal roi fainéant. He had muffed his last chance to be a great god, and he had to be content thereafter with the impoverished veneration of a few incorrigibly obstinate votaries.


1. Many of these details Christianity took from the Mithraic cult, of which I give a brief account in Appendix II.

2. The quotation is taken from Reverend Mr. Montague Summers’ translation of the famous Malleus maleficarum (London, 1928; Dover reprint, 1971), one of the most impressive monuments of Christian theology. There were many editions of the original in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries and a copy of one or another is likely to be found in any good library, but the Latin is even more painful than the English version.

3. The Semites’ disgusting and obsessive hatred of sex is so repugnant to healthy Aryans that even fear of the terrible god could drive them only to a grudging attempt to obey him, and many must have privately thought what the author of Aucassin et Nicolette dared say: That he would rather go to Hell with fair ladies and cultivated men than to a Heaven infested with fat monks and uncouth saints. An occasional gleam of humanity appears even in the most orthodox Scholastics. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologiae went so far as to decide sexual intercourse must have been exquisitely delightful for Adam and Eve in Eden, where she was yet uncursed with menstruation and the threat of pregnancy, and I should not be surprised if the “Angelic Doctor,” who presumably looked forward to bliss after his Resurrection, had not in his own mind held the heretical hope that True Believers, having been definitively Saved, could brighten up eternity by enjoying the delights of a new Eden.

4. See Appendix II below.

To be continued

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