What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

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Secret Alias
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What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:58 am

I know we have many imaginative people here who think Christianity could be about all sorts of things. But is there any evidence for Christianity being anything but an ascetic religion or at least a structure developed to support monasticism? If so what sort of models are there from actual historical testimonies besides this 'take money from regular folks to support a (celibate) ecclesiastical body?' What evidence do you find? Point to actual attested Christian sources rather than the usual methodology at the forum - i.e. 'I take the Bhagavad Gita to be a Christian text.' I am confident no one will come up with anything but would love to be proved wrong.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
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MrMacSon
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:24 pm

Secret Alias wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:58 am
I know we have many imaginative people here who think Christianity could be about all sorts of things. But is there any evidence for Christianity being anything but an ascetic religion or at least a structure developed to support monasticism? If so, what sort of models are there from actual historical testimonies besides this 'take money from regular folks to support a (celibate) ecclesiastical body?' What evidence do you find? Point to actual attested Christian sources ...
I presume you are referring to the development of what became Christianity ie. 100-1230 AD/CE to 500 AD/CE.

I think it is a syncretic religion arising out of a merging of theologies in the post Second Temple period. Of course Christianity is mostly Jewish but it has elements of other religions and also aspects reflect Roman imperialism, even if including elements of antagonism to it.

The main Jewish elements include, of course, the books of Isaiah Daniel, and others, but I think Judaic aspects of Christianity are likely to reflect the deliberations that led to the Tosefta and Mishna and other perhaps less clear deliberations around them.
  • eg. Merkabah/Merkavah mysticism, a school of early Jewish mysticism that started c. 100 BC/BCE that produced exegetical expositions of the prophetic visions of God in the heavens and stories of ascents to the heavenly palaces and the Throne of God that included a divine retinue of angels, hosts, and heavenly creatures surrounding God (it centered on visions such as those found in Ezekiel 1, and the hekhalot [visits to the heavenly"palace/s"] literature arose out of Merkabah/Merkavah mysticism eg. Maaseh Merkabah).

     Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai (d. c. 80 CE) and later, Rabbi Akiva (d. 135) were deeply involved in merkabah exegesis. Rabbi Akiva and his contemporary Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha are most often the protagonists in later merkabah ascent literature.

    Beyond the early- or even pre- rabbinic community, Jewish apocalyptists also engaged in visionary exegeses concerning the divine realm and the divine creatures which are remarkably similar to the rabbinic material. A small number of texts unearthed at Qumran indicate that the Dead Sea community also engaged in merkabah exegesis. Jewish mystical texts also evidence a deep affinity with the rabbinic merkabah homilies.

    There is a significant dispute among historians over whether these ascent and unitive themes were the result of some foreign, usually Gnostic, influence, or a natural progression of religious dynamics within rabbinic Judaism.

    Some or all of the Johannine literature has been said to be an an early example of Merkabah mysticism.

    Daniel Boyarin and  Alan Segal regard Paul the Apostle's accounts of his conversion experience and his ascent to the heavens as the earliest first person accounts of a Merkabah mystic in Jewish or Christian literature.
The philosophies of Philo probably influenced many.

I think there are aspects of the Hermetic literature in Christianity eg. the focus on Father and Son.

There are probably other lost texts that contributed to the development of early Christianity.

The assertions of Jörg Rüpke that there was a lot of competing propositional and philosophical, theological early literature in the second century and that a lot of that literature preceded definitive communities is interesting eg.

The formation of a community based on a common text was, however, no simple process. It rested on long-term reading in common, and the formation of common modes of interpretation shaped by that reading.19 It began with the basic elements, texts themselves in their material form, and their mediation within a communicative process.

In the scriptographic cultures of antiquity, where the only means of duplication was copying by hand, each book was a unique entity. There is no doubt that there was commercial production and distribution of books from the early Imperial Age onward, relying on dictation to a number of slaves writing simultaneously, and that there was a book trade. The percentage of texts disseminated in this way may, however, have been negligible, perhaps confined to a few fashionable authors.20 More vital was dissemination by means of dedications, and subsequently by the dedicatees themselves, and within circles of acquaintanceship,21 potentially making available the entire libraries of participants in such circles.

Any collector, publisher, or mere writer of letters would not be interested purely in personal recipients. He would more likely be aiming at an anonymous public, or at delivery aloud to a particular circle of recipients. In the early second century AD, the so-called second and third Epistles of John point to the problems involved in controlling the recitation space, perhaps by forbidding visitors to read aloud. While the second epistle portrays the good group, which effectively communicates its faith, the third, formally addressed to only a single member, Gaius, describes the bad group:
  • I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.28
Finally there were intellectual contests, debates between professionals who lived by public polemic. Antagonists both male and female29 confronted one another in Rome, Athens, Antioch, and Alexandria, the Empire’s chief intellectual centers,30 and the subjects of their debates included religious knowledge as a sub-section of philosophical discourse. Rhodon, a pupil of Tatian, illustrates this when, in works subsequently cited by Eusebius, he gives an exhaustive account of a discussion with Apelles.31 Galen compared the arguments of Moses and Plato as if they were known to all present.32 The new texts that recorded these intense debates were perhaps a pot pourri of earlier materials.

Rüpke, Jörg. Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion (pp. 327-332). Princeton University Press.

Prior to that passage Rüpke had written -
... often sheer rivalry and an uncomfortable convergence of opinion that led [heresiographical authors] to manufacture the profound disagreements described in these texts.17 Some processes of systematic rhetorical exclusion often had social consequences. This was the case with the entourage of the visionary Montanus in Asia Minor in the second century AD, characterized by the label “Montanist” and then treated accordingly in terms of exclusions and polemics.18

Besides Marcion, Rüpke comments on Hippolytus and the Shepherd of Hermas as key players and texts (and it's interesting he notes that, as with Clement and a few other names, there were two Hippolytuses, though he doesn't specify: he's probably referring to Hippolytus of Thebes, fl. 7th-8th century).
Last edited by MrMacSon on Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:46 pm, edited 2 times in total.

nightshadetwine
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by nightshadetwine » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:32 pm

Would a salvation/mystery cult be an alternative? I think it's a mix of Judaism and Greco-Roman religion. Some of the earliest writings we have on Christianity compare it to mystery cults.

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MrMacSon
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:44 pm

nightshadetwine wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:32 pm
Would a salvation/mystery cult be an alternative? I think it's a mix of Judaism and Greco-Roman religion. Some of the earliest writings we have on Christianity compare it to mystery cults.
I agree. Although I haven't focused much on the salvation/mystery cults in my post above^^, I have previously considered them; particularly the cults of Serpais*, and of Osiris, Isis and Horus. I would thus lean more to the term Greco-Egyptian rather than Greco-Roman religion.

* See

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John T
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by John T » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:53 pm

Secret Alias wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 7:58 am
I know we have many imaginative people here who think Christianity could be about all sorts of things. But is there any evidence for Christianity being anything but an ascetic religion or at least a structure developed to support monasticism? If so what sort of models are there from actual historical testimonies besides this 'take money from regular folks to support a (celibate) ecclesiastical body?' What evidence do you find? Point to actual attested Christian sources rather than the usual methodology at the forum - i.e. 'I take the Bhagavad Gita to be a Christian text.' I am confident no one will come up with anything but would love to be proved wrong.
:scratch:

Can you reword the question and dumb it down for me?
"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."...Jonathan Swift

nightshadetwine
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by nightshadetwine » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:59 pm

MrMacSon wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:44 pm
I agree. Although I haven't focused much on the salvation/mystery cults in my post above^^, I have previously considered them; particularly the cults of Serpais*, and of Osiris, Isis and Horus. I would thus lean more to the term Greco-Egyptian rather than Greco-Roman religion.

* See
I agree with an Egyptian influence. I assumed Egyptian religion would be part of Greco-Roman religion. How about Greco-Egypto-Roman. ;)

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Secret Alias
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Aug 22, 2018 3:13 pm

Can you reword the question and dumb it down for me?
I don't know if I can 'dumb it down' as you say but maybe I better contextualize it a little to help explain what I mean. When the Church scandal came down in Pennsylvania the other day, the assumption seems to be among 'idealistic' Christians that the kind of secret gay society that dominates the modern Catholic Church is somehow an aberration from the 'real Church' which presumably was 'all about the people.' This sentiment is expressed because it seems to people that 'the Church' doesn't really care about the people, the laity.

But from my historical perspective at least - forget about the 'gay' business for a moment - you basically have this one constant going throughout history - viz. an 'educated elite' basically 'managing' a large swath of superstitious people. These superstitious people can be middle class or even wealthy people but for the most part they were ignorant, uneducated ones. The point is that the elite - the educated Church officials - in my mind at least managed the 'regular people' in order to take their money to help maintain and sustain the educated elite in the hierarchy. The hierarchy has as its prime purpose to maintain itself the way a parasite lives in a body.

I am not using 'parasite' to criticize the educated elite. It just seems an apt comparison.

So what I am saying is that to the degree that the elite brought in new members it was a mystery religion. But the mysteries of the Church were really reserved for the catechumen, those engaged in moving from the material world to the spiritual world i.e. joining the priesthood. Yes there was hocus pocus for the laity but they weren't really engaged in a 'mystery religion' per se.

But as I tell my wife who is Catholic at least nominally, the Church is not about you and your mother. You and your mother have as almost your entire role the sustenance of the ecclesiastical hierarchy - i.e. give money in the pews. Something good will happen to you for sustaining the elites. But the orientation of the Christian community is absolutely directed inward toward the priests, presbyters and ultimately toward the leader of the community - the papa, the living embodiment of the heavenly Father. It reminds me of Nizari Ismailis albeit with the passage of time Christians are less 'into' the whole leader worship thing. But we see that Copts and Catholics and other Christians were at one time just as superstitious.

So my point is - this is what Christianity really was. It was a way for wannabe latter day Platos to live out the contemplative life by harnessing the stupidity of the ignorant to support them. My question was, are there any other models for what Christianity was other than this in antiquity?
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Secret Alias
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Aug 22, 2018 3:22 pm

And from the point of view of crazy theories that I discount out of hand let's view Giuseppe's theories. How prevalent could 'the Demiurge is ...' for the rabble? This is my problem with these 'gnostic' theories. Yes for certain the educated elite had 'knowledge' that they wanted to bring 'newbies' into acquaintance. It is important to 'mystify' organizations with hocus pocus. Yet no matter how hocus pocusy these doctrines became, the common man was the bread and butter for the Church. The working class or a rich benefactor paid the bills. 'The Church' couldn't allow itself to become defined by 'gnosticism.' In order to continue to ask money from people it had to appear to be responsive to the needs of the lowly. As such we know that it had to at least offer up understandings or theories about justice, cooperation, sharing, doing good etc because these are the sorts of things that matter to the common men and women.

I think that specific wording which defined 'right belief' might have changed - i.e. there were different beliefs at different times and different terminologies, different emphases etc. But I can't believe that the Church as such was wholly a mystery religion, wholly a messianic movement associated with a warrior son of David or any of the other crazy theories out there. It was always a money making scheme for lazy contemplative types to get stupid ignorant people to basically pay for their lifestyle choices.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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John T
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by John T » Wed Aug 22, 2018 5:35 pm

I'm still not sure if I understand your point.

If your point was that Christianity was founded on greed, then I have to disagree.

I see the Jesus movement as a way to feed the poor who suffered under the cost of financing the Temple system and the Herodian government.
The cost of a sin offering could be very expensive under the Temple priesthood.
The temple tax was also a heavy burden for the poor.
Let alone the cost of tithing.
All these things were done away with by Christianity. You no longer had to pay for your sins because Christ pay for it once and for all. At least that is what I understand.

The early church was not an elaborate building but the gathering of the congregation.
Paul would preach in the open fields if he was not welcomed in the synagogue.
Paul did not demand that the congregation pay him for conducting worship services.

But then again maybe your point was that the modern Catholic church has turned their organized religion into a system of greed.


"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."...1 Timothy 6:10
"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."...Jonathan Swift

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Secret Alias
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Re: What Alternatives Are There to Christianity Being an Ascetic Religion?

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Aug 22, 2018 5:49 pm

Forget about 'greed' for a moment. Let's suppose that there is no right or wrong with regards to making money. If we take the totality of written documents from the early Church and again not distinguishing between 'deutero-' and authentic texts it becomes clear that there was an ecclesiastical hierarchy from the beginning. Of course we can dispute whether there was always a 'bishop' or overseer. But the point is that taken at face value the texts tells us that the late second century Church - i.e. with a community bound to a tightly regulated ecclesiastical hierarchy - already existed shortly after the crucifixion. The apostles were the original bishops, their disciples functioned as intermediaries with the laity.

The 'primitive Church' is basically a theoretical invention of contemporary scholarship. The documents at the heart of Christianity taken as a totality and again without modern distinctions between 'deutero-' and 'authentic' epistles make it plain that with Jesus death the 'body of the Church' (i.e. the bishops, priests, presbyters ...) was instantly resurrected. One can even argue that 'male' and 'female' distinctions are used to describe the 'marriage' between laity and church officials. My question is what is the evidence that anything else ever existed?
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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