The truth about CS Lewis, Tolkien and Pagan Christs: Christian Parallels in Mythology

Last Month Chuck Colson – Christian leader, cultural commentator, and former Special Counsel for President Richard Nixon – commented on my book, Jesus Potter Harry Christ. His central criticism of my book is weak, desperate and unfounded – in fact I write quite a bit about CS Lewis and Tolkien in the book so I doubt Colson has read more than the introduction or summary. But I’d like the opportunity to address the issue, which is of absolute importance to the debate over the historical Jesus, and something that every Christian AND Atheist should be familiar with.

Chuch Colson’s Review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ:

Well, Murphy is certainly right in recognizing a common thread through pagan religious beliefs. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, the heathen religions are full of “…those queer stories…about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.”

But what Murphy misses — and Lewis got — is the fact that the human longings for sacrifice, resurrection and redemption are stamped on our hearts for a reason: They point us straight to the God who stepped into history to fulfill them!

In a letter to a friend, Lewis recounts a conversation he had J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings — and a close colleague of Lewis.

“The story of Christ,” said Tolkien, “is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened…The Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’”

The fact is, Murphy appeals to the bad reasoning which skeptics of the church have used for years: that simply because cultures around the world tell stories which remind us Christianity, Christianity itself must be just such a story.

But for Lewis and Tolkien, it was this universal fascination with the savior-god myth that made Christianity so convincing. To them, the historical fact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus rouses our deepest longings in the same way as the tales of Isis, Horus — and even Harry Potter do. But unlike these stories, Christianity is true — the reality to which all of the best stories of history point.

My Responses:
As I point out in my book, literature and mythology is full of dying and returning figures that came before Jesus. Colson, Lewis, Tolkien and I are all agreed on this point. Early Christians, having no way to explain this baffling circumstance, blamed it all on Satan – who did it so that when Jesus came he would appear as indistinguishable from all the other myths (which is exactly what happened). Then in the 1950’s, when a century of biblical criticism had pretty much destroyed the historical Jesus and no serious scholar would claim that the Bible was historical fact, Lewis turned it all around and blamed it on GOD – that we should expect pagan Christs as totally natural, as some sort of echo of the True Jesus.

If you’re a Christian and for you Jesus is the truth, then you don’t give a DAMN about these troubling inconsistencies – just as you don’t give a damn about dinosaurs or evolution or science or anything else that appears to conflict with your faith. Colson puts it this way:

The fact is, Murphy appeals to the bad reasoning which skeptics of the church have used for years: that simply because cultures around the world tell stories which remind us Christianity, Christianity itself must be just such a story.

Bad reasoning? The problem is not that stories around the world remind us of Christianity. The problem is that these stories were told in the same geographic location that produced the story of Jesus, and that they came centuries, before Jesus, that the gospel writers knew the stories, and that some of the original terms and language used to write the gospels copy directly from pagan texts. It is also true that these similarities have always been and continue to be a painful thorn in the side of the church; the biggest affront to Christian claims. Not the kind of thing a smart God would set up. Why would Jesus come and physically, historically do the exact same things that other pagan gods had already been given credit for? The surrounding pagans were already celebrating an annual death and return of a vegetation god like Attis or Dionysus – why would the Jews set up Jesus as such an obvious pagan myth? (They wouldn’t – which is why the Jews never accepted Jesus). Instead, the only logical conclusion of any reasonable study is that Jesus was a pagan-Jewish synthesis that copied and repeated an already successful spiritual template. (Which, by itself, doesn’t prove Jesus didn’t exist – only that we need to separate all of the pagan elements from him; elements which include his death and resurrection!)

Tolkien and Lewis were responding to biblical criticism which BEGINS with these similarities and ENDS with the idea that Jesus was mostly literary or mythical; the only move for apologists at that point was to accept this and widen the scope of Christian apologetics to include all literature in the history of the world as reflecting God’s ultimate Christian plan; as such it is no different from the original diabolical mimicry argument which likewise deals with these vexing similarities by relying on supernatural explanations. Tolkien and Lewis (and Colson) in short, accept that the similarities between Jesus and pagan mythologies do exist; but they have enough faith to allow God the power of authoring every text in the history of the world as literary foreshadowing of his own story of salvation which he would ultimately make true.

Why is it that the similarities between Jesus and mythology can make every myth or fable Christian – reflecting the One True Story of Christ – but the same similarities cannot work the other way around; revealing Jesus as similarly mythical?

Chuck Colson criticizes my mistake in reasoning by glibly deferring to Lewis and Tolkien, who are 50 years outdated and didn’t have access to have the extraordinary ancient texts that are available today, apparently without actually reading my book (a substantial portion of which is used to quote from, explain and undermine the position Colson pushes forward).

To learn more about CS Lewis and Tolkien’s theology of Pagan Christs, click here to download the first four chapters of Jesus Potter Harry Christ for free!

  • Yffrules

    Why do you care so much? Don’t believe, what compels someone who doesn’t believe to write a book about it. I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, but I am not writing a book trying to prove I am right. This is the human reaction to something missing in their lives and never being able to fill it. I felt the same way, until I trusted in something that I could not see or explain. Faith is the only way to believe something that is intangible. If we all lived the way Jesus wanted us to this world would be an amazing place, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing crazy or deceptive there right?

  • Normal guy who is blessed

    I understand your thoughts. I actually was raised in a christian home and in my early twenties came across this information and the similarities of Jesus and Mythology. It caused me to start doubting God. One day I cried out while driving for the lord to show himself or else I no longer have faith in him. Well…it was the craziest thing that ever happened to me. God showed up and proved himself to me. It was so powerful, crazy, and awesome. Then 2 years ago my mom started going crazy, and they said she had schizophrenia. She ended up in a mental institution. Me and my dad went to Chicago to get her out. We ended up going to a church with our mom, and a demon manifested and started freaking out inside of her. She was demonized! It was talking through her! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. It was exactly like a movie. It tried attacking the pastor. The pastor casted the demon out of my mom, and my mom was healed and normal. HEALED OF SCHIZOPHRENIA? YUP! It was so crazy. Now I know truth. This is real Christianity. Oh and by the way…my mom was a christian….that’s right…a christian with demons? YUP. There is only one truth. I have since studied more and more, and have found so much proof of Jesus. I have now casted demons out of people using the name of Jesus. Its awesome.  The bible has all the answers. Now I am on a constant path of righteousness, and fixing myself. Now I know the truth. There is so much going on that none of us realize and we are busy fighting each other. Demons are real. God is Real. Jesus is real. His holy spirit is real. The war for our souls is real, and forgiveness and freedom is real. It all makes more sense everyday. Now the lord is freeing me of more and more everyday. I didn’t realize how sinful I was and how many problems I had in life. Now he blesses all that I do with my hands, and every area of my life. Every time I hand over a new area of my life and get sanctified…it seems that he blesses me in that area. ITS SO CRAZY I KNOW…BUT ITS SO REAL! I now own a national corporation at 27 years old and I hardly graduated high school? It doesn’t even make sense.  HAHA GOD IS AWESOME! Being his child is the only way to go. I am protected and taken care of, but also a lot is expected of me. So I try not to buy flashy cars and waste what he gives me. I try to remain humble and help others. Christianity is very exciting…and if it isn’t for you…then you need to start praying and fasting that the lord reveal his truth to you. Pray for wisdom and understanding. He will answer. That’s what I did and it works. Also stop sinning. Sure we have grace…but its time to move past it. Otherwise you miss out on a lot! Most pastors don’t realize the truth…they are too wrapped up in pride and being a pastor. That maybe why most Christians don’t know this stuff. Anyway…I mostly wanted to say that I understand your point with this article because I struggled with the same thing. I hope you find truth, and try not to hate on Christianity just yet. Pray that the lord will prove himself to you…because I believe he will. Thanks for writing your thoughts 🙂

    • el-cocodrillo

      Another traditional religions can also deal successfully with identifying and exorcising those Demons. It’s not because of the human figure Jesus but because of the theological principle which stands both behind Jesus and the principal rules of those religions. If you don’t get what is up with my comparison I recommend you to study the last chapter of the Buddhist Shurangama Sutra where it’s clear that demons are born from the Skandhas or Elements which are the parts of our Mind-stream, and it’s our Ego or false Self-Imposed Identity which provides them to be seen as manifested, personal beings. Those beings, realistic in world of our perception of phenomena (those you judged them real) whereas quite illusory on the noumenal level, stuck into our Mind-streams’ unconsciousness as a heavy psychological complex as long as we don’t make a coherent attempt to differentiate it from the Truth. Only confronted with the Truth the Elements can dissolve so that there is no space in which impure Spirits would be able to Act. The real Satan is our Ego and we can conquer it and prevent from producing Elementals only to the amount we are able to recognize our Real Identity from the Self-Imposed one. The Being you call God is a kind of a Guardian of that Identity, but mistaking it for the Absolute Being is actually one of the 50 Skandha-Demon illusions mentioned in Shurangama.

      • Derek Murphy

        Thanks – I keep an open mind and look for signs and miracles. Nothing so far. If God exists I also hope he’s trying hard to save me; and I’m not trying very hard not to be saved. It’s just that nothing’s going on in that department. On a different note, I’m happy for your wealth and business success. I can only hope I also get rich and buy a big house for my family with all the cash I’m making so that I can be physical proof that non-believers can make money and be successful too.