In debates concerning Christianity and other forms of belief, someone occasionally makes the claim that Christianity is the summation and perpetuation of old myths found in the Roman mystery religions. Christianity is merely the absorbent that soaked up all the dying and rising gods and what not into one and has continued through the ages because of its dominating power and control. The problems with the pagan Christianity hypothesis are manifold (go here). But, one response would be to note the stark differences between the worldview of Christianity and the pagan myths. The Christian worldview includes a story, our story: The triune God creates from nothing all that is not himself, including human beings. Humanity was created good in the image of God. Human beings sinned against God, rupturing their relationship with him in a way only he could repair resulting in death. God sent Jesus to live a perfect life and suffer death in a cross, subsequently raising him from the dead. It is through faith in him that the Fall is reversed and many can truly live. Those who have faith in him hope for an eternity with him, while those without faith will suffer an eternity without him (Go here to learn more about this story). J. Gresham Machen notes some of the more important differences between the Christian worldview and the pagan myths:
- Whereas Paul speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ and places it in the middle of history, as an event which took place before many witnesses, in the recent past, the myths of the cults in contrast, cannot be dated; they appear in all sorts of variations, and do not give any clear conceptions. In short they display the timeless vagueness characteristic of real myths.
- The death and resurrection of deities within the cultic myths are nothing but depictions of annual events of nature in which nothing is to be found of the moral, voluntary, redemptive substitutionary meaning, which for Paul is the content of Christ’s death and resurrection. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection was proclaimed by Paul as a forensic and ethical emancipation.
- The entire meaning of the mystery religions is expressed in athanasia, the conquering of natural death, the escaping of the power of fate, and the return of the divine-in-man to its origins and end. Whereas, faith and repentance occupies an indispensible place, within the mystery religions, it is entirely superfluous, or insofar as it can be spoken of, it bears an entirely different character: the magical rules everything.
- Paul speaks of walking in love, humility, mercy, and good works, whereas a physical, dualistic worldview is at the foundation of the mystery religions, and salvation is accomplished by the transfer of a divine vital force, expressed sometimes in asceticism and at other times in the most unrestrained libertinism.
More can be found in Machen’s book titled The Origin of Paul’s Religion