Sun Worship Revisited
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day in the southern hemisphere. Where I live, roughly 39 degrees north latitude, the sun will rise at 5:49 AM and set at 8:42 PM. Further north much or all of the day will be sunlit, but at the equator only careful attention reveals the solstice.
Some pagans are celebrating the solstice today; the typical news article I have seen, released by the Associated Press, mocks the celebrants as freaks. I have never noted mainstream press mockery of Christianity at Christmas or Easter. The consensus is that it makes sense to worship Jesus Christ and it is just plain silly to worship the Sun.
Christianity, after all, is seen as a modern religion. Sun worship is seen as a primitive, pre-Christian form of worship. People worshipped the Sun because it was big and bright and divided the day and night. According to Christians, God revealed himself the to Jews and then sent a son (just one, mind you, and would that Christians limited themselves to one child, following their God's example) to set everyone straight with a promise of immortality.
Physicists tell us that our sun is not immortal. True, it is billions of years old, but it was not formed during the earlier epochs of the universe. True, it will go on a few billion years, but it is expected to eventually consume its nuclear fuel and collapse into a cold cinder. If it isn't immortal then it can't be God, can it? But then the human race is newer than the sun and is unlikely to continue much longer (on cosmic time scales), so why believe a human form, Jesus, can represent immortality?
When Christianity was born Apollo was Helios, the Sun God of the Mediterranean world and had numerous followers. People, except perhaps the most ignorant, realized that the human attributes of Apollo were to be distinguished from the very real Sun in the sky. Other cultures are believed to have worshipped the sun as a god, but in some cases they may have simply been tracking the sun to keep their agricultural calendars straight, rather than truly believing the sun created the universe.
Yet this primitive sun worship was much closer to reality than Jesus worship. The Sun does predate the earth and mankind; in a very real sense, the sun created the earth and its energy imbued the earth with life. If the sun went out tomorrow we would all be dead in quick order, but Jesus died on the cross and nothing much happened. Let's face up to reality: Jesus is not a very good candidate for being God, even if you are egotistical enough to think that God must be human. Crazy as he was, the Emperor Caligula (who also claimed to be a god) at least was Roman emperor. Jesus was the founder of a small cult that apparently murdered Ananias and Sapphira for money (Bible, Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 5).
Let us skip some of this primitive thinking and go to a more sophisticated version of God (God 2.0?): the creator of all things, visible and invisible. Atheists would say that if you need a first creator, the Universe itself can serve that role as well as God. But lets split the difference and call our hypothetical deity the Creator, which should satisfy Catholics and open-minded atheists.
What would better represent the Creator in our sector of the Universe, a dead Jesus or a living Sun? The Sun is bigger and lives longer. The sun is singular, at least around here, whereas any number of men and women (not to mention elephants, snakes, and natural phenomena) could be claimed by their followers to be God. (My sentimental favorite is Gunputty.) Is the Sun more likely to be an incarnation of the Creator, or a raggedly little Palestinian?
Why then, is Christianity one of the dominant religions today, but Sun worship is just an occasional reason for pagan partying? Two big reasons. The Christian religion is a remarkable example of social engineering. The Apostle Paul took a tiny Jewish cult and made it into a money maker by combining it with non-Jewish resurrection myths, the promise of immortality, and a sort of primitive socialism in which standing Christians were fed from the seized property of new recruits. Then, as time passed, the Roman Emperors saw Christianity as the perfect way to keep their subjects in line. Once that happened, conversion at swordpoint became the rule, and a very successful one.
The other reason we fail to worship the Sun is that it is both too remote and too easily tested by reason. It does not appear to care about humans when it wilts crops under its heat. Humanized gods have always been popular because it is easy to imagine they understand human problems. Pregnant and unmarried? Talk to the Virgin Mary.
Those who see through the vanity of anthropomorphizing the Creator usually also see that Nature is complex. No one subset of Nature should be worshipped as God.
There are good reasons to celebrate the Solstice without trying to make our good sun into a God. The solstice marks the annual rhythm of life. It reminds us that humans are just a part of nature. And it is cheery to have such long days when you don't live near the equator.
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