This week's topic is: "Isn't Jesus just a copy of ancient pagan myths?", a question we typically call the "Pagan Copycat Christ Thesis."
As usual, rather than just overwhelm the kids with facts and data which convinces them now, but which doesn't stick in their heads later, I chose to go with a more interactive approach--so that, hopefully, they can remember the key points whether it be 1 year or 5 years from now.
First, I laid out the scenario proposed by the nonbelievers: the apostles decide to make up a religion, so they pick out famous myths from their day and slightly alter them, then fake the New Testament, and then Emperor Constantine demands all of Rome follows it.
Then I asked them if their "bull detectors" were going off, and if so what they were thinking.
I was quite impressed with the responses, many of which were pulled from our June lessons (which showed it was sticking!). They nailed three of the five things that I listed, and actually Meredith and Emily S. each came up with an example I hadn't even included:
- The apostles knew if their religion was true or false...is it really plausible that they would all allow themselves to be put to death for a known lie?
- Why didn't anyone notice it was a rip-off religion? Why did NO early critic of Christianity say, "Hey, you just stole Mithra!"
- Why is it that they can't give you one clear answer, but jump from Mithra to Horus to Osiris to Isis...it's hard to buy the theory when they can't even settle on one among themselves.
- When we first read the myths in class, we made NONE of these alleged connections--why? Were we all that blind and the skeptics so brilliant, or are they twisting the evidence?
- Why is it only an internet fad, and not something promoted by secular professors as well?
And the Meredith S. and Emily S. additions:
- We already established weeks ago that Constantine came long after the New Testament canon was popular, so obviously he didn't make this happen.
- The idea of a crucified God would not have been a popular choice in their culture, so there is no way that someone inventing a religion would have gone this route.
Wow, we have a great youth group. :)
Anyway, next we moved into our game: The Myth-Myth Game.
In this game, we picked three of the most common Copycat myths. Each myth had an actor pretend to be that key god/hero of the myth, and each myth had a "Speaker" for the Copycat theory.
Of course to be silly we had to dress them up like them in the most halfhearted way, so they ended up looking like this:
From left: Mithra (as shown by the helmet and dagger); Mithra's speaker; Osiris' speaker; Osiris (shown by the green skin (from Ninja Turle outfit) and mummy wrapped legs (toilet paper)); Dionysius (with--natural--long flowing hair, headphones to enjoy his music, and grape juice instead of wine because he's not 21 yet); and Dionysius' speaker.
Then we had each "speaker" read aloud the claims that the Copycat skeptics make--the things that they say Christians stole from that religion. Of course at first glance they seem convincing: we're told that Mithra and Dionysius were both born of virgins, that Osiris was crucified and resurrected, etc. We read 7 claims of each.
Then, we acted out their myths. I summarized what the myth actually says, with the people acting it out. (I left Attis off the list because acting that myth out would NOT have been appropriate in a youth group...).
So for example I described the 'birth' of Mithra, who is said to have leapt from a boulder, leaving an indention. After this was acted out, I said, "SEE? The rock was OBVIOUSLY still a virgin, and the hole left by Mithra is kinda like a cave! That's obviously EXACTLY the same as the story of Mary and the manger, right??" The kids of course cracked up and were shocked that this was actually what the skeptics meant when saying that Mithra had a "virgin" birth.
Similarly, we saw that Dionysius' "virgin" birth was being cut out of Zeus' thigh; that Osiris' "crucifixion" was being nailed into a coffin by his brother and cut into 14 pieces; that Dionysius' "communion meal" was when he was eaten as a baby by the Titans; etc., etc.
In the end, it was actually rather fun and the kids actually got the point so early that it became slightly repetitive by the time we got to Osiris.
The key point came across loud and clear I think: this "pagan copycat myth" is in general nothing more than taking completely unrelated myths and re-writing them with Christian-sounding terminology in the hopes of drawing a parallel.
2: Where'd it come from?
Next, we traced the history of the myth, and saw on a timeline just how recently this came up--and just how nut-job crazy most of its founders were. All of that info can be found in the powerpoint at the end.
In the end, we had a fun time and it really drove home the point. Even those who don't remember all the details should remember the key point--that when someone says, "Pagan god X had a virgin birth," or "Pagan god Y's followers celebrated a communion meal," they aren't using the terms the same way we are. Rather, they are being purposefully misleading to try and confuse and distract.
To be honest I wasn't sure about this week until it was over, and I was quite pleased with the result. The youth really "got" the point I thought, and I feel confident that they would be easily able to defend their faith if challenged with this one in school or among friends.
For those wishing to use this for other youth groups, it--along with all the others--ran between 45-60 minutes. Feel free to use it all you want. Click here to download the powerpoint.