Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Why Leave Church?

When I read John Loftus' comment about how no one joins or leaves the faith on epistemic reasons only, I remembered a story I heard a preacher tell once. It may or may not have been a true story, you know how easy anecdotes get passed around in sermons, but he said that a debate was held sometime in the 1800s concerning the legitimacy of Christianity. The convener was a Christian and he opened the platform up for critics to come forward and tell of their objections to, and problems with, the Church. Many came forward, so the story goes, to voice their criticisms for a few hours. After a time the convener then asked all those who had problems with Jesus Christ to come forward. Apparently no one came forward. The clock ticked on for some time and a silence gripped the hall. This, said the preacher I heard that day, is where people fall down in their faith. They focus on the imperfections of the church and take their eyes of the perfection of Jesus. Of course, were this story to happen today and were some of the more vocal critics of the faith invited, I expect it would have ended differently and I doubt the point the preacher was trying to make would have been so well illustrated. Nevertheless, I remember being quite impressed with the point he made that day and somewhere in that bought into what is a common idea amongst Christians: leaving the faith because of the Church, or because of our experiences with the Church, are not legitimate reasons to leave.

OK, so who says we can't leave the faith because of the misdeeds of the Church?
It seems to me that the Church, both past and present, is a fairly good reason to leave. You can search online for a list of historical misdeeds of the Church. Christians and their institutions have most certainly been involved in gross acts of racism, torture, murder, and other heinous crimes.

On a more personal level, I can honestly and accurately say that I have never felt, both before joining or since leaving, that I have ever been treated as badly as I was while in the Church. I think it has something to do with the Christian idealism that I was indoctrinated with that caused me to put aside a healthy amount of suspicion toward those who were supposedly my brothers and sisters. Perhaps this made me more vulnerable than I would have been otherwise. But I was told that these people were filled with God's Holy Spirit and were truly seeking to imitate Jesus. Was I wrong to let my guard down around them? It appears so.

We all know of the televangelists who fleece the flock, but what of that which is has now been termed spiritual abuse? What of those who have their self esteem crushed, their decision making skills diminished, their critical reasoning skills stunted? We're not talking here about cults. No, spiritual abuse is something Evangelicals admit goes on in their churches all the time. Authoritarianism, manipulation, guilt and shame, are, and have always been, rife in the Church. So is the Church really such a good place for anyone to be? More than that, where is the Christian God in all this? If the Church is truly his body, then why are so many people so badly damaged by it? Where' does the Christian God's responsibility lie in all this?

I think disillusionment with the Church was the starting point for many of us who have walked away. Why? Because the Church is where the gospel is supposedly lived and worked out. The Church is where the gospel rubber hits the road. For many of us, it was when we admitted how broken, defective and beyond repair the Church was that we began to question the basic tenets of the faith itself. It was then that we went on to explore why the Christian message doesn't work.

I would say that those who say, 'one cannot leave the faith because of the Church,' have found a convenient way to ignore that which is blatantly obvious to anyone who cares to look: the Church is one of the main reasons why Christianity should be debunked.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

My Beloved's Garden

I remember a friend of mine in ministry once confessed to me that his youth pastor wife liked to talk dirty in bed. I was shocked! She what? Wasn't she in full-time ministry?

Well, it seems my friends were not alone in their need to play it up in bed. Yes, the Jesus merchandising industry has finally gone porno! Thank God for the Internet huh? Now all those Christian deviants like my friends can finally get all their kinky shit online from Christian Adult Bookstores.

My Beloved's Garden describes itself as:
Providing a safe, non-pornographic place to shop. For all your Christian Sex
and Romance needs,. While keeping Christ at the center of your marriage.
Now Christians can get Christian books about sex, Christian lingerie, oils and lubes, sex toys and for those disciples of Christ who like it up the ass, anal beads, the anal pleaser and something called the Purple Tush Teaser (shown here). No more having to walk shyly into an Adult Bookstore. You can now get all you desire with not an ounce of guilt.

And no, I swear I am not making any of this up.

Sex? Who Had sex? a.k.a. The First Time I Met Pastor Tom

Pastor Tom (not his real name) was easily the most screwed up individual I met during my time as a Christian. That guy had more issues than anyone else I knew both in and out of the church. Let me tell you about the day I first met him.

Not long after I joined Richmond AOG, I started dating a girl who was very shortly after to leave the church. I was trying to be a good Christian but she wasn't. She had just come out of a sexually active relationship with another guy in the church and was looking, I suppose, for someone to continue exploring her sexuality with. We ended up sleeping together twice. I was racked with guilt but she wasn't. To be honest, I was really surprised by her lack of remorse and, realising she wasn't the kind of girl I should be with if I wanted to try and live some semblance of 'holiness', we broke up.

A few weeks later, Pastor Tom , who was then one of the youth pastors, called me and said he wanted to meet, get to know me and have a chat. He came by in his car and picked me up and we went for a drive. For a few minutes we talked about my Christian conversion, my background, and a few other things of a similar topic. He then asked me about the girl and if I had been seeing her. I said that I had but that we had broken up. He then asked a few benign questions before finally getting the crux of the matter, the real reason why we were on that drive. He asked me if I had slept with her. Now I was new to the church and didn't know this pastor at all. I also didn't understand how it was any of his business and figured it was a moot point anyway as she and I had stopped seeing each other. So I lied and told him we had never had sex. He asked me if I was sure. I said I was. He then headed the car back to my house and the drive was over only a few minutes later. I got out of the car a little shaken having not expected the interrogation. Sure I was upset with myself on one hand for having lied, but at the same time I glad to have deflected whatever would have come had I admitted to the sexual realtionship.

Many years later I reflected on this episode and realised that Pastor Tom was not interested in me as a parishioner or getting to know me as a new member of his youth group. Rather, he was solely interested in the sexual nature of my relationship with the girl. Who knows how he had even heard about me having had sex with this girl. I guess the rumour finally reached his ears, or maybe some well meaning parishioner reported the rumour to him. However he found out, he took it upon himself to get to the bottom of it. Pastor Tom made an appointment with me, drove to my house, feigned interest in my story...all to find out where my penis had been.

All this makes me wonder, why did he need to know or even ask any questions? Was he trying to keep his youth group 'clean' of sexual immorality and thus preventing Satan from getting a 'foothold' in his group? This doesn't make too much sense as he already knew the relationship was over. Was he somehow titillated by thinking about a young girl (or boy) in his youth group 'doing the do'? Was he concerned about someone in his flock having broken the rules? After all, nothing is of greater importance than the breaking of the rules, and nothing is of greater importance than the breaking of the sexual rules.

I was only 20 years old when this happened and I handled it the best I could at the time. I now wish I had simply said, "That is defintiely none of your business. Thanks for the drive Tom but how about you drop me home now and piss off!"

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Creation Ex Nihilo

At Ed Babinski's recommendation, I got on to some of The Teaching Company's excellent Religion courses. They have a host of courses on some wonderful topics. I figured I would start at the start and so downloaded Dr Gary Rendsberg's (Rutgers) Book of Genesis 24 lecture course.

In this course, Rendsberg recommends and uses the New JPS Translation of Genesis. The text of this newer translation is not available online (although the older 1917 version is) so forgive me if I refer to it but do not quote from it as I am in China and it isn't easy to come by here.

Rendsberg notes that,

The first thing we notice about Genesis 1 is that, contrary to what most people might assume or believe, the world is not created ex nihilo, that is, “out of nothing.”
By using the JPS translation, he makes the assertion that according to the syntax of the Hebrew text, Genesis 1:1 is actually a dependant clause, dependant on Gen 1:2-3. That is the earth is in a state of preexistent matter and then God creates the world. He asserts that creation ex nihilo is a later theological development that was then read back into the Hebrew text, but which is not supported by the Hebrew text.

Of course he said a lot more, but I thought this is of note to those of the Christian faith.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Reading: The Battle for God

I read this book while still calling myself a Xian but also seeing fundamentalism and Evangelicalism as things that restricted me and that I wanted to be free of. I think I suspected shaking fundamentalism was the first step toward being totally free of the faith, but I had to take things one step at a time. To be honest, I would recommend anything by Karen Armstrong. She has a style of writing that draws me in. Reading her books is like sitting at the feet of someone wise and informed. review: About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong, who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes. Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson --

Reading: The Case Against Christianity

I wouldn't have absorbed the material in this book had I read it while still a Xian. I expect most of it would have either gone over my head or I would have shut a lot of the arguments out. Nevertheless, I read it on 'the other side' of faith and found a lot of it quite convincing. I especially liked his arguments against the possibility of the incarnation. Where Xians call it 'paradoxical' and 'a mystery', Martin calls it 'irrational', 'illogical' and 'impossible'.

From the publisher: In this systematic philosophical critique of the major tenets of Christianity, Michael Martin examines the semantic and epistemological bases of religious claims and beliefs. Beginning with a comparison and evaluation of the Apostles’ Creed, the Niceno-Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, Martin discusses the principal theological, historical, and eschatological assumptions of Christianity. These include the historicity of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Second Coming, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Salvation through faith in Jesus, and Jesus as a model of ethical behavior. Until now, an adequately convincing criticism of Christianity did not exist. Martin’s use of historical evidence, textual analysis, and interpretations by philosophers and theologians provides the strongest case made to date against the rational justification of Christian doctrines.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Road I Could Have Travelled.

I don't know why i am doing this to myself, but I have been trawling (not trolling) another blog written by a guy who was a very dear friend back in my Xian days. The interesting thing about reading his blog is to see a possible path I could have taken. We were very similar and on very similar paths at one stage. We were both Pentecostals with stars in our eyes. By that I mean we were both 'on the road to ministry' and both held not so well hidden secret ambitions to be 'big name preachers'.

I don't say this to patronise him as I am not saying this was necessarily a good thing, but I was always one step ahead of him in waking up to the bullshit of the last Xian fad and hitching my wagon to the next one. Maybe it was because I was a little older or maybe it was because I was existing in the Mecca of our AOG culture while he was usually holding jobs and stuff. Either way, it seemed that he would come to similar conclusions to me and we would eventually be able to talk together and rip the shit out of the Pentecostal illusion around us.

And then one day, my marriage broke down and so did our friendship.

It seemed that he couldn't deal with the fact that I had walked out on my (then) wife. In our church circles, marriage was a sacrament, although we would never have used that word. Quite simply, divorce was never an option, ever! One simply did not divorce. As a matter of fact, I don't know if I even knew anyone who had divorced and remained in the Pentecostal scene. I guess most people knew instinctively that to divorce means you really must leave the AOG, even though this is not a written rule of course. I had left the AOG years before I separated from my ex-wife, but my friend was still in the AOG.

He has long since left the AOG of course and is working for Christian charity, runs his own faith community (i.e. house church) and has his wagon hitched to the postmodern emerging church fad. In fact, one of his mentors now was my mentor back in the day. (That was my last stop before taking the plunge and leaving church and eventually the faith.) Anyway, to his benefit, I am sure he could well handle my divorce were it to happen now.

But reading his blog, getting a feel for where he's at now, I cannot help but see what might have been for me had things gone differently. He is teaching part-time at a local Bible College, working for a charity, speaking at conferences, etc...doing all the things that I would have given my right arm to do at one stage in my life. He has 'arrived' although I am sure he wouldn't see it that way. He is still reading all the latest books, quoting the latest postmodern Xian dude, hanging around the right 'mentors', taking a devotional slant on the things going on around him. As I read his blog I felt a twinge of...I dunno how to define it. I guess this stuff was such a part of my identity for so long, to see someone living it, doing it, stirred old emotions in me.

Does this mean I am jealous for his life? No, of course not. But I sometimes think it must be nice to still believe it all. You know, like that guy in The Matrix who wants to go back into the illusion to escape the hardships of reality? I have said it before and I will say it again, I miss the sense of purpose, the sense of meaning that being a religious zealot gave me. I know it was a false sense of meaning, but it seemed oh so real to me then. But I could never go back even if I wanted to. I simply don't believe it anymore.

I see a lot of what my old friend does as misspent energy (not the charity work of course). All that he does is hinged on a faith in a first century Jew and his band of merry men. For sure, this isn't the only motivation for all he does, but without the Jesus myth his whole world, all he has built and lived for, would come crashing mine did. You know, having gone through it, I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anyone.

I know my friend would say that he took the better road and I obviously think I did. Our lives are very different now, so perhaps we weren't so similar after all.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

The "Left Behind" Video Game

Yes, the infamous Left Behind series of fear mongering books (and soon a movie?) now has a video game. Apparently you get to kill people, but only in self defence. I wonder if you also get to carry out state sanctioned executions? ;P

A moderately progressive Christian takes the piss out of this game on his blog here.

Friday, 19 January 2007

My Journey

My backstory as a Christian is probably not too unique or interesting. Although when I was 'walking away' I felt very isolated and thought I was the only one who had ever gone through it. I later found out how wrong that was.

I was from a non-religious family and 'got saved' in 1984 at 13 years old when a travelling group of musicians came through my school and kicked up some religious fervour. I was later recruited into an Australian Pentecostal cult known as the Revival Centres International. They are somewhat similar in belief to the United Pentecostal Church. At 17 I left that group, rather I was kicked out for a time for having premarital sex once (yes, once), but I took it as a chance to leave and so never went back.

After a few years of avoiding religion and getting right into the thriving nightlife of my city, my religious guilt and fear of Hell and the devil caught up with me and I eventually joined the more mainstream Assemblies of God in Australia (AOG) at 20 years old. I was a member of one of the AOG's flagship churches, Richmond AOG. My more mainstream Evangelical church going experience began here.

As I had so many questions regarding my past beliefs and what was being offered by the the AOG, I started classes at Harvest Bible College (AOG) in 1991. This college was very dogmatic in both its course content and delivery. It was not the place for questioning anything. In my church I was a very active member of the youth group, Bible study, street evangelism, welfare outreach and I even sang on stage from time to time.

I started the road to ministry at college and eventually got a position as a youth pastor in the Geelong AOG and applied for ministerial credential (a years long process). That is a post in itself, but let's just say for now that I saw the dirty side of ministry and the AOG institution. I was quite disillusioned so I resigned my position but returned to Richmond AOG.

I eventually married a pastor's daughter, continued with Bible College and started to research the history and beliefs of the Revival Centre cult on my own. As I did this I was able to see not just the history of the cult but the larger history of Pentecostalism in Australia and the world. I guess I believed I would be able to trace this history back to some kind of more pure form of Christianity. However, as I continued my research, I saw that Pentecostalism's history was littered with scandals, wacky beliefs and strange practices. This hardly reflected the AOG party line about the move of God and revival that had supposedly spawned their movement. My disillusionment grew, the 'Pentecostal distinctives' seemed less and less in line with what I felt the Bible taught, and so I retracted my application for ministerial credential and left the AOG.

After a brief stint of pew warming at a Baptist church, I hooked up with the Churches of Christ in Victoria, applied for ministry credential and began a church planting project in the suburbs of Melbourne with my good friend who is now a missionary to northern Asia. This didn't go as well as I had hoped and so we shut down after about a year and incorporated our group into the urban mission focused South Melbourne Church of Christ (now apparently known as Red). It was here that my faith began to be challenged. This church was more progressive than most Evangelical churches and many people there were fed up with Evangelicalism but not ready to step out into Liberalism or leave the church entirely. This church was one of the international epicentres of what has become known as The Emerging Church Movement. We were, to the pastoral team's benefit, free to explore ourselves and the ins and outs of our faith. Well, to a point anyway.

I had continued my exploration of Church history, having delved back beyond Pentecostalism and into The Great Awakening, The Reformation, etc. Though I couldn't have put it into words at the time, I was searching for some point in history where I could say, "Here it is. Here is a pure form of the faith I can emulate." By this point I had friends who were Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran and other more traditional forms of Christianity, who were on a similar journey and trying to find and live what one of them had called 'Classical Christianity'.

Now most importantly, this whole time, I was still exploring aspects of cults and why seemingly intelligent people do the most horrific or even stupid things in the name of religion or at the whim of the cult leader(s). I was also very interested in why people joined and stayed in pseudo-Christian groups like the Mormons and The Jehovah's Witnesses. I began to study these groups in depth, meet with their missionaries, visit their services and even tried my hand at de-converting members. I spent a lot of money on books, tapes and videos, not all of which were hostile to the groups. I figured the best way to know them was through primary source material. In other words, their own publications. As I came to understand what these groups believed and the worldview they had to adopt in order to remain as believers, I began to see the striking similarities between 'them' and 'us'. I recall consciously making the decision not to think about this too much as it made me more than uncomfortable. Eventually, I was forced to be more honest with myself than this as the cognitive dissonance began to take its toll.

I enrolled in a post graduate Religion and Theology degree at Monash University with the intent of bettering myself for ministry. It was a secular course but I chose only courses that had a Christian emphasis. After reading the course outlines, my wife commented that I was probably going to lose my faith if I did these subjects. My then mentor, Alan Hirsch, also suggested I not do the course seeing as I was having trouble finding any relevance in my church experience. His concern for me was genuine but I didn't buy the logic. Surely the truth was not that 'fragile'. Surely the Holy Spirit within me was not so easily spooked.

I was exposed to lecturers who held a more liberal view of Christianity. Some still attended church, others had long since given it up. All impacted me with what they had to say. My Hermeneutics subject did not parrot the dogmatic Evangelical 'rules' of Hermeneutics but rather looked back through history at different ways key figures in church history had interpreted the Bible. We also looked at postmodernism and its philosophical objections to inerrancy. For assessment in that subject, I wrote a paper that 'debunked' the AOG in Australia's statement of faith concerning inerrancy. That was it for me. I no longer held a fundamentalist theology of the Bible. In 1999, four years of Bible college indoctrination came crashing down after just one semester at a secular university.

I didn't totally abandon the faith for another six years after that. I tried to flirt with Liberal Christianity for a while by reading Marcus Borg, John Spong and briefly attended a Liberal Catholic parish. Nothing seemed to gel with me. It all seemed so hollow, so empty, so meaningless. I eventually started a brief dialogue with Robert M. Price who really helped me with some of my less rational fears about 'walking away'. Bob said something like, "If God really existed then he wouldn't be fooled. If you don't believe then you don't believe. Admit it and get on with your life." So, in 2005, I came to a place where I was finally able to say I did not believe anymore. I was also able to say that I had, in fact, not believed for years and had been kidding myself. Like I said earlier, the cognitive dissonance was a bitch.

I am now a teacher and have remarried. I know this is going to sound trite, but I am truly the happiest I have ever been since my teens. I have reestablished meaningful relationships with my non-Christian family, assigned meaning to the everyday and began to live life in the here and now and not for some 'pie in the sky when you die'.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Modernism, Post-Modernism, Christianism

It annoys me the way some Christians (usually the more left-wing variety) throw 'post-modernism' around as it means they do not have to hold legitimate reasons for their beliefs. What they don't seem to understand is that same post-modern philosophy that tells them they are free to believe as they want to, also tells them their 'truth' is entirely subjective and just as valid as the 'truth' of other, competing religions. These Christians tend not to notice the latter edge of the two-edged post-modern sword. More right-wing Christians tend to realise this and thus hold post-modernism as yet another attack of that dirty philosopher Satan.

Post-modernists like Jacques Derrida say that language is an imperfect form of communication due to the constant shift of meaning. Context, time, place, variations of meaning, even the experiences and emotions of the reader or hearer all play a part in how meaning is conveyed and received. This means that truth communicated via language is always subjective and relative, never absolute. This flies in the face of many premises of modernism, but it also flies in the face of the absolute truth and therefore exclusiveness of Christianity.

Post-modernism also challenges the Bible as 'the word of God'. As language is such an imperfect form of communication, how can the Bible even claim perfection seeing as it uses language? More so, the reader's use of language and all its imperfections make a perfect or inspired book a moot point. How can perfection be be received through such an imperfect means, let alone be given? It can't.

Post-modernism may let the Christian off the hook for defending their beliefs but they must also accept that their beliefs are therefore relative, subjective and just as valid as those of any other belief or philosophy...including Islam, Hinduism and even...*gasp*...Atheism.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Reading: The Lowdown on God's Showdown

As a Christian I didn't think I was too phased by the 'end times' bullshit, but it it wasn't until I walked away from Christianity that I realised how much fear-mongering I had bought into. As it turned out, while I didn't give it much thought, I actually believed a lot of it. I will try to write something to show the folly of the whole thing later.

I read an article some time ago and I guess it is fair to say that it made some serious points that were pivotal in my de-conversion. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the reason, but it resonated with a lot of thoughts and doubts I had as a Christian. These kinds of doubts were certainly ones I would just shove to the side and not allow myself to delve too deeply into.

I asked a few believing friends (and enemies) to get stuck into the content of this article with me and have yet to get a single decent response. Most didn't even reply. I now believe this is because there really is nothing they can say.

Be warned, it's long. But here it is...

The Lowdown on God's Showdown
by Ed Babinski

If that link doesn't work then try here or here.

Monday, 8 January 2007

The Pagan Origins of the Jesus-Myth

When I was still a Christian, there was a series of anti-Catholic books around most of which drew their material from a 19th century book called, The Two Babylons. Written from a place of Protestant belief, it's basic premise was that Catholicism was actually an amalgamation of Paganism and Christianity to the point that Catholicism is more Pagan than Christian. Anyway, these books all argued that their branch of Protestantism was the true, pure form of Christianity and Catholics should be rejected as pagans.

Most groups who subscribe to Hislop's book tend to be Christian extremists or blatant cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God and my own favourite, the Revival Centres. This made me skeptical of the book of course and I later discovered that a lot of that material was based on poor scholarship, myths and half-truths.

Anyway, it seems that there may be some kernel of truth in all this after all, but not in the way that those who subscribe to the book might have expected.

There is no doubt that many Pagan practices were amalgamated into the practices of the Church but we were always taught that it crept in slowly and much later than the time of Jesus and the Apostles. But it appears that Paganism's influence of Christianity goes back further than and even predates Christianity. In other words, the Christian story itself (Jesus, the Apostles) has pagan origins.

As one website put it:

  • By the time of Jesus of Nazareth, as for centuries before, the Mediterranean world roiled with a happy diversity of creeds and rituals. Details varied according to location and culture, but the general outlines of these faiths were astonishingly similar. Roughly speaking the ancients' gods:Were commemorated by Eucharistic meals.
  1. Were born on or very near our Christmas Day
  2. Were born of a Virgin-Mother
  3. Were born in a Cave or Underground Chamber.
  4. Led a life of toil for Mankind.
  5. Were called by the names of Light-bringer, Healer, Mediator, Savior, Deliverer.
  6. Were however vanquished by the Powers of Darkness.
  7. And descended into Hell or the Underworld.
  8. Rose again from the dead, and became the pioneers of mankind to the Heavenly world.
  9. Founded Communions of Saints, and Churches into which disciples were received by Baptism. source

So it seems that there are many stories that mirror the Jesus story but that pre-date the Jesus story. Better said, there ain't nothin' original about the Jesus story.

A favourite amongst critics of Christianity is Mithras (or Mithra) the Persian, later Roman, god-man who bears the most striking resemblance to Jesus.

Originally Persian

Before Rome. When the Christ myth was new Mithras and Mithraism were already ancient. Worshiped for centuries as God's Messenger of Truth, Mithras was long revered by the Persians (Zoroastrianism) and the Indians (see the Vedic literature).

Dating Mithras in Rome. Plutarch (Pompey, 24, 7) and Servilius (Georgics, 4, 127) say Pompey imported Mithraism into Rome after defeating the Cilician pirates around 70 BC. Mithras appears epigraphically in the circles of the Roman emperor in the first century AD -- around the time the canonical Christian Gospels were written (Corpus Incscriptionum Latinarum, 6, 732), and statues of the God were present by 101 AD (Corpus Incscriptionum Latinarum, 6, 718). As with Attis, Christian apologist Justin (1 Apologia, 66, 4) denounces the devil for having sent a God so similar to Jesus -- yet preceding him.

Sadly there's a lot we don't know about this faith that comforted million of souls. Early Christians established the dominance of their religion by exterminating Mithras' faithful, razing His temples, burning His sacred texts.

We do know this:

With twelve disciples he traveled far and wide as a teacher and illuminator of men.

He was buried in a tomb from which he rose again from the dead -- an event celebrated yearly with much rejoicing.

Every year in Rome, in the middle of winter, the Son of God was born one more, putting an end to darkness. Every year at first minute of December 25th the temple of Mithras was lit with candles, priests in in white garments celebrated the birth of the Son of God and boys burned incense. Mithras was born in a cave, on December 25th, of a virgin mother. He came from heaven to be born as a man, to redeem men from their sin. He was know as "Savior," "Son of God," "Redeemer," and "Lamb of God."

His followers kept the Sabbath holy, eating sacramental meals in remembrance of Him. The sacred meal of bread and water, or bread and wine, was symbolic of the body and blood of the sacred bull.

Baptism in the blood of the bull (taurobolum) -- early
Baptism "washed in the blood of the Lamb" -- late
Baptism by water
[recorded by the Christian author Tertullian]

Mithraic rituals brought about the transformation and Salvation of His adherents -- an ascent of the soul of the adherent into the realm of the divine. From the wall of a Mithraic temple in Rome: "And thou hast saved us by shedding the eternal blood."

The great Mithraic festivals celebrated his birth (at the winter solstice) and his death and resurrection (at the spring solstice)

Further reading:

How Jesus Got a Life
Pagan Christs
Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth