Monday, May 28, 2012

Paying for Access to God

What stood out to me in my latest reading of Miracle in the Early Christian World was something that Howard Clark Kee says on page 140:

"However gracious and beneficent Isis may have been, formal entrance into the ranks of her cult devotees was on a cash-in-advance basis only.  There were no social or economic restrictions on participation in the cult, as is evident in the remark made in passing that the crowd in the procession on the occasion of Lucius's transformation consisted of 'throngs of those initiated into the divine mysteries, men and women of every rank' (11.10).  At the conclusion of the Ploiaphesia and the summoning of the conclave of the pastophoroi, prayers were delivered from a liturgical book 'for the prosperity of our great emperor, the senate, the knights and the whole Roman people' (11.17)----scarcely what might be termed a subversive agenda.  The book ends with the testimony that the man who had to sell his clothes in order to pay his initiation fee to the cult of Osiris began to enjoy life in two ways: 'I was illumined with the nocturnal ecstasies of the supreme god,' and he began to prosper as a result of his substantial income as an advocate (11.28).  It is not at all surprising that details of Lucius's experience----including the brush with death and the passage through the elements (11.23)----should reappear in a modern middle-class movement such as Freemasonry."

What I like about the religions within the Bible and based upon the Bible is that they democratize access to the divine: one does not have to pay money to experience God, for God regards even a poor person who needs God's help.  At the same time, there is a notion in the Hebrew Bible that people can make vows as a way to get God to help them, and that they repay those vows (often an animal) when God answers their prayers or delivers them.  Does that concept imply that people need to pay God to receive God's help?  Or is the purpose of that concept simply to give people a way to say "thank you"?

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