In all probability the first religion was Sun-worship. Nothing could have been more natural. Light was life and warmth and love. The sun was the fireside of the world. The sun was the "all-seeing"--the "Sky Father." Darkness was grief and death, and in the shadows crawled the serpents of despair and fear.
The sun was a great warrior, fighting the hosts of Night. Apollo was the sun, and he fought and conquered the serpent of Night. Agni, the generous, who loved the lowliest and visited the humblest, was the sun. He was the god of fire, and the crossed sticks that by friction leaped into flame were his emblem. It was said that, in spite of his goodness, he devoured his father and mother, the two pieces of wood being his parents. Baldur was the sun. He was in love with the Dawn--a maiden--he deserted her and traveled through the heavens alone. At the twilight they met, were reconciled, and the drops of dew were the tears of joy they shed.
Chrishna was the sun. At his birth the Ganges thrilled from its source to the sea. All the trees, the dead as well as the living, burst into leaf and bud and flower.
Hercules was a sun-god.
Jonah the same, rescued from the fiends of Night and carried by the fish through the under world. Samson was a sun-god. His strength was in his hair--in his beams. He was shorn of his strength by Delilah, the shadow--the darkness. So, Osiris, Bacchus, Mithra, Hermes, Buddha, Quelzalcoatle, Prometheus, Zoroaster, Perseus, Codom Lao-tsze Fo-hi, Horus and Rameses were all sun-gods.
All these gods had gods for fathers and all their mothers were virgins.
The births of nearly all were announced by stars.
When they were born there was celestial music, voices declared that a blessing had come upon the earth.
When Buddha was born, the celestial choir sang: "This day is born for the good of men Buddha, and to dispel the darkness of their ignorance--to give joy and peace to the world."
Chrishna was born in a cave, and protected by shepherds. Bacchus, Apollo, Mithra and Hermes were all born in caves. Buddha was born in an inn--according to some, under a tree.
Tyrants sought to kill all of these gods when they were babes.
When Chrishna was born, a tyrant killed the babes of the neighborhood.
Buddha was the child of Maya, a virgin, in the kingdom of Madura. The king arrested Maya before the child was born; imprisoned her in a tower. During the night when the child was born, a great wind wrecked the tower, and carried mother and child to a place of safety. The next morning the king sent his soldiers to kill the babes, and when they came to Buddha and his mother, the babe appeared to be about twelve years of age, and the soldiers passed on.
So Typhon sought in many ways to destroy the babe Horus. The king pursued the infant Zoroaster. Cadmus tried to kill the infant Bacchus.
All of these gods were born on the 25th of December.
Nearly all were worshiped by "wise men."
All of them fasted for forty days.
All met with a violent death.
All rose from the dead.
The history of these gods is the history of our Christ. He had a god for a father, a virgin for a mother. He was born in a manger, or a cave--on the 25th of December. His birth was announced by angels. He was worshiped by wise men, guided by a star. Herod, seeking his life, caused the death of many babes. Christ fasted for forty days. So, it rained for forty days before the flood--Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days. The temple had forty pillars and the Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Christ met with a violent death, and rose from the dead.
These things are not accidents--not coincidences. Christ was a sun-god. All religions have been born of sun-worship. To-day, when priests pray, they shut their eyes. This is a survival of sun- worship. When men worshiped the sun, they had to shut their eyes. afterwards, to flatter idols, they pretended that the glory of their faces was more than the eyes could bear.
In the religion of our day there is nothing original. All of its doctrines, its symbols and ceremonies are but the survivals of creeds that perished long ago. Baptism is far older than Christianity--than Judaism. The Hindus, the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans had holy water. The eucharist was borrowed from the Pagans. Ceres was the goddess of the fields, Bacchus the god of the vine. At the harvest festival they made cakes of wheat and said: "These are the flesh of the goddess." They drank wine and cried: "This is the blood of our god."
The cross has been a symbol for many thousands of years. It was a symbol of immortality--of life, of the god Agni, the form of the grave of a man. An ancient people of Italy, who lived long before the Romans, long before the Etruscans, so long that not one word of their language is known, used the cross, and beneath that emblem, carved on stone, their dead still rest. In the forests of Central America, ruined temples have been found, and on the walls the cross with the bleeding victim. On Babylonian cylinders is the impression of the cross. The Trinity came from Egypt. Osiris, Isis and Horus were worshiped thousands of years before our Father, Son and Holy Ghost were thought of. So the Tree of Life grew in India, China and among the Aztecs long before the Garden of Eden was planted. Long before our Bible was known, other nations had their sacred books, temples and altars, sacrifices, ceremonies and priests. The "Fall of Man" is far older than our religion, and so are the "Atonement" and the Scheme of Redemption.
In our blessed religion there is nothing new, nothing original.
Among the Egyptians the cross was a symbol of the life to come. And yet the first religion was, and all religions growing out of that, were naturally produced. Every brain was a field in which Nature sowed the seeds of thought. The rise and set of sun, the birth and death of day, the dawns of silver and the dusks of gold, the wonders of the rain and snow, the shroud of Winter and the many colored robe of Spring, the lonely moon with nightly loss or gain, the serpent lightning and the thunder's voice, the tempest's fury and the zephyr's sigh, the threat of storm and promise of the bow, cathedral clouds with dome and spire, earthquake and strange eclipse, frost and fire, the snow-crowned mountains with their tongues of flame, the fields of space sown thick with stars, the wandering comets hurrying past the fixed and sleepless sentinels of night, the marvels of the earth and air, the perfumed flower, the painted wing, the waveless pool that held within its magic breast the image of the startled face, the mimic echo that made a record in the viewless air, the pathless forests and the boundless seas, the ebb and flow of tides--the slow, deep breathing of some vague and monstrous life--the miracle of birth, the mystery of dream and death, and over all the silent and immeasurable dome. These were the warp and woof, and at the loom sat Love and Fancy, Hope and Fear, and wove the wondrous tapestries whereon we find pictures of gods and fairy lands and all the legends that were told when Nature rocked the cradle of the infant world.