The new Mithraism

Given his comment in my last posting, I think Bill Barr and I might be talking past each other.

I think that if there is renewed spying and surveillance (different things) on peace activists, the driving force is political, not from the career military. Also, the past to which I refer is the early 70s, not the 80s. (Which were hardly blameless, but not within the scope of my current concern.)

But there is a political use of the military that ties in here, for which the military benefits in its appropriations and recruitment goals, and which we Americans need to be careful of: fetishizing the military. Today, political opportunists use it to quell dissent. Something along the lines of “if you speak against the American presence in Iraq, you’re hurting the troops.” Quakers, al-Qaeda — all the same.

Which means sooner or later people are going to have to say something about the military that’ll offend someone, if for no other reason than it is so easy to be accused of causing offense.

Warning: sharp segue.

Since Christmas is coming, I can’t help but think of Mithraism: one of Christianity’s main competetors in the ancient world, and there are some (opinions differ to the extent) cultic and social overlaps. The December 25 date is probably a direct rip-off from the Mithraists, given their Mithra was born that day. It was very popular among soldiers, and a plague among them is credited for Mithraism’s decline.

Had things gone differently, can you image what the greeting cards would look like this time of the year?

Mithras fresco, public domain at Wikipedia

There’s an interesting desciption of the social power of Mithraism in its article at Wikipedia:

At Rome, the third century emperors encouraged Mithraism, because of the support which it afforded to the divine nature of monarchs. Mithras thus became the giver of authority and victory to the Imperial House.

No comment.

Today, of course, matters are different. Instead of a soldier’s religion, we have a civil religion about soldiers. Consider that, but hold it to one side.

For me, the worse matter is how lauded and defended “the troops” are on one hand, and how badly treated they are in real life. When soldiers can get food stamps but not armor plating, we have a big problem. Don’t get me started about military pensions or medical care.

The government — under either party — has long seen fit to make promises to the military that haven’t been kept. I’ve written about this before, and shall again.

But the result is the same: when the troops — and our ideas of what proper concerning the military — are misused we can’t be silent.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Mithras is a great thread Scott. Especially for Christmas. I’ve thought about it a lot in this context, but it’s late, been long day, and I should call it quites….

  2. I’ve been reading your blog fairly regularly for a couple of weeks now – and I really enjoyed this piece (after having a dinner conversation with some Christians discussing Mithras). Thanks :-)

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