No 👣 tracking social sharing

Christianity and Astrology

THAT vigilant rationalist, Irma De Bruycker, who has done such splendid work in discrediting astrology, has just sent me a pamphlet written by a Christian clergyman, the Rev. Frank Hancock, President of the Burnham Astronomical Society of Chicago. It is entitled "Astrology, or Do the Stars Determine the Lives of Men and Nations?"


As an astronomer, the author does credit to himself in pointing out the absurdities of astrology, but as a professional Christian he drags in about as much pious nonsense as can be found in an equal number of pages defending Christianity. The work is badly marred, if not largely nullified by its more than occasional vapidities in support of the Bible.


Our author seems open to the idea that Seth, the third son of Adam, was the first astronomer. "There is a tradition," says he, "that Seth, the fourth from Adam, was the father of astronomy . . . if this is correct then the known history of astronomy is a period covering more than 5600 years." But why should Dr. Hancock mistake "a tradition" for "known history?" There is a tradition also, that a Bible general once made the sun stand still, but who will accept it as "known history"? The mythical Adam never had a living son, and.all that the Old Testament writers could tell us about the stars is that "He made the stars also". And the only star that was considered by the Gospel writers as worthy of record is the one that stopped over a stable.


Actually astronomy, in the modern meaning of the term, began with Copernicus. This was in 1543. Prior to that, star-gazing was largely a bad mixture of crude observation and even cruder superstition. Astronomy and astrology were hopelessly mixed. Kepler and Tycho Brahe both defended astrology. "Nor did astronomy, says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "begin to rid itself of astrology till the 16th century . . . In the Europe of the 14th and 15th centuries astrologers were dominating influences at court." These were Christian centuries in Europe, and Christian kings consulted astrologers as Christian bankers and Christian shop-girls today consult horoscopes. There were no subway stands or Woolworth stores in those days, but if there had been, one could have picked up a fine horoscope at almost any turn. As it was, the horoscope makers had to confine their attention to the yokels, in the king's court.


Jesus, to be sure, did not teach astrology, but its practice in Christian times and places fits well with the intellectual dearth which Christianity creates. And it is safe to say that it thrives in Christian countries today on a much larger scale than it flourished in any "pagan" age. Our newsstands are glutted with astrological magazines and our leading newspapers carry astral charts. One can get his particular horoscope at the same place he buys his gum.


In England matters are much the same as they are here. As these lines are written, there is a dispatch from London, published in the New York Times, dealing with the great popularity of astrology in Britain and the number of newspapers that feature astrological predictions. So great is the vogue, in fact, that it has raised comment in the House of Commons, where a plea was made to the Minister of Information that he curb the nuisance, on the ground that "addicts of astrology will relax their efforts" in the prosecution of the war. His answer was that "I cannot ask our overworked censors to meddle in these mysteries." Christian England is as astrologically obsessed as America itself.


Astrology flourishes in Christian countries today, not because it is embodied in Christian doctrine, but because it appeals to the same gullibility and uncritical type of mind that makes Christianity possible. The same individual,who believes in divination by dreams, or in any of the other miracles of the Bible can very well believe in, divination by the stars; it is merely a matter of transferring his credulous proclivities to another delusion. Susceptibility to one form of superstition leaves one susceptible to others.


When one superstition poaches on another's reserves, there is sure to be a conflict. Officially, the Catholic Church is opposed to astrology, not because astrology is a vulgar superstition, but because it trespasses on an important Church doctrine. If a person's fate is determined, at birth, by the stars, and is predictable from them, where does the doctrine of "free will" come in, and how can he be held "morally" accountable in a fatalistic world? It is the "deterministic" character of astrology that Christianity deplores.


Dr. Hancock is opposed to astrology, less because it is an unscientific doctrine than because it conflicts with his religion. Astrology, he tells us, represents a Babylonian hang-over that would have us consult the stars rather than the Bible patriarchs. "It is," he says, "even more a problem for the educated ministers, priests and rabbis to expose this revival of neo-paganism in our modern life, as primarily and fundamentally it is more a religious problem than perhaps scientific, a fact which was realized by the ancient prophets of Israel, whose spiritual seed, we are, was situated in the, midst of the polytheistic peoples who practiced astrology as a religion, that it was Israel's mission to give to the world the truth of the one true and only God. For this she was chosen and it is utterly impossible to offset these teachings of the astrologers without a knowledge of that Revelation of which the seed of Abraham was the specially chosen vehicle."


And how did "the seed of Abraham", this "specially chosen vehicle", the Jews, oppose astrology? By matching their own crazy notions against it, by substituting the astrologer's divination of the stars with their own prophecies through "dreams" and "visions". The Jewish Daniel, you may recall, "had understanding in all visions and dreams", and, at the court of Nebuchadnezzar, foretold the future by interpreting the king's dream. "And in all matters of wisdom and understanding", says the Bible, "that the king inquired of them [Daniel and his fellow seers], he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm."


"The seed of Abraham was never distinguished for its knowledge of the stars. As well expressed in that monumental work, Dr. William Smith's "Dictionary of the Bible", "the Hebrews are not known to have made much advance in astronomical science, though there are many allusions in the Scriptures to the visible heavens," The Biblical "heavens" were about all the patriarchs knew, and their ridiculous cosmology was a stumbling block to science for thousands of years. It was, in fact, the chief obstacle to the advance of astronomy in Christian times.


Astrology, we are told by Dr. Hancock, is a "pagan" superstition that flourished in ancient Babylonia, extended itself to Greece, and survived in Imperial Rome, but which died with the coming of Christianity. "With the Fall of the Roman Empire," says he, "astrology came to an end for about 500 years." It did, but it came to an end, not through any enlightenment from the Church, but by extermination. The astrologer had as much chance of living under the popes as a heretic or a "witch". Christianity had its own brands of magic to protect -- and astrology was taboo. Besides, astrology was too close to "pagan" beliefs and practices to be tolerated. The Church had prophecies and divinations of its own and would as soon permit a ''reading" of the stars as suffer a witch to live.


Is the Bible any less preposterous in its teachings about the stars than astrology itself? We are told in the Book of Revelation of a certain "star" named "Wormwood" (I do not find it listed in my catalogue of stars) that "fell" and destroyed a vast number of men. Any star that could "fall" and kill people without destroying the earth is a more remarkable orb than our satellite, the moon, which, astrology tells us, regulates our intestinal tract and left eye. Yet Dr. Hancock would have us accept the Biblical story and not the other.


Dr. Hancock is alarmed lest a revival of astrology lead us back to dark "pagan" days.


Compared with the "light" that Israel shed in the world, the splendors of ancient pagan Rome were as day to night. Rome's resplendency was one of the supreme marvels of the world, beside which the "glories?' and accomplishments of the "seed Of Abraham" were paltry and mean. Dr. Hancock has simply got his history mixed. Neither Judaism nor Christianity has ever produced a culture comparable to that which reared the Roman Empire an edifice, says Gibbon, that "was raised and preserved by the wisdom of the ages", whose general principles of government were "wise, simple, and beneficent". Modeled on the pattern of ancient pagan Greece, it stands as one of classical glories in the history of man.


Was "paganism" at all superstitious? It was. But its superstitions were less injurious and far less debilitating than the delusions of Christianity. Its mythology had little in it to pall the senses or paralyze the intellect. Its gods were idealizations that were more to be venerated than feared and who possessed nothing of the implacable fiendishness of the Judaic God. They were, these Romans, shocked and horrified by the revolting character of the Christian deity, "It was unfortunate,'' says the great historian Bury, "that there is nothing to suggest that the average citizen of Rome was any more superstitious than the average Jews of today. It is doubtful if the rank and file then were any more credulous than the religious rabble of our time. Rome had its superstitions, but they were tempered in part, by an artistic refinement that Christianity could not emulate.


Polytheism prevailed, with a host of gods and goddesses patronizing the arts and sciences and personifying the beauties of the world. There were no penalties prescribed for those who did not venerate these deities; nor was there a Spanish Inquisition.


Augury and divination were practiced, with the seer, the sibyl, and the soothsayer foretelling the future, but without the blighting doctrine of hell fire and damnation of the Christian creed. You could ignore the gods without being told that you would simmer in purgatory for a season or burn in Hell forever.


The plebeian of that time could consult his oracle in the marketplace as readily as a Catholic today can buy a St. Christopher medal or commune with the saints. He went to the temple, if he wished, and performed his devotions without any cannibalistic rites. He did not, at least, eat his gods, or drink their blood. His amulets, his omens, his dreams, all played an important part in his life, but these were less prodigious matters of concern than the relics of saints are today. He did not rely on ancient shin-bones to cure him of disease.


As for the intellectuals of the time, they were free to pursue their inquiries and express their thoughts without molestation by the State. Some, publicly at least, acquiesced to forms and ceremonies which they inwardly despised. Emperors and senators alike, the patricians of art and learning, the thinkers and orators of the Forum, often conformed to the conventions of the time out of deference to the crowd. Like the demagogues of our day, they could assume an outward semblance of respect for the vulgarities of the mob. But in spite of this, there was grandeur in Rome, a grandeur that outweighed all its petty and even serious evils. Above all, there was an atmosphere of toleration that cannot be found in any period of Christian ascendancy. Learning and the fine art of living were cultivated without the restraining hand of theological doctrine or the blighting influence of priests. There was no Index of prohibited books.


There was complete liberty of thought. "According to the maxims of universal toleration", says Gibbon, "the Romans protected a superstition which they despised." This applied to all creeds and cults, which functioned unmolested in the great Roman Empire.


In the beginning, Rome was tolerant of all religion -- even to enduring that of the Jews, who "enjoyed", as Gibbon tells us, "the free exercise of their unsocial religion." Her suppressions came later, in retaliation for the frenzied zeal, and open violence, and surly insolence which marked the rise of Christianity.


To the citizen of Rome, the Jews presented a strange pattern of behavior for those who had come to settle in his midst. "The sullen obstinacy", says Gibbon, "with which they maintained their peculiar rites and unsocial manners, seemed to mark them out as a distinct species of men, who boldly professed, or who faintly disguised, their implacable hatred to the rest of human-kind." The "seed of Abraham", like its successors, the Christians, failed to appreciate the liberal atmosphere and intellectual freedom they enjoyed in Rome.


Dr. Hancock attributes the rise of astrology today to "a marked decline in Biblical and doctrinal teaching in the Church", and foresees black disaster unless there is a revival of interest in the Bible. "People today", says he, "owing to their lack of Biblical knowledge are not able to reason on the trustworthiness of this neo-paganism . . "


And all this happens in an age when the Bible is distributed by the millions, when it is the world's "best seller", and when everybody, we are told, is clamoring for a copy.


Saving a man from superstition by sending him to the Bible, is like throwing an anvil to a drowning man, The book itself is the world's most sanctified fraud, and, is more responsible for wishy-washy thinking today than any other influence. It has crippled the brains of men and contributed more to the befuddlement of our race than a million "horror-scopes".


It is science, not the Bible, that is blasting at astrology, that exposes its pretensions and proves it to be just another superstition, no less obnoxious and stultifying to the intellect than the religion which upholds prophecy by dreams, teaches magic and miracles, and caters to the lowest level of credulity.


"When the superstitious and magical elements become too strong in a people", writes Dr. Hancock, "then there follows as the day the night the inevitable intellectual and moral decay." We agree with him. And it is because Christianity is loaded with these elements, that he should at once abandon it. Little is to be gained by eliminating a minor superstition if a major one remains.

Friends and Colleagues