He [Conan] had entered the part of the city reserved for the temples. On all sides of him they glittered white in the starlight—snowy marble pillars and golden domes and silver arches, shrines of Zamora’s myriad strange gods. He did not trouble his head about them; he knew that Zamora’s religion, like all things of a civilized, long-settled people, was intricate and complex, and had lost most of the pristine essence in a maze of formulas and rituals. He had squatted for hours in the courtyards of the philosophers, listening to the arguments of theologians and teachers, and come away in a haze of bewilderment, sure of only one thing, and that, that they were all touched in the head.
His [Conan’s] gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do.
(The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard, pages 64-65).
I enjoy Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories, and usually rue the fact that Howard committed suicide at age 30. He lived from 1906 to 1936 A.D., and that’s a life too short. I’ve never seen any evidence of Christianity in his writings, and all lives whether they be 30 years or 80 years are far too short compared to an eternity in Christ.
The reason I enjoy Howard’s Conan stories is because there is something elemental to human nature in them, or in Conan. He believes in the gods, but is wise enough to reject the mysteries and secret powers of complex man-made religions and philosophies; instinctively knowing that the physically weak priests and philosophers use those “formulas and rituals” to attain power, just as he would use his sword to attain power. A complex man-made religion is simply a tool of the hierocracy. A simple religion is better for Conan, and yet, who can understand Crom? Any god that could be fully understood by any man would be no god at all. Truth and wonder cannot be separated.
In his fallen nature, which is barbarism, man can grope toward the real God of the Law: a God of “dooms and death” who hates sinners and weaklings. That would all be true. But thankfully someone came to add to the truth, to be truth himself: Jesus Christ. Only through the revelation of Jesus Christ can we see the mercy of God. He is the truth, both simple and complex, both fully man and fully God. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the sight to see his cross as not just more “dooms and death,” but mercy and life.