Archive for the ‘Beliefs and Superstitions’ category

Is Jesus Based on the Greek Gods

May 18, 2010

There is no denying that Jesus, as we know him, does bare some resemblances to a handful of other gods, not only Greek in origin, but from all over the Mesopotamian region. Gods such as Dionysus, Hercules, Perseus, etc, were born of a virgin. God such as Attis, Tammuz, Osiris, El, etc, died, and then rose again (either in a literal or symbolic sense).

The argument from a comparative religion standpoint does not specifically say that early Christian “stole” ideas from other religions that they thought sounded cool, though it is often misinterpreted as such. It is instead a discipline of stepping back and looking at different religious ideas to see what they have in common. What sorts of themes and concepts do people revere? What makes people/objects holy or sacred? The study of comparative religion is more concerned with what goes on in the human mind than what goes on in any unseen world out there.

The Evolution of Jesus

The image of Jesus, as far as we can tell from the records that we have, did not appear out of whole cloth. Instead, the Jesus story appears to have grown in the telling. The earliest dated documents (the epistles, the Didiche, etc) talk of Jesus the Christ (the Greek reading of Joshua the Anointed) only in terms of a heavenly savior, an intermediary son through which his flock can get to know God the Father. The references by Paul that Jesus was revealed to him through the scriptures leads us to believe that he came to know of Jesus through a discipline know as pesher, pesher being a method of finding hidden messages or prophecies by re-interpreting already existing religious writings, like the Torah. A practice like this may sound strange, but you  are probably more familiar with it than you think, since it is still practiced today. Any time someone claims that God is giving them a personal message through some arcane interpretation of an ancient Bible verse, they are practicing pesher (though probably not in the same sophisticated way that the New Testament authors practiced it).

The next stage of development was the writing of the first gospel: The Gospel According to Mark. This document, originally untitled, is by far my favorite gospel preciously because of the heavily mythological feel it has. It reminds me very much of the Greek hero stories. It tells the story of Jesus walking around on Earth, something that had not been done yet, in a third person method (no claims of eye witness). Jesus is shown having the Holy Spirit enter into his body (apparently giving him his supernatural essence), he heals a deaf/mute by sticking his fingers in his ears and spitting, controls the weather, feeds a bunch of people with a food miracle, foretells the end of the world, then is killed, the holy spirit leaving him. There is no virgin birth in gMark. There is also no earthly resurrection of Jesus after his death; once the women go to the tomb, they find it empty and flee, telling no one. Jesus had, apparently, been pulled up directly to heaven. (the oldest copies of gMark end at chapter 16 verse 8, and the newer copies we have that continue past that point bear show a different writing style, leading experts to believe the narrative was appended at a later date to keep up with the evolving story).

The gospel of Mark is written using two distinctive methods very popular at the time: midrash and the emulation of Homer. Midrash is a method of re-writing ancient scriptures as a means of conveying lessons to a modern audience. The reason the Homeric epics the Illiad and the Odyssey were emulated was because, in the Hellenistic world, they were used as a  method to teach students to read and write. Anyone educated in Greek, the language the gospels were written in, would copy the stories, then re-write them in prose form, or write other stories using the outlines laid out by Homer.

Other literary markers in mark include it’s two part outline: Mark is divided into two section, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and his time in Jerusalem. Each section features 5 miracles that mirror each other, a feature that is obviously pure narrative, and not a relation of actual historical events.

The next major stage in the evolution of the Jesus story was the composition of the Gospel of Mathew. Written probably 20 years after Mark, it used the initial story Mark had written(even using direct quotes from it), adding to it a list of sayings that had been associated with Jesus, commonly refereed to as Q, and breaking the structure out into 5 sections in emulation of the Hebrew Pentateuch instead of Homer. The book then uses Moses as a model, having Jesus preach on a mount, adding a massacre of the innocents, and a flight into Egypt. Taken as a whole, the book is a classic midrash, re-telling the law code of Moses to the day’s Hellenistic Jews.

Mathew also adds to the story an earthly resurrection and a virgin birth, much like a Greek hero.

Possibly as late as the middle of the second century CE, the gospel story was re-written once more, this time in the writings known as the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (which really focuses on Paul). Luke appears to be the first of these gospels that really believes all the events told of in the previous documents really occurs and is attempting to write them as history.It appears to have been written for a Roman audience, since the Roman authorities in the story are relieved of responsibility for Jesus’ death. The author, again his true identity unknown to us, also relied heavily on the histories of Josephus and other sources to create what he believed would have been the history surrounding the early church.

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So, is Jesus based on the Greek gods? Well, there may be some of that in there, but it would hardly be an intentional addition. Most elements of the story would have been added as the story grew.

The heavenly Jesus is a phenomena of the ancient world that we are well aware of: the intermediary son. It happened in many cultures when the concept of god evolves into that of an esoteric and philosophical being that many of the common people no longer felt they could relate to anymore. The intermediary son gives a personality to the god head.

The second stage, the earthly Jesus appears to have started as a narrative method of relating the story to new converts. When writing the story, the most popular aspects of hero would very naturally have been appealed to.

The third stage, adding historicity, would be done once the story gains importance.

At each stages more attributes would be added to the Jesus story, some of them Greek, some Hebrew. The Hebrew concept of a messiah restoring the Hebrew rule to Jerusalem became an intermediary son, a concept that was indeed very popular in the Mystery Religions.

Priest Torments Disabled Girl

May 10, 2010

Chalk up another one for the superstitions of the Catholic priest hood. A priest in Australia (though the local newspaper is stressing that he “wasn’t trained there) tormented a disabled girl during a “faith healing” at a church service last week end.

“A horrified congregation watched a foreign-trained Catholic priest lay a mentally and physically disabled girl on an altar during mass at the weekend and order[ed] her to walk.

The priest was later escorted to a mental health clinic by police. The congregation is being counselled over the event, which left children and adults in tears.

Vicar-General of Perth’s Catholic Archdiocese Brian O’Loughlin said while the “bizarre and unusual service” was largely due to the priest’s mental condition, it highlighted that foreign-trained priests had a more spiritual approach.”

The article mentions the priest’s “mental condition”, I hope not  is implying that the priest simply lost it during the service. You cannot tell me that he has never done this before, just suddenly attempting a faith healing it full force in front of a congregation. Remember, the Catholic Church has a chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth. An institution that employs a chief exorcist fully backs and endorses exorcism. They just caught the attention of the press this time.

Faith healing is a scam trick. Anyone making the same promises without a white tab on their collar would be arrested for fraud. One thing that could have prevented this event is a high school education. Hell, even a grade school education should have been enough to tell us that magic spells and hoodoo voodoo don’t work (though people have seriously sent me angry e-mails over my tag line, “By Reading This Blog, You Are Denying The Holy Spirit”, a sort tongue in cheek Biblical voodoo curse. I usually ask them if they seriously believe that. They seldom answer.

Oil Spill an “Act of God”

May 4, 2010

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) claimed on Monday that the oil rig explosion that caused a massive — and still-expanding spill — may have been “just an act of God” that could not have been prevented.

What the hell does that mean? I suspect it’s intent is “Look the other way, son” or “Let’s just sweep this under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen”, though I’m not sure how ignoring issues can ever improve a damn thing. We do need oil for our economy to function, but i don’t see how “It’s a mystery!” can in any way serve as motivation to improve methods and processes.

Calling a Myth a Myth

April 20, 2010

Recently, there has been a a bit of a brew ha ha over a biology text book titled Asking About Life because, within the text, it refers to the ancient Hebrew creation story as a “myth”.

Firstly, the Biblical creation story would  most definitely classifies as a myth. Secondly, there’s nothing inherently insulting about that. In fact, it’s probably it’s only redeeming quality. Myths are an important part of world culture; every society has them. The fact that the movie industry is currently the largest export America has is a testament to the social importance myth making has on human psychology.

So, why bother writing anything debunking a 3 thousand year old myth? Because, the only reason the use of the word “myth” is considered controversial is because there exists a large percentage of the population of our country that is not aware that the story is a myth. And who’s fault is that? They, apparently, have been told throughout their lives that the universe exists solely because a big powerful creature wished it into existence, and then revealed that knowledge to a single group of nomads living in the middle east.  Why? God only knows. I do get the impression that very few of them have actually ready the story, though. I mean, if I were under the impression that I could get the history of the entire earth written down on a single page, I would definitely read it. And, once anyone reads Genesis, it pretty much debunks itself.

The first problem that comes up is that there are at least two creation stories in the Bible, one right after the other; and they don’t agree. Most people when speaking of the “creation story”, are referring to the first one, which starts at Genesis 1:1, and ends at Genesis 2:3. Reading beyond that point is apparently seen as extra credit by most fans of the book, because the differences that come up make the two pretty incompatible. The second story (The Eden story) starts at Genesis 2:4,and continues onward.

In the Genesis 1 story, God (Elohim) creates the earth through a period of 6 days.
In Genesis 2, the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim), created the heavens and the earth in a single day.

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.”

-Genesis 2:4 (NAS)

And, because he is able to make the earth in a single day, it is pretty obvious to me that the god in Genesis 2 is a much more powerful god.

In Genesis 1, the earth was formed over a series of 6 days
In Genesis 2, the earth and heavens were created in a single day

In Genesis 1, Man and woman are created at the same time
In Genesis 2, man is made first,”formed” from dirt, woman is created later out of a rib bone once Yahweh Elohim realized that the man he made needed help (tending the garden, presumably)

In Genesis 1, Light is created right away, but the sun, moon, and stars (the sources of the light) aren’t created until day 3. Also, the grass, trees, and other chlorophyll dependent plants are created on the 2nd day, prior to the creation of the sun.

In short, it’s about as mythical a story as you  can get. Adam (or Adom, since Semitic languages have no vowels) isn’t even a proper name, it simply means “man”, the primordial man, or mankind in general).

Other hints that it is a myth:

Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.
-Genesis 4:20

and this one

His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute.
-Genesis 4:21

And then, of course, the flood came, killing their descendants, no one lives in tents or plays the flute anymore.

Well, both Genesis 1 and 2, as well a lot of other stuff in the Bible is indeed mythology. And it’s not insulting to call it such. After all, how in the world would the ancient Hebrews know anything about the formation of the world?

It’s a myth through and through. All cultures on earth have myths of some sort. Proposing that the Hebrews did not is ridiculous.

James Randi Celibrates Homeopathy Week

April 17, 2010

And now, a few words from James Randi on Homeopathic medicine:

Conceptually, homeopathic ideas aren’t new, just repackaged. Primitive peoples all over the world have been known to use homeopathic ideas in their ancient magic rituals. It’s a shame some people revert back to superstition so easily.

PERHAPS the most familiar application of the principle that like produces like is the attempt which has been made by many peoples in many ages to injure or destroy an enemy by injuring or destroying an image of him, in the belief that, just as the image suffers, so does the man, and that when it perishes he must die. A few instances out of many may be given to prove at once the wide diffusion of the practice over the world and its remarkable persistence through the ages. For thousands of years ago it was known to the sorcerers of ancient India, Babylon, and Egypt, as well as of Greece and Rome, and at this day it is still resorted to by cunning and malignant savages in Australia, Africa, and Scotland. Thus the North American Indians, we are told, believe that by drawing the figure of a person in sand, ashes, or clay, or by considering any object as his body, and then pricking it with a sharp stick or doing it any other injury, they inflict a corresponding injury on the person represented.

-James Frazer, The Golden Bough, Chapter 3 Section 2 Homeopathic or Sympathetic Magic

Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

April 4, 2010

Happy Zombie Jesus Day, everyone!

Some of you may not be aware that Jesus wasn’t the only zombie that rose from the dead that day; the liberal media often tries to cover it up.

And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent;

and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised;

and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.

-Mathew 27:51-53

Oddly enough, William Lane Craig, a man I thought believed in the inerrantcy of the Bible, says that this bit is all “poetic” and doesn’t mean what it says. But, once you start calling the world of “Gawd” mere poetry, the door to Hell may just open up beneath you …

Was Pope Pius XII a Nazi?

March 27, 2010

With the beatification of Pope Pius XII under way, there has been a lot of heated public opinion shared about him recently, including Richard Dawkins referring to him as ‘Pope Nazi’ during a speech in Australia.

Was Pope Pius XII a Nazi? No. But, he also wasn’t the hero apologists have been trying to make him out to be.

When it comes down to it, when Pius XII was faced with the greatest human atrocity of the recent age, he left a few hints in a speech or two, but, for the most part, kept his mouth shut. No heroic acts, no great deeds. Nothing to show him to be anything more than just another frail human being put into an uncomfortable situation. Should we expect anything more? Well, atheists shouldn’t, but Catholics are under the process of making him a saint, an act that only diminishes the reputation of anyone that already holds that title.

Critics of Pius XII often point to Catholic antisemitic beliefs that undoubtedly attributed to Hitler’s Jewish hatred. These beliefs did start early in the Christian churches. You might say that picking on Jews is a Christian tradition:

“You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”

-1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

The anti-Semitic tone in early Christianity cannot be ignored. And the Catholic church’s failure to rise above it until the Vatican II, specifically in the Nostra Aetate, in the 1960’s cannot be ignored either. This council was called after Pius XII’s death, by his successor, John XXIII. So, for 17 years after WWII ended and the Nazis were out of power, 13 of those under Pius XII, the Church continued to sit idle on antisemitism.

The prima facie evidence defenders of Pope Pius XII point to was  a speech he gave on Xmas of 1942, in which, at the end, he made this statement about the situation with the Jews:

“”Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline””

Pretty vague. The speech was 45 minutes long, and, even though the situation in the heavily Catholic Germany was undeniable,  he did not mention the Jews by name, as many claim. And, as far as I’m concerned, the speech really counts as nothing. And I’m not trying to just dismiss the speech, I’m trying to be even handed. The current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, is currently addressing the issue of pedophilia in the Catholic Church in a letter. Putting these two injustices side by side, I think it can be said that Ratzinger is doing more than Pius XII did for the Jews in WWII. In the case of the current pope, the topic is at least the primary focus of the entire letter. And I believe that it is plain to see that for all extents, writing a speech or a letter is the equivalent of not doing anything. It may communicate intentions, but it needs to be followed by some kind of action.

There is, of course, one other claim made in defense of Pius XII: the claims that he moved “secretly” to save thousands of Jews.

“Pope Pius XII worked courageously, secretly and silently to help save Jews targeted by the Nazis’ “criminal plan … to eliminate them from the face of the earth,” said Pope Benedict XVI.”

“we discovered that secretly he saved more Jews than all of the world’s religious and political leaders combined.”

I’m afraid that without some sort of proof (it’s been 70 years, it’s ok to release information now), this sounds a bit too much like single handedly killing thousands of men with the jawbone of an ass.

So, Pope Pius XII: not exactly guilty, but definitely not anyone to be proud of. A bit of a lily-livered coward, in fact, that accommodated the Nazis to a high degree to protect his own interests. I refer to him as the Vichy-Pope.

But, is this any different than any other pope of the modern era?

Why expect any action from the office of the Pope? Sure, during the glory days of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope’s chair was an office of great power. But, once the holy dictator was kicked off his throne, the world is free to see the office for what it is: head administrator. The office holds no power outside the church, even though it is still given a token nod every once in a while (mostly to cash in on those juicy Catholic votes).

Perhaps the office could be used for more, but it’s probably best that it isn’t. Unless the man holding the office has outside training of some sort, their is no reason to suspect that any clergy in any church has any expertise, authority, or knowledge of the world just because they know the Bible. After all, I would not expect an expert on the Iliad to be able to perform marriage counseling; nor would I expect an expert in the folk tales of ancient Ireland to be given guidance in world politics.

The office of Pope is meaningless to anyone not in the organization, why do we even expect enough out of them to even criticize them?


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