Archive for April 2010

Tim Minchin on the Pope

April 29, 2010

Totally agree with this guy. Anyone that dares to claim that this song is more offensive than the Pope’s actions are morally bankrupt.

God of the Week: Kali

April 26, 2010

God of the Week 04/26/2010: Kali

Kali is a Hindu goddess that is often depicted with a necklace of skulls dancing on the body of her unconscious husband, Shiva.

In her Kali form she is of hideous aspect. Sculptors and painters have depicted her standing on the prostrate form of Shiva and grinning with outstretched tongue. Her body is smeared with blood because she has waged a ferocious and successful war against the giants. Like Shiva, she has a flaming third eye on her
forehead. Her body is naked save for a girdle of giants’ hands suspended from her waist; round her neck she wears a long necklace of giants’ skulls: like the Egyptian Isis, Kali can conceal herself in her long and abundant hair. She has four arms: in one she holds a weapon, and in another the dripping head of a giant; two empty hands are raised to bless her worshippers. Like the Egyptian Hathor or Sekhet, the “Eye of Ra”, she goes forth to slay the enemies of the gods, rejoicing in slaughter.
-Donald A. Mackenzie, Indian Myth and Legend

Don’t Crucify Me, Bro! part 4

April 25, 2010

Part Four, The Mythology of Sacrifice

The Christian Passion is not the first sacrifice to have been portrayed as the means to salvation. Many cultures since before history have used sacrifice, human, animal, and agricultural, as offerings to the powers that be. These, less theological, but just as mystical acts of devotion are often seen as representative of hubris, an anthropomorphism of societies ills.

The sacrificial death of Jesus is important because Christ is a guiltless figure, without sin. How is this conceptually different than, say, sacrificing a virgin to a hungry volcano? Human sacrifices in ancient cultures were often done to promote the growth of crops, the body of the victim being strewn out upon the fields. In Christian ceremonies it’s for the nourishment of the soul instead of the nourishment of the soil. It is the body of the savior that is consumed as food.

“but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake” (I Peter 1:19-20)

This motif of the sacrifice of a life without flaw, a perfect specimen, can be seen in religious movements around the world, from the small sacrifice of a carefully selected animal without any blemish or flaw right on up to the ultimate sacrifice of a human being. A child would be a large sacrifice, but not as large as a grown human that had managed to mature without sinning. (The actual age of “person hood”, in which an individual is no longer viewed as property but is rather seen as a mature human being differs from culture to culture, but there is usually an initiation rite of some sort: a bar mitzvah, sweet sixteen party, etc).

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,

And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be mine:

for all the first-born are mine; on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast; mine they shall be: I am Jehovah.

-Numbers 3:11-13”

Sacrifice, the taking of an innocent life for the benefit of a society as a whole, was/is believed to transfer certain properties from the guiltless sacrificed party to the people, either the performers of the sacrifice, or the community at large. In the Book of Judges, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter after making a promise to Yahweh that he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the door if he defeated the Ammonites. In the Iliad, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to win the favor of the goddess Artemis. In Genesis, the sacrifice of Isaac may have been thought of as an atoning act, though there is little indication that Isaac was a willing participant in the act. In the Jesus Passion, there is question as to Jesus’ ultimate knowledge of his own death; Mark’s version shows Jesus to be silent, and perhaps unwilling, Luke’s version portrays a much more involved martyr.

Substitution

In the all too familiar Isaac story, Abraham, who is not shown putting up much of a fuss when asked to slit his son’s throat, a practical joker of a God magically conjures up a sheep as a substitute for the boy in the nick of time (Just kidding there, big boy. You were going to do it, too!). The Greeks too had a variant of the myth in which it is Hercules that puts a stop to a human sacrifice, substituting a sheep instead. In a variant of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, it was a deer that was substituted by the goddess at the last moment.

“On the Day of Atonement, which was the tenth day of the seventh month, the Jewish high-priest laid both his hands on the head of a live goat, confessed over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and, having thereby transferred the sins of the people to the beast, sent it away into the wilderness.”

(Frazer, chapter 57, section 3)

In the ancient Greek culture, a human scapegoat, known as a pharmako, was chosen, usually a criminal. Records of the event differ, some claiming that the pharmako was sacrificed, with others taking it to be a mock ritual. Either way, the spirit of the event focused on a death that, through an unknown method, made up for the sins of the people.

And this sacrificial death motif seemed to have taken the world of the 1st century by storm. Not only did Christianity arise at this time and place, but a slew of Mystery Religions worshiping the divine deaths of Mithras, Dionysus, Isis, Osiris, etc, swept across The Mediterranean region. This mystical replacement of the once all too common real world sacrifice could have been seen as a step in the right direction. Played out with responsibility it could have told the world that the slaughter of people or animals was no longer needed; that the ritual itself could unite the community. In all too many sects of Christianity, though, the death is fixated upon, made into a gruesome fetish that frees the believers from personal responsibility.

“Among the Semites of Western Asia the king, in a time of national danger, sometimes gave his own son to die as a sacrifice for the people. Thus Philo of Byblus, in his work on the Jews, says: “It was an ancient custom in a crisis of great danger that the ruler of a city or nation should give his beloved son to die for the whole people, as a ransom offered to the avenging demons; and the children thus offered were slain with mystic rites.” (Frazer, chapter 26, Sacrifice of the King’s Son)

The death of Jesus is compared to the death of the passover lamb in the gospel narrative, the lamb that was killed and who’s blood was painted on the doors of the Hebrews so that the angel of Death would pass over those houses, sparing the lives of their children inside (God, apparently, did not know your heart in those days, and needed a visual indicator on who to kill on who not to kill). In the Jesus variation of this Jewish myth, accepting the blood of Jesus protects us from divine judgment after death. This is why it is a matter of necessity to place the crucifixion during the passover festival. The Christian movement had split off from the Jews, no longer wanting to be slaves to Temple sacrifice of the priests, they accepted one of their own; a sacrifice that no longer needed to be tied to a physical location.

When theology becomes nothing more than rationalization of mythology, it provides a disservice to both the philosophy that leads to it, for any philosophy no matter how sound is worthless when based upon a false premise, as well as the mythology, which, when crammed into a pseudo-historical setting, loses whatever edifying nature it may have once had. Crucifixion saves no one. There is no single saving event, only the struggles we face each day.

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.

God of the Week: Thoth

April 19, 2010

God of the Week 04/19/10: Thoth

The ancient Egyptian god Thoth is (mythically) known as the inventor of writing and author of the Book of the Dead. He is often shown in the process of writing. He is traditionally depicted with a humanoid body and the head of an Ibis, though he is sometimes depicted with the head of a baboon.

His worship goes back to the Old Kingdom (2,686 to 2,134 BCE) where he appears to have originated as a moon god:

It is remarkable that the moon, which was so important, especially in Babylonia, never rivalled the sun among the Egyptians. At a rather early time it was identified with the white ibis-god [Thoth]
-Mythology of All Races, Vol 12, Egyptian and Indo-Chinese

Thoth’s relationship to the moon is alluded to in this ancient hymn to the moon:

Shine for us in the sky, every day.
We cease not to behold thy rays;
[Thoth] is thy protection;
He establisheth thy soul in the bark of night
In this thy name, ‘Divine Moon’
-Ibid

In the Roman era, Thoth was syncretized with Hermes when the ancient Greeks recognized their similar traits and believed  them to be different incarnations of the same god. This new character was known as Hermes Trismegistus, the mythical founder of Hermeticism. Hermeticism was seen as a mystical pantheistic philosophy that could be practiced in conjunction with other religions as the finding of Hermetic writings along side Gnostic Christian works in the ancient Nag Hammadi library shows.

Why Don’t Catholic’s Speak Up?

April 18, 2010

Why don’t more Catholics speak up about the atrocious cases of child rape and the Pope refusal to act? Because they know full and well that they would be ostracized for anything other than strict party adherence.

A conservative Catholic group has called on a Massachusetts priest to apologize for suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI should resign if he does not take stronger action to confront the church’s sexual abuse scandal.

Adding its voice to the uproar over the Rev. James J. Scahill’s remarks last weekend (April 3-4), the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts said the priest had effectively accused the pope of lying during four sermons at St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

Blind allegiance to the church is perhaps the biggest problem that the Catholic Church faces. Scahill’s remarks are totally reasonable, yet he’s being viewed as sinful and needing to apologize for  making them. Why? Well, in totalitarian systems, even as much as questioning the supreme authority of the leader is seen as treasonous. And in Catholicism, this treason is a sin, since the office of pope carries with it the ridiculous title of “Vicar of Christ”.

Well, in this case, the Pope is not being asked to act as an agent of a god-man, as a prophet, or even as a mystic. He merely being asked to act like a human being … perhaps we are asking too much from this depraved asshole.

Is it even possible for the Catholic Church to turn itself around? I don’t think so. This degree of depravity is nothing new to the organization: from the slaughter of pagan priests in the 5th century, the crusades, the torturing of “heretics” (which can only be defined as anyone that disagrees with them) during the Inquisition, endless anti-Semitic persecution, and the mass murder of the Cathar Gnostic Christians, the Catholic Church has been a den of depravity from it’s very inception. Why would anyone choose to stay with the Catholic Church, let alone defend it?

Don’t Crucify Me, Bro! part 3

April 18, 2010

Part 3, The Evolution of the Crucifixion

The earliest Christian documents that we have portray the death of Jesus as a mystical experience, not tying it to any historical place or time. It was only once someone made the effort to turn the belief into a narrative with the Gospel According to Mark, 50 years to 100 years after the supposed event, that the death trial of Jesus was extrapolated into the passion play that we know today. And it was then portrayed differently in each of the following attempts to re-tell the tale to different audiences. In the earliest gospel, Mark, Jesus is lead silently to his death. He is mocked along the way and, as he dies, he cries out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” At the turn of the first century, this portrayal of a truly gruesome death would have been the story converts of Christianity would have had preached to them. Evidently, a kindler gentler death was soon needed, for the popular re-write by Luke has Jesus going to his death practically cheerful, preaching to the women along the route and picking up a new Christian convert on the cross next to him before he cries Mission Accomplished.

The earliest copies of Mark that we have end when the women go to the tomb and find it empty. The women flee in terror and tell no one. Mathew added an earthly re-appearance by Jesus (the re-animation of the saints in Mathew 27: 51-53 shows us that an earthy re-birth from the tomb was an important element to his movement).

Luke adds an ascension to heaven, mostly like intended to be a reference to the ascension of Ilijah, an earlier savior figure in the Old Testament.

And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.

And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof! And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

-2 Kings 2: 9-12

The story of the crucifixion began simply, plain, and deeply mythological by a charismatic offshoot of Judaism in the first century CE.. The story grew over that years, and that is what we continue to see today. Theologians look for a spiritual message of divine acceptance and love in what began as little more an idea. Modern Christians, only familiar with fleshed out movie dramatizations of the narrative cannot imagine how the story could have been “invented” or “made up” so they demand evidence that it didn’t happen. Well, the evidence is usually sitting on a book shelf, gathering dust; it’s all in a book they love so much they dare not read it critically.