Tag Archive | Bible

Twelve Conclusions From Reading Paul’s Epistles in Full

Hypatia of Alexandria - SmithsonianToday I read all of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament from start to finish, something I never did when I was a Christian. No, I haven’t “seen the error of my ways” and converted back to that religion.  Rather this is part of my ongoing research into the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria, the gifted astronomer and philosopher murdered in 415 CE by a mob of Christians in Alexandria.  I am seeking for the roots of her murder. Why was she considered a threat to the Christian community and why did that community believe it was morally justifiable to murder her so viciously when Exodus 20:13 is so explicit on the matter?

My reading of the epistles is first and foremost looking for bias — a critical job for any historian.  Who was Paul? What did he believe? What biases and bigotries did he possess? Here are my opening conclusions and impressions from reading the epistles as a whole:

1) Paul genuinely had one or more visions that affected him profoundly.
2) Paul’s legalism from his time as a pharisee did not go away. He believes in the written “word of God” as he experienced it as a pharisee.
3) Paul believes God has inspired him to write down what God wants for everyone. Because it comes from God, it must absolutely be obeyed without question or intellectual scrutiny.
4) Paul did not believe in individual liberty.
5) Paul believed in absolute obedience to authority without question. Especially slaves must obey masters. Women must obey men. Neither groups are persons with their own human rights.
6) Philosophy (the educational systems of his time) is bad. It leads you away from God and into sexual perversions.
7) Anything that takes you away from his view of Truth and God is bad and must be avoided at all costs. That includes people who do not believe or live as you do (though Paul contradicts himself on this point at times, depending on the letter).
8) God made women and slaves inherently inferior.
9) Women are innately perverse, sinful, lusty creatures.
10) Women need men as masters in order to be saved from Satan and hell.
11) Women lack the innate morality to lead men, especially in religious matters.
12) Sex and sexual desire, especially for a woman’s pleasure or between two men is gravely sinful.
cross 3
The final point about sex is especially important. Paul spends probably more time on sex and sexual mores than any other specific topic he covers.  It is almost an obsession for him.
For example, 1 Timothy 5 verses 11 and 12 says, “11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.”

This theme continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he writes regarding all people, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”

Paul sees sexual pleasure as a perversion that keeps men (males) from holiness and living godly lives. Women, seducers that they are, must therefore be tightly controlled and silenced because they through their sexuality are Satan’s tools who will sabotage men at every turn.

The birth of Pandora

This belief that women are seducers and Paul’s incessant missives to control women, to keep them away from places of influence and power, may be at the core of why church leaders in Alexandria were able to ignore Exodus 20:13 and command Hypatia’s murder.

It was not the first time the Bible was used to kill an innocent.  It was not the last.  But perhaps we can chart a different future, one where religion is no longer the excuse for the inexcusable.  Perhaps then we shall have peace.

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En Garde: sexual expectations and rape culture

Last night I was casually watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on my local NBC station.  It was one of the episodes where newly wed Howard was still on the International Space Station and having difficulties dealing with the closed quarters of life in space.

At the very end of that episode Howard has just been given an anti-anxiety drug and decides to strip down to his pants (underwear) on a video call to his wife.  For several seconds we see the contours of the actor’s man parts under that minimal clothing.  Instead of being turned on  I found I was absolutely revulsed.  No, I really DON’T want see a man’s parts on television like that, not even indirectly through his clothing.

Thinking about my feelings and sharing them with my best friend my contemplative nature found itself exploring the deeper aspects to my gut reaction to this very quick final scene to the show.  Why are women expected to enjoy the public display of a man’s sexual features?  Why are we supposed to be turned on by every man and want sex any time anyone expresses the slightest interest?

Looking back at my past I noticed a pattern:  flirting with someone not because I wanted sex with him but too often to distract him from abusive impulses that might suddenly explode and endanger my safety.  I also realized that there is an unconscious pressure and expectation put upon me as a woman that I should be sexually ready and interested in the men in my life and consent to their advances any time and any where they might occur.  The second half to this is more frightening still:  failure to be  whatever a man wants or expects of me sexually means that he is likely to simply impose himself on me in the form of sexual assault.

Or thought of another way:  I either force myself to say yes or I will suffer a more violent response from him that still results in sex anyway.  Hence the forced flirtations as a defense strategy.

Though we tend to deny it to ourselves and those close to us, women too often have to live in a sexual minefield where the potential for sexual assault is everywhere.  So we engage in unconscious defensive behaviours.  We flirt.  We pretend to like people we don’t.  We smile at people behind gritted teeth.  We pretend to be okay with behaviours we find uncomfortable. We play act, concealing our real opinions and emotions in an effort to keep unwanted advances at bay.  There’s a mind game to this, even when we are not aware of it.  We even convince ourselves that we find something sexually appealing when it really frightens or repels us.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Nowhere is this mind game more evident than the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” where main character Anastasia Steele forces herself to consent to sexually abusive and highly controlling behaviours from Christian Grey, often making excuses for him.

Like Anastasia, we too often pretend to like things sexually that we do not.  We pretend interest we lack.  Society tells us that the way a woman is supposed to express her romantic love is sex.  And not just sex but the any time, any where, any way that the man wants.  To love is to become his sexual servant.  Add in religion to the mix and women are told that our needs do not matter.  We are inferior.  God made man in His image–but women are the source of evil in this world, born flawed and incapable of Goodness on our own without a man directing us and telling us who to be and what to do.  So it is only right that men should rule over us; we women are not capable of making our own choices, especially when it comes to our bodies.  Especially when it comes to sex.  Can it be any wonder then that so many male politicians feel duty-bound to regulate the intimate affairs of women?  How can they trust women to make their own choices?

Sex is something I want in my life — but not just sex.  I want a healthy sexuality.  I want to express myself sexually from a genuine place of love and devotion.  Yet who can do that when we must continually and often unconsciously living our lives defensively?  When the world around us is so unsafe and sexual assault persists as a constant danger?  How can any woman feel truly at ease even in her own home with those she loves?

These are very real questions that must be addressed by our society.  We must stop making excuses and fight against both institutional sexism and rape culture.  As women we need to learn how to say “no” and be true to our actual feelings.  We need to be okay inside ourselves and with those we love with expressing love in many different ways instead of tightly correlating love and sex.  Because they are genuinely not the same thing.  Not all acts of sex come from love and not all acts of love are sex — even in romantic relationships, even in our marriages.

Love can take many forms.  We need to embrace that.  We need to stop pressuring ourselves and others into this very unhealthy idea that sex and romantic love are one and the same.  Just because I love you does not mean I want to have sex with you or sex with you right now.  Love is not a blank cheque to sex.  Saying no to sex is not a rejection of the other person.  As a matter of fact, it takes courage to say no to sex when you love someone, to love yourself and respect your partner enough to only be sexual with her or him when you really truly feel you want to be.  The easy road, the one drilled into women from a very early age, is that we shouldn’t say no when we don’t want sex — just lay there and take it because it will soon be over.

That’s no way to live.  That is no way to love.

 

 

 

 

The Human Touch: Thoughts about the Teachings of Esther/Abraham Hicks

I am really into the Law of Attraction.  I believe in and the power that our thoughts make on our reality and what comes to us.

negative emotion is

One of the best known lecturers on The Law of Attraction is Esther Hicks who is allegedly channeling a group of beings collectively known as “Abraham.”  While the advice given is generally sound, I do confess a certain unease at the whole channeling thing; it smacks of a scam, especially given there are books, DVDs, CDs, cruises, seminars, and so forth for sale in great abundance.  People pay lots of money for an audience with Abraham and to get a personalized reading of sorts from them in the hopes of turning their lives around.

In such a context it becomes a bit of a minefield as one searches for truly helpful affirmations and advice from all the clutter.

Abraham Hicks emotionKey to the philosophy taught is that emotions are on a sort of hierarchical scale ranked from good to bad.  These are allegedly arranged by vibration — a high vibration emotion is certain to attract what you really want in the LoA while a low vibration emotion is said to greatly hinder you in manifesting it.

In  general there is a measure of common sense to it.  Obviously if you are hateful and vindictive, you are not going to attract love.  Like attracts like.  So hate bring more hate.  This really is common sense.  It speaks to the core of the law of attraction — you reap what you sow!

But a side effect inevitably comes when you rank order your emotions:  you repress the ones that you judge wrong or inappropriate.  That is to say you still have the emotions because they are part of the human experience. They make us Sentient spiritual creatures.  There is no capacity to love if there is absolutely no capacity to hate as well; the capacity for BOTH is what defines each on both a psychological and practical level.

So to love you have to also be able to hate.  To trust, you have to be able to not trust.  To be honest, you have to possess the ability to lie.  This is also what I find troubling and unrealistic about the ways that Christians talk about God.  If God is ONLY LOVE, COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS, ETC and CANNOT experience those other things as well then is God truly a Sentient and living being and therefore objectively existing at all?  No wonder it is easy for atheists to argue that God was created by humankind and not the reverse!

And so we are brought back to this organization of emotions.  What happens to you psychologically when you tell yourself “I’m only allowed to feel THESE emotions?”  Answer:  you repress the other ones.  This in turn means you put up walls within your mind and spirit which, intentional or not, naturally grow into walls between yourself and other people.  You end up FEELING LESS.  Empathy wanes.  You lose the ability to understand and relate to other people.  This in turn makes you LESS LOVING, LESS COMPASSIONATE, LESS HAPPY.

In cutting yourself off from the emotions Abraham says are bad for you, you ultimately destroy your own humanity and the best parts of yourself. This in turn makes it easier for you to harm yourself and harm others.  It is, after all, the person who feels the least, who is cut off from her or his emotions that is most capable of destructive behavior — to self and others.

permission to walk away

And this is the danger point with Abraham and why it would be perhaps correct to label them as demons or manipulative spirits.

That is not to say that they are completely wrong.  But each assertion needs to be thought about and weighed for its value with a focus on balance.  Instead of arranging emotions from “good” to “bad” recognize that all emotions all important.

I am no longer a Christian, but I see the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Abraham would have us believe that if we experience both sides that we are harming ourselves.  In reflection I disagree.  We are only harming ourselves if we 1) repress emotions instead of embrace them or 2) focus our energy on hurtful emotions (and therefore attract more hurt to our lives).

Tulips Bouquet

There are many sources of wisdom and inspiration.  The human experience has no limit to these.  Balance comes from applying wisdom from MANY sources of inspiration — from Christianity, from Judaism, from Islam; from Wicca, from Buddhism and Daoism, from Shamanism, from Asatru, and a thousand voices from across time and space.

Embrace your humanity.  Feel your feelings.  Keep your focus on what you want and always phrase everything positively.  Look honestly at your life and think about what barriers your mind projects between the direction you choose for yourself and achieving it.  Believe and have faith and confidence in your ability to achieve and reach what you focus.  Say “I WILL” instead of “I want.”

The law of attraction is powerful. It is common sense. But even as mindfulness about it offers the potential to bring great good and joy in our lives, how we go about it also makes a difference.  For when we wall up part of our emotions in our pursuit of happiness we ultimately destroy our ability to feel, to connect, and therefore be truly happy.

Not so innocent: Israel, genocide, and the myth of the “chosen people”

Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska and attending Temple Baptist Church, I grew up with the same beliefs that many Evangelical Christians hold towards Israel:  Israel is the promised land of the descendants of Abraham.  When I read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the legendary conquest of Palestine by the Hebrews after their 40 years wandering in the wilderness, no one seemed to even notice that these military campaigns of conquest amounted to GENOCIDE where civilians, including and especially women and children, were put to the sword so the Hebrews could come in and take their land.  This was GOD’S WILL and therefore it was okay.  If God wants it, the killing is moral and just, right?

In my 20 years in the Church, no one ever questioned this doctrine.  No one ever said “hey, wait, these are war crimes.”  Instead since it was divinely mandated, it must be right — and historically true, of course.

This sentiment is echoed in temples, both reform and orthodox, especially at Hanukkah and Passover.  Israel belongs to the Jews as a right forged in an ancient covenant with God.  Jews are the Chosen People.

Being the “Chosen People” of God carries a lot of weight.  Being chosen means you are granted a measure of special grace from God, the right to do certain things without consequences.  You can kill as you please because God wants you to.

Now before anyone gets in a huff and calls me anti-Jewish, let me be very clear:  I love Jewish culture, food, tradition, and especially my many Jewish friends and acquaintances.  I lived for over four years in a orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York as not only a gentile, but one of the Old Religion of Britain and Ireland who strives to honour and embrace the British-Irish part of my heritage in my day-t0-day life.

As a historian who often favours being the outsider because of the objectivity this offers me for learning and study, I was able to listen, learn, and observe without the social-psychological chains that often blurs most people’s perspective.  I have no agenda except discovering the truth.  This is why my writing is so powerful and my books are to be believed.  I’m not a slick politician or sales person trying to sell something to you; just an honest researcher looking for truth.

The Bible of course covers ancient history — legendary or literal is a matter of debate.  Yet in Christian churches and in many Jewish congregations as well this doctrine that Israel is the God-given promised land of the Hebrews/Jews persists.

This Zionist idea that Israel rightfully belongs to Jews transcends denominational differences and enters the realm of politics.  Israel has certain rights to behave in whatever is perceived as its own interests.  To gainsay Israel’s decisions is to be anti-Jewish.  I am here to say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Last week I found the above video in a facebook feed exploring the modern state of Israel’s history.  In it and you discover that Israel is hardly this innocent and moral God-blessed nation who can do no wrong.  Far from it.  Objectively speaking, the Israelis are guilty of genocide and war crimes such as the West typically condemns when done by any other nation — except Israel.

Indeed anyone from any country who even remotely questions what Israel does is quickly labelled as anti-Jewish, especially politicians.  It would seem that to be pro-Jewish means not noticing Israel’s faults — or its war crimes.

 

I stand here asking you to now question that dogma.  Take a step back towards objectivity. When Iraqis do this to its peoples, when Syrians do this in its civil war, when Russia treats a minority group this way, DO WE NOT CALL THEM WAR CRIMES and CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?

 

Perhaps it is time to abolish this whole “chosen people” propaganda and instead look at all human beings as humans.  No one is expendable.  Life is life!  Every single human in this world deserves a decent and safe home, clean and nourishing food and water, the best possible education, decent clothing, safety from harm, and the chance to live a satisfying life.  Anyone who steals any of these things from anyone else needs to be sanctioned and dealt with.  Everyone has the right to live.  Everyone.

From Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura to Modern Biblical Literalism

May 17th, 2012

Politicians swear by it. Conservative Christians insist upon it. It has fueled debates on evolution verses creationism in public schools, civil rights legislation (everything from slavery to racial equality to gay marriage and beyond), and shaped archaeological expeditions to the Middle East. It is Biblical Literalism, the belief that the Bible is the literal and infallible “word of God” that must be read and interpreted as absolutely and literally true-down to every single word.

Biblical literalism is not confined to Christianity. It is also a common position in both Islam and Judaism, both of whom also use, to one extent or another, Biblical texts as part of their theologies. In 2011, Stephen Tomkins of the UK’s “The Guardian” tackled the question of how and why Biblical literalism is so prevalent in our culture in his article “How Biblical Literalism Took Root,” explaining the roots of the Biblical Literalist movement with the Protestant Reformation and its anti-papist viewpoint.

In 1521 Martin Luther was called upon to answer for his previous writings against papal abuses of power at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.” (http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html) This doctrine of Sola Scriptura (only the Bible), does not actually dictate how the Bible is to be read, interpreted, and applied; it only dictates that the Bible alone is authoritative. Contrary to later Protestant tradition, Luther’s position was that scripture plus reason-not the rulings of the church-should guide a Christian’s life. This focus on reason precludes a truly literal reading of the Bible, particularly as science and technology revises earlier understandings of Nature.

In the centuries after Luther, the Bible came to be perceived as so infallible that every word can and should be taken literally. Modern Biblical literalism was born!

Yet perhaps the modern version is not as productive as we all thought. Perhaps it is time to return to Luther’s intended sola scriptura-scripture alone (as opposed to focusing on outside interpreters)-but viewed through the lens of reason-not blind literalism.

 

 

Distinguishing Between History and Theology

Distinguishing Between History and Theology

Creationism, Biblical Literalism, and History

June 18th, 2012

 

On May 15th, Gallup completed a poll on American attitudes on the role of divinity in creation. Respondents were asked if they believed deity had no role in human evolution (evolution), a guiding roll in evolution (theistic evolution), or if they believed deity had created humans in pretty much the same form as it is now less than 10,000 years ago (creationism). 46% of the respondents answering accepted the creationism explanation of human evolution. 32% took the theistic evolution position. Only 15% of Americans surveyed believed in straight, no deity, evolution. Demographic data from the poll revealed that more than half of people with a high school diploma or less, and of those who attend religious services regularly believe in Creationism.

I too once believed in Creationism – when I was an evangelical christian attending church weekly. My university explorations of many spiritual traditions paired with my requisite science courses changed that position to “theistic evolution.” But perhaps the greatest influence in my own shift from Biblical Literalism to Biblical Minimalism came during my junior year of university when I took Dr. Stephen Burnett’s “Hebrew Heritage” course.

Hebrew history is one of those areas where the Bible is presumed to be literally authoritative by orthodox Jews and Christians alike and where every word of the Hebrew Bible is traditionally taken at face value. Creationism stems from a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible; the origins of humanity, let alone Hebrews and other Semites, is not really a focus in the “New Testament.” In Dr. Burnett’s class we paired Biblical texts with archaeology and primary source material from adjacent cultures.

History, Dr. Burnett taught, was not the same as religion or theology: documents must be critiqued for their authorship, bias, and collaborative physical evidence (or lack thereof). He asked us, as students of history, to consider who wrote whatever we were looking at, what they did for a living, what their socio-economic backgrounds were, and other details of context. Was this person a priest? A politician? A ruler? Male? Female? What other events were (near) contemporary? What was the world view of this culture?

In asking these questions, we learned how to evaluate primary sources and decide if a source was truly primary (such as a diary entry) or secondary (written about something not personally experienced). Important in evaluating these sources was the addition of collaborating evidence – both archaeological and textual from other sources.

This multi-faceted approach to sources is what defines the historian’s craft from the theologian. Theologians evaluate a holy book based on spiritual, religious, or moral consideration. In theology, the aim is to discover divine intent and moral wisdom. History asks the questions of “what happened, to whom, and how do we know what happened?” History applies the scientific method in evaluating sources, physical evidence, and literature. Biblical Minimalism is a literary and historical approach to the Bible which regards those parts of the Bible that cannot be collaborated by other sources as literary or metaphorical. In other words, not to be taken as literal truth, but more spiritually or psychologically true.

For me, the Bible doesn’t have to be literally true to hold value for our society. Indeed, it can teach us much about how Hebrew culture. Yet in understanding the Bible’s limits, I find myself freed to explore the breadth of knowledge being slowly revealed through archaeology and the lost cultures and ideas concealed beneath the surface of our world. As a scientist, I am thrilled!