Tag Archive | church

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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Does being a sinner make you above the law? Issues raised by the Josh Duggar defence.

19 kidsIn May 2015 a tabloid reported that twelve years ago Josh Duggar of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” reality show molested five girls twelve years ago.  When his parents found out, they refused to report the crimes to the police, even though Josh molested his own sisters.

This is, rightfully, creating a scandal and cries for TLC to cancel the programme — which as of this date they refuse to do, even with corporate sponsors pulling out.

The Duggars and their allies have a defence they use time and time again:  Josh is a sinner who needs forgiveness and is entitled to forgiveness.

If a Christian (which I am no longer) admits to sinning that this is, in essence, a free pass with the law. Josh Duggar’s family doesn’t believe that Josh should be punished because he admitted it was a sin to molest his sisters (never mind their mental/spiritual wounds here; HE is the victim). Another Quiverfull leader named Rick Boyer is repeating the same idea in a story published this morning: that since being human makes you a sinner that any efforts to prosecute these crimes is a conspiracy by pagans and “guillible christians” to destroy more godly people.

So the problem isn’t the crimes these people commit — it’s the rest of us who say that when you commit a crime THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES UNDER THE LAW.

Of course one might say that there is a fundamental belief that secular law and secular government is itself evil — the devil is in charge.

So I must ask: what are they really going for? Should we simply eliminate all secular institutions and put religious institutions in charge of our lives?

How is that any different than what people are facing in Iraq or Syria where religious extremists have replaced the law? Where heinous torture, sexual violence, and murder happen daily? Where the only religious expression or lifestyle allowed is their radical one — and if you disagree or just deviate from their harsh rules, you can expect to lose your life or worse?

Liberty only exists through secular government, through the rule of laws. Religions must not be allowed to hold the powers of life or death over anyone.

And remember if you are fine with one religious group ruling the people by their sense of what is moral or right you damn yourself to be on the receiving end of another group you disagree with. Would you want to live that way?

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/quiverfull-author-delivers-melodramatic-defense-of-duggars-against-pagans-and-gullible-christians/

Music & Theatre: the Picture Emerging as I Research Gloriana

Hello everyone. I hope everyone is finally getting some warmth and beautiful spring weather.  I know it’s been a while since I wrote more personally and especially since I wrote anything about history, my life-long passion.

Complete Series 3DSince publishing Catherine de Valois (coming to Audible in May or June) in June, I wrote and published two non fiction books and finished the Peers of Beinan Series with “Princess Anyu Returns” followed by a trilogy edition of “The Legacy of Princess Anlei” and “The Complete Series” which is one volume for all six Peers of Beinan Series books.  Now my heart returns to history.

As I research “Journey to Gloriana” about the life of Queen Elizabeth I and “Mary Queen of the Scots” I have found some intriguing information about music and theatre that I would like to share today.  The information I found was not in some aggressive search nor acquired by consulting experts (for which I am known), but almost by “accident” if there is such a thing as I seek to discover who Elizabeth I and Mary of Scotland really were.

Here is the picture emerging before me:

  • Music, theatre, and dance originally served as key conduits for communicating the culture, religion, and especially history of ancient societies.
  • As Christianity spread into Europe, secular music, theatre, and dance yielded to church-controlled forms.  The performing arts became the domain of Roman Catholicism to be used for its particular religious and political agendas.
  • The English Renaissance and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I saw church controls over music, dance, and especially theatre break down.  This brought a surge of secular music (especially for dancing) and construction of the first theatres (starting in the 1570s) in London such as The Globe.
Royal Oak Bartshill

The Rolling Stones Now tribute band to the Rolling Stones perform in England.

We all take it for granted that music, dance, and theatre exists outside of the Church.  But the reality is that for many centuries, these were essentially forbidden.  We owe it to Queen Elizabeth I’s own love of secular music, theatre, and dance for the wealth of choices and freedoms we have today.  No longer does religion define and limit how we express ourselves culturally.  We can write, perform, and enjoy a limitless number of songs, dances, plays, and films of our own free choosing.

Though the Church may always wish to control the message (that has not changed in nearly 2000 years), I find it a great blessing to live in a free society where free expression in the performing arts reigns supreme, where each of us can enjoy whatever we like whenever we like.

May we always safeguard and protect that freedom whenever in the world we live.

Saint Patrick’s Day: Celebrating the Myth, Not the Man

Saint Patrick’s Day is a festive day celebrating Irish heritage and culture and Irish-Diaspora around the world. It’s a day when everyone wants to be Irish and wears Irish green. Yet the holiday itself is named for an English Bishop who hated the Irish and did everything he could to destroy and undermine the same Irish culture and heritage most of us today celebrate in his name.

I am 1/8th Irish. As I became more and more interested in my Irish blood, Saint Patrick became of historical interest to me personally. Who-and what-are we celebrating? I’d heard the myths of course about Saint Patrick and serpents, but know from my science background that snakes were never indigenous to Ireland-they are absent from the fossil record and Common Era accounts (see ancient and medieval Irish texts on the subject at sacred-texts.com). So who-or what-were these serpents?

The aforementioned discussion on serpents in Irish culture and history makes that answer plain: it’s a reference to ancient Irish culture, to Irish clans, Irish religion, and Irish heritage. To drive the serpent out of Ireland actually, in its proper historical and cultural context, therefore means “to obliterate Irish culture, religion, and customs from Ireland.” This is hardly a new idea in world history; the Americans did the same thing to the Cherokee, Lakota, Iroquois, and countless other native peoples.

So then why would Saint Patrick, a man so tightly associated with Ireland, wish to, at least mythologically, destroy everything Irish? The answer comes from an examination of the historical person. Brigette de Silva’s paper, “Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity” (strangehorizons.com), provides a fascinating glimpse into the man that lived-as best as we can redact from period sources.

Born and raised to his teenage years in England among the land-owning upper class and grandson to a priest, Patrick was not a religious man at all-until captured by Irish raiders and made a slave. His conversion to Christianity came out of his resentment towards his new life and his master. When he finally escaped from his master, he begged some traders to take him back to England. The traders refused him at first, but then agreed. However, it is unlikely they went to England. De Silva tells us the historical consensus is that he was taken to Gaul where he was either re-enslaved or made part of the group while they raided in Gaul. Regardless which way it happened, it is clear that Patrick was 26 by the time he returned to England to his family. At that time, he decided to return to Ireland to convert them to Christianity. Not long after his return, Patrick was appointed bishop of Ireland and began his work to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Myths on both sides depict Patrick as both more successful than he was and far more brutal. One story speaks of his returning to his former master to force him to convert. However, the story says, the local king recognized Patrick for the threat he presented and, per Irish custom, burned himself alive rather than be force-converted. Other stories credit Patrick with converting large numbers of Irish. Yet de Silva’s research shows none of these claims as historical. Bishop Patrick died in obscurity until others, at the end of the Christianization of Ireland, revised his history and created his mythos.

What we can say for certain is that Bishop Patrick was motivated far more by vengeance and disdain for the Irish in his missionary work in Ireland than we typically associate with Roman Catholic clergy. He is canonized as the Saint of Ireland, yet was a wealthy Englishman. And of course, that most of what we associate with Patrick is myth created decades and centuries later. Like his contemporary, King Arthur, Patrick remains more myth than man in our imaginations. Bishop Patrick was truly no saint and was, ultimately, one of the first missionaries driven by racist impulses.

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Originally posted March 27th, 2012

 

From Resurrection Sunday to Easter: How Ancient German and Christian Celebrations Merged at Easter

Easter Sunday-for Christians around the world Easter is arguably the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. The message of Jesus’ act of self sacrifice by allowing himself to be crucified by the Romans as a zealous rebel to Roman authority, his preaching against the legalistic status quos of the time, and the literal or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus just days after his execution is all central to Christian belief. And yet American Christians refer to the commemorating festival associated with all of this by the name of the German goddess of spring and the dawn, Easter, also known as Ostara in High German.

Christians decorate eggs, hold sunrise services, wear new and typically pastel-colored clothing, decorate with spring flowers, and embrace Easter’s egg-laying messenger hare, all of which are part of how Germans have honored Easter/Ostara in the centuries and millennia before the Common Era. American Christians even use the German goddess’ name to refer to their holiday rather than referring to it by its proper nomer, Resurrection Sunday.

So how did this happen?

Diverse sources indicate that changes in the Church began in the 5th century Common Era (the same era as King Arthur in Britain and Bishop Patrick in England/Ireland) when Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Visigoths, and others, in search of Roman prosperity, moved south and east into Roman lands, often seizing these territories from Roman control. The same Germanic warrior culture that produced the epic poem “Beowulf” infused these lands-just as previously the Germans and Celts had sought to adopt Roman culture and values in the centuries before. As Rome collapsed under these pressures, and the social pressures created by the oppressive policies of the elite over the vast majority of residents in the empire (seehttp://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/romefallarticles/a/fallofrome_2.htm for more on the 5th century Roman Empire), the Church found itself needing to change with the times. In “Christianizing the Germans, Militarizing the Church” athttp://atheism.about.com/b/2006/11/04/christianizing-the-germans-militarizing-the-church-book-notes-fighting-for-christendom.htm, Austin Cline explains how Christian leaders were forced to convey Christianity using native German values. Jesus became “The Lord of Victories,” and a “generous mead-giver.” Heaven was described as being similar to Valhalla, and so on. These are not terms that probably any of us have heard in modern churches, but those familiar with early English and German literature are certain to recognize the flavor of these declarations. Using these descriptions, Jesus ceases to be a part of his native Jewish culture and becomes a fellow German, someone members of each German tribe on either side of the Rhine could relate to.

But the process of Christianizing hardly came overnight. The German travel guide athttp://www.germany.co.za/christianisation.html details how slow and gradual this process was. Chlodwig (Clovis) of the Franks was the first German king baptized in 498 CE; his Catholic wife, princess Chrodechildis of Burgundy is believed to be largely behind his “conversion.” Later, in the 8th century CE, Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) used Christianity as part of his visions of a united German empire. He first conquered Bavaria and Lombardy, and then attacked the Saxons of the north. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him emperor, creating what became known was the Holy Roman Empire. Christianity was now the official religion of Karl’s empire.

In the three centuries between Chlodwig and Karl der Grosse, the Church adapted itself to native German culture, evolving and integrating German ideas and customs-just as the Church in Celtic societies needed to integrate Celtic culture. It is easy to see, in the light of this history, how the Church came to refer to its Resurrection Sunday by the name of the German goddess of spring. At first the German church, more likely than not, dovetailed Resurrection Sunday observances to the existing festivals for Ostara/Eastre celebrating spring, simply tacking on Christian elements to those services and rituals. This probably meant celebrating the festival when the Germans celebrated it-on or close to the vernal equinox. Later, as the Christian elements became more accepted, the celebration was moved to its “proper” date as required by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE): the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (seehttp://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/Calculate_Date.htm), until finally the old references to Eastre/Ostara as a German goddess faded from memory. The two very distinct holidays and theologies became inseparable. Today, most Christians are fully unaware that most of observances for “Easter” they practice come from a far older German religious tradition. Easter/Ostara is evoked merely as the name of the holiday-without recognition for the goddess whose name is evoked each time.

Only recently have we come to recognize how these very different religious traditions merged. Christianity assimilated the Old Religion and, in true irony, therefore preserved it. Academic honesty requires us to recognize this history of religious joining and honor every choice-Christian or Old Religion-each individual makes for her/his own life. Likewise, it is my hope that Christians will honor the role that Jewish culture played in the early Christian church and strive to understand the beauty of Jewish society-independent of religious bias. Only by respectful learning of diverse cultures and traditions may we attain true harmony, respecting all and hating none for being different.

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.