Archive for August, 2011

Noah’s Ark Myth

Posted in agnoticism, Atheist, belief, Bible, Christianity, culture, faith, freethought, Hebrew scripture, history, prehistory, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2011 by chouck017894

Blessed news!  Plans are afoot to make Noah’s Ark sail forth again!  This time from the hills of northern Kentucky, of all places.  And it is going to cost a mere $155 million to launch, and hundreds of workers to help construction of the theme park where the Ark is to be built.  The fundamentalist ministry that is plotting the launch of the Ark replica is for the stated purpose of proving that “God’s word (as written by 8th century BCE priests) is true.”  It doesn’t hurt that the project is banking that the “Ark Encounter,” as it is called, will be so popular that it will then be eligible for more than $40 million in sales tax rebates.  That’s even a better deal than Noah got.

But consider the dimensions of the Kentucky Ark: according to the teaser publicity for the project, the Ark is to be 500 feet long and 80 feet high, which is said to be the exact dimensions given in scriptures.  But is it?  Debate has long raged over how long the Hebrew cubit meant.  Some scholars say it was equal to eighteen inches, and others insist it was equal to twenty inches.  It is the latter figure used for the Kentucky Ark.

The character of Noah appears early in the book of Genesis, chapter 5, verse 29, taking the stage after an involved accounting of eight hundred years of serious begatting, which culminated with Noah being born to Lamech.  Noah is then the star and hero of chapters 6 through 9, who allegedly saved the seed of all living creatures during a worldwide deluge.  Thus, in a manner of speaking, Noah is simply another Adam who is recast as riding the Creation energies in an episode of re-Creation.  There are, however, much older stories of a widespread deluge from many cultures: the Mesopotamian epic is especially notable, and the priest-authors were familiar with it.  All the many other deluge tales are brushed off as myths, but the priest-written Genesis version is declared to be holy truth.

In the ancient prehistory cultures the Ark actually represented the preserving vessel of qualified pre-physical energies which are carried into their matter fulfillment.  There was never any historical Noah who built a colossal boat at the direction of god.  The “flood” upon which the incoming life forces are borne are the waters (energies) of biological life.  In the larger cosmological understanding this extends to the planetary genes at the stage where they are just beginning to form as visible matter.  Planets are, in their turn, the “Ark” of all life  forms.

This means that the scriptural “Flood” of Noah, like all similar tales among the older cultures, is only allegorical.  To give added evidence that the Noah account is myth, and myth only, the name Noah was taken directly from the Chaldean word Nuah, which served to identify the third person of the Chaldean trinity as well as the third sign of their Zodiac.

For the typical forty days and nights of flooding, Noah and his family are depicted as safely preserved in the Ark.  Drawn upon ancient teachings and their attendant myths, the number four (traditionally disguised with added zeros) symbolized the four pre-physical energy planes through which energy becomes manifest as matter.  The “Flood” is described as occurring in Noah’s “six hundredth year” (Genesis 7:11), which means the energy prototype had reached the stage where it was about to assume visible density, i.e. self-generated identity.

More evidence of the mythic nature of the Noah tale is revealed in the role that a bird, a raven, plays not only in the scriptural version of the Deluge, but in all other similar myths from older cultures.  The raven was the last bird sent out from the Ark, for being a carrion-eathing bird it represents the courser elements that amass as dense matter, and so it did not return to the Ark.

Another bit of evidence that the Noah tale is myth is the scene in which receding waters (of Creation’s energies) leave Noah and his family upon the tip of matter, which is symbolized as Mount Ararat.  This is a name that is traceable to the Aramaic word for earth.  In a real sense the Earth is the altar of life from which there may arise the higher qualities of awareness.  At attainment of mortal life the pre-physical energies are cast off (sacrificed) for the sake of experiencing limited expression so it may qualify itself for higher activity and development.  This is the meaning behind the storyline where Noah, once he reaches “land,” set about building an altar.  Upon this altar he “…took of every clean beast and every clean fowl, and offered (them as) burnt offering on the altar” (Genesis 8:20).  Did the Lord have Noah carry two (or was it seven) of these living things into safety just so they could then be burned up as sacrifice to himself?  Of course not.  The “clean” beasts and fowl represent the desires, emotions and passions that must be offered up if man is to evolve spiritually.

Practically the first thing that Noah did after erecting the altar was to plant a vine-stock, said to have been from Eden.  The vines were mythic, so of course they bore ripe fruit the same day, and by nightfall Noah was drunk from the wine he had made from them.  In other words, he became intoxicated with the wine of life.

Noah at this point of the story symbolizes the Earth in its earliest matter form.  There is as yet no vegetation, so he is said to have been drunk and naked (Genesis 9:21).  The action of two sons, Japheth and Shem (energies in evolutionary movement), covered their naked father, which represents the garmenting of Earth, a condition not possible until it is completely exposed as matter.  In older versions from various cultures this achievement of self-identifying form was understood to have been achieved by severing connection with the primordial energies.  And this is the meaning behind the rabbinical myth of a son castrating Noah as he slept.  In myths of older cultures, untroubled with prudery, the youngest son represented the more advanced creative energies and so was depicted as castrating his drunk/sleeping father—as in Greek myth where Cronos castrated his sleeping father Uranus.

If the “Ark Encounter” planned in Kentucky is built according to biblical description, they will have to first find a lot of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14).  And the only ventilation for the whole three-story structure will be a single window one cubit square—a hole 20 inches square at most.  Lots of luck with that.

Are the Ten Commandments Historically Reliable?

Posted in agnoticism, Atheist, belief, Bible, Christianity, culture, faith, freethought, Hebrew scripture, history, prehistory, random, religion, Social with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by chouck017894

Once again there is a big stink over whether or not a monument bearing the Ten Commandments should be displayed on public property.  This time it is in Florida (Cross City) where a five-foot, six-ton, $20,000 granite monument with the commandments listed on it has been plunked down on the front steps of the Dixie County courthouse.  This in-your-face devotion may have good intentions, but the display arouses questions in regard to the background of the “laws” allegedly handed down by god to Moses.

The first four injunctions of the Ten Commandments, also called “Decalogue,” are aimed solely at trying to inveigle god’s conditional love.  As presented, these commandments were penned in the 8th century BCE by priests of Yahweh to use as their authority over the people.  Read the first four alleged “commandments” again: they have nothing to do with maintaining justice, evenhandedness and ethics within society; they are fashioned exclusively to flatter the ego of an imagined humanlike deity.

It must be remembered that the Hebrew Scriptures as we know them were fashioned upon collected oral folklore and modified to written accounts in Jerusalem in the 8th century BCE (700s).  These tales were added to and modified through the next century.  In fact the book of Deuteronomy was not added to the lineup of priest-books until around 536 BCE during the reconstruction period  following the “Babylonian Captivity.”  At that time some enterprising men (priests) discovered versions of Judah’s spiritual past, which are now known as the E, the J, and the P versions, and edited them into the works known as Genesis, Exodus and Numbers, and it was at this time that the work now known as Deuteronomy was added. To present it all as “holy” authority, the works were then claimed to have been dictated by god to the character of Moses on Mount Sinai.  Then it was easy to have the assertion accepted that the whole Torah was from Moses’ hand—this despite that such belief meant that Moses often spoke of himself in the third person.

The Hebrew name for what is more widely known as Exodus is We’ elieh semot, which begins, “And these are the names…”  This opening phrase serves as the name for the book, which is a convenient link to the preceding narrative of Genesis.  It is not accidental that the opening words of Exodus which lists the descendants of Israel utilize precisely the same words as found in Genesis 46:8.  So too, there is considerable narrative borrowed from Genesis 12 which revolves around the alleged promise of Yahweh to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob regarding progeny and land ownership.

Where could the inspiration for the lordly commandments have come from?  Certain facts from genuine ancient history provide clues.  Around 2600 BCE a ruler of Sumer, who was named Urukagina, found so much immoral activity in his kingdom that he found it necessary to post laws for the people to obey.  The long inscription is regarded as the first-ever record of social reform, and it was instituted from a noble concept of freedom, equality and justice.  A few of the injustices that Urukagina addressed included the unfair use by supervisors of their power to take the best of everything for themselves; the abuse of one’s official position; and the practice of monopolistic groups to extort unbearable prices.  Sounds discouragingly like GOP politics in the USA today, doesn’t it?

Approximately 842 years later (c. 1758 BCE), Hammurabi of Babylon would decree a similar code upon the immorality found within his kingdom.  These laws were displayed on a stele for the public to see, and the king depicted himself as receiving the law code from the god Shamash.  The code sought to protect the weak and the poor against the injustices practiced at the hands of the rich and powerful.  The Hammurabi code was strictly a civil code of 282 paragraphs, not a pretense of religious worthiness.  Many of the punishments were based on the principle of equal retaliation—the juvenile “eye-for-an-eye” revenge approach.  This, in turn, was utilized in the Hebrew myths by those who presented the tale of the Ten Commandments as having been handed down to Moses by god.

Jump ahead to the timeframe c. 637 BCE.  King Amon of the little state of Judah was assassinated, and his eight year old son, Josiah, became king.  Young Josiah was to bring about religious reform to Judah, and the impetus for this was the suspicious coincidence of the High Priest Hilkiah “discovering” within the walls of the Temple which was being repaired, the “Book of Law”—the alleged last sermon by Moses to the children of Israel.  When the High Priest’s secretary, named Shapan, read the sermon aloud to Josiah, the boy was horrified, for it convinced him that his ancestors had failed to obey the Lord’s strict instructions given to Moses.

The timely “discovery” of this work, which is almost certainly the work of the High Priest Hilkiah and his secretary Shapan, would become the core of the scriptural book known as Deuteronomy, and is widely accepted as meaning “second law.”  In Hebrew this work is called debarim, meaning “words,” taken from the opening verse.  It is from this “discovered” Book of Law that the “Israelites,”which at that time was promoted as the faithful of Yahweh, were charged (with typical cult prohibitions) to have no transactions, no social interaction, and no intermarriage whatever with the native inhabitants of the region.  Followers were to understand that Yahweh was a most psychotically jealous god.  And the “discovered” sermon of Moses clearly stated, “For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your Elohim; it is you that Yahweh our Elohim has chosen to be his very own people out of all the people of the earth.”  This is now included in Deuteronomy 7:5-6; and so too are all the other alleged demands said to have been listed in the discovered “Book of Law.”  It was in this timeframe that the working foundation of what is now known as the Old Testament was set down.  As a result, the Ten Commandments thus appear in three places in Scripture; Exodus 20:1, Exodus 34:28, and in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

When considering the Ten Commandments, we should pause to ask, “Which Ten Commandments?”  Even the scriptural accounts relate that the first set of commandments (in Exodus 20) wound up in broken fragments due to Moses falling into a fit of rage (Exodus 32:16-19).  The second version of the commandments (Exodus 34), had little resemblance to the first!  Had god forgotten what he had said originally?

According to the highly edited version from which we are instructed to take as moral guidance, the first four commandments concern only how we are supposed to think about god if we are to receive his conditional love.  The remaining six commandments express no concern on how to be compassionate, impartial, upright, tolerant or enlightened—the very soul of genuine morality.  The single commandment expressed in positive terms is honor thy father and mother.  The remaining commandments (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, as popularly presented) are couched in decidedly negative terms–“thou shalt not.”

Is this questionable background of Moses’ alleged relay of god’s laws a worthy cause to indulge in deliberate disobedience of civil law?

Casting Out the Devil

Posted in agnoticism, Atheist, belief, Bible, Christianity, faith, Hebrew scripture, history, humanity, life, random, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by chouck017894

The belief in the existence of evil spirits or demons is as ancient as the earliest man.  Primitive man tended to think in terms of the continuing influence of their departed ancestors, which he believed affected his experiences of good or bad fortune.  These same spirits were also thought to be even capable of entering into a person’s body, causing diseases and pain.  That some ancestors were malevolent was the basis for belief in demons, and earliest concepts of a demon was an entity with human attributes.  And, not surprisingly, there was then also thought to be certain individuals who possessed the power to exorcise those hostile spirits and demons.

Pagan cultures also struggled with such concepts of negative entities, but the belief that every animal, plant, river, body of water, rock, mountain or human was a development of a soul put a more favorable balance on perceived spiritual influence.  As lesser gods became demoted to the rank of daemons (meaning neither good nor bad, but which usually became bad), the more educated persons encouraged a ban on sorcery, magic and “black arts.”   In the third century BCE, however, there was a widespread revival of popular demonology—even among the Hebrews.

To the Old Testament’s credit, despite its numerous flaws and contradictions, the insinuation that evil spirits or demons exist remained relatively infrequent, and those that do skate near that idea are found for the most part in the later accounts of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels.  Indeed, the nearest thing to an exorcism to be found in Hebrew Scriptures is in 1 Samuel 16:14 where David uses music to calm the paranoid King Saul.

But time, of course, changes all things, and during the approach to the first century of our Common Era, Judaism had become more exposed to various people that had been absorbed into the Roman Empire, and a belief in malevolent influences taking possession of persons or situations again began to displace rationality.  A reference in Mark (12:27) indicates that there were those among the Pharisees who held status as professional exorcists.  Rabbinical literature in this timeframe did indeed have references to individual demons by name and gave specific illnesses they could inflict.

Christian theology, developing primarily in Rome, expanded upon earlier Hebraic ideas, and being influenced also by empire-building mentality expanded upon those ideas into an elaborate hierarchy not only of angels and archangels, but with fallen angels, demons, and devils led by an emperor-like Satan.

The New Testament authors drew upon a wide field of cultures which had been bound into the Roman Empire, and the widespread idea of possession consequently colored early accounts of alleged incidents surrounding Jesus’ ministry.  These show up prominently in Mark 1:21-28; Mark 5:1-20; Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 8:28-34; Matthew 9:32-33; Matthew 15:21-28; Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 4:31-37; Luke 8:26-39; and Luke 9:37-43.  These particular books, it should be remembered, were the earliest of the “Gospels,” with Mark penned c. 55-60, and Matthew written c. 70-75 (Mark was revised c. 70-80), and Luke was compiled c. 84-90.  The only other mention of exorcism in Gospel is found in the Acts of the Apostles (also written c. 84-90), with 16:16-18 and 19:11-19 being in regard to explicit incidents, and two nonspecific incidents are referred to in 5:16 and 8:7.

There has been a lot of squirming among evangelicals over these alleged exorcism incidents, and on the whole they prefer instead to direct attention of the faithful to the spiritual gifts of Jesus, and broadly infer that Jesus bestowed the gift of healing (and by extension of exorcism) upon his twelve apostles.  Curiously, this spiritual gift was a one-time-only offer if we consult Mark 3:16, Matthew 10:1 and 8, and Luke 9:1.  The indication in these books is that the authority to heal and/or exorcise was limited to the apostles’ life time.  The underlying problem with this is that exorcism as a feature presented to his apostles is an activity that later became mixed up with promises of the world’s end time and indications of Jesus’ immediate reappearance, and/or the lowering of god’s kingdom to Earth.  Satan and his evil brood are then to be decisively defeated.  Never explained is: If the apostles’ lifetime ended some 2000 years ago, how has that power of exorcism been relayed to a clique of priests?

In the Roman Catholic Church the name exorcist is given to the members of a third of the minor orders.  This ranking was allegedly established by Pope Fabian (also called a “saint”) in the third century (d. 250).  In the Roman Catholic Church, exorcism is practiced according to their version of Scriptural teaching.  Exorcism also plays a role in the blessing of holy water and oil, and in the rite of baptism for, in accordance with the doctrine of “original sin,” all unbaptized persons are claimed by Satan.  Pope Innocent I (d. 417, also regarded a “saint”) forbade priests to exercise this exorcising power without express permission of their bishop—a rule still in effect.

Does later history offer any advancement of rationality?  In 1614 Pope Paul V established the rites of exorcism of demons in the Rituale Romanum, which was, more or less, recast from Babylonian rites.  It was not much of a  stretch for the pope, who was then distressed at the sexual activities going on in Rome, to latch onto the theatrical means of exorcism to combat the “sins of the flesh and the devil.”  It helped that the belief in possession had again become widespread, and the church could point to the book of Luke which related an alleged incident where a “possessed” man had come to Jesus on the shores of Galilee.  The story goes that when Jesus inquired of the man’s name, the man replied “Legion,” for many demons had entered into him.  Jesus, of course, saved the man by commanding the demons to enter nearby herd of swine, which then galloped away to drown themselves in the sea.

Leap ahead another 383 years from 1614: Things had not changed all that much in Catholic fascination with “possession.”  It was 1997, and Mother Teresa was hovering near death, and the archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D’Souza, ordered a priest to perform exorcism upon the woman because the Archbishop suspected that she was being attacked by the devil.  Her reputation of often letting her patients suffer needlessly in the name of god probably had nothing to do with it.

That little exorcism incident drew some scathing comments from around the globe.  Perhaps it was coincidence that Pope John Paul II approved the new rites for exorcism in October 1998.  The exorcism rites were formally released in January 1999.  The 84-page procedure was published entirely in Latin; and as far as the holy church was concerned it had done its duty, and it was up to each foreign language Catholic faction to translate it.  The 1999 pope-approved version was really only an update of the 1952 and the 1964 versions, however.  Sadly, at the threshold of the twenty-first century the belief in demons was once again given church recognition.

If we take the priestly assertion that “all that is good comes from god, and all that is evil or negative is from the devil,” we have bought into a marketing ploy, not spiritual truth.  Scriptural “evil” and the negative circumstances that matter-life encounters are not instigated by demons or evil spirits; it is commonly human desire and greed that is the cause of the bulk of man’s encounter with “evil.”

Radical Right and the Seven Deadly Sins

Posted in agnoticism, Atheist, belief, Bible, Christianity, culture, faith, freethought, Hebrew scripture, random, religion, Social, thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by chouck017894

Pope Gregory 1 (540?-604), generally advertised as “the Great” and also called a “saint,” is credited with warning mankind of the seven deadly sins which threaten man’s “fallen” condition.  In truth he simply built upon the musings of a fourth century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, who had pondered over a list of what he considered to be eight “evil thoughts.”  Undoubtedly the studious monk and Pope Gregory 1 gleaned their insight on sin from the Old Testament book of Proverbs 6:16-19, which stated that the Lord was not pleased with”…a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devised wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among his brothers.  [Loosely interpreted from King James translation.]  The biblical list of negative indulgences is depressing: it is undeniable proof that career politicians have alway been around.

In Gregory’s revision of Evagrius Ponticus’ notes, he kind-of-sort-of dropped “sorrow” from the monk’s list of evil thoughts as being a condition of sinfulness.  (More on this a little later.)  The “sins” that Gregory mined into propagandist gold were:  1) lust, 2) gluttony, 3) greed, 4) sloth, 5) wrath, 6) envy, and 7) pride.  There is bittersweet irony encapsulated in this list, for throughout all the centuries of church history the church itself has wallowed in all of them (and still does).  It is interesting to compare the religious and political extremists’ conduct in the US today against this honored yardstick of sinful behavior.

Gregory 1 listed the first sin as being luxuria, Latin, which means “extravagance,” so he wasn’t really referring to excessive sexual thoughts or desires as the word “lust” is commonly used today.  “Lust” is an Old English interpretation of the Latin meaning. But either connotation can be easily applied to the extravagances of the religious and political extremists in the US today.  [Roman Catholic Catechism revised Gregory’s order of sins as: 1) pride, 2) avarice, 3) envy, 4) wrath, 5) lust, 6) gluttony, and 7) sloth.]

Second on Gregory’s list of sins was gula, from the Latin gluttier, which actually refers to the gulping down of food or drink.  This is the common indulgence associated with over-consumption or over-indulgence, i.e. gluttony, the consequence of which is the habit of waste.  Thomas Aquinas (1226?-1274), expanded upon this sinful aspect (one might even say he over-indulged himself in this) by listing six ways of committing gluttony.  By whichever standard we consider, it is easily applied to the typical conduct of the extreme right in religion and politics in the US today.

Third on Gregory’s list was avaritia, Latin, from avarus, meaning “greed.”  Like gluttony, the indulgence in greed/avarice is a sin of excess.  As commonly interpreted by the church, this is applied largely to the acquisition of worldly wealth.  The sin lies in the fact that temporal things are treasured more than the divine, and therefore is the turning away from god.  Now this is a particularly easy one to associate with the radicals, especially the political right.

Acedia, Latin, the fourth sin on Gregory’s list of sins (as Thomas Aquinas interpreted it), was not a reference to what is understood as sloth today.  Gregory had dropped “sorrow” from Evagrius Ponticus’ list of “evil thoughts,” but the inclusion of acedia by Aquinas may be better understood as the feelings of depression, apathy, melancholy, dejection, etc.  Such feelings, when allowed to dominate, were judged to induce spiritual indifference, which would result in failure to do “god’s work.”  Such an immobilizing state of emotion is not the same as laziness or an unwillingness to move around more than is required as “sloth” is used today.  So the old meaning of an unwillingness to love and care for the diverse works of god is what this listing as acedia meant originally.  And in that understanding it certainly applies to the religious and political radicals of today.

Number five on Gregory’s legendary list of sins was ira, meaning wrath, anger, rage, or ire.  Such emotional concentration has the tendency to blind one to aspects of truth, either in regard to others and circumstances, or with self and circumstances.  This can lead to acts of vengeance—such as obstinacy, slander, defamation, assault, physical abuse, murder, and even genocide.  Sort of makes one think of the common far-right characteristics.  Wrath—violent anger—is an emotion that is not always due to selfish reasons or self-interest, however, and such wrath for any reason commonly flames out explosively harming everything around it and within itself.  It is this self-destructive feature of internal harm which was deemed to be a major transgression, for it amounts to a rejection of god’s gift of life—the same reasoning that the Catholic Church deems suicide to be the ultimate transgression.

Gregory’s sixth named sin was invidia, Latin, from invidere meaning to look at with malice.  In other words, envy.  Envy is often entangled with greed, but its distinction is the emotional state of resentment toward another person who has something or has achieved something that makes the observant party feel slighted by dame fortune or god.  The emotion called envy is the wish to deprive others of their good fortune.  Ask the people of the states of Wisconsin and Michigan how this applies to the radical Republican/Tea Party takeover of their state governments.

Last on Gregory’s list of sins was superbia, Latin, translated as pride.  Roman Catholic Catechism placed pride at the number one spot, and there is logic to this.  Pride, hubris, vanity, conceit, narcissism—whatever it is called, is the blindly emotional indulgence of self-glory.  It has been characterized in the United States Congress by Republican and Tea Baggers constantly saying “no” to any compromise.  It is this rabid egomania out of which all other sins arise.  With love focused upon themselves (self-interest) the result is the failure to acknowledge the god-given goodness which is active within the diverse gifts of others.  This type of behavior was seen by Gregory and Aquinus as the person holding himself out of his proper position toward the Creator, hence sinful.

Whether the understanding of serious transgressions come from the book of Proverbs or Pope Gregory’s list of deadly sins, it is obvious that the extreme evangelical faction that in 1996 took over the Republican Party in the United States does not truly practice the advice upon which they claim to place their “faith.”