Archive for January, 2013

Creation ala Genesis

Posted in Bible, biological traits, environment, faith, Hebrew scripture, life, prehistory, random, religion with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2013 by chouck017894

God’s revealed word assures us that God merely had to say, “Let there be…” this or that, and then this or that just popped into existence.  Thus, without any recipe or formula or thought-out blueprint all the varied components of whatever “he” envisioned just magically came together in its manifested form.  No trials, no errors, just zap.  Apparently God managed to fill up not only the naked Earth but all infinity as well in just six twenty-four hour “days.” No wonder God had to rest on the seventh day: or so the Creationists avow.  However, the authors never bothered themselves to clarify which of the two Creation version they promote, conveniently ignoring that chapters one and two of Genesis give some slightly differing specifics!  And, of course, we are instructed to never ask how God himself came into existence.  Is this imaginative account of how matter and life came into existence really worthy to be taught in school science classes as creationists clamor?

However, in order for all of God’s varied and diverse forms which he had made manifest by talking to himself to be regenerated and maintained, God did have to put in place some system of renewal.  And that renewal system for each and every thing that he had created did require a recipe or formula or blueprint for its continuation. Scientific sleuthing has managed to discover one vital part of that blueprint, and we know that as DNA.  Life, whether micro or macro, each follow specific developmental processes, and even galaxies and the universe itself follow the same constant motions of re-creation.

Cultures that preceded by thousands of years the word of God as “revealed” in eighth century BCE Jerusalem apparently were not privileged to biblical enlightenment, and had to grope about in ignorance of how everything came into existence.  It was up to the self-appointed priests in Jerusalem in the much later timeframe to explain the facts of Creation.  At that time the entire population of the world has been guesstimated to have been around seventy to one hundred million persons, but God was interested in enlightening only a tiny percent of the population about the facts of his acts of Creation.  And that tiny percent happened to be in the habit of agitating everyone around Jerusalem.  Even so, for some holy reason, the particulars of what went into his creative process, like chemical compounds and such, were left unexplained.  Consequently, how he transformed energy into our little planet with its varied and diverse life forms has long served enterprising Bible interpreters as a sacred mystery to be mined and manipulated for their own ends.  Perhaps we should question the Bible style version of Creation against some known facts.

Planet Earth is heavy with chemical components, and it is this chemical heaviness which stands as a major argument against biological life having originated on this planet.  But that, in itself, does not negate the Genesis explanation. Scores of years of scientific research has projected that Earth was formed around four billion five hundred million years ago.  Within a few hundred-million years the simple life forms were already in existence on the infant Earth—a remarkably short time in Creation terms.  To science a few hundred million years after Earth’s formation to have simple life forms appear seems a case of too much too soon.  Ah, but all that was just one “day” in the Genesis account.

If the oldest and simplest life forms were present on Earth well over three billion years ago—and these simple life forms had, as science has found, molecules of biological origin, it is hard evidence that life forms on this planet arose and developed from some source other than from a combination of inert gases and chemicals that were then predominant on the infant planet.  Some of the most abundant chemical elements of Earth’s composition are nickel and chromium.  If biological life originated in such an abundant chemical composition, wouldn’t it seem logical that these more plentiful elements would figure in the composition of any life forms that would originate in the primal stew (biblical “dust”), if not prominently then at least moderately?  But nickel and chromium play practically no role whatever in the biochemical structure of the life forms that thrive on this planet.  Of course they are not needed in the Genesis account.

On the other hand, the element molybdenum, a metallic element of the chromium group is quite rare on this planet, but nonetheless that rare element plays a pivotal role in enzymatic reactions that are vitally necessary to all Earth’s biological life!  Furthermore, if biological life arose on this planet, whether from the “dust” of Eden or in a simmering primeval stew, logic suggest that a variety of genetic codes would have developed.  But that did not happen either.  Instead, all life forms on planet Earth developed from a single genetic code.  All life forms share a single genetic composition.  To religionists, of course, this genetic singularity can be brushed aside as proof of God’s commandment.

Some ancient Sumerian cuneiform texts, far older than the priest-written Genesis fable, provide information in regard to the puzzle of life’s appearance on early Earth, however.  According to the deciphered texts, life on this planet developed billions of years ago from an outer space source; from a huge rogue planet that made at least two passes through this developing solar system.  The Sumerians did not confuse that rogue celestial object with any comet, asteroid or other space object, and the roving  planet that passed through our young solar system was given the name of Marduk.  The Sumerians also referred to this planet, which was obviously not affiliated with our solar system, as “the planet of crossing.”  This information later became reworked and the basis for personification of the Babylonian god Marduk, known in the Bible as Merodach, who was credited with bringing the chemistry of life to planet Earth.  Could that possibly be the god that the post-Sumerian Genesis story refers to as commanding the activation of life?

Oddly, in recent modern science, a theory has been advanced that is remarkably similar to the ancient Sumerian account.  A minority of scientists, risking reputation and government financial support, dared to offer the theory that life on this planet may have been seeded from miniscule organisms given off by some free-wheeling planet that once brushed close to the primordial Earth.  Perhaps that planetary lovemaking is what took place over the biblical “six days” of Creation?  Or was God just playing a solo game of billiards that “day”?

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Haggling Over What To Believe

Posted in Atheist, belief, Christianity, faith, history, random, religion with tags , , , on January 21, 2013 by chouck017894

Very few persons who faithfully toddle to church in search of spiritual guidance in some man-formulated faith system ever bother themselves to ponder how God revealed the particulars that were to serve as their faith system’s beliefs, values and ceremonial activities. The fact that organized faith systems are structured as authoritarian conglomerates is typified in the manner by which their creeds, tenets and doctrines came to be standardized as “holy guidance.” The means by which the “fathers” received divine direction from the Omnipotent Being may seem a bit illogical, but hey, God moves in mysterious ways. Mostly the process of gaining godly instruction on things like tenets, doctrine and the theatrical regimentation promoted as being preferred by God came when representatives of the faith system met to haggle over such things.

Christianity, for example, came into formation in Rome (not in the “Holy Land”) and the principles of empire-building served as the example for authoritarian management when the Jesus cult began to attract a broad array of seekers (c. 75 CE). There was no such word as “church” in that early timeframe (despite the claims that Peter established a “church” in Rome): there were ecclesiae (from Greek, meaning a duly summoned assembly but nothing that could be considered a specific center of organization. That developed spasmodically and arose due to the various forms of interpretation which various satellite groups accepted concerning the early cult writings Mark and Matthew). Serious attempts at establishing an authorized interpretation began in the general timeframe 84-96 when the NT book Acts of the Apostles was written. With the character of Paul introduced into the spiritual scuffle the original focus on the Jesus cult was skillfully shifted away from spiritual teaching attributed to the Jew Jesus on how to lead a moral life and shifted to more mundane issues such as establishing an organizational structure as a faith system. And new writings would continue to appear up through 135. The NT book Hebrews was actually the last NT book written (c. 137), not Revelation.

There were numerous “councils” throughout the early couple of centuries in attempts to standardize the set of views for Christian faith followers, but a conformist or orthodox set of rules of belief continued to evade the headstrong fathers. It should be noted in association with this, the cross still was not the popular symbol of what would become the Christain faith. Among the early members of the movement the prominent symbol was of two arced lines resembling a fish, which was accepted as being appropriate for the new Age Of Pisces (calculated to have begun c. 60 BCE). This and many other early perceptions would get put aside over time, primarily in the early part of the fourth century with the first of seven scrappy councils concerning what was to be believed. The doctrine and tenets that are subscribed to today as Christianity were debated and argued over, and whatever the majority of “fathers” grudgingly came to agree upon has influenced every branch of Christianity that split off from the initial movement.

The First Council of Nicea was held in 325, which sought to bridge the argument over Christ’s divinity. A Greek ecclesiastic and theologian, Arius (died 336), taught that if Jesus was the son of God, then there had to be a time when Jesus did not exist. This view spread rapidly through Christian communities and had been condemned by a council of 100 Egyptian and Libyan bishops in 321. An opponent, Athanasius of Alexandria (293?-373), on the other hand, taught that the godhead was composed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These conflicting interpretations prompted the call for the Council of Nicea in 325, which determined that Athanasius’ assessment—that Father, Son and Holy Spirit—were fully equal, and so was to be considered the correct precept. Athanasius thereafter became bishop of Alexandria about 326, and of course is regarded as a “saint” in Catholic lore.

The next council to decide what is now expected to be believed as holy truth took place in 381, and is known as the First Council of Constantinople. Debates over the Trinity aspect of the godhead still disturbed the Christian world, with many groups still denying the full divinity of “Holy Spirit.” This called for clarification, and the outcome of this rowdy council was a more expanded version of the stance that had been taken at Nicea. This makes for some confusion, for what is spoken of as the Nicene Creed is in reality the form that was hammered out at Constantinople.

With the Trinity version then thought to be set in theological concrete, the next major debate arose over what may be termed Christology—or the relationship between Jesus’ divine natures and his human manifestation. This debate necessitated the third major council, the Council of Ephesus in 431. The variant teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431), concerning the nature of Jesus rocked the orthodox Catholic doctrine. Nestorius taught that the divine and the human nature of Jesus acted as one, but these natures were not joined to compose a unity of a single individual. This meant that the Virgin Mary could not and should not be presented as the “mother of God,” reasoning that if Jesus was born of a mortal woman then Jesus’ divine nature (Christhood) could only be derived from the Father. The Council, under the leadership of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, who taught that the divine and human natures were fully united, condemned Nestorius’ precept as “heresy.” Cyril’s interpretation of heavenly things triumphed, and Nestorius’ followers were then heavily persecuted, and forced to seek refuge in Persia, India, China and Mongolia. Bishop Cyril had long been fanatical in his spiritual interpretations, as revealed in 415 when, as bishop or Alexandria, he had acted as ringleader behind the murder of the popular Greek philosopher, the beautiful and wise woman named Hypatia. Despite this fault the church awarded Cyril the title of “saint.”

The fourth recognized council, the Council of Chalcedon, was called in 451; its primary purpose was to reverse the views of a previous council, the Second Council of Ephesus which became snubbed by the church as having been a “gangster synod.” That unrecognized council, which had been led by Dioscuros of Alexandria, had also revolved around the nature of Christ. After bad-tempered debates the Council of Chalcedon managed to weld a theological concept of Christ’s nature into a prescribed belief that Christ’s nature was to be considered both fully divine and fully human. That just happened to be the view in this timeframe preferred by Pope Leo I.

The fifth major council is considered to be the Second Council of Constantinople, which was called in 553. Christology was still a thorn in the faith’s posterior, making it difficult for orthodoxy to sit comfortably upon the seat of “revealed” wisdom. Called to session by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the emperor promoted a Monophysite tenet (doctrine held by Coptic and Syrian Christians) in condemning the Nestorians. This council condemned the Nestorian writings, but this, unfortunately, only created a new schism in the Western Church.

Faith rattled along with continuing skirmishes for another 127 years, and then in 680 the Christological war flared up again. Central to the debates was still the issue of Christ’s natures. To pacify seekers in search of what was proper to believe, the weary Byzantine emperors attempted to soothe things with the philosophy that regardless of Christ’s natures they could at least still agree that the savior had a single will. Predictably that attempt at compromise did not fly very well and was held by many to skate along the brink of heresy. The Third Council of Constantinople in 680 thus wound up proclaiming that the official belief was therefore to be that Christ possessed not only two natures but also two wills.

The seventh ecumenical council concerning what was to be considered the orthodox guiding principles of Christian faith is known as the Second Council of Nicea in 787. In this timeframe (720-787) the dispute tearing at the fabric of Christian faith (then known as Catholic) concerned the use of icons and images in sacred places. This gathering of 375 bishops, the majority of whom were Byzantine, was convened by Empress Irene of the eastern Roman Empire. Despite fervent objections from iconoclasts, the Byzantine-dominated council validated the veneration of images and approved their restoration in churches throughout the Roman Empire. The little catch allowing for these graven images was that such depictions were to be venerated, and worship was to be directed solely to God.

There have been, of course, many more councils called since these, but these seven early council debates established the basic belief strategy that even today continues to color all the varieties of Christian faith systems.

Book of Revelation’s Bumpy History

Posted in belief, faith, random, religion with tags , , , , , on January 1, 2013 by chouck017894

The late appearance of the New Testament book of The Revelation upon the Christian scene, penned c. 135-137, followed closely upon the occurrence of the Jewish insurrection in Jerusalem under Ben Cocheba (132-135 CE).  It was a Jewish insurrection which spread to Cyrene, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia.  With this NT book’s late appearance there is presented an inexplicable psychological change in the character of Jesus from a mild and peaceful teacher (as in Mark and Matthew) into the harsh judgmental figure of Revelation.  Missing in the new book was any attempt to attract or convert Jews to the emergent Jesus cult; the narrow focus was set upon the organization of a new Jerusalem, a situation that is picturesquely achieved at the end of the lumbering tale (Revelation 21:10).  There is strong but veiled anti-Jewish anger expressed in this tale written during Roman Empire times, and it is revealed in the contention that it is a new Jerusalem that is to be purified and lowered from Heaven, not Rome; the Jews were not to be saved as far as the author was concerned.  Add to this that the work is addressed to a definite group of seven new churches, all in the Roman province of Asia.

It is also worth noting that the description of the new Jerusalem asserts that it is to have a wall surrounding it with twelve gates—three each along the north, east, south and west.  As in Hebrew Scripture tales, where the number twelve is a prime clue in the story, it is a covert way of referring to the zodiac, as are numerous other descriptions in Revelation.  And clearly the symbolism used, such as the number seven, happens to be common in all Creation myths; so in this imagined re-creation of Jerusalem there are 7 angels, 7 horns, 7 stars, 7 seals, 7 vials, 7 plagues, 7 candlesticks, 7 churches, 7 spirits before the throne, and the great beast with 7 heads.  These references to the number seven are not unique to the book of Revelation, for the very same numerical symbols are to be found in the book of Ezekiel, chapter four.  Another example of zodiac plundering is found in Revelation in the opening of chapter four where the throne is beheld; “…and one sat upon the throne..”  The one allegedly seen sitting upon the throne is said to have the look “…of a jasper and a sardine stone, and there was a rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald.”  The mention of these stones—jasper, sardine stone and emerald—happen to be the gemstone symbols for Pisces, Gemini and Cancer.*  This type of borrowing continues through the book.  (*Prehistory teachings used these three constellations as illustrations on lessons of Creation: with Pisces was taught Creative Consciousness; Gemini taught Mental Matter; and Cancer taught about Astral Matter.  Modern science has other definitions for these energies.)

Much of the symbolism used in Revelation happens to be common to Apocalyptic tradition of the timeframe in which it was written, and doubtlessly parts of the text were also drawn from ancient Babylonian and/or Persian mythology.  The Apocryphal vision presented in Revelation was likely also inspired by the old Hebrew tales of Moses (tales which were not canonically approved).  In the non-canonized Moses-related tale it tells of a “war in heaven” which was allegedly fought between angels and Satan’s horde over the possession of the deceased Moses’ physical body.  These elements of Revelation made the text a divisive work from its inception, with many finding its style and brutal scenes as starkly out of character with the earlier books of Gospel which depicted a gentle Jesus.

The “mark,” “name,” or “number” which supposedly will indicate the unworthy beings as referred to in Revelation, asserts that the mark will be received and viewable “in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (Revelation 13:16, 14:9, 20:4).  But nowhere does it say that either the name or number is received as being the mark, which may be interpreted that all three refer to one and the same thing.  So in this scare-the-hell out of believers harangue, those who receive this identification “…shall drink of the wine of the wrath of god, and be tormented  with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:9-11).  The horror tactic continues through chapter 20, which noticeably contradicts the message of god’s love and mercy which Jesus allegedly brought to the world.

So where did the idea of marking victims for eternal damnation come from?  From Hebrew scriptures, where else?  Remember the priest-composed Genesis, 4:5 where the Lord is said to have placed a mark upon Cain “…lest any finding him should kill him”?  And there is Ezekiel 9:4-6 where the Lord “…revealed to the “prophet” that there was to be “…set a mark upon the foreheads..” of those to be spared the Lord’s wrath.  In that account anyone who did not bear the mark were to be destroyed: “Slay utterly the old and young, both maids and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary.” (Verse 6)  These “values” were completely reversed by the author of Revelation, but he kept the old-fashioned fear tactics for keeping the “sheep” in line.

Unfortunately, by the time of “saint” Irenaeus (flourished 170-190), the book The Revelation began to be presented as the prophecy of God’s intention for the world, or as his plan for the church.  The third century theologian, “saint” Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 260) said of Revelation, “Even if I do not understand, I yet conceive some deeper sense to lie in the words.  Not measuring and judging these things by private reasoning but giving the chief right to faith, I have supposed it to be too high to be comprehended by me.”  But not all Christian cult theologians were so willing to abandon rationality and struck the book from their canon.

And so the debates continued.  By 340 the Christian Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis (Constantia) of the Island of Cyprus, reinstated the book for use.  But then  in 375 the Bishop of Nazianzen, in SW Cappadocia, struck the book from his canon.  And in 380 Bishop Philastrius, bishop of Brescia (Lombardy, Italy) omitted Revelation from his canon.  Even “saint” Jerome (about 390) expressed doubt about the book being attributed to John the presbyter.  Even later reformers such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1431) were doubtful of the book’s authenticity.  In general many of those who attribute the fourth Gospel to have been written by “saint” John, judged that Revelation, because of its style, could not have been written by him.

The message presented in the Judgment Day tale is defined by local color that was found in the Roman Empire of the timeframe in which it was composed, and references to contemporary events and social issues clearly indicate that it was meant for its own age.  Without doubt the author was strongly connected to the Christian cult circles that had been recently established in the Roman province of Asia, but his broader purpose was to send forth a message of intimidation and warning to insurgent Jews that Christ would soon manifest and cleanse the world (the Roman world) of unbelievers.

Time has shown (well over 2000 years) that the things allegedly foretold in Revelation are not applicable to the technological world we know today; its imagery simply is not relevant, and more importantly it holds no applicable spiritual value.