Waiting for Armageddon

Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I have lived around End Times theology and theories all my life.  Many a lunch break was spent discussing what would happen during the rapture in middle school and high school.  Everyone wanted to be rapture ready because being left behind was unthinkable.

I inherited the mentality from my friends, not my family.  And that was before all the Left Behind books became popular.  As each voyeuristic episode grew more destructive and violent, more people were hooked, and more people started writing their own versions.  (We lived across the street from a semi-popular “left behind” novelist.)  Apparently, millions of Americans love the idea of horrible harm coming to those who do not think as they do.  A compassionate Jesus? Who needs him if you are waiting for Armageddon?

Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary by Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi, explores the people who believe that Armageddon is around the corner and that Israel will be the site of Christ’s second coming.  It begins by stating that more than 50 million Americans believe that the Bible lays out the future of humankind in precise detail.   Among these, many believe that Christ will return to lead a final holy war in the land of Israel.  The show claims that 20 million Americans believe Jesus will return in their life time.  And remember the Pew statistics I quoted the other day?  41% of Americans believe Jesus will return before 2050.

According to many who believe in Biblical prophecy, the world will be destroyed in a chain of miraculous events:

  1. The Rapture – believers are snatched up by Jesus
  2. The Tribulation – seven years of war, violence, and destruction for those left behind
  3. Armageddon – the final epic battle between good and evil
  4. The Millennium – the return of the believers to a paradise on earth where there no longer is any evil

First comes  “The Rapture” which is based on Thessalonians 4:17: “We will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

The Rapture comes from the Greek word harpazo which means to snatch up or take up.  When Christ returns in the clouds, he will snatch up believers with him.  This will happen in an instant.  Suddenly, the 50 million or more believers will be gone – whisked out of their offices, homes or wherever it is they happen to be.  One minute they are here.  The next, poof!  Gone.  They will be snatched out of their cars, leaving them unmanned on the road which will cause accidents.  It will completely terrorize those who are left behind.

Second comes “The Tribulation”, based on Matthew 24:21: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world.”   Those who chose not to believe in God before “the Rapture” will be left to suffer the seven year tribulation.  75% of the earth will be wiped out.  Ecological disasters, meteors hitting the earth, episodes like 9/11 happening every day, 1/3 of the waters will turn to blood.  Five to six years into “The Tribulation”, half of the world will be dead.  Violence and wars will radically increase. This is the time period when God finishes his judgment and discipline of Israel.

There is a belief that during this time, there will be enough Jews to create a nation.  Supposedly, 144,000 Jews will convert and evangelize. The Jews who do not convert, will perish. The temple will be rebuilt. (The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine. Leviticus 25:23.)  Thousands of Americans who believe in End Times make pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year to visit the Islamic mosque that used to be the temple.  This can be problematic because both evangelical Christians and fundamentalist Jews hope for the destruction of the mosque in order that the  temple can be built again.  Jews because they believe it is their right.  American evangelists because it points to Armageddon.  In fact, many Americans interviewed in the documentary dream of something absolutely horrible happening to destroy the mosque (like an earthquake or nuclear boms) so the temple can be rebuilt. Very few are interested in peaceful negotiations.  It’s no wonder things are so contentious.

American evangelical fundamentalists explain Islam as a world dominating religion. Believers are required to take over the world for Allah. Yet, throughout history, it could be argued that Islam has been far more tolerant of Jews than Christianity.  And get real – it’ not as though the fundamentalists love the Jews.  They fully expect them to convert or be destroyed by the wrath of God.  It would seem that the God of Christianity wants Christians to take over the world for God more than does Allah want the Muslims to take over the world for Islam.  It’s a projection – cast the finger out there at “those people”, when the finger should really be pointed at yourself.

But that’s the nature of fundamentalism.   You have to have something to point the finger at so that you don’t have to look too closely at yourself.  In the 1970s, the “evil ones” were Red China and the Communist Block of Russia.  But with the fall of Russia and the end of the cold war, the evangelicals have had to find new “evil ones” so have shifted their focus to Islam. There must be an evil “them” in order to have a righteous “us”.  Doesn’t matter who it is.

Apocalyptic literature was never meant as a script for those in power.  It was written for those persecuted by those in power.  In the hands of the powerful, it is no longer inspirational, but rather a self-fulfilling prophecy of violence and destruction. For example, John Hagee called for a strike on Iran because of what he understands as Biblical prophecy.  Yet, no where does the Bible claim that WWIII is part of God’s plan.

Armageddon is the third stage in the chain of events.  “Their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets.”  Zechariah 14:12.

I’d never heard this before, but mysticism is of genuine concern for many evangelicals because they claim it has led to an interpretation of the Bible that isn’t literal.  Yet, mysticism has been around a lot longer than has fundamentalism and has always been the common link between world religions.  According to Huston Smith, fundamentalism didn’t come into being until the 19th century.  Far from creating bridges, fundamentalism creates deep divides by claiming that it’s way is the only way to Truth.

Anyway, the story goes that the Jews will sign a peace treaty with their Arab neighbors that turns out to be false.  This treaty allows the antichrist to move into the temple and declare himself God.  This will be when the Jews realize he is not the promised Messiah and this will lead to Armageddon, the epic end-time battle.

The Millennium is the fourth stage in the chain of events.  “And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4.  Christ is going to trash the planet, but he’s going to clean it up for the millennium.  No EPA necessary.

All of this would simply be amusing if there weren’t so many powerful political personalities who believe it.  These people are organized and are making their way into every part of politics, both local and national.  It’s so bad that many evangelicals who don’t share these particular End Times theories are concerned by the power of those who do.

I Want to Be Left Behind by Brenda Peterson

Did you know that 41% of Americans believe Jesus is going to return to Earth by 2050?  This kind of scares me.  Not because I’m afraid of being left behind.  I really doubt Jesus is going to return in any literal sense and if he does, I agree with Brenda Peterson –  I want to be left behind, thank you.  What scares me is that we are not particularly good stewards of the earth and a large number of us don’t really seem to care what horrible stewards we are.

If you seriously believe Jesus is going to return and whisk you away from Earth by 2050, what reason do you have to take care of the earth for your children and grandchildren?  Why not just leave the Earth in horrible shape for the sinners who get left behind?  It’s their fault for not believing, right?

This view concerns Brenda Peterson who wrote a memoir entitled I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth.  She quotes Bishop Wright who asks in “Farewell to the Rapture”:  “Is not the ‘Left Behind’ mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?”

But she also recognizes that there are those who believe in Rapture who continue to care for the earth.  Her memoir begins in Seattle.  She and her neighbor are sharing seal pup sitting duty.  He catches her off guard by informing her, “With 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun.”

Despite having grown up in a family that is absolutely giddy about the “end of times”, Peterson explains that she is far more drawn to the wonders and rapture of the earth than the otherworldly place her family is so excited about going.  Her family has long since quit trying to get her to share in their excitement about the rapture which is why her neighbor catches her off guard.  And while it may be true that 41% of Americans agree with Peterson’s neighbor that the countdown to the rapture is on, not all who believe this are necessarily poor stewards of the earth.  Take the seal pup sitting neighbor for instance.  Or the fact that despite their gleeful anticipation of the rapture, Peterson’s large Southern Baptist family are all involved in caring for the world in some way.

Peterson claims that Fundamentalists and Environmentalists share far more similar philosophies than either side realizes.  She offers this quick comparison between the two:

  • both are enraptured by doom
  • Fundamentalists – Apocalypse Now/Environmentalists – Apocalypse Near
  • both share a fear of future consequences
  • both express righteous anger
  • both are into “Thou shalt not”
  • both think themselves “Holier than Thou”
  • both are humorless
  • both are into blame, shame and judgment
  • both are Evangelical

Peterson points to something Biologist Olivia Judson wrote about a study by D.R. Oxley.  (Oxley, D. R. et al. 2008. “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits.” Science 321: 1667-1670.)

People who support warrantless searches, wiretapping, military spending and so on were also likely to startle at sudden noises and threatening images.  Those who support foreign aid, immigration, gun control, and the like tended to have much milder responses to the stimuli.

Peterson wonders if maybe the reason she is not as concerned about leaving this earth is because she was simply hardwired to respond more mildly than the rest of her family?  Maybe the stronger startle response in her family is what makes them believe in such things as Satan and the Rapture.  It follows that religion, for those with a strong startle response, becomes a safety net to assuage fears.  Peterson feels this is very important for liberals to understand – many people seriously believe that danger and persecution are ever-present, even when they are in power. We aren’t going to create any bridges by making those with a strong startle response even more fearful than they already are.  

Peterson has also noticed that more recent generations of Southern Baptists are not as enraptured by End Time Theology as their parents or grandparents.  Like Peterson, my parents survived two world wars and I grew up under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps Peterson is correct in thinking this may be why so many people in both our generation and our parent’s generation have spent so much time plotting an escape from this world. The current generation, on the other hand, has been through 9-11 but they don’t seem as intent on escaping, and that gives Peterson hope.

Brother Born Again

I stay up too late watching documentaries and movies on Netflix through their “Watch Instantly” program. The worst thing that probably ever happened to me was getting the Wii disk in the mail which allows me to watch the films on our television rather than on my crappy computer. Unlimited films!! Good-bye sleep!

Tonight, I watched an interesting documentary called Brother Born Again.  It’s about a Jewish bi-sexual woman whose brother converted to Christianity and moved to something like a Kibbutz (a Christian version called “The Farm") in Alaska. What is especially difficult for the sister, Julie, is that she feels looked down upon by her brother because unless she agrees to believe what it is he believes, then he is going to heaven and she isn’t.  While she can accept him and his desire to live on “The Farm”, separated from family, he is unable to accept her chosen lifestyle because he views it as wrong.

At one point Julie meets with her uncle who tells her something that made a whole lot of sense to me! The difference between the sister and her brother is that her brother requires an answer. Some people need an answer and they will turn to those who have one to give. But some of us simply accept the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and don’t require an answer.

It’s an impasse. The uncle doesn’t go into it, but it got me thinking. I don’t have a right to impose my belief that there is no answer on those who demand that there must be one. Likewise, I don’t appreciate people who demand I accept their answer (be they atheists or theists).

For me, faith is trust. Not trust in anything. Not trust in a belief. Just plain and simple trust. For someone who demands an answer, faith is based on whatever that answer is. The same is true of scientism.  If an atheist turns to rationalism for “the answer”, then they have put their faith in rationalism in the same way a fundamentalist Christian puts his faith in the Bible. They demand there is an answer and that they know what it is.

When people believe their answer is the only answer, how do you best communicate with them?  This film offers hope.

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Last night, I watched an interesting documentary called Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. It’s by Dan Merchant, an Evangelical who is very concerned about “The Great Divide” that currently exists in the U.S.  He says that 9 out of 10 people claim they believe in God, so why is there such a huge “Culture War” at play?  He wants to show people that the discussion of faith doesn’t have to be contentious.  We need to start listening to one another.

He held a game show between conservatives and liberals, in the manner of Family Feud, asking questions about issues important to both sides.  Not surprisingly, the liberals knew way more about the conservatives than the conservatives knew about the liberals.  In fact, the liberals won by a landslide.  When he tried this with younger people, the conservatives didn’t even score a single point.  If you think you are “right”, then why bother learning what someone else thinks? 

It’s good to know there are some Evangelicals out there that really do care about bridging the divide.  Hopefully, there are as many liberals, too!  We are all children of God, the Universe, whatever it is you want to call it. Whether we are “precious” or not is another matter.  I tend to agree with George Carlin that the universe could knock us off like a pesky mosquito…

Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher

Just finished reading Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher and I am a little disturbed with how much I related to it.  Everyone always jokes about me being OCD, but I’m not OCD! I just have tendencies.

Except…

When she explained her childhood obsession of having vivid images of accidents and ambulances, I remembered doing the same thing.  I used to be scared to death to let my parents go out because I was certain they would die.  I have no idea why I was so certain.  I would sit in the middle of the room crying about how I knew they were going to die and they wouldn’t know what to do with me. I had horrible visions that were I freakishly detailed and realistic and I earnestly believed that I was somehow linked to all of the horrors in the world.  I prayed constantly to keep God happy, which is what attracted me to Sher’s book – the title resonated with me.I also played counting games with myself – if I just do this so many times, all will be well.

I never cut myself, but I imagine had someone mentioned it to me, I would have tried it.  Anything to detensify the intensity that was in my head. In high school, my fingers were constantly moving, either pretend typing what I or someone else said, or playing the notes of a song I had in my head on a pretend flute on my arm. I thought I had stopped this habit but my daughter brought it to my attention just the other day.  I was reading a book and my daughter asked me what I was doing with my fingers.  I was typing out the words.  I don’t notice I’m doing it so have no idea how often I do this in front of people without realizing it.

When my son was first born, I had detailed visions of kidnappers walking through the window and snatching him from his crib.  So he slept with us, where I knew he was safe.  I was constantly checking the stove to make sure it was off.  Sometimes, we’d be on the road and I’d make my husband drive back home to make sure it was off, even when it probably hadn’t been used that day.  Everything in my home, on my computer, in my files, in my drawers had to be perfectly organized and orderly because I linked disorder to impending doom.  Certain patterns would drive me absolutely insane because they weren’t appropriately balanced or because I’d get lost in them and not be able to break free.

After reading Sher’s book, I wonder how much this sort of obsession has to do with being taught that we can somehow manipulate God through our prayers and behavior?  We are taught that God is in control, but at the same time, we are taught how to control God through flattery and plea bargaining and are told this is prayer.  Of course, children are often taught this form of a prayer because it is an effective way to get kids to obey their parents and other authority figures. I remember being appalled when I was helping out in a preschool Sunday School class and a little girl had brought in new crayons. A little boy wanted to use them but the little girl refused to share. The Sunday School teacher demanded that she share saying, “God doesn’t like it when you don’t share.”  I was horrified, but that was how I was raised, too.  God doesn’t like it when you lie.  God doesn’t like it when you have sex before marriage.  God doesn’t like it when you talk back to your parents.  I think Sher is right – when we are young, we think of our parents as God’s right hand “man” and so confuse what it is God doesn’t like with what it is our parents don’t like – especially when our parents reinforce it by saying God doesn’t like what it is they don’t like.

For years, when anything bad happened, I somehow thought it was my fault.  I was the oldest growing up so was often in charge of my younger siblings.  When they got into trouble, my mother frequently blamed me for their behavior. She would blame me for her own behavior, too.  It was my fault that she knocked over a lamp.  It was my fault that she ran the stop sign. It was my fault that she couldn’t control her emotions.  I am very careful not to pass the same blame game onto my children, but sometimes I catch myself doing it and I feel horrible.  (I’d really like to be able to blame my teenage son for my high blood pressure!)

There have been times when I can’t get to sleep because I’m convinced I am the most horrible mother on the face of the earth.  I blame myself for every sadness, hurt or pain my kids experience.  I blame myself when they fall down or get bad grades.  I blame myself when they are heartbroken because a love interest has fallen through. My husband has caught me sobbing in the middle of the night bashing myself in the worst way for not being the mother I should be.  Sometimes he just holds me, rocks me back and forth, and says, “Shhh, It’s OK.  Shhh.  It’s OK.”  He has always maintained that I am the best mother his kids could possibly have and that I see myself so much differently than the rest of the world does. He and the kids think I am an amazing mother.  But it doesn’t help to tell me this when I’m in the throes of feeling like I’m the worst mother. The non-judgmental, “It’s OK” works much better.

Over the years, I’ve been slowly but surely letting go of my belief in a personal God. The more I’ve given it up, the more my obssessions and self-bashings have calmed down. I still feel a personal connection to God.  I just no longer think of God as anything even remotely personal.  Not even in the New Age sense.  I know God exists.  I just don’t think my ideas or anyone elses ideas about God are real.  They are ideas. Not God.  Even saying “God is Love” is a judgmental idea that is potentially dangerous for me. Thinking of God as “The Ground of Being” without any emotional value attached whatsoever works best for me.  God IS.  No need to fill in a blank after “IS”.

Obviously, I appreciated the book because it was honest and courageous.  Had it been a little shorter, I would have appreciated it even more.  In reviews, people claim that they can’t relate to Sher and that she was narcissistic, manipulative and uncaring.  I think her ability to express her relationships in a non-flattering way toward herself shows she cares immensely about others even if she’s not always able to express it appropriately.  Nowhere did I feel like she was writing this to put others down.  It was simply about understanding herself, her relationships, and her disease to the best of her ability.  It’s always easy to judge – especially when someone lays themselves bare as did Abby Sher in Amen, Amen, Amen.

Homosexuality and the Bible

It’s that time of the month when I become extra EXTRA obsessive compulsive and so I jumped in to a conversation about homosexuality, against my better judgment, with a fundamentalist Christian.  He seems like a really nice guy who means well. And of course it was like banging my head against a brick wall.  What else would it have been? 

The Christian movement was initially a liberation from the oppressive rules of Judaism and Rome, but once it became the only religion of Rome, it also became an oppressor.  And that’s just the way it is. So why do I get into arguments with fundamentalist Christians who, to this day, uphold the Roman hierarchical patriarchy?  I know better.  But like I said, it’s that time of the month so it’s the fault of my period, I swear!!

But I did end up learning a lot, afterward, because I obsessive-compulsively had to look everything up to make sure I wasn’t just talking out my ass.  And here is what I discovered…

Sexual orientation was not used as a social identifier in Ancient Greece and Rome like it has been used in Western cultures for the past 100 years or so. Stop and think what that means. Sexual orientation is the pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to men, women, both genders, neither gender, same gender or different gender.  In modern Western society, this gives you a particular social identity – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual…  In Ancient Greek and Roman societies, it did not.  There is no word in either Latin or Ancient Greek for what we think of today as homosexuality. It’s not that it didn’t exist, it was simply regarded completely differently than we regard it today. The ancients were relatively indifferent to the sex of one’s partner.  What mattered most was role, age and status.

In Ancient Greece, pederasty was common. This is categorized as a form of age-structured homosexuality.  Older mentor/student relations, etc.  While we typically lump pedophilia and pederasty together, the two were differentiated in Ancient Greek culture. Like today, pedophilia was considered grossly pathological carnal behavior by the Ancient Greeks. But pederasty was thought to be of a spiritual nature.  I didn’t dig deeply enough to find out what differentiates the two.

In the Early Roman Republic, pederasty was generally condemned.  It was thought to be a degenerate Greek practice.  Around 100 BC and into the time of Jesus and Paul, a new form of same-sex relations emerged.  It became acceptable for male masters to penetrate their male slaves, and slaves were considered legitimate male partners whether they wanted to be penetrated or not. The master was the penetrator, the slave (usually an adolescent slave, by the way) was the penetrated. So make sure you are getting this, because it’s important.  It wasn’t considered unnatural for a master to penetrate his slave.  But it was considered unnatural for a slave to penetrate his master.

After Christianity became the main religion of Rome, homosexuality became punishable by death (around 390 ACE).

Jesus never says a word about homosexuality. Not one thing.  Neither do any of the Jewish prophets.  There is hardly anything mentioned about it in the Bible at all. Just for grins, I went through the verses that Fundamentalists refer to the most and tried to sort them out:

  • Genesis 19: Story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Ultimately God destroys Sodom because of greed, not because of homosexuality. 
  • Leviticus 18:22:  “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  Seems to be a pretty clear condemnation of homosexual activity between men, but Leviticus is part of the Mosaic Law.  There are laws for everything!  Don’t eat pork or shrimp but it’s ok to eat beetles and grasshoppers.  Males must be circumcised. Don’t sleep with women on their period (punishable by societal excommunication).   The cross-breeding of plants is forbidden, which means no GMOs or tangelos.  Don’t sell food for a profit.  Cancel debts every 7 years.  So if Leviticus 18:22 is so important, why aren’t fundamentalists insisting upon the cancellation of third world debts, demanding an end to the food industry, and shouting down GMOs?  But hypocrisy aside, to read this as being about homosexuality is probably taking it out of context.  The verses before it are about ritual worship of the Cannaan god Molech. The followers of Molech believed that by engaging in ritual sex, they would please Molech which would bring them fertility and prosperity.   Verse 21 forbids ritual sacrifice of children to Molech. So it follows that Verse 22 is specifically forbidding ritual sexual activity meant for Molech. It’s forbidding idolotry.  (I don’t know if this is true or not, because I don’t know anything about Ancient Hebrew and I’d have to research more reliable sources, but somewhere I read that “zimah” is the Hebrew term for something that is considered wrong, in and of itself.  In the original text, the term that is used for “detestable” is not “zimah” but is “toevah”, which refers to taboo/idolotry.)
  • Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”   Again, it seems pretty clear.   But just a few verses before this (20:9) it states that everyone who curses their mother or father will be put to death.  So again, it’s pretty hypocritical to use this verse to condemn homosexuality in today’s world.  This verse in its original form is very similar to 18:22.  So this is likely part of the purity code that the Israelites held to in order to differentiate themselves from the Canaanites. Jesus put an end to all of the purity laws, so both verses in Leviticus shouldn’t matter to fundamentalist Christians, anyway.
  • Romans 1:26-27:   This is the verse that gets thumped the most and it’s the trickiest:  “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”  This is written by Paul.  Remember at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that it had become popular for masters to sleep with their adolescent male slaves, whether the slaves concurred or not?  Yet throughout his letters, Paul frequently tells slaves to obey their masters but never qualifies it by saying, “except when they want to penetrate you”.  And as was mentioned at the beginning of this post, in ancient Rome, what was considered natural in terms of sexual intercourse had very little to do with gender and far more to do with roles, age, and status.  It was unnatural for a master to be penetrated by a slave, but natural for the slave to be penetrated by the master.  So maybe that’s why Paul doesn’t add any qualifiers when he tells slaves to obey their masters.  If the verses in Leviticus do refer to ritual sexual activity (which was still quite common during Paul’s time), then I wonder if that might be what Paul is referring to here, as well?  Or, maybe he’s referring to specific kinds of sexual acts that were considered unnatural at the time?  There were major philosophical debates between what differentiates carnal sex and erotic/spiritual sex in Ancient Greece and these were not gender specific discussions.  Sex based on lust is a very different thing than sex shared by two people who love and cherish one another.  So maybe he is referring to ritual orgies.  Or maybe he is talking about exactly what it is we think he is talking about, but his point isn’t that these people should be singled out, but rather forgiven.  I mean look at all of the verses in that first chapter of Romans.  He’s pretty much condemning everyone to sin.  In 2:1, he then writes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”  So whatever it is Paul means in Romans 1:26-27, it sure doesn’t seem that he is giving fundamentalists the right to judge homosexuals, does it?  Then later, in 3:21, he writes ” But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  What is this, if not Paul’s way of reminding us that Jesus has put an end to the purity code?  This is the verse people quote the most as proof that the Bible condemns homosexuality.  But what Romans seems to be saying is that God condemns those who judge others!  Jesus said this too, didn’t he?  “Judge not lest ye be judged?”  And one final point – what human beings consider natural is confined to space/time.  It changes within various cultures and generations.  So even if Paul is condemning homosexuality (which I’m not convinced he is – I think it’s very likely that he’s condemning ritualized sex performed for the favors of Pagan gods), that doesn’t meant he would condemn it if he lived in our day and age.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Again, written by Paul.  And since Ancient Greece did not have a term for “homosexual”, clearly, this NIV translation is somewhat faulty. The KJV reads, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”   Issues with what is effiminate would not necessarily be about homosexual behavior.  In the times of Paul, it was not considered effiminate to penetrate another male, but it was considered effimate to be penetrated. Roman males did not want to be effiminate because it was viewed as lacking verility or being “soft”.  So what acts are being discussed?   “Abusers of themselves with mankind” is translated from arsenokoitai.  But the meaning of this term has been lost so the best interpreters can do is guess and they guess different things.  Scholars have looked at other writings about homosexuality during Paul’s time and this term never comes up.  Many have concluded it means is one male raping another male, and that it probably has to do with child molestation.  I mentioned earlier that the Greeks engaged in pederasty but still viewed pedophilia as pathological, carnal behavior. If Paul had wanted to refer to homosexuality as practiced in his day, he would likely have used the term paiderasste.  But he doesn’t.  So again, fundamentalists have no right to use this passage against homosexuals because nobody really knows that it actually IS about homosexuals.
  • 1 Timothy 1:9-10:  “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”  This is the NIV translation, but in other translations, homosexuals is substituted for perverts.  Again the problem is that the term “arsenokoitai” is used.  And this probably refers to forced entry, not consensual sex.  What interests me is that the NIV is one of the more conservative translations, yet it does not use the term, “homosexuals”.
  • Jude 1:7:  “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”  Again – we encounter translation issues.  This is the NIV, but here is the King James Version:  “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”   There is an ancient Jewish legend that some of the women of Sodom engaged in sexual relations with angels. If that’s the case, then this passage is about bestiality, not homosexuality.   The term “sodomize” came about because of a faulty translation of the story of Sodom and Gemorrah in Genesis 19 (see above).  So we automatically assume homosexuality in this verse, but that’s based on a modern bias.

To Concretize or Not to Concretize

concretize – to make concrete, specific, or definite

This is from the Joseph Campbell Mythos series (the one with the irritating cuts to Susan Sarandon!)

In the 1900s, there was an important world traveler and German Anthropologist named Adolf Bastian who recognized that in the mythologies and religions of the world, there were certain themes and motifs that recurred everywhere.  He called these elementary ideas: Elementargedanken.  In various provinces and in various centuries, these elementary ideas appeared in different costumes and different forms with different applications and associated with totally different social situations  He called these local variations Volkergadanken (ethnic/folk ideas).

The distinction between what is universal in mythology and religion (elementargedanken) and what is provincial and separate (volkergadanken) is VERY important. Why universal myths occur everywhere, in every culture and in every century is a psychological problem. Carl Jung calls the universal myths “archetypes of the unconscious”.

Campbell drew a picture of a circle which represents the soul/psyche.  At the center is a dot which represents the self.  There is a line drawn just above the dot which represents the self.  This is the threshold of consciousness   Above the line is a mental, waking consciousness.  Below the line is the consciousness of the body, itself.  Jung uses the term for the totality, “the Self”.  This is not the same thing as the Hindu Atman (undifferentiated consciousness).  Jung is talking about consciousness enclosed in a specific human body which is conditioned by the body in which it resides (male, female, old, young, healthy, decrepit.)  This is the reality in which we have to reside. There is no use wishing we resided elsewhere. The center of consciousness is the “ego”.  The “I”.  It’s mode of judgment is not in accord with that of the body/nature.

Culture is a cooperation between the self (below the threshold of consciousness) and the ego (above the threshold of consciousness).  Mythology is the language of the Self speaking to the ego system. The ego system has to learn how to read it. This is something we have forgotten.

The shadow (below the threshold of consciousness) is the blind spot of the ego – the part of which our ego has no consciousness whatsoever.  This could be equated to the Freudian unconscious. The shadow is the order of the personal unconscious.

The Self is a function of the biology of the body.  So we have a basic human biology and a system of individual experience. Both exist in the unconscious realm as far as our ego knowledge is concerned.  It is out of these centers which dreams come.   Dreams are primarily, personally oriented from the shadow system.  The imagery of myths, on the other hand, is out of the general system.  There are dreams that can be interpreted through personal association, but others have to be interpreted strictly mythologically.

At the level above the ego is the Persona/Personae. This is the mask that we wear.  Each society has its wardrobe of Personae for its individuals to wear. These are the volkergadanken and they differ from one society to another.

Take India for example. The individual is meant to identify with the Persona.  He is to live in terms of the dharma – the duty system put upon him. He IS a Brahman. He IS a Warrior. He IS a Merchant.  He isn’t just playing the role. He IS the role.

Compare this to our modern Western society which has much more respect for individuality.  If a person identifies with his role, we call him a “stuffed shirt”.  Imagine an executive coming home in the evening who is met by the executive’s wife.  From the Hindu perspective, he would be an executive sleeping with the executive’s wife.  This doesn’t fly at all in the west!  If you can’t take-off and put-on your roles, there is something wrong with you.  We don’t identify with the Persona in that way. Not only are we expected to put-on and take-off our roles, we’re expected to develop our critical faculties.

So all this set up to get to this point…

Developing critical faculties is something that those in the East know nothing about. The whole character of Eastern thinking is the elimination of ego. By annihilating the critical factory, you identify with the role that society has put upon you. This creates a problem for a Western person who goes to an Eastern guru to become illuminated. The Eastern person has a relatively fragile ego.  But the Western person has a very strong developed, evaluating ego.  It’s rock solid. The guru has a hammer to break egos and the Western person comes to the guru with a rock of an ego and the guru hammers away, but nothing happens. The Westerner thinks there is something wrong with him.  But it’s not him. What works in the East doesn’t necessarily work in the West!

In the East, deities are understood as personifications of the transcendent energies that informs life. The transcendent energies are human (elementargedanken) while the personification of the transcendent energies is based on the cultural and historical circumstances (volkergadanken).  In the East, it is understood that deities proceed from the transcendent energies and are messengers and vehicles of the these energies. In the West, however, we think of deity as fact and it is from this fact that the energies proceed. This understanding creates a huge difference between how we view both God and consciousness.

The Western notion is that the brain is the source of consciousness.  The traditional idea is that the brain is a function of consciousness.  The brain is first and consciousness arises out of the brain.  But in traditional Eastern views, consciousness is first and the brain is an organ that encapsulates consciousness and focuses it in the direction of time and space knowledge. Time and space knowledge is secondary knowledge, not primary. The notion that we are all manifestations of the transcendent consciousness that goes beyond all our powers to think and to name is the basic idea behind the traditional Eastern view.

In our Western thinking, there have been moments when this has made its way in.  It shows up first through Dionysius the Aeropagite – a mystical philosopher before 532 ACE.  His philosophies were picked up by Scotus Eriugena from Ireland in the 800s (gnostic philosppher with magnificent concepts).  Meister Eckhart, a German theologian in the early 1300s, uses the language of Christianity but blows it apart to show the relationship of the deity to the “knower of the deity”.  Bruno was burned in the 1600s for suggesting such thing. But then in Renaissance, Italy.  Medici invited Marsilio Ficino to translate a text that came from Byzantium by way of a Byzantine monk.  This was the Greek text of the Corpus Hermeticum which was contemporary with early Christianity but explained in pagan terminology.  Much of the art of the Renaissance comes out of the ideas presented in this translation.

In later times, there is the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant.  What Kant recognized was that all of our knowledge, all of our experience, is conditioned by the organs of knowledge and experience.  A priori, primary and antecedent to our experience of anything is time and space.  Everything comes to us in a field of time and space.  In “The Foundation of Metaphysics”, Kant asks, “How is it we can make determinations for relationships for space here, and know that these will work in space there?”  He says its because the laws of space are in our mind.  But what is the thing we are coming to know through time and space?  Is it a thing?  No.  Things are in time and space.

The laws of your thinking are what determine what it is you can think. These are the laws of logic. You can’t even think of anything that doesn’t fit within the laws of logic. This is what is known in the East as “Maya”.  It was Schopenhauer who first recognized that the Indian concept of Maya and Kant’s concept of the forms of sensibility and categories of logic are equivalent. Schopenhauer brought the concepts of Western thought and Eastern thought together.  Nietzsche picked them up and a whole new thrust in the school of Western philosophy began.

We have a tendency in the West to concretize our signs and symbols, which, of course, is idol worship.

My thoughts…

This is why Nietzsche wanted us to take a hammer to all of our previous notions and smash them.  Do they hold?   Some do, most don’t.  It seems obvious now that a concretized God is going to break.  But many Christians still claim that Eastern religions involve idol worship.  But the East does not have the same tendency to concretize signs and symbols as does the West because they have a completely different notion of deity and consciousness.

A concretized God, one that comes out of fact, is a dead God. How could it be otherwise? The Celts were hesitant to write down their myths because they thought that once the myths were written, they were dead. In a sense, isn’t this absolutely true? As soon as we put our stories into writing, we’ve concretized them. They are no longer living, as they were when they were handed down through oral tradition. So to base your beliefs on a written text is basically to base your beliefs on something that is already long gone. It’s dead.