Nov 16

It was Flavor-Aid, do your research.


On November 17th, 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan (D, California) arrived in Guyana with a group of journalists and investigators to look into the religious colony of "Jonestown."
Why would an American Congressman do such a thing?

The "Peoples [sic-no apostrophe] Temple of the Disciples of Christ" was founded in 1955 in Indianapolis by Jim Jones. He openly preached the religious virtues of communism and his purported healing and clairvoyant abilities attracted many. Overtime, however, his message lost much of the overly-Christian trappings for a more traditional atheistic communist worldview, yet one in which Jones was seen as a near messianic figure. In 1960 he claimed to have a vision of nuclear war and began looking for places to move his congregation, he lacked the funds but afterword began openly preaching what he called "apostolic socialism." He began claiming that Christianity was a "fly away religion" and that the Bible was used to control blacks and women. He said the God of the Bible was a "Buzzard God" and no God at all. Instead, he said the Divine Principal was Love, and Love was best expressed as Socialism (Communism).

By the 70s he needed to move his followers to more fertile and less hostile ground (the Midwest not being the best place for someone preaching communist atheism to a primarily African American audience.) He moved his organization to LA and San Francisco. In a few years the church was taking in $20k+ a week from at least three different locations in California, plus additional revenue from a publishing house, record company, and the sell of "blessed" items.

However, in 72 and 73 the Temple faced serious investigations by major news sources and the widely publicized defection by the "Gang of Eight." Jones conclusion on the matter was "in order to keep our apostolic socialism, we should all kill ourselves and leave a note saying that because of harassment, a socialist group cannot exist at this time." They did not, at that time, go through with it, but instead ritual preparations for the tragedy of later years would begin, the so called "White Nights".

By 76 and 77 the IRS was investigating the organization. The fact that Jones saw it as a means of social change and not faith was widely known, even acknowledged by his wife in to a New York Times reporter. However, at the same time the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project - or "Jonestown" was underway and had 50 permanent residents.

The population grew and eventually Jones himself would arrive. At its peak the population was around 1000. However, there were reports of human rights violations mainly brought on by a lack of food and adequate housing - in spite of the Temple having access to several million dollars. Up to $65,000 in monthly welfare payments from U.S. government agencies to Jonestown residents were signed over to the Temple. Several minor investigations were conducted to determine if there was Social Security fraud involved, but none was found.

Then the arrival of Congressman Leo. He made the journey in his role as chairman of a congressional subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. He asked the other members of his Bay Area congressional delegation to join him on the investigation to Jonestown, but they all declined his invitation. While the party was initially planned to consist of only a few members of the Congressman's staff and press as part of the congressional delegation, once the media learned of the trip the entourage ballooned to include, among others, concerned relatives of Temple members. Congressman Ryan traveled to Jonestown with 17 Bay Area relatives of Peoples Temple members, several newspaper reporters and an NBC TV team. He had invited his friend Dan Quayle to come, but the future VP was unavailable at the time.

As best as can be pieced together everything was going fine until his delegation was leaving. At that time a group of residents, including one planted by Jones, asked to be taken home. Their escorts opened fire on the Congressman, killing him and four others and wounding nine. Meanwhile in the plane the plant, Larry Layton, opened fire and wounded several before being subdued.

Meanwhile, back at Jonestown, the White Night plan was put into action. A 44-minute cassette tape, known as the "death tape",records part of the meeting Jones called under the pavilion in the early evening. Before the meeting, aides prepared a large metal tub with grape Flavor Aid, poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide,and Phenergan.

A total of 909 Americans died.

Because Religion and Politics do not mix.

Nov 16

The day the world changed

November 8th changed the world.

In 392.

That was the day Theodosius the First, last emperor of a united Roman Empire) declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity had already become the official religion with the rise of Constantine in 325. It was Constantine that had facilitated the Nicene Council and attempted to organize the previously fractious Christianity. This was a follow up to previous edicts regarding the official state religion. The difference is that up to this point Theodosius had been one of several competing powers in the Empire. 392 saw his consolidation of power and his unquestioned authority.

What it meant:
Theodosius' main targets were the Arians. The Arians taught that Jesus was divine like God but not of the same substance as God the Creator. Nicene Christianity held that Jesus was of the same substance as God. Its a refined argument but it can be grossly simplified like this: Nicene Christianity teaches that Jesus was always God and always existed, Arianism teaches that Jesus was created in a specific point in time. Overall the "Theodosian Decrees" removed all non-Nicene Christians from church office and abolished the last remaining expressions of Roman religion by making its holidays into workdays, banned blood sacrifices, closed Roman temples, outlawing fortune telling and witchcraft, disbanded the Vestal Virgins, and banned the Olympics. During his reign the Oracle of Delphi was destroyed as was the Alexandrian Serapeum, the "daughter" of the famous Library of Alexandria.

This act also gave rise to what would become the Catholic Church and the creation of a single Bible in Latin (begun in 385 while Theodosius was in power).

Essentially the history of Christianity and thus Europe and everything it touched was shaped by Theodosius.

Theodosius death was also the death of Rome. His empire was split between his two sons to eventually become two empires. This in turn lead eventually to the cultural division between Western and Eastern Christianity and thus to the eventual split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches 600 years later.

State Religions, official and otherwise, are always a bad idea.

Nov 16

I got a rock, then it rolled away

As long time readers may have noted, I am something of an archaeology buff in addition to my religious interests.
So of course I had been carefully following the story of the 60 hour window allowed to possibly excavate the tomb of Christ.

What did they find? A limestone slab of course. One of hundreds of similar slabs from the era found around Jerusalem.

What makes this interesting is the history of the site. It appears that in 325 CE representatives from the new Christian Roman Emperor Constantine went looking for tomb. They were directed to a Roman temple built by Hadrian around 125 CE to cover up the site of Christian worship. If true, and no way of determining that barring new source material, that means that Christians had been gathering at this place 90 years after Jesus's death, and that would be at the latest. As the region changed hands over the centuries this remained fixed as the site. To put this in a little perspective: The final list of the accepted books of what would become the New Testament did not appear until 367 CE and some scholars, myself among them, would place the latest books - the Pastorals- at around 140. So people have been identifying this as the site of Jesus' burial for longer than there has been a New Testament.

Scientists hope scans and samples taken will help to determine exactly how long the site has been in use as a place of worship.

No word yet on whether or not they will move the ladder.

Oct 16

NO, not Blackleaf!

Jack Chick is dead.


The sound you hear is the millions of facebook posts and "likes" celebrating that fact.

For those of you who do not know, Jack Chick founded Chick Publications back in the 70s. His eponymous publishing house produced small comics of a particularly conspiratorial evangelistic bent. With these seeds were planted modern day right wing fundamentalist Christianity. Trust me, I grew up in a church that bought into them.

Jack Chick claimed the pope was the anti-Christ, that Islam was established as a tool of the Catholic church that later broke away, the devil planted dinosaur bones, 40,000 people were killed in occult sacrifices every year in America, and the King James Version was the only "Holy" Bible. Most famously he spurred on the so-called "Satanic Panic" that told us we were all going to hell and taking our country with us if we allowed Dungeons and Dragons to exist (and kept me from a hobby I love until I was almost 30) and that Harry Potter was a gateway to the occult. Needless to say he was anti- just about anything you can imagine that wasn't right wing fundamentalist straight white American male.


Personally, I also think that his attitude was inherently antithetical to the teachings of Christ and that history will weigh his contributions to the fractious nature of our society and find him wanting.

However, and far be it for me to defend the man, we should consider something.

If your neighbors house was on fire and she did not know would you not have a moral obligation to attempt to save her? I think so. Now what if we suppose the house was not on fire, but you perceived it to be for some reason - even delusion. Would you not still have a moral obligation to attempt to save her? Again, yes you would because the actual reality of the situation has less to do with your moral obligations than your perception of it. Even if you went so far as to break into her house and carry her out. If you really believed the house was on fire you would have a moral obligation to do so.

You would also be either insane or stoned out of your mind and in either case we would put you somewhere nice and safe where you could not hurt yourself or anyone else. Or maybe shoot you.

So, whatever else we can say about Jack Chick we can say that he acted morally based on his perception of the world.

May he be forgotten by history and his plans not prosper.

Oct 16

Nebo Nebo

Moses went to Mt. Nebo and now, for the first time in 10 years, you can as well. Just don't die when you get there.

© David Bjorgen

The reopening of the Moses Memorial on Mt. Nebo in Jordan was heralded by Christian,Jewish, and Muslom communities in a ceremony last Saturday. According to tradition the Memorial stands on the site where Moses got his glimpse of the Promised Land before his death. Moses, you see, had gotten a bit stroppy with a rock and said something he shouldn't so God wouldn't let him go on over. At least that is the official explanation. He was probably just old and sick and tired of all of the Wanderers' whining.

In the 4th century AD a sanctuary, mentioned by the pilgrim nun Egeria, was built on Mount Nebo (Fasaliyyeh in Arabic) to honor Moses, possibly on the site of an even older structure. The church was finished by 394 AD and had three east apses flanked by funerary chapels on the north and south sides.

In the 6th century, the church was enlarged and transformed into a basilica with a sacristy and new baptistery (whose surviving floor mosaics date from c.530 AD). Soon the church was the heart of a large monastery and pilgrimage center that would thrive for nearly six centuries.

The site was abandoned by 1564 and remained mostly neglected for several centuries more. Finally, in 1993, the site was purchased by the Franciscans, who excavated and restored the area. On March 19, 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, planting an olive tree next to the Byzantine chapel for peace. (all according to Sacred-Destinations.com)

For the last ten years the site has been under renovation but is now re-opened.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandr, speaking on behalf of the Pope, said:“We are called particularly in these difficult times to make our own daily exodus… We must set out towards a new found freedom, the freedom to meet and to walk together towards a promised land.”

As long as we don't wind up killing each other on Mt. Nebo.

Oct 16

And now a word from our sponsor

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find religious news not about the morals of certain candidates for public office?

So I have decided to skip it.

Did you know (of course you did, you can see the image over there----->) I wrote a book called Popping Pop Christianity? (also available in electronic format)

If you haven't read it ,or even if you have,in lieu of a post today I am giving you a free unused chapter. It didn't fit the book and was going to be part of a second book that didn't get written.

Popping the Apocalypse


If you would like to see more content like this or similar let me know at godsmoteblog@gmail.com.

Oct 16


Go to Hell, go directly to hell, do not pass heaven, do not collect $200.

Religious literature is filled with descents into the underworld. IF you want to see some of the entrances click on the link.

Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh go down to the underworld in the Epic.
Innana's reasons for going to the Babylonian underworld are unclear, but give rise to the legendary "Dance of the Seven Veils" as she strips off her clothes to pay the gate keepers.
Orpheus descends into the underworld for Eurydice.
Odysseus, born centuries before Google, has to go to the underworld to get the answers he seeks.
Osiris, of course,Heracles to rescue Thesues' own ill advised expedition, Hermes, Dionysus, Odin, Baldur, Pwyll, and even King Arthur get in on the act.
Japan has Izanagi and Izanami in Yomi, the Mayans had the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and for the Ohlone Kaknu fights Body of Stone - a kind of underworld god who held the bodies of many of the People.

Most interesting, to me at least, is the so called "Harrowing of Hell" in some Christian traditions. Typically based on 1 Peter 3:19-20 "went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water...." It is also one of the more troubling parts of the Apostles' Creed - "he descended into Hades/Hell..." The story seems to have originally been collected in a non-canonical book called the Gospel of Nicodemus aka The Acts of Pilate. Since the book is seen to be made of older sources its exact origin is unclear. The Apostles' Creed dates from 390 CE, and the Gospel of Nicodemus would be contemporary with that period.

The tradition states that Jesus in spiritual form went to the underworld between his crucifixion and Resurrection to..do something. Depends on who you ask.

Catholics teach that Jesus went to get the righteous dead who awaited in "the bosom of Abraham" to take them to Heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Harrowing of Hades is celebrated annually on Holy and Great Saturday, during the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. At the beginning of the service, the hangings in the church and the vestments worn by the clergy are all somber Lenten colors (usually purple or black). Then, just before the Gospel reading, the liturgical colors are changed white and the deacon performs a censing, and the priest strews laurel leaves around the church, symbolizing the broken gates of hell; this is done in celebration of the harrowing of Hades then taking place, and in anticipation of Christ's imminent resurrection. A famous icon depicts Jesus with Adam and Eve by the wrists, dragging them up out of Sheol, the grave or underworld. An early Lutheran confession says "we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power." John Calvin said taht many believers "have never earnestly considered what it is or means that we have been redeemed from God's judgment. Yet this is our wisdom: duly to feel how much our salvation cost the Son of God." He went further to say "Christ's descent into Hell was necessary for Christians' atonement, because Christ did in fact endure the penalty for the sins of the redeemed." According to the LDS (Mormons)"The Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; but behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces…and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead ... to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets." This belief leads to their practice of Baptism for the Dead, since the spirits of the dead may yet still hear the Gospel and repent.

Many Christian theologians, however, have rejected the idea of the Harrowing of Hell. Augustine said it was metaphor while modern writers like John Piper and Wayne Gruden deny it altogether.

This is what a 17th century artist thought it might look like.

By Michael Burghers (1647/8–1727)[2] - Copied from the 1904 work "Plays of our Forefathers" by Charles Mills Gayley, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3434524Harrowing_of_Hell

Sep 16

Not a Pagan Ritual At ALL

Despite appearances to the contrary, the residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico swear that the annual burning of a giant 50 foot tall marionette named Zozobra is not some kind of religious rite. Dating from 1924, the festival coincides -and replaces - the Fiesta de Santa Fe which commemorated the retaking of the city from Pueblo occupiers.Santa Fe artist and marionette maker Gustave Baumann came up with the idea of building "Old Man Gloom" or Zozobra (anxiety in Spanish).

Residents of the city write down their cares and woes and deposit them in boxes through out the city. The Kiwanis Club gathers these and they go along with messages and other items taken directly to the site, including shredded police reports from the SFPD. An average of 50,000 (in a city of 70,000) people buy tickets and attend every year. On the night of the burning Zozobra looms over the crowd, waving its arms and moaning to chants of "BURN IT", along with music and fireworks, before being consumed. Some years Zozobra wears the face of particularly unpopular people although mostly just his hair color changes.

(you may want to skip to 10:30 for the actual burning)

After the crowds have gone the organizers roast marshmallows on the dying embers.

Note some of the statements in the article:

Event chairman Raymond Sandoval acknowledges that there is a dark side to the burning. "Zozobra is our scapegoat," he says. "There is a violence to burning this fifty foot effigy."


"Whether it works or not, at least for that night, their gloom is gone. It's been lifted," says Kiwanis Secretary Kenneth Garley. While the battle against the gloom in our lives is ongoing, he says, Zozobra offers the often disparate threads of the community a reason to come together, and a momentary escape from the pain of everyday life.

"Then we have to face the realities of the world the next day," he says. "But you know, for at least that night it's a celebration that things can get better, and will get better for all of us."

So, we have a period of preparation during which people offer laments for sacrifice by fire while the idol is prepared. The idol is filled with prayers and ritually burned to the cheers of the crowds and music. It coincides with religious observances. It is believed to take away the burdens of the populous. Those who prepare the ritual take part in a special meal over the sacred fire at the end of the ritual.

Nope, not a pagan rite at all.

Uh hu.

Neither is the Christmas tree or Easter Bunny.

Sep 16

Kung Fu Nuns

on bicycles!

Five hundred nuns biked 2485 miles from Kathmandu, Nepal to Leh, India. Here is what you need to know.

Drukpa Women
The ladies were members of the Drukpa Order drawn from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Founded 800 years ago after the founder saw nine dragon, the Drukpa ("Dragon Lineage") Order is a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The are also known as the Drugpa ("Thunder") or Red Hat Sect. Unlike many Buddhist sects, the Drukpa allow monastic women to practice the traditional martial arts. This has been known to rankle some Buddhist leaders and conservatives. Some nineteenth and early-twentieth century writers of teh West believed the "Dugpas" to be sorcerers focusing principally on the left-hand path traditions and various Tantric practices of Buddhism. Perhaps not relevant, but interesting considering the inclusion of fighting women. They are now one of my new favorite things.

The ride was to protest human trafficking. India, and South Asia generally, is one of the fastest growth region for human trafficking. The article points out "Gangs dupe impoverished villagers into bonded labour or rent them to work as slaves in urban homes, restaurants, shops and hotels. Many girls and women are sold into brothels." This is a growing concern in areas that have experienced environmental and ecological disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami. I have talked about the horrors of human trafficking before. We need to stop calling it that, really it is slavery by another name and it is rampant.

I hope the Drukpa Nuns' ride was helpful. Part of me kind of hopes that some slavers run afoul of 500 unassuming girls riding bikes.

Sep 16

Tears of a Clown

OK, so this is a little bit of a stretch. It involves an unusual phenomenon that started in the 80s and has spread all over the world. It involves seemingly ritualized behavior, spread most likely via some message board, and strikes deep seated reactions. Ultimately, however, it does go back to religious rites.

Creepy Clowns

All over the world, most recently in South Carolina, people see strange clowns walking the street, standing in woods, and generally just hanging around staring. The pehnomena started in the early 80s, no doubt from John Wayne Gacy's arrest and subsequent labeling as the Killer Clown after it was discovered he had performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events; however, Gacy did not actually commit his crimes while wearing his clown costume. Stephen King's 1986 IT cemented the image of the demented evil clown in popular culture with Pennywise, but they had existed before in everything from a Poe short story to the opera Pagliacci (not to mention the less famous opera it plagiarized) to various depictions of the Batman's Joker.

According to Wikipedia, the urban legend of the phantom clown has spread: "First reported in 1981 in Brookline, Massachusetts, children said that men dressed up as clowns had attempted to lure them into a van.The panic spread throughout the US in the Midwest and Northeast. It resurface in 1985 in Phoenix, Arizona; in 1991 in West Orange, New Jersey;and 1995 in Honduras. Later sightings include Chicago, Illinois, in 2008."

But that is not all. Police in England urged people to just ignore the clowns in 2014. You can even find the top five scariest clowns ranked. Even the Smithsonian has articles about why we find them scary.

So why do we? Lots of ancient cultures have clown like figures in their mythology and religious rites. They represent things like chaos, sex, and death. They show up to remind people that the world does not go according to plan and death waits us all. They were around in ancient Egypt and Greece. At least two native american groups had sacred clowns. They show up in Chinese theater and Buddhist wisdom. The fool is Card Zero in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck.

Clowns invoke, unconsciously, in us feelings of a loss of control. They represent the fear of the unknown and death and the stranger.

What else is religion for, but to confront those things?

UPDATE: Clowns sited in my home state on the same day this went out!