9
Sep 16

What does the Captain believe?

In case you missed it, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the single most influential television series in history: Star Trek.
Star Trek is often seen in a kind of post-religion universe, but that is only if you are not paying attention.

(Most of the research that follows is not original to me, I have just collated it from various websites.)

The Original Series

In "Balance of Terror" the Enterprise is shown to have a chapel with multiple religion symbols. In "Bread and Circuses" we have the strange parallel Earth where there are "sun" worshippers who turn out to be "Son" of God worshipers - at least according to Ahura. Kirk seems to be a monotheist in "Who Mourns for Adonis" when he says "Scotty doesn't believe in gods" and also "Man has no need for gods. We find the one quite sufficient." Once you get to the movie era the quest for spiritual understanding in Star Trek comes to the fore, but we do not talk about the odd numbered movies.

The Next Generation
In TNG it is really Worf and Data that are spiritual seekers. Worf in a very overt way both in this series and DS9. While Klingon religion is closer to Confucian teachings with a heavy dose of Bushido, it has a messiah. Worf visits a monastery, in "Rightful Heir", where he has a vision of the Klingon Messiah Kahless, who later appears -all be it as a clone programmed by the religious order to take over the Empire. Data, the android who wants to be a real boy, is the archetypal spiritual seeker from the first episode onward. There we see him practicing whistling - think of it as a novitiate's prayer, and progresses through seeking emotions, his father, his family, having dreams, having emotions, and ultimately self sacrifice and possible resurrection.

It is worth noting that there is a "god" figure in TNG in the form of Q, who is a constant thorn in the Captain's side. Q, however, is the argument against worshipping beings who just happen to be more powerful than you.

DS9
The series that took religion the most seriously, to the point of making it at least a back ground element of every episode (Bajoran ear rings if nothing else). It is ultimately the story of a messiah, the "Emissary" Benjamin Sisko whom we ultimately learn is half-human and half-divine (or half-wormhole-alien-worshiped-as-a-god if you want to be materialistic about it.) His father's name is even Joseph! Q shows up and is seen as a powerful alien, but the Prophets (the wormhole aliens) are never so clearly defined by the series.

Voyager
Voyager had its own messianic prophecies later on in the series, with B'elanna Tores and Tom Paris' 1/4 Klingon child who is supposed to be a sect of Klingon's kuvah'magh. It is Chakotay who shows the most constant religious faith through the series. He practices rituals like meditation with an animal guide (VOY: "The Cloud"). We learn that his tribe may have had contact with aliens in the past (VOY: "Tattoo"). Directed dreaming enables him to trick aliens that want to take over the ship (VOY: "Waking Moments"). While he admits there may be no afterlife, but such a belief is not necessary to religious belief and practice.

Enterprise

Enterprise is not so far removed from our time and neither is it so immersed in the Utopian future seen in TOS and TNG. Human religious elements show up periodically, but the most constant theme is the struggle of the Vulcan's with their own faith. Even though they would not call it a religion, the teachings of Logic set by Surak certainly would qualify as such. Even the techniques of meditation and the latent psychic powers of the Vulcans have a religious air to them.

In many ways Star Trek is the quest for enlightenment. It is full of false steps and possible short cuts. But it is also the idea that there is always more. A better understanding. A bigger purpose than we can see. That, inherently, is what religion is - whether anyone intended for the show to be that or not.

2
Sep 16

Wont someone please think of the elves!

At least they do in Iceland.

Technically in Iceland they are Huldufolk ("Hidden People") and they form a significant part of the lore of of the Icelandic people. Lots of people still believe in them, and if you want to look into why go here.

I am more interested in the not so subtle mocking going on in all of the articles about the moved stone. This is one of those areas where Materialists can say "Idiots!" and lots of Religious people can go "Heathens!" and they can both have a good laugh about it before they start bashing each other again.

Stop it.

Human history is long and broad and deep and is filled with people who believe in the existence of other intelligences. They call them lots of things: elves, trolls, spirits, fey, ghosts, demons, angels, aliens, jinn, kami, big foot, or ultraterrestrials of whatever stripe. It is in the Koran. It is in the Bible. It is in Buddhism. It is in the Torah. Shintoism is entirely about such beings.

All of our grandmothers (OK most of our grandmothers) knew and told us there were other things in the world than what we could see and feel. Even if they had stopped believing when they told us.

Stories told by countless people in countless places have so many striking notes of similarity.

My point is not to get you to believe in any of it. My point is that if you choose to dismiss outright the existence of such beings in general you are not being scientific or rational. You are acting on faith in your understanding of the world. A scientific answer would be "People have reported a phenomena. We do not have sufficient evidence to confirm or deny their conclusions about the nature of that phenomena. We must look at it further." And if people who were honest about being real scientists were in charge of budgets and grants there might be more research that was not considered "fringe."

If, as a religious person, you dismiss such things because they do not fit your cosmology I would suggest that you revisit your religious texts and traditions.

If we are to be honest, intelligent, people about matters of faith and science we cannot dismiss out of hand any phenomena that a lot of people claim to experience. We might reject in specific, but we should not simply do so as a default. That says that somehow other people's perceptions and reason are inferior to our own. It is not respectful of other people and it is not wise.

There is more in heaven and earth than dreamed of in your philosophy...
so occasionally think of the elves.

26
Aug 16

Misplaced Priority

Dear Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys French People,

Portions of your government are terribly worried about women covering themselves in public. On the beach no less. In a country where topless beaches are normal some of your mayors have said women cannot wear what amounts to a wet suit with a skirt, a "burkini." Fortunately your highest administrative court has realized that they cannot do it. Now if they would realize that the same thing is true for the burka you would be well on your way.

In case you do not know what a burkini might be:
Take one Star Fleet issue Surgical Scrub
STScrubs
Add Linda Carter's Wonder Woman Ocean Suit
Linda Carter Wet suit
And you get a Burkini
burkini

Now I realize that you have had some bad things happen to you and somehow you think that changing what women wear will make you safer. I do not know how you came to that conclusion, I have a five year old and I cannot follow that logic; but OK, you want to meddle with women and their bodies to make you feel better.

Fine.

Here is what you need to worry about, and fortunately some of you are.

Female Genital Mutilation

I know it is not technically a religious practice, even if some communities think it is. But go after that. I would go on and make a case against it. I would talk about the statistics of those it effects and how it has gone on for centuries and how it is a means to control women. I cannot. It makes me hurt to think about it. I have daughters, and a wife, and a mother, and aunts and friends and the thought of that happening to any one of them is to terrible to contemplate. I am very accepting of a wide variety of cultural practices. Not this. This makes me feel hate and loathing and disgust. It is too horrible to consider.

If you are going to worry so much about women's bodies then worry about the tyrannical men who mutilate women as a means of control and not dresses you do not like.

OK?

19
Aug 16

If it is a sign, what does it say?

I am not one going to delight in the suffering of another, especially when that suffering is so profound and widespread.

I will however, point out the theological problems of one Tony Perkins of Louisianan. As most are aware, the area has been hit with historic flooding. This includes the house of Pastor Perkins as was shared on social media: 14067807_1571074266522164_7622625459706389434_o

The reason this is note worthy is that Tony Perkins claimed in an interview in October of 2015 that God was "trying to send the US a message" (about 13 mins in to the podcast) in the form of Hurricane Joaquin. It was actually his guest, Pastor Jonathan Cahn, who made the direct tie between the legalization of homosexual marriage and the devastation of the Hurricane, but Perkins seems to agree with him.

So, if one storm is a sign from God, what does it say about his flooded house?

First, I would remind Pastor Perkins, and everyone else, in the danger of speaking for God. As a Pastor it is his job to do so, but it is dangerous to speculate on what God is thinking. Better stick to interpreting the texts.

Second, I would remind everyone that it does not matter what you think of someone, whether you are anti-gay marriage or anti-Tony Perkins, decent human beings do not take disaster as an opportunity to make moral judgement about someone. Decent human beings just help who ever you might be. Discussions of morality can wait for later.

Finally I would point out that correlation is not causation. Just because two things happen about the same time does not mean they have anything to do with one another.

Out prayers and effort go out to the people of Louisiana.

Check this out if you are looking for ways to help.

12
Aug 16

Not a "Raise Dead" Among Them

Mysterious magic scrolls and golden treasure are a staple of adventure games, but archaeologists in Serbia have found the real thing.

The site was once Viminacium, the provincial capitol of Moesia Superior and a military center in the Roman Empire. It lasted from the 1st century CE to about the 6th, when it was destroyed (again and finally) by invading Serbs. At its peak its population was probably around 40,000 making it one of the largest cities of the Empire and the world in its day.

3421
Photograph: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

The scrolls are relatively tiny things,about the size of Starburst or Halls wrapper, made of silver and gold and found in the form of amulets. Exactly what they are is unclear, and any statements to the contrary is pure conjecture. They are written in the Greek alphabet but appear to be Aramaic. In and of its self not that surprising a find given the spread of the Greek language during the conquest of Alexander and his successors.

The article says the names of Syrian demons are invoked, but I could not find out those names in my research. Given the location on a major Roman road (The Military Way) and the presence of large numbers of legionaries the fact that some of the residents had spent time in Roman Syria is almost to be expected.

Something to keep in mind: When we read the words "magic spell" what it really means is "prayer." Prior to the 1900s that is really all magical practices were and for the most part that is all they are today. Calling out for beings more powerful than yourself for aid, protection, or to harm your enemies? You have just described everything from the majority of the Psalms to the average locker room prayer at a high school football game.

What these prayers were for, and who was saying them, is unclear. Are the demons being invoked (called upon for service) or abjured (ordered to stay away)? Are they "demons" at all or is that interpretation a post-Christian understanding of who they might have been for the original inhabitants? Is the subject of the prayer the wearer or someone else? Were the amulets worn in life or only added in burial?

Ask questions. Never accept on face value what someone tells you about what someone else believes.

5
Aug 16

Blasphemy!

So, Jesus, Mohammad, and Adolph Hitler were....

No, I am not going to do that. Even I can see the lines before I cross them on occasion.

However, I did start that way for a reason. I could have finished that (if I could have thought of an ending) if I had wanted to do so and nothing would have happened to me. Nothing. Oh I might get some comments, but nothing that would have actually hurt me.

In more places than you might expect, however, blasphemy laws are still on the books and in wide spread use.

Blasphemy: the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.

Of course we understand in the US that one man's blasphemy is another's sacred revelation, or at least we are supposed to understand that. Sometimes I wonder.
So, 90% of Middle Eastern countries have anti-blasphemy laws - not terribly surprising you might say. Nor is the quarter of countries in the Asia-Pacific area, especially once you consider that Afghanistan and Pakistan are in that region.

More surprising are the European countries: Italy, Greece, Malta, Denmark, Poland, Ireland and Turkey. In Denmark the law was renewed in 2015 and about 66% of the country favors it. There it is tied to hate speech and is intended to protect all faiths. In Italy the law punishes those who speak ill of "the Deity" while Greece's make specific reference to "God."

Apparently Malta ended its blasphemy laws in July 2016, so it drops off the list.

In the US some states had and were actively prosecuting blasphemy laws in the early 50s before the Supreme Court struck them all down.

Here is an idea that needs repeating: any religious statement is blasphemy to someone.

Read what that means in:

Pakistan. (you can find dozens from Pakistan)
Nigeria.
Egypt.
Wow. Even Germany.

I could go on and on.

Just remember, if you can tell a joke about someone's beliefs in a public place, you are not being persecuted.

27
Jul 16

Dropped off the radar

Normally I analyze religion in the news. Today I want to point out a story where, once religion was taken out of it, disappeared.

There was a big news story that broke over the weekend of a mass shooting in a Munich McDonald's. This followed a knife attach in the same region in May where the culprit shouted "Allah Akbar" ("God is Great"). The shooter in this case was of Iranian descent.

Naturally enough people began talking about Islamic terrorism. French President Francois Hollande branded the shooting a "disgusting terrorist attack." Donald Trump tweeted "Our prayers are with all those affected by the horrible attacks in Munich. This cannot continue. The rise of terrorism threatens the way of life for all civilized people, and we must do everything in our power to keep it from our shores." Boris Johnson, the UK's newly minted Foreign Secretary, said "If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at the source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world."

And thus the news cycle continued for a few days. Now, admittedly, we in the US were a bit preoccupied with other things in the news. Pesky presidential election, not to mention our own internal tension and violence.

However, here is the big thing that did not really get a lot of attention in our press:

The kid was not a Muslim. In fact, his actions were likely inspired by an the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks in Norway in 2011. Ali David Sonboly launched the attack on the 5th anniversary of those killings, after changing his Facebook profile picture to that of Anders Breivik, the white supremacist who killed 77 people in the Norway attacks. When the police investigated his room they found numerous books on mass shootings, particularly Columbine.

Sonboly attempted to lure teenagers to the shooting. He created a fake Facebook profile of a pretty girl named Selina Akim and promised to buy people things if they came to the McDonald's at the shopping center. Someone else called him out on it, however, pointing out that it was a fake profile and a bid for attention. He also told people on in a video game chat that he intended to do it. Apparently he had made similar statements before and no one paid him any attention.

He killed seven people. According to eye witnesses he chose his targets. He was looking for people who might have picked on him.

We might say he was mentally disturbed. On the one hand I agree with that. If he had gotten the right kind of attention and socialization and, perhaps, medication this would not have happened. On the other hand I think it is quite clear he planned this carefully, he thought about it a long time, and knew what he was doing. This was not an act while in some form of disassociative mental state. This was murder, and at that my sympathy ends even if my understanding does not.

However, what I really want us to see is that his ethnicity had nothing to do with his actions. His faith or lack there of had nothing to do with his actions.

We need to accept that sometimes people are just terrible creatures. Always have been and always will be. We need to do everything in our power to help them become healthier, happier people who do not become terrible creatures, but in the end terrible things are done by terrible people. They need no more motivation than that.

21
Jul 16

It belongs in a Reliquary!

Indiana Jones not withstanding, the discovery of golden boxes containing possibly world changing artifacts is typically the providence of DnD characters or the Winchester brothers, not archaeologists.

Nevertheless, a group in China may have discovered a gilt sandalwood box containing a piece of skull from Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha. First there was stone chest which, when opened, revealed a hidden iron box, and inside of that was an elaborate stupa model that stood nearly 4 feet tall. It is believed the remains of Buddhist saints are also stored inside of the same artifact. Inside of the protected display was a silver casket, which then opened into a gold casket.

CmRxpczWAAAYNJj

According to the researchers about 1,400 years before China received the artifact Buddha's skull was protected underneath an Indian temple that had been demolished during an onslaught of violence throughout the region. The ruling King Ashoka divided Buddha's alleged remains into 84,000 shares, with 19 shares going into China.

The discovery has been well known in the East, apparently, for several years but only started making headlines in the West in the last month. The contents will, of course, be hard to verify. Nor is this the only relic associated with Buddha and many claim some item. The Buddha's relics are considered to show people that enlightenment is possible, to remind them that the Buddha was a real person, and to also promote good virtue.

The housing of the Tooth of Buddha in Sri Lanka
SL51tooth

15
Jul 16

Poke-Oh-No!

Pokemon are Cyber Demons says Rick Wiles.

Everyone seems to be playing PokemonGo! But according to Rick Wiles the app is a literally fiendish plot to attack Christianity by sending "cyberdemons" to target churches. Now, the above link goes to a huffpost article (even after I said I wasn't going to use them anymore, sorry) that is really dismissive to the point of absurdity. So I encourage you to listen to what the man himself has to say about it.

First, does he really think it requires a game to find churches? Google maps alone can do that, and if you want to go old school there used to be these things called Phone Books!
Second, he says pokemon are "cyberdemons" but gives no real reason for calling them that, other than he doesn't understand them.

However, he is not the first to denounce Pokemon as Satanic.

Egyptian religious authorities have condemned the game as anti-Islamic.

Ironically,Pokemon is heavily influenced by Shinto beliefs in kami, nature spirits that inhabit the natural world; but since these people don't want actually do research they can't use that as an argument.

PokemonGo! thy way and sin no more.

8
Jul 16

Helter Skelter

In 1967 an ex-con established himself as a guru in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. In and of itself this was nothing noteworthy. It was the "Summer of Love" and gurus were thick on the ground, and this would not be the first nor the last man to find religion due to prison, legitimately or not. This guru taught a combination of Scientology and Process Church theology. I will just borrow the Wiki entry on Processian Theology rather than try to put it in my own words:

In Xtul was the first "channeling" of God. After Xtul, Jehovah was the only recognised God. Later, with Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan were recognised as "The Three Great Gods of the Universe" and Christ as the Emissary to the Gods. The Three Great Gods represent three basic human patterns of reality:

Jehovah, the wrathful God of vengeance and retribution, demands discipline, courage and ruthlessness, and a single-minded dedication to duty, purity and self-denial.
Lucifer, the Light Bearer, urges followers to enjoy life to the fullest, to value success in human terms, to be gentle and kind and loving, and to live in peace and harmony with one another. Man's apparent inability to value success without descending into greed, jealousy and an exaggerated sense of his own importance, has brought the God Lucifer into disrepute. He has become mistakenly identified with Satan.
Satan, the receiver of transcendent souls and corrupted bodies, instills in followers two directly opposite qualities; at one end an urge to rise above all human and physical needs and appetites, to become all soul and no body, all spirit and no mind, and at the other end a desire to sink beneath all human codes of behavior, and to wallow in a morass of violence, lunacy and excessive physical indulgence. But it is the lower end of Satan's nature that men fear, which is why Satan, by whatever name, is seen as the Adversary.
In between these Three Great Gods and man, is an entire hierarchy of Gods, beings and superbeings, angels and archangels, demons and archdemons, elementals and guides, and fallen angels and watchers.
The Process believes that, to varying degrees, these "God-patterns" exist within everyone. The main doctrine of The Process is the unity of Christ and Satan, who exist as opposites. Jehovah and Lucifer exist as opposites and when Christ and Satan are united, this will unite Jehovah and Lucifer.
In the original 1960s literature of the church, Christ, Lucifer, Satan and Jehovah were all arranged on a mandala, with Christ at the top opposite Satan on the bottom and Jehovah on the left opposite Lucifer on the right.
(The descriptions of the Gods comes from a teaching called 'The Hierarchy' published in December 1967, as a part of 'The Tide of the End'.)

After moving around a bit the guru established a semi-commune in Death Valley for his growing "family" in November of 1967. In a New Year's gathering the guru added a key component to the morass that was the group's theology.

The guru declared that the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" had tapped into a cosmic truth, was a kind of holy scripture and prophecy. By mid-February of 68 he had formulated a clear vision of the future.

A race war was coming, one in which he and this group would not only be the ultimate beneficiaries but also the trigger. He and the Family would create an album with songs whose messages concerning the war would be as subtle as those he had heard in songs of the Beatles. More than merely foretell the conflict, this would trigger it; for, in instructing "the young love", America's white youth, to join the Family, it would draw the young, white female hippies out of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. Black men, thus deprived of the white women whom the political changes of the 1960s had made sexually available to them, would be without an outlet for their frustrations and would lash out in violent crimes against whites. A resultant murderous rampage against blacks by frightened whites would then be exploited by militant blacks to provoke an internecine war of near-extermination between racist and non-racist whites over blacks' treatment. Then the militant blacks would arise to sneakily finish off the few whites they would know to have survived; indeed, they would kill off all non-blacks. In this holocaust, the members of the enlarged Family would have little to fear; they would wait out the war in a secret city that was underneath Death Valley that they would reach through a hole in the ground. As the only actual remaining whites upon the race war's true conclusion, they would emerge from underground to rule the now-satisfied blacks, who, as the vision went, would be incapable of running the world. At that point, the guru "would scratch [the black man's] fuzzy head and kick him in the butt and tell him to go pick the cotton and go be a good n-----."

However, the proposed album never got made and time was running short on the prophecy. It would be necessary for the group to instigate the race was themselves. He told a male Family member that Helter Skelter was "ready to happen"."Blackie never did anything without whitey showin' him how," he said. "It looks like we're gonna have to show blackie how to do it."

On August 8 and 9th 1969 members of the Family carried out two gruesome mass murders. One young woman wrote "Rise" and "Death to pigs" on the walls and "Healter [sic] Skelter" on the refrigerator door, all in her victim's blood. She gave him 14 puncture wounds with an ivory-handled, two-tined carving fork, which she left jutting out of his stomach. She also planted a steak knife in his throat. The goal was to blame the murders on Black Panthers and other militant black groups.

Thus Charles Manson and his Family killed not only their victims but the hippie movement in general. Manson wanted a race war. He did everything in his power to provoke one. His charisma and insanity was fortunately hindered by incompetence and divided attentions - what he really wanted was to be a muscian- or he might have done a better job of it.

I write this on July 8th, 2016. This week we have seen cops kill black men for seemingly no reason and a sniper(s? details are still emerging) shoot a dozen police officers in Dallas in retaliation, killing at least 5, during what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration.

STOP DOING CHARLES MANSON'S WORK YOU IDIOTS!

Everything, everything, you do or say that promotes racial tension or denies equality or ignores inequality contributes to the problem. There was not one finger on the trigger in Dallas, there were tens of thousands. If we fail to acknowledge complicity in injustice we only validate the actions of violent people.

I bet your Uncle Charlie loves it.