Feb 17

1st Amendment and other Refugees

OK, so the First Amendment isn't dead yet, but it smells the way the wind is blowing and was looking to get out of the country for a while last time we talked. Maybe move to Canada. I asked it not to go, but it said it wasn't safe around here anymore. I had to agree it certainly seems that way.

Our friend the 1st says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Silly Founders, thinking that only the acts of congress might be considered the law of the land.

So what has our Friend First so upset? Lots. But given this is a blog about religion lets stick to that first clause.

There is the draft of a so-called "Religious Freedom" Executive Order. It essentially neuters anti-discrimination laws in the name of religious liberty. It does exactly the opposite. By allowing people to discriminate the White House is essentially allowing one perspective on religion to trump, no pun intended, all others. My religious belief that all people are equal, loved by God, and deserving of love and respect is being violated by an executive order that says "it is OK to hate." Hate is not OK and should not be protected, especially in the name of Religion.

There is the ban that is not a ban. The humanitarian and moral issues here are huge, no pun intended, but not what I want to get at. This is effectively a religious test for Muslims seeking to enter the country. Although, let's be clear, it is a ban on Muslims who do not give the President money. Not all Muslims, not even Muslims from countries whose citizens have actually committed terrorist acts in the US, just those from the poorest countries in the middle east. It is not a ban on Muslims, but it is intended to be seen as such to fulfill campaign promises. Which makes it just as bad or worse. It encourages the perception that Muslims are the enemy, while not actually doing anything to curtail terrorist activity. Quite the opposite in that it plays into the jihadist narrative that the US is at war with Islam. Something that I would once argue was not true.

There is the failure to recognize the plight of the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day. How does that relate to the First Amendment? It is one step away from holocaust denial, a favorite of white supremacists and jihadists alike to deny Jewish identity, heritage, and legitimacy. It is away of minimizing the worst, let's not argue that point, persecution based on race and religion in history and in doing so helps to legitimize other persecution based on race and religion. If not an attack, it is clearly an insult to the free practice of religion.

Then we have the remarks by the POTUS at the National Prayer Breakfast. I'm not entirely sure a president should even go to a National Prayer Breakfast in a pluralist society, but that is beside the point. He used the occasion to plug Celebrity Apprentice. Denying the solemnity of the occasion. This even after 800 Christian leaders denounced his actions and called upon him to act upon the faith he professes ahead of the event.

Worst of all is Trump's plan to destroy the ban on political speech in churches. Something that would make churches subservient to politics and erode any possibility of separation of church and state. Political speech in churches is bad for churches. It is bad for faith. It ties religious identity to political identity, making idols of politics. It is the single most dangerous threat to religious freedom I can think of short of an out right ban on religion.

Let's not even get started on crazy pants Steve Bannon who is possibly the most dangerous man in the country and the Red Skull in disguise.

Maybe not everything here is an attack on the First Amendment. But it does cause those of us in the faith community to cringe and worry. Maybe you think I am being political.

To bad. This is God's Mote. I look for the mote in the eye of those who claim to speak for God. I try to explain the real meaning and context of religious issues. I will defend my faith and your faith, what ever it may or may not be, from threats both foreign and domestic.

Dec 16

War on Christmas Real

in 1912

More accurately it was a war against the rising commercialization of Christmas and needlessly competitive gift giving. The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, or Spugs, was even more specifically looking at the trend of employees giving gifts to bosses and higher-ups in exchange for work favors.

“Are you a giver of Christmas gifts?” The New York Times reported on November 12, 1912. “If you are, do you give them in the true spirit of generosity or in the hope that you may get presents or favors in return? If that is the way you have been offering holiday remembrances, and if you wish to rebel against this hypocrisy, then you are eligible for membership in the Spug Club.”

When your patrons are Elanor Belmont (think Belmont Stakes) and Anne Morgan (J.P.'s daughter naturally) you find your cause gets a lot of press. By December Teddy Roosovelt himself became the first "man Spug." Two years later war would be raging across Europe and things like the Spug club were unnecessary, but maybe we need them back?

In reality the greatest "threat" to Christmas are cultural Christians. Don't get me wrong, I am for Santa and lights and all that, as with most things its the degree of emphasis that matters. However, when people get upset over coffee cups, "Season's Greetings" or "Holiday Trees" they are worrying about the wrong thing. When they get into fights or inescapable debt to get the latest gift they have worked too hard for the wrong things. When Christmas becomes a reason to get defensive about tradition you are no longer celebrating Christ, you are celebrating yourself.

Our culture is having a bit of an identity crisis.

So ask yourself: what offends me at Christmas time?

If the answer is not: poverty, disease, war, hunger, alienation, xenophobia, or the like you may have the wrong answer.

Don't forget the story of Christmas is about Jesus' first great self-sacrifice, lowering himself from the God-Head to be born.

Nov 14

Here We Go Again...

Jesus and Mary Magdalene Married!

Sigh. Really? Do we really have to go through this again?
First: There is no "Lost Gospel." The document in question has been well known to researchers for some time. The text relates to the story of Joseph (he of the not-so-technicolor coat) and Aseneth, a figure mentioned in Genesis 41:45 and who is the daughter of a Priest of On (Heliopolis) and bears him two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. On the surface it is an explanation as to why Joseph could marry the daughter of a pagan priest and how she converts to the worship of the God of Abraham. Admittedly there is some strange stuff in it. She is locked in a tower where she has a vision of an angel who gives her a divine honeycomb to represent repentance. Bees surround her. Some die some go back to heaven. You can read the whole thing here. It does probably have some occult overtones (a Gnostic initiation ritual perhaps?) and the version we have might be a Christian work,due to the mark of the cross on the honeycomb, but perhaps of an older Jewish document. The original likely was in Greek, but we do not have it. We do have the work in other languages and in at least two different variations.

Second: Mary Magdalene, while a much storied figure, is not a particularly well documented one. There are a dozen passages that mention Mary by name in the New Testament, with most of those associated with her presence at the Crucifixion and later at the tomb. From Luke we are told that she had seven demons cast out of her and that she supported Jesus financially in his ministry. I by no means want to down play her significance. She is mentioned by name more often than almost all of the apostles. Yet most of what people think about her is the creation of later generations. It is not until 591 that Pop Gregory associates her with the prostitute who washed Jesus feet and also Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus. Its the books that the early church rejected, not 'lost' - if you throw something away you know exactly where it is, that give her a place of preeminence among the apostles as the favorite student of the Gnostic Jesus. In particular the Gospel of Phillip describes Mary's relationship to Jesus as koinōnos, a physical and spiritual pairing of man and woman. Thus the tradition that Jesus and Mary were married. Mary is also credited, by the way, with Easter Eggs and she even shows up in the sacred writings of the Baha'i.

So, we have a work of admittedly questionable providence and likely occult symbolism. However, there is no clear historical or literary connection to even those traditions that tie Jesus and Mary together sexually. Its simply a sensational headline for the news to grab and generate interest in a book by man known for questionable scholarship.

One more thing to think about: If Jesus had children roughly one thousand nine hundred and eighty four years ago in Palestine, and if we assume just two children per couple living to reproductive age, pretty much all modern humans would be descendants of Jesus.

Oct 14

Jesus and the Aliens


Scientific American had a brief QnA  recently with David Weintraub, author of Religions and Extraterrestrial Life:How will we deal with it?.  I should probably get it out of the way that I now hate David, having never met him, for publishing a book that I have been planning to write; although if the statement that "the Eastern Orthodox Church, a branch of Roman Catholicism" is any indication of Weintraub's understanding of theology then I need not worry about the competition.  Klingons aside (who we all know are saved by Kahless) it is an important issue.  Scientist become increasingly convinced that we will discover alien life in the next few decades, or even years.  Personally I think this would be one of the biggest boons to our understanding of God, the Universe, and Everything since Jesus.  Of course, it has to be more than just "life."  Bacteria on Mars will be exiting, but not theologically significant.  For that, we need intelligence.  What that intelligence might look like is anyone's, and everyone's, guess; but I doubt we are going to run into any of the bumpy-forehead human analogs with which science fiction is replete.  Nor do I think that we are going to run into any intelligent cultures that lack a belief system of some kind.

So what is at stake?  From a Christian perspective, the issue is largely one of original sin.  Supposedly supported by Romans 6 and other passages, this is the idea that humanity is corrupted in the Fall of Adam and that his sin is transmitted, kind of like sickle cell anemia, from one generation to the next.  Christ's work on the cross, by this model, removes the sin stain from the Adamic line for all who believe. The problem then is what do you do if you have an intelligent something that is not a child of Adam?  No Father Adam, no work of Christ for you Mr. Martian.  While the concept of original sin has been around for centuries in Christianity, there are lots of other ways of understanding Christ's work on the cross, and why humans needed it, with the broader Christian framework of faith. C.S. Lewis, in his Space Trilogy, puts for the idea of variously fallen and unfallen worlds, just one of possibility in the spectrum.  In fact, a careful reading of the literature of the Abrahamic Faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) shows a belief in lots of other intelligences: angels, demons, djinn, etc.  These intelligences have been worked into the cosmology of the respective faiths, and accepted.   New origins, distant origins, for  supra-terrestrial beings will give pause, but not a faith break interruption. As the article mentions, lots of faiths are going to have not the slightest problem with incorporating alien life into their framework, since alien life practically exists already.  Anytime such a monumental cultural stress inducer occurs new ways of thinking, new faiths even, will result.  Syncretism, as much as we might wish to avoid it, happens.  One need not look much further than our own world and history to see that.

I think the bigger problem when (yes, I am of the 'when' camp) we meet an alien civilization is going to purely existential.  Humanity has dealt with other intelligent beings in out past, the genetic and fossil records show that.  We either out competed them, or we mated with them.  When next we see an other mind looking back at us, its not going to be so easy.  We are going to question everything.  We will test our assumptions about the world we live in, possibly to the point of destruction.  Our faith is going to help us, I think, work out the answers.