The Unbelievable God


What is the nature of our God?  Modern Christians refer to Jesus as the Christ, or Saviour, the Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Emmanuel (or “God with us”), the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Good Shepherd, and a host of other regal, holy, and elevated noble titles.  We picture Him in many ways, as the gentle redeemer, a lost lamb draped over His shoulder (reminiscent of Kriophoros and our collective Hellenistic heritage), dressed in white robes with a beaming smile and brilliant blue eyes, long hair and a halo that seems to emanate from His head, to depictions of His suffering on the cross, bloodied, broken, wearing a crown of thorns, nearly naked and helpless.  We recall the miracles witnessed by His disciples, and picture a healer, a teacher, a fisherman, and carpenter.  It’s easy to fall in love with this image of Him, and many do, and have, and many find comfort in these depictions of Jesus, but how well do we really know Him?

Historically, we know so very little about Him, and what we think we know, comes from scripture written, not by people who knew or even met Him, but by people who heard about Him – in many cases, decades, if not generations after His death. We have no physical description of Him, although the world’s cathedrals, churches and art galleries are full of artistic representations of Him, usually depicting one or more aspects of His character in the absence of any real idea about what He looked like.  Most of what He taught, or we think He taught, survives in parables, in accounts written in the gospels incorporated into the canon of the New Testament, a collection of narratives written at different times (the earliest, Mark, being composed some 30 years after the death of Jesus, and the last, John, about 70-80 years afterward), jotted down on animal skins in a foreign language, in different places, by unknown anonymous authors (despite the names given to the gospels themselves, the true authors of these works may never be known, and they most likely drew upon earlier, even more obscure sources).

Despite the mystery of Jesus as a historical figure, the gospels do provide us with a fascinating, and in the modern sense, an outlandish and implausible story. Jesus, we are told, was born to a young virgin mother, Mary, who was engaged to a much older man who had other children by a previous marriage, Joseph, who had to be persuaded to marry her by the intervention of an angel.  The birth of their son occurred while the unfortunate couple were on a return journey after checking in with their hometown for a census, and for want of accommodation arrangements, were forced to have the child among the livestock in a stable under the watchful eye of sheep herders.  We’re told however, that Persian Magi, or wise men, kingly figures of sorts, were directed to the site, after having seen a star in the sky, and making the necessary enquiries of the ruling monarch at the time, King Herod, tipping him off to a potential rival, they then provided the young child and His family with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (substances traditionally used, incidentally, during death and burial rituals at the time – dramatic foreboding as it’s referred to in all the best literary genres). The child grows up, and becomes a carpenter, leading a quiet, at least unreported life, until about the age of thirty.

Jesus encounters John, a baptist on the fringe, and a family friend of sorts, their mothers having been acquainted with each other, and Jesus endorses his radical movement by submitting Himself to the ritual of baptism.  He gathers unto Himself several disciples, twelve we’re told, and embarks upon a mission of healing, preaching, and miracle working.  His followers form a motley group, and include mostly fishermen, and notoriously, a Roman collaborator (a tax collector).  Jesus quickly gained a reputation for healing and preaching to the marginalized in His society, and was known to have encountered prostitutes, Roman oppressors, lepers, the deranged, invalids, the sick, and the poor, among whom He performed miracles of healing, food distribution, exorcisms, and resurrections.  He’s also noted for having had the ability to walk on water, tame the weather, turn water into wine, and was rather handy at fishing and multiplying the day’s catch exponentially.  Despite warnings to the benefactors of His miracles not to say anything to anyone about them, His popularity, and notoriety, quickly grew.

Three years into His mission, Jesus was betrayed by one of His closest disciples, Judas Iscariot, who turned Him over to the Temple Priest in Jerusalem in return for some quick cash.  Jesus had been wanted on charges of seditious activities, having breached the peace in the Temple just days earlier during its busiest time of year – the Jewish Passover holiday. The city had been under Roman control for some time, and the penal system fell under their jurisdiction, and Jesus was appropriately turned over to the Roman magistrate, the governor at the time, Pontius Pilate, who ordered that Jesus be dispatched by way of crucifixion, a common sentence for non-Roman criminals, and threats to the Pax Romana. The followers of Jesus, we’re told, went into hiding, and denied ever having known Him, after having been His followers for three years, and dining with Him just three days earlier. Jesus was dispatched on the outskirts of town, and was then buried in the family tomb, which, as it turns out, was found to be empty some time later.

Evidently, Jesus had died, and been resurrected, and He was reported to have been seen by women loitering near His tomb, by several, if not all, of His disciples (some of whom had apparently gone back to fishing), a couple of travellers on the way into town, and a crowd of about five hundred people.  After hanging around for a few weeks as a convicted felon on the run, He ascended into heaven, with what some believed was a promise to return.  Most of His followers languished in obscurity, until, a Jewish citizen of Rome, who’d persecuted them, had a change of heart, and went on a road trip to establish a network of cells that he sought to radicalize with his new message.  The money poured in, but on the way back to Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, taken back to Rome, and was similarly dispatched by the authorities on the charge that he was a troublemaker.  In short order, many of Paul’s cohorts, including James (Jesus’ brother), and Peter (one of the fishermen who’d become an early adopter and organizer), also met their untimely demise, either by stoning, or public crucifixion.

Remnants of the “Jesus movement” continued to survive in small pockets for many years, under suspicion that they were incestuous cannibals (eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their boss), fire bugs, and were otherwise anti-social (particularly absent from the holidays), until their fortunes changed dramatically when Constantine, a new Roman emperor, officially sanctioned the movement after attributing a military coup to a “vision” that corresponded to it’s symbolism. Under the emperor’s governance and influence, diverse and radically differing views on the new “religion’s” dogma were ironed out, and the “church” became incorporated into Roman society, and grew accordingly as a result of the endorsement of the powers that were. Stories about Jesus were consolidated, edited for doctrinal appropriateness, and were incorporated into a canon of literature which formed the basis for the early church’s marching orders.  The church, ironically, survived the fall of the empire that had sustained it, albeit at the sacrifice of its homogeneity, and would, in time, fracture into a multitude of sectarian denominations, many of which survive to this day.

So how on earth did this man, Jesus, an obscure felon slapped with the death penalty, become the God worshipped today by nearly seven billion people?  Many of Jesus’ early followers believed that He was a messianic figure, a promised champion, who would restore them to freedom and release them from the oppression of occupation.  Some believed, then, and subsequently, that He was the messiah, not just a liberator for the Jews, but for all mankind, freeing us from the oppression of “sin,” reuniting us with God in a new pact based on forgiveness and His sacrifice as God’s only begotten son.  Some even believed, fervently, that He would return to finish the job, many of whom were sadly disappointed, when the Romans put down their revolts and razed their temple (ironically rebuilt by Herod, and still under construction), and city, to the ground, slaughtering all resistance (the second such unfortunate defeat of this kind, the first having been at the hands of the Babylonians several centuries earlier, resulting in the wholesale enslavement of the Jews for centuries). Rome was eventually usurped by the new faith, not by force, but by incorporation.

So what kind of messiah was this this man, this God, we know today as Jesus Christ? Throughout the faith’s history over the last two thousand or so years, many events, including wars, famines, plagues, and revolutions have seemingly warranted the belief that His return was imminent, at least according to prophetic interpretations of His seemingly reluctant role as liberator, returning, as it were, to establish a kingdom of His own in the place of such chaos and suffering.  Some have been so bold as to claim title to this kingdom, only to be met with failure, and often a swift dispatch of their own. Apart from some mentally perturbed accounts by dubious and desperate witnesses, discredited by failed “end of the world” prophecies of their own, there’s been no sign of Him, other than the faith we’ve institutionalized and integrated into our culture and society that bears His name.  His principle edicts were hardly radical, in ancient times, or now, being simply that we should love God, and each other, and that through forgiveness, rather that retribution, we could find salvation from our shortcomings, being, as it happens, all fishermen in the same boat.  So why do so many of us turn to Him in prayer, and believe and accept that He is our God? What, if anything, did He really “save” us from?

Perhaps the answers aren’t as clear cut as we’d like them to be, and in many ways, the whole story of Christianity is one big, mysterious parable.  Jesus was a radical, a reluctant revolutionary, who’s ministry consisted mainly of efforts to embrace outsiders and the disenfranchised, the marginalized, within a system that itself was in collaboration with imperial corruption and domination.  He was a Jew, living in an occupied homeland, with a social status that at best, barely got Him inside the gates of the holy temple, the place where God was believed to be directly accessible, at least by the High Priest once a year, on Passover. His contemporaries were not necessarily so fortunate.  Jewish purification rituals prevented the sick, the lame, and the “unclean,” from a direct relationship with God, and if you were a Gentile, a Roman, or worse, a Samaritan, you were written off completely.  Sure, you could worship other gods if you were so inclined, and many did, but you didn’t get access to the God of gods, the One God.  Jesus must have known that He’d be nailed for what He tried to do, and that deed, simply put, was to tear down the barriers to the divine so that God could be known by everyone, regardless of whether or not you were a Jew, “pure,” “clean,” or devout.  He ate with sinners, associated with prostitutes and low-lifes, and He brought God to the streets, where He was needed most, in a time when He was held hostage as much by His Roman oppressors, as He was within the walls of His own temple. He did it without killing anyone, and instead, sacrificed Himself, reluctantly to be sure, believing that we are all the son’s and daughters of God.  He came to fulfill the covenants of a people with their God, and more – He expanded it to all mankind, not just to a “chosen” few.

Many Christians maintain that Jesus is their saviour, and that through His death and resurrection, we’re saved from sin, and through Him, have the promise of everlasting life. His life and death have entered into legend, in profound ways, and His teachings, though at times obscured and distorted, still resonate with us today.  He makes us think about the possibility of a society based on fairness, mercy, love, forgiveness, and an inclusive, pluralistic and compassionate “kingdom” based on a profound respect for the fact that we are all each others’ brother or sister. He challenges us to know God, in ways that we never could before, and above all, to remember how valued and loved we are by Him. So, while we worship an executed criminal, we at least have resurrected His radical suggestion that love and forgiveness are viable, if not challenging, alternatives to violence and revenge, in the course of human affairs, and in our relationship with our creator.  If anything, these ideals have done more to rescue us from our true oppressor than any messiah imagined by the ancients ever could have – and the truth of them have made us free to embark upon the incredible undertaking of building the kingdom we have yearned for throughout much of our history, the last two thousand years of which, have brought many of us into a closer relationship with God, and with each other, in a uniquely personal, and profound way.

Whatever your theology, dogma, or religious beliefs surrounding Jesus, one thing is for sure, His story, no matter how far-fetched, continues to capture the imagination, and the hearts, of many who encounter it.

It’s a story that says as much about us, and our capacity for faith, as it does about Him.

The Unbelievable God

Are You a Religious Ignoramus?


Walking into a church once a week, (or in many cases, much less frequently), raising your arms in the air in praise to the sound of hymns, shouting “Amen” in agreement with your preacher, and flipping through your Bible like an unthinking robot, doesn’t make you spiritual, or religious, nor does it necessarily make you a faithful “man (or woman) of God.” There is nothing righteous about hypocrisy, ignorance, intolerance, or willful blindness, and if you’re too busy raising your hands in the air to point it out when you see it, or recognize it within yourself, or your church, something has gone terribly wrong. You might walk away with a false sense of arrogant piety, and if you think that’s going to save your soul, you might be in for a sad disappointment.

In my religion, as a Christian, I find there’s a lot of noise about the faith – zealous preachers, multimedia laser light shows, overhead projectors streaming scripture to the sound of teenagers belting out “I love Jesus” songs on their electric keyboards, and that’s great and wonderful to see – but I wonder sometimes if many of us have been blinded by the lights, and have dimmed down our real faith as a result, having placed more emphasis on the medium lately, and our own propaganda, than on the message. Worship is central to our faith, but what are we really worshipping? In the modern age, why are so many Christians willing to be spoon fed dogma in shopping mall styled churches? Religion has always been big business, but is there something more to our acceptance of branded faith than just the mere cynicism that comes with living in the modern age? Has the church become a sanctuary for ignorance, even from the true roots and nature of its own faith, relegated to the role of moral policing and conservatism?

Some Christian movements are louder than others, have amassed armies of volunteers, lobbyists, and hold considerable power and resources – and some seem to put more energy into fighting evolutionists, bashing gays, justifying slavery, condemning science, or finding Biblical justification for using corporal punishment with their kids, than they do in educating themselves when it comes to the Bible, the faith’s history, and some of its very dubious and doubtful sources. Studies reveal, for instance, than many Christians have never read the entire Bible, let alone refer to it more than a few times a year, but hang on to their beliefs steadfastly, despite having never examined the origin of their belief for themselves, let alone subject their prejudices to scrutiny of any kind. How does that make anyone “Godly?” It doesn’t, anymore than reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, or singing “Onward Christian Soldier,” does.

Claims that the Bible is the absolute literal Word of God, inspired or otherwise, outright dismissal of scientific discovery when it contradicts it, and using the vulnerable in our society as scapegoats for our own ignorance is both wrong, and about as far away from God as you can get. We may not like His answers, but they’re written as much in the cosmos, in our DNA, and in our story of human evolution, as in the Book that most of us have never read, and for the most part, conveniently relegate to the coffee table most of the time. Science is also an authoritative gospel, or good news, and one that does not rely on rhetoric, propaganda, or hypocrisy for its sustainability as a reliable testament to truth. How will we know if God is finished speaking to the human experience if our eyes and ears are closed, and our hearts are filled with piety and a disdain for science, discovery and truth? Are we really that concerned that He’ll disappear if our notion of God is exposed to the light of reason?

The Bible is full of stories that revolve around moral dilemma’s, replete with flawed characters struggling to find redemption in the face of challenging circumstances and choices.  It reflects values and beliefs, many of which are just as valid today as they were when they were first set down in the ancient scrolls that form the basis of this remarkable library, that have come to form the core of the world’s major religions, culture, and societies. Over time, that library has been added to, consistently, repeatedly, and with each revision, edition, and elaboration, our understanding of our God, and ourselves, has been expanded. That process didn’t end two thousand years ago.  We continue to add to the story, and we expand our interpretation and contextual understanding of what it has to offer us.  When the noise gets in the way of the signal, it’s time to adjust the frequency.

Using the Bible to justify persecution, war, violence, arrogance, promote hatred, or to police morality, invoking it as the “Word of God,” as an authoritative absolute and definitive end to inquiry, is an arrogant, and dangerously ignorant use of the treasure contained in this timeless tome.  Cherry picking chapter and verse from the Bible to support a moral judgment or condemnation against an individual or group, to marginalize them, or suppress dissent, isn’t just a misuse of the Bible, it’s also naively childish.  It’s the kind of “noise,” we can do without.  It’s the kind of noise, that if left unchecked, can lead to war, atrocities, genocide, and injustice – and there is absolutely nothing Godly in that.

My God is big enough to include real science, reason, experiment, real debate, and isn’t threatened by Darwin, gays, stem cell research, quantum mechanics, scientific discovery, or the truth.  He doesn’t need a host of PR men, cheerleaders, or slick advertisements, and He doesn’t speak to me through propaganda, over loudspeakers with the Gaither trio in the background.  My God is bigger than that.

Is yours?

Are You a Religious Ignoramus?

God’s Not Dead. The Age of Reason Is.


Not long ago, I spent an evening watching this “Christian” drama flick (directed by Harold Cronk, starring Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, David A. R. White and Dean Cain).

At first glance, I thought that perhaps it might have been a film that dealt with Nietzsche’s philosophical challenge to absolute moralism, and the film’s premise, at least as I inferred from its title, might have had some intellectual capital behind it.

The movie opens with a challenge by a tyrannical and belligerent college professor to his philosophy students, one of whom accepts and must persuade his class by way of a series of twenty minute debates that in fact, “God’s Not Dead,” or fail the grade. The scene begins to unfold under the classroom’s blackboard, on which appear the names of several renowned atheists, scientists, and philosophers, such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene, etc.), Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky, Ayn Rand, and others.

The student proceeds to argue, among other things, that the Bible “got it right” when comparing cosmological inflation theory to creationism as described in Genesis, using references to Steven Weinberg, a world renowned physicist, Nobel laureate, and a strong supporter of Israel in order to persuade his audience that science seems to support scripture, at least in this instance (the Big Bang). Despite the obvious discrepancies between the two theories, I found it fascinating that this method of “reasoning” continued to pervade throughout the rest of the film. The clincher argument employed by the student comes near the film’s climax, when he confronts his professor with his contempt and hatred for a God that he does not believe in. After all, how can you hate something, or someone, that doesn’t exist? Or so the premise goes. (Personally, I hate dragons and unicorns, albeit in the complete absence of any evidence of their existence – the mere fact that I do so, does not necessitate their reality).

After winning over his classmates, the student’s professor meets his unfortunate end by being hit by a car, ministered to by two “pastors” who, by the miracle of their rental car finally starting, have arrived on scene just in time to bring him to Jesus as he bleeds out on the pavement in front of them. The film also includes dramatizations of a young Muslim runaway girl, who is banished from her family home for reading the New Testament and declaring her faith, who is then subsequently consoled with a box of kleenex while seeking refuge at church. She’s joined by the professor’s estranged parter who leaves him, unable to tolerate his atheistic non-belief and demeaning attitude toward her implied ignorance. As though that wasn’t enough, a heartless “atheist” employer fires his young female apprentice after learning that she has terminal cancer – what a cruel and evil bunch they must be! He gets his due however, when his aging mother, who suffers from dementia, reminds him in a prophetic trance, that his “success” is due to his benefactor, Satan.

Happily however, all the Christians are reunited, newly “saved” and old alike, (with the exception of the deceased professor of course,) at a Christian rock concert hosted by the NewsBoys, who of course, play their latest hit, “God’s Not Dead.” For good measure, the student is rewarded for his victory with a personal greeting from Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. *quack*

The film was produced on a $2 million budget and grossed $62 million as of late summer of this year, which is astounding considering that when it was critically panned, the film ranked a mere 16 out of 100. Proof perhaps, that consumers are still quite willing to pay for propaganda, even when it’s done poorly.

In my humble opinion, the film does nothing to add to theological understanding, towards any faith, promotes stereotypical views and interpretations, blatantly misrepresents science (while attempting to use same to bolster some pretty ridiculous claims), and really never addresses the fundamental statement from which it takes its title. As a “feel good” rallying cry for the growing evangelical revivalist movement, it doubtless has been an outstanding success, but apart from preaching to the choir, I sincerely doubt that it’s a message that adds anything to an already volatile debate between reason and religion.

God’s Not Dead. The Age of Reason Is.

The End is Near! Again!


Far be it for me to argue with scripture, (although I have been known to do that from time to time), but our culture’s apocalyptic fascination with the “end times” and the end of things seems a bit depressing, if you ask me (and you haven’t, but that’s alright – my page – my post). Whether it’s apocalyptic preachers invoking their vision of John’s Revelation in response to the latest catastrophe, war, or famine, or scientists and environmentalists trumpeting the consequences of melting ice sheets and plastics clogging the world’s oceans, the message of doom seems to resonate with many of us. Our apocalyptic imaginations rival those of Daniel and John in the modern age, and for good reason. (If you haven’t read your Bible yet, you might want to check it out – after all, it could be your last chance before “the end.”)

Yes, it’s true – today, mankind has, at his disposal, the capability to destroy himself, and every living thing within this solar system. We’ve had that power, more or less, since we learned how to light a camp fire. We’re at risk, continuously, from our own politics, economic greed, predisposition towards violence and conflict, not to mention natural threats, whether earth based or from cosmic sources. Humanity exists on the head of a pin. It always has. This understanding terrifies us. Mortality terrifies us – collectively, and individually. Humans have a unique relationship with death – having knowledge of its inevitability – we have a personal relationship with the grim reaper, a social relationship with mortality (and the rituals that accompany it), and a spiritual relationship with death throughout our history, the “soul.” We run from it, hide from it, put makeup over it, bury it six feet under our lives, build pyramids and staircases to heaven to usurp it, and we surrender much of our life to an obsession with it. Having eaten from the tree of knowledge, we’re forever chasing the magic fruit of immortality from the tree of life – oblivious, for the most part, that we ARE that life. In our quest for eternity, the “everlasting,” we can’t wait for it all to be over with, and soon, and we’re prepared to kill each other for it.

For the first time in history, our human history, we also have the knowledge, means, and technology to counter the imminent and persistent threat of extinction – a fate suffered by nearly all living things that have preceded man since life was first cradled here on earth (yes, some four and a half billion years ago – at least according to the scripture written in the earth itself beneath your feet, corroborated, in part, by the DNA you share with all life, contained your own genes (the human genome being smaller and substantially less complex than the genome for common rice, as it happens, but I digress)). A doomsayer culture can be a double edged sword, however. On the one hand, it draws attention to the threat, real threats – while on the other, it tends to be a fatalistic response to them (and like all good prophesies, becomes a self fulfilling one) – it’s an abdication of responsibility, and of hope, at least when it comes to the life that already is you (the prospect being somewhat remedied by the notion that a ready and waiting replacement is available on some un-earthly plane). In the simplest sense, wishing for the “end,” based on some notion that a post-apocalyptic world, or heaven, will somehow be a better option than trying to fix the one we already have, seems absurd to me, Biblically, religiously, spiritually, scientifically, morally, and it defies all sensibility – seventy-two virgins for every martyr, or not. It’s a form of assisted suicide that’s cowardly, based on a notion that somehow, the end to suffering is justified by the ending of everything, and that you’ll be rewarded accordingly if you execute the right escape clause or happen to have joined the right church (a Biblical literary notion echoed repeatedly throughout scripture – the “this is messy, let’s start over” story found in the “fall” in Eden, the “flood,” and of course, the crucifixion and resurrection – mirroring nearly perfectly the peculiar history of a people who in turn, faced many “do overs,” not to mention incarnations and resurrections of their national identity). At its worst, it gives credence and legitimacy to idealogical and religious wars that account for a very large proportion of the suffering that many of us are now desperate to escape from, an insanity sanctioned by some kind of “divine plan” that you hope to be on the right side of when the smoke clears. Meanwhile, those who pull the fire alarm, write books about it, fear monger us, preach ignorance and intolerance to us from the pulpits, sell bomb shelters, bullets and missiles, are getting rich on the dime of our fearful imaginations and the spectre of horrors we’re all too familiar with already.

Do we need a revolution? An overthrow of “Biblical” proportion? Assisted by horsemen and angels, stealth bombers, or otherwise? Maybe. Maybe that revolution needs to take root in the breaking of the seals of our own thinking. We live in a world where political and economic domination, war, hunger, inequity, slavery, and poverty exist – a world not much different than the one John himself lived in when he sat down to write about his vision of the apocalypse – a world that for him, and many like him, seemed inescapable without divine intervention. The real revelation he had was that changing it all is going to mean that we need to go to battle with these aspects of our human experience. Christianity didn’t conquer Rome by war, it did so by the spread of ideas and the institutionalization of love and charity.  Jesus just wasn’t that kind of Messiah, and He, unlike many of his contemporary apocalyptic messianic proponents who led thousands to their doom in futile and misguided revolts, Jesus was and remains a Prince of Peace, and never led anyone else into slaughter, despite His own sacrifice for us. Crouching in the corner of your church every Sunday, betting that you’ll be “raptured” before things get too messy, with the Bible clutched in your hand, might seem like a reasonable thing to do if you’re devout, but until then, the rest of us are fighting a different battle – a fight against the darkness of ignorance, fear, and for redemption through reason, action, and a morality based on peace, and respect for life. All life – regardless of what book it’s holding, what colour it comes in, or how or whom it decides to love.

We’re reaching out to the stars, exploring other worlds, reaching deep into the secrets of life itself, understanding, for the first time, how and why we came to be – what we CAN be, and we’re delving deep into the mysteries of time, and the nature of the physical universe, and we see there, hope, great hope, that we’ll evolve beyond our brutish beginnings, and rise to the challenges that limit us, to transcend them, and reach even further in this, beautiful, awesome and immense “heaven” that we are already a part of and continue to awaken to, and evolve within. It’s a “heaven” we’ve only recently grown into – much larger, vaster, and more mysterious than ever imagined by our ancient ancestors – bequeathed to us through an amazing dance of complexity, and luck, over eons of time – in such awe are we, that even our very notion of “God” seems paltry in comparison to the revelation that the prophets of science have provided us with (and if you do believe in God, you must admit, He’s certainly a LOT bigger than Moses could have discerned on the mountain – a burning bush that is not consumed is awesome, but a burning universe that is not consumed is absolutely mind blowing). Are these the end times? I hope so. The end of ignorance, of inequity, poverty, racism, slavery, the end of madness. The end of fear.

It may be, that one day, soon, our world will indeed end. Extinctions, as I said, happen all the time, and we’re by no means exempt from this rule, at least not just yet – but many of us believe we can change that. Looking to blood moons in the sky, labelling anyone from the Pope to Castro as the prince of darkness, and pointing to our own reckless abuse of the planet as “signs” of impending doom worthy of us abdicating all sense of reason isn’t going to help us clean up our mess as a species, or help it evolve beyond its own limitations – let alone fulfill any “divine” plan. Running back to our medieval caves, selling off the farm, and waiting on hilltops with signs strapped around our bodies proclaiming the end is near isn’t just ridiculous, it’s an abdication to ignorance – a surrender to darkness. It’s a cop out, an escape, and a cheap excuse to tolerate evil and abuses that can, and should, be remedied by man, while leaving our notion of the divine to wipe the evolutionary slate, and the planet, clean. “We’re saved, so we don’t have to do anything but wait for the rapture,” is not a legitimate, let alone loving, response to any of humanity’s earthly challenges or sufferings. I don’t want people like that in my idea of heaven. And if we do face our end, I’m not going to help you do it, and frankly, I don’t want you “helping” me or my friends get there sooner either.

Can we cure disease? Overcome poverty? Create a sustainable future for ourselves, and our planet? Can we harness energy without destroying our environment? Can we live longer, much, much longer? Can we put people on other planets, and live there too, amongst the heavens? I think so. I know so. It’s within our reach, our understanding, and our grasp, right now, right here. There are still powerful forces that hold us back, antiquated belief structures, biases, prejudice, and ignorance, mostly of our own making and tolerance, but we can, and have, overcome those in our growth as a species, and we will continue to do so. Some institutions, religions, governments and corporations are going to be threatened with this idea, and will have the hardest of times adapting to change, changes that must come, and that won’t be pretty, to be sure. Does it mean you won’t have God anymore? Or be able to enjoy a nice cold Coca Cola on the beach? No. Of course not. What it does mean is that for the first time in humanity’s brief history, you’ll have a choice. You’ll always be free to be ignorant, at least until it kills you. Being free to learn, to understand, and to think – now that’s something worthy of our hope, and it’s a freedom now available to every man, woman, and child within reach of a book, a keyboard, or television – within reach of technology, technology that allows that freedom to reach beyond it’s own limitations. Until very recently in the human experience, knowledge, wisdom, even having access to the written word, has been coveted and controlled by a few, made powerful by virtue of it’s exclusion from the majority – the mysterious fire that now illuminates all of our lives, within reach of our fingertips. The universe is sharing its story with us all, and we’re a part of it. Will you open that book as well, before it’s too late?

Heresy, you say? Maybe, but I’m in good company. Newton, Galileo, Darwin, and even Jesus Himself, were all heretics in their own time. We’ve outlawed, persecuted, burned and nailed to crosses far too many of them in our struggle to hold onto the very madness that we seek salvation from. What greater evil to man, or to God, can there be than the deliberate, willful, and perilous embrace of ignorance, the persecution of truth, the demonization of discovery, or the invocation of suicide through divine extinction, provoked or otherwise by jealousy or some “sin” injurious to some omnipotent eternal entity, of a whole species in the name of it’s “God”? Any species willing to carry out such a plan, in my opinion at least, isn’t worthy of evolving further, in this world, or any other – divine “do-overs” excepted, but I wouldn’t count on it. Maybe it’s time we stopped nailing our modern day healers, teachers, revolutionary thinkers and heretics to a cross. The Book of Revelation may have been a comfort to early Christians who felt persecuted and oppressed, and to some who still feel that way today, but the game has changed now with the prophesies of the likes of Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer, and the events over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  God’s kingdom won’t be built on those ashes.  Nothing will.  Don’t want to invite me to your church picnic? I can understand that, but, it’s not the end of the world.

For my part, I certainly don’t want someone who wishes it’d all end in a silent puff of smoke, with angels looking on, holding the briefcase with the red buttons as a divine souvenir, watching my back, or looking out for my soul. Neither, really, do you.

The End is Near! Again!

Speaking in Tongues? Or Babbling Idiots?


Complex language sets us apart from the animals (dolphins, whales, and signing chimps being exceptions to the general rule), and has been central to the development of our society, its civilizations, and our survival as a species. Language allows us to communicate, convey information, and to understand that information, and pass it on. There are about 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, reflecting the diversity of our culture and our history. Recently I witnessed, first hand, what some suggest, might be an un-worldly language, being spoken in some halls of worship. It’s called “speaking in tongues,” or more properly, glossolalia. To believers, it’s a sacred language, and is commonly heard in the Pentecostal and “charismatic” Christian community, and is usually attributed to the Holy Spirit, and as some believers claim, is evidence of the speaker’s baptism in the faith and their receipt of the gift of prophesy.

There are five places in the gospels where the phenomenon is referred to specifically, namely Mark 16:17, in Acts 2:3, 10:46 and 19:6 in Acts, and in 1 Corinthians (12, 13, 14), and it’s inferred with references in Isaiah 28:11, Romans 8:26 and in Jude. Glossolalia is not unique to the Christian faith, it’s also found in Haitian Voodoo, and in Indian Hinduism, as well as throughout paganism, shamanism and in cult practices involving the use of mediums who claim to be in communication with the “spirit” realm. Proponents of the practice claim that the phenomenon is an indicator that the speaker is in possession of a spiritual gift, the instrument of a Holy intercession, and as such, it should be taken as a sign of spiritual authority, prophetic ability, and should be taken to indicate an attestation of the individual’s faith within their worship group. For charismatic evangelists, glossolalia is a sign for unbelievers that they too may believe and be inspired, touched if you will, by the Holy Spirit. Interpreting this otherwise undecipherable speech is also, accordingly, viewed as a spiritual gift (the art of telling someone what they said and didn’t say being employed in decipherable language even more commonly, as any married soul might tell you). In short, speaking in tongues, we’re told, is “evidence” of the Holy Spirit (usually manifested during charismatic sermons or in front of a television camera for the benefit of viewers in more modern times, filtered through wireless microphones and loudspeakers).

Far be it for me to argue with the Holy Spirit, but I think Paul had quite another thing in mind when he referred to speech in his epistles, and that it more sensibly, had to do with translating and sharing the “good news” so that he, and his followers, could reach beyond the Hellenistic audience of his time. Early Christianity was a diverse bunch, spread out over vast geography, with many variations of the fledgling faith taking form. They were already, even in infancy, beguiled by cultural differences, language barriers, and sectarianism, in a historical context of social change and upheaval. I mean no disrespect to those who believe that glossolalia is a legitimate spiritual phenomenon, but I would suggest that it also can be misused as a theatrical device by over zealous charismatics, and in a darker way, used as method of consolidating hierarchical control of “believers,” and as a method of group brainwashing (after all, if YOU don’t speak in tongues, then you obviously aren’t one of us, and therefore cannot be trusted as the Spirit isn’t upon you – ostracism and excommunication). Speaking in tongues, whether legitimate or not, can also be used, if given credence by the listener, to bolster wild interpretations of scripture, as the gift of glossolalia, by implication, would suggest authority granted to the individual by the Holy Spirit to interpret them in accordance with divine intention. Being privy to the language of the spirit realm, a language that requires interpretation by its very nature, goes a long way to persuading the naive that you’re on the right side of the heavenly discourse. In some cases, I would go so far as to suggest that glossolalia can just as much be an indicator of mental illness as that of spiritual robustness – you may just as easily be a babbling idiot, from what I can tell.

Some churches have banned the practice of speaking in tongues, having realized that it tends to alienate the faithful more than it tends to embrace new believers, and runs contrary to a more intelligent use of scripture. I’m not against spirited, zealous, enthusiastic or charismatic expressions of faith, but I do believe that for the faith to endure in a healthy, credible, meaningful and integral way, glossolalia, or any other phenomenon, such as faith based healing, claims of miracle works, prophesying over the individual or congregation, the use of mediums, including pastors, to communicate with the “spirit world,” (whether it be through the Holy Spirit or otherwise), need to be examined under far more critical light, both within the context of scripture and dogma, and by way of basic reasoning and common sense (a gift from God that many faithful have come to neglect). Church leaders need to be careful to ensure, that in their zeal, their own tongues speak truth, in a language believers can understand, and interpret for themselves. No one want’s an idiot minding the flock, or fleecing it with mystical trickery.

The Holy Spirit isn’t some etherial celebrity that descends upon the faithful whenever there’s an open mic in hand on Sunday morning. It’s the spirit of holiness, of God (YHWH), the divine aspect of wisdom, or the “force” and influence of the divine in the world – more like what Yoda understood, with his invocation of, “May the force be with you.” Christians interpret this divine spirit as the “Holy Ghost,” being a third divine “person” of the Trinity, or “triune” God, manifested in much the same way that Jesus was God manifest in man, sometimes metaphorically represented as a dove, or flame. There are over ninety references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and most of them play key roles in Paul’s letters to the early church community. The Holy Spirit is also mentioned in the synoptic gospels, present in Luke, for example, prior to the birth of Jesus, having come upon Mary. Mark refers to it specifically, and suggests that in time of need, the disciples of Jesus, when lost for words, should seek inspiration from it. God speaks through all of us, at many times in our life, but the inspired Word is given reverence, and we’re admonished not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, at our peril, it being an unforgivable sin to do so. Above all, the Holy Spirit, is a spirit of truth, the fruit of which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self discipline. To diminish it, though babbling, incoherent, unintelligible and cryptic speech, as part of an exercise of showmanship or self-aggrandizement, whether from the pulpit or the pew, reduces the Holy Spirit and reveals both an immaturity in the faith, and a lack of understanding of it. To me, that’s blasphemy.

The Holy Spirit, to me at least, acts in more direct and intelligible ways in the world, although, seemingly by way of familiar metaphors. Whether it’s the Holy Spirit’s action through water in baptism, anointing, transfiguration, the wind, peace, or in zealous charismatic oratory, the gifts of the Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and respect for God (a fear of the Lord). When the wind and tongues of fire rest over the heads of the apostles, ancient or modern, it’s more likely that God has something He wants to say to us, to you, and if you’re in the Spirit, you’ll be “inspired” by it. God speaks your language, whoever you are, or wherever you’re from, and He understands your words, in prayer, or otherwise. Perhaps that’s the real meaning of Paul’s message to the church in Corinth.

Speaking gobbledy-gook isn’t a sign for unbelievers, and it’s not a legitimate form of evangelism, and edification of either the speaker or the listener in the process diminishes the true gift of the Spirit. It may be that interpreting a strange hitherto unknown language is a gift to you, or to someone else, but if the Spirit is truly at work, it’ll bring counsel, wisdom and understanding, not confusion, jibberish, and ignorance. Is it the language of angels, overhead? Is it a prophetic utterance? A language reserved for those who are in receipt of a heavenly gift, bearing a message of God for a limited audience? Or is it a modern day response to a disillusioned church, struggling to find meaning through mysticism and spiritualism in all the wrong places. Jesus preached, and He spoke to us, not as a babbling idiot, but with wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and gave us divine counsel, peace, and hope, in a language we could hear, and understand. He didn’t need a microphone, television cameras, or a choir backing Him up. He spoke the truth, a truth we can still listen to, and hear, today. Paul’s zeal aside, it’s Christ’s message we really need to hear, and whatever way the Spirit guides to you that, is fine by me. If you’re prattling the Word with your blah-blah, double talk and drivel, trying to get me to listen to it through your mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, I’m not sure I see the “good news,” in that.

Language is a gift, and it’s a precious one at that, and one that need not be perverted to oblivion for the sake of opening the door to confusion, misinterpretation, or manipulation by those who might seek to employ mysticism and superstition to effect or bolster their message, claiming sanction by God. Speak truthfully, so that all may hear. The Holy Spirit will find its way into those words, in whatever language you do understand.

Speaking in Tongues? Or Babbling Idiots?

Let’s Keep Mass in “Christmas”


The gods love a good festival.  True to our hellenistic pagan past, millions of us around the world are about to celebrate one of Christianity’s most beloved holidays, Christmas, a celebration that has more in common with our Roman and Teutonic heathen heritage than it does with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The winter solstice, when light again overtakes darkness in the lengthening of the days that follow the harvest, was particularly significant in the eyes of our pagan ancestors in the northern hemisphere, and many of those ancestral traditions survive to this day, repurposed, in Christmas.  Evergreen garlands and wreaths adorn our doors and windows, we drag a tree into our home, and light up the Yule log in our hearth, kiss each other under the mistletoe, we exchange gifts, and sing carols about “The Holly and the Ivy,” relicts of our superstitious folklore, harkening back through the ages, borrowed from the Druids, Scandinavians, German barbarians, Romans, and even the Egyptians.  Jesus, as we know, was Jewish.  He’d have a hard time recognizing Christmas, at least as we celebrate it today, and I think, would be bewildered by the assertion that its relevance is related in any way, to His birth.  In fact, He’d probably think most of it was quite absurd, and might just ride into town on the back of a borrowed reindeer to make His point. His church, however, embraced, tolerated, incorporated, and supplanted many of these ancient traditions and rituals, most of them far more ancient than Christianity, replacing the feast of the solstice with its own creation, the feast of the nativity, the mass, or in accordance with the season at least, a new and improved, “Christ-mass,” or Christmas as we’ve merrily come to know it.

Some Christians, perhaps out of ignorance of their history, or because of it, assert that we need to keep “Christ,” in “Christmas,” proclaiming it on bumper stickers, lawn signs, and a barrage of social media posts, urging us to remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” followed with defiant, and often ignorant, admonitions that it’s, “Merry Christmas (you heathen!), not, “Happy Holidays,” or “Season’s Greetings!”  – like there’s a war going on over the right to celebrate, and that somehow, the world is out to get Jesus out of it. Scripture sheds little solstice light on the birth of Christ, but most historians and scholars agree, that it is unlikely to have occurred anywhere near the end of December.  Solstice, or “sun,” celebrations, represented a turning point in the year, and for an agrarian society especially, the significance of the season was firmly fixed in the minds of the people, and was their most important festival. As Christianity became the dominant religious force in much of Europe during the third and fourth centuries, rather than rally against pagan beliefs and custom, which represented the overwhelming consensus at the time, early church leaders simply adopted and made the festive celebration their own.  They put Christ into the solstice, and looked to the liturgy for their feast, substituting the nativity in place of a less supernatural light.  It was a square peg, shoved firmly into a pagan round hole.

The celebration of the last supper seems a bit morbid when you put that in the context of celebrating a child’s birth, but, that’s exactly what we do at mass.  The eucharist, the breaking of the bread, the pouring out of the wine, the communion with the body and blood of Christ, commemorate His death, and His last days with us, and superficially at least, have more in common with Easter than with what we call Christmas.  There was no feast when Jesus was born, and the only meal we Christians celebrate with Him is the Last Supper, just before His death. It’s a rite typically, and historically, exercised in the church.  The term, “Mass,” is derived from it’s latin origin, “missa,” or dismissal, an invocation to go, or leave, as in, “take off, eh,” “you’re dismissed, it’s time to close up shop for another week.” In Christian usage, it gradually took on a deeper meaning, implying a “mission,” one that reflected the missionary nature of the church itself.  If you’re a supporter of that mission, and believe that Jesus is the “light of the world,” maybe it’s time to step out from the shadows of our pagan pasts, and be a little less ignorant.

The liturgy, including readings from scripture, prayer, and communion, are important aspects of worship, and celebrating mass on Christmas does more to put Christ into the season than to keep Him in it – if ever He was.  Modern day Christians might be better poised to lobby to keep the mass in Christmas, than to keep the Christ in the mass this time of year, and they’d have a more sensible argument when it comes to fulfilling their “mission” in the Christ mass.  Instead of trying to get the “nativity” narrative right, cuddle baby Jesus, and chase after the star of Bethlehem, if you really want to keep Christ in Christmas, you’ll have to reach at least into Easter to do it. That is, if you intend on keeping the mass, in “Christmas.”  If you’re a Christian, you might want to remember that your ancestors, too, probably weren’t all that Jewish, and that Paul opened the faith, not only to the Romans, but to all Gentiles.  Are you inviting people into the faith by vain attempts to “defend” Christmas, or Christ “in” the mass? Where’s the communion in that?

I’ve been to many Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, masses, and there are, amazingly, many more Christians at church observing the liturgy during this time of year, than on any other Sunday, Easter being a close contender.  For the most part, it’s a mass like any other – with the notable exception of pagan symbols adorning the pews and altar. Evidently, it’s more important to many Christians to show up for the solstice mass, than the one they can partake in pretty much any week of the year, but the function of the ritual remains the same. Communion with Christ.  You don’t need a Christmas tree to do that, although if you’re having a hard time keeping your own pagan roots in the closet, you can let your hair down a little this time of year.  As for the turf war you’re fighting for Christmas, leave it at home – and go to church.  You might learn something there.

I hope to see you in the pews tonight – for mass. As for me, I’m happy to keep the mass in my Christmas, and I’m not worried about trying to keep Christ in the mass – He’s a part, and central to, every mass I’ve ever celebrated, or ever will.  He’s in my heart, in my life, and as I walk with Him through the holidays, I hope I can still see a trace of Him underneath all that mistletoe while I share in His body and blood, and remember Him.

Let’s Keep Mass in “Christmas”

Christian Radicalization and the New Crusade


Regardless of your religious calling, most of us come to our faith through teaching, whether its from our parents, religious teachings in schools and universities, or our Priest, Pastor, Rabbi or Cleric in our place of worship. Whether it’s Sunday school, Wednesday night Bible study, or sermons from the pulpit, the role of leadership in teaching is fundamental to our understanding and expression of our faith.

In the Christian context, the Bible is our text book, and our preachers, pastors and priests are entrusted with the responsibility of guiding our spiritual development through their teaching, interpretations, and practical application of spiritual understanding. Church leaders, of course, also minister to their congregation, are active in our community and generally seek to support it, and we look up to them for guidance, and in fact, give them a license to act with authority (perform marriages, baptize and circumcise our children, bury our dead, etc.).

There are good teachers, and not so good teachers – in every religion. The core message of many religions, including Christianity, can be obscured and corrupted, radicalized, and even militarized. In the west, we cringe at images of Muslim clerics instructing their followers towards violence, hatred and war, and at the manifestation of such teachings in public beheadings, the forced expulsion of non-believers, and in the worst of cases, mass genocides. The Qur’an, the spiritual text book for millions of Muslims, is cited as justification for those who would indulge in radical Islam and the violence that results from its interpretation in the hands of men willing to pervert it to their own aims. In the Christian west, we view these developments, rightly so, as being disturbing and dangerous, and often point to the Qur’an itself as being part of the problem, interpreting it as agressive, hostile, and incompatible with our own beliefs. It’s a bad book, we say, and cannot truly be what God intended for mankind. Taken literally, radical fundamentalist Muslim believers seem to feel that their marching orders are justified by the book, and act accordingly, and with predicable results. Most recently, ISIL (or ISIS if you prefer) have taken Islamic fundamentalism to new extremes, as we see now regularly on the news, and we’re confronted with the resulting atrocities that have followed in its wake – the power of perverting a religion’s core message by and through its teachers and leadership, profoundly expressed. Whatever the motives, political, economic, societal, or more human ones like revenge, justice or plain madness, when a religion is allowed to be hijacked by those who would corrupt its teachings, good things never seem to happen as a result.

Christianity is not immune from these dangers. From many pulpits, particularly American ones, we’re hearing a radicalized form of the faith being promulgated as well. Like many radicalized Muslims, these radicalized Christians are just as determined and head strong in their own beliefs, justified by their Bible, at least as delivered to them by their pastoral leaders. While they may not, as of yet, be taking up bayonets and rocket launchers in the training camps of Jesus’ army, their apocalyptic message has gotten louder with the beating of the drums of war, and some of them seem actually quite excited with the prospect of armageddon occurring during their own lifetime – a prospect made strikingly real by the fact that we now have the ability to make it happen – in less than 15 minutes no less. The fact that they’re wearing Jesus T-shirts and blue jeans makes them no less dangerous than their Muslim counterparts once radicalized. A short review of Christian history might remind many of us that we too, are capable of our own atrocities in the name of our religion (the Crusades, colonialism and the extermination of native American societies, implication in the Holocaust, and within the faith itself, the Inquisitions being examples that come to mind).

For the most part, mainstream Christianity, or whats left of it, and American society in general, tend to view religion as a matter separate from state, from politics, and view the faith is being somewhat benign. Unless we’re a church goer ourselves, we really don’t care too much about what’s happening in the pews down the street at the local worship centre – at least not until some cult is exposed, or a prominent religious figure is publicly humiliated on television for corruption, infidelity or otherwise scandalous behaviour. Society’s license on the clergy isn’t necessarily monitored by oversight, and matters of the church are pretty much settled by way of self regulation, with few exceptions. If say, a church was teaching its congregation that their following should prepare for an imminent apocalyptic war, provide money and resources to a foreign state to support it as an ally in the struggle, and engage in a domestic policy of political intervention to deny segments of its society rights and privileges to support the effort, who are we to argue? After all, we’re all Christians, aren’t we?

Now, more than ever before, our spiritual faith, Muslim and Christian alike, comes with a duty, a self responsibility, to examine our own doctrine and orthodoxy with regard to our personal faith, regardless of what’s being delivered to us from the pulpit, the media or charismatic evangelism. Scripture needs to be interpreted through the lens of intelligence as much as through the spirit, or it can become a very dangerous device indeed, and for that, we alone as believers have the responsibility. In the middle east, we see sons and daughters, even children, being lead off to war by the zealous provocations of radicalized clerics and Imams willing to distort, pervert, and use religious doctrine and scripture as their means of encouragement and coercion. The Christian church in America may be no less vulnerable at the hands of powerful influencers who too, have access to media, money, and military might.

Christians, in particular, in western society, have a duty, regardless of their particular denomination, to ensure such radicalization of the faith does not take root amongst our own brothers and sisters, whether in our churches, schools, or society at large. We have a duty to work for peace, and to be knowledgeable not just in our respective orthodoxies, but also in our history and common heritage. Most of all, we have a duty to engage our God on a personal level, and to not be lead astray from that relationship with Him by false teachings, misinterpretations of the Bible, political agendas that have usurped the faith, or the corruption of those who would distort the core elements and essence of the foundations of our faith. There is too much at stake, personally, and collectively, to simply acquiesce to charismatic teachers, trite “the Bible says so” interpretations, and reactive outrage at perceived attacks on our religion.

I don’t know about you, but if we’re going to go to war for Jesus, or Mohammed, or God himself, personally, I’d like to be sure before I commend another person’s soul to the almighty. Open your Bibles, read it for yourself, ask your pastors and priests and challenge them, but above all else, especially in these difficult times, approach religion with intelligence. If not for the sake of the world, for the sake of your soul. Know who your teachers are – whether its your cleric, rabbi or pastor, and don’t just take their word or interpretation for what your faith has to say about doctrine – think about what you’re taught, and seek out your own meaning and experience. God, in any religion, doesn’t want puppets or zombies, but thinking, intelligent and creative beings – in His own image. Understand your religion, intimately, how it evolved, its role in the modern world, how its vulnerable, and the conflicts that arise from within it. This, I challenge you to do.

You may discover inconsistencies within your faith, and your beliefs may be challenged, and some of us love our own thinking so much that entertaining something other than what we’ve convinced ourselves to be true can seem very threatening. Accepting the faith doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take what you think you know, or what someone else knows, on faith. Find your God on your own knees. There has never been a better time in history to make that journey, and the wealth of the world’s languages, books, art and music are at your fingertips. There has never been a time in history when the need to get God right has been more crucial, or less perilous. Martyrdom of ideas, we may find, may be a wiser path to peace before martyrdom of our sons and daughters makes that option impossible.

There is nothing enlightened about blind faith.

Christian Radicalization and the New Crusade