Family Emergency

To all of you good people out there have a very merry Christmas and the best new year.

My wifes father is very sick and we are at his bedside tonight and for the last few days I haven’t been able to get on computer. I will be back on blog when I can…things are pretty serious right now.

Texas, Schools, Creationism, and God…redux

“The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God’s punishment and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the ‘literal and inerrant word of God,’ I always ask, ‘Have you ever read it’?” Bishop John Shelby Spong.

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“…Bush called himself a “simple president,” implying that he does not feel qualified to speak authoritatively on scientific matters. Few people do, since American science education, under the guise of “separation of church and state,” has for decades hindered students from understanding even basic science by limiting their studies to the evolutionary worldview and forbidding an open exploration of the evidence. This effort to suppress sound science continues as special interest groups pressure the Texas State Board of Education to drop the teaching of evolution’s “strengths and weaknesses” from the state science curriculum requirements, which the Board will review in early 2009.” From the Institute for Creation Research Here all emphasis added.

Am I missing something here, or are they trying to say that the schools are not teaching real or adequate science by leaving out creationism in classes?  Do they really want to teach the Christian God and Bible as science and totally screw-up these students?  The western world has tried for over a thousand years to stand up to this insanity and tell it to go away.  If Christianity were ever to gain control of the US society (and it almost has) and political power (it now controls a lot of the Republican Party) we will see a depression like never seen before. Think of a literal Modern Dark Ages.

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Early Christianity III

The destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 led to a major break between Judaism and Christianity because there were many Jews who wouldn’t side with the Jewish rebels in fighting the Romans. For these followers of Jesus, salvation doesn’t come by overthrowing the Romans; it comes by believing in Jesus.

By the end of the first century, Christianity was adrift. The followers of Jesus were persecuted by the imperial powers in Rome and estranged from the Jewish religion from which they had come. Their founding leaders were dead and the great temple of Jerusalem and Israel lay in ruins. Christian leaders decided they needed a new holy scripture. They started writing down what Jesus had said and done. Christianity would take a new direction, a religion based on the written gospels.

Jesus had promised he would return to save his loyal followers, but he did not.  The delay in the Second Coming caught everybody by surprise. None of the earliest Christians thought they would be around for a 100 or 200 years. This was a crisis, but it didn’t break them down.  Christian leaders decided they needed something permanent to preserve the faith in Jesus. So they proceeded to compile a history of sacred books and a clergy to stand in for Jesus.

The very core of Christian belief is the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, as told in the four gospels. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are named after the evangelists thought to have written them. Matthew and John were two disciples of Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector and John was the beloved disciple. Mark was a companion of the apostle Peter and Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul.

Most people probably believe that after Jesus died, the Church emerged suddenly and that you had people reading the canon of the 27 books of the New Testament, and that it was all in place right after Jesus’ death.  But, it took centuries for these things to happen.

Scholars say that Mark is the earliest gospel, written around 65 AD.  Matthew and Luke were written some 15 to 20 years after that.  And finally the gospel of John was written about 90 or 95 AD. While each of the four gospels recounts the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are very different. The question of where they got their information is very interesting.  Most scholars today think that after the death of Jesus, his followers carried forth oral stories about him, and what he did during his time on earth. These stories circulated year after year until authors of later generations wrote them down.

If we read these gospels as straightforward narratives, we miss their point. Scholars say they were not written as history, but a divine gospel of truth.  They should be called an apocalypse, a disclosure of a truth, which the gospel writer themselves believed was beyond human comprehension.

We hear talk of those who respected Jesus being thrown out of the synagogue, and how the enemies in John’s gospel are the Jews.  If you read your gospel carefully you’re probably perplexed by this, because Jesus is a Jew, his disciples are Jews. Most all the characters are Jews.

It is thought that the final split came early in the second century. The Jews of Israel launched another rebellion against Roman rule, led by a man they thought was the messiah, Simon Bar Kokhba.  They thought that Simon Bar Kokhba was their messiah, which means that they had already rejected the Christian notion of messiah. This second rebellion ended with the slaughter of many thousands of Jews, including Simon Bar Kokhba.

As Christianity’s second century began, its leaders were battling heretics, the monks and mystics who wrote their own Jesus stories, gospels that would threaten this young religion. In the the south, in the desert of Egypt, a group of Christian monks and mystics were writing their very own gospels with a very different version of the life of Jesus.

The Nag Hammadi texts found in the Egyptian desert near the village by that name consisted of over 50 texts, which we did not know about before.  They would help us to understand the beginnings of Christianity and the development of religion in remarkable new ways. The surviving books, called the Gnostic Gospels, gave the world a compelling and competing story of what happened after Jesus. The texts of the Nag Hammadi library make it very clear that there were many gospels composed in the early days of the church. Four were finally selected for the New Testament canon, but there were plenty of other gospels.  What, more than one version of the faith?

As is usual in Christianity the Gnostics said that they were following the teachings of Jesus, and that they were the true Christians, and that the other groups are wrong.  The Gnostic message was seductive, being a mix of Greek philosophy, Egyptian religion, and Eastern mysticism.  The New Testament Gospels are gospels of the cross and salvation from sin. The New Testament Gospels look to stimulate faith. The Gnostic gospels are gospels of wisdom and salvation from ignorance.

Gnosticism held a fascination for many Christians and its gospels seemed to offer a more female-friendly faith.  The Gnostics thought that the role of the female as an image and the role of women within the church should be advanced.  God is not only male; God is also female. There are not only male leaders; there are female leaders. There are not only male priests; there are female priests.

The Gnostic gospels seem to attack the very foundation of Orthodox Christianity, telling a different version of the life of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, who was for centuries mistakenly (thanks to Pope Gregory) depicted as a prostitute, is the chief apostle in her own Gnostic gospel, and much more than that to Jesus in the Gnostic gospel of Philip.

In the gospel of Philip, it is said that Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than all the other disciples and he used to kiss her often on her — and then there is a hole in the text.  This says something about the perception in that particular text of the closeness of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Mary was a very beloved disciple of Jesus, which isn’t really explored in the common Scriptures.

The biggest problem with the Gnostic gospels is that they were written many, many years after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. For many historians, that much passage of time raises serious questions about authenticity.  The Gnostic gospels are documents that came into existence many decades after the actual Gospels were written. Gnosticism, to church leaders of the time was heresy. To survive in these dangerous times, the church had to be united. Over the next two centuries, the sacred Gnostic texts would be suppressed, hidden or destroyed and Orthodox Christianity claimed exclusive authority over the Bible.

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Internet Explorer Flawed…Use Firefox

Major flaw revealed in Internet Explorer; users urged to switch
The major press outlets are abuzz this morning with news of a major new security flaw that affects all versions of Internet Explorer from IE5 to the latest beta of IE8. The attack has serious and far-reaching ramifications — and they’re not just theoretical attacks. In fact, the flaw is already in wide use as a tool to steal online game passwords, with some 10,000 websites infected with the code needed to take advantage of the hole in IE. On Yahoo go: Here

Evolution, Flood, and Catholics

“According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5 – 4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.” (From the International Theological Commission, headed by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI, statement “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God,” plenary sessions held in Rome 2000-2002, published July 2004)

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“Today, almost half a century after the publication of the [Humani Generis] Encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than a hypothesis in the theory of evolution. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

“What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory’s validity depends on whether or not it can be verified, it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.

“Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy. And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.”
Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996

The geographical universality of the Deluge may be safely abandoned
Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations, render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.
Maas, A. (1908). Deluge. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04702a.htm


So, 100 years ago the Catholic Church was admitting ‘The Flood’ probably wasn’t a real event.
Naturalists (early scientists) were disputing the ‘The Flood’ as early as the 1600’s. Here


Early Christianity

The holy city of Jerusalem is teeming with pilgrims for the springtime feast of Passover, many of them looking for an earthly king, a messiah who will deliver them from the yoke of Roman oppression.

Jesus of Nazareth walks into this city. His protests against the Romans make him a popular hero. To some, he is the messiah. But to the Romans, he is nothing but political trouble. So they crucify him.

Jerusalem had been the holy city of Judaism for more than 1,000 years, a place that the Romans had occupied since 63 B.C. When the Romans killed Jesus, somewhere around 30-33 AD, scholars say, the Jews were desperately looking for a messiah to free them from Roman oppression, to liberate them and their promised land.  But there was disagreement as to who that messiah might be.  There was no messianic checklist. Some people would have followed Jesus. Others followed John the Baptist. Others followed additional figures.

Jerusalem, with its massive temple, was the holiest site on earth for Jews and its priestly caste; would many have even noticed Jesus, the wandering rabbi from the Galilee?  Who knows whether many Jews in Jerusalem at the time would have even known about the sect of Jewish Christians, people who believed that Jesus was the messiah? He would have looked and dressed the same as everyone else. He probably had some people following behind him.

Jesus was betrayed by his own disciple, Judas. And as Jesus had foretold in the gospels, Peter, had publicly denied him three times.  Only a few women, led by his mother, Mary, stayed at the foot of the cross.  Outside of the women who remained there watching, most of his followers actually ran away and hid, because they were afraid for their own safety.

That should have been the end of the Jesus story and it might have been if not, the gospels tell us, for the women, namely, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus.  Three days after his death, they discovered his empty tomb. As he had promised, Jesus had risen from the dead.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem, where they would soon get a sign from heaven.  So they sit in a state of anticipation and expectation.

Then on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus died, the sign came suddenly.  From heaven, there came a sound of the rush of a violent wind. It filled the entire house where they were sitting, divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.

So that Jews who were in Jerusalem, whether they were from Egypt, Syren, Greece, or even Rome, they would be able to understand this new proclamation in their own dialect.

These earliest followers of Jesus considered themselves to be Jews. They thought that Jesus was the Jewish messiah who had been sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures.

They were not, at least in the beginning, interested in starting a new religion. They were interested in preparing the world for its final consummation said by Jesus to be coming before many of the people of that time died.  But that kingdom doesn’t come. That message it seems was false.

Then they get two messengers who could not be more different, Peter, a simple fisherman from Galilee, who was Jesus’ chief apostle, and Paul, a sophisticated Pharisee. Together they will create a religion that would change the world.

People have called Paul the second founder of Christianity.  The religion is about Jesus. It’s a religion founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Old Testament God was gently pushed aside and the light was focused on His Son.  This is kind of confusing, since according to the Trinitarians, God and Jesus, are one and the same. However, now Jesus/God was a mild and gentle deity unlike the killer warrior God of the Old Testament.

People listened to Paul because he was the perfect man for the job, able to speak to both Jews and Gentiles in their own language. He’s one of the first powerful intellects to convert to Christianity in the first century.  Paul said this is the one who could heal your child, if your child was sick. This is the God who could raise the dead; this is the one who could end the drought, who could end the famine. This is the god who could do miracles, and so this was the only God to be worshiped.

Delivering the Jesus message put Paul and Peter in conflict. Peter thought the resurrection of Jesus was for the Jews only. If you wanted to be a follower of Jesus you needed to convert to Judaism and obey the Jewish laws. Paul was preaching that the Gentiles were welcome without conversion.

Peter wielded considerable power in Jerusalem, power given to him by Jesus.  According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter — the Greek term for rock, petros — and on this rock, petra, I will build my church.”  Peter became the head of the small Christian church that was centered in Jerusalem itself. So Peter was a key player in early Christianity, and according to tradition, was the one that converted Jews early on to believe that Jesus was the messiah.

There was another critical leader of the early followers of Jesus. His name was James and he seemed to have the ultimate trump card in the new faith as he was Jesus’ earthly brother.  He was raised in prominence among the Christians of Jerusalem and eventually became the leader of the Jerusalem church. James agreed with Peter: Jesus was for the Jews.

Within two decades of the crucifixion of Jesus, Christianity faced a life or death moment. The major dispute in early Christianity was whether followers of Jesus have to become Jewish in order to worship the Jewish god.

Around 48 to 49 CE, the first apostolic council is called in Jerusalem to resolve the issue of Gentile Christians… do they have to convert or not.  Paul argues that the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Gentiles apart from the Law of Moses. Therefore there was no reason to insist that those Gentiles be converted to Judaism in order to be a member of the church.  James, the brother of Jesus, presiding over this Jerusalem council, agrees with Paul.

It was a huge triumph for the new faith, and for Paul, whose arguments had won the day. The message of Jesus was for the whole world, and those who believed in that message could win eternal life.

But the biggest test was yet to come. How will the Jesus message go down in the heart of the pagan Roman Empire?

…Continued…

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Early Christianity II

The Roman Empire was home to more than 60 million people and dozens of religions in the first century CE.  Rome was a city of a million+ people. To spread the word of Jesus, the missionaries now had to spread through that empire, and the first into Rome was the Galilean fisherman, Peter.

Pagans were asking question, “What was going to happen to me when I died? How do I get forgiveness from sin?” The Christian church was saying, “We can provide you with those answers.”  If you believe in the resurrected Jesus you will win eternal life. That was the message that had huge appeal across the Roman Empire.

The Romans had built roads throughout the whole empire. They had gotten rid of most of the pirates that were on the seas. They had a common currency throughout the empire. Travel was possible and relatively safe, so it wasn’t unusual for someone like Paul to be able to travel to different places.

There were over a million Jews in Egypt and Alexandria; there were Jews in Damascus, Antioch, Athens, and Rome.  For the early Christian followers of Jesus, some of these Jews would have provided missionaries a home, a base from which they could reach other Jews…as well as Gentiles.

Paul never stopped. He traveled on foot across the great land mass of Asia Minor and by sea, across the Aegean.

Religiously speaking, Paul was a genius. Paul set up Christian communities; he directed them from afar by writing letters, or epistles, to keep them on the message of Jesus.  He preached everywhere, from small towns to the center of world culture, Athens.  He convinced philosophers and common men alike that God had sent his son, Jesus, to die and save everyone from sin.  Paul’s epistles to the various Christian communities are the earliest surviving Christian documents; they are older than the gospels.

Emperor Nero famously fiddled when a fire destroyed much of imperial Rome. When the city burned the Christians fall under suspicion. Nero realizes the Christians are the scapegoats, the natural scapegoats.
He had some of them burned as human torches in his gardens. He had others wrapped in animal skins and set wild dogs upon them. This was the first persecution of Christians by a Roman emperor. The reasons Christians were persecuted was not because it was illegal to be a Christian; they were persecuted because they were known to be troublemakers and would not give their allegiance to the Emperors.

Among Nero’s victims were the two most important leaders of the early Christian church. Peter had been living and preaching in Rome. Paul had been living under house arrest. Now, they were both condemned to death for their faith.  Peter is not a citizen of the Roman Empire and so he is able to be crucified. He is crucified upside down, because he did not feel that he was worthy to die in the same manner that Jesus did. Paul, who had spread Christianity throughout the empire, was beheaded.

Two years earlier, James, the brother of Jesus, was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Now, Peter and Paul were gone. The very hearts and souls of early Christianity were now gone. If Jesus/God hadn’t saved these three, what was ahead for Christianity?

Christians weren’t the only ones facing martyrdom. In Judea, the birthplace of Christianity, Judaism was about to undergo the most horrific trial in its tortured history. Rebellion and war with Rome loomed. The terrible outcome would further open the growing rift between Jews and Christians for the next 2,000 years.

In the year 66 AD, the Jews of Israel had had enough of their Roman masters and they launched a revolt that would permanently divide them from their Christian brothers. This was a serious uprising in which Jews decided to throw out the Roman oppressors and establish a sovereign state of Israel.  The Romans sent in legions from Assyria and fought their way south through Galilee to Jerusalem, the fortress of the Jewish rebels.

The Jews made the tactical mistake of all assembling in Jerusalem around that temple. Then they started to fight among themselves about what to do, and how to defend themselves. Then, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman general, Titus, surrounded Jerusalem and cut off the city’s food and water in an attempt to starve the people out.  Then Titus and his troops breached the walls of Jerusalem. They attacked the temple and slaughtered more than half a million Jews with sword, fire and crucifixion.

The Temple Mount was a huge area. Much of it was plated with gold and with fine wood.  Every Jew had an obligation to make three pilgrimages a year to the temple in Jerusalem, and people who lived in Judea took that obligation very seriously. The idea of pilgrimage was central to Jewish identity. The temple’s importance to the Jews made it the perfect target for the Romans to make clear exactly who was king of the Jews…Rome. The Romans burned the temple to the ground and Titus and his men seized the spoils of war.

As all conquerors do, they took the wealth for themselves. The gold and silver were melted down, and these precious metals were actually used in the facing of the Roman coliseum, Jesus had prophesied the end of the temple. “Truly, I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.” The destruction of the temple was symbolic and devastating to the Jews. For the Christians, the destruction of the temple was punishment on the Jews for their rejection of Jesus.

Some of the Jewish rebels managed to escape and made their way to a hilltop fortress called Masada. But that also ended in tragedy when the Romans built a ramp to penetrate the fortress. The Jewish insurgency within the walls made a suicide pact. They killed one another until the last ones committed suicide. When the Romans finally surmounted the fortress, all they found were dead bodies.

With their rebellion crushed, hundreds of thousands dead and their temple gone, the Jews were in real danger of disappearing altogether. There was no Temple, no leadership.  This had been in place for nearly  a 1,000 years. Now all was lost.

It wasn’t quite over though. A  rabbi, Yochanan ben Zakkai, had escaped besieged Jerusalem by being smuggled out in a coffin. He made an appeal to the newly appointed emperor, Vespasian, asking to set up a peaceful rabbinical academy in the town of Yavneh, promising that it would be purely religious and not military or political in nature. Surprisingly, Vespasian agreed and a year later, in 70 A.D., the rabbi’s academy opened and was Judaism’s last hope.

The rabbi brought scholars together in Yavneh and for the first time built what would become the basis for a new type of Judaism that would run parallel with the beginnings of Christianity. From the ruins of the temple, two separate, distinct faiths would emerge…

continued…

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