Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Vision of the Future

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

Now, over one hundred and ten years since Paul Carus wrote his book, with advancements in linguistics, archeology, genetics, cosmology, etc., it seems that we have metaphorically eaten the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and our eternal expulsion from the Garden of Eden of naivety, with its selfish love affair of personal deities, is only a matter of time.  What will remain?  Carus' vision still saw a place for religion:

"...there are freethinkers who declare that Atheism will supersede all the different conceptions of God. But this is not probable.  The Monistic tendencies of the age will not destroy, but purify and elevate religion. ... the religious ideas of the present time are symbols.  Taken in their literal meaning, they are untenable, but understood in their symbolical nature they are seeds from which a purer conception of the truth will grow."  HOD, P2, Paul Carus

Carus prophesied the emergence of a new type of religion, a better religion, which would grow out of the body of faith, once it had shed the chaff of its dogmatic, literal constraints.  To him, wide scale Atheism was not feasible, as he explained:

A state of irreligion in which mankind would adopt and publicly teach a doctrine of Atheism is an impossibility.  Atheism is a negation, and negations cannot stand, for they have sense only as confronted with the positive issues which they reject.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus

In a sense, Carus' words are right.  Atheism is really just a negation.  However, there are definitely anecdotes of public teaching of an Atheist doctrine, if you can use the term "Atheist doctrine" in any kind of meaningful way.  For example, I had a physics professor who wouldn't hesitate to mock the concept of God in front of the whole class if she was given a cue.

So unlike Carus, I do think that an Atheist doctrine could be part of the standardized school curriculum, but I would never endorse it, because if that were to happen, Atheism would truly become just like the religions it was denying validity.

In some sense, I think protagonists/antagonists, like my professor, play their little roles in changing the culture, but this kind of challenge and change should not be done on a mandate basis.  For starters, such a mandate would be unconstitutional, akin to the government sponsoring a national religion, even if it is more of an anti-religion.  Beyond that, I feel that spirituality is something to be worked out on a personal level, and any spoon-fed source of it, be it the classroom or the clergy, should be highly scrutinized.  Rather, the job of educators in that arena should be to enhance critical thinking skills, to present the facts, and to present the unknowns.

Besides, we shouldn't have to teach Atheism, any more than we have to teach that there is not a magical, pink, glittery, rocket-propelled hedgehog in orbit around Neptune.  Atheism comes from our understanding and perception of the world.  As such, in our modern era with our level of scientific understanding, some people will naturally choose Atheism.

At the same time, other people will understand or perceive some invisible agent, and will choose religion and/or spirituality, regardless of what is taught in our classrooms.  Spirituality will persist, even when all formal, doctrinized religions are proven wrong, or proven to be valid only metaphorically.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, if we can harness our spiritual side for creativity, mutual understanding, and a greater moral impetus.

As opposed to indoctrinating the negation of Atheism, Carus had a different concept of where our spirituality would turn...

Yet our present anthropomorphic view of God, briefly called Anthropotheism, which as a rule conceives him as an infinitely big individual being, will have to yield to a higher view in which we shall understand that the idea of a personal God is a mere simile.  God is much more than a person.  When we speak of God as a person, we ought to be conscious of the fact that we use an allegory which, if it were taken literally, can only belittle him.  The God of the future will not be personal, but superpersonal.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus

A superpersonal God?  What does that even mean?  We'll explore that next time...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where We Were, and Are

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

Reading an old book is often like being an archeologist; digging into a layer of time buried by the sediment of past eras, and discovering a little about the way people lived back then.  While real archeology offers mainly views of where people lived, what they ate, and other factors which are inferred from the physical remains, old books offer an explicit peek at what people actually thought in the days gone by.  Those ideas can be peculiar to that era based on the culture, or they can be transcendent of that era based on the common experiences which are replicated today in one form or another.  The theology/philosophy of Paul Carus has both of these aspects.

Will Monism eliminate the idea of the Devil in order to make God the One and All? Or will it abolish both God and the Devil, to leave room only for a world of matter in motion? Will the future of mankind be, as M. Guyau prophesies, a period in which religion will disappear and give way to irreligion?  HOD, P2, Paul Carus

It is easy to imagine how someone today could be asking the same questions, but Carus was writing back 1900 C.E., in a time which is considered to be the "Golden Age of Freethought."  By then, Bible and comparative religion studies had rendered Christianity to be of questionable veracity, the theory of evolution had presented a conceptually feasible origin of our species, and astronomy was revealing our true place in the universe.  While most of the public was still religious, there was a buzz, a growing excitement among those bold enough to ponder the ramifications of this relatively new information, and they figured that the world was on the cusp of developing a new paradigm; but exactly what that would be was still unknown.

Now, over a hundred and ten years later, I think we are where Carus thought we would be within a few decades of the questions he had posed.  Our theological future is still unknown, but there is an accelerating decay from the Biblical dualism of the old era.

Atheism is gaining momentum.  Many decades ago, atheists were largely "unnatural," because faith was still so ubiquitous among the population that it took individual reasoning to overcome the mass cultural perspective of religion.  Now, atheism is a sizable enough minority that there are many atheists who were brought up without the trappings of faith, or who found that Christianity simply did not "work" for them and so they have dropped it for what seemed to be another viable option: no faith at all.

Others who are disenfranchised with divine duality delve into different formats of spirituality. Some define their own paths.  Some have become enchanted with Eastern-influenced versions Monism; either that there is but one God (who is more of the deist persuasion) or, more usually, that God is in everything and/or is everything.

Today, within some mainstream denominations of Christianity, while God persists, Satan has become a figurative or metaphorical character representing our reprobate desires within (as is possibly suggested in Peter's episode of rejecting Jesus' plans in Matthew 16:22-23 and Mark 8:32-33).  In some denominations, while Heaven persists, Hell is no longer a physical place with perpetually burning fires of torture, but has morphed into either a place of eternal separation from God or a state of annihilation.  O divine wrath, where is thy sting? (Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9)

Of course, any time traditional ideas are challenged, there will be a faction which digs in, conservatively clinging to the past, willfully oblivious of the evidence against them.  We see this in the resurgence of Christian Fundamentalism.  I wager that we still have about a decade, maybe even two, before Fundy-lunacy reaches its peak and begins its painfully slow decline.  The shift will come primarily from the younger generations, who will be less willing to take such hard line stances against reality, or will be lured by more-tolerant, more-metaphorical denominations of the faith, or by the charismatic mega-churches with better religi-tainment, if they remain "Christian" at all.

Restriction of knowledge and cultural isolation are the strongest forces to abate the inclination toward Christian apostasy.  These strategies are increasingly difficult to execute in our modern world.  That is why I predict that within three decades, Christian Fundamentalism in the United States will become highly regional; down to specific smaller cities and towns, like Decatur, Alabama, as well as certain rural swaths, like the Appalachian Mountains.

I'll go into some of Carus' answers to those questions next time...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Dance with Duality

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

Carus begins with this:

THIS WORLD OF OURS is a world of opposites. There is light and shade, there is heat and cold, there is good and evil, there is God and the Devil.

The dualistic conception of nature has been a necessary phase in the evolution of human thought.  HOD, P1, Paul Carus

Dualism, in a nutshell, is the concept of a world of opposites, and usually implies or explicitly states that when you have one option, there will be opposite option.  A Christian trite and weak explanation for the evil in this world is the dualist concept that freewill requires both the ability to do good and to do evil.  Don't worry.  Carus is no believer of dualism

Upon close inspection, it is clear that the concept of Dualism does not actually line up reality, at least not most of it.  Physicists will tell you that there is not light and dark, but light and the absence of light, and there is not heat and cold, but heat and the absence of heat.

What is the opposite of green?  You may think back to the color wheel for a conceptual understanding, but "green" is really nothing more than electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 520–570 nanometers.  So what is the opposite of 520–570 nanometers?

What is the opposite of God?  Certainly, one could say that Satan opposes God, at least in the way that Christianity often frames the relationship, but Satan is far from being God's opposite.  For example, let's take God's alleged characteristic of omnipresence and consider its true opposite.  The opposite being present everywhere is being present nowhere.  While I don't believe Satan to be present anywhere, the common Christian thought is that there is nowhere where Satan isn't trying to ensnare souls.  Christianity has an omnipresent concept of Satan, at least for the realm of earth.

Dualism fails in our reality of continuous, and sometimes discontinuous (quantum), spectrums of manifested matter and energy.  Not every relationship is polar.  In fact, very few are.  Dualism only works as a metaphor, an extremely simplified model.  That said, even primitive models can be useful, as long as we never forget that they are just tools.

Unfortunately, when religions get to the stage of conceptualizing dualism, it is not considered a model, but rather an actuality.  Carus goes on to explain the "necessary phase" in our development coming to be like so:

But the principle of unity dominates the development of thought. Man tries to unify his conceptions in a consistent and harmonious Monism. Accordingly, while the belief in good spirits tended towards the formation of the doctrine of Monotheism, the belief in evil spirits led naturally to the acceptance of a single supreme evil deity, conceived as embodying all that is bad, destructive, and immoral.  HOD, P1, Paul Carus

Interestingly enough, the Judeo-Christian faith is an example where we can see this evolution to dualism in action.  The God of the Old Testament originally wielded the forces of both good and evil, ultimately for His conception of the greater good, but the New Testament largely purges God of those evil roles, making Satan their supreme owner instead.

Christianity usually holds that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan, despite the obvious clues to the contrary.  With that perspective, they miss the evolution completely, even though the Scripture is often explicitly contrary to a dualist interpretation.

There are several incidents which come to mind to support this evolution to Christian dualism, but for the sake of brevity, I'll leave you with one potent example.  In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, we find:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. NIV

Right there, in black and white (wink), in the Old Testament God tells us that He will send false prophets to lure the Israelites away from worshiping Him; tempting them to sin and testing their faithfulness to Him.

Now, in the New Testament, in James 1:13-14 we find:

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. NIV

So instead of God tempting people in the New Testament, Satan gets that job, as we see in 1 Corinthians 7:5:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. NIV

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The History of the Devil - Post Index

This is the index post for the History of the Devil series. I'll put my posts under the appropriate chapter headings.

The History of the Devil
and the Idea of Evil
from the Earliest Times to the Present Day

By Paul Carus
1900 C.E.

About the author.

Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas

Chapter 2: Devil Worship
Chapter 3: Ancient Egypt

Chapter 4: Accad and the Early Semites

Chapter 5: Persian Dualism

Chapter 6: Israel

Chapter 7: Brahmanism and Hinduism

Chapter 8: Buddhism

Chapter 9: The Dawn of a New Era

Chapter 10: Early Christianity

Chapter 11: The Idea of Salvation in Greece and Italy

Chapter 12: The Demonology of Northern Europe

Chapter 13: The Devil's Prime

Chapter 14: The Inquisition

Chapter 15: The Age of the Reformation

Chapter 16: The Abolition of Witch-Prosecution

Chapter 17: In Verse and Fable

Chapter 18: The Philosophical Problem of Good and Evil

About Me - An Index

My rise and fall in the faith, and the beginning of study:

My school/work history:

Some views on Christianity and studying the Bible:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paul Carus - Cool Dude

So I started reading a book by a fellow who is long dead, a guy I had never heard of before; Paul Carus.  Obviously, it wasn't his name which attracted me to this book, but, the more I know of him, the more that his name should have been a factor.

Basic Bio:
  • Born in Germany in 1852.
  • Raised as a piously orthodox Protestant.
  • Prolific and diverse author, writing 75 books and 1500 articles on history, politics, philosophy, religion, logic, mathematics, anthropology, science, and social issues of his day.
  • A student, theologian, and philosopher in the field of comparative religion.
  • Immigrated to the United States in 1882 "because of his liberal views."
  • Described himself as "an atheist who loved God."
Carus was one of the pioneers of interfaith dialog, where as early as 1893 he was working to introduce the West to the Eastern religious traditions, and visa versa.  He played a key role in bringing Buddhism to Western minds.

Oh, and he was also pen pals with some of the greatest minds of his time, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton (leader in the early woman's rights movement), Booker T. Washington (prominent figure in bridging the old racial divide in the time of Jim Crow segregation), Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, anyone?), Ernst Mach (ever wonder how "Mach" related to the speed of sound?), Thomas Edison (made the incandescent light bulb and a little company now known as GE), and Nichola Tesla (made Edison look like an idiot, both figuratively and literally when Edison went for DC instead of Tesla's preferred AC power), among many others.

Joseph Campbell would have been jealous of this guy, and/or they would have been good friends.

In a slightly similar fashion to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Carus took a look across various religious traditions with a focus on the "evil" side, and followed some of their evolutions in time, to compile an impressive work in 1900 known as The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil from the Earliest Times to the Present Day.  (That was back when book titles were more descriptions than tag lines.)  I'll call it The History of the Devil for short.

While not as entertaining as Campbell can be, I found Carus' book to be excellent.  His writing helped to coalesce many thoughts I'd previously had, persuaded me to more-strongly consider some different viewpoints, and challenged me to confront ideas which were foreign to me.  That's my kind of book!

I'll be re-reading this book, and blogging about it along the way.  It's not really going to be a formal book review, or a summary.  It'll be a highlight of interesting facts, and a discussion of the many thought provoking conjectures and points he made.  I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Slicing Up Jesus

Was Jesus real?  If so, how real was He?  Should that be "he" with a lower-case "h"?  ;-)

The overwhelming majority of people who call themselves "Christian" believe that Jesus existed, but just how much that real Jesus is accurately reflected in the Gospels is under debate, even among Christians.  For example, many Republican Christians don't seem to believe that Jesus promoted living in poverty and private prayers.  ;-)

Sabio Lantz created a wonderful diagram for a post called "How Do You View the Bible's Jesus?" which splits out four different types of standpoints people take (see his posts and the chart below) when defining their view of Jesus, either in part or in whole.  And then he went a step further, showed his own proportional viewpoint, and offered to make you your very own Jesus pie for free(!) in his subsequent post "The Jesus Pie: Offer & Challenge."

I like pie.  So that was an offer too good to refuse!  Here's mine:

Awesome, huh?  Many thanks to Sabio!

So this is what I think my view is now.  I presently hold the opinion that just over half of the content of the Gospels is at least seeded from some real Jesus doing and saying real things... which then got mythologized, spiritualized, and symbolized to the point of not resembling reality by the time that the Gospels were written.

But I could be wrong, even about what I think I think.  There was a challenge with that offer: basically... prove it!  I am presently writing a summary of Mark, and so yesterday I scored up each the verses based on the four categories as I read Mark 8.  Here is what I got:

Will this prove to be more reflective of my true view of the Gospels' credibility, or is this just a little statistical blip which shows up because of the non-homogeneous nature of the stories in the Gospels?  Time will tell, and I can't wait to find out!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bible Bloopers!

Anyone who writes regularly knows how frustrating typos can be, but imagine screwing up the most important book in your life, the very word of God!  So, fellow bloggers, take a look at some of my favorite bloopers from actual printed Bibles, and feel a little better about that last "form" which was supposed to be "from."
  • Psalms 91:5 - “Thou shall not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night” - Myles Coverdale's Bible 1535  That's Middle English, where "bugges" meant "haunting ghosts" as opposed to mosquitoes, but either is pretty funny today.
  • Matthew 5:9 - "Blessed are the placemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" - Geneva Bible, Second Edition  Placemakers, peacemakers, close enough, right?
  • Chapter heading for Luke 21 - "Christ condemneth the poor widow" - Geneva Bible, Second Edition  Oh, you meant commend, not condemn.  My bad.
  • Psalm 119:161 - "Printers have persecuted me without a cause" - King James 1612  Pesky printers, always persecuting you, and running out of toner too.
  • Exodus 20:14 - "Thou shalt commit adultery." - King James 1631  Now that is really a liberal interpretation!
  • I Corinthians 6:9 - "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?..." - King James 1653  That's right.  The righteous get it first, then the unrightous inherit it form them.
  • John 8:11 - "Go and sin on more" - King James 1716  Keep up the good work!  Just try not to get caught in the middle of the act of adultery next time.
  • Psalm 14:1 - "the fool hath said in his heart there is a God" - King James 1763  That's what I've been trying to tell you!
  • Matthew 13:43 - "...Who has ears to ear, let him hear." - King James 1810  I'm all ears!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Is Risen!

He is risen!  And after about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F, He'll be perfected!  Crunchy, chewy, golden brown crust with a soft, deliciousness concealed inside!

Happy Easter Everyone!

I celebrated with the appropriate rite of spring.  ;-)

FYI, towards the latter half of the month, I will start posting a series spawned from reading "The History of the Devil."