S. Apollinare Nuovo Marys at TombFor nearly all of their religion’s history, the vast majority of Christians have taken for granted that the single most important of their beliefs, is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Everything about their religion, they assume, revolves around that. This assumption goes back to the first century; the apostle Paul, for example, wrote:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. (1 Cor 15:13-14)

Yesterday, though, the Religion News Service asked what, for many Christians, is (WebCite cached article) an unthinkable question: “Can you question the Resurrection and still be a Christian?” RNS’s response to that question is a collection of nuanced views held by modern Christians. But having studied early Christianity, I can offer a different answer, one that goes back to the religion’s first decades and is based on scriptural scholarship.

Since the 19th century, scholars understand that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a good deal in common. That commonality gave these three the moniker “synoptic,” meaning they’re similar. The most common explanation for what they have in common, is that the evangelists who wrote Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, as well as another document which no longer exists. This other document is known as Q, which stands for German Quelle, meaning “source” (German being the native language of most Biblical scholars at the time). Q is sometimes referred to as “the Sayings Gospel” or “the Lost Gospel.”

Comparing and contrasting the content of the synoptic gospels provided a fairly good view of what Q must have been like. And based on what they found, it must have been a collection of Jesus’ sayings, with minimal — or possibly no — narrative content.

There was, of course, a rather glaring problem with this: Early Christian documents of this type were unknown. Nothing of that kind had been preserved by Christian communities. This hypothesis, then, appeared highly improbable.

That changed in 1945 when a cache of heretofore-unknown Christian documents was found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Among these was something called the Gospel of Thomas, and rather remarkably, it was precisely such a document: A collection of Jesus’ sayings. Thomas didn’t have the same content as Q, although up to half of Thomas’ content may have been the same as, or very similar to, Q. Finding a document of the same style, written in classical times, suggested that the hypothesized Q very well might have existed.

Now, because Q contained virtually no narrative, this meant it didn’t describe Jesus’ passion, death, or resurrection. Yet it probably existed by the late 40s CE (which is right around the time the earliest of Paul’s genuine epistles might have been written). It likely was based on an oral tradition, meaning it was even older than that.

So we know there were Christians collecting and recording Jesus’ sayings, but not, apparently, his resurrection. This is significant: They thought well enough of Jesus’ teachings to record them for posterity, but not enough of his resurrection to preserve that story. Assuming they believed in the latter, it’s difficult to account for such a choice. If Jesus’ resurrection were as central — and mandatory — to their religion as Paul said it was in 1 Corinthians, it seems truly odd that the authors of Q would have left it out, when they’d made the effort to preserve his teachings.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to conclude the earliest Christians, who’d contributed to Q and thence to the synoptic gospels, didn’t believe Jesus had been resurrected. We see, then, that at least one of the earliest Christian communities didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection. (Aside, of course, from the Corinth church, which Paul’s letter tells us also didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection.) Even so, the resurrection-less “Q community” managed just fine, without it.

Now, a lot of Christian apologists would condemn this reasoning because it’s based on speculation. And it is. The Q source no longer exists, and it hasn’t since around the turn of the 2nd century (and possibly before then). It’s true this is a lot of speculation, but it happens to be well-founded. The existence of a collection of Jesus’ sayings (i.e. Q) is currently the best explanation for how the synoptic gospels came into existence as they are; and given that it must have existed, it’s not hard to distill from the synoptics what its content must originally have included. We can, and should, feel free to reach conclusions based on this information … at least, until we discover flaws in this model. (To date, while this “two-source hypothesis” has some critics, especially among fundamentalist Christians, it remains the majority view of scholars.)

The final question that ought to be crossing your mind right now, is: How could one group of 40s CE Christians have been writing their own sayings gospel — which didn’t even mention Jesus’ resurrection, so that evidently they didn’t think it occurred — at nearly the same time the apostle Paul insisted the resurrection was a mandatory component of Christianity and its single most important facet? Here we stumble upon a rather profound problem, which is that, even in the earliest years of their religion, Christians did not all agree as to what Jesus’ teachings were or the meaning of his ministry. Different Christian groups, even in the religion’s initial decades, had very different approaches to the new faith. That much is incontrovertible. As for what that means … well, for the moment I’ll leave that up to you, Dear Reader.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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This is Ishtar: pronounced "Easter".<br>Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex. (Origin uncertain.)Easter is coming. I know that, not because I see it on the calendar. Oh no. I know it because of the bullshit and lies that people are passing around about it. An example of this is the picture here, one I’ve seen posted by several folks on Facebook, which has the following text:

This is Ishtar: pronounced “Easter”.
Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex. (Origin uncertain.)

There is a mixture of truth and lies here. The true part is that eggs and bunnies are fertility symbols. Also, there’s a chance the name “Ishtar” may have been pronounced, by some ancient people, “Ee-star” or “Ee-ster.” But the odds are much greater that it was pronounced “Eesh-tar” or “Eesh-ter.” (Sadly, it’s hard to be sure how any given ancient name was pronounced when its language hasn’t survived into modern times.) And Ishtar was a fertility goddess.

As for the rest, which comprises the majority of what this picture claims … it’s lies, all lies! I’ve already covered a lot of this in a post a few years ago that covered the same false ground, and it was covered by the Daily Beast a year ago (WebCite cached article).

Simply put, the similarity between our word “Easter” and the ancient name “Ishtar” is merely coincidental. They don’t have a common origin, and aren’t related at all. The former comes from an Indo-European root which originally referred to the dawn; the latter derives from an Afro-Asiatic root referring to a leader or chief.

What’s more, any similarity between the name “Easter” and that of the Babylonian goddess fails in non-Germanic languages, which have very different names for the holiday. Since the Romans didn’t speak a Germanic language (they spoke Latin, in which the holiday’s name is Pascha) there is literally no way Constantine I could have made a holiday named “Easter” “represent Jesus” in the manner described!

As for Emperor Constantine, he never “Christianized” the Roman Empire. He didn’t even come close to doing so! All he did for Christianity was to declare tolerance for it. He also attempted (ultimately disastrously, for his part) to meddle in its affairs, by convoking the Council of Nicaea. The Christianization of the Roman Empire happened only over a period of time, and it mostly happened after he died.

One last thing: Neither the egg nor the bunny were symbols of Ishtar. The most common symbol associated with her, that we know of from archaeological and historical evidence, is the lion. Now, it’s true that, occasionally, lions also have been linked with Jesus, but this linkage hasn’t been very common, historically.

The bottom line is, if you see this picture posted on somewhere on the Internet, especially on Facebook or Twitter or some other place that allows interaction with the poster, please take the time to correct him/her on this. Only a very little research is required to debunk the lies in this picture. Let’s put an end to this foolishness already!

Photo credit: Origin unknown; frequently transmitted on the Internet.

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Storm clouds gather over the scene outside the Jewish Community Center, 5801 W. 115th Street in Leawood, Ks, following a shooting on Sunday, April 13, 2014. / John Sleezer, the Kansas City StarBy now most of my readers will have heard about the shootings in Overland Park, KS yesterday. Given this happened on the eve of Passover, that Jewish locations had been targeted, and even though KCTV in Kansas City reported the suspect had yelled “Heil Hitler!” while in a police cruiser, officials were at first reluctant to admit this was a hate crime. As of this morning, and as the Kansas City Star reports, they finally made that concession (WebCite cached article):

A 73-year-old southwest Missouri man with a long history of anti-Semitism is suspected of killing two people outside Overland Park’s Jewish Community Center and then a third at a nearby Jewish assisted living facility.

After officers arrested Frazier Glenn Cross — an Aurora, Mo., man better known as F. Glenn Miller — Sunday afternoon, authorities said he went on a rant inside the patrol car. Though Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass wouldn’t say what Cross hollered, a television crew captured him on video while he was handcuffed in the back of the car.

“Heil Hitler,” Miller yelled out, and then he bobbed his head up and down.

The hateful creature who’s accused of these shootings is fairly infamous for his ardent white supremacy. He even has his own Wikipedia page, which mentions, among other things, his brief war against the United States government in the late ’80s. He also goes by a number of names … F. Glenn Miller, Fraiser Glenn Cross, and just Glenn Miller. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been keeping tabs on him, too, and not just because he’s just the sort of nasty hateful prick they keep track of … he’d actually conspired to assassinate Morris Dees, head of the SPLC.

If you want to see what Miller really thinks, you can check out his World Wide Web page. He bares all his freakish, irrational, conspiratorial rage there. (Note, that link is to a WebCite cached version of his page; I will not dignify this monster by linking his site directly in my own.)

As I noted in another post a couple weeks ago, it’s impossible to separate white supremacy as it exists in the U.S. from Christianity. It’s a direct product of the Southern Baptist sect in the post-Civil War south. At its core are a lot of legends derived from Christian tradition. Anti-Semitism has its origins in the history of Christianity, the result of Christians being offended that Jews insolently refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

I note that Miller obviously wasn’t too smart about his anti-Semitic shooting spree; none of the people he killed were actually Jewish. So he’s not only a monstrous, hateful creature, he’s a pathetic, moronic loser too.

P.S. CNN’s Belief blog attempts to absolve Christianity of any blame for Miller’s supposed murders by announcing he’s not a Christian, but rather, an Odinist (cached). The article then suggests he’d become an atheist. Either or both of those may be true, but whether they are or not is beside the point. The cold fact is, there would be no anti-Semitism in the occidental world … among Odinists, atheists, or anyone else … if not for Christianity’s centuries-long history of persecution of Jews. Moreover, Miller’s Odinism (whether he still espouses it or not) is a direct product of Nazi party propaganda, with the Nazis themselves having been inspired largely by their Christianity, not by whatever neo-pagan trappings they attempted to wrap themselves in.

So, nice try, CNN, but no dice. I’m not stupid enough to fall for it.

Photo credit: John Sleezer / Kansas City Star.

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Bible-openThe nation’s Christofascists continue relentlessly using government to promote their dour religionism. It’s a tired refrain, but it’s a campaign these people simply will not let go of, no matter what happens and no matter how illegal it may be. The latest example comes from the Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state of Louisiana. As the Associated Press reports via WWL-TV in New Orleans, a bill naming the Bible Louisiana’s state book is moving through the legislature’s machinery (WebCite cached article):

Lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana’s official state book, despite concerns the bill would land the Legislature in court.

A House municipal committee advanced the bill Thursday with an 8-5 vote, sending it to the full House for debate.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, said he sponsored the proposal after a constituent made the request. But Carmody insisted the bill wasn’t designed to be a state-endorsement of Christianity or a specific religion.

“It’s not to the exclusion of anyone else’s sacred literature,” he told the House committee. Again, later he said, “This is not about establishing an official religion of the state of Louisiana.”

The illogic of Carmody’s claim is hilariously laughable. He actually thinks people are going to believe him when he says that making the Bible Louisiana’s state book can’t possibly be construed as an “exclusion” of other holy works. To the contrary … of course it’s exclusionary! Of course it promotes Christianity over other religions! What else can possibly be the result of such a pronouncement?

Deciding that “the Bible” is Louisiana’s “state book” leads inevitably to the question, “Which Bible?” There are many Bibles to choose from. The original bill specified that the official “state book” was to have been a particular copy of the Bible in the Louisiana State Museum, one which happens to be a King James translation (cached). But that specification was removed from the bill, I assume because it would have opened up a sectarian can of worms. After all, the King James Version was first written for the Anglican Church in order to help sever it from Catholicism. So selecting that particular Bible as Louisiana’s “state book” could have been offensive to Catholics, not to mention Orthodox or other kinds of non-Protestant Christians. Gee, how nice of Carmody to have been that accommodating, no?

Given that Louisiana is a religionist state with a fiercely religionist governor, I expect this bill will pass and become law. There are lots of Bible-worshippers there who’re desperate to use their state government to promote more Bible worship.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland fills in as a talk show host on WTIC AM radio in Farmington, Conn., Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill), via New Haven RegisterNote: There’s been some news on this case; please see an update below.

I recently updated my post about former Connecticut governor John G. Rowland having a talk-show on WTIC-AM in Hartford, by noting he had to quit WTIC-AM (WebCite cached article over what were, at the time he left the station, allegations about his involvement in election fraud. Those allegations have, since his resignation, become a federal indictment (cached).

In this morning’s Hartford Courant, reporter Jon Lender goes over the indictment — which is based on accusations by a GOP Congressional candidate and her husband, backed by emails he’d sent them as well as to another Congressional candidate who’d previously rebuffed his solicitation (cached):

“Love the Gov.”

That’s how ex-Gov. John G. Rowland signed an email to Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg on Oct. 23, 2009 — in the first of several messages that prosecutors say he sent over seven months in hopes of becoming a consultant to Greenberg’s 2010 [Republican primary] campaign in the 5th District.

Rowland wasn’t bashful about mentioning his former office — which he quit in 2004, a year before being jailed for corruption — in pitching Greenberg for what a newly released federal indictment describes as a “a sham consulting contract” that would have paid him secretly for helping Greenberg’s campaign.

Rowland depicted himself as still a big man in the district that he’d represented, himself, as a Republican congressman from 1985 to 1991 before he became governor.…

Greenberg ultimately refused the contract.

Rowland didn’t settle for Greenberg’s rejection of his proposal:

In the 2010 election campaign, the indictment says that Rowland proposed that he be paid through a non-profit animal shelter run by Greenberg. Two years later, the indictment says, Republican candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley agreed to Rowland’s proposal that he enter a consulting arrangement with her husband’s nursing-home business while helping her ultimately unsuccessful 2012 campaign.

The $35,000 in payments that Rowland received under that consulting contract were, in reality, payments from the Wilson-Foley campaign for his political assistance — even though the Wilson-Foley camp said that Rowland was a volunteer helper, the indictment says.

Rowland allegedly wanted to conceal his paid campaign work because of potential negative publicity over his December 2004 conviction for political corruption; he pleaded guilty to accepting more than $100,000 in benefits from businessmen while he was governor from 1995 to mid-2004.

At the time he was being paid by Brian Foley’s business and helping the Wilson-Foley campaign, Rowland also was using his role as WTIC-AM radio talk show host to criticize one of Wilson-Foley’s opponents on the air.

What he did for Wilson-Foley was to use his radio show to go after her chief primary challenger, then-state-senator Andrew Roraback (cached). He and his co-host at the time, the Reverend Will Marotti, went as far as to announce Roraback’s cell phone number over the air, implying listeners should call him and protest his opposition to the death penalty as well as his position in other “social issues.” Most of us would call this “inciting to harass.”

Now, why am I pouncing on the poor, beleaguered John Rowland? What’s the relevance of this to religion? That’s easy. As I noted some years ago, Rowland used his religiosity to claim he’s been “redeemed” since he was shamed out of the governor’s office in 2004 and pled guilty to federal corruption charges. He even marketed himself as a motivational speaker, with his main credential being his felonious past, his claimed remorse, and his presumed redemption. Here is his motivational-speaking Web site (cached). He claimed to have become a better man because of his experience and that he could provide life-lessons to other people.

But clearly, he wasn’t really walking that talk. His correspondence with Greenberg in 2010 demonstrates he had his conniving little hand out, trying to scarf up extra money on the side, without anyone being the wiser. In other words, he did again pretty much the same sorts of things he’d done 10 or more years ago, which had forced him out of the governor’s office in the first place.

Had he actually learned his lesson? No. He’d merely pretended to. And he committed this hypocrisy under cover of being religious, arm-in-arm much of that time with his erstwhile theo-political operative Marotti. He and Marotti must have forgotten that their Jesus explicitly and unambiguously forbid them ever to be hypocritical.

What’s more, he used his WTIC microphone to make himself and Marotti (who’s taken his place at the station) into the chief spokesmen for Connecticut’s Religious Right. And those R.R. listeners ate it all up, happily. They called into the show, calling him “governor” even though he’d been out of office for years and in spite of his own crimes that put him in federal prison for a year. All of that was irrelevant. They eagerly kowtowed before, and slavered over, this admitted felon.

Their chief rationales for doing so, are: First, “everybody in office is on the take,” so it’s OK that Rowland had been. After all, there’ve been some Connecticut Democrats convicted of corruption (e.g. former Hartford mayor Eddie Perez and former state senator Ernie Newton), so what’s the big deal with Rowland getting free work done on his cottage by state contractors and political operatives? That the “everyone does it” and “but the other side is corrupt too!” arguments are brazenly fallacious, is something that doesn’t matter to them. Second, many of them think the Hartford Courant fabricated the charges against him back in the early 2000s, and drove a completely-innocent man from office. It’s natural they’d do this, since Rowland himself had spent his last couple of years as governor repeatedly mouthing that very mantra. His wife Patty even once let loose with her own “parody” of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” lamenting how horrible the Courant had been to Connecticut’s first couple (cached). It was all very childish and petulant, of course — not to mention later belied by the fact that Rowland himself allocuted to the charges in federal court when he pled guilty — but many of his followers still cling desperately, in spite of that, to the idea that the Courant had made it all up.

This time around, Rowland once again claims his critics and accusers are wrong. He’s pled not guilty, and his lawyer promises he will be “fully vindicated” (cached). Given the documents in the indictment, it’s impossible to believe this is going to happen, if this should get to trial (unless the jury is packed with Rowland-loving Rightists). Word around Connecticut, over the past couple weeks, had been that, like the Foleys, Rowland was negotiating a plea deal. That effort failed. Maybe his lawyer is pushing back in order to renegotiate a better deal for Rowland, and he’ll plead out later this year. Who knows?

But whatever the case, the real bottom line here is clear: Religious people are just too fucking eager to open themselves up to bad people who’ve claimed their religion “reformed” them. It’s my experience that corrupt people tend to remain corrupt, no matter what they say and no matter if they appear to have cleaned up their acts. Religion has no power to force anyone to become a better person; they either reform themselves, or they don’t. Religion has nothing to do with it. Now, believers in a religion love to think their religion has that kind of power … but their believing it, cannot and will never make it so. Their desire that this be the case, though, leaves them prey to liars, con artists and swindlers.

Update: John Rowland’s trial ended yesterday, and the jury convicted him (cached). He and his attorneys will, no doubt, appeal this, but neither his conviction nor the appeal were unexpected. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Photo credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill, via New Haven Register.

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Torches and pitchforks (from 1931 Frankenstein) / Courtesy of Word Spy / original URL: http://www.wordspy.com/words/torch-and-pitchfork.aspThere’s a running pattern among militant Christianists talking about rebellion and revolution in order to force their dour religionism on the entire country. Of course, they’re not admitting that’s their goal. Oh no. What they really want — they say — is “religious liberty.” That makes it sound as though they simply want to worship as they want, in their homes and churches. If that were all they actually wanted, I wouldn’t have any problem with it, nor would any other non-believers I know. But it isn’t. Rather, they follow the reasoning:

  1. I have certain beliefs.
  2. One of them is that everyone must follow my religion
  3. Therefore, if I have “religious freedom” …
  4. I must be permitted to force everyone to live by my doctrines.

That’s the religiofascist’s syllogism.

That these people have been forced to deal with things they personally dislike and view as contradicting their beliefs … such as gay marriage … is something they can’t and won’t tolerate. Since they haven’t been able to use the courts to roll some of these things back, they’ve increasingly decided they’re entitled to get their way via extralegal means.

So naturally, Christofascists have been chattering lately about revolt. I’ve blogged about this in the past. But as Right Wing Watch reports, another sanctimoniously-outraged religious activist, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, implied he and his fellow Christofascists may be forced to rebel (WebCite cached article):

Mat Staver recently appeared on the “Light of the Southwest” Christian television program on God’s Learning Channel where he warned, yet again, that America is headed toward a second American Revolution led by conservative Christians over the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and religious liberty.

“We’re seeing the beginning groundswell of a potential new American Revolution,” Staver said, asserting that if the government continues to trample on religious liberty, the nation will soon “run into that decision point of persecution and/or revolution.”

Here’s video of him making these comments, via Youtube:

Note that Staver isn’t precisely calling for a revolution right now (as some of his fellow Christofascists have). No, he’s predicting that, if the persecution of Christians “continues,” a revolution is going to happen. That said, there is no such persecution going on. It’s a figment of his and his fellow Christianists’ imaginations. They think that not getting their way is “persecution,” when — of course — it’s nothing of the kind. That he compares himself to Martin Luther King, Jr is particularly ridiculous … but I’m sure Staver neither can nor will see it that way.

P.S. You’ve just gotta love the irony of Staver’s group’s name: “Liberty” Counsel. You’d think this meant they want to promote freedom. But in fact, they don’t. What they want is to reduce freedom, by forcing everyone in the country — Christian and non-Christian alike — to have to live according to their own evangelical/fundamentalist version of Christianity. That’s not “liberty”; it’s Christocracy.

Photo credit: Word Spy.

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Papa Francisco na JMJ - 24072013For well over a decade the Vatican has fiercely denied that any of its clergy abused children or that its hierarchs protected the abusers. This scandal has traveled around the world and reared its head on every continent (except Antarctica), but the Church’s commanders have repeatedly insisted they’re the true victims, not the abused children, and have blamed the scandal on anyone and everyone other than themselves. So I find it remarkable that, as the Religion News Service reports, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness over it (WebCite cached article):

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said [cached].

“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

Catholic News Service provides video of the Pope, via Youtube:

Of course, the Pope’s request for forgiveness is a far cry from the sort of true accountability that people around the world have been looking for, for over a decade. But given the Vatican’s long history of excuse-making and refusal to date even to admit the possibility it might have done anything wrong, it does show a somewhat different attitude. Let’s hope Francis does take additional steps and actually holds his Church responsible for what it did.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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