Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday Meditation: The End Of The Line?

Breaking Free: The God of Israel’s story was not one of endless repetition. Each human life was to be understood not as the fleeting rehearsal of a drama whose essential plot was unchanging; but as a step, however small, towards an end that humankind itself was fashioning. Jehovah’s representation of the world was historical, not cyclical. We, his human creations, were headed towards something that had not happened before.

DEATH AND RESURRECTION lie at the heart of the Easter story. But Christianity’s preeminent religious festival also echoes a much more ancient celebration; that of Spring’s triumphant overthrow of Winter’s deathly reign. Viewed from this perspective, Jesus of Nazareth is but the latest in a long line of divine revolutionaries whose sacred lives are bound, irretrievably, to the slow-turning wheel of the seasons; the relentless cycles of birth, death, and rebirth.
Where Christianity departs so decisively from the nature religions that preceded it is in its claim to have broken free of their circles. Jesus’s startling message held that the ferociously jealous sky father, Jehovah, was a linear god. The God of Israel’s story was not one of endless repetition. Each human life was to be understood not as the fleeting rehearsal of a drama whose essential plot was unchanging; but as a step, however small, towards an end that humankind itself was fashioning. Jehovah’s representation of the world was historical, not cyclical. We, his human creations, were headed towards something that had not happened before.
In the pre-industrial world that Jesus and his followers inhabited, it is difficult to overstate how radical this idea must have seemed. To people whose very existence depended on the orderly sequences of sowing and reaping; engendering and slaughtering; the notion of individuals stepping away from the relentless cycles of the world must have seemed, at best, fanciful, and, at worst, blasphemous.
Once grasped, however, it is easy to see how this idea might encourage notions of being among God’s chosen people. To embrace Jehovah’s linearity was to become a being in history – a shaper of events, rather than their inevitable victim. It’s what makes Jesus’s trade such a potent metaphor. For what else is a carpenter but a person who shapes things to a purpose? Someone who builds things to a plan?
The overwhelming image that emerges from all the Jesus stories is that of a man on a journey. The great events of his ministry are but stations: points which he is at once moving towards and departing from; points on a line.
Reading the Gospels it is impossible not to see Jerusalem as the city of endings: the inescapable terminus of Jesus journey; the place towards which every step he takes is leading him. It’s as if he knows that in this great crucible of faith and politics – of faith as politics – all the twisted threads of his life will be pulled, finally, into a single bloody knot.
Only in Jerusalem will he have an answer to the question that has been dogging him ever since he set out from Galilee. Is Death the end of the line?
Crucifixion is Death at his most cruel. We read that in the last, agonising moments of his earthly life, Jesus cried: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And then: “It is finished.” As if, in the brutal reality of his own demise he finally understood the futility of his faith in straight lines.
From the perspective of Calvary did Jesus realise, at last, that space is curved? That what we perceive to be a straight line is, in fact, just a tiny section of a circle so vast that the brief span of human existence is simply too short to comprehend its immensity.
Or did he, hanging up there against the sky, understand that life is both linear and circular? That the quest for understanding, for meaning, leads us always straight on. But, also, that the quest itself is repeated endlessly. That every generation is driven forward by the power of all the lives lived before it. Like those voyaging spacecraft, flung ever further into space by the gravitational heft of the planets they pass by.
And isn’t this the true meaning of Jesus resurrection? That the all-too-human truths he wrenched from his own life lie waiting to be rediscovered in every generation. That the carpenter’s invitation, to step outside the dull circles of our lives and shape the world to some purpose, is one we all hear, but by no means all of us heed.
Perhaps only a God born in the desert could place such faith in the act of journeying. Where water is abundant, it is easy to forget how far people are willing to travel to quench their thirst.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Thursday, 2 April 2015.


Gnossienne said...

However much we strain there is no meaning to be extracted from the desert religions.
We know little of the old pre Christian religious systems or what was experienced in the initiation rituals of the pre Christian mysteries. There is the account by Apulieus who reveals towards the end of The Golden Ass something of the cult of Isis. He heard a voice saying,“ I am Nature, The universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time,sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all the gods and goddesses that are known to you on earth.”
How's that for a statement underpinning deep ecology of which there is not a skerrick in the demented Abrahamic narrative concerning an off planet, nature hating God.
We know little because round about 383CE a mob of psychotic Christians set fire to the Serapeum of The Royal Library of Alexandria. Every scroll was incinerated. Later in 641, the occupying successors of the Prophet fired the furnaces of the four thousand baths of Alexandria for six months with the books remaining in the Bruchion. In between, 270,000 documents collected by Ptolemy Philadelphus were destroyed by the Roman Church. Theodosius 379- 395 CE had a personal mission to annihilate all traces of so called pagan literature. The numerous shrines, the great temples, the art and sculpture were smashed. After the long “dark ages” when Columbus came ashore in the new world and found friendly Indians, he and his crew strung them up and burned them alive in thirteens in honour of the Redeemer and the twelve apostles. Does any of this sound familiar?
Worshiping a crucifixion and wallowing in the Palestinian redeemer complex ushered in nothing more than an age of narcissism followed by the Faustian plundering, raping and annihilating of the very planet which produced us. Yahweh began life as a Canaanite tribal thunder god. The old Gnostics thought him abominable and called him Ialdobaoth. They certainly had sufficient gumption and individuality to step outside the aproaching totalitarian regime of the reborn Empire.

Anonymous said...

Well, that went down like a lean balloon.
I'm not sure what the point was.

Incidentally, Jesus wasn't a carpenter - that's a result of a mistranslation of the Greek term 'tekton'. 'Workman' is probably a better translation.
So all the pretty stories and metaphors about carpentry are bunk.

Not to mention that the Gospels were written decades after the event - but you probably know that.

Davo Stevens said...

Did Jesus actually exist? That is the question.

Think about it for one moment; you have a country about the size of Northland with a population of about 2 million at that time. Here was this fellow wandering around preaching love and harmony and, more importantly, performing all those wonderous miracles yet no-one at that time knew anything about them. No independent witnesses, no contemporary writers recorded them. Josephus, Tacitus were there at that time and were the ancient equivalent todays reporters. Neither of them reported anything about Jesus. Is that not strange?

pat said...

thats 0 for 2 Chris

Chris Trotter said...

Oh ye of little faith! And, I might add, of a distressing lack of interest in matters theological.

Only Gnossienne enters this discussion in the spirit in which it was written.

All religion is elaborated metaphor - sometimes constructed around a human fountainhead - sometimes not.

It is, therefore, quite pointless to demand "proof" from "independent" historical sources (although Jesus does rate a mention from Josephus, Davo).

The people who were moved by the metaphors and the messages they conveyed were the ones who kept the messengers' stories alive - and still do.

I'd be interested to learn what message all you doubting Thomases live by? And how effective you think it has been in answering not just the mundane questions of What? Where? When? Who? and How? - but also the ultimate question: Why?

Anonymous said...

False Chris,
Successful proselytizing religions rely on absolute belief, and persecuting those who don't.

Noodling around with metaphor is a luxury usually denied. It is a misrepresentation to represent this as typical. Faith and religion are used to set social rules that are beyond question.
THIS is why religion is so dangerous.
Ask ISIL's victims.

Why elevate Middle Eastern Myth (or anyone elses) to special status?
Why not use Batman comics?

Davo Stevens said...

Umm No he doesn't Chris. The passage that is in Josephus' story, "The Antiquities of the Jews" is a known forgery inserted later. Josephus was a fully committed. Romanised Jew who would never refer to some-one as the 'Son of God'. It was an anathema to him.

You may well be right that religion is a metaphor or even a series of allegories but that does not say that any of it is true. This site run by Dr. D.M. Murdoch goes into it in depth.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Why what? You want some deep meaning of life? There isn't any. You're born, you grow up, you reproduce, you live your life as ethically as you can, and you die. Hopefully without falling yourself with mythical sky fairies who punish you if you've done wrong.

Chris Trotter said...

I'm afraid you're the victim of crude atheist propaganda, Davo. There's a lot of it about these days - much of it indistinguishable from the intolerant religious proselytising it purports to condemn.

While most scholars agree that Josephus's work was subject to later Christian redaction, they also agree that there remains in his extant writings indisputably authentic references to Jesus, Pilate and John the Baptist.

The behaviour of a church, or any organisation built around a religious faith, should always be carefully distinguished from the content and purpose of the faith itself.

Jesus told Pilate, "my Kingdom is not of this world" and most of his earliest followers adhered to his notion that salvation was spiritual, not material.

But, as Gnossienne so passionately relates, it was the new Roman church, now under the Emperor's protection, that did so much to poison the development of Christianity.

Perhaps the true miracle of Christianity is how much of Jesus' original message of love was able to survive what Gnossienne calls the "totalitarian regime of the reborn Empire".

As for you, Guerilla, I'm sure I don't need to point out the gaping hole in your grim little summary of human existence. Which is, of course, the reference to living one's life "as ethically as you can".

And whose, pray tell, would these ethics be? Those of the Ancient Greeks? Marcus Aurelius? Siddhartha? Sartre? Mohammed? ... Jesus?

Methinks the "Why?" has crept in your back door, Guerilla, and taken up residence on your bookshelves.

pat said...

I retract my 0 for 2 comment, it would appear there is some latent desire to discuss...why what? that a theological version of yeah nah?...what purpose did religion serve and is that purpose being replaced by something else and if not what are the consequences?

Davo Stevens said...

I beg to differ Chris. There is no written record of Jesus outside of the Bible. So it comes down to belief in the veracity of that tome.

Most of the "History" of the Jews (of which Christianity is a sect) was fabricated. An example is the 'Exodus' of the Jews from Egypt across the Red or Reed Sea. So the Jews escaped from Egypt to Egypt because the whole area of Canaan was part of the Egyptian Empire.

Chris, the Hebrews were a small sub tribe of the Arama (Canaanites if you prefer) who believed in various entities. Some were mono-theistic others were multi-theistic. The mono-theistic group were followers of the god of the Yazidi others were followers of Baal and Mithra, both common beliefs in that area and the Rabbis of Alexandra unified it under one god.

Why is it that there is no reference by any other author of the various empires who controlled that region to the wonderful miracles that Jesus was supposed to have performed? The only record is in the Bible, just one book that was mostly written hundreds of years later.

As I pointed out before, if he was performing these great miracles everyone living there would have known about them, yet no-one did.

Simply doesn't make sense Chris.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm an agnostic on the existence of Jesus. But Josephus Flavius was writing almost 100 years after the crucifixion. But it's interesting that even though the Romans, were such prolific record keepers there is nothing contemporaneous. Still, I don't think I'll take part in an academic argument on a subject I know very little about.
As far as ethics is concerned, most of us don't need threats of punishment to behave well. I guess religion is a force for good in so far as those who do need threats are kept in line, but it seems to me that Christians managed to sin a great deal in spite of it. I'm not sure I trust people who only behave well because they're afraid of punishment. Anyway, one of the least ethical business suggestions ever put to me (which I refused incidentally.) came from a committed Christian.
We are in fact hardwired by evolution to cooperate in small groups, to trust and be trusted, and to be altruistic. Doesn't mean to say we can't overcome our programming, but it takes some effort to be really bad, unless you're a psychopath.
As for grim, life is not grim. I live in one of the nicer countries in the world, I have a family and friends, and enough money to live on. I have books and music and study. I still have most of my teeth. Why would I considered this grim? It's more than many people get. I'm sorry, but the grimness thing is pretty closely akin to "how do you cope when you don't believe in anything?" I suggest you go read some atheist threads on some decent middle-of-the-road news websites before you try this again. You'd see how tired your answers really are :-).
Your handling of atheism is pretty primitive Chris, to be honest. Only a touch above the fundamentalist. We've seen all these arguments before and countered them numerous times. Just don't wash.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dammit, I made a mistake with the dating. Still, 60 years after is still a fairly long time.

Chris Trotter said...

What's "tired", Guerilla, is your appalling rudeness.

It's one of the things people recoil from the most in these sorts of debates, the extreme intellectual arrogance of the proselytising atheist.

Your presumptuousness in assuming that someone like myself hasn't read widely on this subject does you no credit.

Were I of a mind to fight fire with fire, I might point to your inability to grasp even the rudiments of a religious argument, and your resolute refusal to acknowledge that when considered against the whole history of humankind, your atheism is the aberrant response - not the norm. (And if you're going to argue that this is because we know things our forebears didn't and this makes us wiser, well, you will simply have proved my point about intellectual arrogance.)

Davo Stevens said...

Yes GS was right, Josephus did live about 60 yrs later. But we need to be aware that he was recording a history of the people of Judea at that time. H was a passionate and committed Jew so he would never have referred to anyone as the "Son of God" as Jews don't follow that belief. He made no mention of Jesus at any time in his voluminous book. The reference to Jesus was added later.

Had Jesus existed then he would have become a folk hero and the miracles would have become part of the folk stories of that time yet none exist! One only has to look at the fables that surround King Arthur and Robin Hood to see how that happens.

As far as Easter is concerned, it is a very old Pagan (folk) celebration that pre-dates Christianity by millenia.

Here's something anyone can do if they are observant, watch the moon each day. It is in the sky at sometime EVERY day except for two days at about Easter, where it disappears below the horizon for two days then rises again. It dies and is resurrected two days later. Yes, it still happens today!

In the distant past the Pagan farmers didn't have computers or watches and their only measure of time was the moon. So they were well aware of that disappearance. It coincided with the time when trees and plants, which appeared dead over winter burst into life again. So Easter became the time of re-birth and had nothing to do with a fellow dying and resurrecting again.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I just reread my post and the only thing I think could remotely be considered rude as the last sentence perhaps. In fact I thought I showed a certain humility on the Jesus thing :-). I didn't say you hadn't read widely, though perhaps not widely enough, I just said your arguments were primitive. Which within the confines of this thread they certainly are.
If you read what I suggested you wouldn't necessarily find any great philosophical answers, but you would find the same old tired arguments are put forward time and time again by people of faith, which are routinely shot down by people far more intelligent than me – or thee for that matter.
I think if anyone was rude it was you for assuming that my life is grim, or that atheism is grim. Something I'm quite used to, but it rankles to be honest. And quite offensive. It denigrates me and denigrates my family and friends. It's one of those superficial and intellectually dishonest assumptions that atheists have to fight against all the time. Along the lines of "you don't believe in anything." Slogans really.

I don't actually come here for religious discussions, but it's no surprise to find the general patronising attitude of Christians towards atheists here, because it's everywhere.

Arrogance I think cuts both ways, and you obviously haven't read widely enough if you accuse atheists of intellectual arrogance. There are some who are, but I noticed those who debate them – and there are plenty of examples on YouTube – usually fail on the evidence. And arrogant or not, it's usually done reasonably amiably in a spirit of respectful debate. The arrogance often comes from fundamentalists in the audience. Anyway, these atheists don't necessarily speak for me. Atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of gods. Any arrogance or otherwise is up to the individual. We have no theology, no one telling is what to think. On the other hand religious theology comes with arrogance built in.
Never mind about 'whose ethics?' What about 'whose religion?' Jesus's? Mohammed'? Buddha's? Guru Nanak's? L Ron Hubbard's? They can't all be right.
Whereas atheists have just one belief, everything else is up for grabs.

Anonymous said...

Marxist of Christian, Chris?
You can't be both.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Forgot to say, if atheists know so little about ethics, why is this such a small proportion of us in jail compared to people of faith?

Anonymous said...

Mr Trotter,
Do you consider yourself a Christian?
If so, does this include belief in a God, or any other supernatural beliefs?

If there is no belief in a God (perhaps instead an admiration of myths and ethics ), it isn't really Christianity - certainly it wouldn't have been considered as such by Christians for the vast majority of history, including the present day.

And if 'merely' an admiration of myths and ethics, what sets Christianity apart from other religions?
Some Christians claim that Christianity invented The Golden Rule, but that isn't the case.

What ARE you claiming to live by?
The 10 Commandments?
The Golden Rule?
Romanticised ancient myth?
Sacrifice by torture?

You would do well to presume that others are at least equally as well read.

Anonymous said...

Please do fight fire with fire.

The argument that "atheism is the aberrant response - not the norm" - so it must be true if a lot of people believe it for a long time?

Which rudiments are we failing to understand?

Anonymous said...

The Turtle Moves!

Chris Trotter said...

My apologies, Guerilla, that was, on reflection, a most intemperate outburst.

I suspect the strength with which we hold to our respective convictions has much to do with the ringing of rhetorical steel.

On this question, I think it might be best if we agree to disagree.

Davo Stevens said...

I have never said that I am an Atheist nor have I said I am religious either. I simply criticise where I feel it's due. Especially Christian hypocrisy!

The standard comment by religious people that Atheists are somehow immoral is so wrong it's laughable. We humans are born with an innate sense of right and wrong and that is developed further by our upbringing and what our parents teach us too. Unless one is born a psychopath who has no conscience.

I can understand why people thousands of years ago believed in a deity because they had little understanding of the natural world. So that thunderstorm had to be because god(s) were angry.

I also take exception to silly stories like Noah's Flood (that would mean that the extra water would have to have been 6 miles deeper than now [the height of Everest]) and that is simply impossible, the angular momentum would have thrown the Earth out of orbit. Or when Joshua made the sun stand still. That is crazy talk too. The sun is still in relation to the Earth and also everything on the sunny side would have fried to a crisp!!

Why is it that people need to frighten others especially children with terrible stories that they will fry in hell if they don't believe? Such stories have no useful purpose at any time.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

A generous apology. And I think you're correct – we should agree to disagree. To be honest, I only chimed in because you seemed to be a little disappointed no one was commenting :-). I get enough to satisfy my religious debate cravings elsewhere, thank you.

Gnossienne said...

1. Rome did not ruin Christianity. The Empire propaganda machine used successful methods of mind control, dramatic performance and hypnosis which prepared the pathways of millions for Edward Bernays and Co. at a later date. The masses buy stuff and watch the performing gods of X Factor. Smarter types absorb the logical positivist dogma. There is no meaning. All we know is what we can observe and how things behave. Physics may be applied to engineering and has no relationship to philosophy the only function of which is to deal with the problems of language.
The Dead Sea Scrolls now published but long unavailable to the public (suppressed is the word favoured by some) give the key to the central doctrine of Christianity although there are still evangelical stalwarts proclaiming, “Jesus is not in the scrolls” and the scholarly controversies are unending.
The warm fuzzy theory of the Essenes is being replaced by the recognition of a Zaddokite sect of extremists and Israeli archaologist are now proclaiming that the site was no more than a pottery factory.
The never mentioned War Scroll could have been written by Jihadists of the Islamic State. It spews hate. The old gnostics used the word Archons or rulers. The archons were the controllers. They wrote that all the archons were in Jerusalem.

Gnossienne said...

2. Peter Brook's The Empty Space a longtime handbook for drama students has a passage I like very much: “ We musn't allow ourselves to become the dupes of nostalgia. The best of the romantic theatre, the civilised pleasure of the opera and the ballet were in any event gross reductions of an art sacred in its origins. Over the centuries the Orphic Rites turned into the Gala Performance – slowly and imperceptibly the wine was adulterated drop by drop.”
We don't know what took place in the mystery cults or in shamanic initiation ceremonies. Neither may we know or nowadays, even care to know, about the underground stream referred to by Huxley in his book The Perennial Philosophy. Central though, to any rite is the myth. The rite is the transforming force and not exhortations for behavioural change, commands to love, turn the other cheek etc. As for social engineering or any form of mass social behavioral control, all these serve only to suppress and exacerbate problems. To further distort and sicken the already deeply misaligned chemical factory.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

God I said I would leave this alone :-). When I argue with fundamentalists on various sites, they always tell me that Jesus and the new Testament take precedence over the old Testament. So they don't have to wear clothes that are only made from one fibre and so on. And various things around menstruation from what I can gather, along with other bits and pieces like the approval of slavery. But it's always struck me that fundamentalists have absolutely NO problem using the old Testament to condemn things like homosexuality. I just think that Gods in general are terrible communicators, and should maybe take lessons in simple, clear English, and use that instead of obscure metaphors and lightning bolts and so on :-).

Gnossienne said...

Anonymous said: “Marxist or Christian, Chris? You can't be both.”
The Soviet writer Alexander Blok in 1918 wrote a poem called “The Twelve” in which twelve Bolsheviks march in V formation. They are compared to the twelve disciples and leading them is the figure of Jesus Christ. As one recent writer puts it:” They (the Russian people) had the Zaddokite Messiah shoved down their throats and, lo and behold, out he popped again in 1918, lean, steely – eyed and lusting for revenge.”
Guareschi was the writer of hugely popular books about "The Little World of Don Camillo" which told of the rivalry between Pepone, the communist mayor of a small Italian town and Don Camillo the local priest. A satirical, humorous, and endearing set of stories, it was regarded at the time as typical of the era when Senor Togliatti led the largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union. Plenty of Italians had a foot in both camps.
Communism like Neo – liberalism or Fascism is an ideological doctrine. Adherents and hard liners are rigid and unbending. As in religion, theatrical public faux rites are de rigueur.

Gnossienne said...

Cruising the Wreck of the Hesperus

Economics, prior to Axial Shift II, had risen very rapidly and become no less than the dominant public religion. Not, perhaps, officially acknowledged but clearly in position with its pontiffs, cardinals, and high priests. These had appeared in full glory in the form of T.V. show dragons or clergy of the upper chamber administering to endless supplicants who trod up from the depths with their offerings in the form of yet more goods and services, some of their schemes grandiose, some paltry, but all supplicants begged for acceptance and for a long sustaining draught from the glorious chalice of Mammon.
Economics was the religion and Mammon the god who had been waiting for centuries for every other god to be kicked off the stage so that at last the limelight and the totality of power could fall upon Him alone. The old gods had fled away long ago when the incisive blade of science cut cleanly through centuries of dreaming rumination and ended forever the hopeful human practice of star gazing for lofty entities who looked down below with dispassionate but tender concern for the millions of messy malefactors skidding thither and yon on terra firma.
Science itself had made a determined bid for the position of religious supremacy but alas, had been forced to bend the knee, nay spread the legs before the triumphant sneer and rampant staff of the greater god.
Temples to the new god reared up everywhere but the sanctum sanctorum was known to be in place with the establishment of a casino enshrining always, the never-ending reverence for the most holy and prayerful practice of obsessive speculation.
The more astute cried that the dynamo of the great god was unrelated to anything but itself, that its whirlings never touched the huddled remnants of ethical thought, biological reality or the understanding of physics; that its gaze was stony and relentless.
With nothing though, to hold onto as the great god impregnated the visible world in hurricane concourse, thousands of dissenting citizens collapsed into fragmentation and uncertainty. Some muttered’ Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?” Some shrieked, “The biosphere is collapsing. The end is geophysically nigh”.
Others, knowing that in truth from 200 million miles away we are no more than a dull dot in the middle of nowhere said, “What the hell. Does anyone give a brass razoo anymore about the human condition?”
Meanwhile political hacks and lay preachers could be heard intoning the catechism, the creed and the beatitudes.
“Double your activity, G.N.P. will make you free. Blessed be the slaves and all those ground to a paste through overwork for they will get a Smeg oven, a Rinnai faucet and two weeks in Phuket.
Hail Mary, the barren forty year old, full of loot and lonely, you’ll just have to keep solvent and live at the café.
I believe in the circulating currency, maker of heaven and earth, accumulating assets and the supremacy of the new feudalism. Truly does anything ever change. I am here yesterday today and forever and everything is recycled.
Is that a serf I see before me? No villas for villeins, Let the dog return to its vomit. Don’t come groaning in travail to our hospitals Oh Rose of Sharon, Oh Comely Brown Cow for we will deliver the coup de grâce.
Religions are like natural substances which, in the manufacturing and distribution process are always degraded and never transformed. In all religions. the priestly hierarchy extend the rituals and tinker with the dogma. In the interests of corporate unity and being a team player the mind blown adherents now exhausted and working seventy hours a week learned to croak a few tunes “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour, all the day long,”

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous said: “Marxist or Christian, Chris? You can't be both.”

Well, unless you believe in liberation theology :-).