Category Archives: Religion

What Would Jesus Say?

Sunset over Las Vegas

Not a religious piece, I promise. Instead, I am speculating about how original meanings can be distorted and lost over time. In 2009 one Stephen Mitchell published a book he titled, The Gospel According to Jesus. Yes, he knows that Jesus never wrote a word. The guy was illiterate, a not uncommon condition in his time and place. But it’s a catchy title for a scholarly work.

The story of the book is that the original documents which became the Christian New Testament were subjected to the sort of linguistic analysis that is used when they find what may be a new sonnet form Shakespeare. Word use, spelling, sentence length, style and voice, all are subject to computerized analysis. After doing this, the oldest, and presumably most authentic, bits of the Christian gospel were uncovered. These bits were written probably sometime in the fifties. (Not the nineteen-fifties; the fifties.) The idea being that the authors of these bits may actually have met Jesus, or at least heard him preach. Many parts of the New Testament were written much later, decades, even a century or more. So now we have it: the oldest, presumably most authentic, “Good news about Jesus.”

I’m going to assume you’re familiar with at least some of the story of Jesus’s birth, death, and afterlife. If not, feel free to read a contemporary version of the Christian New Testament after you read this. You’ll be surprised.

This oldest gospel opens with John the Baptist. Then Jesus comes down to the river to be baptized. (This is all in the orthodox bible, of course.) What’s missing is anything preceding baptism. No birth story at all. No magi, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, no star, no manger, no Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, the Jesus birth story is amazingly like the story of Buddha’s birth, which precedes Jesus by hundreds of years. The chief difference is that Buddha also rated an earthquake. Somebody saw fit to add that birth story later on. Don’t care why because this isn’t that sort of post. It was done, is my point.

When he hears of John’s arrest, he leaves town. He picks up some posse at Galilee, and proceeds to wander around Judea preaching. He taught at the Synagogue at Capernaum.  Here is an excerpt from his preaching in the villages:

And someone asked him, “When will the kingdom of God come?” And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘It is here’ or ‘It is there.’ For the kingdom of God is within you.”

He wandered Judea for a while, teaching and healing. The crowds got larger. One day he went up a hill and gave what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the beatitudes are there, as is most of the rest of the sermon. What isn’t there is the story of the loaves and fishes. Here is an excerpt that is there:

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor. But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and sends rain to the righteous and to the unrighteous.

I had a friend tell me flat out that Jesus never said to love your enemy. In the gospel, the passage above is part of a quotation from Jesus. Maybe you begin to see my point. Just one more quote, again from Jesus’s sermon on the hill:

Be careful not to do your righteous acts in public, in order to be seen. When you give charity, don’t blow a trumpet to announce it, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that people will praise them. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you give charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and keep your charity a secret; and your Father, who sees what is secret, will reward you.

A couple paragraphs later, he talks about prayer, which he also insists should be a private thing. He offers what the Christians call “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of what to say to “your father” “in secret.” This is not your grandfather’s Christianity. Nor is it what is mostly heard from today. And there is one more significant thing missing from this oldest, presumably most authentic, gospel. The book ends when, at about three in the afternoon, (Jesus) gave a great cry and died. Full stop. The end. Finito. No burial, no resurrection, no reappearance, nothing. In this, the oldest and presumably most authentic gospel, he, as we all must, died and disappeared from the earth.

I commend the book to your attention. It’s copyrighted, so I can’t just give you a link to read the oldest gospel for yourself. But you can probably find the book at a library if you can’t afford to buy a copy for yourself. My point being that, other than that oldest gospel, the rest of the gospels were written later, by people who had no chance to have ever heard Jesus speak, but who did have various agendas which they were pursuing. Instead of “Love your enemy” and “Pray in private,” we get divisiveness and “thoughts and prayers.” Instead of the liberating “Kingdom is within you,” we get a hierarchy that doles out religious truth as it sees fit. Whether there was an actual Jesus or not is irrelevant. There was certainly an initial book of “Good News About Jesus” that was, over the next few centuries, modified and added on to until the original could barely be seen, although, in truth, it is still in there.

I’m not preaching, nor speculating as to why this is so. Maybe in a later post. For now, I’m just noting how wildly different the meaning of a book can be after enough people add to and reinterpret it. Amazing, isn’t it?

The Real Conspiracy and Religion that Runs the World

It’s known who runs the world. If you’d like to see the names, click here! If you click that link, you’ll be taken to an article on NPR about a study in 2007 that revealed, for the first time, the closely interconnected group of 147 (it’s now down to 146 since Lehman Brothers folded) that controls about 40 percent of the world’s wealth. They list the names of the corporations, most of which are not especially surprising. Go ahead, you still have time to click and see. The link opens a new window, anyway.

More interesting than the existence of these companies is the companies’ motivation for cooperation. “Common business interests” is the reason cited. And otherwise, of course, Deutsch  Bank and Bank of America compete fiercely. The point of the study is that they all closely interconnected, with many of the companies represented on the boards of others of the group. Again, this cooperative competition is engaged in because they, and their shareholders, find such cooperation to be good business. It’s nothing like the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” would have us believe. Besides being cooked up by the Tsar’s secret service, that entire publication is nothing more than an excuse for racist assholes to stay that way. No, it isn’t religion (as most people understand it, anyway) or some secret society (if you think Freemasons are running the world, you really don’t know anything about Freemasons) motivating the cooperation. It is what I have before called the True Religion of America — Business!

The people in those corporations are not bad, at least not because they’re in those corporations. The percentage of cheats, liars and thieves is probably about the same amongst those 146 companies as it is among Boy Scouts. Also, their employees come from all over the world. In terms of religion there are no doubt Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, Athiests, Jains, Wiccans and people who worship cheese working inside these companies. But each company really worships just one thing: commerce. If things make it easier to do business, things are good. If things interfere, not so good. It’s just Capitalism, which as an economic theory doesn’t need any explanation. Capitalism is run by a bunch of people just trying to do well buying, selling, or facilitating buying and selling. That’s all it is. Which means that a bunch of people are in an inadvertent cabal that controls much of what happens in International Commerce.

Good or bad? Depends, doesn’t it?  An evil conspiracy? ‘Fraid not. The good thing is that the little knot of companies that so influence everything that happens is now out in the open. Right where we can keep an eye on ’em!

Digital Delay

So, we can’t help people being foreclosed upon, we can’t keep up freeway bridges so people don’t plunge to their deaths, we can’t even make sure sick people aren’t dying on our streets, but we can accommodate those too stupid to realize that they need a digital converter box by delaying the switch for four months? As if television were some sort of necessity, even? Boy, ain’t we cool, huh?


What Happened Here?

To begin with, you can blame George W. Bush on Lyndon B. Johnson. They’re both from Texas, so maybe there’s some connection from that direction. I doubt it, though. Still, odder things have happened. George W. Bush, for instance, is a descendant of Franklin Pierce, who got to be president due to the efforts of an old college buddy. Go figure.

It isn’t that LBJ worked on W’s behalf, of course. He’s too dead to do such a thing. But LBJ is the guy who so pissed off the Southern wing of the Democratic party, then known as “Dixiecrats” for lack of a better term (and there probably is no better term.) The Dixiecrats were represented by people such as George Wallace (not the Vegas comedian, the other one) who blocked the schoolhouse door and shouted “Segregation Forever!” Wallace changed his mind before he died, but a lot of people stayed true to their segregationist principles for all of their lives. And those folks felt betrayed beyond belief by the Southerner who pushed through the Voting Rights Act and other bits of law they found dangerous to their way of life.

Well, if the Democrats were through with them, and at that time nobody wanted to actually admit that they were racist enough to support the good-old Dixiecrat constituency, then they knew that they had to get sneaky. You remember the “Moral Majority” back in the day? Well, they may or may not have been either moral or in the majority, but they presented the old segregation forever crowd with an opportunity. By linking with religious conservatives who were bothered by what they saw as the moral decay of American society, the folks who brought you back of the bus segregation could hide their anger, and their true agenda, while getting influence back in Washington. It worked, as can be seen by the political scene since Reagan.

Reagan was a great speaker who was recruited because, well darn it, people liked him. He certainly wasn’t one to support overt racism, but he did like to talk about smaller government (which was, in fact, not what he gave us.) Smaller government meant a government that would allow a public school to open the day with a prayer, or so hoped the religious Reagan backers. To the Dixiecrats it might mean a chance to get back to keeping some people in their place. Particularly Washington people, who had no business telling honest, hard-working Southern people how to run their state.

Reagan begat George HW Bush, a far better President than I gave him credit for at the time. George HW got elected by promising famously not to raise taxes. Finding the government broke, however, meant that he had to propose, and sign, a tax increase. So in came the man from Hope, William Jefferson Clinton.

Clinton angered people in a way that no other president I’ve lived with ever has. Something about the story of the poor trailer boy from Hope who made it all the way to the White House really frosts some people’s shorts. I think it might have been due to his refusal to cater to the good-old-Dixiecrat crowd that started the rumors that led him to be so publicly reviled. To bad for them, all they could catch him at was cheating on his wife with one of his employees. A sad and sordid tale, but hardly criminal. They did, however, manage to get him impeached.

That is because the alliance of religious conservatives and old-time Southerners united in using morality as an issue. Plenty of Presidents have done worse things to their marriage than Clinton, but the Moral Majority wasn’t backing the opposition at the time. The Republican Party found itself, maybe not for the first time, proclaiming itself as the protector of public morality in the United States. That is questionable, but not as questionable as the supposed history of the Republican party as a champion of smaller government and states’ rights. Egads, has no one ever heard of Lincoln, the poster boy if there ever was one for large, central government at the expense of the states? Six percent of the men of military age in the country died in a war to ensure that the big-government party, the Republicans, prevailed in their effort to save the union.

The states’ rights plank was tacked on by the old Southern contingent, with the backing of the religious conservatives, for the reasons listed above. Less government meant less interference, right? Well, not to hear the complaints about W. Bush that have been sounding out in the past couple of years. The amusing part, for someone who knows some history, is that the complainers are actually surprised that the Republican party has expanded, not shrunk, the Federal government. Folks, I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s what Republicans have always done. It’s not bad, it’s debatable, but it’s Republican and that’s all there is to it.

So how did all this misinformation get spread around? By faith, of course. Faith is, so they say, a wonderful thing. It can move mountains. Well, horse hockey I say, but that’s just about the moving mountains part. The trouble with true belief is that the believer’s view of the world is distorted by the belief until the poor sod doesn’t know reality any more. In the mind of a true believer, a fundamental Christian world view is the majority view, and no amount of objective statistics will convince the true believer otherwise. Former President W. Bush has returned to Texas with his “values intact.” Great. So long as you’re not deciding the fate of the world, you go. But when belief rather than objective reality influences national policy both foreign and domestic, you end up with some very stupid things getting done. Like invading a country at a time when we really needed to be catching a terrorist, or like abstinence-only sex education, which results in more, not less, promiscuous and unprotected sex amongst teenagers. Faith may be wonderful, but not as the basis for national policy.

So that’s what happened: LBJ pissed off some segregationists who then used some religious folks in a successful effort to temporarily hijack the government. This resulted in record debt, economic doldrums, and thousands of dead soldiers. Somebody may like that, but not I. All the faith in the world doesn’t change reality one little bit. And lying to another constituency in order to sneak your way back into power is about as low as American politics gets. I feel sorry for the religious conservatives, I feel sorry for George HW Bush. I feel sorry for the Republican party, and I feel sorry for Ronald Reagan, even. And most of all, I feel sorry for the country I love so much.

Please, old Dixiecrat guys, just dry up, okay?


Sex, Anyone?

Okay, two posts in two days. Going for a record here. But I read this story and I just had to say something about it . . .

I just read a story from Reuters that casts doubt on the “Technical Virginity”
theory that teenagers are engaging in oral and anal sex in order to remain “technically” virgins.
In short, the article says that while teenagers are doing those things, they’re having plain old sex too. This does not surprise me. For one thing I teach high school and see the students, most of whom appear to be healthy humans. Healthy humans above the age of thirteen, sometimes younger, engage in some sort of sex. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be healthy. For another thing, the wave of “abstinence only” sex education we’ve been indulging in since Reagan, in some cases longer, is the biggest crock of un-useful scam on the youth of America since the war on drugs.

I really was abstinent in high school. Want to know why? Because I was a cowardly mama’s boy, that’s why. I’d have been hitting on anything remotely like a girl if I’d had more nerve. I knew almost nothing about how things really worked, so the odds are that I’d have made some girl very unhappy, made myself very unhappy, maybe both, or plain old ruined a couple of lives if I’d had sex. If I’d known what was what in terms of sexuality I might well have still been celibate, but for good reasons. (Cowardice is no good reason for anything.) If I hadn’t been celibate I’d have been careful not to cause any harm. If, that is, I’d know what was what with sexuality.

So how is one to know? Certainly not by listening to stupid lectures about how abstinence is the only way to go. They lie, those people, by saying that condoms are not reliable (they are) and by overstating any emotional damage that might accrue from sex as a teenager. I’ve had a lot of friends who were sexually active before I was, and they have been at least as well adjusted as I am. Maybe more, since they weren’t obsessed with their lack of sexual experience during a crucial time of life. One might know by getting the actual facts about sex and sexuality. As a matter of fact, if you know the facts, abstinence until you’re ready to marry whomever you have sex with is a reasonable thing to choose. You don’t have to, but with all the dangers inherent in having sex as a child, you might just decide to. Let’s face it, there are some really nasty sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) out there, a couple of which will surely kill their victim. And there’s the emotional toll that comes with sex.

Emotional? Sure, emotional. Sex is really about how we feel about ourselves, and sometimes the way we feel afterwards if more important than the way we felt before. What I mean is that sex, like any meaningful activity, involves your whole self, and should not, therefore, be entered into lightly. I’ll confess here that I’ve tried casual sex, and it was okay, but no better than what I could get on my own, if you get my drift. There is, for me at least, no point in pursuing a casual sexual relationship. But, with a woman I really care about, sex is a wonderful way to make things even better. I learned all this though trial and error, over a lifetime. A couple of religious groups have a program that they call Our Whole Life (OWL), which is a lifetime learning program about sexuality and relationships. The groups are the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Okay, they’re to the left of the evangelicals, but as I said up at the beginning, the “abstinence only” approach many evangelicals advocate is just plain stupid. (To me, it’s an example of a situation in which idealism makes people do stupid things.) The OWL program is tremendously successful in a couple of crucial areas: preventing teen pregnancy and preventing teens from getting STDs. I seriously doubt that it stops teens from having sex, but when they do, the consequences aren’t dire.

I guess it depends on what you want: idealistic abstinence pledges, STDs and pregnancies; or teenagers who are healthy and not pregnant. I know what the idealists choose. Care to guess my choice?