The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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The Folly of Translation

April 27th, 2012 · christianity, history, media

Some Pentacostal Evangelicals have their panties in a knot about some translations of the Bible Wycliffe has made for Muslim cultures. Read the news article here. The complaint is that “language in some of their translations intended for Muslim countries misses the essential Christian idea of Trinity: the father, son and the holy spirit or ghost.” Where they expect to see “Father”, the translation is to “Lord”; for “Son”, they used “Messiah”.

The article does a good job of describing some of the difficulties of translation in general, and of translating the Bible in particular. But there were still a couple of points it didn’t make, so I’m making them here.

Technically, the translators are correct. The use of familial relationships to describe God is specifically denigrated by Islamic tradition. Had they forced the issue, they would have lost many potential readers who would have been put off by such descriptions.

Another thing the protestors have working against them is that the Trinity is a post-Biblical construct. It doesn’t make sense to complain that a Bible translation doesn’t prop up Trinitarianism, since there exists no translation which does so.

The first century of Christianity after Constantine is structured by the series of severe and often violent conflicts regarding efforts to describe the nature of God or the Messiah. Folks who disagreed back in the day would refer to their opponents as “heretics” and their ideas as “heretical”. However, the difference between an orthodox idea and a heretical one had a lot more to do with the politics of those in charge at the time than anything specific to the ideas themselves.

Early on, the idea of the “Trinity” was cooked up as a way to describe, without describing, the nature of God and the Messiah. Unfortunately, this did not diminish the conflicts between the various political groups that made up the early Church. If anything, it increased the furor as folks tried to authoritatively describe the Trinity, or how its members inter-related.

Returning to the more recent past, American Evangelicals have repeated nearly every heretical idea in their quest to redefine Christianity on their own terms. It may make sense to some of them to read the Trinity into Biblical passages, but by demanding a change to a Bible translation, they are assuming authority to define both the Trinity and the members thereof that would have made St. Augustine blush.

By taking on the overwhelming task to translate the Bible into as many other languages as possible, Wycliffe has set for themselves a difficult path: and they’re aware of the many pitfalls and traps along the way. Even those who aren’t Christian can appreciate the scale of the work they have already done and how much they still have left to do. I don’t think they do themselves any favors by trying to accommodate noisy and irritable bullies who can only use such issues to prop up their own failing sense of authority.

 

 

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Fellowship: Pentafest Ritual

February 15th, 2012 · fellowship, ritual

The Pentafest commemorates the conjunction of the Sun and Venus. As this occurs on one of the same five days each time (see Venus Mysteries), so all five days are celebrated each year. On the Pentafest date that coincides with a Sun/Venus conjunction, a special theatrical production is produced.

The Pentafest celebration is part theatrical presentation, part art exhibit, and part learning fair, wrapped up in a inter-personal, participatory ritual. Much of the material is an attempt to quickly educate the unfamiliar with the Fellowship mythology and ritual practices. At the same time, participants must be given several opportunities to connect with the spirit of the Fellowship, through participation with easily remembered phrases, and opportunities to chant or sing.

The primary story arc is presented several times, in different contexts, to participants. The dying Warrior God descends into the underworld where he transcends his fears and is reborn as the Lover God. The Lover God overcomes three obstacles through personal transformation and later, in dying, descends into the underworld. There, he transcends his anger to be reborn as the Warrior God.

In this visualization, the location of the production is the Vortex Theater. They’re very pagan friendly, and have a really nice location. This may not be where the production actually takes place: it’s just helpful to think through a production in a known location.

As participants enter into the outdoor garden, they are encouraged to wind past various statues and set scenes that illustrate various elements of the primary story arc. Near to each group of set-scenes, an interpreter is positioned, repeatedly relating the meaning of each of the set-scenes near them to participants as they arrive. Also, the actors portraying the god forms will mingle (in character) with the participants in the garden, telling stories and interacting with participants. This will familiarize the audience with the characters and basic premise of the primary story arc. (Note that, while the god forms Warrior God and Lover God are referenced herein as male, the play is written so that either gender could play either or both god forms.)

Continuing into the cafe area, presentations line the walls describing various aspects of Fellowship ritual, such as: the idea of Spirit, house rituals, community rituals, and the Spirits of place. Each presentation consists of a poster or tri-fold presentation foam board, and descriptive handouts. This will provide an opportunity to glean a better understanding of some of the activity during the play. The presentation describing the Fellowship will include signup sheets to join the e-list, to be alerted for future Fellowship activities.

Inside the auditorium, a small band plays behind a vaudeville-style series of performances, beginning at least an hour before the play begins. In turn, each performer, pair, or group performs a story, juggles, tells some jokes, or sings a song — sometimes while dancing or performing gymnastics! The context of each song or story is either some element of the primary story arc or a summary of the entire arc. Participants are encouraged to move back and forth between the cafe, garden, and auditorium during this time.

Prior to the beginning of the main ritual, an invocation of the gods is performed, during which a procession outside led by the Warrior God leads everyone from the garden and the cafe into the auditorium. Those already within the auditorium would have the perspective of having witnessed an invocation ritual physically answered. (Note: some kind of participatory chant or song would be appropriate.)

The framing narrative depicts a family recounting the primary story arc as part of a family ritual for Pentafest, interspersed with scenes of the god forms playing out the story. When the Warrior God descends into the Underworld, the ritualistic interaction is demonstrated. At the end of the cycle, when the Lover God descends into the Underworld, the participants are given the opportunity to follow, offering up the ritualized answers and taking part in the ritual of transformation.

The three obstacles overcome by the Lover God are each opportunities to demonstrate some aspect of Fellowship ritual, such that a house ritual, a family ritual, and a community ritual are needed to progress to the solution. In each case, the Lover God must also transform some element of himself in order to progress.

After the second Underworld scene, when the Warrior God returns (which should be a different actor) and the participants have had an opportunity to have their own transformation ritual, the Warrior God leads a procession out of the auditorium and into the garden. Participants are encouraged to stay and mingle with the actors (out of character) and other participants for a while.

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Fellowship: Mysteries of Venus and Hermes

January 4th, 2012 · fellowship

The educational organization (the Fellowship) described in the previous post would necessarily be included within the context of an organization that modeled its principles. This outer, or sister, organization would be the Temple, providing a regular calendar of celebratory events, workshops, meditation settings, and frequent opportunities to commune with the spirits of community and place. A popular and well attended temple could easily subsidize and support an educational organization that served to bring more people to the temple, and to bring active members closer.

All of the behavior that is expected of participants — from social niceties to ritual practice — should be regularly modeled. Mythic presentations should include examples of home, family, place, and work worship and practice. Community ritual should be closely modeled on family rituals. It’s good to have books and videos that describe and explain things, too, but modelling the action will enable the educational purpose better.

The Temple will focus on gods of place, gods of community, and the Mysteries of Venus and Hermes. It is in the rituals, ceremonies, celebrations, and sacrifices made to these ends that the habits of home and family practice are demonstrated. The celebrations of the gods of place and community will serve to build and bond the the Temple family together. But it is the Mysteries that will draw the crowds from which the Temple family will grow.

The Mysteries of Venus and Hermes are based on two mythic cycles that correspond to the movements of the planets Venus and Mercury in the sky. In summary, retrograde periods are times for learning and re-assessing, while solar conjunctions represent transformations, and the mythic cycles accommodate presentations, rituals and celebrations that are incorporated into the general Temple calendar.

Gods of place include the spirits of every definable boundary the Temple is within: city, county, state, and country; but also spirits of the watershed and the surrounding watersheds; and also spirits of the neighborhood, zip codes, school districts, and so on. In Texas, you could conceivably include spirits of every nation that had prior claim to the land: Spain, Mexico, France, Texas Republic, and the Confederacy.

Gods of community reference the spirit of the Temple family directly, but also the spirits of communities the membership also belongs to for fun, for work, investment into the community: sport team fan clubs, scouting groups, athletic clubs, or unions, professional clubs, and interest groups. The community is a family of families, and so the spirits of all the families represented by the Temple family are also honored.

Once the Temple has a dedicated space and can keep a regular schedule, the spirits of place and community will get more play: until then, only once a year could there reasonably be a celebration of any size. The presentation of the Mysteries, however, can occur in existing theaters throughout the city and smaller facilities can be rented as needed until the size and enthusiasm of the community is such that a dedicated space becomes possible. The Mysteries, then, are the primary catalyst for the creation of the Temple family.

The Temple calendar is going to be very busy. In addition to keeping up with sun sign, rise and set, lunar phases, and signs, and seasonal quarters, there are also special dates for the Mysteries. Mercury goes retrograde three times a year and conjuncts the sun six times. Throw in shadow points to make an even busier calendar. Venus retrograde occurs on a regular cycle of short and long periods over eighteen months. Five of these cycles is sufficient to trace out a pentagram in the Zodiac, surrounding the Earth, so there are five points in the Zodiac that can be celebrated when conjoined by the Sun or Venus, so there’s four more smaller celebrations usually every three months, except when there’s a big festival. about every nine months.

The mythos of both cycles can dwell on themes of death, rebirth, struggle, loss, fear, and joy. Hermes is a psychopomp and holder of great wisdom. His thrice-yearly backwards journey provide a means to serialize the events in classic and modern myth. The Venus myths alternately focus on male and female manifestations of the hunter god and the lover god as they are born, have epic lives, then die, reborn as the other god form.

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Is There a Place for Augustine?

November 16th, 2011 · christianity

The fallacy of modern Christianity by Rev. Ed Schneider

I don’t know that it’s necessary to read this particular essay if you’re already familiar with Augustine. The Reverend Ed here is attacking all those “feel good” churches with their sophomoric theology and hippie mentality that say that we are fundamentally okay and just need God to make us “greater”. Reverend Ed finds this offensive and logically inconsistent with humankind’s long and inglorious history of bad behavior. We are broken, according to Reverend Ed, and require God to make us whole, if we’re properly and sincerely debased before Him.

Personally, I think Augustine was a sadist and a jackass, but he did make a number of big plays for the home team, so we must look to him as an architect of our modern culture. Augustine was the creator of the doctrine of “Original Sin” that says that humans are not just prone to error, but genetically cursed from the very beginning, and that further we require the gifts of the Roman church to heal us from this inherent flaw. This came up because there were congregations after Nicea who taught that humans are fundamentally okay, and Augustine needed to put a stop to that before folks started thinking that they could do away with Church participation.

In a different context, say if you were to create a new religion from scratch and could pick and choose any doctrines or theologies you felt appropriate, which stance is better: “I’m the only one who can help you” or “I’m okay, you’re okay”? Which is better at attracting participants? Which is better at keeping them?

Perhaps this just an opening gambit that must be combined with other techniques in order to snag the interest and passion of those who learn of it. If so, does it matter which doctrine one holds?

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Fellowship: Fundamental Idea and Principles

November 1st, 2011 · fellowship

I would like to start something big and ambitious, something that just might save the world. Before I go into detail about what I’m visualizing as the full fruition of the idea, I will first share the fundamental reasons for even considering going down this path.

The Principles

Between my personal explorations and the work I did researching my book, I have long known that religion and spirituality encompass vastly richer and more powerful tools and benefits to the human mind and psyche than most modern expressions of religion provide. My fundamental goal in this project is to provide an easy means for modern urban and suburban and rural people to learn and practice a significantly deeper and more meaningful religion that could potentially encompass and greatly extend the religion they have now.

My view is that religion is a set of techniques and practices that we use to encounter and experience the sacred in our lives. Additionally, the sacred is much more than mythology and authority: it includes all things true and right that we most admire — our relationships with family and friends, our memories of pride and success, and those places where we realize the vast majesty of the world around us. We naturally attend to sacred things today without necessarily recognizing them in a religious context, such as: patriotism, hiking clubs, interest groups, sports contests, movies, and rock concerts.

People today naturally seek out and yearn for the feelings and experiences provided by religion, and can often suffer from cruel addictions, depression, and suicide when these feelings prove unattainable. When people practice doing something in their imagination before they do it, they perform that task better. Religion can provide another dimension of this same process, enabling people to perform their tasks with pride and care.

Hope and optimism don’t grow out of the dismal depths of despair, but require a spark of light to reach the heart. The fullness of religion shows people the way to create their own sparks of light whenever needed. It creates a lattice along which we can climb from sadness into joy. Most importantly, religion applies equally to everyone and can provide to each person a sense of location, of belonging, of love, and of life.

The Idea

The goal of this project is to build an educational organization that brings an expanded understanding of religion and spirituality to a general American audience.

This expanded understanding would come from participatory ritual, workshops, classes, and individualized guidance. Books, podcasts, DVDs, and workbooks would be available to teach specific concepts as needed. Several “pathways”, or guided initiatory sequences, would provide a quick, compressed introduction into the various techniques and tools used in the various rituals and workshops. Extended apprenticeships would bring the lay practitioner into the fold of anointed teachers.

Participants would gather periodically to celebrate the spirit of the city and state, the spirits of the land and water, and the spirits of the participating families. From the larger body of participants, smaller groups would regularly meet to celebrate a specific spirit: a common family, a common watershed or neighborhood, or a common vocation. In their homes, participants would create memorial hearths for the perpetual celebration of the house spirit, the ancestor spirits, and the favored group spirits (such as state and local spirits, sports teams, welcome guests, and so on).  At these memorial hearths, participants would perform daily and weekly ceremonies to honor and celebrate these guiding lights.

Ultimately, the goal of the organization would be to provide for each participant the expectation of finding the sacred in all places, the understanding of how to discern and communicate with the sacred, and tools for honoring, or making sacred, any location, activity, or gathering of people. More fundamentally, the purpose of doing all of this is to shift general public expectation from looking to an external authority to name and honor the sacred, to anticipating that each person should and must name and honor the sacred in their own way and their own time.

In principle and organization, this organization should be open and accepting of people all other religious and non-religious backgrounds. In execution, this takes the form of honoring mythology without adopting theology or accepting the authority of any other system of religion.

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Evolution and Faith

August 25th, 2011 · christianity, culture, media

Normally, this is a topic I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I also don’t get into arguments with people who claim the world is flat, doomed to end, or cursed by demons. It’s simply not worth the bother: folks don’t come to these conclusions through logic, so logic isn’t going to dislodge them.

Evolution, like gravity or sunshine, seems to be one of those concepts that is obvious once described and appears to impact every living thing we see on the planet. Only a great fool would deny the facts of evolution: so why are there so many people so hot to deny the reality of evolution?

Helpfully, Paula Kirby succinctly explains who is most upset by evolution, and why it upsets them. The whole piece is really good: I highly recommend it to anyone on either side of the argument. In it, she writes:

Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things – but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful.

Having been raised in a liberal, Anglican environment, I heard many men and women of unquestionable faith and civic service who clearly articulated their belief that evolution had no impact on their faith in God, the Bible, or the Church. I have since read many articles and books by folks who easily accept the obvious truth of evolution without the slightest drag or drain upon their faith. However, Kirby writes: “to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject.”

But this is only really true for someone who takes the Bible literally, who is unable to view the creation stories as metaphor or myth. As Kirby points out:

Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.

In short, evolution is a threat to Christians who feel that it invalidates their faith. Either it describes a God unfamiliar to them — if not diametrically opposed to the one their Church teaches — or it obliterates the fundamental purpose of their faith.

Kirby’s first point, that evolution couldn’t be the tool of a loving, compassionate God, is easily disposed of through a simple theological observation. The Christian God is supposedly beyond knowledge and comprehension, so just how could we know that using evolution isn’t an act of compassion and love? Isn’t it unreasonable to expect that what we might view as cruelty and capriciousness is seen through a similar perspective by a God that sees all, and knows all.

One could even make the point that the God of the Old Testament is hardly a paragon of kindness or charity. From the destruction of the world in a flood, to tricking the Jews into slavery in Egypt or later wandering in the desert for forty years, or the near indiscriminate killing of Egyptians and Canaanites, the God of the Old Testament was a cruel, harsh master and a deadly foe. It’s not difficult to make the leap that evolution — cruel, brutal, and callous — was one of His master plans.

Redemption has problems of surprising antiquity. St. Augustine of Hippo devised the concept of Original Sin requiring redemption as a reaction to Pelagian heresy, which held that people are inherently good, and fully capable of leading moral, productive lives outside of the Church. Conversely, Augustine insisted that people are inherently evil and incapable of self-guidance without the rites and leadership of the Church, and this was all due to the sin of Adam and Eve. This argument was never fully settled, and still comes up to this day. The need for, even the relevance of, the redemption provided through the sacrifice of the Christ, is different depending on which kind of Christianity one follows and how literally true one expects the Bible to be.

Again, if the literal truth of the Bible is insisted upon, evolution is a great wrecking ball set upon one’s faith. Kirby’s essay does an outstanding job of indicating this source of fear and distaste for evolution among American evangelicals, but it does a disservice to the greater majority of Christians who have no such problem, dismissing them as unwilling or unable to peer deeply into evolutionary theory. For those with a more nuanced view of the Bible — one that allows for poetry and mythology to occupy those pages — evolution never comes near to the fundamental theology or beliefs.

It is not evolution, but the theology and beliefs of a small minority of Christians under the rubric of very recently established denominations, that have a problem. Evolution is a fact, endlessly and effortlessly observed. Christianity, in general, is under no attack or even the slightest discomfort due to the scientific study of biological processes. Many Christians can, have, and will continue to be true and faithful to their traditions while accepting evolution, because it simply never intersects theology. Such Christians are neither misinformed or shallow in their thinking — neither are they looking for reasons to be upset.

On the other hand, there is a rather generous history of philosophers, theologians, and teachers who have repeatedly pointed out that the truth of the Bible is metaphorical, mythic, and poetic — who have stressed that not only is the Bible not literally true, but that grave danger comes to those who would attempt to interpret is as such. The Catholics, especially, are happy to report that it is the teachings and traditions of the Church that are the core of their beliefs. For those whose version of Christianity has abandoned the traditions and teachings of the Catholic church, who have dismissed the Apostolic tradition and set aside the art and beauty the Catholics preserved, only the Bible remains. In order for the authority of the Bible to trump the authority of Church leadership, this Bible must contain only the unquestionably literal truth.

I have a different, if harsher, explanation for why evolution threatens some Christians. Such folks hold such a vague and shallow faith that they are perpetually in danger of having their whole world view shattered by inconvenient facts. Consequently, they tend to be irrational and reactionary simply to keep their tissue-thin theology from completely disintegrating.

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Religion and Deity

June 21st, 2011 · culture, metaphysics

I posted a link to my Facebook page, with a snarky heading and comment, and this drew some attention. Particularly, it drew me into a brief discussion with my friend, Litch. The link in question was to an essay about what Atheists get wrong about religion.

I said: “This essay clearly breaks out the fundamental issue I have with modern, popular atheism that conflates Christianity with all religion and the Judeo-Christian deity as the entirety of global theology.” I backed this up with a comment, reading: ” Most atheists I’ve talked to are really opposed to Christianity and Christian theology, without any recognition or understanding of the varieties of religious experience. Atheism in America is less about theology than it is a political or philosophical choice to oppose the dominiant form of religious expression.

Litch comments: “I’m pretty sure #4. Religion Requires a Belief in a Supernatural God, is true. All his examples are very edge case, I mean Jains have gods in drag, most buddhists are theists, and poke at confucians long enough and you get to the emperor is god in classic confucianism or the 3 immortals in more modern versions.”

Abruptly, I return with a reply that was not as well thought out as I would have liked. I said, “Two problems: (A) The term “supernatural God” implies a Judeo-Christian theological stance. The idea of what a deity is and where you find it is far more varied than this allows. Personally, I don’t look for a J-C style All-God, because I think that the idea is theologically and philosophically invalid. I have no need for ‘supernatural’ gods. However, I still see natural gods in the sun and the earth, oceans and forests, in groups of people and in the lay of the land. Deity is simply how we humans emotionally interact with non-human elements of the world around us. (B) The whole point of Buddhism is that we humans achieve what we do through our own actions. There are deistic Buddhists, but that’s because Buddhism is a system that overlays cleanly over nearly any faith, because it has no gods built in. I know quite a few atheist Buddhists.”

To which, Litch said: “I suspect if you ask most atheist buddhists they’d describe their beliefs as a ‘philosophy’ rather than a ‘religion’ and if you follow up any belief structure someone describes as a religion you’ll find a god hiding under one of the rocks. But that quickly gets into a pointless exercise of dualing definitions.”

“The question of the ‘supernatural’ seems to have a bit more meat on it but it also gets definitional, is the supernatual just that which is unexplained by science or that which is a priori inexplicable,” he said.

I replied: “Going back over these comments, I realize I missed an important point. You argue that a god must be at the root of any religion. My research shows me that religion is a process and a complex of human (mostly emotive) experiences. Fundamentally, religion requires no deity of any sort: one can be religious about ancestors, movie stars, sports heroes, or poets. Patriotism is a religion of nationality. Boosterism is a kind of social religion. Deity is a common and convenient mechanism for interacting with things that don’t have faces or hands, but it is a later development, not the core of religion.”

It occurs to me later, that I had a great example. Time is a religion. Every supplicant who questions the time of day can perform a brief prayer of observance to any nearby watch or clock and have their question answered with such a precision as to completely resolve the issue without doubt. The clock is not Time: if the clock breaks, time will go on, but the supplicant must procure another oracle of Time.

According to modern Science, time is a fundamental axis of the universe, and one with a single direction of travel. It is not a force or a line or even a point. Time is everywhere for all things simultaneously.

We are thinking creatures that pride ourselves in being able to compensate for time. We schedule and predict and Gantt chart our lives for many years into our respective futures. How we spend our days, our years, our summers — are questions all intimately familiar to all of us because we are always making room for time.

Is Time a God? We shout at Time, we negotiate with Time: given the degree to which our lives and behaviors are bound by time, Time seems to be quite the sacred element in our lives: it is part of everything, yet undying and supernatural. In Latin, they would say: Tempus fugit, and momento mori: “time flies” and “remember death”. Does an obsessive concern and a handful of aphorisms rise to the level of “mythology”: does it make Time a deity?

The Early Romans would have had no trouble equating Time with deity, with building altars and performing ritual at specific times of day. They used the Sun, the Moon, and the stars to mark the passage of time and conscientiously kept a complex calendar of sacred ritual days.

People today can’t think of Time as a God, because the dominant culture is unable to look beyond the Graeco-Catholic idea of God as only being something you can’t see or understand. We understand Time quite well, and have been tracking and predicting it with great regularity for thousands of years. We just don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is.

I’m not aware of any major cult site for a god who was worshiped as Time; all the same, I know that many cultures have chosen to worship Time in their own way. I’d expect that very few Americans would cop to worshiping Time, but would instead cloak their ritual in the garb of Responsibility or Duty. The idea that reading a clock is a religious activity probably wouldn’t make sense to most Americans, nor would they comprehend Time as a god. Instead of heeding the Sun, now we ignore the heavens, and use clocks and calendars instead. We even legislate away inconvenient sunsets. If Time is a god, we certainly no longer respect or observe Time as such. And yet we continue to depend on it.

So do we define Time as a god? Is attention to time, the worship of it? How do we distinguish these? Does someone have to proclaim their actions as willfully religious, or can we generalize from behaviors observed in humans around the world? From an anthropological perspective, it is very clearly religious behavior, even if the subjects themselves would disagree.

For the sake of the discussion, I would say that the worship, or observance, of Time goes on without conscious recognition of Time as a distinct entity — and is therefore a process of learned action and not of divine interaction, real or imagined. It’s a religion, without a god.

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Personal Spiritual Sovereignty

March 24th, 2011 · christianity, history, Janus in Nicea

Among many other great cultural losses that occurred after Christianity was made the exclusive mode of religious expression allowed in the Empire, was the idea of personal spiritual sovereignty. There was once a great diversity of theology and practice. People were not exclusive to any one church any more than people today are exclusive to any one restaurant. There were many dimensions of spiritual practice: familial, locative, therapeutic, divinatory, and social. All of these together described the faith of the early Roman citizen.

It was expected that each person had at the center of their soul an intelligence that dictated the methods and types of religious practice one would follow. Each person was responsible for cultivating their own set of spiritual experiences, and encouraged to explore religion as a means of personal enrichment.

When Christianity became the exclusive mode of faith, personal spiritual sovereignty was replaced by nationalistic fervor. Those who continued to seek out personal spiritual experiences were derided as ‘heretics’ or ‘gnostics’ before being cast into flames after torment and torture.

The national realm does have its spiritual aspect, but it was unfortunate that this one dimension of spiritual experience became the exclusive means of spiritual expression. This was not the deliberate result of some cruel conspiracy, but was the unintended consequence of the gradual slide toward totalitarianism experienced by the Roman Empire on the whole. Some elements of personal and familial spirituality were eventually included into the larger system of faith, but always in a manner that was subjugate to the national interests.


Excerpt from Janus in Nicea: Origins of the Roman Imperial Christian Cult by Christopher Burton. The complete book is available here in print and e-book form.

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Book: Janus in Nicea

March 21st, 2011 · christianity, history, Janus in Nicea, media

Quite a milestone was reached last week when I published my book, Janus in Nicea.  I had started this blog some years ago when I realized that the state of my study of Early Church history was such that it needed a home away from Live Journal. After continued work in it, I received a great number of responses from friends who urged me to write a book.

Well, after three years of work, here it is.

Writing a book is a lot of work. I think if I had realized how much work it was, I might not have started. However, I’m very pleased with the results. Readers of this blog (and my LJ blog) may recognize some of the essays in my book, but there is still more than enough novel material to make the read worth it.

Please note that, in addition to the fine paperback version of the book, that you can also download an ‘e-copy’, suitable for your tablet readers (and a 1/4th the price of the paperback), and get to reading right away.

I’d like to take a minute to thank my wife and daughter for their patience with me while I worked on a seemingly interminable project. I’d also like to recommend lulu.com for anyone who wants to publish a book, calendar, CD, DVD, magazine, or brochure. The site is very easy to use with lots of helpful documentation everywhere. Projects are free to set up and are generated ‘on-demand’, so only  the copies needed will be made, so there’s no huge overhead or remainders to deal with.

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