Proto-On Death and Sacrifice

Life cannot continue without death. The ancients recognized this, and it is one of the reasons why they made sacrifice, especially animal sacrifice. The greater the animal, the greater the sacrifice. A sacrifice was either given completely to a deity or to the earth herself; or it was partially consumed by humans. Either way, it continued to provide life by way of its death and the cycle continued. Therefore, death was not only recognized as the beginning, it was shown to be the beginning by way of the action of sacrifice.

The monotheist has always striven to short-circuit the process and to blind people to this understanding. The ancient Hebrews did it by making sacrifice an appropriation, a substitute, for human frailties and sins. The Christians did it by claiming Jesus as the final sacrifice. Islam, generally, practices no sacrifice at all.

Today Christian fanatics are determined that they will live to be taken up in a rapture (since we are in the end-times, according to them) and, thus, never die, again short-circuiting the process. Indeed, they are just haughty enough to believe that they somehow deserve to avoid death, by virtue of being the last generation, while everyone else in all of history (including Jesus himself) has had to taste death! But, as each one of these modern-day fanatical “prophets” die, one by one, history will record that fact, and the cycle will still continue as it always has. Even so, I still actually hope that Jack Van Impe really is the “final prophet”, as he claims to be, because, frankly, we don’t need any more like him (or the rest of them, for that matter). Indeed, if endings are what they all seek, then may this be the final prophetic age.

Proto-On the Soul

During the past week I have had the occasion to have to endure Christian preaching at two separate funeral services. Having been a ministerial candidate myself many years ago I can actually sympathize with a preacher who really does not know the deceased and, yet, has to come up with something to say. Even so, my endurance was early tested when  this particular minister began, lightly, articulating the concept of the tripartite (human) being. Yes, he confidently stated, we are creatures of three distinct parts; body, soul and spirit, mirroring “God’s” nature of a trinitarian being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Never mind that this is patently illogical, this is what is widely taught in Christian circles. This concept is most directly taken from the New Testament passage of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 which reads “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). Thus, an entire Christian doctrine is based on this verse almost exclusively.

I have entitled this “Proto-On the Soul” for the simple reason that I do not wish to delve extensively, in any detail, with the concept of the soul. I may well do that at some later point. After all, it has already been done multiple times by other authors before me, including ancient ones. One excellent treatise can be found on-line at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/. This article, entitled “Ancient Theories of Soul”, authored by Hendrik Lorenz, lays out in excellent detail the basic understandings of the concept of soul held by the most important ancient writers, most especially Platon (Plato), in Phaedo and Republic. Needless to say (or, perhaps, it is necessary to say), nowhere is the idea of the tripartite being postulated among these ancient intellectuals although it is postulated that the soul itself can be divided into three parts, but not separate, independent, parts. In essence, if we read the New Testament passage literally, as those who hold to the Christian tripartite concept do, we are actually reading a (perhaps deliberate) corruption of Platonic understanding.

To make things even more clear, it is patently illogical to posit that both a soul and a spirit inhabit a living human body, but this is what the tripartite concept stipulates. First of all, definitions provide the detail necessary to make this clear. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for example, “spirit” is defined as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms” while “soul” is defined as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life”. Not much difference, right? In fact, there is NO difference. So, to posit that there is a difference between spirit and soul is illogical. But this is what Christians generally do in order to always place their beliefs above anything else; logic, reason, science, evidence – anything. After all, the Bible has to be infallible or their faith is in vain. That would be like us Pagans accepting Thale’s belief that magnets were alive because they moved on their own when coming into contact with one another as “gospel” and an infallible belief that we MUST accept or be damned. Just because something is animate does not mean that it is alive. if that were the case then we would have to say that machines or robots are alive. What an idiotic concept that would be! The concept of the tripartite human being is equally idiotic.

Inherent in Platon’s writings here runs a distinct train of thought, although it is not easy to notice if one does not pay attention. Platon makes a point that I will put into my own words. Beliefs are a symptom of a polluted soul, a soul that has not risen to excellence. This, because beliefs are beneath the aspirations of the good soul. Belief, therefore, is a far lower level of cognition than understanding. Humans have a more advanced soul than other living things. Base beliefs and emotions come mainly from the flesh (Phaedo). And beliefs are basically synonymous with baser desires, such as the desire for sex or the desire to accumulate money (Republic).

But, Christianity is a religion based almost entirely on “belief”. It is your belief and your child-like faith that matters, not your logic or reason. THIS, in fact, is where Christianity goes wrong and turns every ancient concept upside-down. As a Pagan who has an understanding of logic and reason and who does not place belief above evidence I sometimes feel sorry for the Christian and other monotheist who has to hold to vain belief, because they literally have nothing else. When death comes, would you rather understand or believe? For me, understanding is far better.

Yes, Jesus Was Real

Hard to believe, I know, but apparently this just has to be flatly stated so there can be no mistake made here. Jesus WAS real (although he was not quite the person depicted in the gospels). I know that I just made almost every atheist on the planet mad now by saying that because they have this peculiar penchant for believing that he could not have been real (and think they can prove it), but I don’t care. So, anyone who wishes to argue with me about it, don’t bother because, again, I don’t care. It does not bother me for one solid minute whether you (that means anyone) believe he was a real person or not. I am not here to convince you. So you can stomp around and hiss and squeal and cry about it all you want. Go sit in your little safe corner and dispense with the idea that you are going to argue me into submission. You won’t.

Now that I have got that out of the way (and got your attention), the logical question in any reader’s mind here has to be just what provoked that little diatribe. Well, you see, it all started when I posted something on Facebook about being tired of every Tom, Dick, and Harry writing books proposing to answer questions like this when they clearly do not have the training to properly evaluate the evidence that exists. Case in point, the relatively new book “No Meek Messiah” by Michael Paulkovich. Here is the statement I posted with reference to his book:

“So very tired of just anyone and everyone coming up with their own “theories” on this subject – the author, Paulkovich, is neither a theologian nor a real scholar in the field of theology (he is an aerospace engineer of something….). His analysis is deeply flawed because his method is not based on sound understanding of the documentation. He begins with an assumption, something always to be avoided if utilizing logic or reason, that just because we don’t see references to Jesus written by an astounding number of authors, then Jesus must not have really been real. In actuality, as I have read the reviews of this book, this part of his thesis is only a small part of his overall book and, therefore, it is unfair to characterize his book as emphasizing this, as is done here [in the article I posted along with my statement]. Be that as it may, this analysis is still deeply flawed for the above reasons. Frankly, some of the so-called “authors” listed are believed to have, perhaps, been fictional too – Apollonius of Tyana being, perhaps, most notable among them. The entire thing is an argument from absence, a logical fallacy. As I have heard it said “Should’a, would’a, could’a”. Such an argument is meaningless. If you want to know who the historical Jesus really may have been (for he really did exist) there are a number of scholarly books that can be consulted, including my own “Apocalypse and Armageddon”. Such “research” as this should be left to real theologians and historical scholars, not to those who have no background concerning whatever they might read.”

Now, to be even more fair, I don’t really like to counter another author’s hard work (for writing books can be quite taxing) unless he/she really merits it. The fact of the matter is that Paulkovich actually asks a good question in that he wonders why there are so few first-hand accounts of Jesus. BUT, the real truth is that he would not be asking the question in the first place if he had proper theological and historical training. Otherwise, he would already know the answer. To sum up what the answer would be, basically, it’s because; (1) we have so few records still extant from that time period so that, even if Jesus had been written about more, we would never know it because so much has been destroyed. (2) historians write about what they want to write about. They focus on what THEY want to focus on. No historian writes about everything and everybody even if they do know about them. Just because I know who Jimmy Carter is does not require me to write something about him. And (3) good historians utilize source material. They don’t just start writing willy-nilly off the cuff making stuff up without a reference. This means that they get their materials from either first hand sources or each other, i.e., other historians. And even then one historian will not utilize all of the material from another one. if they did history would be boring indeed. It would be endlessly repeated. SO, the answer as to why any number of people would not have written about Jesus even if they knew something about him is basically “because they either did and the material has been lost or because they didn’t want to”. It’s really that simple.

If you read that which had been written about him, and also about Christianity, during the earliest two centuries CE you will find that, frankly, he, and it, did not really attract much attention during those about two-hundred years. Nobody cared about Jesus or Christianity. And when they did write about him/it the remarks were usually quite disparaging, again showing that they simply did not care about the subject. The Roman mind simply believed it was a fad and that it would soon just go away on its own. Only when they began to see that it wasn’t going away did they start to take real notice of it and begin to write very much about it.

By now the reader should be already saying, quietly in his/her mind, “but you are off subject. Wasn’t the question whether Jesus was real or not?” Correct. Having pointed out that the above question as to why so many had not written about Jesus was actually a genuinely good question – for a novice with little or no training in history and/or theology, it is indeed time to move on to the primary question of whether Jesus was a real person or not. That, however, is actually NOT a good question. In fact, it is an unfathomably idiotic question. Here is the reason why. In reading any given history (and I am speaking to the novice as well as the seasoned scholar) one does not question the reality of those mentioned in said history unless one has an agenda for so doing. If you read about the exploits of Alexander the Great, for example, you don’t suddenly stop somewhere along the way and think, “Hey, this guy is unbelievable. I’m not sure he was really real. Nobody could have done all these things. In fact, I’m sure he wasn’t real and I am going to base my entire outlook on that ‘fact'”. When we read the Q’uran, as another example, we don’t stop and say “Hey, this Muhammad guy just doesn’t seem real. I don’t believe he was. I think I will base my entire outlook on that”. No, this simply does not happen. So the real truth is that if one does not question the reality of people like Alexander or Muhammad then there is simply no good reason to question the reality of Jesus – none! There is actually just as much evidence for one as there is for another. And even if there might conceivably be more evidence for the life of, say, Alexander, than the other two, it doesn’t matter. One does not reject the existence of a person in history just because you don’t see “enough” evidence from historical writings. It just doesn’t work that way. So, I’m sorry atheists (and others), your thesis that Jesus was not a real person is simply incorrect because there is more than enough evidence (and I don’t have to go into all of it because I already have in “Apocalypse and Armageddon”) to show this.

The actual question to be asked is not whether Jesus existed as a person or not, but who Jesus really was (and, if you are among the faithful, who is he to you personally). And the fact of the matter is that there are any number of books out there by wonderful scholars proposing to answer this very question in one way or another. As scholars, theologians, and historians, these authors look at the question from various viewpoints. These books, for the most part, are well worth reading. I utilized several of them in writing my own previously referenced book (remember, that’s part of what historians do).

So, please forgive me if I seem a bit annoyed whenever anyone asks the question as to whether Jesus existed as a real person or not and, sometimes on top of that, they won’t even bother to accept my direction to read scholarly books on the subject (the horror of having to read an actual book!!!). I’m sorry for those who have to have everything handed to them and explained to them individually while they try to argue every single point. I am simply not going to engage in that. But I am most sorry for the atheist who has this as his/her foundation – that there was no person named Jesus that the Christian religion was built around (some even maintaining that the Romans deliberately made up Christianity as a way to control the masses) – because as long as they maintain this as foundational then their entire world-view is subject to destruction. They are even more to be pitied than the Christian who builds his/her entire theology on the existence of an esoteric Christ who could not have existed at all. THAT is the Jesus who never really was, although the real one tried to be that person to an extent (Yes, you can see the progression). But one would have to have read much more about history than I am willing to provide in this blog post in order to understand what I mean here. Suffice it to say (again), there are any number of books out there that can be consulted on the matter, including my own “Apocalypse and Armageddon”. So, if you really want to KNOW, then read some of them. But, please, above all things, don’t argue from a position of ignorance.

END NOTE: Just to make this a little more clear, it should be noted that Paulkovich lists 126 persons who, apparently, did not write anything about Jesus but whom he thinks should have. That’s a lot of people. But the frank fact of the matter is that, outside of Christian sources, including the New Testament and other books not included in the canon, there were at least thirteen ancient sources that can be listed. They are Josephus (although, as I showed in “Apocalypse and Armageddon”, most scholars today believe the reference to him and Pilate are later interpolations, and I concur with this), Tacitus, the philosopher Mara bar Sarapion, Suetonius (always a Christian favorite), The Babylonian Talmud, Pliny the Younger, the emperor Trajan (indirectly), Thallus, Phlegon of Tralles, Lucian of Samosata, and, most important of all in my view, Porphyry, Celsus and the emperor Julian (the Apostate). Conversely, for the sake of emphasis, the number of ancient sources for Pontius Pilate (whom no one argues did not exist) are much fewer – four in all. They are Josephus (again, in an apparent later interpolation), Tacitus, Philo of Alexandria and the Babylonian Talmud (and perhaps others). AND, if this is not enough, it is well known that Pilate corresponded with the philosopher Seneca (whom Paulkovich also thinks should have written something about Jesus) because we have letters from Pilate to Seneca. However, we have no mention of Pilate in anything written by Seneca even though they clearly knew one another. Case closed.

Questions Any Religion Ought to be able to Answer (For You)

Having taken part in a rather extensive discussion about the very definition of Paganism and who we are as a movement (and generally getting nowhere), I came to the realization that it might be profitable for me to pose a list of questions that ought to be answered by any legitimate religion. As I worked on this list of questions I easily made the observation that Paganism, for the most part, fails to even try to answer most of these questions, and that became a concern to me. I am not saying that the answers are not found within Paganism; I am saying that most of today’s Pagan movements fail to offer answers directly to these questions, leaving the individual to try to answer them on his/her own. That, frankly, is a sad statement and one that should cause any serious Pagan to contemplate his/her place within the Pagan movement.

Equally sad was the overall fluff I found on the internet when this query was typed into search engines, actually coming from well-established religious movements, mostly Christian. It’s not that the various Christian denominations fail to answer these questions (for they do); it’s that, on the internet, at least, they fail to do so unless one looks specifically at their denominational doctrines, which takes more effort than most people are willing to put forth. Thus, their fundamental questions are also left unanswered. Personally, I was glad I had formulated my own questions before I did any internet research on the subject. But, please keep in mind that these questions, substantive as they are, are not all of the questions that could be posed. But, I think, these questions should be answered by any legitimate religion at a minimum.

I am also no tat this time posing answers here. That will come at a later time. The questions are as follows:

  1. Who are we? Who am I?
  2. What is our/my place in the universe?
  3. Was the world/universe created or did it simply come into being? Or, did it always exist?
  4. Who do we hope to be?
  5. What do we strive to accomplish?
  6. What is our hope/our purpose for existing? What is our place in nature/the universe?
  7. Is there something/anything beyond me/us?
  8. What is existence? Why do I/we exist? What is our purpose? What is the meaning of life?
  9. Does deity exist? If so, in what form? What is deity like?
  10. What governs the universe/nature, deity or scientific/natural laws? Does deity influence or control cosmic/natural events (does deity control the weather and/or other natural forces) or do universal/natural laws? Can/does deity override the cosmos/nature on occasion?
  11. Does deity care about me/us? If so, how do we recognize this?
  12. How do I/we relate to deity? How does deity relate to me/us?
  13. How/why do we pray? Is there a right/wrong way? What constitutes prayer?
  14. Is there life after death? If so, what form does it take?
  15. Does my/our life/death matter? If so, in what way?
  16. What happens to us when we die?
  17. Is there a place of eternal bliss? Of eternal suffering?
  18. What is our standard of ethics? How is it codified? From whence do our ethics come?
  19. What is our moral authority? What are the rules of the game of life?
  20. Do we adhere to a doctrine “set in stone” or is it more fluid?
  21. How/to what extent is personal inspiration (or UPG) taken into account?
  22. Which is more important – belief or conduct? How should they interact with one another in my/our daily walk?
  23. What constitutes salvation (enlightenment)? Why do we need salvation (enlightenment)? What must one do to be saved (enlightened)?
  24. Does salvation (enlightenment) require a savior or can one reach it on one’s own? Is there only one way to reach salvation (enlightenment) or might there be multiple ways/paths? If multiple, are all ways/paths equally valid? If not, why not? How do we determine this?
  25. Is there such a thing as “damnation”? If so, in what form might it take? If not, what happens to the souls of those who were evil?
  26. What is the relationship between soul and flesh/spirit and matter? Is the flesh/matter sinful/evil? If so, what must I/we do about it? If not, why is it good?
  27. How should I/we relate to humanity? Is there a point at which I/we should reject/withdraw from overall society? For whom/what am I/are we responsible and to what extent? To whom am I/are we accountable? How are responsibilities to be carried out?
  28. What is right and what is wrong? How do we define each? How do we determine right from wrong?
  29. Why do good and evil exist? What form might good and evil take? From whence do good and evil come?
  30. Is there an end of things or do we go on forever? Is time linear or cyclical? Is there a beginning and an ending or does everything simply repeat?
  31. What is true and what is false? How do we determine that?
  32. To what extent do we, as an organization, interact with society? Where might boundaries be drawn?
  33. What is the acceptable method for attracting adherents? Do we proselytize? If so, to what extent?
  34. What incentives exist for members? Will becoming a member better me or my life? What’s in it for me?
  35. Are there rites, rites of passage, or initiations that one must/should go through? If so, what are they and what form do they take? If not, why not?
  36. What is the standard of conduct/belief for lay members/for leadership?
  37. What sort of hierarchy exists within this movement?
  38. How are we organized? Is there authority? If so, what credentials are necessary for authority?
  39. What is the method by which one becomes a credentialed authority? What credentials must leaders have?
  40. How much authority do leaders have over me/us and my/our conduct?
  41. To what standard must leaders adhere in order to remain in authority? Is there an appeals process for those who fail to uphold said standards and what form might it take?
  42. How do we know that anyone’s authority is in any way sanctioned by deity?
  43. Who decides in matters of religious disputes? How does this process work?
  44. Who is/should be excluded/outcast? How do we determine this?
  45. Why reject anyone? Why not accept everyone regardless of belief or practice?
  46. What are the punishments, if any, for improper conduct/belief? How might they be carried out?
  47. Is there an appeal process? If so, what form does it take?
  48. What is the history of our movement? Is it new or old and well-established? Is it based on new concepts or old precepts? How much history/what history can we claim as our own?
  49. What historical personages do/should we venerate? Are there role-models whom we do/should look up to as standards for our conduct. If so, who are/were they?
  50. Do we have a holy book? If not, what do we rely on as a guide? Do we think literally or allegorically when seeking guidance?

The above questions having been posed (without answers) it seemed equally important to me, given current trends in our modern society, to pose just a few questions that should by no means be answered by religion. These questions should be outside of the realm of religious authority at all times.

  1. What form of politics is right? What form of government is best?
  2. For whom should I vote? What leader should I support?
  3. What political party should I adhere to?
  4. What economic system is right?
  5. Is any nation, including our own, “special”?
  6. Has/does god/the gods punish us as a nation or a people?
  7. What animals are good/not good?
  8. What race or ethnicity is superior/inferior? Are there superior/inferior ethnicities/races?
  9. What is one allowed to eat/drink?
  10. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? (Those who have studied religion will relish the poetic irony here. And I always wondered if the number would be different if they were talking about demons as opposed to angels, but I digress).

Refutation of “Yes, Jesus Really Existed and He Was Born on December 25”

It seems that the shrill screams of Christians trying to prove their points get louder by the day. This is especially true among American evangelicals who are so sure that their Lord is about to return with judgment and the end of the world as we know it that they, as I have observed, will literally say ANYTHING, no matter how ludicrous, to try to prove themselves and their points to be correct. And the ignorant feed on this slop as if they had not eaten for, well, forty days or so.

So, when I came across the article “Yes, Jesus Really Existed and He Was Born on December 25” by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (published in Patheos, Dec. 20, 2018), I knew that it was more of the same even if not written by an evangelical Christian (the article in question was written by a Roman Catholic priest, for those whom this is not obvious).

The article begins with, perhaps, a heartfelt sigh concerning the yearly attempts by atheists to, as he put it, prove that Jesus never existed. I do sympathize with this to some degree because even I get tired of the atheist line that Jesus, as a human being, never even existed and the atheist’s attempts to prove this. They engage, first of all, in a logical fallacy – attempting to prove a negative. This is considered a logical fallacy mainly because it is simply an argument from ignorance – “because I have no evidence that it is so, then it must not be so”.  One simply cannot argue from a position of ignorance and prove anything thereby. That said, we, as scholars, historians, and theologians, are expected to adhere to whatever evidence may exist as closely as we can because, frankly, it’s all we have to go by. Supposition, when employed, should always be defined as such and not labeled as “truth” or “proof”. So, again, I do sympathize with him here as I get tired of the straw arguments too.

Be that as it may, the author actually begins his argument by laying out that which seems to bother him the most about those who claim that Jesus never existed when he states that they argue that Jesus was never actually born, and certainly not on December 25th because that date was simply one on which Sol Invictus was said to have been born and the Roman celebration of Saturnalia took place. He has trouble with the idea that the early Christians supposedly took over this holyday as the birth date of their Lord because, well, the early Christians were actually Jews and, therefore, they would NEVER have even contemplated doing such a thing as it would have been anathema to their religious sensibilities. He claims to employ “common sense” when making this statement. But, as most of us know, “common sense” is hardly common. But I digress.

Then he goes on to state “It’s true that later missionary efforts “baptized” pagan sites and customs, but not during the early days.” Sadly, the good Father is engaging in a common historical fallacy here in that he is positing that the earliest church was somehow monolithic and similar, if not identical, throughout in belief and practice. This is certainly the picture that the church has drawn for us throughout the ages and that many still even to this day, contrary to historical and archaeological evidence, believe and propagate. But, it is simply not true. and I DO mean the earliest church when I make this statement. One only has to read my book “Apocalypse and Armageddon” (or even the book of Acts) to see this. The picture of the pristine, monolithic, perfect bride of Christ simply does not hold up to historical scrutiny.

From here he encourages us to “look at the evidence we do have. It’s called the New Testament, and far from the New Testament being a collection of far out fairy tales, it is rooted in something called “facts” and those facts can be put together to bring us to a conclusion which is true.” Really, the New testament is “rooted” in “facts”? Well, let’s see what “facts” the good Father will bring out, then.

  1. “We know that John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah was a priest who served in the temple at Jerusalem.” OK, perhaps. Given that the NT gospels are our only source for this (and I don’t think that any scholar would state that these gospels were written by actual historians) I would say that it is possible, but not actually “proven”. But, fine, I will give him this one.
  2. “While he was serving an angel appeared announcing that his wife Elizabeth would become pregnant and the boy’s name would be John.”  Well, OK, Zechariah may well have had such a vision, so I will even give the good Father this one even though I, for one, do not for one minute believe that an actual angel appeared before Zechariah.
  3. “The Jewish priests were on a schedule according to their family lineage because the priesthood was hereditary.  Zechariah was a priest of the class of Abijah. This is recorded in Luke 1:5. The class of Abijah was the eighth class of priests. This is recorded in Nehemiah 12:17. Each class served one week in the temple twice a year. The Abijah class took their turn during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri. On our calendar that would fall between 22 and 30 September. Count ahead nine months. We celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on 24 June.” Finally, a bit of actual historical fact! That is, if we accept that the books of Luke and Nehemiah can be trusted on these two points. I will give the good Father this entire layout – with the caveat that even here he provides us with the one piece of information that will completely debunk his thesis (and he know this, so he quickly makes his statement and moves on). We will get back to that because we must continue with his analysis first (tantalizing, I know, but necessary).
  4. “How does this connect with Jesus? When the angel comes to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus Christ after her assent, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother and wife of Zechariah) when Elizabeth was six months pregnant. This is recorded in Luke 1:36. If John the Baptist was conceived around 25 September, this means Jesus was conceived around March 25 –the date Christians celebrate the Annunciation–. Count forward nine more months and you get December 25 as the date for the birth of Jesus Christ.” It all seems completely cut and dry now, doesn’t it? Take Luke’s narrative as fact and, presto whammo, you have the complete picture wrapped up in a nice little Christmas bow. And the dates just happen to coincide with Roman Catholic observances – what a coincidence! He goes on to state that if the earliest Christians were simply trying to take over the celebration of Saturnalia or the birth of Sol Invictus they would have had to then go back and edit Luke to fit this narrative as well as falsifying the priestly schedule. Well, not quite, although it is interesting that he would even contemplate early Christians falsifying anything….
  5. Then the Father proceeds with the following “Oh yes, the other detail is that there are records that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 from the time of St Telephorus–the seventh pope who was born in 115 AD. The cult of the birth of Sol Invictus was not established until 274 AD, so if anybody was copying celebrations, it is more likely that the Roman Emperor Aurelian was copying the already existing feast of Christmas–the birthday of Christ the Unconquered Son of God–than the other way around.” Oh, goody! Some actual historical facts that we ought to be able to check! First, the first recorded celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th was actually in 336 CE during the reign of Constantine, some 221 years after the date that the good Father proposes. Be that as it may, he may indeed have knowledge of some tradition that I am not aware of here, so I will give him that one too since it really doesn’t matter when the birth of Jesus was fist celebrated. What does matter is that, in fact, multiple dates were proposed by the earliest Christians and the date of December 25th was not settled on and fixed as the correct date until the reign of Constantine (that is historical fact that anyone can check). And, so that this does not escape the reader’s attention, even if it was first celebrated on December 25th as early as about 115 CE – that is 115 years after the supposed birth year of Jesus. One hundred and fifteen years is a rather long time. Second, the cult of Sol Invictus, along with its feast day, was around long before Aurelian chose it as his favorite. And, do I really have to enumerate the many religious associations that had long existed concerning the date of December 25th for us? Please, don’t make me engage in such a tedious task! Suffice it to say that December 25th was seen as significant to many deities, some of whom had it as their birth dates long before the time when Jesus would have been born. It was, in so many words, an already well-established date of religious importance throughout the Mediterranean world. So the suggestion that Aurelian might have copied some aspect of Christianity here is laughable beyond belief! it’s patently absurd on its face!

So, now I have answered and refuted all of the good Father’s points – well, except for that one gnawing thing  that he stated early on that I alluded to but did not fully expound upon…. It is THE error that, in fact, completely sinks the good Father’s thesis – his insistence that he can prove that Jesus was born on December 25th. That error comes directly from the priestly calendar of service that the good Father mentions. Remember; he stated that the priests had to serve TWICE a year. Thus, if Zechariah was mandated to serve in his priestly duties toward the end of our modern month of September, he was also required to serve as such toward the end of our modern month of March. The good Father completely ignores modern scholarship by suggesting that the events written about in Luke MUST have happened in September rather than in March. Practically every scholar I have ever read has shown that shepherds would have been watching their flocks in the springtime (and they would have continued to do so throughout the summer too), NOT in the wintertime. That, by the way, is in Luke too. But the good Father ignores this for convenience sake. All of this, frankly, would mean that it was more likely that Jesus, not John the Baptizer, was born about June 24th.

But, there is still a flaw even in this scenario. See, the good Father, like many others, is assuming that Jesus was carried for the full nine months. It is indeed a reasonable conclusion to draw, but not a proven one by any stretch. In fact, there is absolutely nothing that indicates that Jesus was carried full-term. However, there are indications that Jesus, in fact, was only carried for seven months (I believe this is found in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, but my reference escapes me at the moment). Now, these were some EARLY Christians who wrote this, so it was an early tradition. Yet, over the centuries, Christians have come to assume that Jesus was carried full-term. Frankly, if he was carried only seven months the scenario falls apart without effort no matter when he was conceived.

Thus, far from proving anything, the good Father simply does what Christians have done from the very beginning – shuffled things around so that the narrative fits a cherished belief. The good Father has actually proven nothing whatsoever. He bases his entire argument on one gospel along with tradition and completely ignores scholarship that is in any way contrary to his cherished belief. The birth date of December 25th is simply erroneous just as the supposed birth year of Jesus is. Scholarship has actually dis-proven both already. Of course, his birth date only matters to the faithful. For the rest of us, not so much. Be that as it may, the modern celebration of Christmas has become a commercialized nightmare with little to no legitimacy as a religious observance in any case. So, again, only the faithful really care about its religious significance, or lack thereof, anyway.

The Real Problem With Religion

The problem with religion is not religion itself. I have seen several posts of late decrying religion as if it was bad in and of itself and suggesting that all would be a bed of roses if religion were eliminated. That is poppycock! The problem with religion is the scenario which allows monotheism to take root and develop. It goes basically like this: You are a polytheist, but you feel drawn strongly to only one particular god. Eventually you begin to feel special and think you are special to that god. Then you come to believe that your god has called you out to be separate from everyone else as his special prophet and you start developing legalisms that go along with what you think your god has allowed only you to understand. Since you are a prophet, your word is final and any deviation from it will result in punishment from your one true god, who suddenly is master of the universe as its creator. Since you are the prophet of the one true creator god, you are essentially worshipped, once you are able to establish a following (which is often difficult until you find a benefactor – a king or some other ruler). Because your benefactor helps you and tells everyone that they must adhere to your belief system, your religion spreads. all who are opposed are systematically persecuted, murdered, etc. It’s really that simple (or complicated, as it may be).

The End Times

The  end times scenario is amazingly simple for the fundamentalist Christian fanatic. The end, along with the return of Christ, WAS supposed to take place within the lifetimes of the first Apostles. But the Romans (directed by Satan) screwed that up by destroying Jerusalem and the temple there in 70 CE. Successive attempts to have the temple rebuilt  there went nowhere for over two-thousand years. During that time it was impossible for Christ to return, according to their scenario, because no nation of Israel (or Judea, for that matter) existed and there was no Jewish temple and no Jewish capital for Christ to reign from.

But now comes the modern era. Within our own lifetimes the modern state of Israel has been established and, recently, US President Donald J. Trump has officially moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. All that is left is for the new Jewish temple to be built on the temple mount where it used to stand. Then Christ can return in all his glory, fight the Battle of Armageddon, thus vanquishing his enemies, and all believers will live happily ever after worshipping him.

The problem with the fact that the US is nowhere mentioned in biblical prophecy is solved by this scenario in that it took the US President (actually two, since Truman was the first to recognize the new sate of Israel) to set the wheels in motion. So, even though the US is not directly mentioned, it is somehow indirectly alluded to because of this scenario.

Don’t be fooled! These people believe in this exact scenario with all their hearts (not their minds since no one using their intellect could believe such utter nonsense) and will accept anything, including that Donald J. Trump was selected by “God” himself for this very moment in time, in order to be assured that this “prophecy” will be fulfilled and their Lord will return. And if anyone else disbelieves, then they are of the devil!

In the end, as these fanatical types cheer Donald J. Trump and his ilk onward as they openly spout this nonsense, rest assured that they don’t care that such a war as they envision would not only destroy the new state of Israel but would cause the slaughter of untold numbers of Jewish people – all because it is somehow “God’s” will.

Religion and Politics Thoroughly Mixed in America

For the last couple of years I have been watching in disgust and horror as practically every religious TV program has slowly drifted toward a disgusting form of political propaganda. Most notable among these are “The Jim Bakker Show” and “Frances & Friends”. Now, don’t get me wrong here. As a polytheist I don’t really give a hoot what these charlatans believe or preach. I am well-versed in their several theologies, having been brought up in a Christian home, having studied my Bible from cover to cover when a kid – constantly reading it, and having obtained multiple theological degrees in the course of my lifetime. I know, and have always known, what they believe and what they are supposed to teach. I used to do it myself as I was once sort of an itinerant preacher. In fact, if I had continued on that path you would likely be seeing my face up there along with all the other cooks spouting end of the world psychosis as we speak. But I learned better. Yet, I digress.

The issue I have with even the Christian fanatic is not what they believe and teach as far as actual theology is concerned. Again, I really don’t care about that. To each his/her own. If people are willing to follow you and give you money, then so be it. But what has become an increasing concern of mine – and what should be a concern of everyone, including the Christian, is the determined course change toward an apocalyptic world view that sees the USA as part of an end-times scenario, complete with “God” judging us (or at least trying to get our attention) by way of various calamities, especially when we somehow are not joined at the hip with either Israel or Donald J. Trump. It has become so bad that, on “Frances & Friends” yesterday she read the following sickening political diatribe.

“How do civil wars happen?
Two or more sides disagree on who runs the country.
And they can’t settle the question through elections because they don’t even agree that elections are how you decide who’s in charge.
That’s the basic issue here. Who decides who runs the country? When you hate each other but accept the election results, you have a country. When you stop accepting election results, you have a countdown to a civil war.
The Mueller investigation is about removing President Trump from office and overturning the results of an election. We all know that. But it’s not the first time they’ve done this. The first time a Republican president was elected this century, they said he didn’t really win. The Supreme Court gave him the election. There’s a pattern here.
What do sure odds of the Democrats rejecting the next Republican president really mean? It means they don’t accept the results of any election that they don’t win. It means they don’t believe that transfers of power in this country are determined by elections.
That’s a civil war.
But the Democrats have rejected our system of government.
This isn’t dissent. It’s not disagreement. You can hate the other party. You can think they’re the worst thing that ever happened to the country. But then you work harder to win the next election.
When you consistently reject the results of elections that you don’t win, what you want is a dictatorship. Your very own dictatorship.
Our system of government is based on the constitution, but that’s not the system that runs this country. The Democrat’s system is that any part of government that it runs gets total and unlimited power over the country.
If the Democrats are in the White House, then the president can do anything. And I mean anything. He can have his own amnesty for illegal aliens. He can fine you for not having health insurance His power is unlimited. He’s a dictator.
The Constitution has something to say about that.
Donald Trump has caused the Shadow Government to come out of hiding: Professional government is a guild. Like medieval guilds. You can’t serve in if you’re not a member. If you haven’t been indoctrinated into its arcane rituals. If you aren’t in the club. And Trump isn’t in the club. He brought in a bunch of people who aren’t in the club with him.
Now we’re seeing what the pros do when amateurs try to walk in on them. They spy on them, they investigate them and they send them to jail. They use the tools of power to bring them down.
That’s not a free country.
It’s not a free country when FBI agents who support Hillary take out an “insurance policy” against Trump winning the election. It’s not a free country when Obama officials engage in massive unmasking of the opposition. It’s not a free country when the media responds to the other guy winning by trying to ban the conservative media that supported him from social media. It’s not a free country when all of the above collude together to overturn an election because the guy who wasn’t supposed to win.
Have no doubt, we’re in a civil war between conservative volunteer government and a leftist Democrat professional government.
David Vincent Gilbert
AND WHEN GOVERNMENT MAKES PEACEFUL REVOLUTION IMPOSSIBLE, THENVIOLENT REVOLUTION IS INEVITABLE!”

For my part, I have to explain something here. I happen to be a Democrat, and proudly so. And I am a Democrat because I am a Democrat, NOT because of my religion. And this is part of the very reason that I left Christianity in the fist place. Even back in the 1980s it was beginning to become uncomfortable to be a church member and a Democrat at the same time. The pro-Reagan stench was everywhere. But, still, at that time they would not have dared to come out like they are now. And they are doing it because Trump has allowed it. The fetters are off and they are now showing their true colors – going where they wanted to go since the 1980s and early 1990s when the “Moral Majority” tried so hard to take politics over in this country.

But, to these fanatics, Democrats are simply “evil” (and, believe me, they do use that term). I have heard the question more than once posed on one or the other program as to whether one can even be a Christian and also a Democrat. The answer, inevitably, is actually “no” (pay attention – if you watch these programs and haven’t noticed this yet, then you haven’t been doing so). So they are creating a Republican Conservative Christian entity that, in the future, could actually become a political party if something is not done about it (and it won’t be).

If one is not completely joined at the hip to complete, blind support of Israel coupled with complete, blind support of Donald J. Trump and literally anything he wants to do, then you are the enemy and you are “evil”. When one is sworn into the military one agrees to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. If these people are successfully able to paint everyone who doesn’t completely accept the two pillars – Israel and Trump – as “enemies”, then what do you think might really happen? They have already been talking about a new “Civil War”, after all, as essentially laid out in the above.

Want more? Yesterday Carl Gallups was on the Jim Bakker Show and was asked “What is President Trump’s prophetic role?” That’s right – Trump is part of prophecy! Of course, none of this is new either. Over the last couple of years this is the kind of tripe that they have regularly spouted, especially since the Johnson Amendment was repealed.

So Jim Bakker rants about “hanging around with prophets” and learning from them, along with his supposedly prophetic dream about 9/11 (yes, he really claims to have seen it in a dream before it happened). Then he rants about all the rockets fired toward Israel recently and makes the de facto statement “so we are living in the last days”. Moving on he rants about the fires in California and, true to form, states that it is “God” trying to get our attention (not climate change like the scientists are saying in a new report put out this very day). Bakker says that “God will curse America” if we don’t get right with him. And he brings out his “big gun”, the late David Wilkerson to prove it. Yes, the fires are the “worst in history” and HIS “God” is doing it! Frankly, if I had managed to survive such a calamity and I heard some madman like Bakker saying that the Christian “God” had caused it, I don’t think I would want to serve that “God” anymore. In fact, I’m sure of it. The only other response, if one were to remain a Christian, would be to simply dismiss him as a fraud. Problem is, it’s not just him anymore. And it’s not just the fanatical televangelists. It’s often your own preacher who also believes exactly the same. Are you really going to attend a church, Sunday after Sunday, and listen to your preacher tell you that we are in the last days and “God” is bringing calamity upon us and we must support Israel and Trump no matter what?

Then they show a clip of Trump saying that “God has a big role in my life” (I really wanted to laugh) and finally get to Gallups who said that Trump is fulfilling gods will and that is why he must be supported – who cares that he isn’t perfect (again, not new). And he goes on to rant about “deep state” and “fake news”, etc.  And Bakker intercedes with anyone who is in opposition to Trump are “trying to destroy the very fiber of America”. After all, Satan is guiding them. Further, according to Gallups, “God” is using Trump for “cleansing” and for “exposing” the opposition. Bakker: “God picked this man; do you believe that?” Gallups: “Yes.”

And they both expressed soreness about the mid-terms not turning out as they had hoped because Republican Conservatives didn’t completely take over – and it is the fault of the church because the people were “lazy” and didn’t get out and vote. That’s right, the church is to blame for all of this – not just the way these elections came out but also the disasters that are happening because the church is simply not stepping up and doing its job. Christians, do you like to be blamed for all of this?

Then Gallups starts stating that, because of “God”, Trump is now the most powerful person on the planet. And the “fact that God is using him” is the only reason that matters when considering whether to support Trump. And, of course, Bakker had to add a recording of him and “brother Sadu” from India, who said that Trump is the last respite for American Christianity to allow them to get their act together before Christ returns. Then Bakker rants about an “army of demons attacking this country” (how that coincides with “God” devastating it with calamities I can’t quite fathom). Bakker: “God gave us a president that we’re cursing. I don’t think you can understand what he’s doing unless you’re a Christian.”

And, of course, at the end Bakker had to hock his Christmas food bucket and Gallups ranted about everyone who is opposed to Trump being guided by demons. Wow!

Well, I oppose most of what he is doing, more on political grounds than religious ones, and I can categorically state that I am NOT guided by demons, not matter what some fanatic may state. I am guided by reason and intellect. I am guided by the scientific method and years of education that shows me that blind faith is foolishness. The one thing that these people are actually right about is that the church needs to wake up! Wake up to these fanatics and put them out of your midst if you want to survive as anything even resembling what your Lord might have wanted. Reject these charlatans; for as long as you either ignore them or accept them, you do great damage to yourself.

Church-State Separation in the US

Last evening, October 21, 2018, I listened to a “new” Christian evangelist featured on the program “Christ in Prophecy” by Dr. David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries. My initial thought was questioning whether I could stand to listen to the whole thing last night because I really didn’t feel up to it, for a change. See, I regularly watch/listen to these types of telecasts to keep up with whatever the fanatical types will come up with next. And, of course, I place Dr. David Reagan in that category. From my perspective, anyone who espouses “end-times prophecy” is, well, a nut. Worse than this, they espouse a dangerous theology that can only lead us toward oblivion.

That being said, this “new” evangelist type who was featured on last evening’s program was Billy Crone, who heads Get a Life Ministries. Dr. Reagan had warned his audience to “buckle your seat belts” since this guy, he stated, talks fast. Frankly, I found myself beginning to yawn as Mr. Crone proceeded to speak. That is, until he glancingly alluded to the horror of the last eight years and to how great things all of a sudden were with the new Trump administration. It was then that I perked up, listening to a sickening litany of self-serving political garbage wrapped in Christian dogma – actually standard fare for these fanatical types.

Still, among the myriad of complete and utter falsehoods that this guy spouted in his presentation (seems like he tried to cover almost all of American history in just one sitting) was his insistence (common among these types of evangelicals) that there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” in the USA. Moan. So very tired of hearing this uneducated mantra – I wanted to just turn it off right then. But I continued to listen, my disgust increasing with every syllable he spoke.

This guy’s take on separation of church and state was different from any I have heard thus far, which only goes to show the extent that these types will go to in order to falsify history to their liking and feed their rabid audiences the red meat they came for. Yes, this guy actually stated that the letter that the officials of Danbury Baptist Church had written to Thomas Jefferson was citing their concern that another denomination (not theirs), which was gaining popularity at that time, would be made the official denomination of the US. Now, it had been some times since I had read the actual letter and I didn’t have time to do so again at that moment because I wanted to soon go to sleep. But I promised myself, already knowing that he was falsifying the content of said letter, that I would read it again this morning. Here is the actual text of said letter in full.

To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America.

Sir,

Among the many million in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief magistracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe that none are more sincere.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty‐‐that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals‐‐that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions‐‐that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men‐‐should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the president of the United States is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each state; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved president, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these states and all the world, till hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that Americaʹs God has raised you up to fill the chair of state out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for your arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you to sustain and support you enjoy administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to raise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

Signed in behalf of the association, Nehemiah Dodge
Ephraim Robbins
Stephen S. Nelson

Now, although the English language used in this letter is, shall we say, a bit “old” in character (something I am quite used to reading), anyone skilled in said language will readily be able to see that nowhere does it even so much as mention any sort of concern that another denomination might be recognized as the official denomination of the USA. There is absolutely NO mention of another denomination or any concern of that type within this letter, period. In fact, such an idea isn’t even so much as hinted at. Now, one may claim that this denomination may have had such a concern based on the history of the time, but if they did they did NOT express it here.

In fact, their concern appears to be more in line with religious liberty being seen as a gift rather than a right and that religious liberty should not only be treated as a right but also that the government should do nothing to the contrary. The writers feared that the Constitution was not specific enough on this point.

As a response, in an effort to allay the fears thus expressed, Jefferson responded in a short, but well thought out, letter thus:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802

In this letter Jefferson clearly explained, in one succinct statement, what the founders had intended when crafting legislation concerning religious liberty. He stated that they had built “a wall of separation between Church and State”. He did not qualify this in any way whatsoever. He did not say that this applied only to Christians. He did not say that this applied only to certain denominations. He did not say that this applied only until people felt the need, somehow, to change it for their own self-interests. It was a complete, succinct, statement with no reservations or qualifications which completely explained what the founders, including himself, had intended, period.

But the evangelical end-times types continue to feel the need to try, harder and harder each time, to explain this statement away almost as if it didn’t even exist. In fact, no doubt they wish it didn’t exist, for if it didn’t then they might be able to claim free reign to conduct themselves completely as they see fit and persecute those of other religious faiths, using the government as the very tool with which to proceed. In fact, that is exactly what their ultimate aim is – a conservative Christian nation which essentially excludes those of any other persuasion. And, if one does not believe that this is their ultimate aim then they are invited to listen to the rest of Mr. Crone’s address. He provided the road map in vivid, sickening, detail. But I will not dwell on the rest of his diatribe at this time as I have just one aim here – to show how they will lie about this one historical detail in order to advance their cause. This is my sole focus today.

To that end I will briefly cite another historical document – one from ancient times – in order to illustrate their propensity for simply lying to advance their cause. But first, any student of ancient Christian history knows about the stories of the early martyrs. Supposedly each apostle was martyred for the faith (except for John who lived even though the Romans tried to boil him alive or something). In addition, the deaths of one Christian after another is recounted with hideous detail in the martyr stories, showing that the Romans were simply bent upon persecuting and wiping out all Christians from the very beginning in their unrelenting and constant efforts. And (I really don’t have to ask them about this because I used to be an evangelical fanatical Christian type, so I know) it is a foregone conclusion that Dr. Reagan and Mr. Crone both wholly believe such martyr traditions without the slightest reservation whatsoever. In fact, it is necessary for them to believe such stories in order to show how great the faith is – or how great their god is. And any evidence to the contrary be damned. Thus, they cannot even begin to accept such a wonderful scholarly and well-documented book such as “The Myth of Persecution” by Dr. Candida Moss (Harper Collins, 2013). This wonderful work doesn’t just blow a gaping hole in their story, it annihilates it and tears it to pieces! Point of fact, the evidence for prolonged, constant persecution of Christians by the Romans is non-existent. And, in fact, the evidence points to the contrary – that the Romans really didn’t try to deliberately wipe out Christians, with the exception of one episode at a late point, the so-called “Great Persecution” under Galerius and Diocletian (a persecution primarily prosecuted by Galerius, but which Diocletian historically gets most of the blame for).

The document in question, as most historians and scholars will have already figured out, is a set of letters between the emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia et Pontus. In this correspondence Pliny, having already acted to some degree, inquires of the emperor whether his actions toward prosecuting (not persecuting) had been correct and whether he should modify them in some way. Pliny was being, perhaps, excessively careful here. But, since doing the wrong thing could have meant his head, one can readily see why he reached out in this fashion. Slightly edited, these letters read thus:

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

As one can easily see, although Pliny’s letter to Trajan was detailed and careful, the response from Trajan was succinct and complete in its answer. There are no qualifications in Trajan’s response whatsoever. One cannot misunderstand what he stated here by any means. Christians were breaking the law, but they were NOT to be sought out and persecuted and, even if found, had to be afforded multiple opportunities to denounce their faith and accept the ways of the empire as a whole once again. And, if they did so, there must be no repercussions whatsoever. There is nothing unclear about any of this here.

Thus, we have two sets of letters from two distant time periods, both dealing with Christians, asking serious questions concerning religious liberty. In both cases, the initial letter asking the questions can be seen as a bit rambling and indirect, but one can get the understanding contained in said letters quite easily. However, both responses are direct and succinct, leaving absolutely nothing to question further. In each case, the concern is answered without qualification, period.

Now, the evangelical end-times types don’t like the one set of letters any better than the other. The ancient set of letters disproves their beloved mantra of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire and the more modern set of letters disproves any intent of our founders to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States of America, period. There is no mistaking either except among the fanatics who are more than willing to twist history to their liking at every point possible in order to promote their agenda, both religious and political.

I submit, I think on solid ground, that these evangelical end-times types – the David Reagans, the Pat Robertsons, the Jim Bakkers, the Jack Van Impes, etc. will all die, never seeing their lord’s return. Every one of them will die and Jesus will have not returned no matter how much they state we are in the last days, with one even stating that he is the final prophet before the return of his Lord. Frankly, end-times prophecy is actually the fanatic’s last big gasp before dying a disgusting death. In a couple hundred years no one will care one tittle about any of these false prophets. They will be relegated to the ash heap of failed history. And, in the mean time, those like myself will be here to pick apart their theology like a buzzard picks apart a carcass.

The Truth About Replacement Theology

This past Sunday Dr. David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries began a series in which he proposed to explain why so-called “replacement theology” is wrong. For those who do not know what this theological concept is, it is basically the understanding that the Christian Church (meaning Christianity in all of its forms from the beginning to today) has replaced and supplanted Judaism and the favoritism that “God” showed toward the ancient Hebrews/Israelites. Christianity, instituted by Jesus himself, who was a Jew, was, according to this theological concept, expressly meant to replace Judaism in all of its forms (for there was no monolithic Judaism either) as “The Way”. In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus called their movement “The Way”, literally meaning the ONLY way.

That said, Dr. David Reagan (along with others) takes issue with this theological stance, pointing out that it has been at least a contributing cause of Christian anti-Semitism throughout the centuries. Indeed, he is at least partially correct that this mode of thinking has indeed contributed to exactly that. However, in his (theologically incorrect) diatribe he made it almost seem as if, had it not been for this theological concept, Christianity as a whole would not have proceeded down the path of anti-Semitism and would never have persecuted Jewish people in any way. In his world, Christianity would have embraced Judaism as a brother religion, standing side-by-side with Christianity, marching toward the return of Christ together, anticipating exactly the same reward in each case (and this is exactly the thought process of those who try to embrace Judaism while still calling themselves Christians today). However, the sad fact of the matter is that he is simply wrong. In addition, he completely misunderstands a very basic concept of Christianity here. That basic concept is exactly that the favor of “God” toward the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish people has been transferred to the Church established by Jesus. There is no logical or sound theological way to get around this. Otherwise, what would be the point of even having a church that would embrace all peoples over the entire earth? After all, the church does not teach that people are saved by way of Judaism, but by way of Jesus, whom they call “Christ”. Does not the New Testament make it abundantly clear that a person does not have to become a Jew as a prerequisite for becoming a Christian?

I do have to give Dr. Reagan credit for one thing. No Christian preacher/evangelist I have ever heard speak (or read the writings of, for that matter) has gone through such a thorough (although some was indeed left out) litany of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic statements made by so many of the greatest and most important Christian theologians as he did in this first in a series of lectures to come. After listening to Dr. Reagan, one would naturally begin to question whether, indeed, there were ANY important early Church theologians who did not express some level of hatred toward the Jewish people and their religion. And one would be, perhaps, correct to question that. Indeed, having studied this very subject myself, I can attest to the fact that there were very few who did not openly express such hatred. But some were more vile than others.

However, the cause and effect relationship can be questioned here. Did the theology cause the hatred or did the hatred cause the theology to be developed – or is there some other explanation? Dr. Reagan maintains that the theology caused the hatred. Logically, for that to be so, then Jesus himself who, again, was a Jew and followed the Jewish religion, and/or his earliest apostles, who were also Jewish, would have had to have developed this theology. The reason I state this is quite simple – traces of anti-Semitic concepts can be found in the earliest Christian theology. Just read the New Testament for yourself! It was by no means foreign to the earliest church any more than initial hatred of the “Gentiles” was. In so many words, the Church was busy differentiating itself from other Jewish sects while at the same time struggling with the concept of including “Gentiles” into its membership. This was all happening at the same time and difficulties arose in both instances. In fact, the Church, at first, strove to remain predominantly “Jewish” in character while admitting non-Jews at the same time. Because of this, the ancient Romans did not recognize Christianity as a separate religion for some time. Frankly, Christianity was not a separate religion. It, however, became a separate religion only when it had to, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple there in 70 CE.

All of this simply means that the earliest Church considered itself to have been the “true Judaism” and expected other Jews to convert to it in droves while they also accepted “Gentiles” into it, which other branches of Judaism had already been doing also. However, most people of other Jewish sects simply did not convert to the branch called “The Way” or “Christianity”. This, along with rather hateful New Testament gospel writings, lent toward a certain hatred toward those Jewish people who simply would not convert. Therefore, it is NOT the theological concept that caused the hatred of Christians toward the Jews, but the rift that was created due to the fact that most would not convert that caused the hatred. Add to this the sickening statements made by the earliest Church theologians through the ages and their insistence that the Jewish people were “Christ killers”,  and you have exactly the mix needed to cause hatred of the Jewish people and persecution of them to take root and grow over the centuries.

Again, the early church was not trying to “replace” other forms of Judaism, it was trying to “include” them and, thereby, eliminate them. That may seem to be too fine a point, but if not for this point then one will naturally fall into the sort of trap in which Dr. Reagan finds himself. His thought process is just too simplistic here. He does not appear to understand that the early church did not automatically separate itself from other sects of Judaism, but instead tried to absorb them. If Christianity had done the former, then we could logically conclude that they actually held the concept of replacement theology and could also conclude that it was likely THE catalyst for persecution of the Jewish people by Christians over the ensuing centuries. It is more logical to conclude that hatred of the Jewish people who would not convert caused the persecutions that followed.

Be that as it may, replacement theology is actually a relatively new concept in and of itself and simply was not extant in the ancient mind as an actual, formulated, concept. What they would have, and did, attest to was that, in their minds, the Jews were just as much damned as any Gentiles who did not convert to Christianity. In so many words, all favoritism toward the Jewish people for being special or chosen had been eliminated once the Christian movement came into being. Special hatred toward the Jews took root simply because the earliest church theologians expressed their hatred of the Jewish people openly based on their warped understanding that they had killed Christ. All blame for the death of Christ was shifted from the Romans to the Jews. This was necessary because, seeing that most Jews would not convert, reaching out to others within the Roman Empire simply became necessary and no Roman was going to convert, one would have to have supposed, if the New Testament blamed them for his death. One has to remember that none of the apostles, including Paul, went out directly to Gentiles at first, but instead went out into the Jewish Diaspora in an attempt to gain converts. When the New Testament speaks of Paul going out to the Gentiles it simply means that he went out into the world of the Gentiles – into the Jewish Diaspora there. The “Gentiles” who were converted to Christianity during these initial efforts had been those who had first become proselytes to Judaism and who were already members of Jewish Synagogues. This is partly why the controversy concerning whether one had to become a Jew first before becoming a Christian came into being to begin with. Most had, and they expected others to follow suit. But it quickly came to be understood that if Christianity really wanted “Gentile” converts, most would not be willing to become Jews first because of issues such as circumcision. Therefore, this initial requirement was eliminated so that the Church could grow faster.

So it is really with this effort toward increasing Gentile participation that caused the Church to begin to write the Jewish people off. But even with this, the theological concept of replacement was not actually formulated. This is because all of the earliest church congregations had started out having memberships formerly from Synagogues.

But let us return to the litany of hateful remarks made by the earliest church theologians as cited by Dr. Reagan. I am not going to rehash them here simply because they are so easily found in any search that can be made today. That said, I submit that most Christians have never read nor heard of these statements simply because (1) most preachers will not mention any of it and (2) because most Christians don’t want to know. After all, who would willingly want to follow any religion that has exhibited such vile hatred and has had so many leaders, including many of the earliest ones, express such hatred? For some, not knowing is clearly preferable to knowing, for if one knows then one has to deal with this. And I would be remiss if I did not also mention that the same sort of vile, hateful statements were made against the Hellenes who preferred to practice their ancestral rites and ways by many of the earliest theologians and Christian politicians too. And such statements were made for exactly the same reason – because they would NOT convert! And, certainly, no one (as far as I know) has come up with any sort of “replacement theology” concerning the Greeks and, therefore, no one claims that hatred toward the Hellenes was because of some theological concept. No, the hatred in both cases stemmed from a refusal of some to convert, period.

The earliest Byzantine emperors saw to it that the temple mount in Aelia Kapitolina (formerly known as Jerusalem) remained in ruins specifically because they wanted it to remain rubble in order to display for the entire world that Christianity was superior to Judaism and that “God” had forsaken his people. THIS can be seen as a more solid example of the idea that Christianity had replaced Judaism. At the same time, these emperors began ordering the destruction of Hellenic and other Pagan temples throughout the empire, again, in order to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity and the fact that Christianity had overcome all that had come before it. BUT, the hatred toward Jews, Greeks, and others who would not convert was present PRIOR TO these events. The hatred stemmed in both cases from a refusal of some to convert, period. It did not stem from some theological concept that Christianity had replaced either.

But, you know, the hatred goes even deeper than this, after all. It goes to the very heart of humankind, if you will. The fact of the matter is that it is much easier to hate than to love. AND, Christianity has done absolutely NOTHING over the centuries to change this. Christianity has FAILED to change the hearts of people. So the fanatical Christian types, who actually know this history, will still adhere to their religion while hating those who will not also do so (and some will grasp for theological concepts to base their hatred on). They will ridicule anyone who follows Islam, for example, because they find writings in the Quran and the Hadith that express hatred of the “other” (often Jews also) while ignoring the fact that it is practically a hallmark of their own religion too. The reason for this is simple – hatred for and rejection of the “other” is a basic concept of every monotheistic religion that has ever existed. It has ALWAYS resulted in persecution of whomever the “other” was seen to be at any given time. At one time or another it would be the Jews, at another time it would be the Greeks, at another time it would be black Africans, at another it would be homosexuals…. Monotheism does not change the heart of man any more than it changes itself, for it is the same in every single case. And hatred and persecution do not stem from theology so much as from the concept of the “other” who will not yield to what the monotheist considers to be the only truth.

But, today, end-times theologians find it necessary to embrace Judaism in one form or another, and to embrace the nation state of Israel because, otherwise, their twisted theology falls apart. So, like the early Christians die concerning the Romans, today’s end-times preachers absolve the Jewish people of all blame as Christ killers (not that they ever should have been blamed to begin with) in an effort to bring them into the church by any means possible. In addition, Israel can simply do no wrong and cannot be criticized in any way because to do so would be to stand against “God”. After all, the concept goes, these are still “God’s” special people. And virtually all of them are still destined to be saved one way or another because, otherwise, all of “God’s” promises toward them will have failed. This theology is, in fact, an excellent example of accepting belief over reason and logic. Frankly, neither theological stance actually works without fault, but if one is a Christian and one does not posit that the Church was supposed to “replace” Judaism by absorbing it into itself, then one has missed the entire point.