Archive for the ‘History and Myth’ Category
Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.
In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.
Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.
The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)
Stanford Assistant Professor, Krish Seetah, and researchers from Reading University studied the archaeology of the Baltic region—a region that includes modern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and parts of Sweden and Russia—in the years from the 12th century to the 16th century, when the Teutonic Order, a Germanic brotherhood of Christian knights, waged war against the last indigenous Pagan societies in Europe.
Fighting under the guise of religion, the warriors exploited the Baltic’s pristine forests and rich fauna to foist an urban, Christian way of life on Pagan tribes that viewed many elements of Nature as sacred. Within a few centuries, the Teutonic warriors led a major ecological and cultural transformation that snatched the Pagan Baltic tribes into the fold of European Christendom. Professor Seetah said:
Pagan groups did it differently from the Germanic Teutonic Order.
The team found evidence that the Baltic Pagans ate dogs, but they abruptly stopped doing so after the Teutonic invasion, one assumes because the western European Christian knights had no taste for dogs as food, and imposed their will on the natives.
The Teutonic Order owed much of its success in conquest to their horses, whose strength and stature allowed them to bear armor and weaponry, unlike the Pagans’ smaller horses. In the Southern Crusades in the Middle East, it was the Arabian horse, stronger and swifter than the European breed, that led ultimately to the Islamic crusaders’ victory.
Increased reliance on local animals for supplies inevitably led to the extinction of some species, including the aurochs, an ancestor of modern cattle. The relatively rapid disappearance of species marks a dramatic shift in how the indigenous Baltic culture perceived the natural world. A belief in the interconnectedness of the land’s flora and fauna gave way to the more exploitative, Christian view of nature.
The research team compared Teutonic castles—massive forts whose construction required the clearing of vast expanses of forest—to the less intrusive, more organic pagan settlements. Medieval castles formed the backbone of the new Christian states because they were for the security of the class that had conquered in the period of tribal movement around Europe that lasted a millennium from the fall of the western Roman empire. Today they appear as crumbling, moss-grown relics resembling modern urban centers which flourish then fall into dereliction, as an inspection of many of our inner cities will show.
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.Joseph Smith
A Pew study released found that many Americans do not know the religious faiths of President Obama or presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. A third of Americans do not know that Romney is a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon! The Mormons have conservative views, especially on gender and homosexuality, and are intolerant of members’ questioning official teachings.
The United Church of Christ, President Obama’s church of choice, is more liberal on these issues. Unlike the Mormons, the UCC is not centralized to the extent that the Mormon sect is. It is not uniform across congregations because doctrinal issues in the UCC are left to the congregations, not to a central institute as is the case with the Mormons.
17 percent of Americans say Obama is a Moslem. In 2008, Americans were likely to correctly identify his religion as Christian. Political opposition to Obama as president aimed to remind voters of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But Pastor Wright’s supposedly racist remarks actually showed them Obama was Christian.
The separate Pew Research Center “American Values Survey”, which polled more than 3,000 adults nationwide, found that approximately one in five Americans don’t have a religious affiliation at all—the most ever documented. It also found that 32 percent of the latest adult generation have doubted the existence of God—double the number of those who felt the same way just five years ago.
This survey found increased tolerance for difference in every age, religious preference and political group. The new generation is known for wanting to distinguish itself from its peers—to stand out so to speak—by adopting unorthodox ideas.
Criticisms of Mormonism
The doctrine of the Mormon Church separates it from Christianity according to the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant religions, all of which descended from Jesus Christ and his apostles. Mormons had no apostolic succession by which the holy Spirit is passed from priest to priest from the original apostles, could not have been involved in the Nicene Creed, and Mormon cosmology with its plan of salvation including pre-mortal life, baptism of the dead, three degrees of heaven, and exaltation by which humans may become gods and goddesses on a par with Jesus is alien to Christian thought.
Critics have questioned the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of LDS, as a prophet as well as the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and include claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, and sexism and paedophilia. Evangelical Christians argue that Smith was either a fraud or deluded.
The evidence is too scrambled and distorted with age and intention to sort out the certain truth, so we have to find the best hypothesis. It is that, if Jesus was historical, he was a senior Essene. The scrolls say that when the End approaches (the apocalypse) the Essenes must try to bring into their fold as many righteous Jews as they can. Essenes considered themselves as the righteous Jews, so it meant finding Jews willing to join them in view of the impending day of God’s Vengeance. To do so, the Jews willing to had to repent with sincerity and not sin until the kingdom came (the apocalyse again). So Essenes had to go out as evangelists proselytizing ordinary Jews.
Leading Jews were highly conscious of the uncleanliness of the unrighteous mass, but they were required to be humble, so the duty of proselytizing fell upon the senior Essenes above all. The gospels are versions of the attempt of the leaders, John the Baptist, Jesus and then James the Righteous, with Jesus central for Christians, to convert Jews to their cause. Jesus plainly expected the End when he and his apostles were in the Garden of Gethsemane. The End did not come, and Jesus was crucified as a usurper of the emperor’s right to rule. Essenes removed his body for a decent burial according to Essenic tradition, but the followers, converts, not lifelong Essenes, thought he had arisen. Thus began Christianity. This reconstruction has the advantage of accounting for the data without requiring God’s intervention.
Archeologists from Tel Aviv university led by professor Shlomo Bunimovitz, have declared a tiny stone seal, just 1.5 centimeters in diameter (a little more than half an inch), found while excavating Tel Beit Shemesh to have an image of the biblical Samson killing a lion on it! Really! Can this animal really be a lion? The seal has an image of an unidentifiable animal, it is so badly depicted, possibly with a rider—faint, perhaps partly erased or unfinished—being controlled by an apparently human handler with something like a rope attached to its muzzle—unless it has a long tongue! It suggests a horse rather than a lion.
The seal was discovered with other finds on the floor of an excavated house, dated by the archaeologists to the 12th century BC. Along with the seal, two structures were discovered, which were apparently used for ritual purposes during the same time period. In one of them researchers found a kind of table, resembling an altar, next to which a large number of animal bones were found. Prof Bunimovitz believes the animals may have been used for sacrifices. Or maybe they were simply the remains of feasts, or both, as feasts usually accompanied sacrifices.
The stories in Judges have no known connexion with real history, and are more likely to be myths adapted to events of a much later age, namely the period after the victory of Cyrus the Persian when the Hill country was sparsely populated by native Canaanites and a few hopeful colonists from Persia. Samson is the same word as Shemesh, a Semitic sun god, the equivalent of the Greek Herakles, and beth (“house”) ususally meant a temple when associated with a God’s name. So Beth Shemesh was the place where the sun god was worshipped.
Sun Gods from sometime in the first half of the first millennium BC at least have had twelve legends associated with them one each for each constellation they pass through during the solar year. Samson depends on his long hair for his strength, the hair representing the power of the sun’s rays. The stories about Samson may be an abridgement of the full solar cycle of myths, many possibly lost when worshipping all gods other than Yehouah was forbidden. Thus, Samson, according to the story in Judges, fought a lion on his way to marry a Philistine woman. Hercules too fought a lion in what is usually listed as his first labor. Eventually Hercules is betrayed by a woman, just as Samson was.
The Christian Historian
According to Time magazine, David Barton is one of the most influential evangelicals. He presides over the WallBuilders, a company he owns in Aledo, Texas. Allegedly, he gives 400 speeches a year, advises the federal government and state school boards, and testifies in court as an expert witness. He was for long the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and is a frequent guest of Glenn Beck, the outlandish Mormon chat show host. It should not therefore be surprising that his vision of America as a nation infused from the start with Christianity is popular with churches, Christian schools and universities, Mitt Romney, the GOP and a plethora of other elephantine celebrities—Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. Huckabee said at a conference:
I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans will be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it.
Sounds typically right wing hypocrisy in view of the GOP’s supposed libertarian principles. Still, Barton’s supporters call him a hero, while his detractors think he is sowing confusion and misinformation.
One way that he does it is by writing “Christian history” books about the founding of America, lately one called The Jefferson Lies which made The New York Times best seller list. He boasts he has collected and analyzed 100,000 documents from before 1812—original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas. Barton’s popularity notwithstanding, conventional wisdom begs to differ!
Critics accuse Barton of misinterpretations and errors, says Thomas Kidd writing for World Community, and even some conservative Christian scholars are now openly questioning Barton’s work. Readers of the History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies as the “least credible history book in print”. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, writing a column syndicated by National Public Radio, points out David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University not in history, and has only published one peer reviewed article.
It seems that Christian Education frankly must mean lying (see Liars for Jesus, by Chris Rodda). Honest researchers, historians included, try to tell the truth, but Barton has qualified critics who say he tells lies, damned lies, and cannot understand statistics. Barton is being criticized by many scholars and historians, not simply for taking a different view of American history but for changing historically documented facts to further his own agenda. He is accused of cherry picking old documents on American history, selectively quoting them to make them say what he wants them to say, a popular ploy of Christian apologists, utterly dishonest but approved by most gullible evangelicals. Critics find his work riddled with unjustified historical revision with which he has misled millions of credulous Christians and gotten rich in the process. Such consistent misinterpretation cannot be other than deliberate, historians say. He is even alleged to have tried to silence critics through the courts, using his ill-gotten wealth.
Some Critics and Criticisms
Jay W Richards of the creationist Discovery Institute has spoken on the same platform as Barton at Christian conferences, but openly said Barton’s writings so troubled him he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess his work. Many concurred with Richards.
Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton, in his desire in The Jefferson Lies to portray Jefferson favorably for Christians, omits obvious evidence that Jefferson was in no way an “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity”.
Gregg Frazer of the Master’s College, exposed factual claims in Barton’s video, America’s Godly Heritage, as being at least dubious. An example is the statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians’ ”. Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University went further, saying Barton’s ideas of Jefferson’s religious views are “unsupportable”.
One of the “myths” about Jefferson, Barton told Huckabee on Fox News, is that Jefferson was a religious skeptic. Barton argues that for the first 70 or so years of his life, Jefferson was a “conventional Christian”, although he did express doubts in his final 15 years. As evidence of the third president’s religiosity, Barton, showing Huckabee an original document signed by Jefferson, explained:
Jefferson, unlike the other presidents, closes his documents: “In the year of our Lord Christ”.
He did not point out that Jefferson was adding his signature to a pre-printed form required by law. Barton goes on to say that Jefferson started church services at the Capitol, that he ordered the Marine Corps band to play at the services and that he funded a treaty to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians—three claims that experts say are demonstrably false.
Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of the evangelical Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, named their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, plainly challenging Barton whom they argue “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances”. Regarding the nature of Jefferson’s faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians—Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity:
- he didn’t see Jesus as God
- he didn’t believe that Jesus performed miracles
- he dismissed the Trinity.
Jefferson even decided to write his own version of the gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, a task he considered as “taking ‘diamonds as if from a dunghill’, picking out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule as the diamonds. The dunghill was the virgin birth, the Resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission”, and so on. Thus, ending his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson has nothing to say about the core of Christian belief, the Resurrection, simply writing:
There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
Barton insists that Jefferson not only bought a copy of the Bible, but invested in a 1798 edition, showing his philosophical support for the sacred text. Doubtless, he wanted a copy to write his own version of it! But he claims Congress published the first American Bible in 1782, and intended the Bible to be used in public schools. Barton is quite wrong in these facts and his conclusion. Congress did not publish or pay for the 1782 Bible. At the request of Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitken, Congress agreed to have its chaplains read for errors the bible he was printing at his own expense. Honest historians agree it was not a government promotion of religion.
Like many of his kind, Barton seems to think that the Americans of 300 years ago are simply modern Americans in old fashioned gear. He utterly fails to comprehend the changes brought about by the passage of time, and therefore cannot make allowances for changing manners and ways of thinking. For example, Jefferson owned nearly 200 slaves, but Barton says he wanted to free them, as any devout Christian would—omitting that Jesus Christ never condemned slavery, nor did Paul who advised slaves to accept their situation—but he could not because in Virginia it was illegal to free them. Barton claims:
Had his plans been followed, Virginia would’ve ended slavery really early on. They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense.
Critics say Barton “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery”. They mean he deliberately or incompetantly omits the section of Virginian law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton moved the goalposts, claiming now that Jefferson was too poor to free his slaves. Warren Throckmorton adds:
Mr Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern day evangelicals could love and identify with. The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson. It’s not getting him right.
Barton accuses Throckmorton and Coulter of being “academic elitists” posing as the “sole caretakers of historical knowledge”, and hostile toward his “personal religious beliefs”. It is a popular apologetic ploy to denigrate proper scholars in defense of Christian falsehoods.
The Rev Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati and president of Cincinnati Area Pastors, is boycotting the publisher of Barton’s book, Thomas Nelson. He says that by whitewashing Jefferson, and through him all the other slaveholding founders, Barton is rewriting history to make it palatable for white Christians today. He says frankly:
Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans. He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body. All in their hearts they [Right wing evangelicals like Barton] are saying, “If we could just go back there, America would be right”. Right for who? Not for blacks, not for women, not for Native Americans. Only for white men.
Anyway no Christian golden founding age ever existed. John Fea, an evangelical himself, chairman of the history department at evangelical Messiah College and author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, says:
None of the founders were necessarily interested in promoting a specifically Christian nation. Many of the founders believed in something akin to separating church and state even though they didn’t use those terms. And in fact, most of the people in America were not regular churchgoers. So what is that great culture that we’re returning to?
Barton’s reply is:
I’m not trying to throw the nation back 200 years. I don’t want the technology to go backward, I love the health [care] stuff we got now. What I try to use is principles that are timeless.
He loves ObamaCare?! And what about the timeless Christian principle, indeed necessity that Christians should give all they have to the poor!
“Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.Mark 10:21-22
It means that Jesus required the rich to give all of their wealth to the poor to be saved. The treasure in heaven is obviously not gold nuggets or silver dollars, it is salvation itself, but the rich man preferred his material wealth to salvation. They all do! Not one of them can be a Christian and be rich. Jesus is quite clear about it. No rich Christian can be a Christian!
Christian Social Engineering or Building Tomorrow’s Dark Age
These scholars criticizing Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics, who agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but reject the notion of a concoction called “Christian history” as something other than and superior to “history”. It ends up with books and videos full of “embarrassing factual errors, selective quotes, and misleading claims”. Barton finds the Constitution is a not a secular document, but is filled with biblical quotations. He told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network:
You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause. Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document. We’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.
When you do as he says you find that none of this is true. The Constitution of 1787 does not speak of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. It is the First Amendment which mentions religion. John Fea says Barton is peddling a distorted history that appeals to conservative believers.
David Barton is offering an alternative vision of American history which places God, the providence of God, Christianity, at the center.
Fea sees Barton is a danger because he’s using a skewed version of the past to shape the future for political reasons:
He’s in this for activism. He’s in this for policy. He’s in this to make changes to our culture.
In short, it is cavalier social engineering with no thought for the future success of the USA, merely that it should be right wing and evangelical. For example, in 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to publish more conservative and Christian friendly school history textbooks. David Barton was one of the board’s advisers. Later on the God show Chapter and Verse, he said it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids get through the entire curriculum, then another 10 years before those kids get elected to office and start doing things:
So we’re talking 30 years from now. But, it’s in the pipe coming down.
Asked about this, Barton agreed he wanted to shape future leaders like any educator, but he didn’t see himself as a particularly influential person, but just that “I’m going to be an active citizen and be involved and do everything I can to help move these principles forward.”
Barton even thinks the Founding Fathers had amazing powers of prophecy. It was prophecy to exceed the bible itself, as Charles Darwin was not born for another quarter of a century, in 1809, and it was three quarters of a century before he published his theory of evolution in 1859. He said on TV they opposed the theory of evolution:
You go back to the Founding Fathers, as far as they’re concerned, they already had the entire debate on creation-evolution. And you get Thomas Paine, who’s the least religious Founding Father saying, ’“You’ve got to teach creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that”.
It all goes to show that Christians will believe just anything that suits them!
Update: As this article was being composed Thomas Nelson decided to stop publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. See Warren Throckmorton”s website.