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The Fortunatianus Biblical commentary

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The oldest Latin commentary on the Bible shows it was read allegorically not as literal history

»In October 2012, Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher at the University of Salzburg, was examining the manuscripts of the Cologne Cathedral Library. He was looking at an anonymous manuscript and realized that this ancient text contained the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels. Dorfbauer was not the first scholar to examine the manuscript, but he was the first to realize its significance. Here, as part of the 100-page fourth century AD commentary, was the earliest Latin translation of the Gospels. It’s now available in English.

The author of the commentary was Fortunatianus of Aquileia, a fourth-century North African who later became a northern Italian bishop. Scholars had known about the commentary from references to it in other ancient works, but until Dorfbauer identified the Cologne manuscript it had been lost for more than 1,500 years.

When scholars had looked at this turn-of-the-ninth century manuscript in the past, they had been much more interested in a forged letter “on Pride and Folly” that claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the famous Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. To be sure, forged letters between Seneca and Christian religious figures are fascinating (there’s a set of letters between the Apostle Paul and Seneca, as well), but they are of little consequence next to the earliest extant Latin translation of the Bible. The rediscovery of Fortunatianus’s commentary is itself of enormous significance. He was so highly regarded by his successors that a number of ninth-century theologians had looked for his commentary and come up empty-handed.

• What makes this particular discovery truly astonishing is that the text of the Gospels that it uses is different from the next-oldest known Latin translation of the Bible.

Up until now, the oldest complete Latin version of the Gospels was the Vulgate, a late-fourth-century translation attributed to the priest and theologian Jerome. Jerome, incidentally, was a great admirer of Bishop Fortunatianus, describing his commentary as “a pearl without price”. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to update the “Old Latin” (Vetus Latina) version of the Gospels used by the Roman Church. Jerome went one better, compiling a translation of the entire Bible. The influence of the Vulgate is enormous–over a thousand years later, at the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church would affirm that it was the “authentic” Bible.

But now we have more evidence of something older. The English translation of the text was prepared by Dr Hugh Houghton, deputy director of the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), and is available online for free from De Gruyter press.

• What’s most revealing about the commentary is the manner in which its author interprets his source text. Rather than treating the Gospels as literal history, Fortunatianus viewed these stories as a series of allegories.

For example, when Jesus enters a village, Fortunatianus might see the village as a cipher for the church. Other “figures” of the church include boats, sheep, and hens. Other instances of this kind of reading involve numbers–The number 12 is always a reference to the 12 disciples, the number five is a symbol of the five books of the Pentateuch, or Jewish law, and the number 99 (an imperfect version of 100) is a symbol of evil and the Jews. [The Church held the Jews to be responsible for the death of God!] Houghton said:

• “For people teaching the Bible in the fourth century, it’s not the literal meaning which is important, it’s how it’s read allegorically.”

It’s not that Fortunatianus thinks that the Bible cannot be read literally, it’s just that he is much more interested in its symbolic meaning. While he sometimes uses the verbs “to figure” or “prefigure” to explain his interpretation, he mostly describes the passages as “showing” or “indicating” a particular allegorical truth.

What’s especially striking about this new discovery is that Fortunatianus is commenting on the content of the Gospels, the central component of the Christian message. This seems strange to modern readers because so much modern religious Biblical interpretation, especially among conservative Christians, assumes that Bible should be read literally. Houghton notes that literal interpretation did not become de rigueur until the mid-15th century, when the invention of the printing press brought precise uniformity and conformity to the Biblical text. Prior to this point no two manuscripts of the Bible were identical to one another, and literal reading of the text was just one (and not even necessarily the most important) interpretive method.

Of course, allegorical readings of the Bible pre-date Fortunatianus. One of the most celebrated ancient interpreters of scripture, the third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who is a likely source for Fortunatianus), argued that the Bible could be interpreted literally (what he calls the “letter”) and spiritually (allegorical interpretation). He actually distinguished three kinds of interpretation that he mapped on to the parts of the human body: “the flesh,” “the soul,” and “the spirit.” Origen’s three senses of scripture have been profoundly influential and led him to offer some startlingly modern interpretations.

For example, when writing about the (in modern contexts) highly controversial Creation stories of Genesis 1-3, Origen says this:

• “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first day, and second and third day, and the evening and the morning existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?… And if God is said to walk in paradise in the evening, and Adam is to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.”

• In other words, Origen doesn’t think that the Genesis stories are literally true.

He doesn’t write this as a response to scientific discovery, but he also does not think that the stories are bankrupted as a result. Instead, he thinks, like many others, that these stories are meant to be interpreted allegorically. Allegory isn’t a response to science, it’s an authentic and traditional way of reading and writing texts.

For most people invested in the religious authority of the Bible none of this will be too shocking. After all, as Houghton himself points out, reading the Bible as allegory can actually solve some of the difficulties that readers encounter when they read the New Testament:
“There’s been an assumption that it’s a literal record of truth—a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke.”

• What writers like Fortunatinus and Origen show is not just that you don’t have to read the Bible literally all the time, but that for most of the Christian Era nobody thought that you should.«

(The Daily Beast, Candida Moss, lightly edited)

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Catholic Church to Lose Historic Property Tax Exemption in Italy

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The Santa Brigida convent in Piazza Farnese run as a bed and breakfast

In December 2011, after new austerity measures were adopted in the country, 130,000 Italians signed an online petition urging the government to strip the Church of its tax exemption. The move could net Italy revenues of 500 million to 2 billion euros annually, municipal government associations said. The figure is 6 billion euros a year according to UAAR, the Italian Humanist Association. The extra income from previously exempt properties in Rome alone, including hotels, restaurants and sports centers, could reach 25.5 million euros a year, La Repubblica daily newspaper reported.

Marco Catalano, a 35 year old shopkeeper in Rome, who goes to church twice a month, told the New York Times:

It was time that they paid, too, with all the exemptions they’ve had throughout the years. They own the most beautiful buildings in downtown Rome, on Italian soil, and rent them out at market prices. They don’t give them for free or at low prices for charity.

Written by mikemagee

14 October, 2012 at 12:02 am

Nones climb to 19 percent

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Freedom from Religion Poster: Banned in California

Update: July 20, 2012 America’s “Nones”—the nonreligious—are at an all time high, now comprising nearly one in five Americans (19 percent), according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The 19 percent count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011 and reported by USA Today. Nones are the second largest “denomination” in the nation following Catholics, up from joint third with Baptists.

Nones were already the fastest growing segment of the US population, according to the definitive American Religious Identification Survey, whose 2008 study showed adult Nones up to 15 percent from 6 percent in 1990. ARIS, released in 2009, actually estimated Nones at 20 percent. A 2009 Pew Forum on switching religious opinions found more than 10 percent of American adults became Nones after growing up within a religious group.

Most minority religions, however tiny in numbers, are treated with respect, inclusion and sometimes deference. It’s time public officials and the American public wake up to the changing demographics and stop treating atheists and agnostics as outsiders. With nonbelievers at about 20 percent of the population, there is no longer any excuse for leaving us out of the equation. Public officials cannot continue to assume all Americans believe in a deity, or continue to offend 20 percent of the population by imposing prayer at governmental meetings or government hosted events. These surveys now show that “In God We Trust”‘ is a provenly inaccurate motto. Nonbelievers should not be treated as political pariahs.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF.

FFRF, the Freedom From Religion Foundation—the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics—based in Madison, Wisconsin, aims to keep religion and government separate. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity.

Written by mikemagee

25 July, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Significant Numbers of Black American Catholics Think Church is Racialist

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Black Catholics

A study, coauthored by Notre Dame social scientists, Darren W Davis and Donald B Pope-Davis, focusing on African American Catholics, challenges common assumptions about one of the Black community’s less popular Christian churches. Commissioned by the National Black Catholic Congress and the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life and Office of the President, it tested whether anecdotal accounts that Black Catholics were becoming increasingly disengaged from their religion were true. It is historic in that it is the largest sample of African American Catholics ever surveyed on their faith. Although the focus of the survey is on African American Catholics, a comparison is made with white Catholics, yielding notable findings about them too. Among the findings of the survey are:

  • On almost every measure of religious engagement, African American Catholics are considered stronger in their faith than white Catholics:
    • 78 percent of Black Catholics report that their parish meets their spiritual needs compared to only 69 percent of white Catholics.
    • 76 percent of African American Catholics say their parish meets their emotional needs, compared to 60 percent of white Catholics.
    • 48 percent of African Americans attend church at least once per week, compared to only 30 percent of white Catholics.
  • A major difference in the religious engagement between African American Catholics and white Catholics is the importance each group attaches to social networks in the parish.
    • 29 percent of African Americans considered it was important that friends attended their church, while only eight percent of white Catholics considered it important.

African American’s increased appreciation of religious social interactions and tendency to attend all Black parishes contributes to their satisfaction. Davis commented:

This finding also shows up among African American Catholics who attend predominantly black parishes. A greater sense of community that comes from worshipping with others who share cultural heritage heightens religious engagement. Whatever forces are working against white Catholics’ religious identity and engagement were set in motion decades ago and those forces do not appear to be working against African American Catholics. Thus, it is quite possible that understanding African American Catholicity may inform us about the religious challenges of white Catholics. Too often we approach questions of religiosity in a vacuum. Comparable studies of religiosity are critical.

While there is generally high satisfaction with various aspects of Mass and church service, such as preaching, music, readings and prayers, Catholics’—both white and black Americans—level of satisfaction with these aspects of Mass are noticeably lower than Protestants. Pope-Davis noted:

This finding is interesting because we often hear anecdotal complaints about the Catholic Mass as quiescent, but most Catholics do not share this view. But, relative to the components of Protestant church service, Catholics are not as satisfied.

Racial Discontent

Despite their high level of religious engagement, African American Catholics are not completely satisfied with the scope of racial inclusiveness in the Church:

  • About one in four African American Catholics perceive racism in their parish:
    • 32 percent say they are uncomfortable because they are the only person of color in their parish
    • 26 percent say that fellow parishioners avoid them because of their race,
    • 24 percent say that fellow parishioners reluctantly shake their hands
    • 25 percent say they have experienced racial insensitivity toward African Americans from their priest.
  • African American Catholics see room for growth in the racial positions of the Catholic Church:
    • 37 percent are satisfied with the targeting of black vocations
    • 38 percent are satisfied with the Church’s emphasis on black saints
    • 40 percent are satisfied with promoting black bishops
    • 40 percent are satisfied with the Church’s support for issues like affirmative action
    • 44 percent are satisfied with the Church’s position on problems in Africa
    • 45 percent are satisfied with the promotion of racial integration in the Church.
  • But 23 percent of African Americans consider the Catholic Church racist against African Americans.

Davis points out:

Asking questions about abstract racism in the Church breaks down somewhat when asked about specific elements of the Church. This is not that unusual in survey research. But, it is clear that while there are still challenges for many African American Catholics in their parishes, the views of the institutional Church are more jaundiced or jaded.

The survey also uncovered notable national demographic trends that are evident within religious denominations that have great consequences for the future church:

  • 53 percent of African American Catholics and 53 percent of African American Protestants are at least 45 years old, compared to 63 percent of white Catholics and 62 percent of white Protestants
  • 33 percent of African American Catholics and 35 percent of African American Protestants are married, compared to 21 percent of white Catholics and 14 percent of white Protestants.
  • A larger percentage of African American Catholics have college degrees than African American Protestants, but a larger percentage of Catholics are college educated.

Summary

The US’s estimated three million Black Catholics are highly educated and deeply engaged in the church. They value the social and communal aspects of religious worship and some are concerned about the status of racism within the church—some are discontent about racial inclusiveness in the church. Nearly one in four respondents felt that the Catholic Church is racist against African Americans. More than 31 percent say they are uncomfortable because they are the only person of color in their parish, and about a quarter say that fellow parishioners avoid them because of their race, that fellow parishioners reluctantly shake their hands and that they have experienced racial insensitivity from their priest.

The research team hopes that the information gathered in the survey will help the Catholic church respond more efficiently to the needs of parishioners. Pope-Davis observed:

The forces that shape white Catholicity are different from the forces that shape African American Catholicity.

Written by mikemagee

13 December, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Freedom and Social Order—Ancient and Modern

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Ancient

For most of the dark ages, so called because of the absence of learning brought about by the victory of Christianity, people lived in misery largely because of their poverty, not because they had ideas beyond their station. Peasants knew their place in the social system, and even in the nineteenth century, the wife of the Bishop of Armagh was going to make sure the little scallywags at Sunday school knew it:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

All things bright and beautiful, Mrs C F Alexander

Most people were effectively slaves throughout the time of the Feudal system. They had a notional freedom, but in practice were tied to their lord and master and the bit of his land he allotted to the peasant to pay him for his otherwise corvée service to the manor. As Mrs Alexander wrote, God had “ordered their estate”, and few villeins entertained any idea of getting on in the world.

Some however, did, and especially after the millennium year (1000 AD) when the parousia did not happen and Christ failed to appear as the bishops had been promising for centuries. Thereafter, some people objected to their propaganda (Catholic lies—the original meaning of the word), many of them in the south of France, in Languedoc. They were Cathars and Vaudois, and preached spontaneously against Catholicism as being a Satanic plot. The Church organized a crusade against them, massacring and scattering them, then set up the Inquisition to pursue the scattered remains throughout Europe, calling them witches, and projecting on to them the accusation of being Satanic that the witches had originally pinned on the Catholic clergy. As the Church won, it is witches who are now remembered as Satanic.

The Cathars and Waldenses were the first Protestants and the first capitalists, for many had to travel around earning what living they could as craftsmen and tinkers. Their preaching against Catholicism inspired people like Wycliffe and Tyndall, and the Lollards. They also motivated the peasantry to think strange thoughts, thoughts that God had not ordered everyone’s place, and that human beings need not be tied to the land. In England in 1381, the peasants revolted. A Lollard preacher, John Ball, taught quite a different message from that which the serfs held habitually and unquestioningly until then:

When Adam delved, and Eve span, who was then a gentleman? From the beginning all men were created equal by nature, and servitude had been introduced by the unjust and evil oppression of men, against the will of God, who, if it had pleased Him to create serfs, surely in the beginning of the world would have appointed who should be a serf and who a lord.

These dissenting Christians were reading the bible for themselves, and Ball plainly meant that God had not made any such prescription in Genesis, so the presumed order of society had been arranged by the nobility and the clergy hand in hand for their own benefit, and contrary to God’s intention.

Primeval Human Groups

Adam and Eve in the bible had willingly chosen to disobey God, but the notion of God had sociologically come from the interpretation of their societies that early humans, just awakening into consciousness, found themselves living in. These small human groups were essentially classless. Leaders were treated with somewhat greater respect than ordinary members of the group, because they had to take decisions on the group’s behalf, but otherwise they barely differed from the others, living, sharing and caring equally with them.

A child was born into the group, and knew nothing else. When they were ill or hungry, it was the group that looked after them. The purpose of the leader was to keep them united when they were attacked by a predator or a rival group, so every member looked to others for defense and security too. And that was just how they saw it as they died. The group always provided for them and protected them from birth until death. It was, to them, as much part of Nature as the rising of the sun. It seemed eternal because it was in existence when they were born, it still was when they were dying, and so it had always been. The group was led by one member, the most competent of them to do it, and particularly good leaders were remembered, and became identified with the group first as a totem, then an ancestor or a father. In time the benefits of the tribe transferred to a mythical founding leader, who thereby became a god.

So the imagined benefits of the supernatural god or God were inherited from the benefits of the primitive tribe. God is a supernaturalized society, but the society he represents was the egalitarian society of early human beings, a society that made everyone feel secure and safe, and was ever present.

Freedom in Paradise

We can see now, that there was no way that this early simple society could have sustained a division into “haves” and “have nots”. Had it done so, the “have nots” would have upped and left—there could have been nothing in it for them, and the “haves” would have had to become “have nots” to survive. They would have had to do their own delving and spinning. This is the stage when the original hypothetical social contract that founded the original group could have been abandoned, had the social contract been violated.

Were the people in this early human group free? They were and they were not! They benefitted from the help offered by others in the group, and they in turn had to help the others. So they were not free to do as they liked. They had a social duty to perform in return for the social benefits they received. But all of them could rely on the others, for any rogue or antisocial member would have been disciplined by the rest, perhaps even being killed in extreme cases, as chimpanzees do, but also being driven out where they were likely to die unless a nearby group took them in. Members of the groups felt secure, and could participate in evicting a poor or old leader who was no longer effective, thereby participating in a rough and ready democracy—but they were obligated to the group by duty.

Here is the natural source of the ideas of positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom meant that none of the group members felt enslaved or confined. None could be made to do more than their fair share for the group, and could withdraw from the group if they felt some caucus in it was asking too much of them. But they were able to make their own contribution to the group, just the same as the others did, and also could help in replacing an ineffective leader. So, they had positive freedom. True freedom is the right balance of the two of them, and that is what the primitive human group had.

Modern

Overdoing negative freedom breaks down the cohesiveness of the group. People may be able to do a lot of things they could not do while they felt more obligated to the group, but they also feel that the help of others was waning, leading to their growing anxiety and insecurity.

For long periods in the dark and middle ages, though their lords could be oppressive, people could not imagine what freedom was. Equally, though poor, and liable to have hard times in bad seasons through cold, drought or flood, the normal working year was short, and people had a lot of free time waiting for crops to grow, and saints days for merriment. They also had the same strong feeling of community that the primitive group had. In short, the anxiety they felt was real, through poverty and providence, but was not generally social. Social anguish has grown steadily in the twentieth century along with the collapse of caring society into greed and exploitation.

People are feeling the absence of the kindness that close groups always had as a compensation for the random hardships of living—positive freedom. Instead they want more negative freedom—with its attendant failing cohesion of society.

Written by mikemagee

22 June, 2011 at 1:25 am

The Christian Slide from Morality to Magic Rituals

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Christianity had certain advantages over most religions of the Roman empire before it. One was its missionary activity—its proselytizing. Pagan religions generally did not proselytize. Members thought to be valuable as members would be approached or recommended, but on an exclusive basis. They had to be morally acceptable, but Christianity was glad to accept those whom the Pagan religions rejected. Novice Pagans were taught by a hierophant what was expected of them and what they were required to know and do as full members. Christian catechumens were similarly instructed, for several years, by a presbyter. With full membership, the mystoi had secret objects revealed to them, and similarly, catechumens had the local Church’s creed revealed to them. The Churches had no united creed until after the Nicene Council, and it was an unpopular move among some bishops to remove its secrecy before catechumens had been instructed correctly.

Not all Pagans followed a religion. Also popular, especially among intellectuals, were the philosophies that offered a world outlook like Stoicism, Epicureanism and Neoplatonism, each of which offered codes of morals and methods of pursuing virtue. Even so, some philosophies had religions associated with them like the Pythagoreans whose religion, Orphism, was to purify the mind, but which also had expiatory rites like the eastern mysteries. So some Pagans sought membership of religions by living lives acceptable to their gods, while others, like the noble emperor, Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic, sought virtue by living a life of philosophical morality.

Christians had a different approach to morality. Its members did not have to be virtuous to become Christians, but instead had to stop being a sinner, and thereby enter communion with God. By rejecting sin—crimes against the will of God—Christianity aimed to make morality central by vigorously preaching sinlessness, with the open threat that sinfulness means the withdrawal of the Holy Communion, and the permanent loss of the afterlife reward of perpetual bliss with God.

Christians’ motives for virtue, despite their modern obsession with free will, was not a fair choice, as it was for Pagans, it was coercion. The Christian God of love was a mask for the wrath and jealousy of a more basic, cruel and primitive Old Testament God. The misery of this life was to be compensated—for the compliant Christian—by an eternal life of bliss, but only when the convert had succeeded in pleasing God. Christ had explained how strict the rules were. The least sin could mean the loss of the eternally blissful life. It was much easier to miss out on the reward than it was to receive it.

Not only that, though. Although the Revelation of John is clear that consignment to the fires of hell constituted a rapid final and permanent death for the sinner, the idea of a never ending torture without death in perpetual flames was a more effective way of ensuring compliance and obedience among the considerable riff-raff that comprised much of early Christianity. The enormity of the consequences of even minor sins was driven into the poor people and slaves who had become Christians in the hope of life offering them something more than constant suffering in their tortured lives. It proved to be a powerful incentive to conform with the rules of the Church, long before anything certain was known about psychology.

W E H Lecky summarized the difference in approaches of Pagans and Christians:

The eye of the Pagan philosopher was ever fixed upon virtue, the eye of the Christian teacher upon sin. The first sought to amend men by extolling the beauty of holiness, the second by awakening the sentiment of remorse.

A History of European Morals

The Christian negative approach has been and still is, as Christians like to boast, sometimes succesful in bringing those who are thoroughly depraved and apparently impossible to reform to such a state of guilt and remorse in the face of the fear of Judgement that they have broken down and promised to abandon their objectionable behavior. The trouble is that the cure is based on promises that are so far from being verifiable as to be opportunistic lies. The Christian seeks to avoid sin in the hope of an eternal reward by living a life of lies.

Moreover, to control the whole of the membership of the Church, the clergy had to maintain that sinfulness was the norm for all human beings by Original Sin—so that the utmost self sacrifice for others could not absolve even the best human being from the need for clerical intervention via the application of the magical sacraments which soon became as essential as or even more essential than sinlessness or repentance for the sinner to qualify for the ultimate reward.

Humanity whose nature and basic instincts are to be concerned for the welfare of other human beings—and even animals—was denounced by Christians as perpetually depraved and sinful unless immunized by the magic and mumbo jumbo of the mass.

Does Religion Unite or Divide Societies?

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When despots fall, religion plays key role in rebuilding societies: expert

Rashid Omar, Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is an imam at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa. Omar’s research and teaching focus on religion, violence and peacebuilding, especially the Islamic ethics of war and peace and interreligious dialogue. The headline describes him as an “expert”. So when he was thus recently publicized in PhysOrg.com, a “leading web based science, research and technology news service”, saying “religion can play a key role in rebuilding societies after despots fall and violent, oppressive governments are toppled, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia”, is it justifiable for it to be treated as if it were some sort of research?

Surely there is nothing scientific about it, and someone at PhysOrg.com is spreading a message rather different from the website’s objectives. It is not science speaking but his own irrational commitment to religion. Is PhysOrg.com aiming for a Templeton grant?

We read there, in a piece by Shannon Chapla, that Omar thinks religion and religious people, so often considered part of the problem, can instead play key roles in rebuilding society:

In the midst of the worst kind of barbarism, people of different faith traditions found solace and healing in their own faiths and in interreligious solidarity. Now the scene in Tahrir Square is being duplicated all across North Africa and the Middle East. Recently in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Rev Daniel Farrugia, a senior Roman Catholic priest at St. Francis Catholic Church, refused to be evacuated, choosing instead to stay and serve with “our sisters”, nearly 100 nuns working in hospitals and health centers treating the sick and injured.

Are we meant to think that all the other nurses and doctors had left their posts, and the lives of thousands depended on these dedicated Christians? Most of the staff in an Arab hospital, one can reasonably guess, would have been Moslems. Did the Moslems all abandon their patients, leaving only Catholic nuns to care for people who were ill or wounded? People whose vocation is to care for the sick, whether Christians, Moslems, Atheists, or any other category of human being, can be expected to feel the calling of their vocation at such times. It is that, not the calling of God or Allah, that should motivate them to do their jobs.

In just the same way, people instinctively help others simply because we are human, and have that instinct as a human. We are a communal animal, and have evolved characteristics that strengthen the value of the community to us. We live socially to have the help of others, and the security that a group around us offers. In turn we help them. Naturally altruistic people do not like spongers and free loaders getting help and doing nothing to help others. In the distant past, anyone sufficiently so inclined to be noticed would have been thrown out of the tribe and told to look after themselves. Generally they would not have managed on their own, and died. Meanwhile the tribe became more altrusitic by expelling its free loaders.

That is the reason human beings have certain morals, and the core of them are actions that support sociality between us. And Lo! what do we find the Christian God incarnate teaching?

Do unto others as you would be done by.

Yet Omar thinks it is religion that makes people kind:

In my own country of South Africa, black Christians, Muslims and many people of faith struggling against apartheid played a central role in transforming their society from racial oppression and dehumanization towards hope and justice. In the midst of the “Tunisami” now sweeping away despotic rulers across North Africa and the Middle East, ordinary people can collect the threads of peace and justice that are at the heart of both Islam and Christianity to transform their bleak worlds of indignity and dehumanization into freedom, democracy and justice.

It is utterly bogus and unscientific to claim religion is responsible for people acting naturally. Being robbed and oppressed by tyrants is not why we live in a society. We do not volunteer to be someone else’s slave. We expect respect and service from others in society, and we expect to do the same in return. None of us should expect to be exploited for some rich family or class, yet we tolerate it up to a point. It becomes intolerable when we feel we are getting less from society than we put in, when society is manifestly unfair and unjust.

More often than not, it is religion that makes people act unnaturally, makes people hate and want to kill each other. The reason for that is also explained by the evolution of humanity as a social animal. We lived in small tribes of about 150 for a very long time, and it was during those myriads of years that we learnt to love people in our social group. But we also learnt to hate people in other tribes who were alien from us, had a different culture, ate different food, had different manners, and probably spoke a different dialect or even different language. Mainly, tribes remained apart, but when they came together competing for the same herds or patch of woodland, they would fight. Religions are modern tribes, tribes resurrected when they had died out in society otherwise, and people in different religious groups tend to hate the others. In today’s massive urban sprawls, we are better off without religions, which base hatred on false beliefs about God.

Yet Omar, as an imam in Cape Town, before and after the transition to democracy, says he is trying to build “a bridge between my faith commitment and my participation in protest against racism and apartheid”. Why should he need to build any such commitment, when it is natural for us to live together and love one another providing that we recognize the purpose of human society?

Those who wish to divide society on spurious grounds need to be taught a little science, and a little evolutionary morality to make them realise that we cannot live together harmoniously in deeply divided societies, and nor can we live in deeply unfair societies. These are the objectives that should unite us, not superstitions. This is what our commitment should be, and it is at the core of most of the imperial religions because it is at the core of our being.

Written by mikemagee

5 March, 2011 at 12:15 am

The Title “Father” in Christianity

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A news item somewhere informs us that John Dominic Crossan, once a Catholic priest, and now a long time member of the Jesus Seminar, has written an explanation of the Pater Noster or the Lord’s Prayer—“Our Father…” Apparently it is a prayer about the father of a household and the need to distribute the household’s food fairly. He may be a bit right!

Christians have always tried to maintain that Jesus was a member of an ordinary family, one of the motivations, no doubt, for the invention of the Birth Narratives, stories that no one in the main gospels ever refers to or seemingly knows anything about. And for the very good reason that few scholars doubt that they were later inventions tacked on to two of the gospels when they were compiled.

I cannot imagine why the prayer should not refer to God, as most Christians believe, but in the context not of people who lived in family groups, but of people who lived in religious communities, namely, the Essenes. They had a special meal, like the Eucharist, and most likely its source—the scenes where Jesus broke bread, and fed the four and five thousand—called the Messianic Meal, and it seems that the head of the table would recite the prayer on that occasion.

Jesus was an Essene beyond reasonable doubt. That Christians persistently deny it shows they are unreasonable. The Essenes were a Jewish church and, like Jews, and many others, called God their Father. To them, God was the Father of the human race, so all men were sons of God, but they were sons in a hierarchy of sons, the head of each level in the hierarchy being a father to his own sons.

Familiar? The later gentile church retained the system. Bishops, monks and priests are called father by others, monks are led by a father, an abbot, a Patriarch is a Head Father, an archbishop, and a Pope is a Father (Latin Papa, Greek, Pappas). In Aramaean, “abba” means father, and “ab” or “av” does in Hebrew. So, Barabbas means Son of the Father in Aramaean, and Barabbas was Jesus, indeed modern gospels admit that Barabbas was called Jesus!

The Essene hierarchies were not based on material status, on wealth, but on service to others. “The last is first and the first last” being an expression of rewarding service as opposed to status. God’s sons, the human race, were to be valued for their service to others, not on the basis of wealth, so the Essenes, like the apostles in Acts, held all their goods in common. They were communists. That is one big reason why American Christians cannot face up to the truth about Christ.

Is a Neocon Catholic Christian Lawyer a Contradiction in Terms?

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Christians are having a lot of fun at the expense of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. An example is some US lawyer who describes himself as a neoconservative Catholic.

He has a blog in which he and someone else sneer at atheists by featuring Richard Dawkins’ US associate, Josh Timonen, whom the RDF is suing for stealing its funds. The person in question denies the allegation, but will have the chance to demonstrate in court an innocent explanation of where the money has gone. Until he is unable to do so, he is legally considered innocent, and the charges are allegations, not affirmed facts.

Is the neoconservative Catholic author really a practising lawyer? Maybe. He is careful to use the adverb “allegedly” while speaking of the supposed theft, but his guest or partner whom he allows to speak in his own right on the same blog, assumes that Mr Timonen is guilty, despite his plea of innocence.

Of course, we have seen under the Bush years that neoconservatives haven’t a clue what legality means—torture is legal as long as it is suitably defined, international law does not exist being simply what Bush and the neocons say it is—and nor do they know what Christianity means for that matter. Bush and presumably all of those Christian neocons who supported him, and still support the far right of the Republican Party, think Christ said things like:

  • if someone steals your coat take his life in revenge
  • if a man hits you on the cheek blow out his brains
  • if someone forces you to walk a mile, cut off his legs
  • if you find a foreigner laying senseless on the ground, take the chance to rob him of his wallet, go rape his wife and daughters, kill them all, burn down his house, and blow up his village.

They are proud to torture and kill people without any process of law whatsoever, apparently because they know their Christian judgements must be right, so law is the Devil’s work, meant to interfere with God’s own Christian justice. Neoconservatives do not have suspects because to be suspect means to be guilty.

If they are serious about salvation, and they most probably use the whole notion of religion only to gull the gullible Christians who believe them, then they should go back and read the Christian gospels for themselves.

If they then seriously think that God, if that is who Christ is, approves of neoconservative ideology, then they truly are unfit to be lawyers because they plainly cannot comprehend English.

Written by mikemagee

31 October, 2010 at 10:34 pm

The Pope an Enemy of Humanity

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Richard Dawkins’s speech delivered in Whitehall at the London rally against the Pope, 18th Sept 2010, was shorter than the full text, mostly because the rally was so huge—an estimated 15,000—that the speeches started late and had to be curtailed. This is the original speech from Dawkins’s own website:

Should Joseph Ratzinger have been welcomed with all the pomp and ceremony due to a Head of State? No. As Geoffrey Robertson has shown in The Case of the Pope, the Holy See’s claim to statehood is founded on a Faustian deal in which Mussolini handed over 1.2 square miles of central Rome in exchange for Church support of his fascist regime. Our government chose the occasion of the pope’s visit to announce their intention to “do God”. As a friend has remarked to me, presumably we should expect the imminent hand over of Hyde Park to the Vatican, to clinch the deal?

Should Ratzinger, then, be welcomed as the head of a church? By all means, if individual Catholics wish to overlook his many transgressions and lay out the red carpet for his designer red shoes, let them do so. But don’t ask the rest of us to pay. Don’t ask the British taxpayer to subsidize the propaganda mission of an institution whose wealth is measured in the tens of billions: wealth for which the phrase “ill-gotten” might have been specifically coined. And spare us the nauseating spectacle of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and assorted Lord Lieutenants and other dignitaries cringing and fawning sycophantically all over him as though he were somebody we should respect.

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.

The unfortunate little fact that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth has been the subject of a widely observed moratorium. I’ve respected it myself, hitherto. But after the Pope’s outrageous speech in Edinburgh, blaming atheism for Hitler, one can’t help feeling that the gloves are off. Did you hear what he said?

“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews… As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century…”

You have to wonder about the PR skills of the advisors who let that paragraph through. Oh but of course, I was forgetting, his senior advisor is that Cardinal who takes one look at the immigration officials at Heathrow and concludes that he must have landed in the Third World. The poor man was no doubt prescribed a bushel of Hail Marys, on top of his swift attack of diplomatic gout—and one can’t help wondering whether the afflicted foot was the one he puts in his mouth.

At first I was annoyed by the Pope’s disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists, but then I saw it as reassuring. It suggests that we have rattled them so much that they have to resort to insulting us, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal.

It probably is too harsh to expect the 15-year-old Ratzinger to have seen through the Nazis. As a devout Catholic, he would have had dinned into him, along with the Catechism, the obnoxious idea that all Jews are to be held responsible for killing Jesus—the “Christ-killer” libel—not repudiated until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The German Roman Catholic psyche of the time was still shot through with the anti-Semitism of centuries.

Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today. You cannot have it both ways. Either you have 5 million British Catholics, in which case you have to have Hitler too. Or Hitler was not a Catholic, in which case you have to give us an honest figure for the number of genuine Catholics in Britain today—the number who really believe Jesus turns himself into a wafer, as the former Professor Ratzinger presumably does.

In any case, Hitler certainly was not an atheist. In 1933 he claimed to have “stamped atheism out”, having banned most of Germany’s atheist organizations, including the German Freethinkers League whose building was then turned into an information bureau for church affairs.

At very least, Hitler believed in a personified “Providence”, presumably akin to the Divine Providence invoked by the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich in 1939, when Hitler escaped assassination and the Cardinal ordered a special Te Deum in Munich Cathedral:

“To thank Divine Providence in the name of the Archdiocese for the Führer’s fortunate escape.”

We may never know whether Hitler identified his “Providence” with the Cardinal’s God. But he certainly knew his overwhelmingly Christian constituency, the millions of good Christian Germans with “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles, who actually did his dirty work for him. He knew his support base. Hitler most certainly did “do God”. Here’s part of a speech he made in Munich, the heart of Catholic Bavaria, in 1922:

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who—God’s truth!—was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”

That is just one of numerous speeches, and passages in Mein Kampf, where Hitler invoked his Christianity. No wonder he received such warm support from within the Catholic hierarchy of Germany. And Benedict’s predecessor, Pius XII, is not guiltless, as the Catholic writer John Cornwell devastatingly showed, in his book Hitler’s Pope.

It would be unkind to prolong this point, but Ratzinger’s speech in Edinburgh on Thursday was so disgraceful, so hypocritical, so redolent of the sound of stones hurled from within a glass house, I felt that I had to reply.

Even if Hitler had been an atheist—as Stalin more surely was—how dare Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their horrific deeds? Any more than Hitler and Stalin’s non-belief in leprechauns or unicorns. Any more than their sporting of a moustache—along with Franco and Saddam Hussein. There is no logical pathway from atheism to wickedness.

Unless, that is, you are steeped in the vile obscenity at the heart of Catholic theology. I refer—and I am indebted to Paula Kirby for the point—to the doctrine of Original Sin. These people believe—and they teach this to tiny children, at the same time as they teach them the terrifying falsehood of hell—that every baby is “born in sin”. That would be Adam’s sin, by the way, Adam who, as they themselves now admit, never existed. Original sin means that, from the moment we are born, we are wicked, corrupt, damned. Unless we believe in their God. Or unless we fall for the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. That, ladies and gentleman, is the disgusting theory that leads them to presume that it was godlessness that made Hitler and Stalin the monsters that they were. We are all monsters unless redeemed by Jesus. What a vile, depraved, inhuman theory to base your life on.

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity

  1. He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell—and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.
  2. He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.
  3. He is an enemy of women—barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. What other employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of sex, when filling a job that manifestly doesn’t require physical strength or some other quality that only males might be thought to have?
  4. He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
  5. He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican.
  6. He is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem-cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition.
  7. Less seriously from my point of view, Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly endorsing a predecessor’s dissing of Anglican Orders as “absolutely null and utterly void”, while shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.
  8. Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, he is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation and authority—his authority.