Doubt

I had a random conversation with a guy named Josh yesterday. This occurred at Devil’s Pizza in Durham on 9th Street. I wandered in there while I was on 9th Street shopping. I was hungry so I ordered a slice and sat down. Josh was sitting on the next table over, and was facing me. He proceeded to engage me in a conversation. He brought up the issue of religion, and told me that he was attending a big Evangelical mega-church near where I live. I have been to this church. It repels me. I find this form of religious expression to be simply a form of entertainment and nothing more.

I suppose he tweaked me. Also, he was quite insistent that he wanted to have a conversation with me on the subject of religion. Every time I tried to turn the conversation away from religion, he turned it back. Eventually, I surrendered to the inevitable, came over, sat down with Josh and told him the truth.

Bottom line: When Josh walked into Devi’s Pizza yesterday, he was a Christian. When he walked out, he was not so sure. Not that he abandoned his faith at that moment, but he was absolutely sure about what he believed when he met me, and when he walked away, he was filled with doubt.

Here is the thing: I really like doubt. I think doubt is great. It keeps you humble. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know much. What I did in that man’s life was to demolish myths and shine the light of doubt into his heart.

When I was a Christian, doubt was considered a bad thing: We were to do everything possible to root doubt out of our hearts and lives. Now, I embrace it. Interesting. Josh, if you are out there, I would love to hear from you, and how you are doing. Let me know how that doubt thing is working for you. It works for me, that’s for sure.

More later.

Strange Doctrine

In my previous post, I rather crudely described a painful experience I had with Christianity early on. As a divorced man, I was invited by my Christian friends to become a totally non-sexual being. I apologize for my rude language on that post. Generally, I try to keep things nice here, but of course that one got the better of me.

In this post, I would like to more thoroughly explore why it is that many Christians (including myself, in times past) believe some manifestly ridiculous and absurd notions, including the whole sex / divorce thing. I need to nuance this though: I have readily admitted on this blog that Christianity also probably saved my life. Certainly, I received lots of love and support from other Christians during my early Christian experience. (Later on, not so much.) So my experience with religion has not been completely negative. OK, let’s move on.

Why is it that Christians often believe very unlikely things? Simple: It comes from an obstructed view of the bible. I will use myself as an example. While I was enmeshed into the system of Christianity, I viewed the bible entirely through the lens of Christian theology, as shown in the following graphic:

Strange Doctrine 1

Note that I unified my approach to the entire bible: Like any other Christian, when I was is reading the bible, I attempted to reconcile the various books of the bible with each other. Thus, I approached the bible as a single work by a single author, because that is what I believed it was.

Also, notice that I looked at the bible alone. If I read anything other than the bible (and there were many years when I read nothing else), they were works by Christian authors that basically trumpeted the Christian point of view, quoting heavily from the bible in the process. Not very helpful in other words. I certainly did not consider the bible in the context of the culture in which it was written. (Heaven forbid!)

This approach worked for me for a while, but eventually I found it very frustrating. The contradictions were simply too numerous to count. I also found myself believing propositions which frankly are mind boggling. More on this later. Once I became aware of these issues, I considered the following idea: Whatever else the bible is, it is certainly a work of human culture. So why not simply approach the bible in that manner? This required me to remove the lens of Christian theology from my view of the bible.

In the process, the bible became deconstructed into its various books. Of course, once I ceased to approach the bible as a single unified work, I became aware that the bible is simply a collection of ancient documents, nothing more. I ceased trying to reconcile the author of the Gospel of Matthew (who was undoubtedly a Jewish Christian who believed that you must follow the Law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved) with the author of the Gospel of John (a gentile believer who was deeply influenced by pagan Greek philosophy). The following graphic illustrates this approach:

Strange Doctrine 2

Now for the final step. Once I had deconstructed the books of the bible, and approached them individually, and simply as works of human culture, I then began to investigate the other works of human culture (especially literature) which were contemporaneous with and adjacent geographically to the books of the bible. These works amplify and illustrate the books of the bible in a manner than simply cannot be replaced any other way. The final graphic shows this approach:

Strange Doctrine 3

This is, of course, the exact approach used by academics who study the bible and other ancient documents as their profession. Eventually, I discovered academics like Richard Elliott Freidman, Karen Armstrong, and the like, and those have certainly helped me on my way.

Now, let’s examine the process whereby my Christian friends concluded that I, as a divorced man, would never be allowed to marry or have sex ever again. This is based upon a very literal and restrictive reading of several passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Timothy 3:2 which reads:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,…

This passage describes the qualifications for an overseer (Greek: episcopas), which includes the injunction that he must be the husband of one wife. Given that Christians hold a theological position that God’s plan for marriage is for one woman to be married to one man, and to remain faithful to each other their entire lives, their interpretation of this passage is colored by this doctrine. It is manifestly obvious, once you look at the context of the culture of the times, that what was being referred to here was that the overseer could not be the husband of more than one wife simultaneously. That is, he could not be a polygamist. Before you react, bear in mind that polygamy has been by far the most common form of marriage in human history. To this day, many cultures are polygamous. Only in the former Roman Empire and colonies of powers which were previously part of the Roman Empire (such as the US), did monogamy prevail as the norm. In the case of 1st century Palestine, of course there was widespread polygamy, including among Christians. What the writer of this passage is saying (it is rather unlikely that the author of this passage was Paul, so instead he is generally referred to as pseudo-Paul) is that an overseer must be a monogamist. That is not to say that polygamists were not welcome in Christian churches. They were, and we know this from abundant contemporaneous literature from that time. But pseudo-Paul was simply expressing the prevailing Christian view that monogamy was best (as a result of the influence of Roman paganism, from which monogamy emerged).

Now, in my case, this very restrictive reading (again in the light of the Christian theology regarding marriage) meant that we had to read polygamy out of the passage: That is not what that passage could possibly mean, because we know that God would never countenance polygamy! (Never mind that every single patriarch in the Old Testament with the possible exception of Isaac was a polygamist, including Adam.) If we read the passage in the light (or darkness!) of this strange doctrine then the reading becomes obvious: In order to be an overseer, you must be the husband of only one wife in your entire life.

Now, how do we get from this to an injunction against anyone becoming married for the second (or third) time. Simple: God must want us all to be able to qualify as overseers. It is therefore God’s will that we maintain the highest standards of excellence, especially in the area of sex. Thus, I was told: You can get married if you want, but that’s not God’s will for you. If you pray hard enough, you will eventually learn to live as a eunuch for God.

Never mind that I am aggressively and stubbornly heterosexual, and deeply passionate. No problem. God will give you grace. Eventually, you will become able to bear this burden.

Hence my FtS reaction in my previous post. I simply refused to go along with this absurd notion. In the process I was attacked physically once, and was pretty roundly persecuted for a while. But eventually, I found my amazing and wonderful wife, Ruth, and we discovered each other. The rest is blessed history.

This is not the only ridiculous notion that I allowed myself to believe for many years while living as a Christian. Others included:

  • Evolution is a theory, nothing more.
  • The earth is only a few thousand years old.
  • We all descended from two individual humans who were miraculously created by God.
  • The entire universe was created by God in seven days.

You get the idea. Once you remove the lens of Christian theology, these will eventually fall away. At least they did for me.

More later.

No Sin

I have told the same story twice today: Once to Susan Powter, one of my dearest and oldest friends, who I talk to about once a decade, and the second time to my once-estranged, but now forgiven, daughter. Apparently, this story was important to me.

It was about my experience as a “baby Christian”. That is, just after I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. In fact, my wife left me for this reason. It seemed that she preferred a drinking buddy to a Christian husband, so she split. After I dealt with that loss, my Christian friends (i.e. members of my religious community) informed me that:

  • I could not have sex outside of marriage.
  • I could never get married again.
  • And, oh yes, I could never masturbate.

In other words, I could never have a non-spontaneous ejaculation for the rest of my life. At the age of 28, I was done. I call this solution: No Sex.

It’s simple: Just don’t have sexual feelings of any kind. Just try that for about 60 seconds. OK, there now. I think you see the problem.

This was my first rebellion. At that time, to Christianity I said: Fuck that Shit.

More later.

Fraud

In my previous post, I outlined my views on the Shroud of Turin, and how it is very likely that this is the genuine burial cloth of the historical figure we refer to as Jesus Christ (not his real name, but we will use that name for convenience). In addition, I pointed out that the Shroud contains many, many layers. The most well-known image, though, is the negative photographic image, which creates huge challenges for us, both as secular observers and as religious folks. For purposes of reference, I include my favorite image of the Shroud, which is the photographic negative image which reverses the image back to positive:

Full_length_negatives_of_the_shroud_of_Turin

In another area of my study, I looked in depth at the development of Roman Catholicism and the rise of the Emperor Constantine. I am not a fan of Constantine, actually. Several books have led me to this conclusion. One of these is a particular favorite: Cities of God by Rodney Stark. Although Stark writes from a Christian perspective (which I respect, actually), his conclusions are telling: The rise of Christianity as a world religion was a process of social forces which made the events of the Medieval period inevitable. Basically, Christianity prevailed because (as I have said before on this blog) it replaced the ancestral village life for many people in ancient Rome who had been ripped out of their homes and sold into slavery. During the first three centuries CE, Christianity grew steadily within the Roman empire. There were several plagues during this period, and Christianity increased sharply (at the expense of paganism) during each plague. Stark points out that the Christians were venturing into the homes of their plague infected pagan neighbors and bringing them food and warm blankets. If the pagan family survived, they certainly were not pagan anymore after that! Because of their loving care for each other and for their neighbors, the survival rate of Christians was much higher than pagans during each of these plagues. Fundamentally, the big jump in numbers during these plagues would have resulted in Christianity constituting about 55% of the urban Roman population by the beginning of the 3rd century, when Constantine comes onto the scene.

Clearly, from the perspective of Constantine, he simply bet on a winning horse. The conclusion was inescapable and obvious by the time Constantine converted: If he did not become a Christian, eventually he would have been overthrown. Trouble is, as Stark points out, once Constantine co-opted early Christianity and made it an instrument of Roman power, all distinctiveness between the Christians and the pagans was lost. In the next plague, no Christians visited their neighbors bringing warm blankets and food. The Christians died as the same rate as the pagans. Thus, it is very obvious that much of the momentum and credibility of Christianity was lost once Constantine took over. (Most of the “Christians” who converted after Constantine were nominally Christian only, by and large, as Constantine provided many incentives to convert once he became the effective head of the Christian faith.)

This gets into the issue of Constantine’s mom, St. Helena. I have read several books on Constantine, and one on his mother. The best book by far that I have found on St. Helena is The Living Wood: Saint Helena and the Emperor Constantine by Louis de Wohl. Although he again writes from a Christian perspective, de Wohl points out some facts which, when combined with what we know about the Shroud, are extremely telling about Constantine, his mother and the rise of Medieval Christianity.

One interesting fact which I should point out before going on: The Shroud is the best and most convincing physical evidence of the facts surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That should theoretically make it the most important relic in all of Christendom. But instead we find that the Shroud is being systematically suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. The silly and inane Carbon 14 dating in 1988 is an exceptionally good example. This Carbon 14 dating was so fatally flawed that it is simply astounding that it was even taken seriously. The scientists in charge insisted on a minimum of six samples: They got three. They wanted to take the samples from different areas of the Shroud: Instead only one area of the Shroud was used, and those samples were collected in private by only two men, both Roman Catholic clergy, who provided the testers with the samples, plus false samples from another source, without anyone other than the two Roman Catholic clergy knowing which was which.

When the Carbon 14 dating project produced a date in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church immediately caved: The Shroud is a fraud! It is an interesting relic, but obviously not the burial cloth of Jesus, etc. In other words, the Roman Catholic church has done everything humanly possible to simply make the Shroud go away. The interesting question is: Why?

Once you read Louis de Wohl’s book, and combine it with the books on the Shroud, the answer becomes obvious: The Shroud makes the crimes of Constantine and his mother obvious and apparent to anyone. Let me explain.

I said a moment ago that the Shroud should have been the most important Christian relic, but it wasn’t. Instead that relic was a piece supposedly found by St. Helena in Jerusalem in the mid-4th century: The True Cross. This was supposedly the cross of Christ. It was used by St. Helena and Constantine to enrich themselves and solidify their power. Constantine always carried the True Cross with him into battle. His troops believed that with the power of God behind them, they could not lose. And sure enough, they never did. In this way, using the power of Christianity, Constantine was able to consolidate the entire Roman empire under his rule, the last Emperor to accomplish this. Also, St. Helena sold off pieces of the True Cross to every cathedral in Europe. In the process, she and Constantine became the two wealthiest individuals in all of Christendom.

There is a serious problem with the idea of the True Cross. This relic was in the form of what is referred to as a unitary cross. The use of the cross as the symbol of Christianity dates from this time. This is a cross as we normally think of it: Two pieces of wood permanently attached to each other. Supposedly Jesus was nailed to this cross, and then the entire arrangement was hoisted into the air, as shown in films like The Passion of the Christ.

Looking back at the Shroud, the figure shown in the Shroud was not crucified in this manner. Instead, his arms were tied to a cross beam. Once he reached the crucifixion site, he was nailed to the cross beam, and then the cross beam was hoisted onto a vertical post (similar to a telephone pole), which had a hook mounted on top. A small angle bracket was then nailed to the vertical post, and his ankles were nailed to this piece. This is all completely consistent with archeological finds of other Roman crucifixion sites. Bear in mind that crucifixion was the dominant form of execution in the early Roman Empire, so we have lots of textual and archeological evidence to fall back on here.

When you think about it, the manner of execution shown in the Shroud is much more likely than the traditional Christian view. A unitary cross would simply be too heavy for Jesus to successfully carry from the trial site to the crucifixion area (referred to in the Gospels as Golgotha). A unitary cross would probably have weighed on the order of 400 pounds, far too heavy for even a normal person to carry that far, even if he had not been nearly beaten to death. A cross beam would have weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, which is quite doable, even for an injured person.

Thus, the Shroud speaks to us concerning the crimes of Constantine and his mother: Apparently, they faked the find of the True Cross, and foisted this fraud upon the ancient Christian world. In the process they made themselves incredibly powerful and wealthy. They also created phoney miracles (referred to as the Holy Fire) which were conducted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the cathedral that Constantine and Helena built in Jerusalem) every Easter from the 4th century  all the way to the 18th century.

At the end of the day, the conclusion is inevitable: The church created  by Constantine was a fraud. He cynically and knowingly faked his conversion, the various miracles surrounding the True Cross, his victories in battle, and all the rest. It boggles the mind, actually.

Now, what does this say about Christianity as it exists today? Certainly, the legacy of Constantine must be dealt with. This is a process which is still going on in my own mind. More on that later.

Shroud

OK, I know, I know. You are saying “Here goes.” You saw the title and have now identified me as one of those people, the weirdos who always talk about the Shroud.

I hope to disappoint you. I am not a typical Shroud believer. Far from it. However, as I related in my previous post, my Christian friend Ray has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet, and I must now justify what I believe, or die trying. And, you see, Ray knows me very well. He knows that I have studied the issue of the Shroud deeply. So far, I have read a lot of books on the Shroud of Turin, as well as watched some video. All of this material falls into three categories:

  • The rapidly Christian stuff, which is by and large useless and full of junk science. And example of this is The Shroud of Turin by Bob and Penny Lord. These books and videos are written from an entirely Christian perspective, and thus approach the Shroud from a position of faith. This is actually not helpful at all. The Shroud creates huge challenges to traditional Christian faith, as we will see later in this blog, and this approach entirely hides those insights.
  • Some New Age stuff which is actually not too bad; at least it is grounded in science. It is pretty weird though. My favorite example is The Truth About the Shroud of Turin: Solving the Mystery by Robert K. Wilcox. Wilcox is a bit, well, odd, but his conclusions are not manifestly wrong, indirect though his path may be.
  • The rapidly anti-Christian stuff which attempts to either debunk the Shroud, or blame the entire Christian religion on it. An example of this claptrap would be The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection by Thomas de Wesselow. Wesselow theorizes that the entire Christian movement occurred as a result of the viewing of the Shroud by various folks, including St. Paul, of course! The fly in the ointment is the Shroud itself: Wesselow attempts to dismiss it as a vaporgraph, which is quite frankly physically impossible. I will not bore you with the physics, but suffice it to say, I am certainly not convinced by Wesselow here.

After wading through a bit of this soft of thing, I have come to some conclusions about the Shroud.

First of all, the Shroud is either the genuine burial cloth of the historical figure we refer to as Jesus Christ, or there was more than one person crucified in almost (but not quite) precisely the manner described in the Gospels, and that person was crucified in the early 1st century in Jerusalem. The likelihood of more than one person being crucified in exactly this manner, especially considering the unusual circumstances surrounding these events, is highly remote. Therefore, I believe that I can state with reasonable confidence that the Shroud of Turin is in fact the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is what I believe, and I have given the matter a lot of thought and study.

The Shroud is a many layered thing, with various images on it, but the most important part of the Shroud problem for our present discussion is the negative holographic image which is present on both the face up and face down portions of the Shroud. The following image has them placed conveniently side-by-side:

Full_length_negatives_of_the_shroud_of_Turin

There are several problems with the existence of this image. We cannot create this image even today with any technology we presently possess. It is too fine an image. It consists of an almost single-molecule thick layer of darker colored fibers in the linen cloth out of which the Shroud was made. Although it was made in the 1st century (the stupid 1988 carbon 14 dating has been completely debunked at this point), it contains a negative photographic image. That makes this the earliest photographic image in human history, so far as we know, and it was created approximately 1,800 years before the invention of photography.

And not only does it have a negative image, but that image contains holographic data, making the likelihood of a natural explanation even more unlikely.

Many highly competent and revered scientists have looked at the Shroud, but most have now stopped trying. It is considered a career killer. The Shroud simply cannot be explained by rational means.

Thus, my final conclusion: I don’t know what went on in that tomb, but it must have been some seriously gnarly stuff, that’s for sure! And that’s basically what I know. Apparently, Jesus was very important somehow, at least to the extent that an extremely inscrutable event surrounded His death.

In my next post, I will deal with the notion in Ray’s email that the evidence of the Shroud (which largely corroborates the Gospel accounts, with a few notable exceptions) means that we should give the New Testament a special break with respect to the Word of God thing. More later.

Goddess

My Christian friend Ray sent me the following email today:

When I hear all of the discussions of the god El and the god Yahweh as per as the creation stories, the implication is that religion is a human invention. While it is clear that humans have developed a lot of religious ideas and notions about God or the gods, the question is what is really going on? Is the knowledge of or belief in God a logical conclusion, wishful thinking, or a reflection of a real experience however distorted in history? I think it has to be one of these three choices.

Of course, the least interesting to me is the notion that God is simply a figment of a hopeful human imagination. We needed a psychological comfort and explanation, so we basically invented God, or in the past the gods, to fill the gap.

Perhaps God or the gods are simply a logical conclusion. The evidence is just too strong that there is a creator who made all things. We conclude that it could not have happened by chance. This creator made the universe with incredible design and complexity surpassing anything that humans have been able to fully understand or process. Unfortunately if God has communicated in the past, it is has been too spotty to rely on, or maybe he is the watchmaker who just stopped talking.

I believe what we have is the third option, that the knowledge of God is a reflection of a real experience. Perhaps you can conclude that the knowledge of God has been distorted. The question is whether the myths and legends reflect not just the imagination but are tales of actual events. Were people originally polytheists or did polytheism follow monotheism?

I believe polytheism is the creation of people. The fact that we can see people moving towards monotheism is based on experiences where God supernaturally appeared, indicating that he was the one true God. Most of the primitive societies have a legend that “we used to serve the one true God but then fell away and serve demons”. The Hebrew prophets constantly declared that the idols were not real gods but simply paper, wood and metal.

So I guess the question is to whether you believe that God is real and active in history? If he is real and active in history, such as evidenced by your acknowledgement that Jesus rose from the dead then should not affect how we view textual criticism and the Bible. Was there a supernatural reality behind these stories, or all they simply humanly created myth? Humanly created myth is different from a mythical retelling of a true event.

So is the knowledge of God a logical conclusion, human invention or based on real encounters?

And there it is. The gauntlet has been thrown. I must now state what I really believe. For I certainly owe Ray that much. After all, he is my closest and dearest friend in the all the world, with the exception of course of my wonderful and lovely wife, Ruth. I will blog on my love for Ruth soon. First, though we must turn to Ray’s email.

OK. I think Ray has it fairly close in his explanation, but for purposes of completeness, I think there are the following possibilities with respect to the existence and nature of God:

  • God does not exist, and the universe is a natural phenomenon, nothing more. This is the standard atheist position. I have held that position at times in my life. I certainly understand that position very well. I have read all of the “new atheists”, and know the basic pitch. I am not really a fan, though. I choose not to be an atheist, for the simple reason that it is a dreary and depressing way to live. I will probably blog on why I am not an atheist later.
  • The existence of God is unknowable, so therefore it is a silly thing to talk about. This is the standard agnostic position. I have known many Christians who believed that an agnostic was an easy mark for conversion, because he / she admittedly does not know whether or not God exists. That ignorance can be cured, after all! But this is foolishness. The correct way to characterize the agnostic position is this: Whether of not God exists is not knowable by human means. That is a completely legitimate philosophical and spiritual position, and I have known many people who hold to this position, including members of my own family. Again, though, I do not hold this position either. Basically, there is no difference in the way that you would live if you were an atheist vs. an agnostic. I would find this way of life dreary and depressing. More on that later.
  • God exists, and this fact is clear from the existence and unique nature of the universe. However, He / She / It cannot conceive of our existence. Therefore, the existence of God is merely a necessary conclusion to account for the universe’s existence. Otherwise He / She / It has no relevance or meaning in our life. Certainly, He / She / It never conceived of any “laws” that we, as created beings, are directed to carry out, and does not listen to any of our prayers. This is the standard theist position. Many of the founders of the United States believed something very close to this. This is also very close to the position of Aristotle, with his concept of the “unmoved mover”. Buddhism also gets very close to this, or possibly The Buddha could be referred to as an agnostic. (Certainly he dodged every question he ever received concerning the existence of God. He regarded it as an inappropriate question.) I often flirt with this position. But I am not sure what I would do with a deity that simply could not be contacted by any means. How would He / She / It have any impact or meaning on our lives? Certainly, some of the mystics believe that He / She / It does. There is an inexpressible longing to many theists. I share that longing, and in that sense, I am a kindred spirit. Certainly, I am very drawn to spiritual movements like yoga that are essentially theistic in their philosophical approach.
  • God exists and has intimate and loving contact with human beings, through miraculous and spiritual means. This is the standard monotheistic position. It has some nuances though. In my own way, I believe in this most of the time. However, my form of monotheism is a bit eccentric: Most often, I relate to the divine as Female. I call Her The Goddess, hence the name of this post. While this may seem weird to my Christian friends, bear in mind that I had a miserable relationship with my father, while my mother, although she was insane most of the time, actually did love me. And there is actually abundant support for Goddess worship in early Christianity, as well as other religions. More on the Goddess, and why I worship God in this manner, in a later post. One of the aspects of many monotheistic religions, including Christianity, is the notion of a divine law. This gets into the various subsets of monotheism, which I suppose I will get into at some time. Suffice it to say, that the monotheistic religions that claim that God created a divine moral law that we are required to at least try to carry out (which seems to be the basic pitch of Christianity) are essentially all wet as far as I am concerned. Especially if you actually read the law that is supposedly being foisted upon as a divine law. But I digress. Back to the high-level options with respect to the existence and nature of the divine.
  • The gods exist and they are real! This is paganism. I believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam evolved out of paganism, as I have said earlier on this blog. This does not mean that these religions do not contain elements of truth, though. There seems to be an idea that if a faith or belief evolved out of something else, that therefore it is not true. Certainly, it would be a cool validation of the message of a particular religion if the revelation of that religion simply sprung out, intact and unchanging, onto the world stage. I sense a bit of that longing in Ray’s comment about primitive man being monotheistic. But this is not what we observe. Instead paleolithic man is animistic, which I will cover next, and animism is very different from monotheism. With respect to paganism, however, Christianity is not as far from this as we would like to think. Certainly, notions like the trinity (which is simply a rehashing of the pagan philosopher Plotinus’s notion of the Divine Triad) come very close to being polytheistic, and many of the other monotheistic religions (like Judaism and Islam) criticize Christianity for this very thing. I think paganism is a fun and interesting religion, and certainly I read a lot of pagan literature. (Much of the genre known as fantasy falls into the pagan category.) However, the idea of many ethically ambiguous semi-divine beings who are at war with each other seems rather ridiculous to me. In the end, I would be right there with Socrates drinking the hemlock. So, no, I am not a pagan.
  • Everything we can see is a shadow of a spirit world which is more real than this world. Every rock, every tree, every animal, are all pregnant and pulsing with spiritual power. This form of belief is called animism, and it has been the dominant form of belief for most of human history. The paleolithic humans who persist on the earth are largely animists, and some of the more primitive neolithic cultures are as well. Certainly, all of mankind apparently starts out as animistic, according to the universal consensus of the anthropologists that I have read. (Ray, if you have any science to corroborate your “primitive monotheism” theory, please let us know.) When I am in nature, sometimes I feel the numinous impulse, as described by C.S. Lewis, when I see a thunder cloud or some other awesome natural phenomenon. I had that experience once standing at the foot of Exit Glacier at midnight on the longest day of the year. I have also had that experience on the seas in very rough weather. At those moments, I feel what the primitive humans must have felt, and I flirt with animism. But in the end, I know that the universe is essentially rational, and I understand the physics well enough to explain all of the natural stuff I see in front of me. So, no, I am not an animist either.

That leaves monotheism. OK, then I am a monotheist. But am I a Christian? That is a more interesting question, which I will save for a later post.