Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Some Very Different Writing for Me

June 19, 2016

I have published four novels now, most of them historical fiction. So this is something very different for me.

In high school and throughout college, I acted in many school and community theater plays. I also minored in psychology in college. So I decided to combine those two disciplines. SIGI AND CARL explores the questions that plague most of us: Have we done something truly meaningful with our life? Will we leave a legacy? This surrealistic play responds through the life and relationships of Sigmund Freud, with Carl Jung as his major counter-point. Guest figures include Hamlet, Albert Einstein, Anna Freud, and Melanie Klein.

SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS, please note: I am happy to provide text copies at no charge if you would like to read in class or produce any or all of this play. As an educator, I wish to promote knowledge as well as creative thinking.

If you have time, please give this a look.

https://www.amazon.com/Sigi-Carl-Play-Three-Acts-ebook/dp/B01GT3Q5YQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466304510&sr=8-1&keywords=sigi+and+carl

A Monotheistic View of the Roles of Women (part 2)

February 20, 2016

Because women were clearly prevalent in the practice of medicine before the advent of the god-man, it is perhaps most surprising that such women existed after the ascension of the male monotheism, as opposed to what they achieved. What is probably most significant about the medical school at Salerno, other than being recognized as an institution representing a high, formal standard of medical training, is that it set the stage for medical licensing.

Solerno“It is easy to understand that the attraction which Salerno possessed for patients soon also brought to the neighborhood a number of irregular physicians, travelling quacks, and charlatans. Wealthy patients were coming from all over the world to be treated at Salerno. Many of them doubtless were sufferers from incurable diseases and nothing could be done for them. Often they would be quite unable to return to their homes and would be surely unwilling to give up all hope if anybody promised them anything of relief. There was a rich field for the irregular, and of course, as always, he came. Salerno had already shown what a good standard of medical education should be, and it is not surprising, then, that the legal authorities in this part of the country proceeded to the enforcement of legal regulations demanding the attainment of this standard, in order that unfit and unworthy physicians might not practise medicine to their own benefit but to the detriment of the patients.

“Accordingly, as early as the year 1140, King Ruggiero (Roger) of the Two Sicilies promulgated the law: ‘Whoever from this time forth desires to practise medicine must present himself before our officials and judges, and be subject to their decision. Anyone audacious enough to neglect this shall be punished by imprisonment and confiscation of goods. This decree has for its object the protection of the subjects of our kingdom from the dangers arising from the ignorance of practitioners.'” (Anonymous, 1911)

A century later, in 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II extended and formalized this into law for the entire Holy Roman Empire. Because many countries were still in strife over secular rulers, resulting in the civil authorities being weak, the legal ordering of the practice of medicine was effectively taken up by the Church, and the authority for the issuance of licenses to practice was in the hands of the bishops of the neighborhood. (Anonymous, 1911) Because the Church and temporal rulers were male dominated, this law set the stage for the eventual elimination of women as rivals in the field of medicine. This was bloodily carried out over several centuries. As the “witch trials” of women who practiced medicine (as well as men who practiced chiropractic medicine) is well documented, we will now turn our attention away from the sciences and back to the question of women practicing in the visual arts.

BoccaccioIronically, the very qualities that were desired in a medieval period woman were those that the male artists and their patrons used to degrade female artists. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375, right), a famous Italian painter and writer, stated that the ideal woman “must be gentle, modest, honest, dignified, elegant in speech, pious, generous in soul, chaste and skilled in household management.” All areas related to “femininity” were denigrated as not being “high art”.

This view is demonstrated by Adrianna Mena: “Up until the nineteenth century, when women were mentioned in art historical texts, it was a matter of exception. For example, in Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Prominent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Sofonisba Anguissola is mentioned. However, Anguissola was the daughter of an Italian noble, and sometimes painted self-portraits showing her seated at a musical instrument accompanied by a chaperone, which removed the focus from her artistic ability to her social status and membership to the cultured elite. Her class position rendered her activity as an artist both possible and worthy of notice and comment, not her talent. In an earlier text by Boccacio, several women are mentioned, but he writes: ‘I thought these achievements worthy of some praise, for art is much alien to the mind of women, and these things cannot be accomplished without a great deal of talent which in women is usually very scarce.’ Clearly he holds no regard for these women’s talent, but only mentions them to emphasize their difference from the supposed average woman.” (Mena, 2005)

VessariIt seems that, as long as the artwork did not challenge the confines of what men determined as feminine or proper, then it was sanctioned. As far as the male artists and critics were concerned, if a woman could excel in larger works of art, then the men would have to work harder to prove that they were better or more gifted and more intelligent than women. Being an artistic genius was solely reserved as a male prerogative (Chadwick, 2007). Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574, right) was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists. He proved Chadwick’s assertion by stating: “should women apply themselves too diligently, they risk appearing to ‘wrest from us the palm of supremacy’.” In essence, the prevailing belief was that females should remain “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen.”

During this era, most of the women who were allowed to perform art, on very limited subjects, were nuns. “Early Middle Ages art was initially restricted to the production of Pietistic painting (religious art) in the form of illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings in churches. Both monks and nuns were the main artists during the Middle Ages. The women who became nuns were responsible for many illuminated manuscripts.” (The Middle Ages Website, 2011)

EndeEnde of Spain (left) was one of the 10th -11th Century illuminators of Beatus Apocalypse of Gerona. Guda, Claricia, Diemud, and Harrade von Landsberg were 12th Century nuns and manuscript illuminators in Germany. (Many nuns were either anonymous or known only by their first names because nuns renounced all earthly values and possessions, even their born names.) Caterina dei Vigri (1413-1463) was skilled not only in painting, but in music and illumination. She became Abess of the Convent of the Poor Clares and was canonized; she is regarded as the patron saint of painters. Bourgot, while not a nun, was a 14th Century professional French illuminator, and she also produced some of the best miniatures of the period. Maria Ormani, a 15th Century Florentine nun of the Augustinian order, was quite prolific. There are many more women mentioned in connection with religious art during this period, but almost all were nuns.

de_Rossi 2Then it seemed society loosened up a little, but only for very small, limited productions. Properzia de’ Rossi (left) was born c.1490 in Bologna, Italy. She studied drawing under Marcantonio Raimondi. De’ Rossi was at first known for her complex miniature sculptures using an unorthodox medium of apricot, peach or cherry stones. In her thirties, she began to produce normal-sized sculptures like portrait busts, and these helped establish her reputation as a serious artist. She was also commissioned to decorate the altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna, and she won a competition to produce marble sculpture for the church of San Pedro in Bologna. Suzanne de Court (c. 1600) was a French enameller; the daughter of Jean de Court, she learned the art of enameling from her father.

Toward the end of the Medieval Period, as both Martin Luther and then Henry VIII were challenging the power of the Catholic Church, a few women artists were allowed to study, primarily thanks to indulgent fathers who did not want their daughters to waste their talent. However, these non-clergy female artists were still very limited in many ways, even as their male counterparts soared to new heights of challenge and creativity.

During the Renaissance period, a period of great cultural change that spanned the period from the end of the 13th Century to about 1600 AD, the new linear perspective form of art developed. Because this new type of art required advanced mathematical skills, it was denied to women. At this time, although it would mean becoming more isolated, should a woman wish to continue her education and still paint, the convent remained one of her two options. It should be noted that many such options were not only denied to women, but restricted in the sense of being the domain of white, upper-class males. “Male privilege and male lines of property and succession were strongly valued.” (Chadwick, 2007)

There was a strong focus on men being able to paint the nude figure, a very difficult task to master as it required knowledge of anatomy and physiology. However, women were barred from studying the nude body. The repeating theme seems to be to “veil their eyes, act with modesty; to know everything is not in accord with chastity.” This attitude is magnified in the ultimate patriarchal religion, Islam. In accord with this attitude, women were only allowed to be educated to become “better wives and mothers, and more virtuous exemplars of the Christian ideals of chastity.” (Chadwick, 2007).

SofonisbaIt was then that Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625) entered onto the scene. She evidently chose to remain unmarried for a number of years, as it was impossible to reconcile an artistic career with the domestic life: a husband, children, and running a household. Thankfully, her father, Amilcare Anguissola, a minor noble and wealthy land owner, wanted both of his daughters to express their talents, and sought the support of professional tutors. Training for male painters meant at least four years in an artist’s workshop; Sofonisba was trained, with her sister Elena, by Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti for at least three years, and perhaps more with Michelangelo. Still, she did not receive any training with nudes of any kind and was not able to do large-scale works of art. Again within the constraints of her era, she did many images of women.

Her artwork seems direct, her hands and facial expressions are precise and very lovely. Her painting “Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola” is wonderful, partly in that she restrains

Click!

herself and acknowledges “the role of a woman as an object of representation.” We see how she places her instructor looking directly at the viewer, while she, being painted, does not quite have eye contact with the viewer. Since she is an unmarried woman, she needs to maintain her modesty. In her paintings, there is always the qualities so valued in this society, and reflects the “Renaissance ideal of the artist as gentleman/woman rather than the artisan” (Chadwick, 2007).

Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-Portrait” shows a prim, proper woman playing the spinet, supervised by her chaperone. As an artist in a man’s domain, she brought forth the inner beauty of her subjects. She was a guest at the Spanish court for years. It is hard to imagine her remaining an insider to the royal family and having access to painting the female members with such a special relationship should she have been married, and expected to assume the responsibilities that marriage implies. Also, along with marriage, she would have lost a certain innocence. Being a wife, homemaker and mother is a full-time occupation; Anguissola would not have had the time to be creative, as opposed to a man who would not have to split his time and energy.

For a combination of reasons, one of the stronger woman artists of this era was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652/1653). Partly it is because the Catholic Church was losing some of its power, but it was undoubtedly also partly due to the support of her father, Orazio, who seemed to me more interested in her expertise as an artist than his own. He worked in the Caravaggesque style, and passed this on to his daughter. She was expertly taught. Her theme was strong, heroic, sensuous women who triumphed via their virtue. Her first known painting, “Susanna and the Elders” (right), is controversial for several reasons. Some theories state that this was a father-daughter combination. The painting has Susanna in the nude, which women just did not do. Also, Susanna is not in a very graceful position, and is placed in the center of the viewer’s eye; all of this is new and “too masculine” for a woman to paint.

Then came the pivotal event in the life of Artemisia Gentileschi. While her father was encouraging her artistic education, he hired a private tutor for her by the name of Agostino Tassi. Tassi either seduced or raped her, and then went back on his word to marry her. At the heart of the matter was not the rape, but the violation of her father’s “property”, as women in the household were considered the chattel of the man at that time. To add insult to injury, she was forced to undergo a pelvic examination and was tortured by using thumbscrews during the trial to give “true” testimony. Certainly, after her very public trial, she had pretty much been exposed to the general public and did not have much if anything to hide or repress. Having no “modesty” left to lose, her paintings took on more of a vengeful nature. Rumors have it that she used the exposure of her rape to advance her career by painting such work as “Judith Decapitating Holofernes”, where Holofernes strongly resembled Tassi.

Giuditta_decapita_Oloferne

Artemisia Gentileschi decided that she would depict nudes at a time that women were not allowed to study nude figures, and Joachim van Sandart may have asserted that she covertly painted from live nude models (Bissell, 1999). Although she was only allowed to paint women from the Bible, she selected scenes that showed women who sought vengeance against men for vile acts. Her colors are extremely rich, and her characters are quite powerful. Her painting of “Judith Decapitating Holofernes (right)” shows a determined, strong, capable woman, along with her co-conspirator maidservant, both set with purposeful, direct action. This is a painting by a woman who had broken down all of her societal barriers, and she was now free to paint without restriction. The firm hold of Judith on her sword, the spray of the blood that shows the carotid was severed, implies that Gentileschi was resisting the conventions of being unable to study nudes or corpses. Furthermore, just the hint of red in Judith’s dress sleeve and also the one on her maidservant indicated that they were not afraid to have blood on their hands to do what they felt was right. It may be reading too much into the symbolism of this painting, but the fact that the sword is in the middle of the painting cutting off his head could also represent cutting off his penis, and therefore Gentileschi/Judith was emasculating the man who raped her, and perhaps those who would deny her anatomical studies.

Artemisia_GentileschiViewing her “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” (left), it is almost as if Gentileschi were thumbing her nose at the male artists and critics to say: “Deny me the males-only club of learning from nudes; I will still show you a true artist in action”. She seems to be completely absorbed in work, the light is on her skin, illuminating her, her hair is disheveled, and yet she is feminine with her gold chain around her neck and her graceful dress swirling about her. She might well have said: “I grant I am a woman, but withal a woman well reputed, Orazio’s daughter”, to paraphrase Portia in “Julius Caesar”. Gentileschi is completely fearless, and frank in her actions.

Gentileschi broke the bounds of the last hurdle that women had to get over by being the first Italian woman able to paint general historical scenes, perhaps because those required many human figures in the work, and nudes in particular. Following her example, Angelica Kauffmann (1741 – 1807), although very shy, challenged the Royal Academicians for their monopoly over historical paintings. Her work, “Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Picture of Helen of Troy” (below), reflects a subdued and graceful art. She was a very hard worker, and she was famous and beloved by the people. She was extremely well-known for her designs in china service, engravings, wall paintings, and portraits. But her love was for historical paintings.

Angelica Kauffmann: Zeuxis Selecting Models for his Picture of Helen of Troy c1778:

While Kauffmann was attempting to pierce the world of male historical painters, she was accused of being unable to have full-bodied work, due to her inability to paint nudes. Of course, this training was denied to her. Consequently, she strove to capture moral content and noble movements in her historical scenes. When viewing “The Beautiful Rhodope in Love with Aesop”, it certainly appears that Kauffmann’s male figures are more effeminate, rather than strongly masculine. But her colors are extremely rich, and the hands and feet are accurate. Her work displays a tenderness and relaxed mood to it. During this era, it seemed as if the critics were looking for more severe, action packed, forceful arenas of history. Not being privy to the same privileges as men, she just had a different style of painting history.

“The Family of the Earl of Gower” is representative of Kauffmann’s neoclassical style. This picture is again very subdued, a calm moment in a family, which is quite restrained. While she may have found it very hard to overcome the restrictions of her sex in regards to painting historical scenes, Kaufmann led the way for female artists after herself. “In 1769, Angelica Kauffman (right) Angelica Kauffmann by Angelica Kauffmann.jpgand Mary Moser helped found the British Royal Academy. After Kauffman and Moser, no woman was allowed membership in the British Royal Academy itself until Annie Louise Swynnerton became an Associate Member in 1922 and Laura Knight was elected to full membership in 1936.” (Mena, 2005) In spite of the leadership and determination shown by Kauffman and Moser, it seems the men were still determined to be sexist in regard to talent. “So long as a woman remains from unsexing herself, let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist. When she does, she is a man.” (Anonymous, 19th Century art commentator)

While all artists had to traverse obstacles placed in their way by the Church, females had to overcome the male-centric artistic society, and society as a whole. The restrictions placed on women by a limited education was bad enough, but they were still not overtly able to see anything that might further encourage their minds either technically or creatively. Even if a woman was lucky enough to be born of nobility or to a family with money, she could still be excluded from studying and practicing serious art. Other than a few indulgent fathers, the men acted like they were protecting the females in their lives, while actually asserting their dominance.

Where women were concerned, the Middle Ages were truly the “dark ages”. Fortunately, today the patriarchal Christian Church has lost most of its power, and women have regained much of their independence-at least, in the non-Islamic world. They can study any subject they wish. They can enjoy both a family and a profession. They can be both strong and successful and still maintain their femininity. And, if they have the talent, they can also be great artists or scientists.
I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research and writing.

“Holy Smoke, I’ve been blasted into belief!” Or: Deprogramming the Indoctrinated

May 3, 2012

Image

I was watching a movie the other night called “Holy Smoke”. A young Australian woman (Kate Winslet) travels to India with a friend. Ruth (notice the nice OT name?) attends a religious ceremony, becomes enthralled with the spirituality, and decides to stay with the guru in a “spiritual marriage”.  Alerted by the friend, her good Christian mother contacts an Australian anti-cult psychotherapist. Ruth’s mother travels to India where she psychologically blackmails her daughter to follow her home. Back in Australia, the girl is taken to a remote farm where a hired “deprogrammer”, Harvey Keitel, waits to begin “exit counseling”, as he calls it.

Naturally, this got me thinking: where had she been programmed? She traveled to India with a friend as a holiday, and chose to attend the service. At the age of 20, she knowingly studied this religion and chose to become an initiate.

But I actually know where she got programmed. It is the same with all monotheisms. Within days of her birth, without her knowledge or consent, a child will undergo indoctrination; the specifics will only change according to the religion.

With Christian sects, the rituals vary. In Catholicism, naming and christening follow within a few days after birth. While most Protestant sects postpone baptism, the baby dedication is a challenge to parents and grandparents to raise the child to serve God. God parents are appointed, certificates accompany the naming ceremony, bibles are often placed in the hand of the child, crosses, prayer books, etc.

With Judaism, naming ceremonies and ritual baths are also prevalent. Jewish boys undergo a brit milah (covenantal circumcision ceremony) on the eighth day after birth, or a brit bat (covenant ceremony for girls) where they are named. These “welcoming acts” involve scripture readings, prayers, songs, etc. and may include candle lighting, footwashing, or being wrapped in a tallit as part of the rituals.

In Islam, immediately after the new-born baby is bathed, the Adhan is recited in the right ear of the baby, and the Iqamah in the left ear. Shortly after, the sunnah is fulfilled: a date or some other sweet is applied to the child’s palate. While this is done so that the child may easily suck milk from the breast of its mother, a “pious and God-fearing scholar or a venerable saint may be invited to do Tahneek”; thus, it is a religious ceremony. The hair on the head of the new-born must be shaved (Aqeeqah) on the seventh day. The child is then named, and then comes the sacrifice: two goats on behalf of a boy and one goat for a girl, or their equivalent. Some Muslims believe that circumcision is obligatory, others that it is a sunnah.

In all cases, throughout their infancy the children are taken to the church, synagogue or mosque constantly where they are subjected to prayers, religious music, sermons, and the teachings of whatever holy book is used by that religion. There are more ceremonies as they get older. The dangers of lack of faith or other “evils” are carefully described to them.

What would any of these religions think of some professional “deprogrammer” kidnapping and psychologically badgering their children out of the indoctrinations they had to undergo from the first day of their lives? In the movie (and in real life), Ruth chose to adopt the religious beliefs of the Indian guru out of the full consciousness of an adult. Do they ever consider the irony–or hypocrisy–of their actions?

Therefore, which of these groups are really the brainwashers and coercers? Which of these groups are really dangerous to the mental health of young children?

Jews for Jesus – A California Thing, or is Religion Going “Crossover”?

April 25, 2012

I was driving home today when I spotted a mini-van sporting the door sign “Jews for Jesus”. Now, call me simple minded (as I admit others have done…), but that’s a little like a sign saying “Catholics for Martin Luther”. I mean, it’s just plain weird. At this point, I must confess that I live in California, so it just goes to prove what many of you think anyhow: California is so weird by nature that nothing seems strange.

Anyhow, it seemed so odd to me that I immediately looked them up on the internet. They are not local! They are at least national. So I looked at their doctrine. To make a long story short, they believe that Jesus was indeed the savior that the Jewish religion predicted, and subscribe to every single belief that Christianity believes in. SO, is that like a song trying to be country and R&B and soft rock all at the same time; you know, the “crossover” flavor of the month?

It seems “The Jesus Movement” started in the late 1960s, and some guy named Moishe Rosen (oi vey! Sounds like a radical rabbi, but they called him a “veteran missionary”) developed what he called “broadside-style gospel tracts” in New York City. See? We’re not so weird out here! Blame it on those whacko New Yorkers.

So, my next question was the obvious: How can they call themselves Jews for Jesus? If they have accepted Jesus as the savior, which no self-respecting Jew would ever consider, then they are no longer Jews! They are Christians.

Maybe they’re “reformed” Jews. Many “recovering” Jews. But they are not Jews.

So, what’s up with that?

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 3)

April 21, 2012

Part 3: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Most significantly, the Jewish religion predicted the coming of a messiah who would “save” all of Mankind. While this was definitely not the first myth (or story) of a “God-man” (god in human form as a savior figure; the first usage of the term God-man as a theological concept appears in the writing of the Christian Apostolic Father Origen in the 3rd Century AD; Baldwin, 1901), it became the genesis for a cult that would change the Eastern and European world.

Perhaps the most ancient God-man figure is Baal (or Bel) of Phoenicia/Babylon. A 4,000-year-old tablet now in the British Museum depicts much of his story. Baal is taken prisoner and tried in a hall of justice; he is tormented and mocked by a rabble; he is led away to a mount; he is taken with two other prisoners, one of whom is released; after he has been sacrificed on the mount, the rabble goes on a rampage; his clothes are taken; he disappears into a tomb; he is sought after by weeping women; finally, he is resurrected, appearing to his followers after the stone is rolled away from the tomb. (Pratt, 2001)

The Egyptians created the sun god (god of light) Horus, the son of Osiris (whose name is a Greek transliteration of the Egyptian Asar), who was the Egyptian god of life, death, fertility, and the underworld. In 3000 BC, Horus was born on December 25 to a virgin, and three kings followed a star in the east to observe and celebrate his birth. At the age of twelve he began to teach others about his father, god, and at the age of thirty he was baptized by Anup to begin his ministry. He had twelve disciples, and went about performing such miracles as healing the sick and walking on water. The sun god battled every day with Set, the God of Darkness, who lived in the dark bowels of the earth. He was called truth, the light, god’s anointed son, the risen savior, the lamb of God, etc. After being betrayed by Typhon, he was crucified and arose again after three days.

Attis of Phrygia (in modern day Turkey), celebrated in 1200 BC, had the same basic characteristics. Krishna of India, in 900 BC, was very similar. Even more closely aligned was Mithra, the sun god of Persia, a messianic figure worshiped around 600 BC, with Sunday being his sacred day of worship; Dionysus of Greece, circa 500 BC, first turned water into wine. Some of the other nicknames for these deities were king of kings, god’s only begotten son, the light of the world, the alpha and omega, and so on.

This is where the story, especially the time sequence, becomes even more muddled. According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was born approximately 2,045 years ago. For the first few hundred years after the birth and death of Jesus, the majority of Jews not only denied that the savior figure had actually been born, the name of Jesus is not even mentioned in any of their countless historical writings. The Jews and Romans who did convert to Christianity were few, and were pretty much a persecuted sect. This began to change during the medieval period in the societies controlled by the Roman Empire.

Thus, another question arises: since Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism (as is Islam), why are there such striking similarities between Jesus and the pagan God-man figures who existed in older polytheisms? And why did Christianity overcome its Jewish origins, as well as all of those pagan religions, to become dominant?

Oddly, the rise of Christianity really started with Saul of Tarsus, not the twelve apostles. Saul was born a Pharisee of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin. His father was so wealthy that he bought Roman citizenship, so Saul was free to travel throughout the Empire. Saul was a fanatic about his religion, and was zealous of the traditions of his fathers. At the height of his fame, Saul was known as the greatest persecutor of Christians, which was encouraged by Rome. Saul imprisoned and punished the assembly at Jerusalem, and was responsible for countless deaths in his ambition to exterminate Christianity, which offended the Pharisee community by claiming the savior had come.

One day while traveling to Damascus, so the story goes, a bright light from heaven blinded him and he heard a voice say: “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” When he asked who was speaking, the voice said: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting”.

Talk about your original “born-again Christian”! As much of a fanatic as Saul was as a Pharisee, he became even more vehement about preaching the word of the savior’s arrival, including marching into the tabernacle and berating the Pharisees for not believing. As the world has seen with other fanatics, the power to persuade can be immense. Where Christians had been a small, persecuted cult, the newly christened Paul helped this new religion to expand quickly.

By the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political, military and religious upheaval. Its holdings were shrinking, and Italy itself was being attacked by invading forces from all directions. Within its boundaries, emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions — paganism, Judaism and Christianity — vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions, hoping that eventually they would blend into one. He succeeded, but upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. However, while that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.

However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary force, a new monotheism was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the hold of monotheism. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on the most conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire.

Without the prohibitions of “defiling the flesh created by god” of Catholicism to inhibit it, Islam was free to pursue the sciences, most especially medicine. Perhaps because Catholicism was so repressive, or perhaps because Islam was young and vigorous, Islam has grown tremendously while the Christian faith was irreparably split in the 16th Century by Martin Luther. Nevertheless, with the distinct exception of Hinduism in India, all of the polytheisms of the world have shrunk considerably or died altogether.

As science continues to answer the questions that have plagued Mankind since the first sentient being looked up into the heavens and wondered what, why and how, the influence of religion on the human race continues to erode. Perhaps that is why Islam is so virulently fundamentalist: Muslim leaders know they must insist their followers believe absolutely, without question, in the existence and power of god, or they also will eventually lose their hold in the world. If the power of rational thought and expanding knowledge are allowed to grow, the history of religion will become exactly that: history.

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 2)

April 20, 2012

Part 2: Why monotheism, and why Mesopotamia?

Regardless, the history of the creation of monotheism takes us back to those questions: Why change from many gods to one? Why Mesopotamia? And why at that particular time after millennia of polytheism? There are many possible reasons, but what I personally believe is the reason is the advent of science. Here are just a few examples:

“Archaeological research covering a 6,000 year period in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, shows that the classical high cultures of the ancient Near East demonstrated some of the earliest and most fundamental examples of systematic observation of phenomena and prediction, unsurpassed until the European Renaissance, and practical engineering, unsurpassed until the 19th century. Though clearly an advanced technological society, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, with imperial influences in Syria, western Iran, and southern Turkey) left records on cuneiform tablets that indicate the society had an advanced capability in mathematics. The people … moved from the hunter-gatherer way of life, which had proved effective for hundreds of thousands of years to a more settled Neolithic village lifestyle, based on the domestication of plants and animals about 12,000 years ago.” (Blake L. White, Strategic Technology Institute 2002)

“The Assyrians depended as much upon artificial irrigation as upon the periodical rains. They were skillful in constructing machines for raising water, and their vast system of canals was as remarkable as a monument of well-directed labour, as for the knowledge of hydraulics which it displayed.” (Layard, as quoted by White)

“In addition, village life facilitated new forms of technologies, such as metalworking, pottery, stone carving, and new forms of social organization. Mesopotamia shows evidence of being the most advanced technological society of its era. Over a 6,000 year period, Mesopotamian technology included advances in carpentry, glassmaking, textile manufacture, leather-working, perfume-making, farming, food preparation, irrigation, flood control, canal-building, water storage, drainage, brewing, and their tablets also provide detail on the economics of various industries.” (Roaf, as quoted by White)

“Perhaps the most impressive engineering achievements of ancient Mesopotamia are the series of ziggurats found throughout the region as early as 2100 BC in Ur, 1900 BC in Babylon, and 900 BC in Assyria. In addition, the Assyrians of Nineveh under the leadership of Sargon II (722-670 BC) and his son Sennacherib dominated the Near East with its iron-equipped armies, battering rams, and horse-drawn chariots.” (Derry, as quoted by White)

To sum it up, research tells us that the Mesopotamians had an older and even broader knowledge of science than ancient China. It seems quite likely that, as the sciences progressed rapidly in Mesopotamia, more and more “lesser gods” fell by the wayside as the actual causes of natural phenomena were understood (to some degree). With the loss of faith in polytheism, humans still needed some higher power to believe in, so they created a single, all-powerful god that defied the answers of science–well, up until modern theories regarding the origins of the universe and mankind. While the people of China were very advanced in many ways, their science (especially technology) was not quite as all-encompassing, and culturally they leaned more towards philosophy than an increasingly conservative religion. Thus, India remained predominantly Hindu, which is a polytheism approximately 5,000 years old, while China moved towards Buddha, Confucious, et alia, which are philosophies. In the meanwhile the Western World became predominantly monotheistic.

Next: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Why Polytheism was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion

April 19, 2012

Part 1: The shift from polytheism to monotheism

How did the world come into existence? How did mankind rise from the primordial ooze to dominate the animal kingdom? How do the forces of nature work? Throughout history, all cultures have wondered about these and many other questions. They have all created explanations for both natural phenomena and metaphysical mysteries, mostly from their vivid imaginations rather than from any scientific evidence or logical ruminations. We call these stories they made up to explain the mysteries of the Earth “mythology”. In simple terms, then, the purpose of mythology is to explain the unexplainable. Just because we label religions that were created before the births of Abraham of Ur or Jesus of Nazareth or Muhammad in Mecca as “mythology”, that certainly does not mean they are the only religions that were founded on myths.

As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate that primitive religions were practiced, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). All of these religions, as far as we can determine from that evidence, were polytheistic. So, after a quarter of a million years of humans investing supernatural powers to a wide diversity of gods and goddesses, why did most people begin to believe in the existence of a single supreme being? When and where did this transformation happen?

According to Jewish tradition (Rich, 1998 – 2011), Abram (or Abraham) was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia (Southeastern Mesopotamia) in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE, although this does not necessarily mean that Judaism believes the universe has existed for only 5,700 years as we measure years). At that time, the Mesopotamians were still highly polytheistic, worshiping idols. Abram was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, Abram questioned the faith of his father and sought “the truth”. Abram came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single creator, and he began to teach this belief to others. Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship.

One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”

Eventually, as the story goes, the one true creator that Abram worshiped called to him and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then god would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between god and the Jewish people was established.

Of course, the irony of this story seems to be lost on both the Jews and other religious believers: if the “gods” exist only in icons, and have no power that has ever been truly demonstrated to humans (well, except for the handful of “chosen” witnesses and prophets), what difference does it make if you pray to one or five hundred? They are still idols, creations of the imagination of Man. But such is the power of “faith” that logic can be ignored for the sake of whatever belief makes you happy.

Next: Why Monotheism, and Why in Mesopotamia?

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth”

April 13, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “truth” brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life. For a more in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In this blog, I will only deal with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. It’s clear where she’s going with that “higher being” topic, and I’m writing a book on it, so that will be a long answer for another posting.

Wisdom?

As to the last comment, I will further address that in the same post about a supreme being. However, I will say now that it’s clear this “truism” implies that anyone who doesn’t believe in the “wisdom” of a true believer (i.e., a religious person) is ignorant, and intellectually blind to the “truth”. I absolutely confess to being ignorant about many subjects. I may even be a fool. However, I personally don’t think that not believing the “wisdom” some preacher hands down or a text clearly written by men (Torah, Bible, Qur’an, etc.) makes me either one. It just means I don’t think the same way as you do. Ironically, this is not a religious person vs. atheist thing; all religions use the same argument to “prove” that their religion is right and all the others wrong.

A Little Math…

I beg you for a little indulgence here: I studied probabilities and statistics when I was young and even more foolish, so part of this “universal” thing is related to total population. You can skip the next paragraph, but the point is even tiny statistical variations can mean millions of people when talking about “everyone” in the world – which is what universal means.

“In statistical significance testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis (i.e., no relationship) is true. In this context, value ‘a’ is considered more “extreme” than ‘b’ if ‘a’ is less likely to occur under the null. One often rejects the null hypothesis when the p-value is less than the significance level α (Greek alpha), which is often 0.05 or 0.01. When the null hypothesis is rejected, the result is said to be statistically significant. When you have a large sample size, very small differences will be detected as significant. This means that you are very sure that the difference is real (i.e., it didn’t happen by fluke).”

Okay, now for some really BIG numbers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes an epidemic as affecting around (yes, the percentage fluctuates…) seven percent of the population of a given area. Therefore, if even seven percent of the people have different opinions from what some people consider “the truth”, this would represent a huge number of people in the world.

Love

So, given the above, we’ll start with love. I suppose this is the closest “universal truth” that I would agree with. However, we don’t all seek the same kind of love. Some people truly only seek the “love” on an alien space being who is all-powerful. Some people are really happy being loved by their pets, and don’t want anything to have to do with other humans. You think that extreme? A sociopath is a person “with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” They hate people and do not seek love. While there are many people who have either neurotic or actually psychopathic degrees of this disorder, there are many other “normal” people whose motto is “I don’t like being around other people”. In fact (very ironically), there is a website entitled Experience Project where they discuss their feelings, presumably without ever wanting to meet. There are undoubtedly many others who want to totally ostracize humanity by having no contact whatsoever.

Security

We’ll move on to security. This is a little lower down the Maslowian “Hierarchy of Needs” discussion, which is a big part of the teacher education process. That means it’s more basic, but not less important than love. First, “security” is a very abstract word. What does it mean to you? According to Maslow, it’s equivalent to safety. Does it mean not being killed? Does it mean having a home or situation you can count on? Second, I know of many people who actually want “adventure”, whatever that means. To most of them, it means moving on from home and security, to a life of excitement. When I was a young man, I loved cliff diving. Others I knew did hang gliding, or drag racing, or other dangerous activities. Perhaps as a person grows older they desire security, but how many young people really seek it out? That is a huge part of the human population.

Motivation

As to motivation, I’ve written articles on that. I claim there is actually no extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic. You’ll have to read the article on that to fully understand what I mean, but basically it’s that other people—your parents, teachers, preachers, et alia—can only seek to push the buttons that motivate you as a person, they cannot in themselves make you act in a certain way outside of coercion, which is vastly different from motivation, which is the desire to act in a certain way. What is more, some people in love act like “maniacs”, quite often killing or committing other externally destructive acts to demonstrate their love, while others will commit any act of self-sacrifice to prove their love.  This is not “acting one way”; such actions are polar opposites, and there are many variations in between. The same applies to hate: some people become subservient to those they hate in order to try to gain favor or sublimate their feelings, while other may murder and mutilate someone they truly hate. While hate is the flip side of love, in many people it manifests the same manic reactions.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is much along the same psychological path, one step higher than the social need of love. Yet it’s a much more slippery slope. Not only is “self-esteem” a variable from one person to the next, I don’t agree that everyone seeks it. An extreme case: I know there is a BDSM community out there where many men and women not only seek humiliation, they enjoy it. There seem to be many people who subscribe to that particular “enjoyment”. Would most of us describe receiving the desired humiliation and subjugation as seeking self-esteem? Seems a very bizarre interpretation of self-esteem to me. There are a surprising number of religious people who actually enjoy being told by their clergyman that they are “evil sinners”, and will go straight to hell if they don’t seek god’s forgiveness for their inequities. There are many, most prominently Catholic sects, who practice self-flagellation. Frankly, I don’t consider either of those as people with great self-esteem; they simply seek their humiliation in different ways from the BDSM crowd. Then there are people, mostly women, who will remain in a severely abusive relationship because, deep down, they know the man really loves them and only hits them … what? Because he can’t control his temper? Because they actually deserve to be abused? Not my idea of self-esteem. Have we started to hit epidemic proportions yet?

Security

Security is a myth, and we don’t all seek it. Let’s start with the thrill seekers: diving from cliffs, racing cars or motorbikes on highways at terrible speeds, shooting hard drugs, playing Russian roulette, and so on. Some people don’t have to be homeless, but they prefer it. Addictive personalities, such as die-hard gamblers or alcoholics, are certainly not concerned with security. The tens of thousands of people in the world who commit suicide each year are not seeking security (although some of them commit suicide because they have no security; go figure). I could go on, but the point is the numbers here are huge. In fact, we can’t even define security: again, each person has their own concept of what that means. Definitely way past epidemic proportions!

SO – NO!

All of those warnings you hear about using medications (‘May cause this or that’) are because no human body reacts exactly the same to any given drug. The same drug and dosage may cause anything from no reaction to death, depending on a person’s body chemistry. Multiply that by about a million times of complexity and you get the human mind. Do you really think all people react the same to the same stimulus? If so, that shows a deep ignorance of the psychology of most human beings.

So, no, Ms. Responder, you have not proven to me in the least that there are universal truths. There are perhaps some “general population” truths, but even the particular flavor of that truth changes according to individual taste buds. I stand by my previous contentions.

Your turn!

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 8, 2012

Part 2: What is the value of Truth?

If every single person has their own version of “the truth”, then what’s the value of even having such a word, or a concept? The most obvious use is that it gives us a starting point for seeking agreement on any given subject, whether the subject is scientific, legal, political, philosophical, religious, or “other”. Within those subjects, we devise a code of behavior by which we can live. Within that code of behavior there are (in my opinion) two basic, distinctly separate sets of guidelines. The first is morality, and the second is ethics.

There have been many definitions of those worlds. In the most simplistic sense, I like to think of morals as the group code of behavior. Ethics are the individual’s code of behavior. These could be exactly the same, but they rarely are. Generally speaking, codes of behavior are truly specific to the individual, no matter how much the individual may strive to adhere to the code of their group.

No matter what the group, each one has a basic code of behavior, although not every single aspect of behavior may be encompassed by that group. Certainly every religion has a highly codified set of behaviors, which are usually all-encompassing in the lives of the adherents of that religion. More to the point, each group has a unique code. While every religion has a morality, each sect and each church has its own variations. Each school or subgroup within that school, each business or division or department within that business, each ethnicity or segment within that ethnicity, each culture and subculture, each neighborhood, and so on, all have their own general codes of behavior. If a person belongs to that group, they are expected to follow that code of behavior as much as possible.

However, while most members will generally identify with the behavioral precepts of the group (or else they would not be a member!), it is within the nature of humans to have their own opinions that may differ with some of the group’s precepts on behavior. That’s where ethics enters into the picture. Whenever the individual differs from the group, they do so because, within their personal set of beliefs, a particular code or behavior of the group is not right for them. If a person finds that there is no general group code to which they can “in good conscience” subscribe, then they must form their own code, which is personal ethics.

Therefore, to be “amoral” does not necessarily mean that a person is “bad”, although every religion and many other organizations (such as governments) would wish you to believe so. On the other hand, if a person considers themselves to be ethical, that does not mean anyone else in the world would consider them to be “good”. Many serial murderers considered themselves to be very ethical. There is little doubt that Tomás de Torquemada, the Dominican friar who was the first Inquisitor General of Spain, considered himself to be highly moral. It is all a matter of viewpoint. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Act II, scene 2).

After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else. That is far more complicated than it sounds, and perhaps no human is capable of completely following that maxim. After all, sometimes just a careless comment to someone can be insulting or otherwise hurtful to them. Still, given that basic maxim, it is then possible to build an entire ethical system by which a person may strive to live–that is, as long as that person subscribes to that particular belief.

Another important reason for understanding “truth” is that we can more easily relate to the behavior of others if we are aware that our truth is not necessarily that of someone else and, even more importantly, that ours is not any more valuable than that of the other person. After all, how can we prove that our truth is correct and that of the other person is wrong? For example, the question of whether or not god exists cannot be proven. For an atheist, how can you prove the non-existence of a non-existent being? By the same token, if god does exist, then which religion is the correct religion and subscribes to the “true” dogma? Many wars have been fought, and many people have died trying to resolve that issue.

… and the Truth Shall Set You Free

How much more tolerance could there be in the world if everyone honestly thought that another person’s truths were just as valuable, within the world of that person, as their own truths are to them? How much more peaceful would the world be if fanatics of all stripes did not seek to impose their “truths” on other people by force? That is not to say that we should never seek to convince another person toward our way of thinking, if invited to do so, by the force of our logic. But, if we do so, we should be just as willing to listen to their counter-arguments. Once again, that is one of the great values of having an open mind. Just like a cage, we have no freedom if the door is locked tight.

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 7, 2012

Part 1: What are Truth, Information, and Facts?

There are many words that we bandy about that have deep meaning in our lives, both emotionally and intellectually. Among the most powerful is the word “truth”. Most of us believe we know what the “truth” is, yet it is such an incredible object of argumentation for most of the people in the world. So, what is the truth?

All information you have recorded since you became sentient, all thoughts you have weighed, all external opinions you have absorbed, and all emotions you have felt, have led you to what you believe: to your truths. Some of these truths are as simple as daily activities, such as you might believe you must brush your teeth at least once a day if you want to keep them healthy. Some are as profound as your most deeply held religious and philosophical principles. If you are open-minded and willing to absorb and consider further information on a given subject, you may decide to change what you believe–your truth. However, until that moment, what you believe now is, for you, the truth.

Therefore, the truth is whatever you believe it to be. And that is the truth. There can be no other definition, or even explanation of what truth is. Isn’t that a pretty closed-minded statement? Only if you believe in “universal truths”, that is, statements that would be true for every single person in every single circumstance. But that would mean that every single person would have to share the same circumstances and the same manner of thinking, which would be a very boring universe indeed.

Many writers and speakers try to convince us that what they believe is the truth, the absolute truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god you’d better damn well believe them. They use phrases such as “it’s a fact” and “the information is clear” and “everyone knows” to try to prove their contentions. Do those words have any value? Let’s examine them.

Information

What we call “information” is everywhere. We gain information from looking at the sky, from tasting objects, from reading books. However, even most information is subjective. For example, we know from looking at a thermometer that the air is at a certain degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit), but is the temperature warm, hot, or just comfortable? That depends on how our individual body reacts to temperature. We can measure the direction and speed of the wind, but is it a mild breeze or a stiff wind? That depends on how we react to wind, and whether we find that amount of wind to be useful (such as in sailing) or a nuisance (especially when it’s blowing in our face). We can taste a particular bottle of wine, but is the wine bitter, sweet, dry, acidic, full-bodied, or oakie? Does a dish have too much salt or not enough? That depends on our taste buds. While the “information” may be the same for everyone, the opinion about the information may be quite different depending on each person’s preferences.

Facts

Facts are not subject to subjectivity–which is why there are so few of them. A fact is something that can be proven, over and over and over.

The speed of sound is 343 meters per second (1,125 ft/s). At least, it is in dry air at 20 degrees C (68 degrees F). How do we know that? Because many scientists, using different methods, have measured it. No matter who does it, or how they do it, the results always come out the same–as long as the instruments have been calibrated properly and the conditions are similar. Naturally, the speed of sound varies at different temperatures, so we must take that into account when discussing the “fact” of the speed of sound. It also varies when passing through solids or liquids, so we would have to consider the circumstances as well if we wanted to be perfectly objective.

On the other hand, an object pulled by the force of gravity accelerates at 32 ft/sec/sec. The equation for the force of gravity is F = mg, with the general result being that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass. Gravity on the moon and on other planets would have different values of acceleration due to the different sizes and densities of those bodies, but the effects of the force are similar. Of course, we’re assuming no other influencing factors, such as a parachute slowing down the object due to wind resistance. So, we can pretty much take the acceleration of a falling object on Earth as a fact. But you can see that’s also a bit arbitrary!

There are certain pieces of information that everyone today accepts as facts, many of which were not accepted hundreds of years ago. For example, all heavenly bodies in our solar system revolve around Sol, as proposed in the 3rd Century BC by Aristarchus of Samos. In spite of what the Catholic Church insisted on for centuries, Galileo proved heliocentrism … over and over again. Another fact is that all living objects must have water for their existence. Every living object will someday die. Those are facts. Most of the rest of the things that we know are either raw information or factoids, both subject to interpretation.

What’s a factoid? Something that sounds like a “fact”, but is actually only a generalization of accepted information. For example, the world is round. Really? Actually, the basic shape “approximates an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator.” (Milbert, D. G.; Smith, D. A.) It also has such an irregular shape that the highest peak, Mount Everest, is 8,848 meters above local sea level and the deepest “canyon” is the Mariana Trench, 10,911 meters below local sea level. Why “local”? Because even sea level varies from place to place and from time to time. “Sea level” is also a factoid.

Tomorrow: What is the value of Truth?