The Long Journey to the Trinity

The title of this post is a slight alteration of the title of this excellent book, a translation of the Ad Monachos of Evagrius Ponticus.  I am not here applying it to Evagrius or his works, but to myself.  I mentioned back here that I was an Arian–or perhaps, better, “quasi-Arian” or “little-u unitarian”–in my younger days.  I said that a detailed unpacking of my beliefs and how they developed was for another time.  That time is now.

I grew up in a small town in Appalachia, part of the Bible Belt and hotbed of Fundamentalism, and (paradoxically) one of the most unchurched regions of the country.  I was raised in a sort of generic, culturally Protestant way, without anyone in the family formally belonging to any church.  Both my parents had been baptized before I was born, though I don’t know the details.  During my life, though, neither was a formal member of any church, nor a regular attender.  I was sent to Sunday school at a Methodist church from about the age of four until about seven; and at a Baptist church between the ages of about eight or nine and thirteen.  During this latter period, I was usually sent to vacation Bible school in the summers, at the Baptist church (and once or twice, I think, at a second Methodist church).  Every once in awhile, my mother would go to church services (this was at the Methodist church–she never attended the Baptist one, as far as I remember) and drag me with her.  “Drag” was the operative word.

I was always extremely reluctant to go to church, and never did so voluntarily.  I don’t know exactly why.  I do remember I that I associated church with fear.  I don’t clearly remember any hellfire and damnation sermons, though there may have been some.  Mom and Dad certainly never used threats of hell, as some parents did.  I remember thinking that being in an actual church involved a commitment I was unwilling to make.  I recall one time Mom dragged me to church, and the hymn being sung was, “I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.”  I mouthed the second line without singing it.  I wasn’t going to sign up for that!  I remember another time in Sunday school at the Baptist church, there was a visiting preacher, a black Baptist (there were very few black people where I grew up, so for us this was exotic).  The one thing I remember about him is that at one point he said, “When you say I’m going to follow God and get my life together tomorrow, that old devil just laughs and laughs!”  Those words haunted me for years.

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A Prayer for Corpus Christi

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.

–courtesy of here

Quote for the Week

Ceux-là qui aiment à se faire craindre, craignent de se faire aimer, et eux-mêmes craignent plus que tous les autres; car les autres ne craignent qu’eux, mais eux craignent tous les autres.

Those who love to be feared fear to be loved, and they themselves are more afraid than anyone, for whereas other men fear only them, they fear everyone.

–The Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales, ch. 7, sct. 3 (1952); courtesy of Wikiquote

Names

A few days ago I was sitting in a Wal-Mart, waiting to get a tire replaced on my car.  I had my Kindle Fire with me so I’d have something to read.  Recently I posted here about The Gospel of Thomas.  Since I had the ebook version of The Gnostic Bible on my Fire, I decided to open it up and reread The Gospel of Thomas.  I got to the first page and stopped.  I remembered that I’d started to read this particular translation before, and stopped; and I remembered why I’d stopped.  The introduction to Thomas says,

The translation gives the Semitic forms of Semitic names, in order to highlight the Jewish identity of Jesus and his students and the Jewish context of the life of the historical Jesus.  For example, the name Yeshua is used for Jesus; the other names are identified in the notes.

Thus, the first line of the translation reads, “These are the hidden sayings that the living Yeshua spoke and Yehuda Toma the twin recorded.”  “Yehuda Toma” is the Aramaic for Judas Thomas–the disciple known as “Thomas”, literally “twin”, in the canonical gospels, and referred to also as Judas or Judah here and in other non-canonical sources.  This irritates the crap out of me, and the rest of this post will unpack the whys of this irritation.

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A Slight Side Excursion on Fanfic

Someone I follow on Tumblr  had a post recently discussing what makes for good writing in a fan fiction context.  The conclusion was “good technical skills”.  The idea is that, while writers and readers of fanfic may have different criteria of what makes a fic “good” than do the gatekeepers of “mainstream” fiction, and while those differing criteria are valid, good technical skills are universal, allowing you to develop the story you want to tell and to say what you need to say.  Technical skills may not be the end-all and be-all; but you have to be able to control what you’re saying if you want to get anything across to the reader.  I totally agree with this.

Anyway, I reblogged and added a response dealing with an aspect of fanfic that I think isn’t often realized or understood.  It occurred to me that it might be worth putting up here, too, especially since I’ve been discussing pop culture–which of course includes fanfic–in the course of writing my series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“.  I have edited it very lightly for publication here, but it’s substantially the same as the original form.  Enjoy!

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Mass Media and Lifestyle Fantasy

Last time we looked at the effects of the Enlightenment and the final disenchantment of the world, as both organized religion and everything perceived as being “irrational” were banished from polite society; or at least from the worldview of the elite.  The perfectly rational, logical man of the Enlightenment who would shake off the superstitions of his ancestors and move confidently into a Utopian future of reason and humanism never materialized, though.  Human nature being what it is, the loss of the transcendent and the supernatural left a void that needed to be filled.  Nietzsche expressed this poetically in his famous writing about the “death of God” (the quote below is from Walter Kaufmann’s translation of The Gay Science):

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche’s answer–that we must become gods–foreshadows his idea of the übermensch, the “superman”.  As we’ve seen over the last century and a quarter since Nietzsche’s death, that didn’t work out so well.  The void remained unfilled.  What could fill it?  At this point, we must leave that question hanging for a bit while we look at another of the great societal changes to come out of the Enlightenment.  In the last post, we looked at the religious and philosophical changes brought on by the Enlightenment.  Here I want to look at a change that was partly technological, partly educational, and partly cultural–the rise of mass media.

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Some Piano Music for the Wekend

A Prayer to St. Justin Martyr

O God, who through the Cross
wondrously taught Saint Justin the Martyr
the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,
grant us, through his intercession,
that, having rejected deception and error,
we may become steadfast in the faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Today is St. Justin Martyr’s feast day.

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 4: The Enlightenment

voltaire

On this rather elliptical path towards looking at religion as role-playing, we’ve looked at the religious milieu of the ancient Greco-Roman world, the origins of monotheism, and why it replaced paganism.  Many aspects of pagan belief remained, of course, under a (sometimes extremely thin) Christian veneer, and sometimes more or less openly as various types of folk practice and superstition.  Still, Christianity was on the whole dominant for nearly a millennium and a half after it conquered pagan Rome.  What struck a blow from which Christianity has never completely recovered, and which began the disenchantment of the world in earnest, was the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment is the period beginning at about the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century in which a new focus on reason and secularism began to be manifested in Western and Central European society, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.  It’s always hard to give a concise definition of a complex phenomenon such as the Enlightenment, but the following points can serve as a beginning.  The Enlightenment was characterized by

  1. An emphasis on human reason, as opposed to Divine revelation.
  2. A focus on science and the scientific method.
  3. A call for political and social equality:  that is, democracy over monarchy, the intrinsic equality of all classes and nationalities, and even the beginnings of equality between the genders.
  4. A call for political and religious liberty:  Established religions were to be opposed, freedom of religion and association were promoted, and people were to be free to change their governments if need be.
  5. A desire to put human reason and science to work in improving human society, especially by rationalistic and technocratic means.
  6. An emphasis on the individual over the collective.
  7. A suspicion of organized religion and a tendency towards Deism and anti-clericalism.
  8. Optimism and (to some extent) utopianism as to the prospects of improving society; and a tendency to view the past as primitive, superstitious, and obscurantist, and the future as the realm of glorious possibility.

I think those points are a fair outline of the Enlightenment worldview.  It’s very clear from points 1 ,2, 5, and 8 why the Enlightenment resulted in so much disenchanting of the world; but before I go on with that, I think we need to look at the context of the Enlightenment, lest we misunderstand what followed.

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Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria was one of the last pagan philosophers of antiquity.  Daughter of the mathematician Theon, she was active in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries AD  Her father, though not a major mathematician in his own right, edited and corrected the mathematical works of Euclid, and his edition was so accurate that it supplanted all other editions for centuries.  His daughter was talented in mathematics as well, and also was renowned as an astronomer.  Her main claim to fame, though was as a teacher of Neoplatonism.

A fair amount of background is necessary.  Alexandria, Egypt–founded, shockingly, by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC–had become one of the Mediterranean world’s great metropolises, second in size only to Rome itself, and second to none in its cultural influence.  Alexander, conqueror though he was, was also an idealist.  He had a dream of spreading Greek culture worldwide, taking the best of the cultures it encountered and blending it with Greek learning and culture.  Though he died young and his empire dissolved into several states led by his generals, Alexander’s dream lived on.  The various successor states to Alexander’s empire indeed spread Greek–that is, Hellenistic–culture throughout the ancient world.

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