Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Of Myth and Reality: Images of the Divine

Monty Python's View of God
No one can say with any certainty that Jesus Christ ever actually lived. However biblical scholars do propose that he was indeed a historical figure if not divine. They speculate that Christ was a religious and spiritual rabbi who rebelled against both rabbinical and Roman authorities.

Secondarily the historians suggest, if Christ lived as a mortal, it was he and his followers who attempted to fulfill Old Testament prophecy by claiming rites to the label the Jewish messiah. This proclamation coming even though dozens of people before, during and since the time of Jesus' life claim to be the Jewish messiah, some even with devoted followers.

For those of faith, the acceptance of Christ's historical and divine presence is a source for their morality, ethics, religious devotion and spiritual commitment. Believers believe in him, are Baptized in his name and hold him as their savior.  To believers, Jesus' life was real and there is no questioning that he sermoned, performed miracles and then was killed as depicted in the Bible.

Christ's life therefore is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. His destiny was sealed at birth. His life and death proclaimed as theological proof that he is divine and that only through acceptance of his teachings and biblical accounts of his exploits can any person be saved both now and in the hereafter.

Then of course there are those who suggest that Jesus Christ is fiction. That such a person did not exist and that if you are a reader of ancient mythology you can see the attributed divinity of Christ in many pagan gods. These deniers suggest that motivated by politics and religious certainty, for the early church to grow, believers of other faiths needed to accept an identifiable god with known divine powers.

Armed with a well-treaded history rewritten only slightly and mixed to fit the intended Pagan listener's perceptions, both the message of liberation and dogma of early Christianity was adapted and then claimed by a growing number of Christian followers, many of whom where slaves and outliers within Roman Judea. 

Today the image of Christ has been re-designed rather frequently to fit the tastes and culture of those current and possible converts. Proving that if ever there was a god who could adapt, Christ is perhaps the most Zelig-like in terms of transforming to look like those around him.

Sourced from the Web, Group Shot by Paleolibrarian
This also lends force to the adage that it isn't God who created humanity in his image but that it is we, in both our humanity and ego, who have created the gods in our image.

Of course there are faiths that take any divine image of their deities to the extreme. Both Jews and Muslims see it as a sin to physically represent their messiah. For radical Islamists any image of Mohammad can be viewed as a religious insult and can result in a Fatwa. In the wake of such edicts many have been left for dead.

Tough Day - We Will Always Remember
Hindu's on the other hand have many depictions for Brahma. Hindu's claim this god is an elemental piece of all the other lesser gods which number in the hundreds. The attributes for one lesser god are just part of the whole, who is Brahma.

They all Seem So Happy!!!
If we look at native African, Native American and South/Central American gods, we see gods which have a total connection to their specific environment. These deities form the basis of polytheistic belief which is more grounded in the daily and natural lives of believers.

They serve as regional or tribal gods and as divine overseers who control rains and storms, war, harvests and natural events (earthquakes, tidal waves, etc) as well as serve as the answer to prayers and fears.

A Smattering of Gods

So what does this all mean and why should we care? For me, the simple and most direct answer is that knowing and understanding the need for god allows us to control our magical thinking while at the same checkmating the idea of the divine - and by that I mean all aspects of the divine - while also placing religious belief into cultural and historical context. This also allows us to see that no matter which god is believed by those of faith, that any god's actual stature is only is as strong as the believers themselves.

That doesn't prove the divine is real. It just means that many humans in the past and a lesser majority in the present need a divine agent to show the "way." But this way of thinking is sticky. It transfers easily between generations through language and culture.

So if we are to unstick ourselves, which such a process is happening all over the world faster and more frequently then at any time of human history, then let us move forward with an awareness of the past but a rational view and acceptance of the future.

A future where keeping the divine and their shrines and their holy men and women outside of criticism, moral consideration and intellectual challenge is finally seen as detrimental to our global civilization and our humanistic future.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Humanism of Senator Robert F. Kennedy

With the race for President now well under way, I cannot stop thinking about the opportunities lost over the decades caused by assassination and gun violence and the resulting impact it has had on our our national politics.

Can you imagine we're at a place in time when Donald Trump (The Donald) is actually considered by some to be a statesman?

What abut those sadly lost, like Lincoln, JFK,  MLK Jr., and Medgar Evers? The attempts on the lives of George Wallace,  Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and most recently Gabrielle Giffords leaves me wondering why weapons of such destructive force are still allowed to permeate our culture and nation.

Granted, there is a Second Amendment, but I doubt seriously our Founding Fathers would have written it in such a way had they known two-hundred years later an organization called the NRA would pervert its meaning and intent regarding a standing militia.

But it is June 5, 1968, that should be remembered most dearly by humanists. That is the day we, and also the world, lost a 42-year-old man and almost certain president to assassination. That man was New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Prior to taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, RFK was the trusted confidant and younger brother to President John F. Kennedy, who would also fall victim to an assassin’s bullet on November 22, 1963. Robert Kennedy served as JFK’s Attorney General and it was perhaps the tragic loss of his brother in Dallas, TX, that accelerated his passion to help others less fortunate.

Robert Kennedy was not a saint by any stretch of the imagination– no one is. He was like all of us in life. RFK was a work in progress.

In the 1950’s, a youthful and less empathetic Robert F Kennedy worked on behalf of Senator Joe McCarthy during the Cold War. He served on the House Un-American Activities Committee as it attempted to root out suspected communists. In the process, RFK helped ruin the lives and livelihoods of many people who had been or never were members of the Communist Party.

But it is the RFK of 1964 to 1968, after the death of his brother JFK, do we see a man come out of the shadows. He would become the conscience of his generation as he stood firmly for peace and social justice. That is the man we should recall and remember.  

Robert Kennedy was also man of deep religious faith. An ardent Roman Catholic who married young (to Ethel Skakel) he was a man who prayed with his eleven children almost every evening.

But his humanism existed almost in spite of his religious faith. Organized religion is rarely kind to newcomers or the poor, two groups who Kennedy was deeply committed to helping in meaningful ways.

Faith often tries to bleed money from the least able as it teaches the faithful to know their place and wait for reward or redemption in the next life. Kennedy believed that a help up and out of poverty came with the responsibility to then help others.

RFK may have prayed to a Christian god but his words and deeds are forged in the Humanism of generations before and since. Here are excerpts of Robert Kennedy’s speeches from 1964 through 1968.  I believe these are words and ideas that most nonbelievers would accept as real and vital to their ethics and morality:

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

"But suppose God is black? What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?"

"What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists, is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents."

"Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes."

"If any man claims the Negro should be content... let him say he would willingly change the color of his skin and go to live in the Negro section of a large city. Then and only then has he a right to such a claim."

"On this generation of Americans falls the burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and are equal before the law. All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."

"At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man is the touchstone of value, and all society, all groups, and states, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society."

"There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can."

Most probably though it was the words of RFK’s younger brother, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who in his eulogy of Robert Kennedy best captured the man in life:

"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."