Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Big Show

There is a television series on HBO about a fundamentalist Mormon family. The husband is married to several women. You know, I never really got the whole polygamy thing. Hen-pecking in stereo and an inordinate amount of money spent on viagra.

At any rate, there is an episode coming out soon (or perhaps it has already aired) where there is a temple marriage portrayed. There are two problems with this. First, fundamentalist Mormons are not allowed in the LDS temple. Only "true Mormons" are allowed in the temple so the show is factually in error. I can appreciate how a Latter-Day Saint would be concerned about this sending the wrong message to the masses. They have made it very clear that they do not practice polygamy. If one of their number is caught practicing polygamy they are excommunicated. Excommunication is a huge deal for a Saint because the LDS church is the only game in town. They cannot become a god if they are disfellowshipped.

The second problem is that the temple ceremonies-for example, weddings-are a closely guarded secret of Mormons. They solemnly vow to not reveal what goes on inside to anyone. I believe the penalty for violation is death (though I do not think anyone would actually be killed if they did reveal the secrets). LDS bloggers are all up in arms at the sacrilege.

They would say that the temple ceremonies are not so much secret as they are sacred. The Gentiles (and even some LDS people) are not clean enough to enter the holy site. It seems to me, however, that the real reason they don't want you to know what is going on in there has more to do with public relations than with sanctity.

I have heard from former Mormons that a lot of strange things go on inside there. In the endowment ceremony, people are asked to swear allegiance to the oaths they are about to make without even knowing what the oaths are! They can leave only at this point but there is tremendous peer pressure not to. After that they are stuck.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how accurate the sealing ceremony is portrayed on Big Love once it finds its way to you tube.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tell Me What's-a-Happenin'

I recently finished the "Gospel of Judas". I mean a book of essays about the Gnostic text of the same name (including the Gnostic text itself). The Gospel itself exists in only one manuscript, a Coptic translation from the Greek autograph, as is supposed. And the manuscript is rather fragmentary. It is thus not entirely clear, taken in isolation, what is therein being said (at least to a layman like myself). But the basic idea, according to the essays, is that Jesus was a Sethian guru-Sethians were a sect of Gnostics-and Judas Iscariot was the only enlightened one of the 12. The others followed the creator God of the material world who is evil and, most certainly, not the father of Jesus. Jesus instructs Judas in the secret gnosis because he alone of all the apostles has the spark of the divine. After the impartation of the arcane metaphysics, Jesus instructs Judas to betray him to the authorities. The purpose of the betrayel is so that Jesus can die and thus escape the prison of his body. How such an exalted spiritual being as Jesus was supposed to be could die is not made clear.

Anywho, it is the essays (and other buzz about such Gnostic Gospels) which I really wanted to talk to you about today. It seems that scholars of late have been reading too many Dan Brown novels. What I mean to say, is that the picture is often painted that there were many different strands of Christianity, in the early days, and all were fighting for a voice. But then the infamous Constantine came along and imposed his peculiar brand of Christianity on the rest of us. He had his views stamped with the official status of orthodoxy.

But such revisionist history, while making for interesting fiction in dramatic novels, bears no resemblance to what actually happened. In the essays the original Gospel of Judas is dated at about approximately 150 AD. In fact, all the Gnostic Gospels are of the second century or later (unless you are John Dominic Crossan who feels the Gospel of Judas dates to the first century, but this is hardly uncontroversial). Moreover, the Gnostic Gospels bear the names of New Testament charecters but were certainly not written by them. For example, Judas died prior to 70 AD and his Gospel wasn't written until 150 AD. He wasn't even alive when he was allegedly writing!

Why all of this is important is because the canonical Gospels, and only the canonical Gospels, were written close to the time of the events they describe and were written under the authority of apostolic eye-witnesses. Not so with the Gnostic Gospels. It is incomprehensible to me why Crossan would put so much stock in Thomas and so little stock in Mark-but that's another story.

In other words, we expect the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be very historically reliable and the Gnostic Gospels to be very unhistorical particularly where they contradict the older, more reliable, Gospels. The situation is as follows. Jesus comes along and founds the Christian movement. Even atheist historians ought to admit as much. Within the pages of the Christian scriptures themselves, Gnosticism starts to rear its ugly head. As time went on ecumenical councils were convened to clearly explain what the true biblical teaching was. In this way, new or gullible saints would not be mislead by wolves in sheep's clothing.

Modern-day wolves in sheep's clothing repudiate the councils (and their creeds) as being an addition to the Bible. Not so. It is the redressed heresies of the cultists that are additions to the Bible. These cultists misinterprate the Bible and deny creedal orthodoxy as an addition to the Bible. I was recently talking with an LDS gentleman online. He tried pulling this on me so I challenged him to produce a single historical quote which established (implicitly or explicitly) that the Mormon charicature of the creeds was correct. He gave an irrelevant qoute from the 19th century-long after the time of the councils-and said, contrary to what all Mormons have always said, that the councils were merely to clarify the Bible after all (though apparently, because of the alleged apostasy, they were misinterprating the Bible and purported modern-day prophets give the real meaning of the Bible).

But I am getting away from the main topic. Namely, there was, is, and always shall be one, and only one, Christian faith. I don't care what Elaine Pagels, Bart D. Ehrman, or Dan Brown says to the contrary. The Gnostics were not Christians. We know this because Gnosticism contradicts Christianity at important points. The God of the Old Testament, for example, is the Father of Christ. This is made clear in the canonical scriptures. The later Gnostic scriptures were an attempt of Johnny-come-latelys to sound Christian to fool the gullible Christians of the patristic period. The ecclesiastical fathers were wise to convene councils and craft creeds to help their brethren out.

There is at bottom no distinction between orthodox Christianity and Christianity pure and simple. And Gnosticism ain't it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Review of Ridiculous

No, I didn't misspell the title of the movie. Bill Maher did. Complete rubbish. Don't waste your time or money on this "documentary".

Bill Maher goes around to different people and talks to them about their faith. Or, at least, offending them and laughing at them while he pretends to be rational. It is very interesting his choice of interviewees. The only intellectual person of faith he consulted was Dr. Francis Collins. However, much of the interview with him was about the historicity of the New Testament. And Collins field of specialization is in genetics. So it seems like Maher set the deck at the beginning so that all people of faith would appear to be dumb.

Let's recount the faith's represented. As I recall, Christians are represented more than any other faith. This is understandable because that is the most popular religion, I think, in this country. He visits a trucker's chapel, a messianic Jew (who apparently converted to Catholicism), an ex-homosexual (which is possible despite what Maher would have us believe), Frances Collins, and the Holy Land Experience theme park. While at the theme park, the person playing Jesus asked him what would happen if he died. That is a really good question. New atheists like Bill tend to blow this off by saying, "if God wants me to believe He would make Himself more obvious." More obvious! How could anything be more obvious than the existence of God. Of course, if one refuses to look at good solid apologetics (and Bill did not look at any) it is easier to tell oneself that they do not really believe.

Now onto Judaism. He interviewed two Jewish persons. One who looked like an orthodox Jew but was anti-Israel. The other a man who invented gadgets to work on the Sabbath without violating Rabbinic tradition. For example, a steam powered wheel-chair (for example, a telephone which, I think, you select which numbers aren't dialed so you avoid dialing numbers but you can still make calls. This hardly represents Judaism accurately.

For Mormons, he went to Salt Lake City. He interviewed two excommunicated Mormons but no actual Mormons. Apparently he couldn't find any willing to talk to him. How likely is that? Not very.

For Islam, he spoke to, apparently, a tour guide at the Dome of the Rock. This man was about the only person Bill treated with respect. A young Muslim man in the mosque said, in Arabic, that Bill was not funny and his show sucks. That is about the only part of the entire movie that was actually true.

Then he talked to some weird guy who worshipped marijuana.

Is this very representative of mainstream religion? I think not.

If one does not heed my warning and actually watches "Religulous" then one will definitely need a close pin for their nose and hip-waders up to their pits because the bull crap is piled so high in this movie. On top of the propagandizing, Bill is very disrespectful to people of faith and blasphemous against faith.

But perhaps my biggest problem with this movie is the call to arms. New atheists are getting way much more attention than they deserve. Religulous is riding the coat tales of the movement. Even worse, it is encouraging people to become proactive in their disbelief. For the uneducated masses, they may even think the new atheists are on to something. However, the not-so-new atheists lost very badly a generation ago and now agnostics, who refuse to accept defeat, conveniently forget those who have gone before them and pretend they are saying something new. Well, theists have been successfully defending their faith for at least the last 2,000. We've heard it all before and have provided answers to it all before.

For example, Mr. Maher thinks that faith is a bad thing and reason is a good thing. But faith, ideally, is based on reason. They are not mutually exclusive at all. That is the kind of propaganda we'd expect to find "Religulous" or "The God Delusion" but not in the real world.

By the way, nowhere in the entire movie to Maher offer an argument for atheism. He just laughs at individual faiths and assumes atheism is true. Who is the one using faith and not reason here.

If somebody is gullible enough to be taken in by Samuel Harris, Richard Dawkins and others, then they may find "Religulous" enlightening and informative. For those of us in the know, however, it, like all the rest of the recent flood of fundamentalist atheist hogwash will see it for what it is. A piece of PR totally lacking in substance.