Christine’s comment on my last post inspired me to throw out some song lyrics, as a type of poetry appreciation. The video for the song is at the bottom of this post, but don’t click play unless you’re prepared. At the very least, you can admire Mark deSalvo’s artwork in the video thumbnail, which appears to be from the vinyl version. The CD version just had the glowy hands on the cover.
I had a copy from the first pressing of this CD, which came to be known as the “boob pressing.” The face of the actual CD had a painting of the woman naked, holding her arm up. Her boob was supposed to be in the middle of the CD, where the hole is, but it didn’t turn out like that. So a lot of hardcore punk rock kids got a flash of nipple when they got home from the Christian bookstore. I’m pretty sure the band mentions the nip slip Travis’ podcast on the album’s 20th anniversary.
You’re my beloved, and altogether lovely
As a gift that can’t be bought, as if gold could favor outweigh
Your meaning to me, the secrets of the heart made manifest
Even beauty’s priced beside thee, proportioned by lot the less
Wishes fade, dreams break, promise made
Takes away your will, takes your whole heart captive
Just for one promise, sell it all for one true word
To hold on to, face the shame of it all
Safer to neglect than open your calloused heart
Piece by piece, you’ve lost a part of your self
You share to gain, but lose at love, and learn to hate yourself
More and more each day, and all the days thereafter
They labor to put back together and regain what’s gone forever
Wishes fade, as dreams break, promise made, tomorrow takes
The most costly mistake is to try to change the past today
The filth and the shame, they all wash away
For you, Christ will clean the slate
Only love can fill the void when the world has taken its toll
Hand in hand, by your side, we’ll walk down this path together
I’ll take you to the place where promises will never break
To the advent of a miracle
True love is to die for, and is why I cry for you
And the pain you feel and feed can heal
If you’d just walk with me toward the light
Happy Easter! Please enjoy my favorite Easter song. If it’s not your first choice in music (understandable), at least read the lyrics, posted below the video.
Crucifixion upon the cross
Dying for sins, fulfilling prophecy
Beaten for His faith
Praying for enemies upon sacrifice
Forsaken in the eyes of God
Sins of man, to Him were taken
Innocent and blameless, death without purity
Place of the skull, Golgotha
Death of the Son
Descend into misery
His death to bring us life
Covered in the Blood
Bridging the gap
between God and man
Flesh torn, humility
Blood flows purely from the Cross of Calvary
Rose from the grave to show it is finished
To show all before the ascension to empyrean
Atoning is the Blood of Jesus Christ
Give in to Him, live in the Blood of Christ
He rose, He rose, He rose, He rose, He rose
Dropping in here for a moment between writing PBS and living a normal work-family life.
Upon a recent visit to amazon.com I saw one of their “recommended books”: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Despite something of an embarrassing cover featuring a photo of that Nazi treasure hunter from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I stuck it in my wishlist within seconds.
There was another recommendation in the “people who bought this book also bought” section on that book’s page: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. After clearing my head at the accuracy of Amazon’s book recommendation logarithm, I wishlisted that book as well.
I did some quick searches on the latter book and came upon this article. I have no commentary on it—just presenting a section here for the intellectually curious.
The main question in the controversy is this: Is Christianity a force that supports or opposes the efforts of the right to defend the European-American way of life? Christians on the right argue that their religious commitments are central to Western civilization, while pagans and secularists on the right (especially in Europe) argue, with Spengler, that Christianity undermines the West by pushing a universalism that rejects race, class, family, and even nation.
Mr. Russell, who holds a doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University and teaches at Saint Peter’s College, does not quite answer the question, but his immensely learned and closely reasoned book does suggest an answer. His thesis is that early Christianity flourished in the decadent, deracinated, and alienated world of late antiquity precisely because it was able to appeal to various oppressed or dissatisfied sectors of the population—slaves, urbanized proletarians, women, intellectuals, frustrated aristocrats, and the odd idealist repelled by the pathological materialism, brutality, and banality of the age.
But when Christian missionaries tried to appeal to the Germanic invaders by invoking the universalism, pacifism, and egalitarianism that had attracted the alienated inhabitants of the empire, they failed. That was because the Germans practiced a folk religion that reflected ethnic homogeneity, social hierarchy, military glory and heroism, and “standards of ethical conduct … derived from a sociobiological drive for group survival through ingroup altruism.” Germanic religion and society were “world-accepting,” while Hellenic Christianity was “world-rejecting,” reflecting the influence of Oriental religions and ethics. By “Germans,” it should be noted, Mr. Russell does not mean modern residents of Germany but rather “the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic, and Vandal peoples, but also… the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.” With the exception of the Celts and the Slavs, “Germans” thus means almost the same thing as “European” itself.
Given the contradictions between the Christian ethics and world-view and those of the Indo-European culture of the Germanic peoples, the only tactic Christians could use was one of appearing to adopt Germanic values and claiming that Christian values were really compatible with them. The bulk of Mr. Russell’s scholarship shows how this process of accommodation took place in the course of about four centuries. The saints and Christ Himself were depicted as Germanic warrior heroes; both festivals and locations sacred in ancient Germanic cults were quietly taken over by the Christians as their own; and words and concepts with religious meanings and connotations were subtly redefined in terms of the new religion. Yet the final result was not that the Germans were converted to the Christianity they had originally encountered, but rather that that form of Christianity was “Germanized,” coming to adopt many of the same Indo-European folk values that the old pagan religion had celebrated.
Read Part 1 here.
The New Testament books make up for a smaller section of canon yet they read much more densely because of the theological implications of the words and actions of a Jewish preacher named Yeshua bar Yoseph, which is the original Aramaic name for Jesus Christ. Instead of the religious regulations, historical accounts, and poetry of the Old Testament we have four accounts of Yeshua’s life as a preacher, followed by letters written mostly by a Jewish preacher named Paul, to various other groups of fellow followers. Closing out everything is a strange apocalyptic prophesy written by an exiled disciple.
Yeshua was probably one of many Jewish ascetic preachers of the time, and he had gained a significant following despite the controversial theology. I don’t know to what degree his teachings were different than his contemporaries, but he seems to have constantly invited antagonism, intentionally or not, from fellow Jewish leaders and, to a lesser degree, the Roman government.
Though he was quite culturally and religiously Jewish, he did and said some very non-Jewish things: he talked to non-Jews and women publicly, openly dealt with undesirables (even going so far as to invite them into his inner circle of apostles), labored on the Sabbath, and spoke some intense words to religious leaders. He preached at length about money, hell, moral and religious duty, and the arrival of the Jewish God’s kingdom on earth. There were many accounts of his miracles, which were very body-centric in nature in that they involved the recovery from sickness or food and drink.
This garnered him a lot of attention for sure, but nothing did more than Jesus’ claims, both implicit and explicit claims, to be God. Jesus’ insistence on the matter looks to be what got him in the most trouble, since equating oneself with God was a big no-no in Judaism. Enough religious leaders with influence within the Roman government wanted him dead. Nothing unusual there, as criminals, insurrectionists and sundry “problem citizens” were executed daily by the Roman state.
Besides claiming equality with God, nothing caused an uproar more than the claims that Jesus rose, very literally it seems, from the dead after his execution. After his death, Jesus’ followers, calling themselves “The Way”, were hell-bent (sorry) on carrying on his teachings using the resurrection as the capstone theological event that made everything make sense. Paul, in his letters to groups of believers abroad, takes a cue from the Greeks and Socratically develops the logical implications of Jesus’ resurrection and how it should be regarded by this growing new strain of Judaism.
A wonderful example of Paul’s method and a summary of the importance of the resurrection is in his first letter to the believers in Corinth, and it also makes clear the theological weightiness of the event:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Like I said in the first part, there were many ways this review could go. This ended more like a book report (remember those?) rather than a review because I didn’t want to turn this into a marathon of didactics. There are, however, a few things I wanted to say about criticisms of the Bible and Judeo-Christian thought in general. There are some that believe the Bible promotes slavery, subjugation of women, or racism, or anti-scientific thought, or some other undesirable belief or institution drawn from the grab-bag of historical ills — ills that very few today would purport to endorse. In my reading I saw very little of this, and most of it was non-prescriptive accounts of “what happened” rather than “God commanded” such things. With such a large collection of texts written pre-Galileo and in pre-hyper-egalitarian Eastern social climates, someone is bound to find something unsettling if they look hard enough, neverminding the chronological/anthropological snobbery that accompanies it. I don’t expect 21st century Americans to think and act like 30th century French neo-feudalist (how would we begin?), so why would I expect Jews from 1st century, Roman-occupied Israel to think and act like me?
Even if all of these charges were true, it doesn’t really breach the question of whether the supernatural events — the ones meant to be taken literally, such as the resurrection — actually happened. In a strange way that’s not even my concern here. It’s rather the idea that, throughout the millennia and passing through many different hands, that the religious thought presented in in Judeo-Christianity is a product of a conspiracy to control people. Though, who is doing the controlling, why they chose to exploit people’s tendency toward the supernatural, and to what purpose or end people are being controlled, is not crystal clear, but that doesn’t stop people from creating all sorts of pretzel-logic backstories to explain away misguided religious belief. It seems to me that the amount of effort to keep whatever it is secret from the millions of Jews and Christians would not be worth the benefit. If such a cabal of conspirators of had the resources to keep their true purposes secret, why would they need to control anyone? The details of such a claim would need immense e support — support that I don’t think has been found yet.
The easiest and most sensible explanation, based upon what we know, is that the writers of Biblical supernatural events sincerely believed what they saw and experienced. Whether or not the some or all of the writers were under mass hypnosis, suffering from a delusion or psychosis, or just plain mistaken, depends on our own individual bank of knowledge and belief system.