15 December 2005

It's time to criticize the President

Last week Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly declared his opinion that the Holocaust is a "legend" that Zionists use to justify the existence of Israel, which he regards as a "tumor" that must be excised from the map of the Middle East.

His words, broadcast live on Iranian state-owned television were
"They have fabricated a legend under the name 'Massacre of the Jews', and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves."

It is clear that Ahmadinejad belongs to those who deny the Holocaust because they wish to repeat it. It is also clear that we have in him a head of state who promolguates a pernicious untruth, and then blasphemes by conflating that untruth with the Truth of his revealed Religion. In this he does harm to Islam in Iran. Further, he has harmed the relationship of the Iranian people with the rest of the world, against which he has uttered calumny.

While the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua remains officially friendly to practioners of all the world's major religions, we are forced to admit that Ahmadinejad has, by his words and actions effectively made himself subject to the Thinwa spoken by me, the Pooper Scooper. Because he has yet to bring actual disaster to his own country, he does not qualify for membership in VCBC's widely ignored and non-influential Curse.

We regret that it has become necessary to inform you of this situation with respect to yet another head of state. We intend neither insult nor harm to the Iranian people, nor to their Islam. We do however, find it impossible to hold their current president in high esteem.

16 November 2005

AWOL from the 21st Century

France is burning, because well, even though the French are naturally more enlightened than the Americans, they aren't very good at assimilating new immigrants or providing jobs for their children or their children's children. The United States has shown that it does not run a Gulag - it contracts that work to Eastern European countries who have the infrastructure and experience to do the job properly. At the same time, America's mainstream media and much of its public opinion is behaving exactly as the insurgency in Iraq has been hoping. We are appalled at two thousand American military (volunteer military) casualties over a more than two year period, even though say the battle of Iwo Jima cost SEVEN thousand American lives. The insurgents have killed 26,000 Iraqis, and the Iraqis are not ready to given in.

So where have I been? Well, AWOL, I guess. I have finally finished the first three volumes of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. It has taken me over a year. To those who are interested, I offer you my review.

What else? The earth is getting warmer, and studies at my lab are getting increasingly precise at identifying the burning of fossil fuels as contributing to it. On the other hand, Mars is getting warmer, too. I could blame Halliburton, but I think a better explanation is that there may also be a solar forcing component to planetary warming.

In any event, the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, while I retreat into my books. I must be getting obsolete. On the other hand, maybe this is a good time to pause, and to think about whether there are such things as free will and human progress, Divine Providence and election, and the extent to which anything we think or do really matters. More on this in a future posting, I hope. Besides, the present problems are not unprecedented - the world has been going to Hell in a handbasket ever since the Old Testament prophets said it was. In other words, SNAFU, which is a military abbreviation for "Situation Normal: All F---ed Up."

15 November 2005

Who do you say that I was?

Review: A Marginal Jew
Rethinking the Historical Jesus
John P. Meier

Updated 23 February 2010

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." — Matthew 16:15,16, NRSV

Many Hindus believe that Krishna, the most direct manifestation of God, decided to live on earth as a man for a single human lifetime. He was born, lived and taught, and finally died, returning to his unmanifested form. Christians have this much in common with them: Christians also believe that God decided to become born as a human being, but he picked a really bad place and time to do it. As a result, he was executed by crucifixion, a death so humiliating and horrible that nobody could bring themselves to depict it until a century after the practice of crucifixion had ceased. Yet within days after his execution, this Christian God began appearing to his disciples in a hyper-physical, yet recognizable version of his living human form, promising them that they would follow him after their own deaths in the general Resurrection into the life to come.

So who was this person, not as the Christian God, but as the man Jesus, and how was he perceived by his contemporaries during his public ministry? In other words, what can be known about the historical Jesus? Now the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus, any more than the historical Abraham Lincoln is the real Abraham Lincoln. There are plenty of things about the real, flesh and blood Lincoln that have not been preserved for discovery by historians. And if much has been lost to us regarding the historical Lincoln, even more has been lost regarding the historical Jesus. Despite the vast literature of historical Jesus research, including the 3,040 pages of the first four volumes of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew (which itself cites hundreds of references), the pickings are slim.

Nevertheless, if one is careful (a substantial portion of the books is in chapter end-notes) and consistent in one's methodology, reads the ancient sources in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, is acquainted with Aramaic, and reads the commentaries on those sources in French, German, and English and keeps up with archaeological research, then pickings there are. The quest for them is long — the first volume of this work still in progress was published in 1991 — but the reader is rewarded with a greater understanding of, and consequently a greater awe of the man Jesus and the founders of his Church.

So how do we decide what comes from the historical Jesus? Meier uses the following criteria:

  1. Embarrassment — is the saying or narrative in question something that the early Church would rather have concealed, but could not, because it was common knowledge at the time? Meier's example is the baptism of Jesus by John, which by the logic of the early believers, should have gone the other way around, considering that John was merely a lay preacher, while Jesus was in the words of Peter, "the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
  2. Discontinuity — does the saying or narrative represent a break with traditions that went before (and often after) it? That is to say, is the saying or story unique or original in its place and time? Meier cites several examples, among them Jesus' sweeping prohibition of all oaths (Matt 5:34,37).
  3. Multiple attestation — does the saying or narrative appear in more than one independent literary source, and/or in more than one independent literary form or genre (e.g., parable, dispute, miracle story, prophecy, or aphorism)? Meier cites the multiple attestation of both sources and forms regarding Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God.
  4. Coherence — is the saying or story in question coherent with other material that is already judged as likely to be historical?
  5. Rejection and Execution — this criterion does not directly indicate whether a saying or deed attributed to Jesus is authentic. But it does point out as Meier writes that, "a Jesus whose words and deeds would not alienate people, especially powerful people, is not the historical Jesus." One should note that the Crucifixion is something the early church viewed with embarassment (criterion 1 above).

Secondary criteria, that are more problematic, but sometimes useful are:

  1. Aramaism — does the original Greek text in question exhibit traces of translated Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew that was the native language of the historical Jesus?
  2. Palestinian Environment — does the saying or story in question reflect "concrete customs, beliefs, judicial procedures, commercial and agricultural practices, or social and political conditions in 1st century Palestine?" Put negatively, accounts that get these details wrong are likely to be inauthentic.
  3. Vividness of Narration — does the story in question present vivid details that are not necessitated by the story itself? The problem here is that any good storyteller inserts such details.
  4. Redactional Tendencies — does the saying or story fit with the redactional (editorial) style of the Evangelist (Gospel writer) in question? If so, it may be an addition made by the Evangelist himself, rather than an account that goes back actual life of Jesus.
  5. Historical Presumption — Meier discusses, but does not use this criterion, which presumes that the burden of proof is on those who wish to contradict what are presumably eyewitness accounts. Meier argues that, in regard to the historical Jesus, the burden of proof is on whoever wants to prove anything. [To this I add the observations of modern forensic scientists and psychologists that eyewitness accounts of even recent events can differ between eyewitnesses, and that the account given by any individual eyewitness can change over time. Hence the importance of multiple attestation, above.]

Despite all these criteria, Meier further states that in many cases one cannot decide if a particular saying or deed goes back to the historical Jesus. One must declare it neither as historical or unhistorical, but rather "non liquet," i.e., "not clear."

All of this methodology should immediately shock those who take the Bible on faith as if it were dictated, word for word by God. Now, one cannot automatically exclude Divine Providence from having the definitive role in the development of the Judeo-Christian canon. But the truth is that the canonical texts were written and collected over hundreds of years. In other words, the composition of the Bible is itself a historical process, and therefore subject to historical analysis. Much of this analysis has been done by scholars prior to Meier, and he assumes some acquaintance with the results of this analysis on the part of his readers.

In particular, the four Gospels in their final form were composed some forty to ninety years after Jesus' public ministry. Scholars note that there is a common body of material found in gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, hence they are grouped together as the "Synoptic" Gospels. Nevertheless, there is also material unique to each of these Gospels, which scholars attribute to independent (mostly oral) traditions labeled M (Matthew), L (Luke), Marcan, and for material that is found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark, "Q," which stands for the German word Quelle, meaning source, as in the source of a stream. Finally, there is material found only in the Gospel of John, referred to as coming from an independent Johannine tradition. Thus, distributed among the four Gospels we find material from five source traditions.

These traditions developed orally and as fragmentary writings (Q is regarded as mostly a source of Jesus' sayings, rather than a narrative) during the first two Christian generations and were collected, edited, and written in their present form during the third. Each evangelist arranged the remembered and recorded incidents as seemed best to communicate the truth about Jesus as he understood it. The rewriting of narratives and rewording of sayings to suit a theological agenda are more pronounced in John than in the Synoptics, but Meier thinks that John may be more historically accurate than the Synoptics regarding the nature and date of the Last Supper, for example. As a consequence, there is no clear timeline or sequence of events on which any two Gospels agree. That is to say, we do not know the order of events during Jesus' public ministry. Of course, many have tried to reconcile the timelines in the Gospels to one another, constructing various "lives of Jesus," but they go beyond what can be established with reasonable probability.

There are other sources besides the Biblical canon. The literature of the intertestamental period can be used to shed light on attitudes in 1st century Palestine. Meier finds little to rely on in the so-called agrapha (the "unwritten" extra-canonical sayings and deeds of Jesus) and the Apocryphal Gospels. There are the two works of Josephus (a Jewish general who was captured by the Romans, and subsequently defected to them), Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities. Josephus' works, at least in some versions, contain references to John the Baptist and to Jesus, although at least one passage is almost certainly a later Christian interpolation. Meier also plumbs the Old Testament (OT) pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (attributed to the Essene community at Qumran), portions of the Talmuds, as well as other Roman texts.

To these sources and criteria, Meier adds an over-arching requirement. The conclusions to be drawn are those that could be agreed upon by an "unpapal conclave" consisting of a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew and an agnostic — "all honest historians cognizant of 1st-century religious movements" — locked together in the Harvard Divinity School Library. That is, Meier (a Catholic priest and professor of the New Testament at the University of Notre Dame) "prescinds" from his own faith. He is not seeking the Christ who makes Himself known through faith and theological reflection, but the Jesus of history that can be agreed upon whether or not one is Christian.

With all this attention to sources and methods, what can be said about the historical Jesus? Meier concludes Volume One: The Roots of the Problem and the Person by sketching a framework for future analysis. Jesus was born most likely in Nazareth (not Bethlehem) the first child of a pious family not long before the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.). Meier notes that his family's concern for its Jewish faith is evident in its members names: Jesus [a shortened form of Joshua], and the Hebrew forms of the names of his mother, father, and brothers are all those of key figures from the days of the Jewish patriarchs. They may have participated in the reawakening of Jewish national and religious identity in Galilee, which longed for the restoration of Israel freed from the domination of Rome. This would have been especially true if Jesus' father Joseph was thought to be a descendant of King David.

His family would have had Jesus educated enough to read Biblical Hebrew, or at least to become familiar with the then-accepted Hebrew Scriptures, but their modest means and social station would not have permitted them to have him educated as a priest or a scribe. He joined the movement led by John the Baptist, but soon struck out on his own, moving between his home area of Galilee and the city of Jerusalem and its surroundings. He was most likely celibate (an unusual condition at the time, though not unprecedented — the OT prophet Jeremiah was celibate as a prophetic act consistent with his message). Prior to his ministry he had been a woodworker who did not consider himself "poor," and he probably spoke enough "tradesman's Greek" (in addition to his native Aramaic) to have interacted in Greek with Pilate at his trial. He ate the Last Supper with his disciples on a Thursday evening (the Day of Preparation, not the Day of Passover, if Meier's dates are correct), and was crucified, died, and was buried on the following Friday before sunset. He died between A.D. 28 and 33 (most likely April 7, A. D. 30). His public ministry lasted a little over two years, ending with his death at the age of about thirty-six.

This historical Jesus was "marginal" in many senses, of which Meier mentions six: (1) Jesus is almost unmentioned in the Jewish and pagan literature of the century following his ministry. (2) Crucifixion was a method of execution reserved for criminals of marginal classes. (3) By abandoning his livelihood and modest social status to take up the life of an itinerant, celibate, lay prophet, Jesus marginalized himself in the eyes of many of his fellow Palestinian Jews. (4) Some of Jesus' teachings and practices (celibacy, prohibition of divorce, prohibition of oaths) would have been off-putting to many, especially since Jesus had no external badges of religious authority. (5) Jesus' style of teaching was such that, during his final clash with the authorities in Jerusalem, he had alienated those of sufficient influence to protect him. (6) To the rich and aristocratic urban priesthood, Jesus would have seemed dangerously anti-establishment, both because he was from the "boondocks" and because he had no strong ties to any of them.

The astute reader may have noticed at this point, that I have not mentioned the "infancy narratives" in Matthew and Luke. These narratives differ from one another, and enjoy no attestation from sources outside themselves — indeed, Mark and John appear not even to know of such narratives. As such, and because some of their details conflict with the historical record from other sources, they cannot be established as historical, a point agreed upon by the vast majority of critical scholars before Meier. Moreover, many features of these narratives are similar to the infancy stories of various other "heroes" of other faith traditions. Here Meier agrees with current scholarship, and moves on to his main purpose: questing for who the adult Jesus was during his public ministry.

If Volume One "set the stage onto which the adult Jesus would step," Volume Two: Mentor, Message, and Miracles begins with John the Baptist, who helped Jesus make his entrance. John was an eschatological prophet who preached that a fiery judgment was imminent upon all Israel. While the historian cannot establish that John was related to Jesus (multiple attestation cannot be used since the only account of John's childhood is in Luke 1) it does cohere with John's message for him to have been the only son of a Jerusalem priest, and to have forsaken his duty to continue the priestly line (John was probably also celibate) in order to call Israel to repentance in the desert. Only true repentance together with a water baptism administered by John could provide protection from God's coming wrath. This baptism was both similar to the use of water for ritual cleansing by Jews, and discontinuous with it, because the water cleansing was heretofore administered by oneself. Moreover, the self-administered cleansing conferred ritual purity, while John's baptism conferred forgiveness of one's past transgressions of the halakha, the religious Law.

The Jews who came to the Jordan river viewed John as a prophet, if not the prophet sent by God to prepare his people for the last days. Jesus was indeed baptized by John, and may have spent some time with John's entourage, as a kind of disciple or apprentice. In any case, Jesus left John's circle to begin his own ministry, which retained the proclamation of judgment and the practice of baptism, but took a new and original tack. Jesus, without any formal religious credentials, proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God — a relatively rare phrase before he used it — in both word and deed. He sought to begin the gathering of all the faithful of Israel (and even some upright and faithful non-Israelites) to prepare them for a glorious "eschatological banquet" which they would enjoy in the Presence of God and the Patriarchs. He made this eschatological banquet present to his followers in his table fellowship, which he offered to all, rich and poor, pious and sinners. He also made this imminent Kingdom implicitly present in his own astounding deeds: his exorcisms and his healings. When asked by messengers from the imprisoned John if he were the "Stronger One" that John had expected, Jesus alluded to Isaiah: "The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them." [Note that raising the dead is different from Resurrection — the raised dead return to their former lives and must eventually die again, whereas the Resurrected rise to new lives over which death has no power.] Indeed, as a miracle-working prophet, Jesus would have been perceived, and would probably have perceived himself as an Elijah-like prophet who was fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah. As Meier writes, "It was this convergence and configuration of different traits in the one man named Jesus — traits that made him the Elijah-like eschatological prophet of a kingdom both future and yet made present in his miracles — that gave Jesus his distinctiveness or 'uniqueness' within Palestinian Judaism in the early 1st century A.D."

Volume 3: Companions and Competitors widens the circle from a consideration of Jesus himself, to an investigation of his relationships to his fellow Jews. Meier's survey begins with the crowds around Jesus, and then turns inward to the disciples, and then to each of the Twelve, in turn. After this, he takes up Jesus' relations to his competitors for the faith of 1st century Palestinian Judaism: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Finally, he surveys the Samaritans, the scribes, the Herodians, and the Zealots.

Again, the definitive conclusions are few. Jesus' preaching and healings attracted large crowds, which probably contributed to his arrest and execution by the temple priesthood (led by Joseph Caiaphas) working hand in glove with the Roman authorities (led by Pontius Pilate). While these crowds may have been enthusiastic at times, their commitment was not deep or enduring. This stands in contrast to Jesus' sedentary supporters and itinerant disciples. Both of these groups included women, although the lack of an Aramaic feminine form for the word that got translated as "disciple" has probably led to no women being named as such. The sedentary supporters provided hospitality, shelter and funds to support Jesus and his movement on his preaching tours. They did not follow Jesus physically on these tours, and were probably volunteers. The disciples, on the other hand, did follow Jesus physically during his itinerant ministry, and were chosen or "called" individually by Jesus. That is, he urged or commanded his disciples to give up their social station and means of support, and to depend only God — which in practice meant on each other and especially on him.

Within the disciples was the inner circle of the Twelve, whom Jesus chose to begin the in-gathering of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The symbolic and prophetic act of calling and organizing the Twelve, as well as sending them out on a symbolic mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, probably contributed to the nervousness of the priestly (mostly Sadducean) and Roman authorities. This circle became enough of an "institution" that it endured for a while after Jesus' death, and even chose another disciple to replenish their number after the loss of Judas Iscariot (who had betrayed Jesus to the authorities). They continued Jesus' practices of baptism and his special prayer (the Lord's Prayer, which Meier judges to come in its primitive form — Meier quotes Fitzmeyer's hypothetical Aramaic reconstruction — from the lips of the historical Jesus).

Though Peter and the Twelve (as well as unnamed disciples and the network of sedentary supporters) provided continuity between the ministry of Jesus and the founding of the early Christian Church, there are also elements of discontinuity. Jesus apparently never considered a formal mission to the Gentiles. Rather he seemed to think that the Gentiles would be brought into the Kingdom of God only at the consummation of Israel's history at the end time. He did not intend to create a separate or separatist community within Judaism like the Essene community at Qumran, but rather to gather all Israel together, including sinners and toll collectors, to prepare them for God's imminent kingly rule.

Meier then widens the circle from Jesus' supporters to his competitors, beginning with the Pharisees. The quest for the historical Pharisees could take up a volume of its own, but for the purpose at hand, our attention is confined to their relationship to the historical Jesus. Generally speaking, the Pharisees were known for their scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law, including not only the written Law in the Torah — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — but also in their own special oral tradition that they claimed originated with Moses. The Pharisees were concerned with rules about purity (what makes hands clean or unclean, for example), proper observance of the Sabbath, marriage and divorce. While they tended to be strict in their own observance, they tended to be lenient in judgment, and not to view their fellow Jews who were not similarly observant as enemies (unlike the Essenes, see below). They considered their interpretation of the Law normative for all Israel, but by the time of Jesus, they were out of power at Judea's Roman-controlled court. They had been replaced there for some generations by the Sadducees. The Pharisees reacted by becoming more active among the common folk, seeking influence in numbers. Thus, they more geographically dispersed than the Sadducees, and more likely to have direct encounters with Jesus and his followers.

The Gospels present the Pharisees debating with Jesus on the issue of divorce, which they permitted based on Mosaic Law, but which Jesus forbade because of his eschatological mindset. That is, in the end time God would restore the institution of marriage to its pristine state, monogamous and permanent. By banning divorce, Jesus was thus preparing Israel for the imminent Kingdom of God. [Thus one sees a distinction between the Resurrection, which Jesus claimed one experiences after death, and the Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed was coming into this world.] Since it was common for theological debates to involve theological invective, it coheres with the usage of the time for Jesus to have used theological invective (prophetic woes) against them. Moreover, Jesus might well have used the Pharisees in teaching stories (parables) that turned the usual conception of honor on its head in the honor/shame society of his day — the parable of the toll collector and the Pharisee would be an example of this.

The other competitors of Jesus were:

  • The Sadducees, who were active mostly among the Jerusalem priesthood. They had their own traditions and rules, and disagreed with the Pharisees on various points of the Law. In particular, multiple attestation indicates that they denied the validity of the Pharisees' oral tradition and they did not believe in Resurrection after death. Jesus and his followers would have encountered them during his visits to Jerusalem for the observance of various Holy days. In particular, it is likely that the high priest, Joseph Caiaphas, was a Sadducee.
  • The Essenes, an obscure group founded by a "Teacher of Righteousness" sometime in the 2nd century B.C., and who established a monastic, celibate community at Qumran. They are believed to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes were very concerned with purity rules and the details of Temple observance. Unlike them, their rejection of practices then current in the Jerusalem temple (and indeed of the Roman-controlled Temple priesthood itself) led them to separate themselves from the rest of Israel. Like Jesus, they had eschatological expectations, but theirs took the form of preparation for a final battle between themselves (The Sons of Light) and everyone else (the Sons of Darkness). They lost this battle to the Romans around A.D. 70, and disappeared from history. Because they isolated themselves from the rest of Israel both spiritually and physically, they would have had little interaction with Jesus, and indeed the Gospels do not mention them. If Jesus shared some concerns with the Essenes, it was because those concerns were common to Palestinian Judaism in the 1st century. It is unlikely that Jesus was an Essene at some time before his public ministry.
  • The Samaritans, like the Jews, revered the first five books of Moses, but believed the religious center should be Mt. Gerizim near Shechem in Samaria, rather than Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. As religions, both Samaritanism and Judaism had emerged over several centuries as distinct expressions of the ancient Israelite worship of the one God Yahweh. It probable that Jesus did have interactions with Samaritans during his ministry.
  • The Scribes were just that — people who could read and write — and consequently they found employment in writing legal documents for people who needed them. Some Scribes became prominent because they were retained by other prominent people, such as members of the Jerusalem priesthood. In particular, one scribal activity was the reading and interpretation of Jewish law. Jesus and his followers may well have considered them competitors, because Jesus had his own interpretation of Jewish law, which he justified charismatically — it was right because he said so (here Meier is looking ahead to Volume 4). Hence the woes directed against the stock phrase "scribes and Pharisees."
  • The Herodians were merely people who supported Herod Antipas, many because they were his courtiers. They were not a political-religious party like the Sadducees and Pharisees, and could have drawn their membership from either of these groups, among others.
  • The Zealots did not exist as an organized militant group during Jesus' time. That is to say, the disciple Simon the Zealot was merely a zealously faithful person. A generation after Jesus, a group called the Zealots committed mass suicide at Masada rather than be enslaved by the Romans.

Meier surveys these groups partly to establish that Jesus was not a member of any of them, and to establish the coherence of some of the Gospel accounts of interactions between Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. More importantly, his survey establishes the relationship of Jesus, his message, and his movement to the religious milieu of his place and time. [Note added 1/09: A more detailed review of Volume III is here.]

In his fourth volume, Law and Love, issued in 2009, Meier considers Jesus as a charismatic teacher of the Mosaic Law. Operationally, charismatic means that Jesus did not routinely cite Scripture or other authority to make his points. Instead, he implied that what he said was true, because it was he who said it. And what he taught and debated was the halacha, the Jewish Law, because it was the prime point of contention between the various Jewish sects listed as his companions and competitors. In Meier's words "the historical Jesus is the halakhic Jesus." Just as he cannot be separated from his reputation for miraculous healing and other astonishing deeds, neither can he be separated from the Torah and its commandments.

One consequence of this concern for the Law is that Jesus most likely did not advocate the abrogation of Jewish dietary laws. These laws were one of the major ways in which the Jewish community maintained its identity, its separateness from the powers like Rome that dominated it. Had Jesus challenged the dietary laws, it is unlikely that his movement would have grown enough for him to attract enough attention to get crucified. Though he may have stated that what comes out of a person's mouth (evil speech), is what defiles a person, the phrase "thus he declared all foods clean," is a creation of Matthew to satisfy the needs of a largely Gentile Christian community well after the Crucifixion. Neither did Jesus advocate abrogating the Jewish laws concerning the Sabbath, or ritual purity, even though he was more humane in their interpretation as befits a peasant who is more concerned with the hard necessities of daily living, as opposed to the rigorous and extreme interpretations of say, the Essenes.

On the other hand, Meier argues convincingly that Jesus did make some unique pronouncements that astonished his fellow Jews, and were too widely known to be left out of the Gospels by their writers. Among these are the prohibition of divorce (despite the Torah's permission of it), the prohibition of oaths (despite the Torah's demanding the making of oaths under certain special circumstances), and Jesus' highly original double commandment to love God and one's neighbor. Only in the Q material and nowhere else in the OT, the NT or any of the relevant Jewish or pagan intertestamental literature does anyone do these four things together: (1) quote Deut 6:4-5 (love thy God) and Lev 19:18b (love thy neighbor) verbatim, (2) cite them both, back to back, (3) order them first and second, respectively, and (4) declare the ordered pair of these two commandments to be greater than any other commandments in the Torah. Based on the criterion of discontinuity discussed above, Meier believes this double commandment originates from the historical Jesus. Moreover it indicates that Jesus was knowledgeable of the Torah, and skilled in hermeneutical argument.

In the course of this investigation into the double love commandment, Meier emphasizes that the words "love" and "neighbor" bear some scrutiny. When used in the imperative, love means to will good and to do good to one's neighbor. It does not mean an emotion or feeling, because one can command thoughts and deeds, but not emotions. Neighbor has been enlarged by Christians reading the parable of the Good Samaritan to include everybody, but Meier claims there is no evidence that Jesus meant "neighbor" to include more than one's fellow Jews, one's fellow believers in YHWH, the one God. And yet, there is ground for such enlargement, because Meier argues (again from the criterion of discontinuity) that the historical Jesus did issue the laconic commandment "Love your enemies."

Having completed this very short and superficial survey of Meier's opus thus far, I suppose I could present a list of Jesus' sayings and miracles that Meier considered, and to what degree he found them historical. But the conclusion on any particular one of these is far less important than the discipline of considering all the arguments for and against its historicity, and the related historical/sociological and theological byways one must explore in the process. Moreover, simply listing Meier's often tentative conclusions might stimulate some readers to argue either with me or Meier over conclusions they dislike, without their having read the books.

Instead, I would like to foist upon the willing reader some of my impressions of the historical Jesus as sketched by Meier. To begin, I agree with Meier that the historical Jesus' apparent laxity regarding certain rules concerning purity and Sabbath observance may stem from his origins as a Galilean peasant. To an agrarian, accustomed to working on a daily basis with dirt and animals, and one bad harvest away from starvation, such concerns might seem far removed. On the other hand, Meier notes that Jesus, himself celibate, may have been very concerned with laws regulating sexual behavior and sexual purity. In particular, the historical Jesus may have been as scandalized as any of his fellow Jews by the sexual practices of Classical (i.e., Greco-Roman) civilization, including nudity in public and same-sex relations. Though the Jesus of the Gospels does not mention such practices, it may be that for a Jewish prophet preaching to his fellow Jews, such condemnation was unnecessary — it "went without saying." St. Paul, on the other hand, did condemn such practices in his letters, because he had regular contact with Gentile converts who may have needed reminders concerning these subjects. In any case, by using Jesus' condemnation of adultery (and by extension divorce), one might argue that the historical Jesus was concerned for the restoration of sexuality in general to its pristine state before the Fall of Man, though such concern has left little explicit trace in the Gospels. (A counter-argument could be mounted by claiming that Jesus' concern for the state of marriage came not from a concern about sexuality but rather from his prohibition of oaths — if one is to be bound by one's agreements, then certainly the agreement to marry should be binding.)

Indeed, the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 was used by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:21,22) to argue for the necessity of Jesus' death and resurrection. Further, in many places in the NT we see a siege mentality, an attitude that the Church is contending against a numinous spiritual Enemy, variously named Satan, Beelzebub, or "the Power that rules this world." Thus far in his analysis, Meier has not directly addressed this topic: did the historical Jesus view himself and his disciples as contending against Sin, Evil, or Satan/Beelzebub? Nor has he addressed the historicity and meaning of Jesus' threatening references to "Gehenna," which has been translated into "Hell." If these were not concerns of the historical jesus, they would represent two more major points of discontinuity with much of the early (and present) Church.

What I take from Meier's massive work of scholarship is an impression of the historical Jesus as a 1st century Palestinian Jewish celibate peasant layman, eschatological prophet and miracle-worker in the manner of Elijah who shared table fellowship with both religious insiders and outcasts, used prophetic invective against his opponents, who taught original syntheses of the Jewish religious law, and who organized a network of supporters to keep him in the business of proclaiming the imminent and yet present Kingdom of God which would restore Israel to its former glory and set the world in balance. Meier's historical Jesus gave up everything — his livelihood, his family, his honor (in an honor/shame society) — to proclaim and make prophetically real the coming of God's kingly rule over his people. He was even willing to give his life for this cause, and when it began to appear to him that such a sacrifice would be demanded of him by the priestly and Roman authorities, he consoled himself with the hope that he would have a place at the eschatological banquet at the end time. This is not the Jesus of the high christology in the Gospel of John, who is always supremely in control, but of an ordinary man who made a most extraordinary leap of faith — a peasant who could have lived out his days in a reasonably respectable obscurity, but who chose (or was chosen) to stake everything, including his life, on God and the Kingdom he was given to proclaim. If this was all the self-knowledge that Jesus was permitted to take to his Passion, I can only have the more awe of him for being willing to risk scourging and crucifixion, and for being unwilling to recant when that fate was upon him.

Such an odd, passionate, demanding (at least of his disciples) worker of astonishing deeds does not lend himself to portrayals as a kindly philosopher (as was done by Thomas Jefferson and some modern academics). I agree with Meier that Jesus without his reputation and self-image as a miracle worker is not the historical Jesus. Nor does such a figure lend himself to portrayals of Jesus as a revolutionary who sought political power. The historical Jesus was about prophetic, rather than military/political action. It is also apparent that the historical Jesus does not lend himself readily to the claims of either Liberal or Conservative Christianity.

On the other hand, the historical Jesus does not lend himself readily to the christology of the Church as a whole. This may be due to Meier's method: his over-arching premise that what can be said about the historical Jesus must be that which can be agreed upon whether or not one is Christian excludes christology a fortiori (to use one of Meier's favorite Latin phrases) — the historical Jesus is of necessity not the Resurrected Christ. But for Christians there is another possible reason why there is discontinuity between the historical Jesus and the early Church: maybe the Resurrection changed everything, even Jesus himself, his own self-understanding, and the understanding of his followers. [I must note that the Resurrection is not accessible to historians, because it cannot be corroborated by independent witness - all of the witnesses to the Resurrection were by definition Christian.]

Stepping back from the historical Jesus and forward into our own time, I also take away an impression of the present Church. The "sola Scriptura" (Scripture alone) of myself and my fellow Protestants seems like ill-informed bibliolatry (making the Bible itself into an idol into which we retroject our desires and expectations) compared to the disciplined and minute reading of Scripture one finds in Meier. The experience of reading A Marginal Jew has strengthened my conviction that the sectarianism of the Christian Church is both a consequence of and a defense against Sin. That is to say, when Sin begins to invade the Church it is walled off and contained by division until it subsides. The divisions between Eastern and Western Churches, between Western Catholicism and Protestantism, within Protestantism itself and between Liberal and Conservative Christianity were not meant to endure, and deserve no more than our provisional adherence. Instead of bickering with each other, we might do better to stand together and marvel how Jesus, at once the marginal Jew of history and the Christ of faith, changed the history of our world and the destiny of our souls.

For future volumes, Meier plans to explore the historicity and meaning of Jesus' parables, Jesus' self-designations (e.g., Son of Man, possible claim to be the Davidic Messiah), and the precise reason(s) why Jesus was crucified by the Roman Prefect Pilate on the charge of claiming to be King of the Jews. After working through Meier's first four volumes, I can hardly wait. My concern is that given his acknowledgements of his doctors for keeping him healthy enough to continue, and the length of time between volumes (which seem to cover fewer major topics, but in ever expanding detail), he may come to the end of his earthly days before coming to the end of his project.

Even if that should be the case, Professor Fr. Meier has already moved the quest for the historical Jesus far from where it had been before him, and created a valuable point of departure for further questers. And for us lay believers, he has provided an introduction to the "fully human" aspect of the Christ who is at once fully human and fully God.

06 November 2005

On Time

The Universe had a beginning. In 1965 Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson observed the faint microwave radiation that we now know suffuses the entire cosmos. They thought it was some kind of noise, but R. H. Dicke recognized it from earlier theoretical work by Lemaitre and Hubble. It was the remnant of the energy of the Big Bang. The scientific community was astounded. It was if they had run smack into the fourth sentence of Genesis.

The Big Bang did not happen at any particular place. Before the Bang, there was no place. The Big Bang was the beginning of "place" itself. The Big Bang was the beginning of everywhere, and so, the Big Bang happened everywhere at once, some twelve billion years ago, at a moment in Time — it was the beginning of Time, too.

And, some hundred thousand years later, when the Universe had expanded and cooled enough for the primordial plasma to condense, there was light — the light that became the cosmic microwave background. The Universe had a beginning. We have seen it.

The Universe will also have an end. Until recently, cosmologists were debating whether the current cosmic expansion would reverse itself under the influence of gravity and turn into a Final Crunch, or whether the Universe would go on expanding forever, turning into a uniform bath of low-energy radiation as all the matter in the Universe slowly decays away. Just in the past few years, however, scientists have measured that the cosmic expansion is actually accelerating, that some mysterious "Dark Energy" is inflating the Universe as if it were a cosmic balloon. Thus there is added yet another end of Time, the Final Rip, as the Universe eventually tears apart so fast that not even the forces that hold sub-atomic particles together can't resist it. Perhaps the scroll of the heaven will tear and roll up after all.

On the other hand, if the so-called "Braneworld" hypothesis of String Theory is correct, the Universe as we know it is actually embedded in a higher dimensional space, and all the forces we know are confined to our Brane, except for gravity (which would explain why gravity is so weak compared to the other forces). In the Braneworld scenario, the Big Bang was started when our Brane collided with another Brane. The next collision will occur at some unknown time, without warning — " In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet," (1 Corinthians 15:52) as it were.

Thus a caution against fatalism: things have not always been this way. Things had a beginning. Things can change and be changed. A caution against vanity: no achievement you can have, no monument to yourself you can make can endure, because nothing lasts forever, not even the Universe itself. And a notion of forgiveness: no evil you can do can last forever. That, too, will be erased.

But the point is not so much that the Universe had a beginning and will have an end. The point is that the Universe has some dimensions we can move around in at will — Space — and one special dimension that we can't — Time. If you could move around in Time like you can in Space, there would be no beginning and no end, no before and no after. And grief, regret, and guilt would not exist because there would be nothing that could not be undone.

Now if every act or accident could be undone, what need would there be for morality? It is the finality of action due to unidirectional Time that makes morality both possible and necessary. Without Time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could not have spoken of the "Moral Universe." It is true that the Universe itself is amoral, but Time makes the Universe a place where any sentient social beings like ourselves must have some sort of ethics.

It is as if, in the allegory of Genesis, Adam and Eve, by eating the Forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, had fallen not so much out of a paradisical Eden, but into Time. The way back is barred by a Flaming Sword, which could just as well be the Arrow of Time. It is not that Eden is a place to which they can no longer go. Eden is in their past. The act of acquiring Knowledge of Good and Evil is also the act of acquiring the Knowledge of Time. It is irreversible. You can't take it back. Whether you will or not, it's forward you go.

You can't really imagine things being any other way (a Universe without Time), because Time is intimately bound up with your Consciousness. Jeff Hawkins and others propose (rather convincingly) that your neocortex (the part of your brain that executes all your higher mental functions) is a multi-layered temporal pattern processor. It constantly accepts sensory inputs, and predicts what sensory inputs it is likely to receive next. Only when input does not match expectation, does higher consciousness get called to check things out. The model explains much of how we perceive and learn. It even explains how we can commit errors of thought, such as prejudice. When Adam and Eve fell into Time, they became embedded in Time, and Time became embedded in them. They knew Time in the intimate sense, by becoming one with it.

Yet we can still say a few things about what it would be like if Time were different — if, say, there were more than one temporal dimension in which we could move freely. Know that Time provides the gate through which you entered this Universe, and also the gate through which you will leave it. If you could move about Time like you move about Space, would you find the gate? Would you have the guts to go through? That is to say, Time as we know it has a kind of salvific value. The entire Universe is structured so that you are guaranteed to find and pass through the way out. In that sense, you can never be lost. Not in this Universe, anyway.

So Time is the Gateless Gate that lets us in and out of this Universe (and makes us follow its rules). But to where does it lead? Or rather to Whom? A long time ago, God showed up as a Galilean peasant, and said that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We are in the outskirts of the Kingdom, visiting the Universe God gives us, going about both our and God's business, on God's Time, heading toward a New Universe, toward a New Relationship with God.

The Good News is that Home is in your Future.
by Art Cavazos
clergy abuse survivor
There is nothing I want more.
I want to be with you always.
Lost in your fragrance,
I don’t ever want to be found.
The way your hair cradles your face,
The way you smile,
Countries would lay down arms.

I want to be with you always.
I wrap my arms around you.
I stare into your eyes.
They mesmerize and hypnotize,
 And I kiss you deeply.
In unspoken language,
I hear your passion.
In your touch,
I taste memories.

Lost in your fragrance,
I am at your neck and you sigh,
A benevolent parasite,
A willing host.
We remove what is left of our inhibitions.
You radiate an undiscovered light,
I do not wince.

I don’t ever want to be found,
We drift to the alter of Eros.
I am lost in your eyes.
We pleasure each other as lovers do.
A glow consumes us,
sorcerers of romance,
We merge.

The way your hair cradles your face,
I run my fingers through it.
In our oblivious intertwine,
What we want is near.
You grasp my arms in anticipation,
we no longer hold back.

The way you smile,
Has squelched my fear.
You hold my hand as I grow weaker.
The road side bomb that has maimed me,
Has brought me here to you.
I use my last breath to tell you,
And to you it makes no sense:

“We could have been lovers.”

Countries would lay down arms.

The Human Experiment, Analysis

contributed by Art Cavazos
clergy abuse survivor

Our perception of the divine and of science,
no matter how bizarre and farfetched,
is limited to what we are.
At what point do we become greater than our
predefined parameters?
In reverse creation, man has written the
book for man that says we are in a god's
likeness when it is we who have created the
greater being in our own likeness.
Science fiction and other extreme thought,
give us a direction.
But it is still thought on a Human Level.
We just can't do it yet.
Those who see the big picture ask if this is
all there is.
The answer is no.
Master the rhythm of chaos and complete
the human experiment.
But what do I know? I’m only Human.

I Have Forgotten

contributed by Art Cavazos
survivor of clergy abuse

From the wonder, I am aware.

My wisdom is of thousands of lifetimes.

I look at my hands but can not see them.

I look at my life and can see everything.

I will eliminate the horrible and enhance the spectacular.

I am solving, I am calculating.

I can now see faster than the speed of light and what is produced is a beautiful void which is pure in thought, pure in love, and delicate in sound.

I have acquired knowledge that will heal the sick, comfort the wounded, raise the dead.

I have no one to share it with.

I have shifted, I have moved. In my painful eviction, light has outrun me. Sound has betrayed me.

 Cast out of paradise. I can not go back. The tether to my mother has been severed and I have forgotten. For the first time in my life, I cry.

Wizard of God

contributed by Art Cavazos
survivor of clergy abuse

In my drunken stupor last night,
I spoke to someone about my abuse.
It hit me like Thor’s hammer,
The Wizard of Oz shares more than one use.

 When Toto pulled back the drapes,
the illusion was gone.
The struggle that ensued,
defines my struggle with Python.

 The abused are Toto,
The Wizard is Church.
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man,
continue to tithe to the priest at his perch.

 Blindly following flawed doctrine,
not knowing they have the power to change it.
The drapes do not need any interpretation,
we struggle with Wizard and fancy gadget.

 We see the Wizard for what it is,
no fire, and smoke, no thunderous voice.
No holographic image of the boogey man,
supports the men that made the wrong choice.

 In black and white doggy sight,
Dorothy hasn't happened yet.
That's the problem with time and space,
Dorothy happens when she sees the threat.

 Dorothy the inquisitive parishioner,
who confronts the Wizard.
Not a victim at all like me,
The tithings then are scissored.

 Eventually the nutless Lion,
And the pyrophobic Scarecrow.
Will kindly ask of the tin man,
if his axe they can borrow.

 Hack to the truth,
of what Peter started.
Slough off all the pedophiles,
Secret societies thwarted.

 Toto steps out of rhythm to think,
Observing the church as they fumble.
He thinks without rhythm, rhyme, or meter,
He stops, and narrates for us without mumble:

Toto’s prose:
The nice lady in the bubble is God.
On one paw, she already knows that all Dorothy has to do,
is click her heels three times to get home.
instead, the poor girl endures a cruel journey,
just for grins and giggles.

 On the other paw,
maybe the essence of the journey,
enriches her soul as she puts together the Yellow Brick Posse.
Either way, instant gratification ruins a good movie.
Trials and tribulations, earn rewards in the end.

 The apple trees made me wet my fur.
If I had hands instead of paws,
I would have put the tin man’s axe to them.
Those flying monkeys were a trip.

These freaky moments represent our trauma and betrayal,
at the hands of the green faced clergyman on the broom.
Dorothy and I share a strange connection,
She’s on the inside, I’m on the outside.

Toto’s close:
I've ricocheted off the point just a bit,
I'll be drunk in a slight.
That will suffice for my mental red shoes.
At least for a while, tonight.

13 October 2005

One Justice for All

Here is my problem with Harriet Miers as a nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America: I have a litmus test for federal judical appointees, and I am not convinced she could pass it. This doesn't mean that I think she isn't of the highest intellectual caliber. On the contrary, she is a well-educated and experienced lawyer, a leader of lawyers, and a valued crony of George W. Bush. No, smart isn't the problem. I simply suspect that she has spent her life thinking about politics and lawyering - she must have done so at some level of consciousness to guard the door of her lips so well that no word has dropped one way or the other about any current "hot-button" issues that her potential opponents could use to disqualify her out of hand.

Well, what's wrong with spending a life thinking about politics and lawyering? Nothing, except that the title of her prospective new job includes the word "Justice." And that is the subject of my one question litmus test: What is Justice? You have two hours. Talk.

On the other hand, that question is far from the clever, political, lawyerly minds of the good Senators who questioned her predecessor, John Roberts. Amid all the sparring over the respect of precedent - code for, "Will you let Roe v. Wade stand regardless of your personal feelings about it?" - the subject of Justice itself never came up. I don't expect it will emerge from the fracas this time, either.

Instead, the focus will be on the nature of Ms. Mier's Evangelical - code for "Christian Fundamentalist" beliefs, now that the Bush Administration has clumsily made an issue of it in order to mollify their perceived "Religious Right" base of support (thus outing their ultimate stealth candidate), and whether those beliefs will permit her to rule on the merits of the case (on abortion, of course) rather than based primarily on what she brings to the case.

So much for how the urge to fight over abortion demeans our public discourse, especially our discourse around appointments to the US Supreme Court. It even limits the choices of candidates to those least outspoken, indeed it makes that criterion more important than all the others. Perhaps it's out of place for me to say it, but I question the wisdom of that.

31 August 2005

Disaster Porn and Other Bad News

Well, it took Hurricane Katrina, a major national disaster to knock the US 24-hour news spin cycle off Cindy Sheehan. I sympathize with Cindy's pain, and pity her psychopathology, but to me, she is the poster child for everything the Bastard Jihad says about America and the West regarding our hypersensitivity to casualties, our lack of memory and logic, and our lack of will to win. Spinning 24-hours per day on her may have been a way for our desperate national media outlets to fill air time until something more noteworthy came along. But it also gave comfort to our enemies, and in that, it was thoughtless and irresponsible at the very least.

What isn't making the news about Hurricane Katrina is that this is a real test of the fledgling National Incident Management System (NIMS). So far, it looks like there are a lot of bugs to work out of it. Instead of sober reporting covering and evaluating the local, state, and natiional responses (and usual lack of international response) to the disaster, the media fills our screens with "human interest" stories and graphic images of destruction. The same scenes can be replayed many times in a single day, or even a single hour, with almost no increase in information. It's a kind of disaster pornography instead of hard news.

Meanwhile, as Shiite Muslims gather for Ashura, they are betrayed by occasional Sunni Muslim sympathizers with the Bastard Jihad. Some of these sympathizers have actually handed out traditional tea and sweets to the Shiite pilgrims, but with poison in them. And a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad triggered by rumors of a suicide bomber in their midst has cost the lives of more than 600 pilgrims. That's many times more casualties that could have been caused by an actual suicide bomber.

That's the bad news. The Good News is that death and destruction are not the last Word. It's just the word for today.

So turn off all thoughts about tomorrow and get as good a night's sleep as you can. "Sufficient unto this day is the evil thereof," said Jesus, a 1st century Palestinian Jew, whom Christians regard as the Messiah, and whom Muslims regard as the Prophet Issa.

17 August 2005


Occidentalism, by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit describes not so much a worldview, but a multifaceted prejudice against the West and Westerners. Occidentalists believe that Western ideas, including liberal democracy and capitalism, are inherently dehumanizing, and have already dehumanized Westerners to the point where they are less than human. Some Occidentalists are violent, like al-Qaeda. Some are Westerners themselves, engaging in nihilistic self-loathing. Indeed Buruma and Margalit trace the literary roots of Occidentalism to the West itself, particularly German Romanticism and its toxic offshoots, National Socalism (Nazism) and Marxism.

They quote Wagner, who stated that the dangerous, seductive Venusberg in his opera Tannhauser, "stands for 'Paris, Europe, the West': that frivolous, commercialized and corrupt world in which 'freedom and also alienation' are more advanced than in our 'provincial Germany with its comfortable backwardness.'" (p22)

Thus Occidentalism is anti-urban (specifically anti-Western urban - the West did not invent the city), but "far from being the dogma favored by downtrodden peasants, Occidentalism more often reflects the fears and prejudices of urban intellectuals, who feel displaced in a world of mass commerce." This is because "in an Americanized society, dominated by commercial culture, the place of philosophers and literati was marginal at best." (p34)

Now, however, "most devout Muslims are not political Islamists so much as advocates of enforcing public morality. They yearn for what they see as the traditional way of life, with they identify with Islam. Even if they have little idea what the ideal islamic state should look like, they care deeply about sexual mores, corruption, and traditional family life. Islam, to the believers, is the only source and guardian of traditional collective morality. And sexual morality is largely about women, about regulating female behavior. This is so because a man's honor is dependent on the behavior of the women related to him. The issue of women is not marginal; it lies at the heart of Islamic Occidentalism." (p128)

So what we have here is a prejudice against the West, which received its first expressions in the West itself. These expressions were adopted for use against the West by those who hated it, and elaborated by various non-Westerners to suit their situations. The most news-grabbing current form of Occidentalism is what I call the Bastard Jihad, which mis-identifies Islam with the pre-Islamic honor/shame cultures in which Islam took root. The role of women in these societies comes more from the honor/shame focus of these societies, which limited the liberation of women that Islam had begun.

Some in these societies feel their religion under mortal threat from Globalization (which they see as Westernization), but their religion is secure. Islam transcends culture and will survive and prosper in any case. Even their cultures will survive. It is only the honor/shame orientation of their cultures that will not withstand the onslaught of Globalization.

Well, good riddance to it. As I have stated elsewhere, Islam already transcends honor/shame morality, because it is theologically impossible to humiliate a Muslim. Yet, the rhetoric of humiliation, based on honor/shame cultures, is what the Bastard Jihad uses to whip up the hatred it needs to motivate its cannon fodder. It's not just an abomination, it's a shame.

04 August 2005

Hiroshima Remembered

This Saturday will be the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States of America. Given the state of education in the US and the wider world, one wonders how many people realize that the attack was not unprovoked - that the attack was part of a tactic to avoid a massive invasion of the Japan and the horrendous casualties such an invasion would have cost to both to the US and Allied Forces, as well as to the Japanese military and civilian population. That the attack ended World War II. That the Empire of Japan had invaded and butchered its neighbors, and had executed a devastating pre-emptive air strike against the US Navy at Pearl Harbor 3 1/2 years earlier, in order to prevent tue US from interfering with its war in the Pacific. That Japan was so prepared to fight to the finish that it took two atomic bombings to convince their leadership to give up. That anything less that Unconditional Surrender would have been immoral, after what Japan had done to its neighbors, because anything less than unconditional surrender would have failed to dismantle the leadership that made that war.

And now, with hindsight, one wonders whether an invasion followed by an occupation would have led to an insurgency. Perhaps the atomic bombing led the Japanese to believe that if they tried an insurgency, the occupiers would simply have withdrawn and resumed atomic bombing.

Still, there is the realization on the part of those who developed the bombs, especially Leo Szilard, that had the US lost some subsequent major conflict, those who had much to do with the atomic bombing of Japan might have been tried for war crimes. See his short story, "My Trial as a War Criminal," in The Voice of the Dolphins, Stanford University Press, 1961.

That is to say, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and, some days later, Nagasaki, were evil in both their intent and their effects. It's just that they were less evil than the alternatives. May their like not ever happen again to any people.

16 July 2005

The Bastard Jihad strikes again

Now it seems that the perpetrators of the 7/7 attacks in London were Shahzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain, Sidique Khan, and Germaine Lindsay. They were four friends, three Muslims described as Britons of Pakistani descent, and the last a Jamaican convert to Islam. Britain's MI5 suspects that a fifth man, Magdy El-Nashar, an Egyptian chemical engineer, supplied the explosives they carried in the backpacks they used to turn themselves into human bombs on three subway ("tube") trains and a bus.

In other words, terrorists did not infiltrate into London from outside England. It was an inside job, carried out by 2nd-generation immigrants who meet weekly to play soccer (football). Perhaps England and the rest of Europe could do more to assimilate their new Muslim immigrants, teaching them not only soccer, but language, and most of all, respect for other peoples' lives and beliefs. But these were not new immigrants. They were second generation, born and raised in England, native English speakers. And the fact remains that of all immigrant groups, only Muslims are known for massacring their adopted countrymen in their adopted homelands. It is not politically correct to say it, but, in case it has not become obvious by now, something is wrong with Islam.

Islam is infected with the toxic ideology of Bin Laden and company, the people I have called jihaddicts. They think that Islam has declined in world power and influence because Islam has been and is everywhere under attack, and that defending it requires extreme measures, including suicide bombing. Their memory of humiliation, abuse, and defeat stretches back past the establishment of the nation-state of modern Israel in 1948, past the British mandate in Palestine, past the demise of the Turkish Caliphate at the end of WW I, past the end of Muslim rule in Spain in the late 1400s, all the way to the Crusades of approximately A.D. 1095-1271. According to their ideology, the failure of Islam to dominate the world is due to the more or less constant warfare that non-Muslims have made against Muslims for the last 1000 years or so.

The truth of the matter, however, is that Islam was expansionist from its founding in the early 600s until the Islamic Ottoman Empire was finally driven south of the Danube River in the Battle of Vienna (Austria) in 1683. The expansion faltered mostly because the Islamic world felt that it had nothing to learn from the civilizations which it was seeking to dominate. First technologically, and then economically, Islamic civilization simply fell behind. And it has stayed behind, despite the most massive infusion of wealth from the rest of the world in history (to purchase, not steal, oil).

In a word, the ideology of Bin Laden and company is paranoid. It is also narcissistic, in that it has an exaggerated sense of entitlement, insisting on rights for Muslims in non-Islamic countries that are not accorded to non-Muslims in Islamic countries. Finally, it is like borderline personality disorder in its compulsively generating conflict wherever Islam meets another culture, and psychopathic in its disregard for the moral code it claims to be striving for.

This is not to say that adherents of this ideology are psychologically abnormal - Marc Sageman presents evidence that they are quite normal. But that makes their sin worse - they are psychologically normal people who embrace an ideology that is sick.

But mostly, the ideology of Bin Laden and company (al-Qaeda and its sympathizers, hangers on, etc.) is illegitimate. It calls for defensive (and therefore unlimited) jihad in places and times where Islam and Muslims are not under attack from anyone but the illegitimate mujahidin themselves. [It strains the imagination to wonder how a single Muslim anywhere on earth is defended by blowing up trains in London or Madrid, or by the 9/11 attacks against America. Indeed, the situation of world Islam seems to have been made worse by these events.] Since another word in English for "illegitimate" is "bastard," one wonders whether it might be fair to characterize the Global Salafist Jihad as a Bastard Jihad, and its practicioners as Bastard Mujahidin, in order to distinguish them from legitimate jihad and legitimate mujahidin, such as those who fought to defend Bosnian Muslims when their lives were at stake.

Again, this is not to say that the Bastard Mujahidin are in any way illegitimate in terms of their families, their character, or their general behavior. Generally speaking, they seem to be honest people (mostly men) of good character. They are psychologically normal as noted above, of average intelligence, and have no particular bad habits. As Mike Sheuer notes in Through our Enemies' Eyes they see themselves in much the same light as America's Revolutionary Patriots of 1776 saw themselves. What makes them evil and dangerous is not their vices, but the illegitimate perversion of their virtues.

Of course, I could be wrong about my characterization of what I see as a problem in Islam, because I am neither a psychologist nor a Muslim. Further, my remarks may be self-serving because, as a non-Muslim, I am in the class of people the Bastard Jihad considers targets. But consider that I am willing to support any Muslim in their Islam who is willing to support me in my Christianity. Like the Qur'an, I consider that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God, and are thus engaged in the common enterprise of trying to be the People(s) of God.

Which brings us to another aspect of the problem: there is a strain of thought in Islam proper that lends itself to an interpretation that is intolerant of other faiths. It is the totalitarian streak that claims that true Islam is not just a religion, but a total way of life that governs all aspects of behavior, public and private under Islamic Law, aka Sharia. Now, if an individual or a community wants to live under Sharia, that's fine. But if that individual or community wants to force Sharia on everyone, that is a recipe for conflict.

The totalitarian strain in Islam is understandable, because Islam's Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was simultaneously a Revealer of God's sovereign word, a successful general, and a head of state. But one might note that there was division in Islam over who should succeed the Prophet from the moment of his death. Those who thought his successor should be chosen by a council of his closest followers became the Sunnis, while those who thought the Prophet's closest male relative should succeed him became the Shia. Since then there have been numerous divisions in Islam, and at times several Caliphs (Commanders of the Faithful) simultaneously.

That is, when Right Guidance was believed to flow only down from the top, from the Caliph(s) to the people, there was division, and as history has borne out, wrong guidance many times. The source of this is simple. When the power of Religion was combined with the power of the State, the temptation to exert one's will over one's fellow human beings proved too seductive, and led the leaders away from God. It took 1400 years for Western Civilization to work out the concept of separation of Church and State. But, as Farid Zakaria notes, the gap created by setting the two powers against each other provided the space for human liberty (freedom from the arbitrary power of either Church or State) to arise.

Thus, I think that Islam will become less prone to violence when it realizes that leadership must become an affair for specialists, with temporal leaders concerning themselves with what people do to each other's bodies and property, and religious leaders concerning themselves with people's souls and their relationship with God. Further, I think Islam will experience a Renaissance when it realizes that Right Guidance can also flow from the bottum up - from the collective wisdom of the mass of believers. Then I think we will see a re-establishment of the Caliphate, with the Caliph elected democratically by the believers themselves.

In the meantime, Islam and its neighbors on this planet must battle the cancer of the Bastard Jihad, which seduces its youth and steals the future they could build for Muslims and everyone else, were they not destroying themselves and everyone around them.

For more, see Li'l Johnnie's Jihad Page.

09 July 2005

Ellowen Deeowen

"Ellowen Deeowen. London," wrote Salman Rushdie in The Satanic Verses. Ellowen Deeowen is a tough old girl, who has absorbed more than her share of bomb blasts, first from the IRA, and now from al-Qaeda. Expect her to grieve, and then to go on. But don't expect her to cave in, like Madrid. She has too much cohones for that.

But it sets me to thinking. How do we beat the jihaddicts? Michael Sheuer, author of the definitive biography on Bin Laden, thinks the West and the US should change our policies toward the Middle East so as not to anger so many Muslims. His idea is to drain away the motivation for people to volunteer to do violence.

I rather think that the jihaddicts are in business to stay in business. They will adapt. They will say, "See, we made them submit. They changed their policy. We are winning. Join us, and help us finish the Jews and Crusaders. We shall make them all Muslims or corpses." So much for appeasement. How about defense?

The problem with defense-only (aka "Homeland Security") is that it is expensive, difficult, and easily penetrated. Suppose we could detect a suspected suicide bomber, and temporarily immobilize him or her while authorities checked him or her out. The countermeasure is cheap and easy. Use a cell-phone, garage door opener, or other remote control so that the suicide-bomber's boss (hidden somewhere else) can set the bomb off.

Offense, making the bad guys insecure in their homelands, has its appeal, but it also has difficulties. To catch terrorists, you have to be able to go where they go, and hang out where they hang out, without being detected. We probably have people who can do that, but not nearly enough, and even they can't go everywhere.

Besides, even if we could get the heads of Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi delivered to the Pentagon in cardboard boxes full of dry ice, what would we really gain beyond a sense of satisfaction? As Bin Laden himself has said, more "Bin Ladens" would rise up to take his place. Well, sort of.

Perhaps we need to step back and look at the array of possible outcomes of all this struggle. All the "kinetic" options (guns, missiles, bombs, etc.) have limited effectiveness and potential undesirable side effects. Conflict done with armament alone has a way of escalating. Maybe we should work on the information end of things as well. For example, why is it that Bin Laden and company get to decide who is a Muslim and who is an Infidel? Who gave them that authority? We should seek to get Bin Laden and company marginalized to the extent that they themselves are the recognized "Enemies of God," because they commit the Sin of loving jihad more than God, illegitimately calling for defensive, unlimited jihad against those who are not attacking Muslims, contrary to established Islamic Law.

24 June 2005

What are we getting for our sacrifices in Iraq?

First let's be clear. The insurgency in Iraq is killing more Iraqis and fewer Americans. Despite this, polls now indicate that a majority of Americans want to get out of Iraq. The insurgent leaders take note of our media and know our poll results. They now know what they have always thought: what counts in defeating the fledgling Iraqi democracy is the number of bombs they set off. Even if they mostly kill Iraqis and alienate the Iraqi people, the bombings weaken the will of America to do what it takes to support the new government. If the insurgents just keep bombing, the Americans will simply give up and go away.

What happens then? Unlike Vietnam, there is no army ready to invade Iraq the way the North Vietnamese Regular Army invaded South Vietnam after the Americans abandoned it, and refused even to supply the South Vietnamese Army with the spare parts they needed to keep their weapons working. Or is there? Iran is investing in Iraq, supplying funds and clergy to set up schools in the Shi'ite areas. Perhaps Iran has designs on Iraq. Or perhaps the insurgents hope to bring back the Baathists (Saddam Hussein's party, which blended Nazi ideology with pan-Arabism).

Either way, if Americans walk away from the Iraqi democracy before it can stand on its own, Americans will have nullified the sacrifices of American troops and their families, and betrayed the Iraqi people yet again. And instead of a democratic Iraq as the nucleus of an Islamic Enlightenment whose ideas and ideology could defeat the Global Salafist Jihad, we will have another failed state providing the Jihad with a new base of operations.

Americans will also have given up a valuable distraction. You see, if Iraq is dividing our forces in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), it is also dividing the forces of the terrorists. All those jihaddicts in Iraq are not in Afghanistan. Further, all the press about Iraq "sucks the oxygen" out of stories on Afghanistan. Whatever the jihaddicts do in Afghanistan gets no traction in the West because of Iraq. Essentially, Iraq is providing the cover Afghanistan needs as it transitions to a post-war state.

So, whether or not we moved with too much or too little haste in deposing Saddam, I think we should stay our course and leave Iraq when the Iraqi people, through their government, tell us to go, and not a moment sooner.

Because, Iraq or no Iraq, we are going to be confronting global Islamist insurgency until the insurgency burns itself out. I'd rather we do it in Iraq than in America and Europe (which is acting in its own self-interest by freeloading off the American effort in Iraq). And I'd rather that those who do not want to oppose it with violence oppose it with nonviolence instead of appeasing it or just giving in.

23 June 2005

Intellectual Warfare: Mathematics is Culturally Relative

Diane Ravitch has an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (June 20, p A14) entitled "Ethnomathematics." She specifically cites a new college textbook for Education majors, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers which as she puts it "shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged." Ethnomathematics is based on the principle that students will learn better if they are taught math in the way it was developed by their ancestral culture. [Does this mean that students of mixed ethnicity must do each lesson more than once? Must Italian kids use Roman Numerals to do long division?]

First let me say that pure mathematics is a language, which if you stick to its grammatical rules, guarantees that the statements you generate are true. You can generate falsehoods by making mistakes in the application of mathematics to real world problems, but that is applied mathematics. Pure mathematics guarantees truth because it only talks about itself.

In that respect, it is a closed system, whose structure is independent of the cultural and historical processes by which it was discovered. In other words, contrary to some multiculturalists, mathematics is not the property of Western Civilization, nor is it linked with the values of oppressors. It simply is. Whether you like it or not.

Pure mathematics serves only one cause: Truth. That is to say, mathematics is the only opportunity that humans have to encounter Absolute Truth by means of unaided reason. Mathematical statements are true, because, within the confines of mathematics, you can prove them to be true. There is a corollary to this: the only reason to do mathematics is to get the right answer!

As such, I think mathematics has a positive moral value: One can experience the limits of human will and knowledge by encountering and exploring mathematics. But those who relentlessly politicize everything including mathematics, don't want to encounter limits to their will. Ultimately they are attempting to demolish the chief obstacle to their will by deconstructing the concept of Absolute Truth itself.

I have a question for such people. When Truth is overthrown, and all is relative, what limits will you respect when you are in power, and to what will you appeal when you are out of power?

Keep mathematics pure and simple, and emphasize that in mathematics at least, there is right and wrong. Teach ways to achieve social justice in Civics class, please. And in that forum, teach ways in which social justice advocates have depended on mathematical truth. Because seeking Justice without regard for Truth leads to Tyranny.

10 June 2005

Psychological Warfare II: God and Country are not Values

I have been told of a book on methods of psychotherapy in which the subject of values was discussed at length. Here is the list of Values Domains from the book:

  1. Primary love relationship

  2. Children/family

  3. Friendships

  4. Work/career

  5. Community

  6. Personal growth/development

  7. Environment/planet

  8. Play/recreation

Now, no such list can include everything, but one can quibble about whether it includes the most important things. The things that make us who we are. One wonders how the values of, say, Pat Tillman might fit into this scheme.

Apparently the authors consider religion and spirituality to be subsumed under personal growth and development. As if spirituality were an option like reading a book, or learning to play piano.

I have learned from VCBC's Forum thread on "God = Nature" that putting Spirituality under Personal Growth may be misleading. Maybe it should go under Environment. Or maybe, it should replace Environment, so that psychotherapists could explore their own feelings about the absence of one of their core value domains. Because for many people the Environment is the transcendent value that they substitute for the spirituality that they have rejected, or of which they are simply ignorant.

Ah, but what about "Country?" Perhaps that could be included under Community, but Community is usually understood to be one's neighborhood, or maybe one's town. Maybe it also includes one's voluntary associations. I think "Country" was left out because many psychologists think that nationalism of any kind is a negative value. Nationalism and religion just cause wars. Never mind that the Enlightenment that spawned the liberal democracies that defend individual rights with national power originally sprang from Protestant Christianity.

I wonder how they would handle a client with the Pat Tillman's values. I suppose they would struggle with counter-transferrence issues of antipathy toward religion and nationalism, and try to cure the client of both.

Imagine that. Values for psychotherapists with no room for God or Country. All I can say is that if your Boy Scout or Girl Scout has behavioral problems, choose his or her therapist very carefully.

04 June 2005

Psychological Warfare: Defining Conservatism as Mental Illness

Here is part of the text of a bulk mailing from a Society of Psychoanalytic Psychologists advertising a Scientific Meeting:

In a culture based on male domination, and in which most things feminine tend to be devalued (even if they are secretly envied and, at times, fetishistically worhiped by men), the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman.

The adult male imperative to be unlike females, to repudiate maternal caretaking (or anything that resembles it), and enact the most hypertrophic caricatures of phallic masculinity is just as powerful in politics as it is in personal life.

... femiphobia -- the male fear of the feminine -- operates unconsiously in some men to influence their choice of candidates, their stands on a variety of political issues, and their attraction to fundamentalist world views and practices.

The mailing further mentions books like The Wimp Factor (Beacon Press, 2004), and, Taken In: American Gullibility and the Reagan Mythos, (Life Sciences Press, 1990), both of which "bring the irrational in politics into sharper relief."

Well, now we know. If you've ever voted Republican, it's because you're not rational. You've got a complex about the sufficiency of your dick.

This is an example of psychologists abusing their discipline to define as diseased those who do not share their political/philosophical orthodoxy. It smacks of the way in which psychologists in Soviet Russia confined dissidents to mental hospitals. I could be wrong, but I think their liberal orthodoxy may be every bit as dogmatic and uncompromising as some of the conservatism and fundamentalism they (and I) deplore.

In any event, I reject attempts to politicize any quest for truth, be it scientific or religious, as morally wrong.

But if you're in the business, and this is your cup of tea, you can get continuing education credits for this sort of thing.

29 May 2005

Music of the Spheres

Normally this blog is about the intersection of religion, science, and society. But music falls into that intersection. My wife and I went to a jazz concert last night.

Laurence Hobgood began to weave the tapestry on his piano, threads both fat and thin, some dark, others iridescent, scintillating. The fabric thus established, Rob Amster began painting impressionist touches on the bass, delicately at first like Matisse, then arcing, turning, laying it down in 3D like Jackson Pollock. And behind it all, simmering, Frank Parker cooked like the Iron Chef of Percussion. Together they created a meditation, acoustically re-arranging the brainwaves of the audience, easing us onto the edge of trancendence.

That was the first five minutes. Then Kurt Elling came onstage with his voice. Elling's CDs cannot be played as background music. Your attention is captured by his voice. When he is live, onstage, your attention is riveted. It's not just the sound, it's the intonation, the phrasing, the romantic poetry, the delivery. And he plays with his voice and the microphone. He has fun, and pulls the audience right along with him. Nor is he afraid to touch upon his roots as a Divinity student. In the second of two homages to Duke Ellingtion, he sang "Lord, look down, and see my people through."

It looks like musically, that is what's happening. We no longer have Sinatra with us, but we will be all right. We have Elling. And the best thing is that he is about 15 years younger than I am. There's a good chance I will get to enjoy new Kurt Elling material every now and then for the rest of my days.

25 May 2005

Those Progressive Germans

Let's say you're a Volga German, a Russdeutscher, one of those ethnic Germans who descends from German settlers invited into Russia by Catherine the Great to serve as a buffer between the Russians and the Chechens. Things happen, a couple of world wars, the collapse of Communism, and in the newly independent republics, all the jobs are for the natives, not for the transplants, i.e., the Volga Germans. So, you decide for the sake of your children to move back to Germany, a land neither you nor your parents have ever seen. What happens to you?

Well, since you're now on the dole, the German government gets to decide where you live. They break up your extended family, which has just spent a generation living on one street, and settle each nuclear family in a different city or suburb. Why? To force you to interact with Germany's Germans, to re-Germanize you. It's basically a planned program of intensive assimilation. And it is very effective. Within five years, you give up many of your old ways of dress and speech. Your children are all either in school or have good jobs. Within ten years, all that remains to distinguish you outwardly from the other Germans is your willingness and aptitude for hard work and thrift (fixing up your new house yourself), and a slight accent. And well, maybe you're still more likely to vote CDU than SPD, but not much more likely.

But if you are a Muslim immigrant from the Gulf states, you might wind up on the dole, but there is no intensive program of assimilation for you. You are left in a virtual ghetto, you keep your old speech, and you keep your old values. Except, maybe as a second-class citizen of Germany (even though you may be a third generation citizen), you may become radicalized.

Now maybe intensive assimilation would be poorly received by both the Muslim immigrants and by the native Germans. I know one ethnic German who was assaulted by other Germans in a German city, because he looked "like one of those Turks." Perhaps the new Muslim immigrants would not fare well in the isolation that would be part of an intensive assimilation program. And perhaps the Muslim community would view intensive assimilation as an attempt at cultural (and religious) genocide on the part of the Germans. Or maybe it's just that the German people and government don't want the Muslim immigrants to be assimilated, or just don't care, or maybe they just don't think about it.

Without intensive assimilation of non-ethnic German immigrants, Germany is allowing the creation of a reservoir for radicalism to take hold. Remember that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, was trained in engineering in Germany. He was not a radical when he entered Germany, but he was certainly radicalized by the time he left. If Muslims were more intensively assimilated, they would remain Muslim, but they would perhaps absorb some of the West's humanism, rather than merely be repelled by its secularism and consumerism. Such might have been the case with Atta.

Now, I could as well pick on any European country regarding the failure to assimilate new immigrants. I only single out Germany, because I happen to be more familiar with it. For that matter, the United States is no longer very intentional about assimilation, about "The Great Melting Pot." But the American culture is somehow better at assimilating immigrants anyway, mostly because everyone in America is decended from immigrants, unless their ancestors walked across the land bridge between Asia and Alaska at the end of the last Ice Age.

17 May 2005

If I ran Guantanamo

It's too late now, but if I ran Guantanamo, I would turn it into an Islamic Studies Institute. I would hand each new internee a Qur'an in their native language (if such translation were obtainable) with parallel translation into English, and of course, parallel Arabic original text. I would assign each internee an American interrogator, with instructions to both internee and interrogator that the internee is to spend 1 hour per day instructing the interrogator in Islam, according to the internee's best understanding, and according to the Qur'an.

It may sound preposterous, but at least it would get the internees to talk. And it would provide us with a deep insight into how they understand God, Islam, the world, and themselves. We might not get the factual information we seek, but we would get to know our enemies in a profound and human way.

And they would get to know us. I would instruct the interrogators to challenge the internees' erroneous assumptions and conclusions, and I would give the interrogators plenty of backup: psychologists, theologians (of their own faith as well as Islam) philosophers, and sociologists. That way, when the internees are finally released (as most of them have been already) they would have been exposed to a different viewpoint.

Finally, it would get the US better press. Nah. That's hoping for too much.