Jesus: Trickster Who Saves The Damsel In Distress

A while back, I purchased several collections of Gnostic (and early Christian) texts.  I’ve been reading them off and on.  I’ve noticed a couple of things.

First, a number of Gnostic texts refer to the Christ in a particular way.  One text said that different people called him by different names and he didn’t care by which name he was called.  Another one said that the Christ presented himself in different forms and that people saw what they expected.  These seem like attributes of a trickster.  I’ve noticed in reading books about comparative mythology that saviors are very close to tricksters.  Many saviors have trickster like qualities, especially as children.  There is even an apocryphal text of Jesus’ childhood that portrays him as a troublemaker with magical powers.  Some Gnostics portrayed Jesus as only apparently physical and so couldn’t really suffer.  One story has him switch places with someone and that person suffers on the cross as Jesus laughs.  A very strange character, but no stranger than any other trickster/savior figure. 

Here is a blog post by Tim Boucher: Jesus, The Trickster

Second, the Christ is typically spoken of as descending into the material world.  The Christ represents the active masculine principle that seeks out Sophia who is the feminine soul lost in this lower realm ruled over by the Demiurge.  This also made me think of comparative mythology.  In many myths, the savior will rescue the woman from the tyrant through fighting but also through intelligence and deception.  Here is something from the Wikipedia article about Sophia (wisdom):

The analogy of the fall and recovery of Sophia is echoed (to a varying degree) in many different myths and stories (see Damsel in distress). Among these are:

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Horror and Depression

A quote of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy from Matt Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain:

The ecstasy of the Dionysian state, with its destruction of the customary manacles and boundaries of existence, contains, of course, for as long as it lasts a lethargic element, in which everything personally experienced in the past is immersed. Because of this gulf of oblivion, the world of everyday reality and the world of Dionysian reality separate from each other. But as soon as that daily reality comes back again into consciousness, one feels it as something disgusting. The fruit of that state is an ascetic condition, in which one denies the power of the will. In this sense the Dionysian man has similarities to Hamlet: both have had a real glimpse into the essence of things. They have understood, and it now disgusts them to act, for their action can change nothing in the eternal nature of things. They perceive as ridiculous or humiliating the fact that they are expected to set right a world which is out of joint. The knowledge kills action, for action requires a state of being in which we are covered with the veil of illusion — that is what Hamlet has to teach us, not that really venal wisdom about John-a- Dreams, who cannot move himself to act because of too much reflection, because of an excess of possibilities, so to speak. It’s not a case of reflection. No! — the true knowledge, the glimpse into the cruel truth overcomes every driving motive to act, both in Hamlet as well as in the Dionysian man. Now no consolation has any effect any more. His longing goes out over a world, even beyond the gods themselves, toward death. Existence is denied, together with its blazing reflection in the gods or in an immortal afterlife. In the consciousness of once having glimpsed the truth, the man now sees everywhere only the horror or absurdity of being; now he understands the symbolism in the fate of Ophelia; now he recognizes the wisdom of the forest god Silenus. It disgusts him.

Here, when the will is in the highest danger, art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue.

A quote of David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (p. 695-6) from willhansen2’s blog The Ambiguities:

Hal isn’t old enough yet to know that… numb emptiness isn’t the worst kind of depression.  That dead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain.  Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depression or unipolar dysphoria.  Instread of just an incapacity for feeling, a deadening of soul…. Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.
 
It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it.  It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence.  It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels.  It is a nausea of the cells and soul.  It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself…. Its emotional character… is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.

It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed….  Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution.  It is a hell for one….
 
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square.  And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.  The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise…. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.

Interesting Blogs About Christianity

I came across some interesting blogs about Christianity.

The first is called The New Heretics.  The blogger is remaining anonymous until he finishes bible college.  The blog is about his losing his faith and exploring his sense of the spiritual.  It is the most open-minded, intellectually honest, and heart-felt blog I’ve come across in a long time.  I can tell that the blogger cares deeply and isn’t simply out to bash other people’s religion.  Two posts I enjoyed are The best joke ever?  and  Recovering from Christianity.

The second is called The Forbidden Gospels Blog.  The blogger is April DeConick.  She  is a professor of Biblical Studies and an author.  I like the ideas that she brings up in her blog, and she attracts intelligent commenters.  Here are some of the posts I found: Those exclusive Gnostics?!, Accomodation to society in Gnosticism, Transtheism or Supratheism?, Transtheism/Supratheism follow up, and Transtheism it is.

I came across these two blogs from links in the blog HYPEREKPERISSOU.  Its a Christian blog written by someone going by the name of Phil and he seems fairly orthodox, but he links to many other bloggers including my own (here).

Obama the Political Mastermind

I was reading about the whole torture issue.  I get the feeling that Obama is very sneaky in his political tactics and I’m impressed.  He states that he isn’t interested in prosecuting those involved.  And then he releases memos that sets the whole media circus going.  Thus, he is able to stand back without getting dirty. 

He had to know what would happen when he released the memos.  And it certainly makes for good entertainment to divert the public attention away from the economic issue.  This is what is best labelled as scapegoating.  The public is frustrated about the predicament of the US, and Obama subtly redirects our collective animosity back onto the Bush administration. 

Obama is a political mastermind.

Thoughts about Horror

I was just having a discussion with my friend.  We were talking about horror writing and what defines it.  

Neither of us enjoys slasher horror which I equate to violence porn, and for the most part violent movies tend not to be very scary to me.  Most violent horror flicks seem superficial and predictable.  There are many other types of horror writing besides.  There is your traditional supernatural story where a normal person encounters some strange phenomena often in some place that is old and dark.  That kind of horror has been done well by some authors, but its failing is that it externalizes horror. 

The real horror is the experience of horror itself, the horror that can’t be easily categorized.  The extreme version of this has been called metaphysical horror or atmospheric horror.  It goes beyond mere psychological horror.  This horror is neither internal nor external.  What makes it deeply horrifying is that the lines are blurred.  The most famous representative of metaphysical/atmospheric horror is Lovecraft. 

This type of horror relates to a blog I wrote previously: Zen Great Doubt, Existentialist Angst, and Gnostic Longing.  I was responding to a comment in a thread about spirituality.  The commenter goes by the name Jim and this is what he said:

In Victor Hori’s book on the Rinazi Koans, Victor interprets the Great Doubt (the death of meaning?) as a kind of “samadhi,” and what follows it (in which meaning is reconstituted?) as kensho or satori . . . .  I’ve heard “Great Doubt” likened to Jaspers’ notion of  the “Grenzsituation” or “boundary situation,” a condition or situation through which a person can neither escape nor transcend. Jaspers describes it as a cul-de-sac where the person can neither go forward nor backward forcing the person back on her own resources so that she experiences existential “Existenz.”

Hakuin (1689 – 1769), said of his own “Great Doubt” that “It was as though I were frozen solid in the midst of an ice sheet extending tens of thousands of miles. I could neither go forward nor retreat.

Hakuin says that great doubt is like hanging over an abyss: “we have no where to go (really) but down – eventually we must all let go and jump – it is supposedly that act which propels us to the next level – to enlightenment. What would bring us to this point – where we are willing to give up the self? Does the fall into the abyss always result in enlightenment? How would we know? What do we have to give up or suspend to make such a leap?”

I responded with this…

The following is a quote of Eric G. Wilson from his book The Melancholy Android.  Wilson, in speaking about Hans Jonas’ book The Gnostic Religion, has this to say(p. 68):

The greatest task of the fallen anthropos is not to work through his anxiety, alenation, and confusion.  It is to keep his melancholia acute. His sadness corresponds to his readiness for gnosis.  But the world conspires against his dejection, offering him either the brief comforts of matter or the more lasting solaces of soul.  Hedonism seduces in the first case; orthodox religion in the second.  The Gnostic must defend against the wretched contentment of these modes and hold open his wounds of the spirit.  Malcontented with outward forms, he turns inward to his hidden spark.  The spark, trapped and stifled, faintly flares, repeating in each flicker the homeward call.

And, in speaking about Martin Heidegger’s(Hans Jonas’ teacher) book Being and Time, writes:

For Heidegger. the only hope for authenticity — a secular, psychological equivalent of gnosis — is anxiety.  Heideggerean angst, like Gnostic longing, performs a double function.  On the one hand, it constitutes the basic mood through which one comes to understand one’s own authenticity; on the other, it forms the aggravating condition from which one flees to the collective.  Heideggerean anxiety is directed toward the “nothing” of being in the world without the help of the mass.  This condition descends when all familiar ideas fall away and one feels as if one hovers in an unfamiliar abyss.  This unfocused floating can push the sufferer in one of two ways — either cravenly back to the lotus doses of the mass or courageously into possibilities for being.  If one chooses the former path, one can never return to the ignorant bliss of the collective but spends long days neurotically attempting to repress the unsettling sense that existence is a sham.  However, if one embraces the latter way, one undergoes an uncanny experience: insight into the relaionship between individual being and the Being of all beings.

Once one commits to understanding one’s connection to Being, one never rests but realizes that the profoundities of this origin are beyond comprehension.  However, one also knows that this perpetual insecurity will lead to deeper intimacy with the abyss and a greater care for individual being and other beings.  As we have seen, Heidegger in “What Is Metaphysis?” likens this chronic melancholia to a “bewildered sort of calm… a cheerfulness and gentleness of creative longing.”

That last section would seem to contradict the experience of horror.  There is an odd kind of optimism offered by this existentialist vision.  Thomas Ligotti, however, has a different take on this which offers no such optimism, but I’ll have to go into more detail about that in another blog.  I do have a possible explanation from another writer about what leads to horror.  In the Collapse journal in which Ligotti’s ideas can be found, there is an essay by George J. Sieg.  He argues that horror writing is the most self-referential, the most self-conscious of all the genres.  Whereas the typical spiritual aspirant is seeking to escape the self in one way or another, the experience of horror is a descent into the claustrophobia of the self. 

It isn’t accidental that horror stories often have a protagonist trying to understand or feeling compelled by curiosity.  Such a person feels unable or unwilling to simply accept the mystery.  There is some urge within that isn’t content with idling in the sunlight.  Let me give one element of Ligotti’s thought.  He writes of the spiritual and comes to a conclusion of the self that isn’t dissimilar to Eastern perspectives, but even so this offers no solace for him.  The average spiritual person embraces the mystery because they assume its somehow trustworthy.  It’s not that the vision of horror denies all goodness in any direct fashion.  Rather, the vision of horror simply offers no certainties at all… at its best it doesn’t even offer the certainty of evil in its orthodox meaning.

I should add that I’m not a big fan of horror as a general category.  However, I love anything with imagination which often includes horror and its cousin dark fantasy.  I’m somewhat of a fan of supernatural stories, whether the supernatural is overt or implied.  To me, I’m drawn to anything that touches me deeply and some horror writing is capable of this.  This element is hard to pin down.  I’ve read some Poe.  I enjoy his work, but I can’t say that it has a profound impact on me.  The best horror causes a mood that lingers for days or even weeks, and I’m not entirely sure why some fiction has this impact on me and other fiction doesn’t.  Along with Poe, my assessment might be similar for Thomas Ligotti.  Both are awesome writers, but somehow they don’t quite fully touch upon my emotional core.  However, my readings of both are limited and so my assessment could change with further reading.  Quentin S. Crisp may be more of my kind of writer, but I’d have to read more of him as well.

These writers (Poe, Ligotti, and Crisp) are mostly short story writers.  For whatever reason, short stories tend not to impact me in the way as a novel can.  The short story writer that gives me the clearest sense of profound horror is Kafka.  My friend is more of a reader of short stories and they seem to have more of an impact for him.  The three writers I’ve mentioned are some of his favorites.  It is important to note that many of the best horror writers tend towards short stories.  This is particularly true of metaphysical horror because it’s hard to sustain over a long narrative.  A key element of much metaphysical horror fiction is that it doesn’t confine itself to typical narrative structures.  Ligotti mentions that he is most interested in conveying the horror itself which transcends normal human experience, but he realized that a story needed a human protagonist to register that horror.  This attempt to get as close as possible to the experience of horror doesn’t lend itself to long involved narratives.  Partly, it would be difficult to accomplish.  But more importantly it would be too psychologically taxing on the average reader.  Metaphysical horror gains its potency by being imbibed in small doses.

As for novels, those that have formed my sense of horror are the following: Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly… and I might add Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolffor its dark existentialism.  None of these novels are normally considered horror, but they resonate with some dread insight about reality and human nature.  The only one of them that has any overt supernaturalism is The Last Temptation of Christ.  I like metaphysical horror, but maybe I seek more emphasis on the subjective experience than someone like Ligotti.  I need not only a protagonist to register the horror but I further need a protagonist that I identify with to such an extent that I lose myself in that character’s world.  Of these novels, the two that have haunted my psyche the most are Jude the Obscure and A Scanner Darkly.  A highschool English teacher had me read the former and I have never recovered since.  As for the latter, even though I’ve been familiar with the PKD’s work for many years, I only read A Scanner Darkly after having seen the movie version.  PKD is an uneven writer, but his psychological and metaphysical insight is second to none.  In this book, he convinces me of the reality of his character in a way few other books have done. 

A Scanner Darkly doesn’t end with an entirely tragic vision, but the descent into the dark is what makes it horrific.  It doesn’t matter whether or not a character loses himself entirely in madness.  The horror is the loss of all sense of safety and certainty, the realization that nothing will ever be the same again.  There is some kind of hope in A Scanner Darkly and that is very important.  Horror necessitates a tension.  Without hope, there can be no despair.  The horror isn’t the despair.  The horror is the descent from hope into despair.  I should explain hope because I’m using it in a broad sense.  I simply mean that the character is seeking some positive end.  In horror, this can be a desire to understand the supernatural or a desire for wealth or even a desire to maintain comforting normalcy.  In slasher horror, the tension is often between pleasure and pain.  The stereotypical slasher flick has teenagers partying and having sex right before they’re attacked, tortured and murdered.

Some writers want to get to the horror as quickly as possible.  They want to begin the story long after the character has already walked through the door.  However, the power of a novel is that it allows a sense of normalcy to be portrayed first.  This acts as the backdrop for the descent.  Without this backdrop, the descent often doesn’t have as much impact.  For example, Jude the Obscureis a very slow descent.  The story begins with Jude’s dreams as he sets off for the big city, and then over a very long book those dreams are dashed again and again and again… and again.  The descent is so slow that its almost tedious.  Interestingly, the character’s lack of self-awareness is what is so mesmerizing.  Jude just keeps mindlessly trudging on no matter what new obstacle presents itself.  So, how does this fit into Sieg’s theory of horror?  I’d say that Hardy still manages to create a claustrophobic sense of self by focusing so intensely on this one character.  Hardy isn’t trying to write horror, but his existentialism is so dark and dreary that it creates a horrific vision of life.

I’ll finish with one last point.  I’m a very spiritual person which might seem odd considering how cynical I can be.  I share much of Ligotti’s vision of life, but I get the sense that I may be more spiritual than he is in certain ways.  I may misunderstand Ligotti, but I get a sense that he is somehow content in his tragic vision.  I sense that he doesn’t feel there is anything to do about our predicament.  We’re just fucked.

I want to believe in something and this is core to my very sense of being.  Ligotti seems to dismiss this need to believe.  PKD, on the other hand, is more in line with my deeper sense of truth.  What makes A Scanner Darklyso tragic is that the protagonist is so inherently good in his intentions and so sincere in his desire to understand.  He is a light in a dark world and refuses to play by the rules of this world he finds himself thrown into.  So many horror stories are about loners, but PKD is as much interested in relationships.  Rather than nihilism or even idealistic existentialism, PKD portrays a gnostic vision.  We are trapped in a dark world, but maybe just maybe genuine truth can still be found.  This hope simultaneously acts as a light amidst the darkness and in contrast makes the dark appear even darker.

In case I mistakenly led anyone to think that I was saying Ligotti lacked deeper insight, I’ll leave you with a quote from his story “A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing”:

“’We should give thanks,’ the voice said to me, ‘that a poverty of knowledge has so narrowed our vision of things as to allow the possibility of feeling something about them. How could we find a pretext to react to anything if we understood… everything? None but an absent mind was ever victimized by the adventure of intense emotional feeling. And without the suspense that is generated by our benighted state–our status as beings possessed by our own bodies and the madness that goes along with them–who could take enough interest in the universal spectacle to bring forth even the feeblest yawn, let alone exhibit the more dramatic manifestations which lend such unwonted color to a world that is essentially composed of shades of gray upon a background of blackness. Hope and horror, to repeat merely two of the innumerable conditions dependent on a faulty insight, would be much the worse for an ultimate revelation that would expose their lack of necessity. At the other extreme, both our most dire and most exalted emotions are well served every time we take some ray of knowledge, isolate it from the spectrum of illumination, and then forget it completely. All our ecstasies, whether sacred or from the slime, depend on our refusal to be schooled in even the most superficial truths and our maddening will to follow the path of forgetfulness.’”

Conclusion on Christian Scarab Symbolism

These are my concluding comments to my previous blog Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab.

Many scholars over the last couple of centuries have been quoting various Church Fathers in reference to Christ as Scarab.  This is  a truly profound fact and it’s utterly amazing how ignorant the average Christian is of early Christianity.  Some apologists dismiss these quotes out of hand.  Going by my research, even academic scholars have seemingly ignored this topic for the past century.  These quotes were widely known in the 19th century and then there was deafening silence..  It reminds me of what Robert M. Price has written (in his Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism).  He points out how old scholarship has been forgotten without ever having been refuted and new scholarship has become very conservative.

Gerald Massey’s scholarship is an example of this which D.M. Murdock discusses in her book Christ In Egypt. This research I did confirmed a point that Murdock made numerous times (also with an extensive analysis in the introduction). Throughout the book, she compares Massey’s scholarship against that of other scholars. By doing this, she verified that he was using reliable sources and that he wasn’t just inventing his claims out of thin air.

Two of the critics of Massey’s scholarship are Stanley E. Porter and Stephen J. Bedard.  In their book Unmasking the Pagan Christ, they respond to Tom Harpur’s use of Massey.  But it seems telling that they don’t even mention Augustine’s quotes about the scarab.  It is true that Massey’s writings are a century old and so much has been discovered since then.  Also, it’s true that he had no formal education.  But he relied on the scholarship of the best scholars of his day including having his work proofed by some of these academic scholars.  Porter and Bedard are apologists, and so they’re criticisms aren’t fundamentally academic.  If they were to research as deeply as Murdock has, then they couldn’t as easily dismiss Massey’s work.

 
Another critic is James Patrick Holding (AKA Robert Turkel).  His Tektonics website is seemingly the most popular apologetics site as it always comes up top in websearches.  It says a lot about our society that apologists get top page rankings.  He is your typical online Christian apologist.  He is notorious for immature behavior and a lack of intellectual honesty.  It isn’t fair to put him in the same category as Porter and Bedard.  Those latter two, even though lacking in a fundamental understanding of mythicist theories, are actual New Testament scholars.  Even so, Holding likewise criticizes Harpur and Massey.  He demands that others provide the sources of the Augustine and Ambrose quotes about the scarab, but that is just his sophistry talking.  If he actually wanted to know the sources, he could’ve done the research I’ve done just by doing websearches.  Doing research at a university library would bring up even further citations.
 
Anyways, I don’t know why these quotes from the Church fathers should be surprising.  Augustine and Ambrose were called Church Doctors because of their Greco-Roman educations.  The Greco-Roman tradition was grounded within Hellenism which was a mix of Greek philosophy and Egyptian religion. The scarab itself was an important symbol in Greek writings centuries before Christianity arose (for example, Aesop and Aristophanes).  Augustine grew up in North Africa which was a hotbed for hereticism, and he was a Manichaean for about a decade before becoming a Christian.  Manichaeanism arrived in Roman North Africa from Egypt (Ancient Gnosticism, by Birger A. Pearson, p. 310).  Roman religions based on and influenced by Egyptian religion were the most popular religions of the time (e.g., Serapis whose worshippers included early Christians).  Also, early Coptic Christians inscribed crosses on scarabs and invoked Jesus side by side with Horus.

Gallup Polls On Religion

I just came across a short article from UPI.com: Gallup poll: Religion, intolerance related.  It doesn’t go into much detail but points to some correlations.

The polls found that religion is less likely to be important to residents of rich countries, who are also more likely to be tolerant. But Gallup said the greater intolerance reported in religious countries cannot be explained just by differences in income.

Gallup analysts also said there are large differences among the world’s religions. Hindus are the least likely to perceive their countries as bad places for members of ethnic or religious minorities, while Jews are the most likely.

Christians also appear to be generally tolerant of minorities, while Muslims, Buddhists and Jews are not. Both Muslims and Jews in Israel appear far less tolerant than co-religionists living elsewhere.

This is the kind of information that is needed.  It’s politically incorrect to point out that not all religions are equal in all ways.  This is where a theoretical context is necessary.  Ken Wilber developed his Integral theory in order to make intelligent distinctions and understand the relationship between diverse factors.  Wilber says that not all religions are equal, but he also says that no one is stupid enough to be wrong all of the time.  It’s important to separate what is true from what is false, what is good from what is not so good.

Wilber favors Eastern meditation traditions, but this Gallup poll shows that there are distinctions.  Buddhism is popular in the US and yet Buddhism apparently is less tolerant of minorities than Hinduism.  This makes sense in that Hinduism seems very embracing of diversity.

To understand this poll data, further research would be necessary.  The type of research that I’m thinking of is something like Spiral Dynamics which is used by Wilber.  Spiral Dynamics is a model that clarifies the social development of values and how the different phases of development relate.  Another kind of research that would be helpful would be personality traits such as the Big 5.  Certain traits such as Openness would probably have direct correlation to tolerance.  Also, a different trait theory is boundary types.  Thin boundary types are more accepting of new experience.  Cultures encourage and discourage particular traits.  Both Spiral Dynamics and traits theories have been applied to various cultures, and it would be interesting to correlate the research of these with this Gallup poll.

On a related note, here is an article about Islamic Anti-Americanism.  The author discusses an earlier Gallup poll.  I only skimmed it, but it looks interesting.

Tea Parties, Smart Mobs, and Generations

Here is a response I gave to someone I know who is fairly conservative.  He feels critical of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in that I agree with him.
As for the tax protests, I hope you don’t mind my typical long response.  I heard about them, but my sources may be a bit biased: The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.  They showed footage of it being heavily promoted by the Fox channel and attended by media stars.  But your point still stands.  Most of the organization probably was done by local people (such as the protest you attended).  And I’m sure the internet played a major role.
 
I don’t know what can and can’t be considered a smart mob.  I’d guess that most protests are (and have been) locally organized, even nation-wide protests.  Technology has made this easier.  I’d guess that almost all of the protests in the last decade or so have been largely based upon personal media connectivity.  Of course, those in power or seeking power would like to co-opt these social mechanisms.  Obama demonstrated how these new social forces can be contained within and guided by the mainstream political process.  Or, to look at it the other way around, maybe these new social forces have co-opted mainstream political processes… the beginnings of mobocracy?  As another example, you should see what Colbert can accomplish with a simple remark to his audience.  He managed, through a vote that NASA held, to get a piece of the space station named after him.
 
I think what was new with the recent tax protests is that it was a nation-wide smart mob that seemed to have been created by conservatives (true conservatives, you might say, not limited to any political party).  Interestingly, the Fox network was extremely critical of protests during the Bush administration (saying such things as if the protesters don’t like America, then they should leave), but now these same people feel that their voices aren’t as easily heard anymore (and now are supporting these protesters that happen to agree with them).  An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some of the previous critics of the Democratic party have slowly become increasingly more critical of the Republican party as well.
 
Ever since the ’60s, protesting has been mostly limited to liberals and extremists (or at least that is how it’s often been presented in the media).  This trend is finally shifting (and the media along with it).  I’ve heard the organizing and financing that countered the gay marriage bill in California was largely supported by Mormons.  And now these tea party protests.  It’s interesting that it seems to have taken a community organizing Democratic president to create a social climate that inspires conservatives towards community organized protesting.  Or maybe civic-mindedness is just in the air.
 
The smart mob phenomena is interesting.  I just read an article about Twitter (“Let Them Eat Tweets” by Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times).  In the article, the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling said that “Poor folk love their cellphones!”  The basic idea meaning that those without power and wealth strive for a sense of value through connections and I would add strive to have their voices heard through a collective identity.  This applies to conservatives in two ways.  Many conservatives like yourself feel that the Republican party doesn’t fully represent them and they certainly don’t feel represented by the now in power Democratic party.  So, if you’re a concerned conservative who isn’t as influential (because of a lack of representation… or lack of power and wealth) as you’d like to be, then you’re forced to find new avenues of political action.
I was just thinking about the third party issue.  You might be onto something there.  The traditional two party system has been defined by and hence controlled by traditional media.  With new social dynamics in personal media, this shifts the power and structure of politics.  Prior to discussion boards, blogs, Twitter, and Youtube, the average person had no way to have their voice heard across the nation and across the world.  However, diverse people from diverse places can now organize (easily, quickly and inexpensively).  A party that actually represents the average person might even arise out of all of this.
 
The news industry is being challenged by the internet.  I wonder if this is a sign of shifting socio-political power and influence.  Those who controlled power in the past suddenly realize the game is more complex now.  Monopolies aren’t as easy to maintain as they used to be.  Even so, I wonder whether the power-mongerers will eventually find a way to control and muzzle the new media.  The media conglomerates were the emblem of the modern industrial age (and military-industrial complex?).  Are we entering a new era?  Will there be a new centralizing force of power or is centralized power no longer as viable as it once was?  Political monopolies (e.g., monarchies) lost much of their power in the past few centuries.  What similar historical change might lead industrial monopolies (e.g., international mega-corporations) to a similar demise?  And what kind of democracy might form out of it?
 
I’m also reminded of the protests and patriotism after 9-11 which crossed political lines.  There was a bi-partisan attitude for a while after the terrorist attack.  The families of the twin towers’ victims often weren’t aligning themselves with any party but simply wanted the government to take action.  Although the pro-peace protests were largely supported by liberals (and libertarians), the elected Democratic officials supported the war for the most part.  I spent some time with those involved in the peace protests.  There were people camped out for months.  It was a national protest organized by local citizens that was way more extensive than the tea party protests.  And the internet (before Twitter) was used for much of the organizing.  All these years later, I still receive e-mails from people on the peace camp email list.
 
The problem with protests is that they often don’t do anything more than gain public attention.  Still, in doing that, I suspect they have influence in the long run.  But in the immediate they can be dissatisfying.  I wonder how often protests actually lead to political change.  I suspect that change only ever comes when those in power feel threatened (either by rioting or by being voted out of power).  I’ve always been impressed by a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr.  He said that the only reason white people in power listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail.  Basically, he was saying that the status quo only changes when those in power feel they have no other choice.  Or else, going by Kuhn’s model, you just wait for the older generation to die off which I’m assuming isn’t your personal agenda.
 
There is a big difference, though, between protests now and those of a half century ago.  The media is no longer as monolithic despite the government increasing its ability to control its propagandistic message more tightly.  I’d say the reason for this is that personal media has broken down the wall between producers and consumers of media.  It is now less clear who is an authority to be trusted.  Most present tv reporters aren’t any more knowledgeable than the average intelligent person because many reporters no longer research their own material.  Many reporters are just pretty faces, just talking heads.  Reporters are more like average people now and average people are now better informed (from multiple sources).  Any person who is persuasive, insightful and/or well-informed can gain attention and a following on the internet. 
 
More importantly, most of the dispersion of media info is non-centralized meaning no one is controlling it other than the social dynamics of the mob.  And the news industry doesn’t, for the time being, know how to get the genie back into the bottle.  But technological models are being developed to increase centralized control for profit and power.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the largest (if not the largest) internet company in the world (i.e., Google) has been helping the Chinese government to oppress its own people, and some see evidence that internet providers and browsers are filtering information by how they rank subjects.
 
In the ’60s, the government had agents infiltrate protest organizations and they even actively influenced the protest activities such as encouraging illegal activities (this technique was called COINTELPRO).  Surely there are now agents in the tea party protests and all over the internet.  Is COINTELPRO still being used?  It would seem that it was proven in court to still have been used as late as the ’90s (see Bari vs FBI).  I’ve heard the media follows blogs and Twitter in order to detect emerging news topics.  I don’t doubt that the government does the same in order to detect social change such as determining when and where smart mobs are developing.  On a different note, some media and political watchdogs have observed false “grassroots” organizations created as fronts by corporations in order to manipulate their public image or misdirect attention.  The war of media relations and propaganda is ongoing but the average person doesn’t notice because they’re watching mainstream media which is controlled by vested interests.
 
Will smart mobs defy those seeking to maintain control?  It’s particularly interesting to consider in terms of generational shifts.  The civic-mindedness in the air may be related to the civic-minded Millennial generation coming into power through their massive numbers.  It’s partly because of them that Obama won.  I just watched, from a 2008 presentation, Hais and Winograd speak on C-SPAN  about their book Millennial Makeover.  The authors see a political shift occurring that is directly related to the shift in media.  One of the authors said that the Republican party can be a part of this change, but they can only do so by changing their support for laissez-faire politics (and this was said before the economic downturn). 
 
The Millennials are the force that will outnumber even the Boomers by the 2012 election.  This upcoming political force tends towards more liberal views in terms of civil rights (because they grew up with liberal media such as Barney), but also they tend towards more groupthink (the last Civic generation being GIs who held power during the ’50s).  The Boomers were Idealists which is the generational type that is prone to divisiveness and polarized extremism (which has ruled politics for the last several decades).  The Civic generation tends towards unification and cooperation.  The old divisive political tactics won’t work for much longer (not until the next Idealistic generation that is). 
 
If a third party is to be created, this is the time for such a possibility.  But I don’t know if you’ll like it. 
 
The last Civic generation grew up during the depression and WWII.  This present Civic generation is growing up during the War on Terror and the present economic slump.  If the pattern holds, we’ll have a new high period such as happened in the ’50s.  Strauss and Howe describe the ’50s as having a prospering middle class and collectivist infrastructure.  It was the peaceful glory days of American might and power that Boomers knew as children.  However, it wasn’t a time that is remembered for its spiritual depth and cultural richness.  It was an upbeat and externally focused period.  The ideal of social responsibility was central, but so was the attitude of following the Jones’s.  Also, it wasn’t a time of libertarian values such as small government.  Nor for traditional moral values because traditional community identity waned (along with close connections with extended family) as urbanization increased and because materialism became rampant as society’s enthrallment with technological wonders increased.  However, because of all the social destabilization, there was new emphasis on the nuclear family as being the saving grace and bedrock of society.
 
From my perspective, much of the GI generation seems to correlate with what is going on with Millennials.  But, as always, time will tell.
 
Another interesting factor came up in the C-SPAN video from a question by someone in the crowd.  The person asked about the reliability of information on the web.  One of the authors said that this was mostly an issue for older folks.  Millennials are naturally suspicious of all info and always look for the spin.  That might be something that distinguishes Millennials from the GIs.  In the ’50s people trusted the media with little question because reporters were greatly respected. 
The potential failing of the Millennials is that they trust their peers too much.  Groupthink was a major force in the ’50s, but groupthink could be magnified to detrimental levels in the present world of personal media echo chambers.  The only thing that can counter this is the varied sources of info that is now available.

Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab

I was recently looking back over my copy of Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ.  I came across a passage where he pointed out some Egyptian symbolism found in Christianity and in particular spoken of by the early Church Fathers.  The passage can be found in a previous blog post of mine (Egyptian Symbols within Christianity), but here is the section of it that really caught my attention:

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of John often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

 
As Harpur is quoting Gerald Massey here, I assume he also found the quotes of Augustine within Massey’s writings.  Massey does mention the Church Father Augustine and Ambrose as well.  I looked around and found a site (linked below) where his work can be found along with helpful notes.  The person who runs the site said they had some difficulty tracking down some of the references.  Some apologists like to dismiss these quotes of Massey because he sometimes doesn’t offer citations (a problem with a lot of older scholarship).
 
 
In one rendition of John’s gospel, instead of the ‘only-begotten Son of God,’ a variant reading gives the ‘only-begotten God,’ which has been declared an impossible rendering. But the ‘only-begotten God’ was an especial type in Egyptian mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle. Horapollo says, ‘To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabaeus! [p.11]By this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.’[38]Now the youthful manifestor of the beetle-god was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus. The very phraseology of John is common to the inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made. I quote verbatim. And not only was the beetle-god continued in the ‘only-begotten God’; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ. Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the ‘good Scarabaeus,’[39] which further identifies the Jesus of John’s gospel with the Jesus of Egypt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the bringer of peace, whom I have elsewhere[40]shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten beetle-god, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the potter personified, as well as the only-begotten god in Egypt.

[39] [Ambrose, Works, Paris, 1686, vol. 1, col. 1528. ‘After the Christian era the influence of the scarab was still felt. St Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”‘ See Myers, Scarabs, p. 63. See also BB 1:233, BB 2:317, NG 2:408. See AE 2:732 where both this quote and the above are cited on the same page.]

Following that citation, I found some quotes of the Church Fathers in Isaac Myer‘s book Scarabs on p. 63:

After the Christian era the influence of cult of the scarab was still felt.  St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”  St. Epiphanius has been quoted as saying of Christ: “He is the scarabaeus of God,” and indeed it appears likely that what may be called, Christian forms of scarab, yet exist.  One has been described as representing the crucifixion of Jesus; if is white and engraving is in green on the back are two palm branches; many others have been found apparently engraved with the Latin cross.

Myers gives this citation: Works, Pris, 1686, Vol. I., col.1528, No. 113.  Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, etc., by Samuel Sharpe.  London, 1863, p. 3.  In Samuel Sharpe’s book, I could only find the quotes on p. 111 near the end of the chapter titled The Religion of Lower Egypt but there is no citation:

St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus “the good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies,” thus giving to him one of the names and characters of the god Horus, who is pictured as a scarabaeus with a ball of mud between his feet.  The ball, which usually means the sun, would seem to have sometimes meant the sins of mankind; and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are represented as rolling the same ball before them.  St. Augustin also during the greater part of his life was a Manichaean, and held the Gnostic opinion of a god of goodness and a god of evil; and he was so far an admirer of the Egyptians, or at least of their practice of making mummies, as to say that they were the only Christians who really and fully believed in a future resurrection from the dead.

Also referring to Myer’s book is The Evolution of the Idea of God by Grant Allen and Franklin T. Richards (page 145):

In Mr. Loftie’s collection of sacred beetles is a scarabaeus containing a representation of the crucifixion, with two palm branches: and other scarabs have Christian crosses.  If we remember how extremely sacred the scarab was held in the Egyptian religion, and also that it was regarded as the symbol of resurrection, we cannot possibly miss the importance of this implication.  Indeed, the Alexandrian Father, Epiphanius, speaks of Christ as “the scarabaeus of God,” a phrase which may be still better understood if I add that in the treatise on hieroglyphs known under the name of Horapollo a scarabaeus is said to denote “an only-begotten.”  Thus “the lamb of God” in the tongue of Israel becomes “the scarabaeus of God” in the mouth of an Egyptian speaker.

I also came across a reference in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition (1875) and 10th Edition (1902).  In the article Alchemy (Part 2), this is written:

In Egypt the doctrine of the Palingenesis was symbolized by the Scarabeaus, which suggested to St Augustine the following strange comparison: “Jesus Christus bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa unigenitus, quod, ipsement sui auctor mortalium speciem induxerit, sed quod in fac faece nostra sese volutarit et ex ipsa nasci homo voluerit.”
 
 And, from pages 123-24 of History of Interpretation by Frederic William Farrar:
 
A favorite quotation of the Fathers was “He reigned from the wood” which they applied to Christ.  The words “from the wood” are an addition found in some Mss. of the Seventy in Ps. xcvi. 10; and from the old Latin version the reading found its way into the pages of Tertullian.
 
In Hab. ii. 11, the Seventy render the word “beam” . . . but probably it merely meant a knot in the wood. [1]  Some Latin versions rendered it “scarabaeus,” beetle, and this led to some singular comments.  Thus St. Ambrose (De Obitu Theodosii) speaks of “Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” and says “He was the good beetle who called from the wood.” [2]
 
[1] Vulg., Lignum quod inter junctivas aedificiorum est (tie-beam).
[2] On Luke xxiii.  We find elsewhere “bonus scarabaeus” applied to our Lord.
 
In The Expositor, this issue of the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX.)  is also described on pages 25-26:
 
There are allusions and quotations in the ancient Fathers which, apart from the LXX., would be wholly unintelligible.  When, for instance, St. Ambrose, in his orations De Orbita Theodosii, says of Helena, “She worshipped Him who hung on the wood; . . . .  Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” &c. ; and in his comment on Luke xxiii., “He was the good beetle who called from the wood”—how utterly should we be at a loss to explain the allusion, if the LXX. did not furnish us with the requisite clue.  In Hab. ii. 11, instead of “the beam out of the timber shall answer it,” we read in the LXX., . . . . which usually means “beetle,” is explained by St. Cyril to be a technical term for ” a cross-beam.”  Hence “bonus scarabaeus,” “the good beetle,”—astonishing as such a title may appear to us,—was not unknown to Christian antiquity as a designation of our Lord.  Again, when we find Tertullian challenging Marcion to tell him what he thought of David’s prophecy, “He reigned from the wood,” how much we should be perplexed to conjecture where any such prophecy occurred in the Old Testament, . . . .  This reading found its way into the old Latin version, the Vetus Itala, and is referred to not only by Tertullian, but also by Justin Martyr.
 
From 1827, Thomas Moore in his book The Epicurean on page 281 quotes Augustine:
 
“Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” says St. Augustine, “non ea tantum de causa quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in bac nostra faece sese volutaverit, et ex hae ipsa nasci voluerit.”
 
I noticed in the book Notes and Queries published by Oxford University Press in 1884 that someone had questioned about this (page 247):
 
In Moore’s Epicurean (third edition, 1827, p.313), there is a quotation from St. Augustine: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” &c.  I have searched the works of Augustine in vain to find this passage.  Moore does not give any more exact reference. . . .  In Migne’s edition (vol. v. col. 2039) there is a kind of abstract of a sermon, which may or may not be by St. Augustine, in which there is this sentence: “Christus in cruce vermis et scarabaeus.”
 
Robert Shaw, writing around the same time as Gerald Massey, came to similar conclusions in his book Sketch of the Religions of the World on pages 232-33:
 
In one version of Jno. 1, 18, instead of the “only begotten son” of God, the reading is the “only begotten God;” and it has been declared impossible for the sacred writer to have employed the phrase “only begotten God.”  It is said to be contrary to the genius of the Gospel and opposed to the general teachings of the New Testament.  But these things can only be determined by the doctrines and the gnosis that were pre-extant.  Of course, the current Christology knows nothing of any such possible variant as the “only begotten God,” because of the  ignorance of the Egyptian origines.  But the “only begotten God” was an expecial type in the ancient allegory and the phrase recovers the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  This was Kephr-Ptah, who, like Atum, was reborn as his own son, Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  “To denote an only begotten son or a father,” says Hor-Apollo, the Egyptians “delineate a Scarabeus.  and they symbolize by this an only-begotten, because the scarabaeus is a creature self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  This was in a cult which tried hard to dethrone the female and exalt the male god as the only one.  The “only begotten god” is a well-known gype of divinity in Egypt, worshipped as Khepr-Ptah and Khepr-Atum, and in each cult the Messiah, son and manifestor, was the only begotten god, Iu-em-hept, and Iu, the son whether of Ptah or Atum is Iusu or Jesu.  This, according to the text, is the Christ, the Word, the Manifestor of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother, and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only begotten God.  The phraseology of John is common in the Egyptian texts, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, “who made all things but was not made.”  There were Christian traditions which support this reading “only begotten God.”  Some of the Fathers, Ambrose, for one, knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine also identifies the Christ with or as the good Scarabaeus, of which he speaks as follows:  “He is my own good beetle, not because he is only-begotten, not because he himself, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself.”
 
I noticed some authors mentioning Athanasius Kircherius.  He apparently is the same as Athanasius Kircher who supposedly is considered the founder of Egyptology.  Robert Taylor mentions him (along with others) on pages 11-12 in his book Devil’s Pulpit:
 
So the learned father Athanasius Kircherius assures us, that “by the May-bug was signified the only begotten Son of God, by whom all things were made, and witout whom was not anything made that was made.”  The words of St. Augustin are: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa, quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor, mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in hac faece nostra sese volutaverit, et ex ipsa, nasci homo voluerit.  He [that is Jesus Christ] was my good cockchafer; not merely because, like a cockchafer, he was the only begotten, because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he rolled himself, in human excre—” Casalius de. Veter. AEgyp. Ritibus, p. 35.) . . . .  The learned Casalius, in quoting so solemn a declaration of so great a saint, that “Jesus Christ was a cockchafer, or May-bug,” proves that the saint must have been right, from those words of God himself, in the 22d Psalm, where he expressly says of himself—”as for me, I am a worm and not a man.”— . . . . where the Hebrew word, which has been translated, a worm, as the great Casalius thinks, should have been translated a cockchafer.
 
I couldn’t find anything about Casalius, but I found some more of Taylor’s writings in The Comet by H.D. Robinson.  In connection with Kircherius’ statement about the may-bug/scarab, Taylor makes some interesting points on page 264 that give further context:
 
This Zodiacal worm, like all the rest of the signs of the Zodiac, was, in its turn, worshipped as the Supreme God, and it is none other than the most intelligent fathers of the Christian church, who assure us that it was Jesus Christ himself, who, in 22d Psalm, contemplating his descent into the lower regions, spoke in this character: ‘But as for me, I am a worm: and no many, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of people.  Psalm xxii. 6.
 
Many of our learned translators render the word . . . . scarabaeus, or cockchafer, and one of the titles of Hercules was Scarabaeus, or Hercules, the cockchafer.  But it is Christian, and not Pagan piety, to which we owe this sublime interpretation.