American Christianity: History, Politics, & Social Issues

I broke my policy and wrote a comment on an Atlantic article, Trump Is Bringing Progressive Protestants Back to Church by Emma Green. I’ve tried to stop commenting outside of a few select places on the internet because it usually ends up feeling pointless. Some of the responses were unworthy in this case, but it turned out not to be that bad of a discussion, relatively speaking.

Despite the frustration often involved, part of me enjoys the challenge of formulating an informative comment that actually adds to public debate. Plus, it got me thinking about one of my ancestors, a country abortion doctor who operated when abortion was technically illegal in Indiana and yet the law apparently wasn’t enforced at the time.

That was a different world, when communities decided which laws they did and did not care about, no matter what distant governments declared. Most people were fine with abortions, just as during Prohibition most people were fine with drinking. Laws are only meaningful when they can be enforced and the US political system has often left much of the power of enforcement at the local level, which is how so many bootleggers avoided prosecution as their neighbors were the jury of their peers.

The following are my comments, my original comment first and then two following comments. I had several other comments in the discussion, but those below are the most significant.

* * *

Sertorius wrote: “These liberal Christian denominations have experienced a massive drop in membership. Example: the Presbyterian Church (USA) had more than 3 million members 30 years ago. It now has half of that.

“This is unsurprising. Why would people go to a church which doesn’t take the Bible seriously? What is the point? How is it different than the local meeting of the Democratic Party?”

Most young Christians, including most Evangelicals and Catholics, identity as progressive or liberal. Most young Christians also support gay marriage and pro-choice. They do so because they read the Bible for themselves, instead of trusting the words of fundamentalist preachers.

Thomas R wrote: “Do you have a source for this odd assertion? I believe a good part of why millennials come out so socially liberals is they are less Christian than other generations.”

I always find it odd when I’m asked a question like this on the internet. If you really wanted to know, you could find such info in a few minutes of doing web searches. Maybe a bit more time, if you were really curious.

I’m sure you believe all kinds of things. But your beliefs, if uninformed, are irrelevant. Many other Christians would also believe that you are less Christian. BTW, if you go back some generations to the early 1900s, many Christians were progressives and the religious left was a powerful force. This kind of thing tends to go in cycles. But there is always a split. Even as the religious right became loud and demanding, a large swath of silenced Evangelicals remained liberal/progressive.

Belief is a funny thing. Surveys have found that the atheists on average know more about the Bible than do Christians on average. So, if Christian belief for so many self-proclaimed Christians isn’t based on knowledge of the Bible, what is it based on? Does God speak to Christians personally and tell them what to believe? Or are most Christians simply following false prophet preachers? Since these preachers are false prophets, should they be killed as the Bible commands?

If you look below at my response to rsabharw, you’ll see how little fundamentalists actually know about the Bible. The irony of their literalism is how non-literal or even anti-literal it is. Literalism simply becomes a codeword for ignorant bigotry and dogmatic politics.

Anyway, most Americans identify as Christian and have done so for generations. Yet most Americans are pro-choice, supporting abortion in most or all situations, even as most Americans also support there being strong and clear regulations for where abortions shouldn’t be allowed. It’s complicated, specifically among Christians. The vast majority (70%) seeking abortions considered themselves Christians, including over 50% who attend church regularly having kept their abortions secret from their church community and 40% feeling that churches are not equipped to help them make decisions about unwanted pregnancies.

It should be noted that, on the issue of abortion, Millennials are in agreement with Americans in general and so it isn’t a generational gap. Young Evangelicals have always had high rates of premarital sex, going back to the largely Scots-Irish Evangelicals of Appalachia and the Upper South. Millennial teen sex rates now are as low as they were more than a half century ago (drug use and violent crime rates among the young also are low right now). Sexuality hasn’t really changed over time, even as rates slightly shift up and down in cycles. Even in early America, most marriages followed pregnancy and hence premarital sex. No matter what a belief states, humans remain human.

It’s similar to other issues, although often with more of a generational gap. Consider guns, a supposedly divisive issue but where the majority of Americans simultaneously supports strong protection of gun rights and the need for stronger regulation (and enforcement) of guns. Even liberal Americans state having high rates of a guns in the home. There is no contradiction between someone being for both gun rights and gun regulations, both being liberal positions, one classical liberal and the other progressive liberal.

In general, most Americans are fairly liberal, progressive, and economic populist on most major issues. But this political leftism cuts deep into the part of the population that outwardly identifies as conservatives. So, even conservatism in the US is rather liberal.

Public opinion, across the generations, has been moving left. But it is most clearly seen in the younger generation. Still, even the oldest living generation seems liberal compared to the generations that were alive before them. The Lost Generation (i.e., WWI vets and 1920s libertines) were judged in their youth by older generations just the same as young people today. This would be obvious, if so many Americans weren’t historically ignorant.

The greatest differences in opinion aren’t necessarily between generations. Nor even between Christians and atheists. The growing divides in the US are often seen most clearly within Christianity, between: Catholics and Protestants, Mainline Christians and Fundamentalists, white Christians and minority Christians, etc. But that has always been true, going back centuries. The entire Protestant Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and religious wars including the English Civil War) were about Christians struggling over who would get to define Christianity for others and who would be free to define Christianity for themselves.

Many of these are old issues. Catholics, for example, genocidally wiped out the Christian Cathars for practicing gay sex. Many denominations that exist today were created by congregations being split over social and political issues. That will continue. Rifts are developing within churches, such as the Catholic Church that is equally divided between the two major parties. The small town Midwestern church my grandfather preached in was shut down over conflict between the local congregation that was fine with a gay music director and the national church organization that was against it. In place of churches like that, new churches will form.

Thomas R wrote: “The rules on abortion and homosexuality are part of the faith. Both are found in the writings of the Early Christians and in the Catechism. (See Cyprian, Ambrosiaster, St. John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407), Severian, the Didache, Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil, Canon 1398) As well as the statements of Popes.

“At the very least abortion after the first trimester is consistently considered wrong by the faith.”

Even most pro-choicers treat third trimester abortions differently. There is also a reason why pro-choicers like me are more concerned about preventing abortions entirely than are most supposedly pro-lifers, it being a question of prioritizing either moral outcomes or ideological dogmatism.

Your knowledge of Christian history is obviously incomplete. That is problematic.

Among early Christians, there were different views about life, ensoulment, abortion, and murder. There was no unanimous Christian belief about such things, something you would know if you knew Christian history. There is no scholarly consensus that most early Christians treated abortion as a crime. It was often a standard sin, like most other sex-related sins. As far as that goes, sex itself was considered a sin.

It’s hard to know what early Christians believed. When they spoke of abortion, they had specific ideas in mind based in a cultural context of meaning. That depended on when one considered the fetus or baby to gain a soul. Not all early Christians thought life, much less ensoulment, began at conception and so early endings of pregnancies weren’t necessarily considered abortions. That is a main point that many pro-choicers make.

None of the New Testament or Old Testament writings clearly and directly discuss abortion, infanticide, and exposure. It apparently wasn’t considered important enough issue even to be mentioned specifically, much less condemned. It was only in the following centuries that Christians made statements about it. So, if Christianity isn’t directly based on Jesus’ teachings and the Bible, then what is Christianity? What kind of Christian tradition isn’t based on the earliest known Christianity that formed by Jesus’ first followers?

Aborton didn’t become much of a legal and political issue until modern Christianity. Plus, beyond decrees in the following centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion, there is no evidence that early Christians were ever any less likely to have abortions than non-Christians, as decrees imply something is common in persisting and so requires condemnation. So, is Christian tradition based on what church elites decree or on what Christians practice?

If the former, then all of Protestantism is false Christianity, since it was founded on defying the church elite of the time (even the Catholic heresiologists were defying the Christians in the church that came before them, such as Valentinus and Marcion). But if Protestants are correct about individual conscience of the Christian, then what Christians do has more validity than what church elites decree.

This is no minor point with profound theological and moral significance, especially considering most American Catholics seem fine with not absolutely following Vatican declarations. This is further complicated since the various church elites over the centuries have disagreed with one another on fundamental moral issues, including on abortion.

Anyway, shouldn’t Scripture supersede the personal opinions of church elites, no matter how authoritative they like to pretend to be? No one speaks for God but God. The fact that church elites disagreed and argued with one another proves they are far from infallible. Even the Vatican didn’t consider church positions on abortion to be infallible teachings.

However individuals wish to interpret all of this, there is the issue of one’s response as a Christian. Since only liberal policies have proven to decrease unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, it would be the religious duty of any pro-life Christian to support liberal policies. Yet they don’t and instead promote policies that either increase the number of abortions or don’t decrease them. Those Christians are committing sin, in placing their political ideology above their faith.

When someone acts in such a way that inevitably promotes a sin, what should the Christian response?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-dudley/how-evangelicals-decided-that-life-begins-at-conception_b_2072716.html
My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice
https://eewc.com/FemFaith/evangelicals-open-differing-views-abortion/
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/returntorome/2013/01/evangelicals-and-abortion-in-the-20th-century-a-hidden-history/
https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2013/01/22/roe-v-wade-anniversary-how-abortion-became-an-evangelical-issue/11238
http://religiondispatches.org/the-not-so-lofty-origins-of-the-evangelical-pro-life-movement/
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christian_thought_on_abortion

“There is scholarly disagreement on how early Christians felt about abortion. Some scholars have concluded that early Christians took a nuanced stance on what is now called abortion, and that at different and in separate places early Christians have taken different stances. Other scholars have concluded that early Christians considered abortion a sin at all stages; though there is disagreement over their thoughts on what type of sin it was and how grave a sin it was held to be. Some early Christians believed that the embryo did not have a soul from conception, and consequently opinion was divided as to whether early abortion was murder or ethically equivalent to murder.”

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/History_of_abortion#Early_Christianity

“Neither the Old nor New Testament of the Bible make any specific mention of abortion, though Numbers 5:11-31 refers to a ritual known as the “ordeal of the bitter water”, which will test if a woman has been faithful to her husband by giving her a special potion concocted by a priest, possibly an abortifacient. If the woman was unfaithful, this will cause her “thigh” (a biblical euphemism for the woman’s reproductive organs, as well as any embryo contained within) to “swell and fall away” (some texts use the term “rupture” instead of “fall away”), which is a likely reference to miscarriage. Because of the Bible’s authors being so fond of euphemisms, it is a matter of debate whether this text is an endorsement for abortion when the woman is impregnated by someone who is not her husband (euphemistic interpretation) or simply a ritual that would presumably kill the wife for her adultery (literal interpretation).[13] The actual views of Christian society and the Church can definitively be gathered only via other extra-Biblical writings on theology and ethics.

“During the first and second century CE, abortion, intentional or forced miscarriages, and infanticide, were all commonplace, as families faced serious limitations on the number of people they could support. Though legal and ethical texts seem to suggest that this was somehow sinful, it did not take on any serious move to create or enforce a prohibition against abortion or infanticide. Scholars[14] have suggested that in the very early parts of the 1st and 2nd centuries, discussions about abortion and infanticide were effectively the same issue.

“By the mid-2nd century however, Christians separated themselves from the pagan Romans and proclaimed that the theological and legal issues with abortion had nothing to do with the father’s rights, but with God’s view of the sanctity of life itself. It was as bad a sin as any other sexual sin, including contraception and intentional sterilization, which suggested that a central issue was the giving of one’s body to God and being open for procreation as much as it was the inherent value of the unborn’s life. The issue of when the soul enters the body, and if that should affect the ethics of abortion, remained unresolved, though Augustine of Hippo offered his opinion that it did not enter until the third or sixth month, depending on the sex (the latter for girls). However, while he did not view abortion as murder until that point, it was still a sin in his view.”

http://addictinginfo.org/2013/03/21/abortion-church-conception-history/

“Then, in 1869, completely ignoring earlier teachings, Pope Pius IX wrote in Apostolicae Sedis that excommunication is the required penalty for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. He further stated that all abortion was homicide. This was an implicit endorsement – the church’s first – of ensoulment at conception.”

http://sanctuaryforallfaiths.yuku.com/topic/2170/Abortion-and-Catholic-Thought-The-LittleTold-History#.WE__-_krLIV

“Most people believe that the Roman Catholic church’s position on abortion has remained unchanged for two thousand years. Not true. Church teaching on abortion has varied continually over the course of its history. There has been no unanimous opinion on abortion at any time. While there has been constant general agreement that abortion is almost always evil and sinful, the church has had difficulty in defining the nature of that evil. Members of the Catholic hierarchy have opposed abortion consistently as evidence of sexual sin, but they have not always seen early abortion as homicide. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the “right-to-life” argument is a relatively recent development in church teaching. The debate continues today.

“Also contrary to popular belief, no pope has proclaimed the prohibition of abortion an “infallible” teaching. This fact leaves much more room for discussion on abortion than is usually thought, with opinions among theologians and the laity differing widely. In any case, Catholic theology tells individuals to follow their personal conscience in moral matters, even when their conscience is in conflict with hierarchical views.

“The campaign by Pope John Paul II to make his position on abortion the defining one at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 was just one leg of a long journey of shifting views within the Catholic church. In the fifth century a.d., St. Augustine expressed the mainstream view that early abortion required penance only for sexual sin. Eight centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed, saying abortion was not homicide unless the fetus was “ensouled,” and ensoulment, he was sure, occurred well after conception. The position that abortion is a serious sin akin to murder and is grounds for excommunication only became established 150 years ago.”

‘An Intercultural Perspective on Human Embryonic Cell Research’ by Leroy Walters
Stem Cells, Human Embryos and Ethics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
edited by Lars Østnor
p. 106

“”In the early centuries of Christianity there was diversity of opinion on the question of abortion. In a Roman Empire where abortion was widely practiced, some Christian theologians argued that every abortion was a homicide (Noonan 1970: 7-14). On the other hand, the ‘formed-unformed’ distinction came to prevail in the mainstream, or most authoritative, Christian theological and penitential traditions. Augustine presaged the predominant view when he argued that an unformed fetus had no soul and no sentience (Noonan 1970: 15-16). His view was accepted by Thomas Aquinas and by most theologians through at least the 18th century (Noonan 1970: 34-36). There is a nuance here that I do not want to obscure. Both the abortion of an unformed (that is, unensouled) fetus and of a formed (ensouled) fetus were considered to be sins. However, terminating the life of an unformed fetus was morally equivalent to the sin of contraception. In contrast, the terminating the life of a formed fetus was considered to be (unjustified) homicide (Noonan 1970: 15-18).

“The predominant Christian view was increasingly called into question in the 18th and 19th centuries. Finally, in 1869, the authoritative Roman Catholic view came to be that it was morally safer to assume that ensoulment occurs at the time of fertilization.”

Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood
by Kristin Luker
pp. 11-14

“SURPRISING As it may seem, the view that abortion is murder is a relatively recent belief in American history. To be sure, there has always been a school of thought, extending back at least to the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, that holds that abortion is wrong because the embryo is the moral equivalent of the child it will become. Equally ancient however is the belief articulated by the Stoics: that although embryos have some of the rights of already-born children (and these rights may increase over the course of the pregnancy) , embryos are of a different moral order, and thus to end their existence by an abortion is not tantamount to murder.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about these two perspectives (which have coexisted over the last two thousand years) is the fact more ancient and the more prevalent one. Their success in this effort is the product of an unusual set of events that occurred in the nineteenth century, events I call the first “right-to-life” movement. […]

“Similarly, although early Christians were actively pro-natalist and their rhetoric denounced abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and castration as all being morally equivalent to murder, the legal and moral treatment of these acts—and particularly the treatment of abortion—was never consistent with the rhetoric. 4 For instance, induced abortion is ignored in the most central Judeo-Christian writings: it is not mentioned in the Christian or the Jewish Bible, or in the Jewish Mishnah or Talmud.* Abortion, it is true, was denounced in early Christian writings such as the Didache and by early Christian authors such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and St. Basil. But church councils, such as those of Elvira and Ancyra, which were called to specify the legal groundwork for did not agree on the penalties for abortion or on whether early abortion is wrong.

(“* Opponents of abortion sometimes argue that the Bible does express disapproval of abortion in Exodus 21:22-23. In fact, what is mentioned there is accidental miscarriage. The text says that when two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman, “causing the fruit of her womb to depart,” they may be liable for a capital offense, depending on whether “mischief” has occurred. It is not clear what is meant by “mischief”; the Hebrew word it stands for (“ason”) occurs only one other time in the Bible. Nor is induced abortion covered in the Talmud; for information on abortion in Jewish law, see David Feldman, Birth Control in Jewish Law, p. 255. The only related text in the Mishnah says that during a difficult delivery, an embryo may be dismembered until “the greater part” of it is born; only when the “greater part” has been born does Jewish law hold that the embryo is a person, and “we do not set aside one life for another”; see Immanuel Jakobovits, Jewish Medical Ethics , p. 184.”)

“In the year 1100 A.d., this debate was clarified, but hardly in the direction of making abortion at all times unequivocally murder. Ivo of Chartres, a prominent church scholar, condemned abortion but held that abortion of the “unformed” embryo was not homicide, and his work was the beginning of a new consensus. Fifty years later Gratian, in a work which became the basis of canon law for the next seven hundred years, reiterated this stand. 6

“The “formation” of an embryo (sometimes known as “animation” or “vivification”) was held to happen at forty days for a male embryo and at eighty days for a female embryo; the canonist Roger Huser argues that in questions of ambiguity the embryo was considered female. In this connection it is important to remember law—which were, in effect, the moral and legal standard for the Western world until the coming of the Reformation and secular courts—did not treat what we would now call first trimester abortions as murder. 8 (And given the difficulty in ascertaining when pregnancy actually began, in practice this toleration must have included later abortions as well.)

“Nineteenth-century America, therefore, did not inherit an unqualified opposition to abortion, which John Noonan has called an “almost absolute value in history.” 9 On the contrary, American legal and moral practice at the beginning of the nineteenth century was quite consistent with the preceding Catholic canon law: early abortions were legally ignored and only late abortions could be prosecuted. (In fact, there is some disagreement as to whether or not even late abortions were ever prosecuted under the common law tradition.) 10

“Ironically, then, the much-maligned 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion, Roe v. Wade, which divided the legal regulation of abortion by trimesters, was much more in line with the traditional treatment of abortion than most Americans appreciate. But that in itself is an interesting fact. The brief history moral equivalent of murder.”

* * *

rsabharw wrote: “Where does it say in the bible that sodomy and child-killing are good things?”

Your question indicates why it is so important to have knowledge.

The Old Testament is one of the most violent holy texts in the world. God commands and sometimes commits all kinds of atrocities. Priests and prophets also made decrees that were, by today’s standards, quite horrific. And, yes, this did include child-killing (along with much worse, such as genocide and what is akin to eugenics).

Let me give an example from the prophet Zechariah. I find it fascinating because of the worldview it represents. This seems to imply that any Christian child who speaks in tongues or some similar act should be put to death.

“And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the LORD: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.”

That kind of thing is from uncommon in the Old Testament. I could make an extremely long comment just by quoting the Bible. Yet that kind of thing only involves children after they are born. The Bible is clear that a fetus isn’t treated as a full human and that death of a fetus isn’t considered murder.

For most of history, this was a non-issue for Christians. It was even a non-issue for most Americans until the culture wars. Earlier in the 20th century and before, the average doctor regularly did abortions, as it was considered part of their job. I have an ancestor who was a country doctor in Indiana, from the late 1800s to early 1900s, and he was also the local abortion provider.

As for homosexuality, the Bible has no clear and consistent position. Besides, no Christian follows all the rules and regulations, decrees and commandments described in the Old Testament. Even Jesus didn’t seem to have believed that his new message of love superseded the old Jewish legalisms.

If Christians are to literally interpret and follow the Old Testament, that means Christians can’t eat pork, shellfish, and black pudding; can’t get tatoos, cut the hair on the side of their heads, wearing of blended fabrics, charging interest on loans; et cetera. Plus, Christians would have to marry their brother’s widow, adulterers instead of being forgiven if they repent must be killed. and those with disabilities are to be treated as unclean like pigs. But slavery, genocide, and child murder are fine.

Yet if we are to simply go by Jesus’ words, we are limited to having no opinion on homosexuality and abortion. The best a fundy literalist could do is to cite Paul, but he never met Jesus and the evidence points to him having been a Gnostic (the heretical Valentinus and Marcion were among the earliest followers of the Pauline tradition, prior to Paul being incorporated as part of the Catholic canon).

So, if Christians don’t prioritize the teachings of Jesus over all else, what is the point of their even calling themselves Christians?

rsabharw wrote: “Abortion was illegal in Indiana in the 1800s. Therefore, your ancestor was not a doctor, but, rather, a criminal. The Hippocratic Oath specifically bans abortion. Any doctor who performs one is breaking that most sacred oath, and thus cannot call him or herself a doctor any longer.”

Studies show that banning abortions either doesn’t decrease or actually increases the abortion rate. It’s common sense that laws don’t always have much to do with actual human behavior. Even Christianity has been outlawed at different times and places, but it didn’t stop Christians from practicing.

Anyway, when did rural people ever worry about what political elite in far away big cities decided to tell the lower classes what to do? My ancestors in rural Indiana, besides including a country doctor who was an abortion provider, were also bootleggers. Screw you paternalistic, authoritarian a**holes! That is what my Kentuckiana ancestors would have told you. And I agree with them, on this issue.

We will make our own decisions and live as free patriots. Despite the laws, it’s obvious that the other rural people living around my country doctor ancestor were fine with what he did, for he was never prosecuted. These were his people, the place where he was born and raised. It was a typical community for the time. Few abortion cases were ever brought to court, despite it being extremely common at the time.

http://socialistworker.org/2005-2/562/562_06_Abortion.shtml

“History shows that women have always tried to terminate unwanted pregnancies. When safe medical procedures are banned by law, they have resorted to dangerous–sometimes deadly–“back-alley” abortions.”

http://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2016/07/22/feticide-conviction/87440440/

“The court also said that because many of the state abortion laws dating tothe 1800s explicitly protect pregnant women from prosecution, it was a stretch to believe that lawmakers intended for the feticide law to be used against pregnant women who attempt to terminate a pregnancy.”

http://www.connerprairie.org/education-research/indiana-history-1800-1860/women-and-the-law-in-early-19th-century

“In the early nineteenth century abortion simply did not elicit as much comment or controversy as today. Though not openly encouraged – and condemned in some circles – it was not necessarily dismissed out of hand if done early enough into the pregnancy. Abortion before “quickening,” the first signs of fetal movement, usually during the second trimester, was generally considered acceptable. “Most forms of abortion were not illegal and those women who wished to practice it did so.” As there were no laws specifically addressing abortion in the America of 1800, the only source for guidance was, again, English common law, which recognized quickening. […]

“These earliest abortion laws must be viewed contextually to be properly understood. In the main, they were not promulgated out of any fervor over the “morality” of abortion. As mentioned, quickening was generally accepted by both the courts and the public as the pivotal issue in abortion. Abortion was not generally considered immoral or illegal if performed prior to fetal movement. Because this was so widely accepted most American women did not have to “face seriously the moral agonies so characteristic of the twentieth century.” That Indiana’s law did not specifically mention quickening should not be seen as a step away from the doctrine. Instead, it is likely further evidence that quickening was so ingrained that it need not be especially written into the statute. […]

“Whatever the reasons, Indiana had an “anti-abortion” measure on the books after 1835. It seems to have been a law little regarded and little enforced. It also seems unlikely that it prevented many women who wished an abortion from obtaining one. Chemical or natural agents for producing abortions were readily available if a woman knew where to look – and most knew exactly where to fix their gaze. Mid-wives knew all the secrets; druggists advertised appropriate potions; medical texts provided answers.

“To judge the relative importance lawmakers attached to abortion, one need only compare the penalties involved. Assisting in an abortion, or performing a self-abortion, was punishable by a maximum fine of $500.00 and a year in the county jail. Burglary’s penalty was fourteen years in the state prison; murder (analogous in some modern minds with abortion) was a capital offense. Clearly, the state of Indiana did not equate abortion with murder, or even stealing your neighbor’s silver service.”

http://civilwarrx.blogspot.com/2014/11/her-daily-concern-womens-health-issues.html

“As the above indicates, abortion, like birth control information, became more available between 1830 and 1850. That period saw a mail order and retail abortifacient drug trade flourish. A woman could send away for certain pills or discreetly purchase them at a store. Surgical methods were “available, but dangerous.” This openness and commercial availability was mainly a feature of northern urban areas. Like much other technological and cultural change, it was later in its arrival in the midwest, and the average midwestern woman likely had a more difficult time in obtaining an abortion than her eastern, urban counterpart if she desired one.

“It was not, however, impossible. Such information and abortifacients were within reach of a woman if she grasped hard enough. Herbal abortifacients were the most widely utilized in rural, nineteenth century America. Again, networking and word-of-mouth broadcast specious methods. Women who relied on such information sometimes resorted to rubbing gunpowder on their breasts or drinking a “tea” brewed with rusty nail water. Other suggestions included “bleeding from the foot, hot baths, and cathartics.” Midwives were thought reliable informants and were wont to prescribe seneca, snakeroot, or cohosh, the favored method of Native American women. Thomsonians claimed the preferred “remedy” was a mixture of tansy syrup and rum.

“More reliable sources of information were the ever popular home medical books. If a woman knew where to look the information was easily gleaned. One book, Samuel Jennings’ The Married Ladies Companion, was meant especially to be used by rural women. It offered frank advice for women who “took a common cold,” the period colloquialism for missing a period. It urged using cathartics like aloe and calomel, and bleeding to restore menstruation. Abortion information was usually available in two sections of home medical books: how to “release obstructed menses” and “dangers” to avoid during pregnancy.

“The latter section was a sort of how-to in reverse that could be effectively put to use by the reader. The most widely consulted work, Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, advised emetics and a mixture of prepared steel, powdered myrrh, and aloe to “restore menstrual flow.” Under causes of abortion to be avoided, it listed violent exercise, jumping too high, blows to the belly, and lifting great weights. Clearly, any woman wishing badly enough to abort could find a solution to her dilemma, without relying on outside aid. If she wished to rely on herbal remedies, they could be easily obtained. Aloes, one of the most widely urged and effective abortifacient, were regularly advertised in newspapers as being available in local stores.

“Of course, the number of women who availed themselves of the abortion option cannot be properly approximated. It is enough to say that abortion was feasible, available, and used option; it was a likely contributor to the birth rate falling by mid-century.”

Depths of Darkness, Glimmers of Hope

If you keep track of the religious right, you’ve heard of Christian Reconstructionism. It’s a subset of Dominion theology and advocates a particular kind of theocracy, what is known as theonomy.

Dominion theology is far from uncommon, although most support a milder form of it, not going as far as theocracy. Instead, the most popular variety is Christian nationalism. Dominionism is based on the belief that the American founders were Christian and so intended Christianity to dominate or at least define all aspects of society, maybe even the government itself (presumedly until the End Times; and, once the good Christians ascend bodily into Heaven, the Pagans would likely be allowed to takeover what is left of the world). Some Dominionists see the Constitution as a Christian document with the Bill of Rights as akin to an extension of the Biblical Ten Commandments.

They take this seriously. And they don’t see the claim of the Constitution being a slave document as being a criticism, per se. Nor that this contradicts it also being a Christian document. They do see racialized slavery as unbiblical, but not slavery itself. In fact, some of them argue for Biblical slavery.

According to the Old Testament, slavery is allowed under certain conditions. The intended audience, of course, were ancient Israelis; but that is a minor detail to the Fundamentalist mind. Anything and everything from the Bible must be applied to modern Christianity, except the parts that are inconvenient and problematic. The religious right believes they inherited the Jewish tradition and so the Israeli label. Also, in this framework, Pagan translates as non-Christian.

It is stated that Israelis aren’t as a general rule allowed to enslave other Israelis, but there are exceptions. As such, according to Christian Reconstructionism, it logically follows that Christians can enslave other Christians under precise circumstances, as long as it is voluntary servitude, except for criminals or enemies captured in battle who can be forced into servitude.

This is vague about whether a Christian captured in battle can be treated this way. In the ancient world, an Israeli was simply one who lived in Israel, as a Jew originally was one who lived in Judea (although over time such terms came to have other meanings), which leaves uncertain the labeling and treatment of various populations (such as Jews who weren’t Israelis or Judeans along with Israelis and Judeans who weren’t Jews); as another example, ancient Samaritans also used the same Holy Bible but weren’t considered Jews as they lived in Samaria, what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Not that the fundamentalist mind cares about such complications. Anyway, none of this applies to Pagans (i.e., non-Christians) who can be enslaved involuntarily and permanently by their Christian overlords.

A number of things are disturbing about this. First of all, it is shocking to see slavery being discussed in this manner. Even among those who advocate Biblical slavery, there is disagreement about details, about who is allowed to be enslaved and in what way. But it’s messed up that this is discussed at all, as if moral laws and social norms in a modern pluralistic democracy is to be determined through legalistic minutiae decreed by priests of an ancient religion.

Even worst, this isn’t being discussed just by right-wing loons. Or rather right-wing loons have made major inroads into the mainstream. Many politicians and political candidates have been aligned with this Dominionism and related worldviews, including several recent candidates such as Ted Cruz.

Even Donald Trump, despite lacking any evidence of being a Christian or caring about Christianity, has won majority support of white Evangelicals and their leadership (prone, as they are, to Dominionist rhetoric that resonates with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”). But to be fair he wasn’t their first choice. The Tea Party was taken over by this hardcore religious right, by way of the influence of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and that is the movement that Trump rode to the Republican nomination. It was Beck, in particular, who brought the Tea Party into alignment with the old religious right, the paranoid reactionaries and Christian nationalists (e.g, the Mormon W. Cleon Skousen). It matters little that Beck now fears this monster he has helped to create.

It’s not just the fringe Evangelicals. I know some local Christians who read Stephen McDowell’s Monumental in their Bible study group (by the way, they used to regularly watch Glenn Beck). Living in the same respectable liberal college town as I do, they go to a mainline church with a liberal minister who recently began promoting gay acceptance. Their Bible study group is a mix of people, mostly moderate and mainstream as is found in a middle class Midwestern town — unlikely any Reconstructionist theocrats among them. Yet they were reading this text that comes out of the right-wing Dominionist movement, a text written by a guy who has advocated for Biblical slavery.

If someone like McDowell gets discussed in a Bible study group from fairly liberal church in a very liberal town, imagine where else in the country this gets a foothold. It’s not that these local Christians are going to seek to enslave me and my Pagan friends. But the Dominionist theology has many aspects that are as disturbing or simply problematic. The very premise of Dominionism is the opposite of a free democratic society. Still, you don’t need to go as far as Biblical slavery to see the dangers of reactionary politics, right-wing authoritarianism, and historical revisionism.

It makes one wonder how close we could easily come to the world portrayed by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. This doesn’t require the majority of the population to be right-wing Evangelicals, much less ranting apocalyptic theocrats. Most authoritarian governments don’t come to power through majority support. The conditions just have to be right and the population has to be in a great enough state of fear, distress, and uncertainty. Some divide and conquer could help, along with perceived enemies to scapegoat, foreign and internal. Even the slow creep of authoritarianism is bad enough, as we’ve seen in recent decades. The stage has been set for a full authoritarian takeover.

It’s happened many times before in many countries. The United States isn’t immune to authoritarianism. And as it has been said, “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Or as religious right leader, Russell Moore, recently put it, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

I didn’t want to end on that note, though. I don’t feel like countering fear with fear. My motivation was more simple curiosity. It can be surprising to see what ideas make their way into the mainstream. If you look closely, you can see many possible futures we are facing. Ideas are seeds. They may or may not grow. But once planted it is unsurprising to see them sprout, as has happened with the growing power of the religious right over the past half century.

Still, there are other seeds that have been planted. If tended, those other seeds could grow. There is nothing inevitable about the path we’ve been on. The world could shift in any number of directions. Trump may be doing us a favor by giving voice to one specter of authoritarianism, his fascist-and-fundamentalist-tinged proclamations of making America great again. But that leaves other varieties that might be even more threatening.

Sometimes it’s the fears we don’t see coming that get us. While we worry about the religious right’s support of Israel, as part of their Apocalyptic aspirations of bringing on the End Times, we can forget that the mainstream political left has its own designs for Israel that may lead us to an apocalyptic World War III (or simply an ever more destabilized, violent world). Pick your apocalypse. Or maybe it’s the same apocalypse, with different rhetoric.

We create the future we imagine. Peering into the American psyche at the moment, one can see dark visions. The few glimmers on the surface of the dark depths only offer the smallest of hope. Still, there may be real reason for hope, however tentative, so it seems when looking at demographic shifts.

Among white evangelicals, the young have never been fond of bigotry and intolerance. The same goes for young Catholics. There is a generational divide that cuts across all religions. Also, because of revelations, white women Evangelicals are abandoning Trump. All that the Trump has left are older white male Evangelicals, but old white male Christians in general have always been stalwart Republicans, no matter how far right crazy the party gets.

I doubt the religious right was ever the “moral majority” in this country, at least not in living memory. But United States has a long history of political and economic power being held by various minority groups. Even WASPs have never been a majority. Looking back to early America, it wasn’t just a minority of rich white male landowners that controlled government; also, the federal government was initially dominated by the Southern states, some of which were majority black. How did this plutocracy that was a minority even in their own communities manage to take over political power of a vast country? Never doubt the power a minority can wield.

For this reason, it’s good to see these fractures forming among the religious right. And it is good to see younger Christians turn toward a kinder vision. Still, we are far from being safe from the threat of authoritarianism. Entire societies can turn authoritarian quite quickly when fear comes to rule people’s minds. And there are many fears looming on the horizon.

In the end, my own motivation is more that of curiosity. I don’t have it in me to sit around worrying about theocracy or whatever. But I am always fascinated by society and what is to be found, when one goes looking. It’s simply strange to see these kinds of ideas floating around in the main currents of thought, like any other idea.

What most interests me is the fantasies that play out around these ideas. The human imagination is a powerful thing. And those seeking power realize this. But imagination has a way of taking on a life of its own. It’s not easily controlled or predicted. We can try to force imagination to serve our ideology or we can allow our ideology to be guided by imagination, the former is rhetoric and the latter makes possible the visionary.

The best antidote is to imagine other visions, to explore other possibilities. And to do so with humility. The future will become what it will, no matter what we may wish. But in coming to term with our own imaginings, we can find meaning. The one thing that can overcome fear is a sense of meaning. Christianity, at its best, also offers that vision.

* * *

What is Dominionism? Palin, The Christian Right And Theocracy
by Chip Berlet

DOMINIONISM RISING: A THEOCRATIC MOVEMENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
by Frederick Clarkson

KIRK CAMERON’S MONUMENTAL REVEALS SUBTLE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISM
by Julie Ingersoll

BECK’S “DREAM”—OUR NIGHTMARE
by Julie Ingersoll

Cruz Super PAC Head Promotes ‘Biblical’ Slavery for Non-Christians
by Bruce Wilson

Mike Pence on the “American Heartland” and the Holy Land
by Shalom Goldman

Cruz Super PAC Head Promotes ‘Biblical’ Slavery for Non-Christians
by Bruce Wilson

“Biblical Slavery” For Non-Christians? Yes, Suggests Website of Mike Huckabee’s Favorite Historian David Barton
by Bruce Wilson

David Barton’s Plan for Biblical Slavery for America
by Hrafnkell Haraldsson

* * *

Books about Culture by Christians

Avatar: Imagination & Culture

Psychology of Politics, Development of Society

Different Republican Responses to Changing Times

I know a number of Republicans who hate Trump. They are refusing to vote Republican because of this. Some are considering the Libertarian candidate or else not voting at all. I suspect some might even vote for Hillary Clinton, God forbid!

One Republican I know well is really struggling with what to do. He has voted Republican for nearly every election in his in adult life and, as far as I know, he always votes. He is an old school mainstream conservative.

I overheard a conversation he had with his brother. Like him, his brother is a lifelong Republican. But his brother has a different bent, such as his having defended social liberal positions. I guess he might be a Rockefeller Republican or something like that, although probably not as far left as a Theodore Roosevelt Bull Moose Republican. Both of them are more conservative on economic issues. They can agree on much, despite key differences.

The brother is even more put off by Trump. It sounds like he is going to register as a Democrat. I know the brother fairly well. He is on the city council in the small town he lives in, and he ran as a Republican. If he does switch to Democrat, that could upset many people who voted for him and that likely would be a big deal in a small town.

Trump isn’t just temporarily turning some away from voting Republican. He may be permanently driving away quite a few. The GOP will likely never be the same again. Goldwater eliminated most of the moderate and liberal Republicans. Now the few remaining will be gone. It will leave nothing but the authoritarian extremists, the hardcore partisans, and I suppose the establishment politicians who have nowhere else to go. I’m not sure what kind of Republican party that will be (or what kind of Democratic party as well, once all those former Republicans join).

I heard the first guy I mentioned above talk to another Republican, a Trump supporter. It was interesting. I could feel the tension of worldviews. The two of them have been acquaintances for decades, but they never were the same kind of Republican. Still, I couldn’t tell if even this supposed Trump supporter actually took Trump’s campaign seriously, as he seemed amused by the whole thing. I guess he is for Trump simply because he is entertaining and because he isn’t a Democrat.

All three of these Republicans are Christians (and all older white males). Yet they are of entirely different varieties. The Republican-turning-Democrat is a socially liberal Christian. The Trump supporter is more of a fundamentalist, unsurprisingly. The Republican who knows both of these other two is more centrist in his Christianity, a moderate conservative, although moreso in the family values camp.

In talking to the Trump supporter, this moderate conservative ended up defending the morally relativistic position that scripture can be interpreted differently in terms of views about such things as homosexuality. It was interesting to hear a conservative Christian make such an argument in opposition to a fundamentalist. Maybe the socially liberal brother has influenced his views.

Strange times. Even old white males and conservative Republicans aren’t immune to change.

A Conflict of the Conservative Vision

There is one popular framework of politics that I often think about. It is the basis of a book by Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions. I was introduced to it by my conservative father.

Sowell theorizes that the political right and left are defined by two distinct visions. Conservatives and right-wingers are supposedly adherents of a constrained vision. Whereas liberals and left-wingers are supposedly adherents of an unconstrained vision.

For some reason, this popped back into my mind on my walk this morning. Two thoughts occurred to me.

First, I’m not sure how accurate it is. I always feel the need to clarify that conservatism and liberalism are not necessarily the same thing as conservative-mindedness and liberal-mindedness. This is one of those cases where that is an important distinction to keep in mind.

Sowell is most directly talking about psychological predispositions here. But he seems to be assuming that they are the same as ideological labels as expressed through ideological movements. I have severe doubts that this is the case, not to dismiss the strong correlation. I just think something gets missed in too simplistic of categories.

When I consider conservative politics, I don’t see a constrained vision at work.

Plutocratic paternalism is not a constrained vision. Neoliberal laissez-faire globalization is not a constrained vision. Neoconservative nation-building and neo-imperialism is not a constrained vision. Corporatist progressivism that dismisses the precautionary principle is not a constrained vision. Theocratic nationalism is not a constrained vision. A large militarized police/security state with heavily guarded borders is not a constrained vision.

Yet all of these things define the political right.

Sowell doesn’t really mean a constrained vision. I think even he knows that this is the case. What he actually argues for is constrained empathy, compassion, and morality. It is an attitude of me and my own, but me and my own can be quite unconstrained. A me and my own attitude would only be constrained, if it respected everyone else’s me and my own attitude. Obviously, that isn’t the case with the American political right.

The extreme version of the constrained live-and-let-live worldview are the anarcho-libertarians. And they tend to be left-wingers.

Conservatives don’t want to constrain their vision, their power over others, or their ability to act in large ways. What they want to constrain is having to concern themselves about the consequences and the externalized costs. They choose to constrain their sense of moral responsibility and social responsibility. So, in their worldview, a corporation should have the right to act unconstrained, which is to say they shouldn’t be constrained to the rights of workers, protection of the environment, etc. Instead, everyone and everything else should be constrained to their agenda.

This angle of responsibility brings me the second thought.

When I consider Jesus’ teachings, I can’t help but feel that whatever he was preaching it for damn sure wasn’t the ideology of the political right. I’m not saying it was liberalism either, just certainly not conservatism and even more certainly not right-wing libertarianism.

Jesus’ vision was as unconstrained as one could imagine. He was preaching about an unconstrained attitude of compassion and care. It was universal love for all of humanity. No limitations. No questions asked. Just help the needy and defend the weak. It wasn’t an overtly political vision, but in psychological terms it was the opposite of conservative-minded.

The only times Jesus spoke of constraint was when people sought to act without genuine moral concern for their fellow humans. In those instances, he would say such things as,  “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” But all this was saying was that people should constrain their hatred, bigotry, and judgment in favor of an unconstrained vision of love.

I’m forced to conclude that Sowell’s conflict of visions is something other than what it is portrayed as.

* * * *

Some additional thoughts:

The ideas of constraint and unconstraint aren’t objective categories. It depends on what they are being defined according to.

What kind of constraint or unconstraint and for what purpose? Who is implementing, controlling, and enforcing the constraint or unconstraint? Who is being constrained or unconstrained? Who is benefiting and who is being harmed? What are the costs, especially externalized costs, and who is paying for them?

To be fair, all of the confusion involved can’t just be blamed on conservatives. I only focused on conservatives because it is a way of framing politics that is particularly popular among conservatives.

In reality, liberals are no more consistently unconstrained in a principled fashion than are conservatives consistently constrained in a principled fashion. Many liberals might like to think of themselves as being more unconstrained than they actually are, but liberals aren’t anarchists or anything close to it. There are more things liberals seek to constrain than unconstrain.

I personally fall more on the side of unconstraint, but not the careless and mindless unrestraint that is prevalent in our society, especially as seen among the extreme defenders of laissez-faire capitalism. I’m certainly not critical of conservatism because of Sowell’s claim of it being an constrained vision, at least not when compared to my own principles and ideals. I wish conservatives were more constrained and supportive of constraint.

I’m all the time advocating for the precautionary principle. That has to be the single greatest expression of genuine conservative-minded constraint. Yet it is political liberals who hold it up as a central value and standard, a guidepost of wise and responsible decision-making. If conservatives really gave a shit about constraint, they’d start with the precautionary principle.

I have an overall unconstrained vision, but certain conditions are necessary in order to have an actual functioning society that is as unconstrained as possible. Those conditions, in a very basic sense, are themselves constraints. The whole issue isn’t as binary as a conservative like Sowell would like it to be. The conflict of constrained versus unconstrained only exists in Sowell’s brain and in the brain of anyone who shares his view.

Many conservatives would consider me utopian in my desired unconstraint. I’m very much a leftist in my belief in human potential as being preferably unrestrained (as much as is possible), something conservatives tend to fear. I’m not seeking perfection, as conservatives suspect. I don’t even know what perfection means. That seems like another projection of the conservative mind.

What conservatives too often mean by constrained is that they don’t want to question their own assumptions. They want to take their beliefs as reality, and so constrain all of politics to their narrow view and all of society to their simplistic understanding. They want a rigid social order that constrains others to their worldview.

This connects back to my last post. Howard Schwartz, an author on liberty in American society, commented on that post. He pointed out that this kind of person is seeking stable essences for the purposes of psychological security. As I’d put it, they are constraining their own minds in order to lessen the stress and anxiety they feel when confronting cognitive dissonance.

My oft repeated position is that the world is complex. This is true, whether or not we like it. Constraining one’s beliefs about reality doesn’t constrain reality itself. I favor an unconstrained vision simply because only it can encompass that complexity. I also favor it because, as long as we have globalization, we better have a vision of social and moral responsibility that can match its scope.

Oddly, it is for this very reason I can simultaneously defend certain practical constraints to an even greater degree than is seen in mainstream American conservatism. I’m a cautious-minded progressive, a wary optimist.

A Conservative’s Personal Experience

A while back, I was talking to a conservative Christian. He is a white guy, a typical American from the older generation.

He mentioned to me an experience he had that changed his view on an issue. At the church he attends, there was a talk given on a subject and from a perspective that few Americans get the opportunity to hear. The speaker was a Palestinian Christian who gave the details of his personal experience. His talk was about living in Palestine with Israel as a not-so-friendly neighbor.

Most Americans, especially conservative Christians, probably never think about Palestinians as including Christians. When they think of Palestinians, they put them in the category of ‘other’ and hence in the category of ‘enemy’. Palestinians are portrayed in the MSM basically in terms of the enemies of the Israelis, and every American knows the Israelis are the good guys. The Israelis escaped the oppression of the Nazis and they are our allies who help us in the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, Palestinians are supposedly all Arabs and Muslims, despite the fact that Palestinians are genetically and culturally the original Jewish population that never left.

This guy noted how angry this Palestinian was. This did bother him because angry Palestinians are the bad guys. But he couldn’t dismiss him. First, he was a fellow Christian speaking at this guy’s own church. Second, he was a real person, not just a picture of a person on the news or a caricature portrayed by a right-wing demagogue. This Palestinian’s Christian experience became also real for this American white guy, and so a sympathetic connection was formed.

Like a typical American, specifically one who is from the right side of the spectrum, he had always seen just one side of the story which was the official Israeli government perspective as parroted by the American MSM. It is all he knew for no media he encountered ever challenged his understanding. He existed in a media bubble and didn’t even know it. This was no fault of his own, not in any direct sense. He didn’t realize he was being deceived and being given partial information, and so didn’t know to challenge it.

Hearing this Palestinian Christian’s experience, he suddenly saw that the situation was a lot more complex. There was no straightforward good and bad guys. More importantly, he came to understand that the official Israeli position wasn’t beyond questioning, especially from a moral perspective. It is one thing for Muslims to be oppressed by Jews, but it is a whole other matter for Christians to be oppressed by Jews. To the conservative Christian, Christians are most definitely the good guys for Christianity is the religion of the West and specifically of the United States.

Personal experience is the one and only thing that can challenge propaganda and rhetoric, lies and manipulation. When you look at so many fears and hatreds people hold, it almost always goes hand in hand with a lack of personal experience in relation to what is feared and hated, whether gays or Palestinians. If a conservative has their own child come out as gay or if a conservative meets a Palestinian in person, then the entire context shifts and it no longer is in the realm of abstract moral absolutes. In bringing an issue down into messy personal experience, it becomes viscerally and emotionally real. It is harder to hate or fear someone who you get to know as an individual human being.

Every moral and political battle is fought on the level of the personal. Minds are changed one at a time.

Unspoken Connection: Fundamentalism and Punishment

In this passage from Michael Tonry’s Punishing Race, an insight is offered, a key to the American mind. Fundamentalism is a powerful force, especially in the Republican Party, but also in mainstream society in general. Fundamentalism isn’t just about Southern Baptists. It is a larger worldview that seeps into every pore of American society.

Most of the time, crime is discussed ‘objectively’. It is as if one could understand victimization, violence, and mass incarceration simply by analyzing numbers. We Americans love data. We keep records almost religiously. Reality is messy, but numbers are clean and simple. The data, as some claim, speaks for itself. But the data also can hide that which we would rather not see, since data is only as good as the methods for gathering it.

What is the dark shadow cast by this data? What is left unspoken? What is the belief that motivates punitive crime policy?

* * * *

Kindle Locations 2271-2296:

The sizable political science and religion literatures on religion and politics in the United States are silent, except in passing, on the influence of Protestant fundamentalism on American crime policy generally. They focus on abortion, women’s and gay rights, and separation of church and state. None of the major recent works includes the terms crime or capital punishment in its index (e.g., Layman 2001; Green 2007). One leading work, however, Religion and Politics in the United States (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2007), explains how and why Protestant fundamentalism shaped American crime control and punishment policies for three decades. Whereas Catholics and mainstream Protestants espouse a commitment to social welfare consonant with their belief in “a warm, caring god,” the fundamentalist “image of a cold and authoritative deity lends support to government’s role in securing order and property” (121). Richard Snyder, a former dean at New York Theological Seminary, explains the fundamentalist vision this way: “If we believe that all persons are essentially corrupt save for the extraordinary intervention of God’s grace in their lives, it is a simple step to think that those who are poor, or sick, or in trouble with the law, or different from us in any way are somehow evil. The redeemed are God’s children; the unrepentant are children of Satan” (2001, 14).

Fundamentalists are “characterized by a quest for certainty, exclusiveness, and unambiguous boundaries” and attempt “to chart a morally black and white path out of the gray zones of intimidating cultural and religious complexity” (Nagata 2001, 481). In its 1995 Contract with the American Family Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition accordingly called for increased penalties for convicted criminals (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2007, 351). A year later Bennett, DiIulio, and Walters (1996) produced the fullest elaboration of fundamentalist crime control policy analysis ever published.

The near absence of crime control and punishment from the politics and religion literature is odd. The nexus seems self-evident. The Republican resurgence of the past forty years is attributable in large part to the Southern Strategy. The political influence of the religious right on Republican politics is well known (e.g., Green 2007). As one major review of the literature on fundamentalism and conservative politics observed, “The [religious right] enjoys something like a veto power in the Republican Party” (Woodberry and Smith 1998, 48).

By contrast the criminology literature, though small, has ferreted out the connection. Unnever, Cullen, and Applegate’s examination of attitudes toward capital punishment concludes that those fundamentalists “who have a rigid and moralistic approach to religion and who imagine God as a dispassionate, powerful figure who dispenses justice are more likely to harbor punitive sentiments toward offenders” (2005, 304). A slight but fascinating article based on a representative survey of Oklahoma City residents showed that Protestant conservatives viewed nearly all crimes as “very wrong” and thus did not differentiate among them in terms of seriousness (Curry 1996, 462). This finding goes a long way toward explaining why traditional ideas about proportionality in punishment are irreconcilable with many modern three-strikes, mandatory minimum, and life without the possibility of parole laws.

When Nation Was Deified And God Was Nationalized

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. That was in 1892. Then, in 1941, Congress officially made it into the pledge. There was no ‘God’ in the wording for 64 years of its existence and for the first 13 years of its official use.

The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance
By Jeffrey Owen Jones
Smithsonian Magazine

“I first struggled with “under God” in my fourth-grade class in Westport, Connecticut. It was the spring of 1954, and Congress had voted, after some controversy, to insert the phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance, partly as a cold war rejoinder to “godless” communism. We kept stumbling on the words—it’s not easy to unlearn something as ingrained and metrical as the Pledge of Allegiance—while we rehearsed for Flag Day, June 14, when the revision would take effect.”

That wasn’t that long ago. It was about 20 years before I was born. My father was 12 years old and my mother was 7 years old when God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

I asked my father about it. He says he remembers when he had to learn the new wording. It was in Boy Scouts when he was in 6th grade.

The Scout leader told them that it was “One nation under God” with no comma and so he explained they weren’t to pause between “One nation” and “under God”. I suppose the implication was that nation and God were to be treated as a single entity. But my father notes that everyone pauses between the two, and so apparently most Americans came to disagree with that scout leader.

As for the issue of adding God, many diverse Americans have disagreed about ending the clear separation of church and state, as the founding fathers intended (for those who genuinely care about original intent):

“Atheists are not the only ones to take issue with that line of thought. Advocates of religious tolerance point out that the reference to a single deity might not sit well with followers of some established religions. After all, Buddhists don’t conceive of God as a single discrete entity, Zoroastrians believe in two deities and Hindus believe in many. Both the Ninth Circuit ruling and a number of Supreme Court decisions acknowledge this. But Jacobsohn predicts that a majority of the justices will hold that government may support religion in general as long as public policy does not pursue an obviously sectarian, specific religious purpose.

“Bellamy, who went on to become an advertising executive, wrote extensively about the pledge in later years. I haven’t found any evidence in the historical record—including Bellamy’s papers at the University of Rochester—to indicate whether he ever considered adding a divine reference to the pledge. So we can’t know where he would stand in today’s dispute. But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.”

What the media too often ignores is the major divides in our society aren’t between conservatives and fundamentalists on one side and secularists and atheists on the other side. No, the deepest cut in public opinion happens within religion itself. Most Americans on all issues are Christians. It was originally Evangelicals who pushed strongly for a strong separation of church and state, for they understood in their own experience the dangers of that lack of such a separation. It’s a shame that Christians on the political right have such a short historical memory.

Dogmatism’s Not Dead

I watched God’s Not Dead with my parents. It was the quite the experience. I had almost no expectations. I just went because my parents wanted to go. I’ll watch almost anything, when in the right mood.

God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and my parents are Christians. I was raised Christian, but not the Christianity found in the movie. God’s Not Dead is full-on fundamentalism. My mom grew up in that kind of religion and my dad in a more mild variety. I, however, was raised mostly in the Unity Chruch, which is uber-hippy, pansy-liberal New Thought Christianity.

No preacher ever threatened or even implied I might go to hell. No Unity minister would likely even mention hell, except to dismiss it. God loves you! Period. Full stop.

I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood religion. I’m a heathen these days, but I still don’t think of myself as an atheist. I largely don’t care one whit about arguments for and against God. On the other hand, while tripping on mushrooms once I saw the entire world breathe in unison, as if it were all a single being. Dude! The world is a crazy complex place, beyond the meager capacity of my human comprehension. Who am I to say much of anything about the mysteries of the universe? If someone wants to call this sense of mystery ‘God’, they are free to do so and I won’t complain.

Anyway, if God or gods or Star Trek Qs exist, I doubt they care about my belief in them or lack thereof. Do I care if tiny organisms believes in me? Not really. I choose not to step on ants and worms, but I don’t ask if they believe in me first. I won’t claim to be their savior if they accept me into their hearts and I won’t promise them heaven nor threaten them with damnation. I’m certainly not going to attempt to inspire ant and worm prophets to write holy scriptures about my greatness. I’m just a big galoot traipsing through their tiny world. That is all.

That may sound dismissive. I actually have little desire to be dismissive. Faith is a personal thing. The personal part is what matters. I can’t speak about someone else’s personal experience. I’m fine with other people’s religion, as long as they don’t seek to impose it on me or proselytize it to me.

Even a fundamentalist movie like God’s Not Dead doesn’t overly bother me. It seemed disconnected from reality, but that is to be expected. It’s not like anyone forced me to watch the movie. That said, fundamentalists are more than happy to force their beliefs onto others. If hardcore fundamentalists thought they could legally get away with it, they’d likely make watching this movie obligatory for every child in school.

Many of them are no more interested in genuine dialogue than is the radical left-wing activist I dealt with the other day (see my post: There Are No Allies Without Alliances). But most isn’t all. I wouldn’t want to broadbrush all rightward-leaning Christians. Most fundamentalists are like most people. They just want to be left alone to live their lives how they see fit. But the average fundamentalist isn’t the one I’m worried about. What worries me are the fundamentalist activists, lobbyists, and politicians.

The one thing that stood out to me about that radical left-wing activist had to do with his worldview. There were specified roles one could play, but one wasn’t free to be an individual. There is no place for someone like me in that worldview. Likewise, in watching God’s Not Dead, I realized there is no place for me there either.

The movie is full of caricatures and stereotypes. Everyone was an extreme. Either you are hard right-wing believer or else you are some secular bogeyman, the three main options being a clueless professor, a sociopathic businessman, and a Godless communist. In this worldview, there exists no such thing as a liberal Christian, a moderate Muslim, a moral pagan, an ethical humanist, a mild-mannered atheist, or a curious-minded agnostic; certainly, there is no such thing as an intelligent, fair-minded professor. It turns out the professor secretly believes in God, but just hates him, what every fundamentalist suspects about atheists.

A freethinking individual is not welcome in either of these worldviews from the left and right.

Literary Loss of Faith: Literary Criticism as Doomsaying

I noticed the article Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? by Paul Elie in The New York Times. It initially interested me, but the more I thought about it I felt irritated by it. I did like the idea about making belief believable, as Flannery O’Connor originally explained it.

What irritated me was the simplistic conclusion. It reminded me of the articles I constantly come across about the world coming to an end in some way or another. Books will disappear and along with it reading. Before that, people worried books would make oral culture disappear. Before that, people worried oral culture would make cave paintings disappear. People used to fear-monger about how the first land-line telephones would destroy American society and corrupt the youth. Then they said that about the television, and then cable, and then the internet.

It just goes on and on endlessly. The world is always ending and yet it never ends. The world of faith, of miracles, of gods ruling on earth, of humans and animals as a brotherhood, of the fairyland still being accessible, etc; all of it is always in the past, always declining, always disappearing. For as long as civilization has existed, there have been prophets of doom proclaiming the decline of civilization or some particular tradition.  It has been millennia of failed predictions and disproven criticisms.

This article expresses a related kind of rhetoric. The hypothesis stated as fact is that faith is disappearing from literature and that this somehow implies a deeper problem or malaise, a societal corruption or moral decline or weakening of serious thought, or something like that. People have been worrying about the loss of faith at least since the Protestant Reformation and probably long before that. This obsession is particularly strong in America where religion has had some of the strongest roots in all the world. If faith truly was weakening, no one would even write an article like this or want to read it because no one would give a flying fuck.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m neither religious nor anti-religious. It’s not the substance of the argument that annoys me, rather the style and structure of it. It’s so simplistic and predictable, so tired and cliché. If society is collapsing from internal decay, it is weak journalism like this that is a sign of the coming apocalypse… except journalism has always been this way, as long as journalism has existed… so, I guess no apocalypse for the time being. I’ve always thought that if and when civilization finally collapses or modern Western society declines to a point of no return, it probably would come from a confluence of events and conditions that no one would or could foresee.

I doubt that there are fewer authors of faith. A better query might be: Have the literary gatekeepers lost their faith? If the great Christian writers of the past were writing today, would they be published by the major publishing companies, would the mainstream critics review their works, and would they make it on Oprah’s book club list?

Then again, I don’t even know that those are good questions. This article, after all, was published in the mainstream media. It is a literary gatekeeper who, in his dual role as journalist and fiction writer, is complaining about this literary loss of faith. It’s like Republicans claiming other Republicans are secret Democrats for not being right-wing enough or nationally viewed MSM pundits complaining about the MSM being liberally biased. It’s a rhetorical trick to manipulate one’s audience.

In this case, the critic of literary loss of faith is setting the stage for his upcoming novel about faith. This means he is offering the solution to the problem he portrays as a threat. How convenient.

In criticism of the article, the following are two good responses.

D.G. Myers writes in The Novel of Belief:

It is not immediately clear why a setting in the past should disqualify any novel from the category “of belief.” Perhaps the greatest religious novel ever written by an American—Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—is also set in the past. [ . . . ] There have been enough historical novels of religious faith written by Americans that Elie’s demand for contemporaneity begins to seem arbitrary.

[ . . . ] Elie also stipulates that the novel of belief be a novel of Christian belief, which leaves out of account the remarkable turn toward religion on the part of Jewish novelists [ . . . ]

There is no possible stipulation, however, which can explain Elie’s neglect of Christopher R. Beha’s extraordinary What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I’ve called the novel a modern saint’s life. It has everything Elie is looking for—the living language of religious faith, a distinct and conclusive personal transformation under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of religion’s explanatory power, a commitment to the established Church instead of the Do-It-Yourself religiosity that so many Americans seem to prefer, an ethical quandary that is directly caused by Christian faith, an emphatic and unembarrassed Roman Catholic character, and best of all, it is entirely contemporary in its setting—but its author is young and not yet famous (he will be), his publisher is a small house (not like Elie’s own Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and it does nothing whatever to confirm the trend away from novelistic belief which Elie is at such pains to illustrate. Even worse, Beha’s novel may be part of a countervailing trend toward anew Catholic fiction, which rejects the literary Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor for predecessors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh instead.

Abe Rosenzweig comments (from an article by Dominic Preziosi):

To be honest, this is the sort of “trend piece” one expects from the Times. He sort of takes a James Woodsian tour of recent fiction (Delillo! McCarthy!), meaning that he seems stuck on Big House publications, and his dismissal of Robinson seems wholly contrived along the rather arbitrary parameter that works set in the past must be dismissed (seriously, Robinson is one of the most lauded of contemporary authors, and her work is driven by Christianity; his rejection of her is just silly). Also, of course, is the simple fact that he’s not actually interested in works dealing with faith, but rather works that deal with (and are motivated by) Christian faith (equating “faith” with “Christian” is, of course, a typically Christian move).

I also find myself wondering what the point of the piece is. I don’t see how it could really be part of a program (reinvigorating Christian literature?); it seems to just be another soft lament for the fact that the Sikhs are next door.

 

 

 

Notes on Jesus Christ, Scarab, Dung Beetle, etc

I was just remembering these notes I took a long while back. I meant to put  it together as a followup to my previous posts on the topic (see here), but I never got around to it… and I don’t know if or when I might ever get around to it. So, I’ll just present the notes as they might be of interest to some people.
“Homage to thee, Ra ! Supreme power, the god with the numerous shapes in the sacred dwelling, his form is that of the beetle.”
The Litany of Ra from Egyptian Literature, by Ephanius Wilson
“‘These creatures, like many others in the insect world, deposit their eggs in the ground, where they are hatched, and the appearance of their progeny rising from the earth is by some writers supposed to have suggested to the Egyptian priesthood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Certain it is that beetles were very common in Egypt, and one of them, thence styled by naturalists Scarabeus sacer, was an object of worship: and this fact gives strength to the conjecture that this creature is meant in Exod. viii, as the sacred character of the object would naturally render its employment as a plague doubly terrible. Besides its being worshipped as a divinity, stones cut in the form of the beetle served as talismans among the Egyptians. The under surface was filled with figurines cut in intaglio of solar, lunar, and astral symbols and characters. They were held, according to Pliny, to inspire the soldier with courage, and to protect his person in the day of battle, and also to defend children from the malign influences of the evil eye. There is little reason to doubt that the Hebrews learned the use of these things Egypt, but they were prohibited by the Mosaic law. The Gnostics, among other Egyptian superstitions, adopted this notion regarding the beetle, and gems of gnostic origin are extant in this form, especially symbolical of Isis (q.v.).”
p. 467: “The biblical terms slsl in Deut. 28.42 and slsl knpjm in Isa. 18.1 were never satisfactorily defined. A thorough analysis of Ancient Egyptian texts, classical literature, Aramaic and rabbinic sources, post-biblical texts and archaeological material suggests that slsl in the Pentateuch means beetle and Isaiah’s phrase can be translated ‘land of the winged beetle’, that is, Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian beetle metaphorically could represent a (sacred) boat and in Christian commentary, cruicified Jesus.”
International Review of Biblical Studies, by Bernhard Lang
The author writes that, according to Massey, “The beetle-headed Kheper-Ptah is Cancer, the Beetle and, later, the Crab.”
The Suns of God, by Acharya S
The author writes about Kheper-Ptah, the sign of Cancer, the Beetle and the Crab.
Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, by Gerald Massey
The author goes into detail about Khepr, the scarab, and Isis and Nephthys rolling a ball; and also mentions Ambrose.
Book of the Beginnings Part 2, by Gerald Massey
The author has some interesting thoughts about the allegorical meaning of the dung beetle in terms of Christian theology.
Who Is This King of Glory?, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
The author mentions that Khepr is born his own son.
Lost Light, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
And he mentions the motif of 6 months above and 6 months below in terms of the beetle.
The author describes the beetle in European mythology and folk rituals.
Encyclopedia of Religions, by John G. R. Forlong
An early Christian story: while fleeing to Egypt, Mary is looking for Jesus and soldiers are close behind.  When the soldiers pass where Mary had been the day before, they ask some farmers when the other had passed.  The farmers give a misleading answer, but a black beetle tells the truth and so helps the soldiers.
The Flight Into Egypt, by Henry Van Dyke (Harper’s Magazine)
‘ Saw ye passing to-day or yestreen,
The Son of my love— the Son of God ? ‘ ‘
We saw, we saw,’ said the black beetle, ‘
   The Son of freedom pass yesterday.’
‘ Wrong! wrong! wrong art thou,’
Said the sacred beetle earthy:
‘ A big year it was yestreen
  Since the Son of God passed.’
Carmina Gadelica
This is strange as it seems to show the knowledge of the Egyptian dung beetle survived into much later apologetics:
The apology for the Church of England: and A treatise of the Holy Scriptures, by John Jewel, William Rollinson Whittingham
The author quotes Ambrose: “He was crushed although He was the Word made man; and He became poor, although He was rich, that we might be enriched by His want. He was powerful, and offered himself to be despised, as when Herod rejected and mocked Him; He was moving the earth, and He hung on a cross; He covered the sky with shadows and crucified the world, and He was crucified. He bent his head and the Word went out, he was emptied out and refilled everything; God came down, Man went up. The Word was made flesh that flesh might claim for itself the throne of the Word on the right hand of God; He was wounded and the perfume flowed. The beetle was heard and God was recognised.”
In his Against Cainites, Epiphanius concludes: “After exposing the opinion—like exposing poisonous dung-beetles!—of such people, who desire what is bad, and after crushing it by God’s power because of its harmfulness, let us call on God for aid, sons of Christ, since we intend to inquire into the others.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In his Against Archontics, Epiphanius writes: “For I find even in the so-called naturalists—or rather, I observe this for myself—that dung-beetles, which some call bylari, have the habit of rolling in foulness and dung, and this is food and a task for them.  But this same filthy food of theirs <is obviously> ofensive and bad-smelling to other insects.  For bees too, this dung and foul odor is death, while to dung-beetles it is work, nourishment, and an occupation.  For bees, in contrast, fragrance, blossoms and perfumes serve as refreshment, property and food, work and occupation.  But such things are the reverse for the dung-beetles, or bylari.
Anyone wishing to test them, as the naturalists say, can cause the death of dung-beetles by taking a bit of perfume, I mean balsam or nard, and applying it to them.  They die instantly because they cannot stand the sweet odor.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In speaking about women worshippers of the Virgin Mary, Epiphanius says, “…since we crushed with the word of truth this beetle, so to speak, golden colored, winged, and buzzing about, at the same time very venomous and full of poison…” Cantharides beetle, some varieties of which are poisonous, are compared to Mary-worshipping (Isis?).  Certain beetles lick the chemical off of Cantharides in order to attract mates, and it is from Cantharides that is derived the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly but there are also other medicinal uses (diuretic, skin irritant).  Dung beetles are a type of blister beetle.  Blister beetles are also ground up in drinks.
The Virgin Goddess, by Stephen Benko
Palladius says, “So Theophilus arrived at Constantinople, like a beetle loaded with the dung of the best that Egypt, emitting sweet scent to cover his stinking jealousy…”
The Dialogue of Palladius Concerning the Life of Chryisostom, by Palladius
The author writes, “What is striking, for my interests, is the fact that John Scotus elaborates, as did Origen, naturalistic imagery for the resurrection, making full use of Clementine cyclical metaphors and of the Pauline seed.  The resurrection of the phoenix from ashes or the beetle from dung, the gradual unfolding of seeds in things, the turn of the seasons from winter to spring, all become analogies for a return to God that is transformation.”
The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, by Caroline Walker Bynum
“The “Hieroglyphica” of Horapollo is cited as an important source of information concerning the unicorn symbolism of Mercurius. According to this work there exists a genus of scarab which is unicorned and thus sacred to Mercurius. In addition to being one horned this scarab is described as being “born of itself.’ In Paracelsus, the prima materia is also depicted as “uncreated” and is directly linked with Mercurius. A further parallel found in the Hieroglyphica is the dismemberment of the scarab. Such a dismemberment was undergone by the dragon, a common symbol of Mercurius, in what is referred to in Egyptian alchemic literature as the “separation of elements.”
Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, by Carrie Lee Rothgeb

http://books.google.com/books?id=_NrBKMGUfRAC&pg=PT102&lpg=PT102&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&source=bl&ots=tndKs_gfLD&sig=947GoHvr–j6LC2Me8Op3-KAB48&hl=en&ei=mNXgSeWTGNXfnQfF04imCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#PPT102,M1

scarab images

http://books.google.com/books?id=3z8GAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA32&vq=scarabaeus&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

several pages on scarabs from above book.

http://books.google.com/books?id=3z8GAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA312&vq=scarabaeus&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

More about Kircher on the scarab including an Osiris-headed scarab.

http://books.google.com/books?id=EVQLAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA530&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&ei=mDHqSYP8CYL0NPSutakB

In reference to the 17th century Athanasius Kircher, the author mentions the scarab in context of alchemy and cabala.  The author also points out the scarab being representative of the Son of God and defends this by quoting Augustine.

Roman and European Mythologies, by Yves Bonnefoy
pp. 219-20: “Athanasius Kircher (1602-82), the hero of the quest of Isis, even while attacking alchemy magnified its purely spiritual doctrine, finding it in concord with the true Cabala, which he did not condemn along with the Cabala of the rabbis.  Dazzled by John Dee’s discovery, copied by Cesare della Riviera, of the hieroglyph of Mercury, Kircher perceived the hieroglyph of the scarab as the key to the chemical art, in perfect concordance with the famous exegesis of bereshit, the first word of the Hebrew Genesis, at the end of the Heptaplus.
The scarab signifies the raw material of the metallic art: rolling up the bodies of the whole world, it produces an egg, visible above its tail.  The seeds of all the metals that hide there eventually rise up to the seven spheres of the planets: besides the five spheres of the minor planets, the head of Horus designates the sun, and the segment of a circle above it designates the moon, and inside it is the cross, natural symbol of the elements.  Between its forelegs the scarab holds a tablet bearing (in Greek script) the word phulo which signifies love.  If like doctors we dissect this hierogrammatism into its parts, we obtain this phrase: The soul of the world or the life of things is hidden in the machine of this lower world, where rests the egg fertile in seminal reasons, which, exercising its power over the spheres of the metallic planets, animates them with its heat and makes them act, so that Horus, that is, the sun and the moon, emerges through the dissolution of the elements and the separation of pure from impure things.  When this is done, each thing is linked to every other thing by a natural and sympathetic love, and this is the completion of the work.
Kircher before explaining a discourse too obscure for novices, referred to his Prodomus Coptus, in which, after analyzing the hieroglyph of the scarab, he connected it with Pico della Mirandola’s analysis of the first word of Genesis: “The father to the Son or by the Son, beginning and end or rest, created the head, the fire, and the foundation of the great man by good accord or alliance.”  “What can the winged globe in the hieroglyph signify other than the famous circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, to speak with Trismegistus, which is the supermundane abstract Intellet, first Intelligence, celestial Father.  What could the body of the scarab signify other than the Son whom his Father has constituted principle, rest, and end of all things, by whom all was made and without whom nothing is made.  Lest someone be angered at seeing God himself, who surpasses all admiration, being compared to the most vile, the most horrible, the most stinking of all beings, let us hear what Saint Augustine, the great light of the Church, has said of the admirable humanity of Christ in his Soliloquies: ‘He is my good scarab, not so much because he is the only son of God, author of himself who took on our mortal form, but because he rolled in our filth, when he sought to be born a man.’  By this son, then, eternal Wisdom and true Osiris, the world was created, this great man, whose head is the angelic world, source of knowledge, whose heart is the sun, source of movement, life, and warmth, and whose foundation is the sublunary world.  What could the character signifying love designate but this Spirit, who, ‘meharephet peney ha-maym, floating on the waters,’ gives life to all things by the fire of his most fertile love, and ties all together in a good alliance.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=GkCe6oEmN4sC&pg=PA219&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&lr=&ei=9_XgSbSNKIHANuSNhbIN#PPA219,M1

p. 22: “The beetles in the zodiac Dendera have, according to Dr. Young, much more of a mythological than of an astronomical nature.  The beetle near the beginning of the zodiac is well-known symbol of generation, and he is in the act of depositing his globe: on the opposite side, at the end of the zodiac, is the head of Isis, with her name as newly born; both the long female figures are appropriate representations of the mother; and the zodiac between them express “revolving year” which elapsed between the two periods.”

A History of Egyptian Mummies, by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

http://books.google.com/books?id=g0oZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA222&lpg=PA222&dq=%22woman’s+head%22+OR+%22head+of+isis%22+beetle&source=bl&ots=HBv0y8Mt5M&sig=4VErL9Xoj5LT7hz7RDxoKi_Fc18&hl=en&ei=DXjiSYzGDs_unQfSzaixCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=24#PPA222,M1

pp. 178-9: “Remarkably, a stylistic representation of the Rostau meteorite appears in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Hidden Chamber.  In figure 73, we see the beginning of the creation, as if it were frozen in time.  In the lower register is the body (or flesh) of Sokar, contained within an ellipse of sand, representing his ‘hidden land’.  He is about to put on his wings of transformation.  Above him, in the middle register, a pyramid-shaped hill represents the body (or flesh) of Isis, whose head is seen at the apex of the mound.  Above the head of Isis, in the upper register, there appears a dark, bell-shaped chamber, flanked by two falcons and surmounted by the hieroglyphic sign for ‘night’.  From the bottom of this chamber, a scarab beetle — symbolic of rebirth — descends towards the head of Isis in order to converse with Sokar below, but is menanced by a two-headed serpent who ‘sets himself in opposition to the scarab’.  Between the beetle and the head of Isis, there runs the rope by which the barque of Re is towed through the underworld by seven gods and seven goddesses.”

Pyramid of Secrets, by Alan F. Alford

http://books.google.com/books?id=EusI5PDYIK8C&pg=PA178&vq=%22book+of+the+hidden+chamber%22&dq=%22woman’s+head%22+OR+%22head+of+isis%22+beetle&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

“On the central vertical band, beneath Nut with her outspread wings, are (from top to bottom) a shrine with two crouching figures of Osiris flanking a scarab, Isis and Nephthys adoring the symbol of Osiris, a scepter flanked by winged wedjat eyes, and a winged scarab above the boat of the sun.”

Coffin set of Henettawy

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tipd/ho_25.3.182-184.htm

pp. 10-11: “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.  Hor-Apollo says, “To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabeus!  B this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  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 Scarabeus,” which further identifies the Jesus of John’s Gospel with the Jesus of Egpt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the Bringer of Peace, whom I have elsewhere 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.”

Gerald Massey’s Lectures

http://books.google.com/books?id=-jRswRWRN5EC&pg=PA11&dq=augustine+beetle+OR+%22my+own+good+beetle%22+jesus+OR+christ&ei=IjreSYT5LIO-Nqms2LsO

This article shows that beetles (and in particular dung beetles) are a religious symbol older than Egypt.  As a main source of food, beetles have always fascinated humans and taken on divine meaning.  Beetles are able to fly and descend into the earth, and they emerge out of the earth when they’re growing.  The beetle as a creator and a potter is found in tribal cultures, in Egyptian mythology and even Jesus is portrayed as a potter.  In Egypt, the scarab was identified as a solar deity.  This is because the dung beetle forms balls of dung which it rolls around (and out of which it is born), and also because they’re shiny beetles who can fly (and it was believed they could fly carrying a dung ball).

Egyptians came to believe in the scarab as a resurrection deity and that it was self-originating.  So, it was considered virginal as they believed no sex occurred.  The author doesn’t note this but it is reminiscent of how Mithras was born out of a rock.  The scarab became identified in two forms that were identified with Osiris who dies and his son Horus who is born from his death, but the two forms were also identified as singular.  This dual aspect god was a central prototype of Jesus Christ.  In its role as resurrection deity and ruler over the dead, the scarab was associated with the heart (the scarab being placed over the heart of the mummified deceased).  From the Wikipedia article on the Dung Beetle:

It may not have gone unnoticed that the pupa, whose wings and legs are encased at this stage of development, is very mummy-like. It has even been pointed out that the egg-bearing ball of dung is created in an underground chamber which is reached by a vertical shaft and horizontal passage curiously reminiscent of Old Kingdom mastaba tombs.”[8]

Another interesting connection (not from this article) is the understanding of gender in Gnosticism and in the Egyptian portrayal of the dung beetle.  Despite an earlier association with a goddess, Egyptians came to believe that all dung beetles were male.  Another excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

The scarab was linked to Khepri (“he who has come into being”), the god of the rising sun. The ancients believed that the dung beetle was only male in gender, and reproduced by depositing semen into a dung ball. The supposed self-creation of the beetle resembles that of Khepri, who creates himself out of nothing. Moreover, the dung ball rolled by a dung beetle resembles the sun. Plutarch wrote:

The race of beetles has no female, but all the males eject their sperm into a round pellet of material which they roll up by pushing it from the opposite side, just as the sun seems to turn the heavens in the direction opposite to its own course, which is from west to east.”[7]

The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

Strong arguments have been made that Gnosticism (and through it Christianity) came from Egypt, and certain Gnostic texts speak of the female becoming the male.  Also, during the Axial Age, there was a mixing of gender traits as gender identities shifted.  Many gods (such as Yahweh) had taken over aspects of prior goddesses.  D.M. Murdock, in her book Christ In Egypt, argues that in Christianity’s competition with Isis worship, Jesus became identified with that which had been formerly identified with Isis for centuries throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  Furthermore, Isis’ son Horus (in his form as Harmakhet the rising sun) was associated with Khepri (combined forming an image of a scarab with wings).  Murdock points out archaeological evidence of Egyptian Gnostic merging of Horus and Jesus; and, in the Alexandrian Gnostic system, Isis is Sophia and Horus is the Logos/Word.  Early Coptic Christians mummified their dead, had scarabs with Christian emblems etched on them (The Sacred Scarabs, The New York Times), used the ankh as a cross, and even invoked Jesus and Horus together.  Also, followers of Serapis (a mix of Greek and Egyptian gods) are another example as they were supposedly described as the first Christians by Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata.  In many locations in Egypt, such as at the Serapeum (temple to Serapis) in Alexandria, large sculptures of scarabs have been found.  (Besides Murdock’s Christ In Egypt, much of this info and more can be found in Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge’s Amulets and Superstitions, the Egyptologist Erik Hornung’s The Secret Lore of Egypt, and Theologian Karl W. Luckert’s Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire; also, check out the books of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Gerald Massey, and G. R. S. Mead.)

To return to Cambefort’s article, the author mentions that Ptah the divine craftsman was connected with the scarab as the potter.  Ptah was also was at times confused with Osiris.  The wife of Ptah was Neith who was originally considered a beetle goddess before the scarab became identified as solely male and so she instead became identified with the vulture (which was considered solely female).  The vulture and scarab became a paired symbol and a word play.  In the 4th century, Horapollo wrote about hieroglyphics of this pair of deities. “He also described the scarab as “only begotten,” and the Greek word is the same used by John (3:16) referring to Christ (below).”

In Minoan Creta, horned “scarabs” crudely modeled in clay were used by peasants, probably in fecundity rites (right). Apart from these models, the scarab’s role is not obvious in archaic and classic Greek civilization. During late Egyptian periods, dwarves were devoted to Ptah (under the name “pataeci”) and many of them wore a scarab on their head. Probably for this reason, the scarab gained the reputation among the Greeks to be the king of Pygmies, although the Pygmies themselves represented the dead. In addition, we can find evidence that scarabs in a broad sense (sacred scarab and stag beetle were more or less confused) were important in the initiation rites of warriors (possibly due to the fact that warriors bring death). As a result, the scarab was consecrated to Zeus, to the same extent as the eagle. In fact, both animals seem interchangeable as favorites of the King of gods. Æsopus fable, “The Eagle and the Scarab,” is a testimony to the secular dispute between the scarab and the Eagle, or rather between their supporters. In this fable, the scarab wins, but historically, the eagle gained victory over the scarab, and remained the emblem of Zeus, carrying his thunder. The fable might also be a reminiscence of the late Egyptian periods, when the scarab and vulture (there are no eagles in Egypt) were united to write the Great Gods’ name T-N and N-T(above).

Meanwhile, the scarab became an object of derision and jokes, the most famous of them being Aristophanes comedy “Peace,” where a peasant flies up to Olympus riding a colossal scarab, whose coprophagous habits are insisted upon. Despite these trivial manners, the scarab retains his divine nature, which enables him to reach Zeus’ throne. Another clue of his importance could be the name “scarab” (greek: kantharos) of Dionysos’ cup, where pure wine is served in order to provide sacred drunkenness. Dionysos seems to be related to Osiris, who was said to have introduced wine in Egypt. As a sacred trance, drunkenness is related to shamanic powers of uniting the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Dionysos also had close relationships with Hephaistos, who was god of the fire. Since wine “burns” or at least heats as fire does, Hephaistos is often represented as being drunk. Hephaistos was confused by the Greeks with the late Egyptian scarab god, Ptah. In Germany, the property of thunder belonged to the god Thor (or Donar), who was second only to Odhin. The stag-beetle was devoted to Thor, and reputed to bear not only lightning and thunder, but also fire, in the form of embers. Thor was reputed to set fire to thatched houses, hence many names relating to fire and thunder are still frequently used in Germany.

…Coming back to Israel, the word “scarab” does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish authors probably did not want to recall the detested enemy through this Egyptian emblematic character. However, in the Greek translation of the Bible (called Septuagint,) the word “beetle” occurs once (Habakkuk 2:11):

“For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it.”

Habakkuk’s passage would not have been quoted here except for the use that Saint Ambrose of Milan made of it. On five occasions, this Father of the Church alluded to the text and compared Jesus Christ to Habakkuk’s scarab. Other Christian authors (St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, etc.) made equivalent or similar comparisons. These are the most obvious testimonies of a possible influence of Egyptian religion on Christianism. They also might have been influenced by (or had influenced on) some late Egyptian beliefs, e.g. reported by Horapollo (above), who described the scarab as “only begotten,” with the same Greek words (monogenes) as used by John 3:16 referring to Christ, and repeated by other Christian authors.
 
In Germany, where scarab worship, in the form of the stag beetle, has persisted longest, the equation scarab = Christ was widely accepted. The quintessential German artist, Albrecht Dürer, associated the stag beetle with Christ in various paintings, and produced a famous watercolor of the insect. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) did not hesitate to recall the identification scarab = Christ, referring both to St. Ambrose and Psalm 22:6:”But I am a worm, and no man,” verse which has been referred to Christ, and where (as Kircher says), “some read scarab instead of worm.” He went further to combine Christian faith with Alchemy: for him, the scarab was the prima materia of the Great Work. This idea was shared by some alchemists, e.g. Michael Maier (1566-1622), who explained in his writings that the so-called “philosophal stone,” product of the Great Work, was nothing other than Christ, resuscitated from the dead; a promise of resurrection for all human beings.
Beetles as Religious Symbols, Cultural Entomology Digest 2, by Yves Cambefort

http://bugbios.com/ced2/beetles_rel_sym.html

The author connects the  dung beetle with the vulture in opposition to the eagle.  He uses as an example Aristophanes play Peace where the dung beetle is used by Trygaeus to fly up to speak to Zeus.  This connection of dung beetle and vulture is similar to Bruno Schultz’ story “Cockroach”.

The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, by Marcel Detienne
Peace, by Aristophanes
Aesop’s Fables, “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”
The author discusses the gospel genre comparing the Christian, Judaean, and Greco-Roman traditions.  Specifically, he compares the text titled Life of Aesop.  I observed two aspects of this text.  Firstly, Aesop starts off as an ugly, mute slave.  He helps a priestess of Isis who prays for him and so Isis (and her muses) blesses him with speech.  Aesop starts telling fables which are equivalent to Jesus’ parables, and he uses his storytelling as a way of teaching and challenging authority.  This, of course, leads to trouble (similarly to Jesus, an accusation of blasphemy) and is condemned to death.  It is while being brought to his place of execution that he tells his fable “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”.  This is rather fitting as the dung beetle is a lowly creature as Aesop was portrayed.  It’s also relevant in terms of the gospel genre of the doomed hero because the dung beetle is a symbol of resurrection.  The fable could be interpreted as saying that, unlike the judgement of the Delphians, Almighty God will pardon Aesop (like Jupiter/Zeus pardoned the dung beetle)
The quest of the historical gospel, by Lawrence Mitchell Wills
“‘The Dung Beetle”: a medieval version of Aesop’s fable where Jesus speaks with the dung beetle.
The Peasants Bible, by Dario Fo
Later European fables involving themes of male pregnancy and birth and a beetle.  The way in which the beetle enters the priest or thief demonstrates a cultural memory of the birth of the dung beetle from fecal matter.
The Pregnant Man, by  Roberto Zapperi
A Mithraic magical ritual involving a scarab during early Christianity.  This ritual is the type of thing that Christians would’ve been aware of as the two religions shared similar motifs and Mithraism was very popular.
The Historical Jesus in Context, by Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, John Dominic Crossan

Richard Marsh’s The Beetle has a woman that transforms into a scarab.  The author speaks about the Gothic being relevant during times of uncertainty and change such as during the urbanization of the industrial age.  He also mentions Darwinism that created a sense of the closeness between man and animal, and theories arose of the possibility of degeneration to earlier forms.

The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, by Jerrold E. Hogle

http://books.google.com/books?id=ibKMe5iW70kC&pg=PA194&vq=beetle&dq=origen+beetle&lr=&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0#PPA195,M1

“Holland notes that beetles, unlike cockroaches, undergo total metamorphosis. Further, dung beetles are scarabs. The Egyptians venerated the scarab as an image of the sacred dung beetle linked to the sun god. Samson (Samsa) means in Hebrew “the sun’s man.” The German word for the title of the story, Die Verwandlung, means not only insect metamorphosis and transformation in general, but also transubstantiation… “The dung-beetle, then,” Holland concludes, “was the one animal that gave Kafka everything he needed: total metamorphosis from a wingless grub to a hard-working, traveling salesman-like adult plus the combination of loathsomeness and divinity”

The metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, commentary by Stanley Corngold

“The brilliant writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote of the interpretative impact Kafka’s earliest translators had made by turning the character from The Metamorphosis, Gregory Samsa, into a lowly cockroach, when in actuality Kafka had Gregory metamorphosed into a magnificently domed scarab beetle. The implications here are profound when we contemplate Kafka’s intense intimacy with the figure of Christ, and his knowledge of ancient cultures and art. Kafka was obviously aware that Albrecht Duer associated the symbolic aspect of the stag beetle with Christ. ‘Some biblical linguists have written of the aramaic word “scarab” being mistranslated as “worm,” in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, not a man.” Certain imminent alchemists considered the scarab to be a symbol for the Great Work of transformation. In ancient Egyptian alchemy the scarab beetle’s activity of making its nest out of dung for eggs to hatch from, symbolized the process of creating disciplines and procedures to bring forth spirit from flesh. The scarab is also associated in both Egyptian and Greek text with the solar aspects of the divine.”

Pushing Ultimates, by Lew Paz

http://books.google.com/books?id=dxT6HDvrEUMC&pg=PA264&lpg=PA264&dq=kafka+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+alchemy+OR+gnostic+OR+kabbalah+OR+kabbala+OR+qabala&source=bl&ots=akVfrvN1ij&sig=qAScJZvNupqGQ7LF1Decz15BwAQ&hl=en&ei=oUrgSei_C6rinQfjjvyiCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#PPA264,M1

Gregor Samsa “is “a phonetic contraction of the Czech words sam (‘alone’) and jsem (‘I am’).” Also there is the suggestion of “samson” (literally “the sun’s man”), combining the image of the lowly dung beetle with the sacred scarab linked to sun god worship, an ironic “combination of lothesomeness [sic] and divinity.” The name “Gregory” (literally “watchful” or “awakened”) strengthens the symbolism of the story by implying that Gregor’s transformation corresponds with his sudden awareness of his own alienation.”

The modern allegories of William Golding, by L. L. Dickson

http://books.google.com/books?id=boRaLhcgzE4C&pg=PA5&dq=%22james+joyce%22+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+OR+roach+OR+cockroach&lr=&ei=J17gSc_qDp3CMoGTzLEN#PPA6,M1

“In “carry, as earwigs do their dead, their soil to the earthball,” Joyce confuses (probably intentionally) the earwig with the dung beetle, the prototype of the Egyptian scarab.”  In a notebook, Joyce mentioned the scarab along with other symbols of regeneration.

Narrative design in Finnegans Wake, by Harry Burrell

http://books.google.com/books?id=6MmJgvi9jwcC&pg=PA105&dq=%22james+joyce%22+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+OR+roach+OR+cockroach&lr=&ei=FWbgScDSE4bUM4OvnKIN

Author describes Joyce’s reference to scarab (in terms of creation and generation) in a notebook that was later developed in Finnegan’s Wake.

Greek and Hellenic culture in Joyce, by R. J. Schork

http://books.google.com/books?id=v-PR2oOTjJoC&pg=PA187&dq=%22james+joyce%22+scarab&lr=&ei=0hvhSbzDEJe6M8eOhbIN

Dick writes in his Exegesis:

“Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior Jesus Christ (before him Ikhanaton, Zoroaster, et; Hefestus). When He returned we saw Him as he really is — that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like light.  The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here. (Like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).”

Mckee comments on this:

“For Dick, Christ will not return riding a white horse, but rather in the form of a beetle, a beggar, or an empty beer can kicked to the side of the road. God, though remaining all-powerful, allows himself to be made weak and to appear defeated in this world. But his moment of apparent defeat is truly his moment of final victory: Christ’s death on the cross is the moment that assures the salvation of humankind.

‘In this concept of the deus absconditus Dick’s theology overlaps with thtat of Martin Luther. Luther’s “theology of the cross” depends on just such a view of God’s hiddenness in wretched and helpless forms in our world.”

PKD’s God in the garbage is Augustine’s Christ as beetle who “has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself”.

Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter, by Gabriel Mckee

http://books.google.com/books?id=-ggCutVx5N4C&pg=PA58&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&lr=&ei=9_XgSbSNKIHANuSNhbIN#PPA58,M1

The author quotes PKD describing an event from third-grade where he was tormenting a beetle that was trying to hide itself:

“And he came out, and all of a sudden I realized — it was total satori, just infinite, that this beetle was like I was.  There was an understanding.  He wanted to live just like I was, and I was hurting him.  For a moment — it was like Siddhartha does, was like that dead jackal in the ditch — I was that beetle. Immediately I was different.  I was never the same again.”

Divine Invasions, by Lawrence Sutin

http://books.google.com/books?id=mI_n52AJcBEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=beetle+OR+scarab+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+%22dung-beetle%22+%22philip+k.+dick%22+OR+pkd

Jung: “A young woman I was treating had at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab.  While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window.  Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping.  I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside.  I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in.  It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. (The Structure and the Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 438)

The scarab here can be interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, of new life, an external manifestation of an inner awakening.  The dung beetle lives in filth, the material world which the rational mind can comprehend.  And yet the dung beetle represents that which is greater than rational and above the physical, the solar disk.  The Sun of God is Logos, but this isn’t rationality.  Logos signifies an ordering principle beyond causality, which Jung termed synchronicity.

A large section that describes the context of the scarab in Jung’s life.
Who Owns Jung?, by Ann Casement