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

Thinking Outside the Box: Worlds, Gender, & Games

My friend Jude brought up some thought-provoking thoughts (from Facebook):

Think outside the box” – the synonym for this is “lateral thinking”. I understand the latter but I do not understand the former. I remember I used to understand it though. I do think laterally a lot but I really don’t know where that “box” is. Maybe I have thought outside it so long, it no longer exists to me..hehehe..smh.. I want to re-understand it though.

The following are my comments.

—-

Here is how I would think about it.

Essentially, a box is the world or rather a world… or if you prefer a worldvew, what I’d call a reality tunnel. So, it isn’t necessarily the same as lateral for that would imply a relationship, a lateral relationship between the worldview and the thinking. Thinking outside of the box implies relationship to the worldview is being excluded. With no relationahip anchoring your thinking to the worldview, your thinking is unmoored and you can potentially lose your bearings.

Also, this can be analyzed mythologicaly. A box has a feminine gender, in fact is a term for female genitalia. A box has space within in which one can be enclosed, but it also has space without. When you were born, you literally began thinking outside the ‘box’.

In Indo-European mythology, the box and the square are feminine and maternal. They represent what enlcloses, what embraces and protects us, and also what sets the boundaries for relationships and society.

This relates to two things (board games and card games) which relate to a third thing (the Trickster).

The square of a board game sets the boundaries in which play happens. Likewise, the mother creates the space for play and the child plays. The Trickster is the child who plays, but he also tests boundaries and breaks rules.

Playing cards (originating from Tarot) are in the shape of the Golden Rectangle or what is known as the Golden Door. The door is part of what encloses for it can be closed, but it can also be opened.

Walking through an open door, you enter a new space, possibly even stepping outside of the box you were in. You might not even recognize the box you ere in until you are outside it. So, if you don’t see a box, it probably means you haven’t yet stepped outside to gain perspective. When you are in the game of play, still on the board, you’re drawn in for your life is at stake, this life that you know. A world is always real while you’re in it.

Games have always related to luck and divination, doorways from our world to other worlds. To truly think outside of the box is to open yourself to new visions, new realities even. The ancients saw the wold ruled by the Fates and by fickle gods. No player controls the game in which you play. No one knows what is at the end of the game, what is on the other side of the door.

Chutes and Ladders originated as an ancient Hindu game called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a model of reality with levels that the players ascend. The players are at the mercy of luck, but if you play long enough all get to the end. It teaches the patient theology of Hinduism. When you reach the end, you win by escaping the game and hence metaphorically escaping the world.

The feminine and masculine, the mother and child are opposites that create tension. Thinking outside the box necessitates a box outside of which to think.

—-

Let me stick with mythology and extend my thoughts.

The earliest known civilization was in Iraq where comes from the story of Gilgamesh. One thing that always stood out to me is that Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was originally a wild man. He only became ‘civilized’ through the wiles of a temple prostitute. That gives a new spin to the so-called oldest profession.

The feminine is a civilizing force. This is true in mythology, but some see it as being true in society in general. A book I’ve been perusing is about American violence (Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City by David T. Courtwright). The main reason given for the greater violence in the American South had to do with the cultures created during early immigration.

The Northern colonies (specifically New England and Pennsylvania) attracted whole families and even whole communities to immigrate as a group and settle together. So, they brought community and hence the social structures of civilization with them.

The Southern colonies tended to attract more single men. Also, much of the early Westward expansion into the frontier began in these Southern colonies, especially from Virginia. These settlers developed a very violent society of dueling and vigilante justice. It was a long time for religion to be established on the frontier because single men weren’t drawn to attend church.

A church or temple is a box, with or without temple prostitutes. Any structure of civilization is a box. All of civilization is a box… or else a set of boxes, some overlapping, others exclusive.

—-

The whole world itself is a box or rather a mansion with many rooms.

Any form and this world of form is archetypally feminine. Brahma’s power is infinite potential, but only Saraswati can give birth to form, each and every form, as she takes on that form and gives it substance, gives it life. The Gnostics, of course, would say this is Sophia who fell into the world. But that is the mythologically masculine view to see form as fallen, to see the world as a place of darkness and sin.

A paternalistic God rules from above, above us all, not with us. Was the Goddess fallen or was she cast out? If cast out, who did this? The ancient Israelites, like most ancient people, saw God and Goddess as married. Monotheism originated in Egypt, but the difference was that Egyptian monotheism was a part of a henotheistic tradition where (similar to Hindusim today) all deities weren’t always seen as clearly distinct, sometimes even as expressions of the same divinity.

I became particularly interested in the Egyptian religion when reading Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock. In a large section, she went into great detail about Isis. Isis worship was one of the most popular deities in Rome. Murdock argues that Isis was the precursor of Christian Mother Mary. Egyptian Meri means beloved which at first was an epithet for a God but over time became associated directly with Isis and may have become a name for her. The two words were often seen associated, both as Meri-Isis and Isis-Meri.

It was through Isis that this concept of beloved became widespread. Before that time, deities were worshipped with submission. A new type of love came to the forefront, a love of equals, the divine came down onto the level of humanity, the common folk even. The divine was no longer far away in heaven but here on earth (or, as Philip K. Dick would so charmingly describe it, “God in the garbage”). This was part of a long shift during the Axial Age which ended with religions such as Christianity.

—-

To return to the original topic of thinking outside the box, this brings up a number of thoughts.

First, what does the civilizing process mean on the personal level? As a male of the species, what does this mean in relation to the feminine and the maternal? If you feel like you are in no box, then does that mean you aren’t being contained, encompassed, embraced by the feminine/maternal? If you are or identify as a single male, can you internalize the stereotypical/archetypal feminine mode of social interrelationship without fear of loss of self, without fear of deadening conformity?

Second, what does this all mean in this age of complexity and in this world of multicultural globalism? There is no single society that encompasses any of us or necessarily even a single religion or single ethnicity. We find ourselves in many boxes which can create a possibly deceiving experience of being in no box. How do we recognize the box(es) we may be in? What does the possibility even mean to be in a box in an age of instability and uncertainty? Has the world fundamentally changed since the time the ancient mythologies were written?

I don’t know if this relates to Jude’s experience. But from my perspective, I feel like there are always boxes we are in. I feel very sensitized to that which contains us and structures our lives. I’ve wondered for a long time if it is possible to think outside of the box… or do we just jump out of one box and into another? Boxes are like stories. It seems like there is always a story being told, a story we are playing out in our heads, in our lives, and in our relationships. The box is a stage on which the story plays out.

—-

In his most recent comment, Jude tried to explain his view:

Yes, I also think the feminine is a civilizing force in as much as it is for understanding. The receptacle accepts and from that, “training”.

That’s why it is lateral thinking: the ability to think ACROSS boxes. Like the Ghanaian box, the American box, the science box etc.

For me, as a bona fide liminal, I do not respect boxes. On my own, I’m looking for truth, coherence, correspondence, relevance not social or contextual acceptability. To market to the world is a different thing: I need a box otherwise it makes no sense and it won’t be accepted.

My point is not that there are no boxes. I, me, do not recognize them

I say he tried to explain for I don’t know that I understand. I do at least understand the ability of thinking across boxes. That seems like a fair way of describing lateral thinking.

Even so, it still doesn’t get at my own view. There aren’t just boxes next to boxes. Rather, there are boxes within boxes within boxes, maybe all the way down or all the way up as the case may be.

—-

Here is what I see as the key difference.

Jude sees the boxes (worldviews, reality tunnels, etc) as external things, external to himself, separate from and not essential to his personal reality. But to me the most basic box is humanity collectively and our humanity individually. We can’t escape the box that we are (and, in his own way, Jude would agree with this general notion). More importantly, who we are is tied up with what the world is. We aren’t separate from the world. We can’t step outside of the world.

To be in liminal space says nothing about that space being outside a box. I suspect that misses the point of the liminal which is simply that you can’t be certain about where you are or aren’t, what you may or may not be within. The liminal as related to the Trickster is yet another archetypal/mythological box. It may be a more spacious and flexible box, but still a box. Every archetype is a box, shades and shapes the world accordingly.

What does it even mean to not recognize the ‘world’ you exist within? Does ‘reality’ care if you respect it? Where would the hypothetical non-box position be located that is objectively above all boxes, i.e., all subjective and intersubjective worldviews?

I’m not actually arguing that one can’t hypothetically get outside of all boxes. I’m not arguing for or against that because I’m not sure what it would mean. As a statement, it doesn’t seem to make ‘sense’. I might even argue that to make such a claim is to forfeit making sense… which is fine as far as that goes. Even if you could get outside of all boxes, it’s not clear to me how you would know this was true for you would have no context or persepctive to know anything for certain, much less communicate what you think you know.

When people speak of thinking outside of the box, I never got the sense that they meant thinking outside of all boxes, just thinking outside a specific box. To think outside all boxes would be the mythological correlate to the God of heaven being above and separate from the Goddess of earth. But like yin and yang, how can they be separate?

—-

None of this is intended to discredit Jude’s personal experience. I’m not holding myself above Jude in challenging his claim, but he is holding himself above the boxes of others, the boxes of the world. At times, I can also hold myself above certain other boxes. It just never occurred to me that it could be possible to hold myself above all boxes.

Jude’s perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, refusing to be part of the herd. Maybe it is wise to hold oneself above, at least in attitude. I do think when possible that it good to strive to be above average on the self-awareness scale. The problem is if you’re self-deluded you generally don’t recognize your own self-delusion. That is just human nature, for all of us.

I find myself being more of a Buddhist perspective of “no escape”. For Buddhists, there is no escape for the ego is essentially the one and only box. However, only the ego is likely to make any claims about not being in a box. Ken Wilber has noted that it is easy to fall into the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He emphasizes that the shift in human development is transcend and include, not transcend and exclude.

I’m pretty sure that like me Jude isn’t an Enlightened Master. It is as a normal ego-bound mortal that I wonder about his claim of being in no boxes. Still, I completely support Jude’s desire to not be trapped in any boxes. More power to him.

The Spirit and Spirits of the Season

The following is my response to Matt Cardin’s post, ‘This myth is realized today in us’: On the deep meaning of Christmas.

 * * *

I listened to an interview with Varla Ventura on Coast to Coast AM. She was discussing her book about Christmas stories and folklore.

Between Varla Ventura and the people calling in, it was an interesting show. I was familiar with some of what was brought up, but it’s easy to forget about the other side of Christmas and it is good to be reminded. Most of Christmas has little to do with Christianity. And a lot of the folklore of this time of the season is rather dark.

Our modern tradition of celebrating joyously is only half of the story. It’s the darkest time of the year, the time of short days and cold, when in the past there was little food available and many dangers. It’s when the sun stands still and spirits, ghosts and ghouls come out to haunt and torment. It’s a time of fear when those who have been bad are punished, when those who venture outside can come to untimely ends. And in America we forget about Santa’s not-so-friendly sidekick. (For example, read these from Varla Ventura: Beware the Scandinavian Christmas Troll & The Christmas Troll.)

Plus, there is all that cool stuff about Siberian shamans, magical mushrooms and flying reindeer. We forget the magical part of Christmas, the supernatural, the awe-inspiring unknown of the dark time of the year. Santa is the demi-god of the season, a manifestation of the divine; and his workers, his minions the elves exist behind the scenes of our reality doing whatever it is they do.

We celebrate as an act of sympathetic magic, hoping that the sun will rise again and warm days will be around the corner. When something ends, it isn’t known what will begin, in this case what the next year will be like. In making our New Year’s resolutions, we pray for good fortune that will be bestowed upon us, we ask that the forces beyond the human sphere will assist us instead of blocking and antagonizing us in our hopes and aspirations.

The Christmas celebration is ritual magick, an invocation of a seasonal spirit, a bringing down of the divine into this miserable earthly realm and an appeasing of the cthonic beings that live among us. We put out the milk and cookies so that the hungry elves and spirits will be sated. We sacrifice evergreen trees, a symbol of eternal life. We light up our houses to keep the darkness at bay and to ressurect the solar deity that has died, standing still on the solar cross. We tell stories of the newborn king who shall save us all who worship him. We give presents to celebrate the ideal and hope of goodwill, the archetype and spiritual force of bounty.

Even in our consumerism, we are practicing ritual magick. We buy and we give, the flow of money an act of faith in our society and our way of life. Most retail businesses make most of their money during the winter holidays. Some may see this as mere gross materialism. Yes, it is a celebration of material life, but there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that life is material, that the world we live in is material. The only thing to criticize is how often we forget the magical quality present in our stories and traditions, in our rituals and celebrations. There is real power in such collective actions and intentions when they are focused by ancient symbols and rites.

We collectively envision the world as a better place, envision ourselves as better people. We watch movies that teach us about lost souls learning the meaning of Christmas, the reason of the season. Even when we easily are overcome by anxiety and fear, greed even as shoppers compete and we spend money we should be saving, we do so because we feel a compulsion to ensure that everything is just right, to ensure the ritual is a success. Maybe once the family gets together there will be complaints and arguments, but it’s more important about what we strive to be. We put on our best clothes or our best faces and we try to get into the holiday mood… and the social expectations of it all may feel overwhelming. Still, we all play our part. Even many atheists and non-Christians join in the festivities. We may not know why it is important, but we know it is. That is the nature of traditions, especially those with deep religious significance.

To see it as a battle between baby Jesus and the Satanic forces of capitalism (God and Mammon) is to miss the point, so it seems to me. Christians, maybe more than anyone, too often miss the real Spirit of the Season.

Christianity is based on an ancient solar myth with Jesus as the solar god-man who has taken many forms. Darkness and light are like Yin and Yang. Jesus descends to Hell to save the damned before rising to Heaven. At this time of year, we focus so much on the birth of our savior that we forget that death precedes birth in the spiritual realm. It’s at the Winter Solstice that we are reminded that God as Jesus was born into this world, that spirituality isn’t just about being saved in the afterlife. It’s an opportunity to see God as being a force on earth and throughout mankind, among family and friends, among neighbors and communities. We manifest God by taking care of each other, by helping the poor, by giving freely. The Divine is here with us, all around us, the world alive with Spirit and spirits.

Where is early Christian history?

Here are a couple of papers that question what we think we know about early Christianity. It is fascinating. There are so many assumptions we make in trying to understand something. When these assumptions become shared beliefs of a society or of a field of study, a reality tunnel can form.

I don’t know if Jesus ever existed and I don’t know if even Christianity existed in the first century. It honestly doesn’t make much difference to me, but obviously it makes a big difference to many people and not just fundamentalist Christians. What interests me is both the questioning itself and the fact that we live in a time when people are free to question such things.

Anyway, here are the papers:

http://historyhuntersinternational.org/2010/10/08/the-gospels-according-to-hadrian-the-magic-wars-and-the-massiah/

http://historyhuntersinternational.org/2011/03/06/the-vacuum-of-evidence-for-pre-4th-century-christianity/

And here is part of the second paper:

Perhaps the most surprising discovery is somewhat akin to the famous Holmesian episode in which the dog didn’t bark in the night.

Not a single artefact of any medium – including textual – and dated reliably before the fourth century can be unambiguously identified as Christian. This is the most notable result of our archaeological survey of sites, inscriptions, libraries, collections and so on from the Indus River to the Nile and north to Britain.

Taking into account the vast volume of scholarly works claiming expert opinion for the exact opposite point of view, let me clarify terms.

There is, of course, much archaeology interpreted commonly as Christian. This does not contradict the bald statement above. The difference lies between data that spells out Christian clearly and unambiguously, and that which expert opinion claims to look as though it is Christian.

There are very many texts claimed to be Christian and composed before the fourth century, though the documents themselves are not dated to that early period. We have found no text before the fourth century which mentions either Jesus Christ, or the term ‘Christian’.

The earliest fragments and codex of the New Testament pre-date the fourth century, though nowhere in them have we found the key word Christ. Many biblical scholars claim that they do, but our visual inspection of them fails to find a single such usage of this term. We have been unable to find a single text transliterated correctly in this regard.

As there are gospels and other texts of a religious character, so there is archaeology for places of worship and many artefacts: none spell Christian. Claims that any are Christian are, in fact, a matter of opinion only and we disagree with all such opinions.

Six months ago, this was a tentative view and during this time, many scholars have been asked – challenged even – to provide evidence of a contradictory nature and other than largely silence, the response has been supportive of this view. We did receive a list of (well-known) sites and events purported as Christian, though not a single artefact.

This should not be understood as a claim that nothing was happening in these three centuries that can be related to the appearance of Christianity in the fourth century. The archaeology that can be associated most-closely with Christianity is for the name Chrest, a magical Jesus Chrest and for ‘Servants of Jesus’. We have termed these chrestic. In ancient Greek, the pronunciation of both terms – Christ and Chrest –  is identical as far as is known today and this acutely interesting and fortuitous linguistic circumstance facilitated the re-working of textual artefacts as well as recasting the entire context of the original theurgy related to the cult.

As Chrest was expunged from the New Testament and replaced with Christ, so the possibility arises that following the prosecution of chrestic followers by Diocletian – mis-termed commonly ‘The Great Persecution’ of Christians – the chrestic archaeology record was wiped clean generally as far as possible.

The War on Democracy: a personal response

I wrote in my previous post about democracy, specifically the war on democracy. Both that post and this post are a continuation of my thoughts in my other recent posts: Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?, Political Labels – Meaningless? Divisive?, and Bashing My Head Against a Brick Wall: Love of Truth or Masochism?. The war on democracy is, in the final conclusion, a war on liberalism. Conservatives are often unwilling to acknowledge that America is a democracy at all. They think by denying the word they can make the reality go away.

I’ve been trying to grapple with the issue of ideologies and labels which can irritate me immensely at times. As a liberal, I often feel misunderstood living in a country where conservatism is portrayed as the norm, although the polling data seems to show that Americans are way more liberal than most mainstream pundits and politicians would prefer. To be a radically idealistic, freedom-loving, bleeding-heart liberal is to be forever discontented with the status quo of established power and authority, forever discontented with the forgetting of history’s horrors which leads to its repeating.

– – –

In my above mentioned previous post, I offered a simple answer to a problem often made complex by ideological debates and rhetoric. By offering that simple conclusion, I was questioning whether the problem actually was complex at all. Those with complex answers will seek to make the problem appear more complex than it is. As such, I was hoping to find the heart of the issue.

My basic point, in that previous post, was that democracy is more about people than politics, more about how humans can relate well to each other on the largescale of society. My suggestion was that, if we actually care about seeking solutions, we should begin with caring about people. Either you care about others or not. It’s that simple.

I’d also add that to the degree that you care about ideology (personal beliefs, political systems, religious dogmas, ethnocentric groupthink, etc) is the degree to which you don’t care about people. When we see people in terms of their place within society, as labels and categories, social roles and demographic data, as voters and citizens… when we see people as mere ‘other’, as strangers and foreigners, as objects and resources… when we see people as as ‘us’ vs ‘them’, as workers or unemployed, as rich or poor, as their religion or skin color, as part of or excluded from some group… when we do this, people become less in our eyes (and in our hearts). We lose our own humanity when we embrace labels and categories. And that is a very sad way to live one’s life.

This isn’t to say all labels and categories are always negative. They serve a function. In and of themselves, they are value neutral. However, labels and categories (when used without awareness and understanding) can easily lead to seeing the world through the filter of biases and preconceptions. This is how prejudice functions. Labels and categories are only dangerous when they are used in defense of an ideological worldview, a dogmatic reality tunnel.

– – –

In the rest of this post, I will continue some of those thoughts but in the context of more personal experience and feelings, along with some complaints, questions and ponderings of a less personal nature.

I acknowledge that everything I have written applies to myself as well. I’m all too aware of that fact. I know that I don’t live up to my own hopes and ideals. I often feel the attraction of what is offered by ideological righteousness, by ideological labels and categories. I feel weak in my sense of self and in my experience of the world. I feel weak because I feel isolated, because I feel disempowered and disenfranchised. I don’t feel part of a community, that my life is integrally significant to the life of those I interact with on a daily basis. Even so, it may be true that I’m more rooted to the place I live in than many people (which, if true, is a sad statement about the lives of many people). I love this town where friends and family live, where I’ve spent much of my life (although with many intermittent years spent living elsewhere). But I always feel a bit disconnected, a blurring of the edges between myself and the world around me.

Modern life makes it more difficult to deeply connect (which causes many people to cling even more to artificial group identities). We have busy lives, each person isolated in their respective activities and goals. So many people spend their entire lives moving around from place to place… chasing careers, chasing dreams… seeking to escape the sense of dissatisfaction and unease that haunts the modern soul. I’m as much a product of the modern world as anyone else. I grew up in a family that moved on a fairly regular basis… and following that I moved around for a number of years.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to find a community to be a part of. I choose to live in this town where I’m surrounded by memories, a place that feels like home. During a period of my life, I sought to find my niche in this community. I went to many churches and found one I liked to an extent. I socialized and volunteered. I found people I connected with and made some new friends. But in the end the effort was too taxing for an introvert like me. It takes a lot of effort to try to create, almost ex nihil, a sense of community in the modern world. This town, for example, is a college town. It’s probably a majority of the population that either attends or works for the university and the university hospital. It’s a very transient population with very few people who were born here and lived their entire lives here. In a place like this, people come and go.

My life isn’t unusual and the town I live in isn’t atypical. Most cities in urban and suburban areas are to varying degrees like this town. Most people live in larger cities with transient populations and most people have moved a number of times in their lives. It’s just the social norm of modern life and of American society.

– – –

This is the challenge we face.

Most of the evolution of the human species happened prior to modern society and so human nature isn’t designed to work optimally in large societies with concentrated populations. Well, to be more accurate, the problem didn’t just begin with modernism for the world we live in is merely the outgrowth of the first civilizations. The Axial Age religions were a response to the early urbanization of human society… which was when the human species first had to deal with the conflicts of cultural diversity, with the disintegration of traditional lifestyles, with challenges to ancient religious authority.

The reason Buddha and Jesus preached universal love and forgiveness,  unreserved acceptance and compassion for all (even strangers, even criminals, even prostitutes… heck, even the rich) is because the rise of civilization was stretching the limits of human nature. Humans are mostly just capable of identifying with and sympathizing with a very small group of people who they know intimately. In many ways, this is as true today as it was millennia ago.

However, humans didn’t stop evolving after civilization began. If anything, evolution quickened because civilization allowed the simultaneous mixing of diverse genetics and the concentrating of certain genetics. We can see the results of this today with the fact that liberals tend to gravitate toward cities and conservatives tend to gravitate toward rural areas. There is a theory that liberalism is a newer trait in human evolution which intuitively makes sense to me and which seems to accord with some data I’m familiar with.

A major difference between conservatives and liberals, as shown in psychological research, is that: (1) the former tends to respond with fear and disgust when faced with the new and different, the unusual and foreign (one particular study showed conservatives feeling disgust toward rotten fruit which, from a liberal perspective, seems like an oddly strong response toward such a harmless object); and (2) the latter is more open to new experiences, new ideas, new possibilities and, as such, more sympathetic to the plights of those perceived as being outside of the norms and standards of any given society (strangers, foreigners, criminals, drug addicts, the poor, and the homeless; those who challenge authority figures, those who don’t submit to traditional rules of behavior, those who are ostracized, and those who are considered to be at fault for their own problems).

There is nothing wrong with the conservative attitude in and of itself. In a traditional society, such an attitude was beneficial and even necessary. But such an attitude, by itself or in aggressive opposition, doesn’t serve us well in a global society and we presently have no choice but to live in a global society, unless someone wishes to either seek the destruction of civilization or else colonize space. Even the few remaining isolated indigenous people can’t avoid the effects of modern society in that they are forced to drink water and breathe air that has become polluted, forced to depend on food sources that become increasingly scarce, forced to deal with new and deadly diseases introduced by foreigners, and are forced to constantly retreat from encroaching poachers, loggers, farmers, miners, missionaries, soldiers, bureaucrats, and others.

All humans (of all persuasions, in all places) are forced to adapt to a changing world. There is no conservative paradise where everything is frozen in some idyllic moment in time.

The Axial Age prophets like Jesus preached an essentially liberal vision, and radically liberal at that. Jesus was a leftwing loon of his era. The Axial Age prophets taught that we should treat all others as we would want to be treated; that we shouldn’t judge others according to ethnocentrism, class divisions, and other social norms; that one’s spiritual family was more important than one’s traditional nuclear family (that the water of baptismal rebirth was stronger than blood). The liberal ideals of egalitarianism and compassion (i.e., bleeding heart liberalism) are at the core of all civilization because only such ideals can counteract the negative side effects of building a civilization. Unless civilization collapses and we return to small traditional communities, we will have to come to terms with these liberal ideals.

– – –

This isn’t about liberal ideology defeating conservative ideology. I’m not saying conservatism doesn’t have it’s place, but I am saying that liberalism is increasingly necessary.

Even conservatives today are more ‘liberal’ than conservatives a few centuries ago. It’s all relative. Conservativism and liberalism exist on a spectrum which is always shifting. Conflict is only perceived when the middle of the spectrum is ignored and when history is ignored. The liberalism of one era becomes the conservatism of the next era. This is particularly confusing for American society. As Gunnar Myrdal explained, “America is conservative in fundamental principles… but the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.”

American conservatives may be an extreme example, but they may not be highly unusual. Jesus challenged the conservatives of his day (the social norms, the political status quo, the traditional religiosity of Judaism, etc) and yet has been embraced by the conservatives of later generations. Once Jesus was dead, he was safe for being turned into an idol, sterilized of radicalism. Similarly, classical liberalism is safe for conservatives today because it’s an ideology from the past, i.e., a dead ideology. A liberal ideal or vision, if successful, eventually becomes a set of dogmatic beliefs or other ideological system. Once that happens, liberals leave it behind and conservatives will then defend it (as a defense against the next new thing that liberals seek out). As such, every conservative principle began as a liberal ideal because every tradition began as a challenge to a former tradition.

Liberalism ultimately isn’t ideological because ideology closes down the mind which is the opposite of the liberal impulse. Liberalism is the impulse toward ever greater inclusion, acceptance, and openness. This liberal vision is idealistic but it isn’t ideology. Jesus wasn’t preaching politics. In fact, Jesus put no faith in politics whatsoever.

Maybe this is why liberal ideals can be placed in the context of any ideology, including conservative ideologies. The liberal impulse, by nature, will seek to expand any ideology to be ever more inclusive. Even the most righteously dogmatic Christian fundamentalism can’t entirely obscure the radical vision contained in Jesus’ own words and actions. Christians, no matter their ideology, can be inspired by these ideals. Liberals don’t own these ideals. This liberal vision isn’t liberal ideology. Liberalism, as a general concept, is defined ‘liberally’ because liberalism is expansive, ever reaching beyond divisions, reaching even beyond the status quo of liberal ideology. There is no and can be no definitive explanation of what liberalism is in specific terms for liberalism challenges limiting definitions, all definitions being limiting to some degree. The moment a liberal vision becomes an ideology it becomes less liberal, i.e., more conservative (to defend an ideology is to seek to ‘conserve’ that ideology).

That is the power of the liberal vision which is an inclusive vision, aspiring toward inclusion of all people even conservatives. It’s the same as Jesus preaching a universal message that applied to all people, even those who weren’t his followers, even those who actively opposed him (i.e., forgiving one’s enemies). There is no greater, no more radical vision of liberalism than this. And the most radical liberal vision of all is anarchism, both political and epistemological anarchism, because this is the extreme endpoint of the liberal desire for liberation, for liberty. Jesus’ refusal to acknowledge any earthly authority was a form of anarchism.

In the larger sphere of society, this liberal vision is basically the same as what is called ‘social democracy’. You can make it complicated with theory and with specialized terminology, but the ideals of freedom and egalitarianism are very simple. Even a child can understand these ideals. Even a child wants to be treated fairly. Children tend to be natural liberals because everyone is born with an openness to experience, a desire to explore, an endless curiosity. A child is just being a good liberal when he endlessly asks, ‘Why?’ And, when given an answer, asks ‘Why?’ again.

– – –

It might seem like I’m getting a bit abstract or speculative here, but this relates to the personal for me.

I’m someone with a liberal predisposition. I feel strongly and I empathize easily. I care about others, even random strangers on the street or in the news. I’m a bleeding heart liberal. I don’t want to live in a society of blame, of ‘us’ vs ‘them’. I intellectually can understand that those with conservative predispositions are less likely to see the world this way, but in my heart I can’t understand.

From my (biased) perspective, liberal values seem to be the only way we will avoid collective self-destruction. Sure, if civilization collapses, the human species can return to it’s conservative roots. But I would hope that even conservatives aren’t seeking the destruction of civilization merely because it would benefit the predominance of the conservative worldview. It’s true that, during times of societal conflict and violence, the conservative worldview becomes persuasive and hence popular. However, any conservative who promotes a vision of conflict or incites violence in order to achieve this end has become cynical to the point of utter moral depravity. I hope most conservatives are above such realpolitik games of hatred and fear.

Also, I’d like to believe that empathy and compassion aren’t merely liberal values. Everyone has some capacity for empathy and compassion… well, everyone except psycopaths. It’s not that conservatives are heartless, but research has shown that conservatism as a trait predisposes one to have less capacity for empathy and compassion (relative to liberalism as a trait)… or rather they have a more limited, narrow focus of their empathy and compassion, less empathy and compassion for those not perceived as part of their group. But are these attitudes inevitable and predetermined? Are people just born one way or another?

The question is whether people, all people, have the potential to develop more empathy and compassion. If we are fatalistically determined by our genetics and our early upbringing, then maybe our only or best hope is that there will be an evolutionary leap. The problem is we can’t exactly plan for and depend on an evolutionary leap happening. But how else will change happen in society unless some fundamental transformation happens within human nature? Isn’t such a radical transformation what was being envisioned, even prophesied by some, during the Axial Age? Is there a way that we as a human species can manifest on a global level our potential for empathy and compassion? Is Jesus’ inspiring message of love a real potential or merely an empty dream? Isn’t there a way conservatives can maintain their conservative values while also stretching the comfort zone of their ability to empathize and be compassionate toward others, especially those different than them?

The conservative impulse is to identify with their group, their religion, their tradition, their culture, their ethnicitiy, their nation, etc. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but I’d like to believe that this group identity can be expanded to include all humans. But do we have to wait for an alien invasion before we have an enemy ‘other’ that will force all humans to identify as a collective humanity with a collective fate?

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This is the problem I face.

I can, like Jesus, preach about love and compassion. But, as a liberal, I’ll mostly be preaching to the choir.

Is there a way to translate liberal values into conservative terms? Is there a way to translate conservative values into a larger and more inclusive global context? I don’t want to blame conservatives any more than I want to blame the rich. I don’t want to blame anyone, to exclude certain people or groups (because they are different, because they don’t conform to my values, because they don’t agree with my ideology). However, what am I to do if, as a liberal, conservatives want to blame and exclude me? And what am I to do if, as a working class person, the rich want to blame and exclude me? How does one persuade others toward an inclusive vision if their own vision opposes it? If someone doesn’t care about the poor living in slums or oppressed people living in developing countries, I can’t force them to care. I have a hard enough time convincing myself to care and not give into cynicism.

I hate this situation. It’s the eternal conundrum of being a liberal, the desire for universal values that transcend mere ideology… while, no matter what liberals desire, conservatives will still just see it as liberal ideology for the lense through which conservatives see everything is ideology. Liberals are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The desire to include those who desire to exclude you. The desire to treat others fairly and equally who don’t desire to return the favor. The desire to compromise with those who see compromise as moral weakness and failure. The desire for compassion even of those who choose prejudice and blame. Between openness and conformity, between idealism and ideology, why is it so often the latter that wins? I realize Jesus said my reward would be in heaven, but it would be nice to see a bit of heaven on earth.

I just don’t understand. Why are empathy and compassion often perceived by many as almost entirely exclusive traits of bleeding heart liberals? Why is unreservedly caring about others deemed to be a mere liberal agenda? And why do conservatives believe unreservedly caring about others will destroy society? Aren’t empathy and compassion traits found in all normal (i.e., psychologically healthy) people?

How can any ideology (whether religious, political or economic) be seen as trumping the basic human value of caring about others? How can conservative Christians continue to ignore Jesus’ message of love which, according to Jesus himself, trumps the oppressive Old Testament laws of hatred and divisiveness, of fear and vindictiveness, of blame and guilt, of retribution and scapegoating? Jesus never asked if the blind or sick person had the money to pay for being healed, never asked if people were deserving before he fed them, never asked if someone was to blame before dispelling the demons that were possessing them. Jesus simply acted compassionately in response to suffering. Jesus wasn’t acting according to ideology. Jesus wasn’t preaching about meritocracy or a free market, wasn’t preaching about constitutional republics or political revolutions, wasn’t preaching about traditional values and norms.

Why aren’t there bleeding heart conservatives? Why do compassionate conservatives seem lacking in compassion toward anyone who doesn’t conform to their own ideological agenda? And, when conservatives do help those in need, why is their attitude typically that of condescension and superiority as if the needy person should feel lucky that the well off conservative didn’t leave them to starve to death or to freeze alone under a bridge? Yes, I’m speaking of the extreme variety of conservatives, but I speak of them because this is also the extremely vocal variety of conservatives who vocally defend conservatism.

If we as a society are going to ignore Jesus’ radical message of love, then we should stop calling ourselves a Christian nation (not that Jesus would approve of nationalism in any form, especially not in his name). If being a Christian nation wasn’t mere ethnocentric nationalism and instead meant being a nation of love and forgiveness, a nation of acceptance and inclusion, a nation of helping the poor and needy, then maybe I (along with many liberals, atheists, and non-Christians) wouldn’t take such issue with this prideful labeling of America.

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It’s become increasingly clear, with events over the past decade, how interconnected is the global society. What one person, one group, one corporation, or one government does, effects people all over the world. We can’t continue to live pretending we are independent and isolated. We benefit and suffer because of the choices made by others. No one succeeds or fails simply based on their personal merits.

Poverty exists despite there being plenty of wealth in the world to allow everyone to live a decent life. Homelessness exists despite the resources being available to provide everyone basic shelter. Starvation exists despite there being enough food to feed everyone in the world. Many diseases continue to exist and proliferate despite there being known cures. The amount of money that the US government alone spends on international meddling (wars, military bases, CIA, propaganda programs, etc) probably would be enough to build schools, hospitals, health care clinics, and food banks in every city in the world. Most of the oppression and suffering in the world exists because of decisions made by other people, usually not by those who are oppressed and suffer. People born into poverty, homelessness, and hunger don’t deserve those conditions because of some personal failure. People living in war zones aren’t responsible for nations fighting over the resources that happen to exist in the ground beneath their homes. People born black in America aren’t to be blamed for the history of prejudice which is still being imposed upon them.

What we choose to do (what we buy, how we vote, who we donate to) or what we choose not to do (injustices we ignore, prejudices we accept, suffering we don’t seek to end) isn’t just a personal choice. Every action is public because the results of our actions are collective. We are forced to be responsible for each other, whether or not we accept that responsibility. If we walk past someone who is homeless or hungry, they remain homeless or hungry because we choose to allow such conditions to continue. We may not consciously realize we’ve made a decision, but that doesn’t change the fact that a decision was made.

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I’m complicit in all of these failings and problems. That is what pisses me off.

I want to live in a society of people who care. I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. It’s been said that we need to be the change we want to see. But I can’t get rid of the feeling that all actions seem futile, that nothing is ever going to change for the good. Despite all the superficial progress, the world just keeps getting worse in so many ways.

I’ve nearly lost all hope for the future, all faith in humanity. Part of me still wants to care and yet another part of me wants to give up. I just don’t know. What is the point? Change seems potentially so easy in that there is nothing stopping change besides ourselves (“We have met the enemy and he is us”). We are individually of no significance, but collectively almost anything is possible. The problem is that collective action too often is fueled by ignorance and fear-mongering, propaganda and herd mentality.

It may be true that, “United we stand, divided we fall.” But, even if united, are we united in anything worthy?

As someone raised as a Christian, how do I live up to Jesus’ radical vision?

As an American, how do I live up to Thomas Paine’s radical vision?

What can any of us do about such radical visions? What is the practical value of such inspiring idealism?