American Liberalism & the Occult

I just watched this video about American liberalism having some origins in the occult. It reminds me of some passages from books I was recently reading (the passages are below the video).

American history is a lot more interesting than they teach in school. By the way, the guy in the video seems to be partly talking about America’s Great Awakenings. America has always been a country of religious experimentation. The deism of many of the founding father is an example of this (such as Thomas Paine writing and speaking about deism, atheism and Jesus being based on solar mythology).

What interests me the most is the time period in question is America’s Third Great Awakening which includes the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Populist Era… which set the stage for the Progressive Era. The book passages below are about the Populist Era when this Third Great Awakening became fully manifest as a movement.

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Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5292-5356). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

As the secretary of the People’s party in Grimes County, Texas, John W. H. Davis devoted his public energies to enacting the Populist agenda of economic, financial, and political reform. In his private contemplations, however, these reforms were closely intertwined with questions of faith. He understood that religion as practiced was “dead.” Christianity ignored the here and now with its misplaced focus on “your dead carcass after death.” Yes, Davis conceded, a “pure undefiled Christianity,” combined with an honest ballot, would bring the necessary improvements. But he was troubled by the question of whether such a secular brotherhood could still be called Christianity at all. In search for answers he turned to non-Christian beliefs. He read across a range of spiritualist and other metaphysical literature, and carefully clipped and filed in his personal papers Charles C. Post’s article about the evolution of man, apes, and the irrationality of belief in God. For Davis, it made no sense to have “a political hell on earth” and a “religious heaven by the same person.” He searched for a unified vision of spiritual and material progress. The study of “mental science” was of a piece with his investigations into census data and national legislation, inseparable parts of a single quest for human improvement.59

Davis understood the controversial nature of his religious views and kept his studies of “mental science” to himself. Because of efforts to avoid public discord, it is difficult to quantify the number of Populists who believed in spiritualism, “mental science,” or similar metaphysical systems. The task is even more complex given that many other Americans—from faithful Christians to skeptical agnostics—entertained curiosity about communicating with the spirits of the dead and other metaphysical practices. In Texas, among the signs that the Populists showed interest in their movement, the Southern Mercury extended sympathy toward the spiritualists in the face of ostracism by “religious fanatics.” Texas spiritualist associations, although small in number, only organized in districts that also happened to be Populist strongholds. The impoverished cotton farmers of Davis’s Grimes County, for example, sustained a spiritualist organization with twenty-nine official members.60

The most prominent spiritualist in Texas, Eben LaFayette Dohoney, ran as the People’s party candidate for a state judgeship. Dohoney was also one of the leading prohibitionists in the state. Although most Populists sympathized with the temperance movement, the Texas People’s party preferred “local option” restrictions on alcohol sales rather than alienating German and other voters. This tolerant gesture was largely undone in the public mind by placing Dohoney on the Populist ticket as he was well-known for his strident prohibitionist views. The spiritualists did not view alcohol abuse as a sin, the work of the devil, or a ticket to eternal damnation. But it did threaten public health. And the spiritualists’ commitment to health and fitness made them uncompromising foes of the liquor industry.61

The tangible connections between spiritual reform, health reform, and social reform brought spiritualists into the Populist ranks. The spiritualists did not confine their attention to the séance. Their belief in progress—the “continuous progressive unfoldment” of the human condition—translated into social activism. A number of spiritualists embraced an “evolutionary revolution” toward the cooperative commonwealth. The spiritualist newspaper Carrier Dove popularized legislation making the federal government responsible for financing and regulating cooperative corporations “under comprehensive and uniform laws.” Although less specific than Charles Macune’s subtreasury plan, the proposal was premised on the same state-centered and cooperativist assumptions.62

The spiritualists rejected the framework of Christianity in favor of what they understood as a scientific outlook. Like the Swedenborgians, the spiritualists used the language of modern science and based their claims on empirical evidence rather than emotion or doctrine. They viewed the discovery of the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead as a confirmation of reason and science in the struggle against the mysterious and supernatural, just as the harnessing of electricity confirmed the scientific age. Although spiritualism bore the brunt of intense hostility from the churches and the pious, it had a considerable public presence in late nineteenth-century life. Like other cultural movements of the era, the spiritualists made extensive use of the camp meeting. Crowds five thousand to ten thousand strong gathered under spiritualist tents to hear the speeches of famous mediums. Although some of the participants were city people enjoying a rural retreat, the movement had a broad rural following. The annual camp meetings of the Mississippi Valley Spiritualists Association lasted for a month and drew thousands of participants from Texas, Minnesota, and everywhere in between.63

Spiritualism provided an attractive alternative for women. The Christian churches, with their ordained clergy and scriptural proscriptions, placed obstacles to women’s expression and equality. “Spiritualism,” its practitioners stressed, “has no oracles, no priests, no leaders. The truth, wherever found, is all it seeks.” Women thus found opportunities as trance mediums and truth seekers. Victoria Woodhull, the best-known spiritualist of the 1870s, connected spiritualism in the public mind with free love and challenges to traditional gender roles. Although most spiritualists distanced themselves from Woodhull’s free love ideas, they campaigned for women’s progress, advocating dress and dietary reform, job protection, career opportunities, and the right to vote. The spiritualists played a prominent role in the national suffrage movement, and in California the trance medium Laura de Force Gordon led the state suffrage association.64

Given their ideas about reform, spiritualists often made good Populists. The editor Annie Diggs, the silver crusader George Bowen, and the novelist Hamlin Garland were among other prominent midwestern Populists involved with spiritualism. James Vincent Sr., father of the Vincent brothers, popularized spiritualist ideas in the pages of the Nonconformist. His wife had been a spiritualist, and after her death he grew dissatisfied with religious interpretations of the afterlife. “While for myself I have no faith in the teachings of the bible,” he conceded, “I cannot deny the doctrine of immortality.” He found the solution to otherwise unexplainable phenomena in spiritualism, which provided empirical proof that “the mind is active everywhere.” Only the scientific methods of the séance allowed for the perception of this electricity-like force.65

Spiritualism played a large role in California Populism. Marion Cannon, exercising his authority as president of the state Farmer’s Alliance, pointedly ruled against a candidate for membership who did not believe in a supreme being. This ruling, however, served to allay public fears, as both the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s party in California owed a great deal to spiritualism and related movements that flourished in the state’s climate of religious tolerance and experimentation. Here it should be kept in mind that much of the California movement had a nonreligious character, marked more by a casual drift from religious concerns than commitment to alternative beliefs. Cannon himself showed disinterest in spiritual matters, and although his wife was a committed church member, the church was one of the few organizations in which he did not take part. At the same time, a section of the reform movement in California embraced non-Christian beliefs in which a supreme being played an ambiguous part or no part at all.66

The spiritualist colony at Summerland, south of Santa Barbara, served as an organizing center for Populism. James S. Barbee, a Confederate veteran authorized by the national Farmers’ Alliance to organize on the West Coast, was closely tied to Summerland and, with the assistance of Alliance organizer Anna Ferry Smith, made it a base of statewide organizing. Burdette Cornell, a recent arrival from the Midwest known by the Populists as “our Nebraska Farm Boy,” served as the secretary of the Summerland Spiritualist Association. He traveled extensively throughout the state as a Farmers’ Alliance organizer, setting up suballiances in remote rural districts. A spiritualist cadre, which included prominent women activists such as Mary A. White and Addie Ballou, similarly helped build the Nationalist clubs and the People’s party in California.67

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Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5357-5398). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Besides the spiritualists, adherents of the related belief system known as Theosophy were similarly attracted to Populism. Theosophists also approached spirituality from the modern standpoint of rational inquiry and scientific validation. However, instead of focusing on communication with the dead, they studied what they viewed as the advanced ideas of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Asian belief systems. They also explored magic and the mystical, not out of belief in the supernatural, but in pursuit of “occult science,” that is, rational and scientific explanations for unexplained psychic phenomena. Founded by the Russian émigré Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Theosophist movement, with headquarters in Madras, India, established branches in forty-two countries, with more than one hundred American chapters. Its followers tended to be in self-conscious revolt against the confines of traditional belief, and saw themselves as innovators on the cutting edge of a new, modern, and scientific world outlook. Their British counterparts, historian Alex Owen writes, pursued “a thoroughly modern project” with “distinctively avant-garde themes and preoccupations.” The same pursuit brought American Theosophists to Populist reform.68

Inspired by Buddhist and related ideas about the unity of life, Theosophists came to similar conclusions as the social Christians about human solidarity and social reform. They found the doctrines of Bellamy’s Nationalism especially attractive. Although Edward Bellamy himself was a social Christian, several of his closest associates, including Cyrus Field Willard, Sylvester Baxter, and other founders of Nationalism were Theosophists. In California, the Theosophists played a major role in organizing Nationalist clubs up and down the state. The influence of “occult science” spread well beyond the organized Theosophist societies, as occult lecturers and practitioners formed part of the bohemian subculture of reform. The caustically skeptical and atheistic Anna Fader Haskell found their ideas “rather absurd.” Yet, much to her chagrin, her husband Burnette had a long-standing interest in magic and named their son after the mystical Chaldaic god Astoroth.69

Mystical religion remained in the shadows of the Populist movement. It had its moment of national attention, however, with Coxey’s Army and the prominent role played by Jacob Coxey’s coleader of the march, Carl Browne. During the 1870s, Browne had served as secretary to Denis Kearney in the California Workingmen’s party agitation for Chinese exclusion. He later joined the Theosophists, who, ironically, provided some of the clearest voices on the West Coast in favor of racial tolerance. In 1893 he met Jacob Coxey, the Ohio Populist. The Californian introduced the Ohioan to both Theosophy and to the idea of organizing “Industrial Armies” as a means to bring the plight of the unemployed to public attention. The result was the famous march on Washington. Along the way, they mixed their campaign for a “good roads bill” with Theosophist teachings about Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and immortality.

Coxey and Browne dubbed their march “The Commonweal of Christ,” and announced to crowds of spectators that their march was a manifestation of the reincarnation of Jesus and other spiritual masters. This left many observers perplexed. The official chronicler of the march, Henry Vincent, received an inquiry as to what precisely was the nature of Coxey’s religious views. To this he replied that, as far as he understood it, Coxey’s religion “was to uplift humanity, relieve the oppressed and ‘let my people go free.’” As for Coxey’s church, Vincent described it as “the big one,” which “takes in all humanity irrespective of sect divisions.” Such an explanation made sense given the liberal and inclusive environment of Populist religiosity.70

Adherents of Theosophy saw themselves as the vanguard of a global unification of religious beliefs. They represented a small part of a much broader late nineteenth-century enthusiasm in America to learn from non-Christian belief systems. The wave of interest culminated in the 1893 World Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. The organizer of the event, John Henry Barrows, a liberal theologian and minister of Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, promoted the Parliament as “the most phenomenal fact of the Columbian Exposition.” The Parliament drew over 150,000 people from across the nation and the globe to its sessions. Reform-minded participants welcomed the opportunity to learn “what God has wrought through Buddha and Zoroaster.” They saw the event as a turning point in the quest for understanding the universal “religion of humanity” and “science of religion.” The nation’s newspapers carried detailed reports. In North Carolina, the front-page headline of the Populist Caucasian saluted the “Unique Assembly” and provided its rural readers with an account of how the followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and “all religions” sought unity on the basis of “the golden rule.”71

Such liberal religious sentiments expressed in rural Populist newspapers help explain the clash over comparative religion in Dayton, Tennessee, so many years later. At the Scopes trial, Darrow queried Bryan about what he knew of Buddha and Zoroaster, of which Bryan claimed to have little familiarity. Darrow’s purpose in this line of questioning was not to ridicule Bryan for his ignorance of obscure subjects. Rather, he grilled Bryan about the existence of other belief systems for the same reason

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Lears, Jackson (2009). Rebirth of a Nation (Kindle Locations 4567-4607). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Despite the prominence of progressive cliché, the vitalist celebration of spontaneity did lead to a new, more fluid style of thought—a distrust of static formulas and unchanging traditions, a fascination with energy, growth, and process; a willingness to lay “hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency,” as John Dewey wrote in “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” (1910), and recast truth-claims in more dynamic idioms. One can see this antiformalist tendency in everything from Holmes’s influential slogan about “the life of the law” (it “has not been logic; it has been experience”) to Dewey’s ideal school, whose aim was “not learning, but first living,” as a follower said in 1910, “and then learning through and in relation to this living.” Antiformalist urges energized the pragmatic turn in American philosophy, the insistence that ideas be evaluated with respect to their actual consequences in everyday life. Pragmatism was conceived by Charles Peirce, nurtured to adulthood by William James, and applied to politics and society by Dewey. It was the most influential philosophical consequence of the quest for immediate experience. The long-term results were anticlimactic. Among Dewey’s epigones, pragmatism never entirely escaped the utilitarian cast of mind; the pragmatic criterion of truth became “what works” and education for living became vocational training.

Yet the vitalist impulse itself had larger than utilitarian implications. Its significance, like its origin, was religious. It lay at the heart of a broad revolt against positivism, a rejection of a barren universe governed by inexorable laws, where everything was measurable and nothing mysterious. The real problem for many vitalists (and certainly for James) was the specter of a life (and death) without meaning. It is possible to see all the talk about “life” as a way of whistling past the graveyard of traditional Christianity. But the vitalist ferment was also a genuine attempt to explore new meanings for human existence amid the wreckage of collapsing dualities: body and soul, matter and spirit, this world and the next.

Educated Protestants, dissatisfied with desiccated theology, cast about for vital conceptions of cosmic meaning. Many explored medieval Catholic mysticism as an alternative to the banalities of the typical Sunday sermon, the sort of platitudes uttered by Henry Ward Beecher and other ministers who reduced the Protestant ethic to a mere prescription for worldly success. Buddhism and other Asian religions—discovered, imagined, and synthesized—also began to play a role in focusing popular longings. Vedanta, popularized at the Chicago World’s Fair and after by Swami Vivekenanda, and theosophy, preached by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were both synthetic expressions of spiritual ferment. Paul Carus founded the magazine Open Court to carry forward the work of the World’s Parliament of Religions, begun at the Chicago Fair, to create a common ground of ecumenical discussion, which might lead to a new synthesis—a “Religion of the Future” that might appeal to believer and skeptic alike.

The results were mixed. Contributors to Open Court asked questions like “What is Life?” and then stumbled about in a soupy haze of abstractions. “The truth is, there are, as there must be, original factors in the world…and life (or chemical activity and appetency) is like gravity, one of them,” William Salter announced in 1901. “If we wish to account for them, we have to go back to the maker of all things (if there is a Maker) not to any of the things that are made.” One thing was certain: “The only salvation for society as for the individual, is from within—it is more life.” The reverence for “life” could overcome death itself. “Who knows but that that greater death which sooner or later overtakes us all…starts energies into play deeper than we had known before—that it is the death of the body, and freedom, new birth, to the soul?’

The desire for regeneration led to death’s door and beyond. Yearnings for empirical proof of an afterlife and for communication with departed loved ones accelerated the appeal of spiritualism. Here was another example of fascination with invisible force, impossible to see but unmistakable (to believers) in its consequences—tables rising from the floor, sepulchral voices, mysterious music. Even William James was intrigued. While he remained skeptical of sweaty séances in darkened rooms, he joined the American Society for Psychical Research, providing legitimacy to the quest for connection with “discarnate spirits.” His interest in spiritualism reflected his openness to all manner of evidence, no matter how bizarre or apparently inexplicable—his radical empiricism, as he called it.

Radical empiricism was the most profound intellectual consequence of the vitalist impulse. It animated James’s attempt to imagine “a world of pure experience,” a “blooming buzzing confusion” of perceptions from which we select and fashion our concepts. It validated his (and his contemporaries’) probing of religious experiences and other extreme psychic states, explorations that underscored the revelatory power of the “unclassified residuum” in mental life and the tentative, provisional character of scientific claims about it. Here and elsewhere, James stood in the midst of the transatlantic maelstrom that became

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New Age: Part 2

New Age: Part 2

Posted on Jul 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

In Unity, Jesus isn’t superior to us.  We don’t need to give the right answer or win his approval in order to be saved.  This is because our salvation isn’t in his hands.  He just shows the way.
In Unity, access to Heaven isn’t limited to those who follow Christ (ie Universalism).  But it depends on what is meant by “Christ” and “follow”.  Christ has two meanings in New Thought: (1) Jesus Christ the Wayshowher, and (2) Christ Consciousness.  New Thought Christianity is non-exclusive.  Most New Thought practitioners probably see Christ Consciousness in all religions.  The language used isn’t important.  It doesn’t matter if you call this Wayshower principle Jesus or Buddha or whatever, and there is no reason why there can’t be multiple Wayshowers.  In New Thought, to “follow” Christ simply means to live your life according to his example.  This doesn’t necessitate believing in the one true dogma or accepting Jesus as the one true savior.  It simply means that you follow him and so all that it implies is that you trust his guidance, that you trust he knows the way.  Also, New Thought practitioners tend to believe that there are many paths to “Heaven”.
In Unity, Heaven and Hell don’t exist as separate realms.  They’re states of mind and they’re part and parcel with how we live our lives, our words and our deeds.  We don’t have to wait until we’re dead to be close to God.  Sin is our separation or rather perceived separation from God, but there is no Original Sin.  Sin like salvation is in the present.  Each moment gives us an opportunity to accept or deny God.
In Unity, we co-create reality with God.  It is difficult to trace this idea.  One of the earliest source would be Gnosticism.  There is an idea that began in Gnosticism and was adapted in later Kabbalah.  The idea is that we don’t merely passively receive salvation but rather participate in the salvation process. 
New Thought types like to quote passages such as Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34.  New Thought interprets as literal truth the statement of Jesus that “You are gods.”  And in John 14:12, Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
Also, Mesmer had the idea that we have the power to influence our reality.  Phineas Quimby is considered the Father of New Thought and he studied Mesmerism.
I’ve read that Unity began within the Evangelical movement.  It doesn’t seem all that Evangelical in comparison to some more vocal Evangelists today, but it still has an Evangelical core.  I suppose it was Robert Schuller who first popularized New Thought (he is my mom’s favorite minister).  I’ve seen many Evangelical tv ministries where New Thought ideas are preached.  What is known as prosperity thinking in New Thought and positive thinking in New Age is called by a different name in the Evangelical movement.  Its called prosperity gospel or abundance theology.  The newest popular proponent of New Thought in Evangelism is Joel Osteen.
The wiki article says…

Universalism is a religion and theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Other religions may have Universalist theology as one of their tenets and principles, including Christianity, Hinduism, and some of the New Age religions. Universalist beliefs exist within many faiths, and many Universalists practice in a variety of traditions, drawing upon the same universal principles.

The most common principle drawn upon is love. (Sai Baba/Baba Speech): “The spirit present in all of the beings is varily seen as that of mind. They are all full of the essential love. Without love, it is all just a pun, without love you can not be happy !”

Truth is also an important principle to be drawn upon. The living truth is more far-reaching than national, cultural, even faith boundaries. [1]
That generally lines up with my understanding of Unity’s Universalism.  The Random House definition says that “the doctrine that emphasizes the universal fatherhood of God and the final salvation of all souls.”  Within the Unity church, fatherhood isn’t a term that I remember hearing much in reference to God, but the general idea of God’s universal nature as Creator has a similar meaning.  The major difference here is that Unity wouldn’t agree with a view that final salvation is a collective future event.  This goes along with heaven and hell not being places that we go to.  Ultimately, Unity teaches that everyone is already saved.  Sin is an error in perception and that is all.  We aren’t really separate from God because everything is eternally in and of God.
There are all kinds of weaknesses some inherent to New Thought theology and some with how New Thought has manifested in contemporary culture.  Most importantly is the question of whether New Thought aligns with what psychological research has discovered.  Some of the strongest criticism of New Thought in its relationship with New Age comes from the Integral theorists.  A book that looks interesting is The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford.  I haven’t read the book, but it seems to be about how some New Agers could learn a thing or two from Jungian shadow work.

In highschool, I was heavily influenced by both Unity and A Course In Miracles (ACIM).  This means that the two are pretty mixed in my mind.  The ACIM was popular in Unity.  Because of this, Unity decided to stop carrying it in their bookstores.  They were worried that people would start thinking of Unity theology only in ACIM terms.  The ACIM has much more of an intellectual theology than New Thought does in general, and so ACIM adds a bit of meat to the bones.  Check out Kenneth Wapnick if you’re interested in the theology pertaining to the ACIM.  Basically, the ACIM is most similar to Valentinian Gnosticism. 
I’ve studied the ACIM more thoroughly than I have ever studied Unity theology.  As I was raised in Unity, I never gave it much thought growing up.  And as I haven’t attended a Unity since highschool, I’ve never studied of its theology to any great extent.  I’m not an expert on Unity, but its essential philosophy is easy enough to grasp… easier to grasp than the historical comlexities of Catholic theology.  The funny thing about Unity is its lack of motivation to push a particular theology beyond a few basic beliefs.  I was never taught what the beliefs of Unity were.  I never even read the Bible growing up nor do I remember anyone reading Bible stories to me.  It didn’t even occur to me to think about any of this.

This blog is posted in the God Pod.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

Did I tell you my mom has been a member of a Unity church for years?

To me, it has been a way to reinforce her vague optimism without seriously challenging any of her confused beliefs about the world or her life. She, like many in her generation, has not engaged her inner demons, not really heard of shadow work or considered doing it, not worked through the ways she has alienated her children and grandchildren.

It’s sad.

By contrast, you are much more thoughtful and flexible about this. You read widely and incorporate many other aspects of belief in your view of the universe. So it feels a lot healthier coming from you.

Have you read much of the Bible as an adult, or does it even interest you?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

No, you hadn’t mentioned that about your mom.  I don’t know that it would be the majority, but I’d imagine there are many people in Unity like her.  One thing my parents noticed about Unity was that it attracted many lost souls, people who didn’t fit anywhere else.

I’ve read more of the Bible in recent years, but I’ve never read the whole text.  I was deeply researching Biblical studies a while back and learned a fair amount about the Bible.   I would be more interested in the subject, but I found that the people who were most interested in the subject didn’t interest me.  I joined some forums where there was discussion about the Bible.  People tended to fall into extremes of fundamentalism or atheism, and every discussion was quickly polarized.  And trying to research the subject, I came to realize that there is no lack of opinions but plenty of lack of facts.  Biblical studies has to be the least scholarly of all the scholarly fields.  Even the academic experts can’t agree on even the most basic details.  However, reading the Bible without reading the scholarship is pointless because the translations are so far apart.

My Grandfather was a minister.  He said that you could prove almost anything you wanted with the Bible.  There are so many passages and so many translations, that you can find some wording that you can interpret as agreeing with whatever you already believe.  And its so easy to misinterpret as it takes a life long of scholarly study to even be able guess at the meaning of a Bible passage.  My Grandfather used the example of the “eye of the needle”.  It wasn’t meaning that its impossible for a rich person to get into heaven.  The eye of the needle was the name of a doorway into a city where camels had to walk on their knees to pass through.  So, the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven seems nothing more than a minor inconvenience.  But I’m sure there are a thousand other interpretations.

Understanding the Bible is practically impossible, but I’ve never been one to let the impossible get in the way of my studies.  I’m sure I’ll read more of the Bible.  I have a translation of the Pre-Nicene Texts by Robert M. Price.  I find his translation very fascinating and I’m in the middle of reading it.  I’ll finish it sometime.

BTW what translation do you read?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

ah, but take a closer look at that eye of the needle… the camels had to walk on their knees – challenging for a camel but much more so than many rich people who do not have the humility and courage to abase themselves to a higher power. think of his interaction with the rich young ruler.

i try to refer to the original Greek as much as possible when i’m doing serious study but for reading lightly, enjoy the NRSV – for different applications, I like different translations and paraphrases – they all have strengths and weaknesses. still hope to learn Hebrew well enough to read the OT in the original, translations are inadequate

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Yep, NIcole, you could interpret as such: the camels on their knees as representing humility and courage.  It might be a correct interpretation.  Then again, my Grandfather might’ve been wrong about his translation.  I really don’t know.  But I’m willing to bet you that, were you to research it, a plethora of disagreement could be found.

In looking at Biblical studies, I quickly realized that I would have to learn several ancient languages to even begin to grasp/guess what was being said.  Actually, even many Biblical scholars don’t know all of the ancient languages involved.  Even if you do know the ancient languages, the cultural context is mostly lost.  For instance, an expert in Hebrew isn’t likely to be an expert in the various cultures that were borrowed from in creating the Jewish mythology. 

Yes, modern versions are inaccurate translations of Hebrew, but the OT is an inaccurate translation of the stories its based upon.  Inaccurate translation is how religions evolve.  For instance, Christianity formed because it was able to re-interpret the OT, but obviously the Christians were essentially mistranslating in order to do so.

Lets say a single person could learn in detail all the factors (multiple languages, cultural contexts, and historical documents).  What could such a person make of it all?  There is no coherent whole.  The Old Testament (like the New Testament) was written by many people.  And the Old Testament is based on stories from different cultures told orally for thousands of years before being written down as we now know them.  All these different stories and all these different writers aren’t in agreement.  When we turn to the Bible, we don’t find a single coherent message.  Just considering the New Testament, the depictions of Jesus Christ are widely divergent and this excludes the other even more divergent depictions found elsewhere.

In all of this, everyone can find what they’re looking for.  The problem is there is no concensus on correct interpretation and there is a lack of evidence upon which to base a rational argument for the correctness of  any particular interpretation.  If we simply pick what we agree with and ignore the rest, then how is that helpful?  We don’t need a text to tell us what we already believe.

I’m not trying to discourage you from studying the Bible.  I find it all fascinating, but frustrating too.  I think any Jew, Christian, or Muslim worth their salt, should study the origins of monotheism for themselves.  In doing so, one can’t discover truth, but what one discovers is how complex “truth” is.  I do think people can discover wisdom in studying the Bible, but not because the Bible revealed it precisely.  We bring our own wisdom to the Bible and whatever we find there already existed within us.

The attempt to understand the Bible (if done with serious intent and an open heart-mind) is more humbling than even the eye of the needle is for camels.  And to sludge through the field of Biblical studies takes no small amount of courage or at least stubborn persistence.  People often just find what they were looking for, but its not unusual for people to find what they wished to not find.

Personally, I’d rather look at Biblical stories from an archetypal perspective rather than worry about what is said in a particular passage in a particular text in a particular language.  I’m a person who wants to do something all the way or not at all.  I realized the only way to do the Bible justice would be to devote my whole life to studying every aspect of it, but I’m just not inspired to do so.  But this isn’t to say I don’t want to familiarize myself with the Bible some more.  Its just not high on my priority list at the moment.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

i have known a number of Biblical scholars and am quite aware of the lifework involved in having and using all the tools needed for more accurate interpretation of the Bible. I find it satisfying to work away bit by bit at what I can understand about the Bible among a lot of other ways to come to grips with God and God’s relationship with us… I’m glad you find archetypes satisfying. It’s important to find what works for us.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I wasn’t implying that you weren’t aware of what I was speaking of.  I know that you know.  I was just expressing my own frustration at the whole field.  Sorry, to sound like I was lecturing.  I wasn’t intending to sound that way.

I think in general we human can know very little about the world… and God.  Oddly though the limits of our knowledge are the most clear when we turn to a holy text.  I don’t mean to dismiss the Bible, but I sometimes feel so frustrated with people’s opinions about God’s truth that I feel like the Bible may be the last place one should look for God.  There is wisdom in the Bible no doubt… its just buried very very very deep.

As you know, I’ve spent time myself studying the Bible and Christianity overall, and so it would be silly of me to disparage someone else doing the same.  I looked into Biblical studies because I’m a curious person, and its an utterly fascinating area.  I believe studying the Bible is worthwhile because I believe studying anything is worthwhile.  There aren’t enough people in the world who take learning seriously. 

Also, its not as if we have to choose to learn only one thing and ignore all else.  I may be focused more in one direction than another at any given moment, but I can study both the Bible and the archetypes.  I’m of the opinion that learning one thing can help me learn another thing.  Studying the Bible can help me understand archetypes and studying archetypes can help me to understand the Bible.  You probably agree with this as you seem to also have wide interests.

However, I do put an emphasis on the archetypal side of things because I figure that if there is a truth in the Bible its probably an archetypal truth rather than the truth of an historical figure.  Actually, what I should say is that both an archetypal and a historical truth may simultaneously exist, but its the archetypal truth that is the most easily accessible… and maybe the most easy to prove or disprove.  And if the historical Jesus was real, then disentangling the archetypal elements from the historical facts will help to clarify the matter.

I guess why I feel reluctant towards Biblical studies is because of the people who tend to be involved in it.  There are too many people with agendas who are seeking conclusive answers… whether to prove some belief or disprove some belief.  I realize that you, Nicole, are a more open-minded seeker who isn’t just looking for simple answers.  I wish I’d met more people like you when I was studying all of this deeply.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

yes, i hear everything you say, dear Ben, sorry I sounded defensive in my comment, i do know and understand your views more and more and have great sympathy for your approach.

unfortunately or fortunately, as people keep telling me, there isn’t anyone else like me :):)

Marmalade : Gaia Child

3 days later

Marmalade said

Its no big deal.  My frustrations have nothing to do with you.  I just get frustrated at times with life in general.  And I’m not good at hiding my frustrations. 

You may not be average Nicole, but trust me that isn’t something that frustrates me.  In fact, I like the non-average.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

why hide your frustrations? especially since they have nothing to do with me, i like that 🙂

i know you like the non-average, and you know i do too! one of the many reasons i delight in our conversation, i delight in you

US: Politics, Religion & Civil Rights

U.S. prison population headed for first decline in decades

The United States soon may see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

That is truly good news.  We imprison more of our population than any country in the world at high costs and we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined.  During these decades of wasteful federal spending supported by conservatives, healthcare reform has been floundering during this same period of time.  Helping people is socialism, but killing and imprisoning people is good traditional American values.

Gun Owners, Unfiltered

The National Rifle Association has long fulminated in the gun control debate in Washington like the Great Oz in the Emerald City. Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

I’m not a gun owner, but I am a supporter of the right to own a gun.  I guess I’m a moderate as described in this article, but what is interesting is that most gun owners are moderate about gun controls.  I suspect this would prove true in other areas as well.  For exaple, like many people, I’m moderate about the issue of abortion, but the moderate voices never get heard.  Instead, issues like this get portrayed in black and white terms.  But gun controls and abortion are complex issues with many factors.

Most Americans aren’t for absolute control or absolute lack of gun control.  Most Americans aren’t for absolute freedom of abortion or absolute denial of abortion.  When Glenn Beck’s can portray his extremist views as populist by saying “we surround them”, then you know the media has failed.  People have come to think of the extremes as the norm, and moderates are either ignored (as the NRA apparently has with its own members) or portrayed as liberals (pronunced “libruls”), socialists, or some other ugly word.

Let me try to explain how extremism had come to hold such power over the American psyche.

Some consider the NRA to be the most powerful special interest group in the US.  For various reasons, the NRA has become associated with the far religious right.  Earlier in last century, the GOP was the party of civil rights and it’s true that gun ownership is a civil rights issue, but the civil rights I’m talking about is that of the civil rights movement.  I’ve heard that Martin Luthr King jr was a Republican and African-Americans in the past seem to have had been strong supporters of the GOP, but this changed in the middle of last century when desegregation became a major issue.  Southerners began worrying about their way of life and around this constellated several issues.  There was the increasing popularity of the NRA and at the same time the KKK was losing power, but the far religious right in general was opposed to desegregation.  Evangelicals, before this time, were intentionally non-political.  However, many white Southerners had formed private schools to escape the desegregated public schools and in response the federal government had taken away the tax exemption for private schools that continued to be racially segregated.

This far right movement led to several results.  The evangelical conservatives have had disproportionate influence on Washington politics with presidential candidates courting them and a number of presidents with openly avowed allegiance to the religious right.  Nixon had associations with evangelical leaders, Reagan used evangelism and race issues to win the presidency, and of course Bush jr was a born again.  It was through the religious right that the GOP has dominated Washington for so many decades.  And, in that time, what policies were instated?  What were the results?

American politicians have supported Israel because according to evangelical theology the Jews have to rebuild the temple before Jesus can return.  The culture wars, based on issues of race and poverty, has become a wedge issue and a major campaigning strategy.  Politicians were forced to accept to support ‘tough on crime’ policies which led to the ever-increasing prison population.  The War on Drugs was started with an emphasis on drugs used by poor minorities.  Communism became identified with Godlessness and so the religious right became identified with the ‘American way’.  The religious fueled Cold War led to more wars started than during any other time in US history.  The US became a highly militarized society and began it’s mission of spreading democracy (i.e., nation-building).  And all of this led to Republican administrations having budget deficits.

The NRA, by itself, seems like a harmless organization.  But the problem is that it’s a special interest group that is part of a larger movement that has succeeded in manipulating public policies.  And as the polls show this special interest group doesn’t even accurately represent its own members.

Heaven and Nature

On a slightly different but related note, this article is about the popularity of pantheism in American culture.  The author doesn’t mention it, but imagine this has its roots in the Founding Fathers preference of deism over theism (which relates to the Enlightenment ideals of democracy).

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

I think this also relates to the issue of evangelism.  Many people don’t realize that a large percentage of evangelicals are liberals and evangelism was part of a great mix of religious fervor in the 1800s (having it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation and the Anabaptist movement).  Everything from Mormonism to New Thought Christianity came out of this period, and religious communes such as the Shakers became popular in the era of Civil War unease.  People, both liberal and conservative, were looking for a truly American sense of religion… and the Europeans too were having their own version of collective soul-searching (because the Industrial Age in general was disruptive of traditional ways of life).

I suspect that pantheism has a direct link to the evangelical faith in a God who is very close to humanity and also the idea of being filled by the Holy Spirit.  Evangelism and New Age spirituality are twin siblings.  However, the religious right had seemed to have one the battle in this sibling rivalry for liberal religiosity had seemed to have been purged from the Democratic party in response to the extreme religiosity of the GOP.  Ever since, the religious right has defined the terms for all religious and moral debate which has allowed them to set the terms for most of the political debate as well.

However, certain things shifted the balance.  Joseph Campbell and George Lucas helped to popularize liberal and secular sense of the spiritual (pantheism), but it also invited liberals to be more openly spiritual and even religious (eventually leading to the likes of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle).  But this had started back in the 1800s with the newly translated ancient texts.  And this was kicked into high gear with the discovery and popularization of the Gnostic texts which really hit the mainstream around the time of Campbell’s popularity.  These Gnostic texts led to a revival of liberals reclaiming Christianity which has been slow but steady, and which prepared the way for someone like Obama to use religious language to win the presidency (something only Republicans were able to do).

One interesting thing about liberal religion/spirituality is the emphasis on pacifism.  That also goes back to the 1800s.  It was the time of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln (by a racist white Southerner).  It was the beginning of the racial issues and culture wars that have bred so much violence.  Many people were tired of all of the violence in the late 1800s and so joined pacifist communes such as the Shakers, pacifist communities such as the Amish, and pacifist groups such as the Quakers.  The list of pacifist Christian groups in America is very long which is odd when you consider how Christian messages of violence too often dominate our media.

This pacifist tradition has always been strong.  America didn’t start off as a militarized society.  The Founding Fathers formed America in order to defend themselves against oppressive violence.  When they had established the government, they were specifically clear about not wanting a standing army.

So, America has seen some massive shifts in its public policies and in its public opinions.  The dominance of the GOP began in reaction to the civil rights movement in the 1950s.  The civil rights movement began with the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s.  The anti-slavery movement began because none of the Founding Fathers were able or willing to make slavery illegal at the inception of our country.  A slow shift that has finally resulted in a black president.  Still, racial conflict and the culture wars are just as strong, just as divisive.  Mexicans (known by the codeword ‘illegal aliens’) are the new hated minority, but at the same time both blacks and hispanics will outnumber the whites in the near future.  Also, as the prison population decreases, this will mean more minorities out in the general public and more minorities with power to influence politics.

It makes me wonder where it’s all leading.

The Authoritarians and the Bush Family

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned a book I came across online: The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer.  I mean to read it when I get the chance.  It looks very interesting as it’s a psychologists take on conservative politics of recent history.  I’m feeling pretty confident that I’m going to enjoy reading it.  I think that there is many connections to be found between psychology and politics (and social behavior in general).  I’ve written about personality types before and it’s one of my favorite topics.  There is a lot of fascinating research out there.

What particular interests me about Altemeyer’s book is that it touches upon various issues that have drawn my curiosity.  I’m fascinated by the shift that has happened in US politics in the last half century with the whole Cold War issue and the rise of the Evangelical right.  This shift has been going on for a long time, but the results of it are becoming particularly apparent at the present time.

The reason I’m writing this post is actually about something else but a related something else.  I was listening to Coast to Coast AM last night (as I’m wont to do) and the show intrigued me.  It made me wonder about potential connections with Altemeyer’s research.

Bush Family Secrets

Ian Punnett welcomed award-winning investigative reporter Russ Baker, who discussed the connections between the Bush family and the intelligence community, as well as startling evidence that shed new light on the JFK assassination and Watergate. According to his research, George H.W. Bush’s affiliation with the CIA began as far back as 1953, as opposed to Bush’s “official” joining of the organization in 1976. Two elements that led him to this conclusion were that Bush was briefed on the JFK assassination by the CIA on the day after Kennedy’s murder and he also appeared to be using his oil company to set up “fronts” for the intelligence agency around the world.

However, Baker said, these CIA outlets were merely part of a larger agenda driven by wealthy elites who have designs on shaping the world to their end. Stressing that the Bush family are merely players in this group of power brokers, Baker said, “they’re not the guys running the thing. They are just operatives.” He dismissed the notion that it is an organized group, suggesting that it is more of a collection of like-minded, powerful people working together to consolidate their power. “It’s not this absolute club or anything like that,” Baker explained, “you’re talking about a mindset.” Ultimately, he expressed concern that this coterie continues to exert its power, “I think what we’re looking at is a very sensitive and fragile situation that perpetuates to this day.” 

He suggested that the Watergate scandal was one historic event that this faction, including George H.W. Bush (who was head of the RNC at the time), played a hand in orchestrating. Baker put forth the idea that Richard Nixon, previously put into power by these elites, had begun to move away from their influence. As such, the Watergate event was developed as a means to drive Nixon out of office in a “cleaner” fashion than they had eliminated JFK. According to Baker, this explains why the break-in seemed so poorly done, how the story ended up in the press, and why Nixon was so befuddled by what had happened. “It’s almost like a rolling coup d’etat,” he observed, “when you’re in these permanent bureaucracies, you don’t have a lot of use for these elected presidents. They’re an annoyance and a problem for you.”


  • Book(s):

    Family of Secrets

    Future of Family Values

    I was checking out the comments on an article I recently posted about (The Religious Wars).  I noticed the following comment which is typical of a certain religious attitude.


    I think that you have written an excellent article on the evolution of religion and one that I enjoyed,

    I am an evangelical fundamentalist who takes the Bible as the inspired word of God as He is revealed in the scriptures. That leads me to treat all men with tolerance and to know that I do not hold all the answers.

    I find that the one truth in the Bible that holds the most hope for the future is that of the need for strong families. Using grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and the like as role models grounded in faith will solve a number of problems in our nation.

    A feeling of family as opposed to a feeling of “I” will make abortion, gay marriage and other questions not so polarizing.

    Thank you again for a wonderful read.

    — Tom

    What stood out to me is that this belief is based on a hope rather than on any facts.  A simple perusal of demographic data shows that the Bible Belt is one of the highest concentrations of immoral behavior.  Many have pointed out (including myself in several other posts) that there is no clear correlation between ideological moralizing and moral behavior, and my guess is that the more ideological the moralizing the less moral the behavior..

    Specifically, the emphasis on family caught my attention with the above comment. 

    Boomers are known as the Me generation which is largely true, but this misses the larger view.  Their youthful transgressions of “immoral” behavior (drugs, free love, etc.) led to a backlash, but the backlash came from within the Boomer generation and not outside of it.  The Boomers did two things: (1) they focused their self-interest towards money and materialism instead of mere pleasure and freedom, (2) they supported a major uprising of the Evangelical Right.  Before the Boomers, the GOP was the party of civil rights (e.g., Marin Luther King, jr.) and Evangelism was the religious movement of civil rights.  But with Reagan GOP became the party of big business and Evangelical Christianity became righteously ethnocentric.  An ideological shift happened in politics and the Boomers added a dimension of ideological polarization.  This strange Boomer-caused phenomenon lasted for almost a half century.

    However, we are now again at the beginning of a new era.  Supposedly, GenXers are more focused on family and are more conservative than Boomers, but GenXers are less ideologically divisive.  Also, an even larger generation (the Millennials) is taking the stage, and they’re even more different than Boomers.  On measurements of moral behavior, they tend toward the lowest numbers that have been seen in a long time.  They are conservative in certain ways including a focus on family, but at the same time they’re extremely socailly liberal.

    My basic point is that society is re-focusing on the value of family on personal rather than ideological terms, but this re-focusing is going against the ideological grain of fundamentalist “family values”.  Millennials embrace both the importance of family and the importance of civil rights issues such as gay marriage.  Suck on that fundamentalists!