Skepticism as a Spiritual Path to Humility (1)

On December 18, 2014, in Philosophy, Religion, Science, by prosario2000

One of the most interesting passages in the New Testament comes from the Gospel of John, where Jesus predicts the manner in which his disciple Peter is going to die:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go (John 21:19).

As I’ve said in a previous post I expressed my change of path from Roman Catholicism towards Religious Naturalism, and the reasons why.I do not hold a spiritual life with faith in a supernatural God, but instead living an evidential faith in Ultimate Reality. As I also stated in that same post, I believe in two forms of evidence:

  • Eidetic evidence (a priori relations of ideas) which include the investigation of formal and material essences (logic, mathematics, geometry, philosophy, etc.)
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  • Empirical evidence (a posteriori matters-of-fact) which include investigations made by natural and social sciences, as well as the Humanities. 

Both sorts of evidence are deeply worked by their respective disciplines, subject to intersubjective validity and critical evaluation by a community of Reality seekers, leading us many times to wherever we do not want. All of these Truth-seeking disciplines have something humbling to teach all of us. Very much like Peter’s destiny (according to John’s Gospel), if we follow evidence critically evaluated by a community of Reality seekers, it may will lead all of us sometimes to where we do not want to go. Yet, unlike Jesus’ words, this sort of evidential faith does not announce our definitive death, but is, instead, very life-giving.

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The Roots of Intellectual Humility

Without any spirit for denigrating John’s Gospel, a book I admire very much. I remember John‘s version of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus appeared out of nowhere to his disciples with the exception of Thomas. Later, after Christ was gone, Thomas returned and when the rest of the disciples told him about Jesus’ resurrection, he didn’t believe them. Yet, Jesus appeared again, this time showing Himself to Thomas and told him:

“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:27-29).

After so many years investigating in my fields of research, Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, it seemed to me that the lesson should be the reverse, that Thomas’ is the best approach. He should be blessed precisely because he sought evidence. We should require and evaluate critically the evidence for claims being made by anyone or anybody. Even during the time I was Catholic, it seemed to me that fields that required evidence were actually more humble than any process that asked me “to believe without seeing”.

On the other hand, while religious convictions actually led me to love science in general, I was bothered by a lot of people who, on the basis of pure blind faith (especially basing themselves on the passage I just quoted) told me things like:

Scientists think that they know everything, they are arrogant.

Look at how complicated science is, how simple God is.

If you agree with evolution, it is because you don’t have enough faith.

I went to one retreat in our parish guided by some people of John XXIII group, and the speaker told us about how science always presents us that we are pure matter, hence unworthy and purposeless. He cited the “fact” that scientists say that we only use 10% of our brain.  Why are scientists thinking that the rest of our brain is purposeless? Doesn’t that mean you are unworthy?  But, he argued, the Gospel revealed that you are worthy and that God created nothing without a purpose. Of course, I wanted to explode … and I did!!!

-”Sir,” I said, “I’m sorry to contradict you in the middle of your presentation, but scientists do NOT say that we only use 10% of our brain. That is just not a fact.”

-”But scientists,” he said,”say that all the time.”

-”Actually no renowned neurologist has said that. It is one of those beliefs that are repeated so often that people believe it. For neurologists and anyone who knows better, if you only used 10% of your brain, you would be a vegetable. For vision to work properly, you need to use at least 33% of your brain, for crying out loud!!!”

-”Be that as it may ….”

… and he continued, only to repeat the same false statement at the very end, when I shouted: “THAT’S FALSE!” A lot of my parish friends were a bit startled (putting it gently). Some wanted to talk to me later about the specific subject and I told them that this was one more occasion where a religious person (I don’t blame the John XXIII group, just the speaker) wanted to create the science vs. religion dichotomy, trying to make faith as superior to evidence based reasoning. I also told them this needed not be, since all truth discovered by science shines on faith and makes us discover truths. Isn’t all truth God’s truth?!

Although a lot of Catholics and Christians in general do recognize the validity of science, there are still too many people who on the basis of blind and naive faith want to minimize science.

Yet, as a Philosopher, in my mind, I contrasted this general attitude with a better one taught by Socrates. When he went to the Oracle of Delphi, he was told that he was the wisest man in all of Athens. Socrates didn’t believe this to be true, so he asked around the following question to people whom he considered wise: “What is the good and the beautiful?” After a series of questions and answers, using elementary logic, he actually showed that these wisest people, who actually claimed to know what the good and the beautiful were, actually didn’t know a thing about them. As a result, Socrates did consider himself the wisest man in Athens, not because he was knowledgeable, but because he recognized from the very beginning he was not, while others claimed to know, but did not know.

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Humility, Skepticism, and Peer-Review

For me, Socrates’ lesson illustrates what is true humility, specifically intellectual humility. People who, on blind faith, claim that scientists are all arrogant and that what they claim is false are truly arrogant. On the other hand, scientists in general are far more humble when practicing their own respective fields. The reason is that, contrary to what people think, scientists and scholars in general try their very best to very high standards of research. And as time goes by, scientists are ever more critical and thorough with their own research, thanks in a great part to peer-review.

What does peer-review mean? Generally it means that you publish your work through a professional publisher or journal, and whatever you say you did will be challenged and tested. First, the science or scholarly journal will generally try its best to guarantee the high standards of the content of the articles published. Second, once published, others can actually look at your data, critically evaluate it, reproduce the experiment, or review the primary sources, and so on. The more your paper survives this process, the more solid is the evidence that you provide in favor of your hypothesis or theory.

Now, there is no guarantee at all that every article you read in those journals will be infallible. As a matter of fact, a lot of these articles have been retracted over the years (for instance, see this case, and this one … and this one too). In other cases, some of the publications could be embarrassing to a journal in question, just as the Sokal Hoax showed. Even the “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List” episode made many people raise their eyebrows on the quality of a certain technological journal.

Some anti-science websites try to sell this as a failure of mainstream science. I see it, on the contrary, as a great triumph in many ways, and shows that the peer review process does indeed work. The whole purpose of peer-review is precisely to purify science from fraudulent information too often portrayed as science. This is the reason why I praise the Retraction Watch website, which alerts scientists and the public in general about retracted papers either by criticizing academic journals for not upholding higher standards for their articles or by informing them and the rest of us about which important articles were retracted because of errors, lack of sufficient information, or outright fraud. Through this process, we are helped to retain the best evidence we have available. As a Popperian philosopher (regarding this subject), I think that trial and error is the very essence of scientific process and progress.

This means that the scientific process itself is inherently flawed, because it is essentially a human activity. Humans are imperfect. No scientific theory is invulnerable from future refutation for this reason. Yet, again, this process shows far more humility than, let’s say, other worldviews based on deeply flawed texts or authorities who do not allow anyone to question them. If you think that I’m exclusively talking about religion, guess again! As we shall see in later posts, religion has no monopoly in this area. A lot of non-religious people will in fact defend such texts and authorities with every fiber of their being no matter what.
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Skepticism, and Honorable Tradition

The root of all knowledge is not blind faith, but doubt. As a former anarchist, I still sympathize strongly with an attitude preserved by the best anarchists I know (e.g. Noam Chomsky). Defy authority! This does not mean to rebel against any type of authority for no reason. We are called to question authority wherever we feel that authority fails to serve the public. Such a challenge, though, must be humble, since authority may be right. I want an authority that imposes traffic lights on society rather than one that doesn’t.

Knowledge and scientific activity is all about questioning authority (within reason). You can be the greatest scientist in history, yet if you publish a scientific article, know that perhaps someone will challenge you, test your hypothesis, check your data, check your experiment, and so on. And this is something that we see since the beginning of Philosophy (which is also the birth of Science), when Thales, with his proposals, questioned mythical views on the origins of the world. Socrates himself was a skeptic, and (according to Plato) was put to death because of his continuous questions and criticisms to his society’s worldviews. It is no wonder that Pyrrhonism became a branch of Platonism, which itself remitted to Socrates’ philosophy.

Since then, skepticism appears again and again in Philosophy, even in Modern Philosophy: René Descartes (with his Cartesian method), David Hume, and so on. Today skepticism is expressed best by many Philosophers of Science as well as scientists themselves. Isaac Asimov, the famous science and science fiction writer,  expressed a doctrine that I’ve adopted for myself:

I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.

Skepticism is not about not believing anything, but just questioning, challenging, and ask for evidence within reason. And the wondrous thing about such a position is that it does not refrain you from obtaining knowledge of the truth. It helps you discover a lot of it, and far from being something dull and boring, it turns out to be something more exciting that is far more spiritual than people are willing to believe. Yet, not everyone is prepared to accept it. Just ask Socrates how he ended up in deep trouble, because of it.

Again, evidence will drive you where you, your friends, and your society will not want to believe or go. Yet, if you follow the evidence, Ultimate Reality, the God I worship, will undeniably speak to you about yourself, society, history, and the universe … and every day, It will tell you something new.

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About True New Testament Scholarship vs. Simcha Jacobovici

On December 6, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

In my earlier blog, I responded an article written by Simcha Jacobovici regarding his recent discoveries “proving” that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. This is the n-th claim for that, even though there is no evidence to support it.

Of course, my problem is that I am not a New Testament scholar, and amateurish at best. However, as I indicated in my previous blog post, Richard Bauckham (a recognized New Testament scholar) has been responding to Jacobovici’s and Barry Wilson’s claims in their new book The Lost Gospel. I want to share with you the series of responses written by him. I hope you see why Jacobovici and Wilson are misleading the public. Bauckham’s whole writing is called “Assessing The Lost Gospel“, and there are 7 parts of it linked to NT Blog, managed by Mark Goodacre. Thank you Mr. Goodacre for making these available!!!!

I hope you enjoy the reading. Again, this is an intellectual elephant stepping on an intellectual ant on this subject. Yet, you can always learn a lot in this process.

Recently, the famous filmmaker Simcha Jocobovici wrote an article pertaining a book he recently co-authored with Prof. Barrie Wilson titled: The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene.  I won’t spend too much time talking about the book, because some real Bible scholars have dedicated some articles debunking its claims, needless to say that they point out Jacobovici and Wilson’s utter carelessness regarding their deal with available documents (take for instance renowned scholar Richard Bauckman’s essays debunking Jacobovici’s claims herehere, and here) .

I’ll concentrate my efforts in illustrating why no one should give Jacobovici any credibility whatsoever. I’ll be using his recent article as a means to that end. In fact, his article (as well as the book, TV series and documentaries) shows his incompetence when dealing with issues regarding the Bible.

For example, he states that the evidence for Jesus’ being married to Mary Magdalene before writing his book “has been overwhelming”. What is his evidence? Let’s look at each of them:

1. “This may come as a shock to most people, but the fact is that none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate. The Gospels call Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51, John 20:16). Rabbis, then as now, are married. If Jesus wasn’t married, someone would have noticed.”

Actually, they did notice!  First of all, it is a very popular opinion that during the first century CE, people could only be called “Rabbi” if they were married. Many people may be astonished to know that this rule did not exist during Jesus’ lifetime. This rule only existed after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and specifically after the Pharisaic reforms during the last two decades of thee first century CE. This rule began to be enforced during the second century CE. This was after Jesus.

Second, there were plenty of people called “Teachers” during Jesus’ lifetime who were celibate. The clearest examples of this were the Essenes, Jews with a monastic lifestyle who lived in Qumran, and who wrote the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. We have testimony from Josephus and from archaeology itself that they never married.

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. “The greatest promoter of celibacy for Christians was Paul.”

Actually, both Jesus and Paul were promoters of celibacy. In fact, Jesus was anti-family in many important ways.  Don’t believe me?  Here, let me show you some passages?

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Then [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” …

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers, and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21; 31-35)

Apparently, Jesus was implying that you should give up your family to do God’s Will (and also implying that neither his mother nor his brothers were doing it, because they were not backing his mission). Did he oppose to the notion of having a family in principle? The answer is “No”. He was aware that Yahweh considered family important, as the Torah (the Law) dictated. At one point, when a rich man asked to follow him, Jesus asked if he observed the Law, even the commandment “You shall honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:16-22).

Yet, why would Jesus oppose his own family (see that the Gospels never mention “his wife”), and even tell other people to “hate” (a prophetic hyperbole) their own families to do God’s work?  The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was an apocalypticist. He thought that the Kingdom of God was at hand and that the full duty of everyone is to prepare for its arrival. There is no time to lose!!!  Family, in this sense, is a distraction from an urgent duty.  As a matter of fact, Jesus saw celibacy as a valid choice for anyone looking for Yahweh’s Kingdom:

“[Jesus'] disciples said to him, “if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But [Jesus] said unto them, “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:10-12).

Jacobovici states that the Apostle Paul was a fanatic about celibacy, that “only when it came to sex Paul was more severe than Moses and Jesus put together.” Yet, it was Paul himself who expressed exactly Jesus’ position on this matter very clearly when he wrote to Christian converts in Corinth. Just like Jesus, Paul was an apocalypticist, as was every first century Christian in his time:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:

It is well for a man not to touch a woman.

But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

To the married I give this command –not I but the Lord– that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife [Paul here is referring to Jesus' actual words on the matter -- Matthew 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12].

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Now concerning virgins. I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife?  Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (fragments of 1 Corinthians 7).

Jesus would actually endorse every single suggestion made by Paul in this letter.
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3. The whole story of Attis and Cybele. (Read it in Jacobovici’s article, too long to place it here).

The whole point made by Jacobovici regarding Paul thinking that Attis looked very much like Jesus, and the whole story of Attis castrating himself is made bogus by our previous analysis. Regarding celibacy, Paul was within the mainstream of early Christian apocalypticism, even to the point of total and absolute coincidence with Jesus’ own teachings … even to the point that Paul actually quoted Jesus when giving Corinthians advice!

Also note that Paul had a visceral hatred towards Pagan religions and rituals. These are expressed throughout his letters, and he does so in a very Jewish manner –talking about pure and impure, etc.– (e.g. advice not to go to Pagan courts for Pagans are perverts 1 Corinthians 6; or Pagans as being associated with the unjust and all sorts of perversions Romans 1:18-32).
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4. If one looks at the Gospels without Attis-colored Pauline glasses, there are many, many hints that Jesus was married. Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body (Mark 16:1).

Let’s remember that the Gospels also talk about Mary Magdalene and other women who were always by his side during his ministry (e.g. Joanna the wife of Chuza; Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses — the latter probable family–; Salome). The reason for trying to prepare Jesus’ body for an appropriate burial was because he was buried in a hurry two days before. These women were not “Jesus’ wives”, but rather Jesus’ economic sponsors and followers, and who were devoted to him during his ministry.

[During Jesus ministry:] Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jacob, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.  On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared … Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [that Jesus resurrected] to the apostles (Luke 23:55-24:1,10)

So, I think that the context of the reason why Mary Magdalene visited Jesus’ tomb for anointment is perfectly clear, and it has nothing to do with whether she was married with Jesus or not (most probably NOT!)
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5. Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics — or “wisdom seekers” — were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. After the fourth century, the Church burnt Gnostic holy books and the people who believed in them. As a result, until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to … They all tell the same story — Jesus was married. More than this, for his Gnostic followers, Jesus’ marriage and sexual activity was more important than his death and resurrection. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his “Passion” on the cross.

This is yet another evidence that Jacobovici does not know what he is talking about … He has NOT read ANY of the Gnostic Gospels, and he does not know anything about Ancient Gnosticism.  If you read any of the Gnostic Gospels — and I mean ANY of them — you will never find any reference at all to “Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s passion in bed”. This is one of the claims he produced out of his rear.

The Gnostics hated all of bodily pleasures, and I mean ALL of them (including sexual pleasures). This is a constant theme in all Gnostic literature. They embraced and radicalized the Platonic view that everything that is matter and of the flesh is intrinsically evil. As a matter of fact, according to the Gnostics, the one true God did not create the material physical world, He inhabits a place of spiritual perfection called the “pleroma”.  The physical world was created by Yaltabaoth, or the Tetragrammaton, an evil god. This god is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. He, along with the supervisors (archons) of the world, imprisoned souls in the material body, and kept them as slaves of the world using all sorts of pleasures and desires.  Hence, all pleasure is evil. The Gnostics considered themselves to have the light of “knowledge” (gnosis), and that Jesus was one of those pure spirits who incarnated (or did not, depending on the Gnostic sect), and revealed this “knowledge” to special people … such as Mary Magdalene.

(Notice that “gnosis” is a Greek word that means “knowledge”, not “wisdom”. Jacobovici does not know Ancient Greek, making a mistake in his exposition. The Greek word for “wisdom” is “sophia“.)

If you read the two Gnostic Gospels which express a certain closeness between Jesus and Mary Magdelene (the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip), you see that there is no “passion” nor “bed” anywhere.  In the case of the Gospel of Mary, you find a Jesus who appears to Mary in a vision (not in a body) and reveals some esoteric teachings regarding the soul, knowledge, and the ignorance created by the material world. Some of the Apostles have an imperfect knowledge of this teaching, which is a reason why Peter objected, and Levi defended her, even when he did not know what this teaching meant. This is all there is!  If you don’t believe me, I kindly invite you to read the Gospel of Mary (or what we have of it) for yourself (click here to access it).

What about the Gospel of Philip (access it here)? In this Gnostic Gospels, the Apostles are actually furious that Jesus is kissing Mary more than he is kissing them. Why is everyone kissing each other?! If you think that this is a Romantic action, guess again … it isn’t!  For Gnostics, kissing is a sign of “passing gnosis” (passing knowledge). Notice that nothing in the Gospels indicate that he kisses Mary more because she is his wife. Instead, he is giving her a privilege over all of the other Apostles. When the Apostles complain, Jesus says: “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.” … ~ My face of confusion~.

You might say that this Gospel describes Mary as his “companion” (koinonos), yet, contrary to popular opinion, this word just means “companion”, not necessarily wife or sex partner. The range of meanings of “companion”, and the lack of use of the term for “wife”, tells us conclusively that Jesus and Mary were not married.

Last, but not least, I am just assuming (for the sake of the argument) the most extreme and sensationalistic interpretation of a manuscript that is all broken (i.e. that Jesus kissed Mary more than the Apostles, that Jesus kissed Mary in her mouth, etc.) Today, some scholars on this subject agree with that the original text most probably looked like this (the brackets indicates the actual holes in the manuscript we have available and how these scholars fill that gap):

As for the Wisdom who is called ‘the barren’, she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of [the saviour was Mar]y Ma[gda]lene. [Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disci[ples, and used to] kiss her [softly] on her [hand]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”

But notice a pattern here! Mary is constantly being given privilege over the Apostles?  Why is this? This is not a historical fact, but a widely used literary device. As you can see, the Gnostics saw themselves as those who really, really, really knew what the truth is. What about the rest of the Christians (who beg to differ from them)? They simply have either imperfect knowledge or no knowledge at all. By this literary device, Gnostics are saying: “We received that real knowlege from Mary Magdalene, while the rest of Christendom received ignorance from the Apostles.” This is not an unusual literary device. The author of John’s Gospel (although not Gnostic) used something similar to underscore how the “beloved disciple” was vastly superior in knowledge and closeness to Jesus than Peter, Jesus brethren, or the rest of Jesus’ disciples.  We see this literary resource again in the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus confides in Judas and reveals to him why he wants to die: because Jesus hated his own body, regarded as something evil. We also see the “kissing act” in the Second Apocalypse of James, where Jesus kisses Jacob (James) on the lips to give him knowledge.

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6. The documentary Last Tomb of Jesus and Jacobovici’s book Jesus Family Tomb.

Besides the fact that all serious Bible scholars (and again, I mean ALL of them) have criticized both the documentary and the book for sheer sloppiness of fact, we need to say a few words about it. In both the book and the documentary, Jacobovici makes the claim that he found the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth along with the tomb of “Mariamne”, and other names that are strongly associated with Jesus’ disciples and family. As scholars have pointed out, names like “Jesus”, “Jacob”, “Levi”, “Joseph”, “Mary” and so on, were extremely common. In a time where there were no last names, you had to refer to them by some attribution “Jesus of Nazareth”, “Mary, the mother of Joses”, “Levi also known as …”, “Joseph, son of Heli” and so on. Hence, a lot of the probability statistics used in the documentary and the book are far from being an exact criteria to determine that these names indeed correspond to Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles. In other words, the probability calculations are bogus.

Regarding the rest of the claims, just read the Wikipedia pages regarding the Last Tomb of Jesus (here), and Jesus Family Tomb (here). See? Jacobovici is incompetent!

The rest of the article is bogus and, again, I leave the response to a competent scholar, Richard Bauckman (links are provided at the beginning of this article).  But, as you can see, Jacobovici does not know as much as he makes the public think he knows. It’s all for public manipulation and money!

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My Change in Religious Perspective — 3 (Final)

On November 11, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

“What is the difference between
a Seventh Day Adventist
and a Unitarian?  A BIG one.”
~ David Sloan Wilson

This is the final post from a series of posts (see part 1 and part 2) about my change of heart regarding my religious views.

Usually, when I practice religion and spiritual life, community has been very important to me. Most recently, I was asking where would I find a community of religious or spiritual people where I could actually share my Naturalist religious views in any way. I decided to join a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church as that path that sort of community.

At first I didn’t know what it was. I have heard of “Unitarians” (without the “Universalists”), and used to confuse them with Unity, another very different group. I know that during the process of changing my views, I had noticed Michael Dowd talking about Unitarian Universalists, and how in their churches, they explained the Great Story of the universe to children in Sunday School, and that there were atheists belonging to several Unitarian Universalist churches (something very odd for me at the time).

UU symbol

Much later, I learned that Unitarian Universalism was something relatively new. Their origin dates from the early 1960s, and it was the result of the merge of two Christian denominations. First, the Unitarians, whose assertion was that God could not be a Trinity, and that Jesus was an excellent prophet of ancient Palestine under Roman rule, but not God himself. Second, the Universalists, who believed that at the very end of times, everyone will be saved by God. Even though Unitarian Universalism does not assert either of those things (at least not in their original sense), it is a faith focused on action more than creed. The UU symbol has two circles representing the union between the Unitarian and the Universalists. The Universalists used to be represented by a circle with a cross at the side, meaning that Universalism was a Christian faith, but that it did allow for the possibility of people of other faiths to be saved. That was replaced by a flaming chalice, because all UU services begin with lighting a flaming chalice.

I was a bit worried over rumors regarding the “fact” that the organization was a cult much like Scientology (see, for instance, this video and this one). Yet, when I examined those claims carefully, I noticed that they were totally baseless. Whoever makes such a claim, most probably, classifies as “cult” any religion that does not adopt his or her Christian conservative views, is a small movement, and does not state the Bible as its final authority (watch the videos whose links I just provided, and Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults …  a phony authority on the subject of cults). As a response to this claim, a Unitarian Universalist created this video.

For a fuller story about UU is all about, here is a video that explains it very well.

UU seemed to me the ideal community, since we learn from all religious and non-religious views and traditions, not just Christianity. There are Roman Catholic UU, Christian UU, Jewish UU, Humanist (Atheist or Agnostic) Universalists, Islamic UU, Buddhist UU, and even Pagan UU.  All of our congregations also participate in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Contrary to what is said often, UU does not hold a relativistic view of truth or ethics. For the community, reason must play a major role in spiritual life, as is the quest for truth. This means that UU embraces science as one of the key factors to know the world and provide the technology that will make our lives better. There is also a call for us to participate in the world to make it a better place.  It is not surprising that in many parts of the world, UU members actively participate in progressive politics. There is also a series of affirmations that express the core convictions of anyone who becomes a UU:

  • The inherent worth and the dignity of every person.
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  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
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  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
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  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
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  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large
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  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
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  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

It also recognizes its sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
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  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
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  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
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  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors and ourselves.
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  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
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  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I joined a UU group here in Puerto Rico which is very small in number, and that I hope that it grows and thrives. As a former Catholic, I’m still in the process of getting used to this new UU dynamic as well as this spiritual community. I’m also getting used to thinking like a Religious Naturalist using a theistic language. It is a tough journey, but I think those will be my grounds for spiritual growth in my near future.

I hope this gives you an idea of where I am right now spiritually.

My Change in Religious Perspective — 2

On October 21, 2014, in Religion, Science, by prosario2000

In my previous post, I expressed my reasons for abandoning Roman Catholicism (and traditional Christianity as a whole). I will now will explain my religious views.

A Moderate Naturalism and a Spiritual Nature

It is sort of unusual to argue that spirit is material. This view comes mostly from ancient philosophy, which conceives the soul as something diametrically opposite and, sometimes, opposed to the physical body. This goes as far back as Plato, who established the realm of ideas as the place where our souls originally come from, but fell, and now it is a prisoner of matter. Matter is corruptible, changing, and temporal. It is not the natural state of the soul to be contaminated with it.

As a contemporary Platonist, I have to point out the deep (but historically understandable) fallacy in which Plato fell into: that truths-of-reason and the spiritual realm are one and the same thing. Plato correctly distinguished between those objects that are understood but not sensibly perceived and those that are perceived but not understood. Yet, due to the fact that our minds (souls), not the bodies, are able to grasp the former, then that would mean that minds and the objects of understanding are essentially the same. Further, since he needed to explain how the physical objects participate from the ideal realm, he fell into another fallacy: that a Divinity (the Demiurge) actually created these ideas as a way to create a great material organism that participates from His Divinity (all of this is expressed in Timaeus). Judeo-Christianity only perpetuated these fallacies in lesser or greater degree (which is, once again, can be perfectly understood given its historical background).

My Platonist position about the objects of understanding is similar to Edmund Husserl’s:  logical truths are essentially formal apophantics, and mathematics is formal ontology. Formal logic prescribes a priori all forms of truth whatsoever, while mathematics deals with the forms in which objects can be given. Both are a priori disciplines, meaning that they are only known through reason (i.e. they are truths-of-reason), and they are the unconditional, absolute, and logically necessary basis of any truth or anything whatever. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that logical truths and mathematical objects exist, as well as formal categories, and so on. I extend this to ethical values in general, as well as ethical principles, among others.

There is no possible deity that can determine absolutely anything relating to mathematics and logic, nor can God make a genocide good in principle, nor make a square be round. As a matter of fact, gods or God (as traditionally conceived) Who can create and/or intervene in the physical world, must belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, not of truths-of-reason. Hence, spiritual activity (unconscious, subconscious, and conscious, elementary or highly evolved), also belongs to the realm of matters-of-fact, as Frege, Husserl, and other philosophical realists saw very clearly.

If both, material and spiritual realities belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, then in some sense they must be related. Contrary to Plato, who saw matter only as decadent and corruptible, what science has discovered recently is that matter is a thriving activity and self-creative. In fact, as has been pointed out by so many people, Ultimate Reality seems to be made up of nothing but emergent nested creativity:

  • From quarks to atoms
  • From atoms to molecules
  • From molecules to stars
  • From stars to galaxies, etc.

The material world is intrinsically emergent, where a new complexity emerges from another. Today’s cosmology is an emergent cosmology. It is within this creative activity, especially through evolution, organisms (autopoietic beings) came to be, who could replicate their genetic code, and through natural selection’s tinkering of the code and the emergence of forms of unintended cooperation, a rich variety of complex living beings came to be. Among them, many animals developed brains that could process few bits of information. Then through natural selection some minds became increasingly more complex and modular, specializing each more in operations of the senses, of action and reaction, and avoiding harm.

Humans today have a brain whose parts and modules have been inherited from our ancestors. Each of them became more and more conscious until humanity gained some spectacular abilities, such as to foresee consequences of its actions, of creating solidarity systems for collective action, and a wonderful way of adapting to the environment (needless to say our ability to make the environment adapt to us). Our souls literally come from active, self-creating matter.

For this, we should be thankful for matter, energy, and our own souls. We should celebrate our material origins and our emergence in this wonderful universe, so full of sacred moments. I remember the ecologist theologian Thomas Berry saying in a very moving statement:

We need to experience the developmental story of the universe as our sacred story. ..There was a time when the oxygen in the air had been created by the plankton in the sea. This oxygen, though, was poison, it was deadly… It nearly killed every living form. A transformation had to take place. Forms had to invent a way of using the energy to create organic substance in an inorganic world. Animals can’t do that. Only plants can do that. That’s why Ecclesiastes says that all life is grass, because all life depends on what grass can do. This I think is a moment of grace…. The invention of sexuality is a moment of grace. Evolution could not happen without the invention of sexuality. That one life form can live of another life form, that is another moment of grace. A Divine that creates the universe that can create itself, that is the miracle of creation.

In this light, everything material becomes sacred.

About God and Prophecy

I don’t believe in a supernatural God anymore. In that sense, you can call me atheist, just as most of us are atheists regarding Zeus, or Odin. I am an atheist regarding Yahweh and regarding Jesus.  I don’t believe that Jesus is God, but I do believe about Jesus what practically all historians and Bible scholars hold as true: that Jesus existed as an apocalyptic prophet who was later deified by Early Christians, a process which culminated with the Councils of Niscea and Constantinople. For more on this, buy Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God (I have a big difference of opinion regarding the issue of Jesus’ burial, but the rest of the book is great). Simply speaking, there is no supernatural God. I don’t accept supernatural miracles anymore, nor do I think there are angels, nor a lot of things I used to believe when I was Catholic. The best apology for such a kind of God was Hans Küng’s Does God Exist? (a book that is very rich in knowledge, wisdom, and rigor of thought, and I highly recommend reading it), and still I was unsatisfied with his answer. 

That being said, I am not antitheist, nor do I intend to become another antitheistic activist like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. I do respect a lot of theists who hold their belief in a supernatural God. It just didn’t work for me. My aspiration is to work along with religious people for a better future, and I do care deeply about religions in general.

I do believe in a God, and that is Ultimate Reality. God is a proper name, a personification of Ultimate Reality. Once again, He is a personification, not a person. He is a mythical way of relating to Ultimate Reality of which all of us are part of. He (or She if you prefer) encompasses all of material components, its energetic processes, and material and spiritual events. He also incorporates all of the history of the universe, or what Thomas Berry called The Great Story. Others have called it Big History. The Great Story is the one that incorporates every single story of the universe, even humanity’s history, incorporating mythical histories, all forms of understanding the relationship between humanity and the universe, religious thinking, ideals, moral values, and so on. 

This is the Great Story of a creation that happened and is still happening all over the world. Humanity is a big contributor to this evolution. We have the huge problems of world hunger, climate change, wars, etc. In a world like this, God has made us an evolutionary gift: we can foresee the consequences of our actions or lack of them as basis to make decisions individually and collectively. We are moral beings (to make decisions based on values), who are able to be ethical beings (to make decisions based on objectively good values).  As Peter Parker’s uncle used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Paraphrasing A Course in Miracles (but in a radically different sense), each of us have the mind, the eyes, the ears, the voice, the hands, the arms, the legs, the feet … in other words, the body as instruments of salvation.

As a Religious Naturalist (and even when I was Roman Catholic), I recognize the role of being a prophet of this time. When I was young, and belonged to Líderes de la Paz (a missionary Roman Catholic group), I learned that a prophet is the one who announces and denounces righteously in God’s name.

Notice righteously, not self-righteously. To be righteous requires a lot of humility, as opposed to self-righteousness, which requires a lot of arrogance. Someone told me that for St. Theresa of Avila, “humility is the truth”. There is no better definition out there than this one. Both reason and experience of Ultimate Reality (of God) will keep us humble constantly. For this, we need Philosophy, Formal Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and so on. It is necessary to pay attention to God’s own revelation (discovered facts) through all of these science. On that basis. we can make our own individual decisions, and help redirect society to help it make the best collective decision.

On such foundations, we can actually know what it is going to happen if we don’t do anything about climate change. It is not God’s punishment, but the result of our own sin.  Even when people don’t like the term “sin”, we have to recover it within this Naturalistic view. For theologians, “sin” is not merely doing something wrong, it is making a wrong decision that disrupts our relationship with God. Within a Naturalistic reconception, our refusal to understand Ultimate Reality and not dealing with establishing our right relationship with God is a sinful behavior. Our indifference and hatred to manifestations and expressions of God such living beings, including xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and others, are sinful, because they disrupt our relationship with God’s own creation of which we are part of. In light of this, we can say “Amen” when we can restate Naturalistically what the author of 1 John says:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

 

An Evidential Faith

As we act this way, the deal of living spiritually is living in integrity. That does not just mean being honest. It means that I should align my mind and my actions with what factual evidence that empirical sciences can show us. Rev. Michael Dowd has talked about an evidential faith. This phrase is so strange because people think of “faith” as believing with no evidence. Actually, faith is synonymous with trust. Some people trust that God exists, and do so blindly. In my case, I think that we should trust evidence as it is revealed by the sciences in general, we should have an evidential faith to live in integrity.

What about things you don’t know? Simply speaking, I can speculate about could probably exist, but on the basis of evidence. Of others sorts of claims I will remain a skeptic, in the same sense of Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer.

Short Summary of my New Religious Views

Rev. Michael Dowd has expressed in a metareligious sense the following principles:

  • Reality is my God.
  • Evidence is my Scripture.
  • Big History is my creation story.
  • Ecology is my theology
  • Integrity is my salvation.
  • Ensuring a healthy future is my mission

I hold all of these from a Naturalistic standpoint. Is there anything more to say?

My Change in Religious Perspective – 1

On October 14, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

Recent months have been a very tough period for me, especially regarding the religious and spiritual aspects of my life. As many of you know, some months ago, I left Roman Catholicism and have adopted a sort of Religious Naturalist view   My change of views is mostly a result of a self-criticism and self-evaluation of my own beliefs in general that I constantly do every once in a while.

A lot of my friends were very surprised. Some were happy, others sad, and others couldn’t care any less. Yet, I soon discovered in Facebook that it didn’t matter how many times I told the reasons for my change of mind, some people continued guessing for “other” reasons for it.

Let me set the record straight. I didn’t leave Catholicism for the recent scandals we all know about, nor its dark past. The Church is made out of humans, and any other religion with the same social problems most probably would do the same thing. Any group without accountability (and the Church had much of that for centuries) would be just as abusive. I can only say that at the very least, the Church has been mostly kind to me during my whole life, especially my intellectual life and living the Gospel the best way I could. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had any bad episodes, but most of my experience with it has been for the better. This statement of mine doesn’t intend to diminish other people’s horrible experiences with the Church, but at least I want to clarify mine.

The reason why I left the Church is something very simple: I stopped believing in its core doctrines and dogmas. There were multiple reasons for it, but here are some of the reasons:

  • One of the factors had to do with my philosophical research on the relationship between the brain and the mind. Once I understood the basics of brain processes due to our evolutionary process, I gradually saw how a mental life and consciousness are in great part the result of modular interaction in the brain, especially through the continuous exchange of information (the brain as an organ of computation). The mind is real, but it is inseparable from the body and brain functionss. It is like trying to separate the software that runs in your computer from the computer itself. In fact the mind and the ego (the “I” of our consciousness) are emergent properties of brain processes. This would directly go against the Church’s teaching of the soul as being the substantial form of a body and that it can be subsistent (i.e. it can be independent from the physical body). From the point of view of neurobiology and philosophy of the mind, the separability of the soul and the body is meaningless. The soul is the result of body processes, without it, the soul goes extinct. I think that Raymond M. Smullyan’s reading “An Unfortunate Dualist” was a big influence when I reached this conclusion.
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  • We have another difficulty, even if we posit, along with Thomas Aquinas, a rational-spiritual subsistent soul beside animal souls.  The problem is that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the rational soul with all of its essential properties (memory, understanding and will) are nothing more than developed mental faculties that we have inherited from our non-human ancestors and that anyone can find in varying degrees in other non-human animals. From this perspective, the distinction between both kinds of souls (animal soul and rational soul) makes no sense at all. The rational soul is just another kind of animal soul (using Thomas Aquinas’ terminology).
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  • I have long rejected the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope (which was never a dogma before the XIX century, and not everyone believed it, especially during the first centuries of Christianity). I didn’t believe either that Jesus established a papacy as we know it today, and in many ways, the Papacy had become institutionally the opposite of the message of the Gospel. Sorry, but Mt. 16 or the end of the Gospel of John don’t serve to provide the foundations for the Papacy at all (at least with the kind of earthly power it had in the Middle Ages until today). It seems more that the Papacy is just the result of the accidents of history, especially after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West and the Western kingdoms’ competition with the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western rivalry against Muslim powers. (Many people would say that I’m being “simplistic”, and to some extent it is true. The problem is that I can’t explain the long history here, that would be another subject for another post … or perhaps a book?) The dogma of the infallibility of the papacy, that the Pope can proclaim a certain moral or religious doctrine as true ex cathedra is the ultimate act of institutional arrogance, especially as a response to nineteenth century Modernism.
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  • I had a very serious problem with Christianity’s notion of God in light of what the Puerto Rican economist Francisco Catalá Oliveras has called: “Funes’ syndrome“. I’ve talked before about it.  It is the implicit prejudice that many of us have that perfection in the world is possible, and that such perfection would be functional. I would contrast this with what I call Catalá’s principleIn this world perfection is impossible, and if it were, it would be dysfunctional. If this is true, then that means that things and activity do work in this world, precisely because of their imperfection. If this is true in the case of the entire Cosmos, wouldn’t the allegation of God’s perfection beg the question? If a supernatural God exists, and created the world, He would be as imperfect as all of us. If God interacts with us, it is because He is imperfect. And that would mean that His “plan” for the Cosmos is also imperfect and ever changing. This is incompatible with the traditional notions of God, including the Catholic one.
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  • If God is imperfect, and interacts with the world, God must be a Being in process, which was the insight formalized by the philosopher A. N. Whitehead, and later developed by Process Theology by John Cobb. This sort of philosophy and theology underscores metaphysical relationality over substance. I have my criticisms against some things held by process philosophy and theology, but I think that most of it is sound and consistent with the actual behavior and creativity of the universe.
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  • Daniel Dennett’s views on free will also made a big impact on my philosophical thinking (read his book Freedom Evolves). Although in many aspects I’m still a bit unsatisfied about Dennett’s solution that free will can coexist with determinism, I think that most of his points makes such a view plausible. I also think that his point that you don’t want an immaterial principle not causally linked to the world as a solution to the free will v. determinism is worth holding on to.
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  • The theodicy problem. I found a lot of very clever and wonderful responses to this problem, but all of them left me unsatisfied in the end. I have to say that I’ve read a lot of the literature about it, the most touching intellectually and spiritually being Marilyn McCord Adams’ book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, and Gloria Schaab’s The Creative Suffering of the Triune God. Still, as brilliant as their expositions are, at some level there was still a problem with our current understanding of God’s goodness and his omnipotence.
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  • The problem of original sin was another headache, especially from an evolutionary standpoint. The point of view of a humanity devoid of sin and malice that made a mistake and then the mistake itself is inherited as well as its effects to all of us is simply implausible. Needless to say that the mechanism of this inheritance makes no sense within the traditional dualistic view of the body and the soul: through our genes we inherit everything that makes us good and bad, and make us die, but original sin is spiritual (?). A Naturalist account of death and birth makes far more sense than the traditional doctrine of original sin. The understanding of humanity’s sinful nature can be explained very well as a continuation of the violence and destruction experienced and carried out by our ancestors. Also, it understands death, suffering, and destruction as necessary for life and intelligence to rise and thrive. It is to death and suffering that we are all here, and we can celebrate them … and even welcome them, and then transform them into blessings of joy and life.
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  • Finally, at the end of the day, the traditional Christian framework of salvation makes no sense. Whatever is the loving Self-giving of God for the salvation of souls as an expression of His love, He could have done way better than to sacrifice His Own Son. It is not that I haven’t learned anything from this framework, nor that there are rich and beautiful ways of looking at it. But, at the end of the day, why kill His Son when an Almighty God can do much better and still express His Love?

Now, some Catholics will argue that I didn’t study hard enough. I guarantee you, ever since I was little, I’ve been well informed of both Catholic history and theology. Others will argue that this is what happens when you take a Progressive theological stand. Yet, that still does not respond or answer any of the questions formulated above. Others will tell me that I didn’t have enough faith. Well, unless you show me how do you measure faith in someone, I think that such a statement is speculative.

Now, I want to say that I still read a lot of theology, and each day learn something new from what theology has to offer, especially when it is written by very knowledgeable and amazing thinkers. But when I look at the Bible, I read it mostly from literature, from the pieces of wisdom it has, and so on, but I no longer hold it as a foundation for my faith. I still read it every single day of my life, but with new eyes, and new philosophical and theological frameworks. I also read the Qur’an, and other sacred texts to learn from them.

In a sense, I still feel the Catholic Church as my mother, since it taught me a lot that I still incorporate in my intellectual and practical life. I am fully blessed by those teaching, and I never regret them.  I don’t discard returning to it again, but as far as it goes, I can’t believe in its core doctrines, which I find impossible for me to hold at this stage. My move to a sort of Religious Naturalism that conceives God as the personification of Ultimate Reality is one I’ve done where my intellect and my spirit can align much better.

In my next post, I’ll explain this view.

Texto introductorio sobre Edmund Husserl (v. 0.6)

On August 8, 2014, in Philosophy, by prosario2000

Para todos aquellos interesados en la filosofía de Husserl, he dedicado gran parte del verano a escribir. Uno de esos escritos es un libro de texto sobre Husserl. Nótese que no es la versión 1.0 (que estará disponible para diciembre de este año).

Todavía las referencias son incompletas y, a pesar de considerables correcciones, es posible que se me haya colado uno que otro error. Agradezco cualquier señalamiento o crítica constructiva del escrito. Pueden escribirme a prosario2000@gmail.com.

Pueden descargar el documento aquí.

Se hizo el documento utilizando LaTeX, y proveo abajo los archivos originales (en cuatro formatos de compresión distintos, para que descargue el que mejor le convenga) para aquella persona que quiera modificar el documento de acuerdo con los términos de las licencias CC-BY-SA 4.0 y la GNU FDL 1.3:

Para descargar paquete ZIP

Para descargar paquete 7Zip

Para descargar paquete TAR.GZ

Para descargar paquete TAR.BZ2

Estos paquetes pueden extraerse utilizando el programa 7-Zip.

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The Lovely (… or Not so Much …) Osho

On July 26, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

Introduction

Give me a nickel for every single time I’ve seen Facebook or Google+ Osho related memes.

“The moment you accept yourself you become beautiful. When you are delighted with your own body, you will delight others also.”

“Respect life, revere life. There is nothing more holy than life, nothing more divine than life.”

These wise sayings are obviously associated with someone who looks like this:

Osho

What a kind, holy man!

Yet, for some reason, people forget that he also looked like this:

Osho Mug Shot

Aaaand, aaaaand, he also said “wise” stuff like these:

“Homosexuals, because they were perverted, created the disease AIDS.”

“[Hitler] killed people in the most up-to-date gas chambers, where you don’t take much time. Thousands of people can be put in a gas chamber, and just a switch is pressed … Within a second, you evaporate. The chimneys of the factory start taking you, the smoke – you can call it holy smoke – and this seems to be a direct way towards God.”

“If a child is born deaf, dumb, and we cannot do anything, and the parents are willing, the child should be put to eternal sleep.”

Oh….  such an inspiration! ~ little tear in my eye ~.

But if that were not enough, just remember something very important: that this “holy” man supervised a sectarian group which carried out one of the most notorious bioterrorist attacks in U.S. history, and an assassination plot on a politician.  What?!  You didn’t know that?


Searching the facts regarding Osho

It really makes me furious every time I see a lot of people who share sayings from this guy. He was a sectarian leader who established a cult around him and his teachings. Recently, I’ve been seeing his books everywhere in pharmacies, stores, shopping malls, and so on. People find his “wisdom” in his books, but never make an actual search for this guy. Wikipedia has everything you need to know about him (click here) and his group’s questionable doings (click here, and here). For more details still on his group’s criminal activities, feel free to read all of the articles, and watch pictures and videos about the group in Oregon here. Osho said that he was innocent of all of this. I DON’T BUY IT! As everyone who has studied his group will note, in a cultic environment, people do whatever their leader wills. Sheela did his dirty work, and Osho denounced her when he had absolutely no other choice on the matter. ALL of the people involved were the individuals closest  to him.

I don’t have to write about this issue, since all of these articles provide much more information than I could ever write about the subject. Yet, I wish that people could actually do a serious search about the people they quote. EVERYONE (even evil guys) can say wise stuff every now and then. Just because you said something wise some time, does not mean that you will say wise stuff all the time. Whenever you see a saying by someone you don’t know, please make a serious little RESEARCH on the person who said it before you share it in a social network.

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Astrology and the “Christ-Myth” Myth

On July 25, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

Very recently, an ex-student and a dear friend had serious questions regarding a video placed in Youtube. Here it is!

When I saw this, I realized that I lost miserably about 10minutes 46 seconds of my life I would never recover for something more useful. I was shaking my head so much, that I think that I’m going to sue my ex-student for “shaking adult syndrome”. Practically everything in this video is historically wrong. Needless to say that I’ve already talked about the Horus-Christ falsity before, but the video adds more deities like Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, Mithra, and so on. The author of this video evidently did not make any research, except with some popular books with questionable information. He has not checked the reliability of these claims, nor has he actually checked the primary sources (the documents or original stories themselves) to claim what he claims.  I cannot refute every point regarding these deities, it would take too much of my time, and would make my blog post needlessly infinite. Yet here are some facts: Attis had no resemblance to Jesus in any way.  Here is a summary and some ancient texts on Attis –a reliable secondary source –, after reading this can somebody honestly hold that Attis resembles Christ or any of the features ascribed to him in this video? People who include Mithra in the discussion often fail to distinguish between Persian Mithraism and Roman Mithraism. The Persian Mithra had little resemblance to Jesus: he was not born of a virgin, but of a rock; there is no sign of a crucified or resurrected Mithra anywhere, his most representative icon is him fighting with a bull. Romans assumed a modified version of Mithraism, and in this case, he was born on December 25 ….  but that was by the third or fourth century CE (i.e. centuries after Christ was born). Regarding Krishna, just an elementary research reveals that Krishna was born in July 18, 3228 BCE (nope … it was not December 25th), he certainly was not born of a virgin (when Visnu descended to the womb of Vasudeva, she was not in a virginal state, she had intercourse with her husband and had 7 children before Krishna). The Dionysus talisman where he appears crucified, has been found to be a XIX century forgery.

I could go on and on making a field day about the gazillion ways the author of this video was a lazy researcher regarding his knowledge of these deities. Yet, I want to address the core statement of the video.

The Video’s (Lazy) Historical and Astrological Analysis

What follows is essentially my response to my ex-student (with a bit of more details along the way). I hope this is an adequate response to a lot of friends, students, and other people who keep asking me these questions.

  1. There are two stories of Jesus birth and infancy, one in the Gospel of Matthew and another in the Gospel of Luke. Both are late traditions (about the year 80 CE) and, as many Bible scholars know, none of these stories hold historical water, and seriously contradict each other. The story about the Wisemen visiting Jesus appears only in Matthew. The video does not dwell on Luke’s version of events, so its analysis is necessarily incomplete.
  2. According to the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:1-12), those who visited Christ were not “kings” but “MAGI” (often translated as “Wisemen”), the Magi are religious figures from Persia who, presumably, were following a particular star in the sky. The star itself was clearly in motion. They were not kings!
  3. The tradition that the Magi were “kings” was a later elaboration by Christians from the second century to the sixth century. This is because the Magi story in the Gospel of Matthew reminded many Christians of a prophecy made by Isaiah who actually did talk about kings (Is. 60:1-7).
  4. The Magi were not following “the” Star of the East, but a star in the East. The text of the story is very explicit that it was not a usual star in the sky and that it was in motion guiding the Magi.
  5. The Gospel of Matthew does not say how many Magi went to Bethlehem. A later Christian tradition assumed they were three because of the three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.
  6. I do agree that the Orion’s belt is now called “the three kings” in many parts of the world … but it was not the case back then! They were called the “three kings” centuries later when some Christians associated the three stars in Orion’s belt with the tradition of the “Three Kings” after this tradition was already formed. Yet, they are not called that way in all societies, not even Christian societies. In some Christian societies, they are called “the three sisters”, in others “the three Marys”. There is no record of Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Jews, etc. who called these three stars “the three kings”.
  7. During the first three centuries, Chrisitans did not celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25. In fact, our earliest tradition is that it was celebrated on January 6. Some authors, based on Luke’s account, conjecture that maybe Jesus was born during the Spring. Regardless of the fact that we will never know exactly when was Jesus born, centuries later Christians started celebrating his birthday on December 25. There are two explanations for this:

    1. We know for a fact that Christians started a weekly celebration of Sunday in the Pagan world and not Saturday, mainly because it was the day when Jesus resurrected. They were perfectly aware that it coincided with the Pagan celebration of the Sun (as the writings of Justin Martyr make clear). Although more information is needed to confirm this, it may be that after the fourth century, Christians had adopted December 25th as Jesus birthday to substitute the Pagan celebration of the rebirth of “Sol Invictus” (Unconquered Sun) which was celebrated that day. Assertions made by John Chrysostom point in that direction.

      (NOTE: This is the point when I have to stop and laugh. Every time I see memes in Facebook about how different deities around the world were born on December 25, they are wrong in each and every case. Yet, if they mentioned Sol Invictus, they would have been right!!!! Yet, they forget Sol Invictus in every one of them!!!! And even when this video describes perfectly well why the Unconquered Sun was born every December 25th, it also forgets Sol Invictus!!!!!!! This is hilarious!  … But I digress … )

    2. The other explanation is that is rarely discussed is the fact that, apparently, from the fourth century, Christians celebrated the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary on March 25 of the Western liturgical year. For the liturgical calendar, if the Annunciation is to be celebrated that day, then that means that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated nine months later (December 25). This does not exclude the first explanation, given that March 25 happens to be the celebration of Spring equinox at the time.
  8. None of the Pagan deities died on a cross. Crucifixion simply did not form part of any Pagan mythological story in or before Jesus’ time. The very idea of a worshipped entity dying on a cross was repugnant to the Pagan mind. Crucifixion was an extremely humiliating process of defeat and unworthy of gods you might want to worship. When Paul preached a crucified Christ to gentiles in the Mediterranean, it was rejected by the vast majority of Pagans as being “crazy” or “foolish” (e.g. see 1 Cor. 1:18ff). We even have second or third century graffiti that mocks the very idea of worshipping a crucified god (e.g. the Alexamenos graffito, which makes fun of a Christian).
  9. The reason why Jesus had twelve Apostles had nothing to do with constellations. Jesus was a first-century Jewish apocalypticist. This means that he thought that the end of times was very close, that Yahweh would intervene in history and replace the forces of darkness with the forces of light, and that a new kingdom would be established. Furthermore, in that kingdom, the twelve Apostles would rule as judges the twelve tribes of Israel, with Jesus as the supreme king of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 19:28).
  10. The reason why the number twelve is repeated in the Bible is totally unrelated to constellations. The twelve tribes of Israel emerged from a very complex interaction of historical events, and internal economic, political, and religious issues of the time.
  11. The Christian Cross has nothing to do with the Zodiac, but with Jesus having been crucified. This was adopted by Christians because it was through the Cross that Jesus redeemed humanity for its sins, and with his resurrection he conquered death. The video shows a Celtic cross at the top of the Church, which superficially looks like the cross in the Zodiac. In reality, though, as any expert in Celtic art will tell you, it is only a stylized cross of many that were developed in Europe. The vast majority of these crosses have no circle. It seems that the Celtic circle in the cross is just artistic, nothing more.
  12. Finally, again, the research for the video is simply lazy. It does not establish the big differences between the Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Essene, etc. astrological maps. Egyptologists alone have a hard time identifying the figures of an ancient zodiac map with certain stars. This is because the Ancient Egyptian zodiac is so remarkably different from the one we use today, and it evolved adopting and rejecting some aspects of other cultures’ astrological beliefs.

You can check my claims if you want, but I checked the videos’ claim … and it is definitely bogus! No question about it!

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You are your body … and more than that!

On June 6, 2014, in Philosophy, by prosario2000

I am a body … and more than that too!

I say this because a lot of people out there think that we are souls but we have a body (rephrasing a statement by C. S. Lewis). Yes! You are more than a body! But you are a body, it is an integral part of you without which you wouldn’t be who you are.

A great part of what you are is in your genes. Many of our own genetic predispositions along with the environment we interact with during our lifetime shape who we are in a very real sense. Scientists have found that a lot of our inclinations depend in part on our genes: our taste of food and clothing, our political views, our sexual  orientation, the jokes we like, and so on.

Another great part of our body is our brain, without it, it would be impossible for us to live, breathe, and relate to society in any sensible way. To make decisions, you need the frontal lobes of your brain, without them, it would be impossible for you to create your own projects, build your own future, and know what to do with your life. Without your limbic system, you wouldn’t be able to establish an empathic relationships with anyone: not with your parents, nor with your children, nor with your siblings nor your friends. As many studies on serial killers have shown, the brain plays a great role in your behavior towards others. And, as it turns out, without key features of your limbic system, it would be impossible for you to make rational decisions either. Emotions play a great role regarding those sorts of decisions (e.g. acts of caring for others).

The way your body is built (with all of its strengths and weaknesses) serves as a foundation for your own relationships: it is your body that determines who your parents are, or who your children are, or who are your friends and neighbors. Without your body, your relational life is simply gone. There wouldn’t be any form for you to grow as a human being. Your body is the one that gives you the opportunity to smile, to see a landscape, to enjoy a meal with family, to watch the sky.

And speaking of sky … one thing that is extremely important is to realize and is missed when we state that we are a soul and not a body … is the realization that we are part of the cosmic story. When we look at the stars, we look at our ancestors. Everything our body is, which make our minds possible, come from them. The iron that flows through our veins, the oxygen we inhale, the nitrogen that nourish plants, and so on, they come from stars. And here we are! We are their offsprings through billions of years of evolution. Thanks to our bodies, we realize that we are the universe conscious of its own existence, looking through the telescope, and be amazed by the millions of wonders that await to be revealed every day about who we are, where we come from, and how we came into being.

And as Neil Shubin (based on Charles Darwin) has shown in his book and his video series Your Inner Fish, a lot of our bodily features, are the footprints of so many creatures of the past. They are the ones who gave us the gifts that let us react towards immediate dangers, see colors, count numbers, walk to the park, smile, among all of the things we hold dear and treasure.

Yet you are more than your body … you are your body, and part of who you are is determined by it, but you are also what you do with it. As a matter of fact, it is the way we use our bodies (i.e. the way you treat others) that your soul is a good one or not. Nature is constantly revealing the truth that we are not apart from it, that what we do actually matters to others. Your soul arises from the depths of matter and your gazillion relationships with everyone and everything in the planet.

This is how God breathed on the Earth to give it life, because active matter is creative, building living things and making souls arise out of them. This is how the Creator created life in a world that is endlessly giving us existence in every instance and every moment.

Who are we to deny this beautiful way with which God kisses every being on Earth?

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