Culture, myth, reality

We only understand anything through language. We distinguish one thing from another through the words we use: Structuralism says that language is a system, one thing, and words relate to each other rather than to discrete things out there. Post-structuralism says I am born into a world of language, which defines what I might do or think. Orwell imagined Newspeak preventing anyone ever thinking an unorthodox thought: perhaps English does, too. Deconstructionism asserts that meanings are not fixed, but must always be ideological constructs, which attempt to make that which is the product of a particular culture or thought system seem natural, inevitable and objectively true. To destroy slavery, including slavery to concepts of masculinity, we need new language.

Back to that later, perhaps. Language comes before reality in the Bible: In the beginning was the Word; the Earth was a formless void until God speaks, and calls our world into existence. Yet in Christianity, God made revealed Truth. Human beings simply have to tune into revelation of this ready made divine order of things, and fit themselves into it. 

Yet I believe in continuing revelation, human beings working things out, seeing things anew.

I have just been watching a television drama, Thirteen, in which a girl was kidnapped and imprisoned for thirteen years before she escaped. I don’t believe her post-traumatic responses, necessarily, it is a drama of events more than ideas, and one for the quotidian rather than extreme- couples split and reform, people choose between spouses and lovers; so as well as the threat of the Murderer- will he kill the ten year old he has kidnapped now?- I am offered a vision of what it means to be in a couple.

I have a choice of many such stories, in fifty-year soap operas or novellas, millions of versions, from four millennia of civilisation. They are hot, with strong threat and emotion, or cool and contemplative. There are great Myths, and English-speaking peoples are shaped by the King James Bible and Shakespeare. We have no sure way of relating the Jewish teacher, Y’shua, to the Jesus of the Gospels, but we have those stories, of being born of a virgin, changing water into wine, dying and rising again.

There are continual new interpretations of these stories. Humans use them for our own purposes. They do not trap us into one understanding but free us for greater understanding as we continually explore. Stories enable us to share glimpses of truth, as well as the clear detailed descriptions of truth in scientific papers; and to feel our way into empathy as well as thinking into understanding.

Different languages give different understandings of the world, divide it up in different ways.

I am not saying any philosopher considering language has a lesser view than this, but for me, language is a good enough tool to explore my world, and the cage is porous enough for humanity to stretch it: it is not a cage, but scaffolding, for us to create greater understanding. The stories can free us.

I started on this because I have been reading Derek Guiton who apparently fears that David Boulton will drive belief in God out of the Religious Society of Friends. Possibly no-one reading this has my precise interests, yet I hope you get something from it. Here I have looked at Boulton’s explanation of stories in The Trouble with God and found it compatible with belief in God as well as useful in understanding my world.

Bronzino, fresco from the chapel of the old palace in Florence, 2

The Adoration of the Bronze Snake

Human life: anger, terror, misery, perplexity, delusion. Here’s The Adoration of the Bronze Snake, by Bronzino, a fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake

Look at the twisting bodies, and at the faces- horror and confusion everywhere:

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 6

relieved by death (perhaps it is merely stupor)

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 2

Sometimes not even by that. Continue reading

The Geologic Column

The Geologic column demonstrates the age of the Earth is at least hundreds of millions of years old, and by the intricate order of fossils demonstrates evolution. It is the atheist’s friend, refuting fundamentalist evangelicalism. So it is disturbing that six of my first nine Google results for “geologic column” are Creationist. First of those is “Ten Misconceptions about the Geologic Column” by Steven A Austin, PhD.

Creationists drafted the GC, he shouts! Well, before nuclear fusion was understood, Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Sun as only thirty million years. Science can be wrong. He noted the “Denudation of the Weald” had taken 300m years, and wondered at the difference. That denudation remains controversial.

Adam Sedgwick, whom Austin names, was the son of an Anglican vicar, born 1785. He took holy orders. Yet he opened his lectures to women, and campaigned to allow non-Anglicans to enter Cambridge University. This progressive is a strange hero for a creationist. He described and named the Cambrian era based on physical characteristics of rocks unique to Wales, after research involving Charles Darwin as a field assistant. He believed in evolution- “We all admit development as a fact of history”- yet not natural selection, believing that there is a moral and metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. He thought God was involved, but that did not make him deny the age of the Earth, or the progress of fossils over millions of years. He changed his mind about the Biblical Flood when certain deposits were shown to have been made by glaciers, not floods.

I don’t know whether anyone believes Austin’s “misconception No.3”, The strata systems of the geologic column are worldwide in their occurrence. Where would all that rock come from? It is a wonder that 0.4% of the Earth has all ten sedimentary systems. Elsewhere, earthquakes have folded rock from under the surface over later rock, so that the strata may be upside down or vertical; the upper rock may erode, over hundreds of millions of years.

This means there are doubts, as with the Weald. Particular rocks may be dated in different ways: radiometric, or by the position of fossils. Austin calls this “special pleading”- yet while the date of any particular rock formation might be disputed, the general idea that rocks form in strata over millions of years, and may be dated radiometrically or by fossils is clear.

I would have said “indisputable”. Someone with no regard for truth, or for the integrity of the scientific community, clearly may dispute them. Austin has accumulated knowledge: the Cambrian System on an intercontinental scale is typically composed of quartzose sandstone, overlain by glauconitic sandstone with dark-brown shale, overlain by impure, light-brown limestones.

Some of his dissembling is only thinly disguised by the use of specialist words. Some fossils appear to be distinctive of certain systems [but] (most fossil taxa range through a few to several systems), he says. A taxon is a classification: Chordata, having a spinal cord, is a taxon of animals since the Cambrian.

Ken Ham’s picture may give some part of the motive.

l morality based on Bible

Beside the lie that only bad people, who if they were ever worshippers were never true Christians, would be gay, have an abortion or need a divorce, the lie that the geologic column is consistent with literal belief in Genesis 1 is tiny. Jesus warned against such people. The illusion may be comforting until the hapless believer is “bad”, suffers terror of being discovered, then is cast out.

Christianity not belief, but poetry

Belief has always been at the heart of Christianity. The problem with belief is that it can be false. It is necessary to have the correct belief, or you will go to hell, and lead others there too: that is the idealistic justification for burning heretics, to save their souls. We use the word “creed” as a metonymy for religion because the creed- including such things as “born of the Virgin Mary”- is so important. The Church of England is defined by the 39 Articles, additional essential belief; and the Church of Scotland by the Westminster Confession. Now Fundamentalists believe in the “inerrancy of Scripture,” which creates innumerable impossible things requiring Belief.

This makes Christianity impossibly fragile. If Noah could not have taken four million different species of beetle into the Ark, then Christianity cannot be true. Still, creationists attempt to argue that the World is less than ten thousand years old.

It also makes Christianity pernicious. If a child is brought up to believe in Adam as a historical figure, such that they refuse any evidence to the contrary, they make it difficult to function well in the world: any university degree should confront them with evidence refuting it.

If people were inspired to write about the nature of the world, I doubt anyone before 1800 could have comprehended that the local galaxies are moving at a thousand kilometres per second towards the Great Attractor. I had not heard of the Great Attractor before idly googling to get a link for this paragraph. I see the first article is from 1998 and may have been superseded- don’t take this as gospel: I was only looking for some figures to bamboozle.

Instead, we have stories. Gordon wrote on facebook this morning, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
This is not dogma, or doctrine, or theology, or magical or ‘supernatural’. It is a poetic expression of the realisation of the experience of coming together in community to share our lives with one another
. I agree. It does not matter whether Jesus said these words, and it is not necessary to imagine the Presence in the Midst literally. What matters is the experience of being together with this intention.

For me, Christianity in the 21st century has to get rid of belief entirely. The beliefs are so often impossible or ridiculous. Though when Hosea realised I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings he realised a better way for people to be together. Job suffered, purely because the world is like that; it does not mean he was bad; he is impossibly small, within the workings of the World; he realised this, stood up, and by his own efforts regained what he had lost. It is a story, and a worthwhile one.

the-serpent-satan-temps-eve

Madness and serfdom

Render unto Caesar-

Jeremy Bentham proposed The Panopticon, a prison of open cells around a central watch-tower. The prisoners could not see each other, but the guards in the tower might be looking in on them at any time. So they always had to conform, or they might be caught and punished further.

In the hospital, someone on suicide watch was followed all the time. The follower did not speak, or restrain the patient except by the locks on the outside door; but she could not escape watching, in case she could create something to self-harm from the things about her.

Now, the British state wants to read all our emails, subjecting them to increasingly sophisticated analysis software to spot anyone non-conforming, and my demonstrating against Trident- £100,000,000,000 to threaten the whole world with death, while children starve, and die of preventable disease, and are uneducated. My opposition to it is clearly insane, when the British Public want it, and it would be irresponsible and a vote loser for the Opposition actually to oppose it.

Caesar thinks everything is Caesar’s, yet some people can escape, a little. If you can make money, and support yourself, or better still if you can inherit it and your portfolio grows without your effort, then you can be allowed eccentricities.

Increasingly, not the rest of us. The welfare state must be whittled away to nothing. No-one is so sick or disabled that they should get benefits as unfit for work. We are forced into conformity, and watched in case we step out of line.

I am insane, for nothing I want makes sense, nothing is rational, I can make sensible arguments for none of it except I want it. “The heart has reasons which Reason cannot know.”

And to Goddess-

we are created in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, unique- none of us conforms, not really, none of us is sane, no-one fits the boxes and the square holes and Procrustes’ bed. All of us have that of God, which stubbornly refuses to fit. No-one has the full picture. Some want a nice, controllable God in a few mostly horrible verses of the Bible- “Slaves obey your masters”, that kind of thing, a God who is a greater bully than they are, a God for Caesar. I cannot give Caesar anything. I tried, I really did, and then I could not any longer, because God called me and being God’s was all I could bear

so I must rely on Goddess

VR The Coquette 2

Biblical leadership

My latest follower is “Apostolic Mommy and Wife”. I am delighted that she should take an interest in this Christian blog, for much of my posting is about Biblical interpretation and Christian relationships with God and creation. Unfortunately I find her account of Christian marriage wanting.

It was a shock to find the writer on such a pink site, so clearly aimed at women, refer to “our wives”. Is this a man writing? It is unlikely to be a lesbian. I googled it, and found the article was plagiarized from here, or possibly this pdf:  lifted whole, rather than “adapted from” as she claims. This is objectionable, given that she wishes to make money from her site, asking readers to “Donate”, “Advertise with us” or go to “Our Youtube channel”. I am unclear whether the companies she reviews, including Kosher CasualI wore this dress to church today. I was able to sing, dance and shout to praise God’s name – All while feeling assured I was modestly covered- paid for the review.

On modesty, I saw a woman in a niqab yesterday walk across the square. Her loose summer burqa did not disguise the glorious sexiness of her relaxed, confident walk. Modesty rules can never prevent free people expressing ourselves; and as the Muslims recognise, arms and ankles, and singing and dancing, are sexy. The only way to be “modest” in this sense is to erase yourself.

The real author, Dennis Raney, recognises that some women wear the trousers, and even that some men are not strong or natural leaders, but still says that men should lead. God has placed the husband in the position of responsibility. It does not matter what kind of personality a man may have. Nor the woman: in fact Raney does not acknowledge different personalities among women, claiming that all wives want and need leadership.

Raney says husbands should give to their wives, but bizarrely claims it should be giving up: something you genuinely valued, like your golf game, a fishing trip, or your hobby. Rather, he needs to find ways of being with her to enrich them both. There must be room for two in a marriage. I get the impression that the husband Raney writes for finds his wife a mystery, but gives up his golf game because them’s the rules- rather than choosing to do something with her, because he prefers to. No wonder she “resists, fights and spurns” him. I am horrified that Raney imagines that couple could have been living together so long that their children are grown and gone.

The article is not wholly worthless. He correctly says women at different stages of life have different needs; but gives no Bible quote for that. The tiny amount of sanity in the article comes from contemporary morality and understanding. The Biblical bits lead him to make ridiculous assertions, missing the complexity of real life.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes IV

The Kin-dom of Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven is here. All we need to do is recognise that, and then we will live the eternal life fitting in God’s kingdom, and help others to do the same.

God saw what God had made, and behold it was very good. God made us all male and female, each a complex mix of both, in God’s own image: loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. God knit me together in my mother’s womb- God’s works are wonderful, and I know it well.

Christ came as the seed which brought forth a hundred-fold, the seed which grew into a tree in whose branches the birds nest, the yeast which worked through all the dough. He told us not to worry what we will eat or wear. He told us to go out and make disciples of all nations, and promised to be with us as we did.

Jesus told us our neighbour is every human being, even the despised foreigner. He chose Paul “to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel”. All will be made alive in Christ. He is our great example, a light to the nations, that [God’s] salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Death is real in the Bible, but there are many deaths before our hearts stop beating. We die, and are born again. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. Our redeemer lives, here, now, and so shall we: we have eternal life! Eternal life, life partaking in the life of God, here, now, not after we are buried, not in a place where the laws of physics do not apply. To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

I had not realised that “The lion shall lay down with the lamb” is a misquote, though preserving the sense: but these animals are people, ceasing to be predatory on each other, but living together in love and unity here on Earth, led by the child Christ, by his great example. We are all kin, children of God.

We must take up our cross, if needed, and follow him. He did not resist when arrested and executed, but healed the ear of the man sent to arrest him. Non-resistance, the way of Peace, here, now, opens the eyes of all to the Kin-dom of heaven, for everything that was made by God is kin.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven, here, now. Open your eyes and see it. Love, and enter it.

The painting is by American Quaker Edward Hicks. More on peace, shortly.

Edward Hicks, the Peaceable Kingdom

For Michelle Lesley, with whom I had a long discussion. And, because I can find no better place for it, here is the alternative view of Biblical Christianity:

Biblical Christian Principles

It is all the more striking, in that if you image-google Dixon Diaz you see how right wing all his other cartoons are.

God is on my side

The Bible is full of wonderful verses for the self-righteous. If you argue with them, it just proves they are right!

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. – I Corinthians 2:14

Jesus said, I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ John 16:33. So your disagreement shows you are a persecutor, destined for hell.

And Jesus said, If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. John 15:18. You disagree with me because you hate Christ.

Hear also what St Paul, or Pseudo-Paul saith: all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12. And  Ephesians 2:2 – “in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” 2nd Corinthians 4:4 – “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 1 John 5:19 – “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” You are still right, though everyone disagrees: and if you like the idea of a Remnant, you are even right if Christians disagree.

How will the Christian respond? “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” Luke 6:27-28. So I show Love by correcting your false understanding, and telling you you will go to Hell if you do not do what I say (that is, obey God’s Commands).

If you know more good verses for a self-righteous Christian, please share in the comments.

ΑΩΑΩΑΩΑΩΑΩΑΩ

I shall continue adding verses as I go. Someone quoted at me, 2Corinthains [sic] 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. She added your language, your attitude, your overall presentation speaks more of the god of this world and not Jehovah God of the Bible. In other words, Hear God through me! If you disagree, you have been blinded by Satan!

Pompeii fresco, Zeus enthroned

Clarity of thought

pretending to be a journalWhat is going on here? Just look at that cover: it mimics an academic journal so well! I can dismiss it, of course: it is the journal for “Biblical manhood and womanhood”, but there is no such thing, and its writers believe the Bible is consistent, when it is not; but what do they imagine they are doing?

I start with “Biblical manhood and womanhood”. The Bible affirms examples as diverse as the man carrying a water-jar- Peterson Toscano suggested that this was such exclusively female behaviour, shameful for a man, that she was a trans woman; David, collecting wives by conquest and murder; Junia the apostle, and Mary and Martha, so there is clearly an acceptance in the Bible of a wide diversity of gender expression. A quick Google of “Junia the Apostle” reveals hordes of silly Evangelicals trying to weasel round her clear leadership role. So much for that.

Here is an “essay” by a “professor of ethics”, forsooth, affirming “biblical sexuality” (see above) but also asserting that “transgendered people undermine the public agenda of the LGBT movement”. Oh, Professor? How? He alleges that a trans woman’s conformity to female gender norms undermines the LGBT narrative regarding gender that any gender roles evident in society are the result of outdated cultural stereotypes.

This is merely silly. Arguably the word “feminine” has some meaning, though there are men more feminine than most women, and women more masculine than most men- even some who are cisgendered. I am feminine. If you accept the word “feminine” has any meaning, then “feminine” roles are for “feminine” people, whether men or women. TERFs assert that trans women reinforce gender roles by asserting that we are women, but so what? I am clearly subverting everything my upbringing and society says about gender roles, because my society formed me to be a man.

However it is silly in a different way from fools who say “God did not make Adam and Steve”. It is an essay of several thousand words, with a clear argument and examples, and even though anyone who knows anything about it will immediately see it is worthless, the writer and most subscribers will not. They will accept its academic pretensions, and may even squirrel away its arguments so that they can repeat them for comfort when their false world-view is threatened.

I am grateful that Evan Lenow states some of the arguments he attacks. Mandatory celibacy corrodes gay Christians’ capacity for relationship in general. But it does something else equally harmful: by requiring gay Christians to view all their sexual desires as temptations to sin, it causes many of them to devalue, if not loathe, their bodies. That might get through to his readers.

However reasonable the essay appears, I am tempted to reply to it not with a reasoned refutation but with an angry expression of emotion- Pah! Or Pshaw! if I am feeling particularly Victorian. An emotional response is too little valued in intellectual society. JBMW needs more than the appearance of argument to be worthy of anything else.

John Lavery, Anna Pavlova in part

Ruth

In the Bible, the book of Ruth is a lesbian love story.

Ruth’s husband has died. Naomi is Ruth’s mother in law, who prays The Lord grant that you may find security. But where? The only place is in the house of your husband. Then Ruth makes her famous declaration of Love, often read at weddings:

Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.

At Bethlehem, Ruth meets Boaz. He does not speak to her at first: he asks the foreman, ‘To whom does this young woman belong? But Ruth does not belong to any man. So Boaz has to order the young men not to bother her. They might sexually assault a lone woman like that.

How are these two women to survive? Naomi tells Ruth to find where Boaz sleeps, and lie down by his feet. That is, she offers herself to him, and he accepts. But after the declaration of love between the two women, there are no words of love between Boaz and Ruth, only gratitude. After she has lain at his feet, he gives her a gift of barley.

A woman cannot own property. Only a man can. So who shall redeem Elimelech’s land, which his widow Naomi holds? Boaz is the only kinsman who will do so, and with the land he acquires Ruth as his wife. The purpose of this law is that the name of the man Elimelech will not die, for Boaz effectively will give him sons to inherit his land, through Ruth.

The only place where these two women will not starve is the house of a man, and it is better to have one man to protect them or any man may sexually assault them. (Marital rape was legal in England until the 1990s). The final proof of their love: the women say to Naomi your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons. Naomi took Ruth’s son and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.

This post is for deorl, who boasts of being “a degreed student of the Bible” and accuses me of eisigesis, which by etymology means “reading [my] own biases into the text” but is more often used to mean interpreting a passage in a way the speaker does not like. The text is clear, and only his homophobia prevents him from seeing the love of two women celebrated in the Old Testament. That is, his is a cultural interpretation from conservative evangelicalism, not an open-minded interpretation seeking the meaning of the text.

Ruth is the Bible at its best, challenging the extreme oppression of women. In the Torah, we see women as chattels, so that if a woman is raped the solution is to marry her to her rapist, on the principle of “You break it, you buy it”. The Bible supports the rule-based oppressive religion that deorl still craves. However it also continually subverts it, as with this story.

Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders 1