Octavo Dia

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Phones

You know what I wish? I wish whenever you called an automated phone service, there would be a "If you are not a moron," access code. Any time I have to call someone, it's because there is nothing automated that would help me. If it can be answered by a machine, I would not be calling to ask about it. Yet I am still forced to go through the gauntlet of questions to weed out the morons before I am permitted to talk to real person.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Da Vinci: I should not read novels

Almost everything I read is non-fiction. There is a very good reason for that. I am a fiction junkie. You know the difference between an addict and a junkie, right? An addict has the presence of mind to save some for their next fix. A junkie uses it all right now. In other words, in one massive hit, I finished reading The Da Vinci Code. Yesterday nine hours disappeared. I assume that I was reading the whole time, but that's only because I was done with the book. I had the stereo on, but I don't remember it going through all the discs, I just remember it being off when I came to.

I also determined that reviewing this book in the manner I'm doing makes little sense. There are large stretches of plot with little relevance to the spiritual meaning of the book. As such, I'm going to break up the blog posts by subject area. That way they won't be so terribly long.

Da Vinci: Religious Organizations
Da Vinci: Corporal Mortification
Da Vinci: Constantine and the Council of Nicea
Da Vinci: Duality and the Sacred Feminine
Da Vinci: Nothing is new under the sun
Da Vinci: Random bits

Da Vinci: Nothing is new under the sun

Nothing is new in Christianity.

The last time I ran across this argument, that there are other and older religions than Christianity from which Christianity copied things, it was in conversations with a solipsist I met at work. Those were some of the most surreal conversations I've ever had, because, like so many philosophies, it's entirely unworkable. He kept slipping in and out of reality.

I believe there are three sources for the "copies" of Christianity.

The first source is cultural memory of historical events. The most common example is the universality of global flood legends. Every society of any size has flood legends which are surprisingly similar in their specifics. If a global flood actually happened, and all people alive are descendants of those who survived it, we would expect that the flood story would appear in multiple areas. That some "predate" the Jewish revelation is not all that unnerving. We don't have the earliest copy of the Jewish Scriptures available. Anyone who has an older copy of the same event would "predate" it, but they wouldn't predate the flood itself.

The second source is cultural memory of divine revelation. After the flood, every people group was directly descended from those who had received divine revelation. After Babel, they moved apart, and some of the truth was lost. They became pagan peoples--but they still had a cultural history of the truth. Rather than the historical figure of Noah and the ark, demigods or heroes were on the ark. Bits and pieces of a lost revelation would be preserved in the new pagan religions.

The third source is purely conjectural, but it is divine revelation which has not been recorded in Scripture. In the Old Testament, we repeatedly meet prophets whose prophecies are not recorded in Scripture--if fact, they are frequently not named. Since notable figures such as Isaiah do not object to being in their company, we can assume that their prophecies are from God. What did they prophecy? We don't know. Could they not have prophesied about the coming Messiah? And could those prophecies have been passed down by means other than Scripture?

Finally, a quick internet search points out that Mr. Brown played fast and loose with his history, the best of which is available here.

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Da Vinci: Duality and the Sacred Feminine

The gist of the book is that the Church has been covering up and rewriting Scripture to remove Mary Magdalene as the female god. The true religion, the one that has been covered up, according to the book, is a balanced, dualistic religion. The trouble with dualist religions is that they are inherently contradictory. If there are two balanced halves, there must be a whole. Your options are either worshiping the lesser beings or coming up with a binary unity. The problem of evil is the death blow to the second interpretation. Unless there is a third force causing evil, the binary god is the source of evil, and therefore unworthy of worship.

The dramatic cover up explained in the book is explained with the famous line, "The winners write the history books." This does not, however, mean that the books of the losers will be any more accurate. The losers in any particular conflict have their own agenda, only they are not limited by evidence ("The enemy destroyed it."), nor by pragmatism. The loser's story has both the bias of partisanship and the fault of extremism. Looking to the Gnostic Gospels for the truth is like reading "The Confederate History of the Antebellum South."

If you want to read an objective history of a subject, read the writings of someone who doesn't have a dog in the fight. The Jews have no reason to believe Christ was God, yet the Jewish Scriptures are full of prophecies that point to Christ and only to Christ and demonstrate that he must be divine. The response from fans of the book is that the church rewrote the Old Testament to fit their interpretation. There are several problem with that, not least of which is the Jews. You cannot find a group in history better suited to resisting attempts at changing their Scriptures than the Jews. They've been thrown out of every country, had their Scriptures and synagogues burned, suffered innumerable pogroms, yet they survive and carry their Scriptures with them.

A second problem is why this replacement of Scriptures with redacted versions is not mentioned in Jewish history? Wouldn't a people as dedicated to studying the word as the Jews notice the changes? Wouldn't they notice that their new copies were missing passages and had new passages inserted?

A third problem is the multiple edits needed. Even if the Church managed to round up all of the Jewish Scriptures to rewrite the prophecies, as well as limiting the Gnostic Gospels, they would not get it right on the first try. The Bible is intensely interconnected. Everything relates to everything else. If you push one bit out of alignment, the whole thing will be noticeably skewed. So even if they managed to round up everything and change it, these new Scriptures would need to rounded up again for a new reworking, and again, and again. One attempt is a stretch. The dozens needed would be impossible. It's like getting rid of something on the Internet. It's copied into so many places, downloaded by so many people, that eliminating it is virtually impossible.

In short, the church has not the power to edit the Scriptures to the extent needed (even if you assume that God is standing passively by while this happens), and the proposed alternative is either evil or contradictory.

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Da Vinci: Random bits

This is the post for all those bits about which I have not enough commentary for a full post:

"Aringarosa had never been comfortable with the Vatican's need to dabble in science. What was the rationale for fusing science and faith? Unbiased science could not possibly be performed by a man who possessed faith in God."

Alternatively, unbiased science cannot be performed by anyone. At least with a man of God, one can understand his bias. With a secular scientist, it is impossible to know which items he selected from the buffet of philosophy to create his beliefs. The reason for dabbling with science is that if science is surrendered, it will be turned on the church.


Teabing.

Come on, his antagonist is Leigh Teabing? Teabing? Every time I read it, I read, Leigh Teabag.


Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith--acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.

This is a non sequitur. That which we cannot prove, that which we imagine to be true, are not for that reason fabrications. What we imagine to be true may very well be true. What we cannot prove to be true may also be true. Besides, "every faith in the world" is over broad. Orthopraxic religions require no faith. It is only the orthodox religions in which faith matters.


Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.

And those who understand their faiths understand that there is a depth to Scripture which your protagonist has not begun to plumb. There are metaphors, yes, but there is also reality. There is allegory, philosophy, advice, and wisdom. Because it can be read as a metaphor does not mean that is its sole, best, or even proper meaning.

On a side note, Christianity without its "miracles" or "stories" is dead. Remove the miracles from the Koran, and nothing changes. Remove Buddha's miracles, and Buddhism survives. Remove the miracles of Christianity, and you have cut the heart out of it.


The doctrine has become a buffet line. Abstinence, confession, communion, baptism, mass--take your pick--chose whatever combination pleases you and ignore the rest. What kind of spiritual guidance is the church offering?

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Da Vinci: Constantine and the Council of Nicea

I've run across this argument dozens of times, and I responded to it when I was reviewing The Battle for God. In short, we can't trust the Bible because the books of the Bible were chosen by the Council of Nicea, which was made up of human men, and it was called by Constantine the Great, who was at best a recent and dubious convert with pagan beliefs and political machinations, although he was in the wrong place at the wrong time to do what the Da Vinci code has him doing.

Yet for the sake of argument, I'll pretend that Constantine did what Brown said he did. My response in The Battle for God was that, if you were an omnipotent God, don't you think that you could influence the decision of the council? I believe that argument still stands in this case.

However, there are several other things which I have learned since that time. First, the Council of Nicea fits very well with what we know about the actions of God. For reasons which I cannot understand, God very rarely intervenes directly in his creation. Typically, he uses intermediaries, angels or men, to carry out his bidding on earth. Again however, his intermediaries are not always the most savory of characters. As we see throughout the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, God very frequently used pagan kings to carry out his judgment on Israel. In the Book of Job, God uses Satan himself to accomplish his ends. If God can manipulate the Father of Lies to serve him, surely a quasi-pagan emperor is no challenge.

So why would God bother using Constantine? If you read through the Old Testament history, spiritual warfare is evident throughout. Move, counter-move, move, counter-move. God creates. Satan tempts. God promises a Savior. Satan has Abel killed. God begins the line through Seth. Satan leads his descendants astray. God floods the earth. Satan tempts them to challenge God at Babel, etc. Why do we think this warfare stopped in A.D. 32? Satan saw his kingdom collapsing under the growth of Christianity, spread by men carrying the Gospels. Satan inspired numerous false Gospels. God used Constantine, the only man fit for the job, to create a definitive Scripture. Satan used Constantine's political power to imbue the church with pagan symbols, rites, and traditions. God used these trappings of paganism to spread the truth--it became all things to all men. Pagan symbols were adopted by Christianity, and purified so their original meaning was lost, and their only meaning is Christian. Move, counter-move.

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Da Vinci: Corporal Mortification

The second major activity depicted in these first chapters is the practice of corporal mortification, particularly flagellation and the wearing of the cilice. I've referred to it before, but I'll refer to it again because the same errors keep coming up. From The Ten Commandments of Bible Interpretation, we can select The Second Commandment as most applicable in this regard: "Thou shalt not take passages in isolation." Of the errors I read, this is the most common.

It is easy to accept corporal mortification by taking passages by themselves, passages that describe the body as evil and corrupted, and that we should put to death the misdeeds of the body. Or as Christ himself said in Matthew 5:29, "If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." If there were only these verses, corporal mortification would be a universal Christian activity.

However, there is more to Scripture than these. As Matthew 12:43-5 says, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through the arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left." When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first."

A shorter illustration is "If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." However, the asceticism inherent in Christianity is coupled with the sanctity of the body, for we "carry in our body the death of Christ, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." Christianity is not wholly ascetic, such as Buddhism, in which the body is transcended, nor is it purely material, in which the body is all that is saved.

American Christianity is so filled by the materialism of American life that any asceticism is rare and noteworthy. An ex-coworker of mine refused to eat red meat, which he loved, as a form of spiritual discipline. It is something we have lost, and something that is portrayed only in its extreme forms.

On a side note, it seems to me that the subtle distinctions of Christianity, the seeking of a fine middle ground between extremes, is perhaps the best argument for its reality. As the saying goes, the difference between history and fiction is that fiction has to makes sense.

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When imprinting goes awry

I read an interesting theory recently. It is that there is a period of life, approximately the preteen years just prior to and early in puberty, in which that which is considered sexy is established in your brain, which would explain why things, such as foot binding, which seem disgusting to Americans, were considered sexy in other areas. If such imprinting does happen, it makes me wonder if it is not a guiding source of perversion. Pornography can provide exposure to everything and anything, so those with tendencies towards perversion can easily imprint on dozens of forms of sex.

Da Vinci: Religious Organizations

My first impression of the book was the excessive number of chapters. One hundred and five, to be exact. To me, a chapter is roughly what can be easily read in a single sitting, about 20 to 40 pages, depending on the nature of the text. In the paperback I'm reading, there are only 4 1/2 tiny pages per chapter. But anyway, that's just my taste in books, so on to the real text.


From what I know of the text, and from the first few chapters, the antagonist organization, Opus Dei, is portrayed, as Wikipedia puts it, as being involved in a "sinister international conspiracy." I'm not going to argue whether or not it is as portrayed, (because if it is a secret society, odds are that its actions are secret) but I will discuss probabilities.

If Christianity is nothing more than loving Jesus, the probability of a religious organization being wholly good are better than the probability of any organization being wholly good. However, if, as Scripture depicts, there is a spiritual war in our world, we would expect that Christian organizations would be under heavy assault. How better to destroy a religious organization than to infiltrate and corrupt it?

Let me ask you, how many people have been turned away from Christ, and from religion in general, by the actions of a few priests and cultists? Could not Satan launch an attack on Christ by placing those with abhorrent practices into the church? For example, could he not deceive (for his is, after all, the Father of Lies) a man who is struggling with a tendency towards pedophilia that devoting his life to God would set him free? Satan would simply be playing the odds. For every dozen pedophiles who become priests and are set free by the Gospel they preach, there will be a few who continue in their perversion. Satan lost a dozen to the priesthood, but he kept many thousands away by the actions of the few.

Therefore, it is not implausible for any religious organization to be involved in sinister, evil activities. In fact, it is very probable for they are at the forefront of infiltration.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Non-traditional warfare

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a jihad-watch blog called Gates of Vienna. In the comments, Yoel Natan mentioned that Gates of Vienna had been marked as a spam blog so often that the Google bots shut it down. This reminded me of a post by Global Guerrillas about hacking as a form of warfare.

It appears that, rather than tracking the jihad, Gates of Vienna has become a casualty. Effectively, Gates of Vienna was a C3I node, and it was effectively disrupted.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Letter to the editor

I ran across a bit of stupidity in the Letters to the Editor yesterday. The writer said that "Christianity, Judaism, and Islam [had] "remarkably similar" creation myths." I can speak for Christianity and Judaism, in that they have EXACTLY THE SAME creation history. It's the same few verses from the same book. Amazingly similar at that.

I can't really speak on Islam, as my knowledge of their creation myth comes from here, but to me there seems to be a very substantial disagreement between a God who created matter, and one who subdivided eternally extant matter.

Donatello was cooler

I have now had more than half a dozen people ask me about The Da Vinci Code, so I am being forced to read and comment on it. I ordered it from our library system (have I mentioned that I worship and adore whoever it was who decided to establish free interlibrary loans), and will comment on it as I go through. Our library system, by the way, has 160 copies of it. That's more than a copy per library. It should be here in a couple of days, so the comments will begin then.

Feeding the Beast

I ran across the blog Gates of Vienna, which describes the current Jihad. Here is my conundrum: Should I inform my more radical acquaintances of its existence, knowing that they would enjoy it, but also knowing that by doing so I am merely feeding the beast, or should I assume that the beast is self-feeding, and that I am doing no harm by linking to it? Oh well, it's not really good enough for me to bother reading, so why bother telling them about it?

Saint or Slut

Mere Islam has a post which argues that Islam is not "inherently misogynistic" because Islam has an "ideal of filial piety." In Medieval Christianity, femininity was an archetypal trichotomy. There was the ideal of motherhood, Mere Islam's "ideal of filial piety," most profoundly expressed in the Mary cult which Pope John Paul began to revive. The second and third archetypes are, as one of my professors expressed it, the Saint or the Slut. The virgin saint, of whom Joan of Arc is perhaps the best known example, was contrasted against the loose women who were neither married mothers nor virgin saints. Medieval European Christendom was, as any feminist scholar will inform you, a very misogynistic society. So Mere Islam's contention that the ideal of filial piety argues against misogynism, is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for proving his contention.