Return here to the Shadows in Eden home page.....

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why I Write This Blog

When in the 16th-century the philosopher Giordano Bruno suggested that space is infinite, and that each star is a sun like our own with its own worlds circling around it, these shocking speculations were added to the charges of heresy which the Church brought against him. To obliterate these outrageous heresies from the world Bruno was [1]incarcerated by the Inquisition and periodically tortured for eight years before being burned at the stake in Rome, after which his ashes were swept up and dumped in the Tiber. But ideas endure, and heresies have a way of casting shadows of doubt across the comfortable worlds which we create for ourselves. This weblog is about those shadows.

The bronze statue of Giordano Bruno which stands close to the site of his execution in Rome. An enlightened free thinker centuries ahead of his time, Bruno’s daring ideas have long been vindicated by our own contemporary science. But as recently as 2000 the Papal office refused to sign an edict that would have pardoned Bruno, considering his ideas ‘too extreme to be forgiven by the Church’. The charges against Bruno stand to this day.
But this begs the question: what are heresies? In the 13th-century Pope Clement III branded the Christian Cathars in the south of France as ‘the enemies of Christ’, and their beliefs as ‘heretical’. But the firestorm of violence which he then unleashed against the [2]Cathars, and the mass genocides, burnings and tortures which resulted in the virtual extinction of the Cathars and their beliefs not only had nothing whatever to do with the teachings of Christ, they were the antithesis of all which those Christian teachings stood for. It was the pacifist Cathars who in their turn – and with every justification – regarded the papal forces as the agents of Satan, and the Catholic version of Christianity as an extreme heresy.

A Cathar defends his beliefs before a tribunal of Catholic Inquisitors. Instigated by the papacy and organized by the Dominican brotherhood, the Inquisition invested itself with Draconian powers which even included exhuming and putting on trial the corpses of the deceased: a legal ploy which allowed the Papal authorities to seize the property of the surviving next of kin.
The lesson of history is clear: whether you regard any given belief as ‘heretical’ or not is simply down to which side you are on. And if you have the power base and the organization to push through your opinions by force, then it is your beliefs that get to be called the ‘correct’ ones. But supposing that things in 13th-century France had been allowed to take their natural course, and the growing popular wave of Catharism outstripped the existing Catholicism? We now might well be referring to Catholicism as the great heresy, and Catholics would find themselves on the fringe as a minority belief – if they still existed at all.

This is not as fanciful as it might sound. Contemporary scholarship now considers that it is possible, even plausible, that the original form of Christianity had more in common with Gnosticism, the predecessor of Catharism, than that it resembled anything which we now have come to recognize as ‘Christian’. That the Gnostics and their beliefs, like the Cathars a millennium later, were crushed by the forces of Catholicism is the contributing reason which led eventually to the establishing of the Holy Roman Empire and the complete dominance of the version of Christianity that it represented. And it is a matter of history that this dominance was accomplished, not by the peaceable winning of hearts and minds, but by waves of persecutions, the [3]machineries of terror, and a force of arms.

A woman accused of heresy is ‘put to the question’ – an Inquisitor’s euphemism for torture – using the cauda. Enough weights attached to the feet, or even a short drop, would have dislocated both of the victim’s shoulders. Note the crucifix on the table. My own belief says that anyone, anywhere, at any time who causes suffering or even death in the name of Christ is himself crucifying Christ anew.
So what also drives this blog is a sense of injustice about what has taken place in the past which led to Christianity as we now recognize it. Christianity might have become the dominant world religion, but which Christianity is the correct one? It is a religion which has become deeply divided against itself into some 38,000 different and distinct versions which we call denominations. There are differences of opinion about points of doctrine (the exact nature of the Holy Trinity and the form of Holy Communion, to name but two) which run so deep that the members of one denomination probably would not even worship in the church of another denomination. Could this very un-Christian divisiveness be itself a sign that the version which became the dominant one was not actually the correct one to begin with? For if it was the correct version of Christianity, why has it caused such deep rifts of faith? Would not all Christians simply now be Catholic?

In open defiance of Papal authority, Martin Luther famously nails his 95 theses to the door of the church in [4]Wittenburg, so beginning the Protestant Reformation. What is less well-known but equally a part of recorded history is that the founder of Protestantism was himself radically anti-Semitic, urging the forced expulsion of all Jews from Germany, and additionally advocating the genocide of the working classes. The ruling class took him at his word and 100,000 of his fellow-countrymen were slain.
Just about any post on this blog would have seen me marched to the stake (and also first incarcerated and tortured) even as recently as the 18th-century. But this blog exists, and that in itself is demonstration enough of the way in which the tide of history has turned. Political and civic power has slipped from the Church’s grasp. Contemporary scholarship and opinions are now freely accessible, both on the Internet and through any number of publications – including the complete translations in English of the Gnostic texts, suppressed by the Church for sixteen long centuries until their independent discovery at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. We at last can listen to the Gnostics in their own authentic voices. Those voices are now once more abroad in the world, and this particular genie is not going back in the bottle.

The first two pages of the Gospel of Thomas: one of only two copies known. All other copies were believed to have been destroyed in the purges ordered by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The text is a series of sayings by Jesus in the form of ‘wisdom teachings’. Thomas is not a name, but a term meaning ‘The Twin’, which could imply that this author sought to be the perfect mirror or reflection of these teachings.
When these subjects have come up in conversation, it has frequently taken me aback just how little Christians seem to know about the background of their own faith. This is a belief and a code of ethics which for many governs their very lives, and yet how many actually know the nuts and bolts of how the Bible came into being historically, and the different processes and individuals who were involved in its at-times alarmingly arbitrary shaping? There seems to be a general acceptance that ‘things are as they are’, and that the early Church Fathers who did the shaping ‘must have known best’.

Whether Irenaeus, Athanasius, Tertullian, Augustine and others who shaped the Bible and Christian doctrine to its present form really did ‘know best’ is a question for debate. The point is to know about what they actually did, and what their motives and personal agendas were for making the choices which they made. And not just the [5]tidy versions which can be read on any number of Christian websites, but the hands-on history of the way things happened.

‘Saint’ Irenaeus. The self-styled arbiter of ‘The Truth’, his writings contain tirades of toxic invective against all things which he personally considered to be heretical. But his methods for deciding what should or should not become scripture were startlingly vague.
Thus, of all the many gospels then in circulation, Irenaeus in the 2nd-century kept only four of his own personal choosing to [6]include in scripture. Why four? Because, as he informs us himself, there are "four zones in the world and four principal winds.” Yes, that really was this man’s sketchy logic behind his decision: a decision that would affect the whole subsequent development of Christianity. Who decided that he had the necessary authority to take such far-reaching action? He did.

But heresies come in different forms, of which religious heresies are but one. There also are social heresies, such as the fact that in the tough-guy society of Ancient Sparta homosexuality was not merely encouraged: it was [7]mandatory. And there also are scientific heresies. These can go either way. It flies in the face of both science and common sense to believe that Tyrannosaurus rex, the most awesome carnivore known, was on board Noah’s Ark and ate coconuts. And yet this is an on-the-record statement by the Creationist CEO of the [8]Creation Museum in Kentucky. But other forms of scientific heresies are more challenging. Science might deny the existence of [9]ley lines, even though they can be plotted on any good map with an ordinary pencil and rule. And conventional archaeology will insist that the [10]Great Pyramid of Egypt was built as a pharaoh’s tomb, even though no evidence whatever has been found to confirm this. So these heresies as well have their place on this blog.

Two principal European ley lines intersect at Avebury: a major Megalithic sacred site which existed long before any church was built, and which still exists today. Numerous other sites not shown here are also found along these leys. It was a common practice to build churches upon the foundations of the pagan sites which the new faith destroyed. The Christianization of Europe was not a peaceable process, but cost hundreds of thousands of the lives of pagans who, like the Cathars and the Gnostics, refused forced conversion and died as martyrs for their faith.
It is a big deal for me that others can rely on the accuracy of the material which I present here. I take time to get things right, which also is why I list my sources for each post where that is appropriate: the option is there for readers independently to check things for themselves should they wish to. And when discussing actual passages of scripture I will cite chapter and verse for the same reason. To be frank, the Bible does at times say some very weird, contradictory and shocking things. If I myself find it hard to believe that those things are actually there in scripture (and they are), then I assume that others might want to check for themselves for that very reason.

This timeline graphic created for my post about [11]Jesus in India seemed to be the most effective way of underscoring in visual form just how little we know about the life of Jesus. The period from his early teens until the last two years of his life is a complete unknown. This certainly invites speculation, and what I discovered is that to make a journey along the Silk Road from Galilee to the mountains of the Hindu Kush was for him not just possible, but entirely plausible.
As readers will have noticed, I also create a lot of the artwork, maps and other graphics for my posts. It all takes time, and if at times my posts do not appear as regularly as I would wish, it is simply due to the pressures of other work which needs my attention.

So the Shadows in Eden blog sets out to be a serious investigation into why we believe what we believe, who gets to decide what is ‘correct’ for us to believe, and ultimately, what ‘faith’ actually is. It is a journey which I myself am on in the hope of discovering some answers to what for me are some very fundamental questions, and I am delighted and gratified that so many are coming on that journey with me. Many, many thanks to you, my reader, whatever faith or non-belief, spirituality or interest in these subjects you might hold. 

A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS: I review every comment before I publish it, and not all comments see the light of day. One common reason for this is that the comment in question simply has nothing specifically to do with the topic of the post on which it has been left. Sometimes such general comments can be useful, but not always. And while I am prepared to make exceptions, a comment which is simply a [12]link to someone else’s blog or website will probably not be published either. Nevertheless, comments are welcome, particularly those comments which are a constructive response to what any given post is about. And anyone is certainly free to disagree with what I have said, because that can create a meaningful exchange of different points of view.

[1] Please see my post Giordano Bruno's Infinite Space.

[2] Please see my post A Dark Crusade.

[3] Run by the Dominican brotherhood, the Inquisition was initially established as a temporary Church institution to eliminate the last of the Cathars once the military campaigns against them had ended. Instead, it lasted in various forms into the 18th-century, encouraging a social climate of paranoia through informing, even against members of one’s own family, incarceration and torture of both men, women and children, and death by being burned alive. Once sentence was passed, the condemned were handed over to the civic authorities for execution to ensure that Church records remained untainted by the blood of its victims.

[4] Please see my post Martin Luther's Final Solution.

[5] To name but one example, the online Catholic Encyclopedia manages to write an entire entry extolling the virtues of 'Saint' Helena (right, by Francesco Morandini), the mother of Emperor Constantine, without once mentioning the fact that she instigated the brutal murder of her daughter-in-law Fausta so that she could take Fausta's place at her son's side and become his consort in all but name. These dark Freudian deeds the Encyclopedia apparently saw fit to quietly brush under the carpet. Please see my post Helena and the True Cross, which also covers the bizarre Middle Ages trade in 'holy relics', which appears to have been prompted by Helena's recovery in Jerusalem of the 'True Cross'.

[6] Please see my post The Gospel According to Somebody.

[7] Please see my post Coming of Age in Sparta.

[10] Please see my post A Night Inside the Great Pyramid.

[11] Please see my post Jesus in India.

[12] Although the link will still be published in a copy/paste form, Blogger does not in any case allow live links in post comments.

The sources referenced to write this post can be found in the listed sources on the above posts, with some additional material being drawn from the sources listed on other posts on this blog. The painting of the Cathar before the tribunal is by Jean-Paul Laurens, the painting of the use of the cauda is by Nicolay Bessonov, and the painting of Martin Luther in Wittenburg is by Ferdinand Pauwels.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to share your thoughts.