Monday, February 16, 2015

Jesus, the Myth Buster

I'm just now reading a 1996 article by Rene Girard, Are the Gospels Mythical by way of The Raven Foundation. I am ever so slowly trying to get through The Girard Reader, an enlightening but weighty book.

In the aforementioned article, Girard sheds light on the difference between myths (even those which seem, at first glance, to be quite similar to some of the biblical stories of Jesus) and the Gospels.

Myths and the All  Too Real Cycle of Violence

In mythology, the victim is seen as having deserved death (or whatever his fate may be).  It is clear in those stories that the hero/victim's fatal flaw is what brought about his death. As Girard points out, Oedipus really did kill his father and marry his mother.

The victimization results in a partial peace because people band together and feel temporary relief after first having engaged in mimetic rivalry against each other.  Eventually, one person is left as the victim.  The crowd mentality causes the victimization and brings temporary relief until mimetic rivalry and contagious violence breaks out again.

We see this again and again even today.  Groups of people have historically been cast as the scapegoats. This scapegoating leads to needless violence.  We saw it in World War II and we are seeing it against the same groups today.

The Gospels--Turning Rivalry, Victimization and Violence on its Head

The Gospels, however, are very different.  Any similarities between them and various messiah/hero myths (and there are many) only serve to highlight the great differences.

Unlike the hero/victims of mythology, Jesus was innocent. He did nothing to deserve the level of violence that was perpetuated against him.  Satan thought that by whipping people up into a frenzy of near-unanimous victimization against Jesus, that a temporary peace would result, and the neatly tied up victim-blaming ending, as well as the inevitably resulting violence, would continue.

Jesus, however, refused to engage in mimetic rivalry with or victimization of anyone.  He was clear in declaring the innocence of people traditionally victimized and scapegoated in His society (those who were ill or disabled).  This is in stark contrast to myths, whose deserving victims often have disabilities of one sort or another, which is one reason they become scapegoats for their societies. Jesus speaks clearly against blaming those who have disabilities for their conditions. This extends even to the prostitute and the woman caught in adultery.

He also refused to victimize even those who were responsible for His death, forgiving them publicly from the cross. By doing this, he turns the traditional myth on its head:  the victim is innocent, and the guilty are forgiven.

Jesus refused to hide what was really happening.  In the prophesy of His death, he rebukes Peter, telling him that he is a skandalon, which is Greek for stumbling block. Jesus refused to enter into any sort of worldly competition with Peter, who was giving into Satan's plan, as Jesus makes clear in His rebuke.

The Revelation of the Paraclete

Girard points out something else, that The Raven article says is a life-changing revelation.  The disciples, especially Peter, follow the crowd prior to the Resurrection in its mimetic contagion.  They flee, and Peter denies the Savior he has spent the last three years following.

After the Resurrection, as Jesus has promised, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, comes to them and they become the Dissenting Minority (in contrast to the unanimous victimization we see in myths).  The Holy Spirit, Jesus tells them, is the Lawyer for the Defense. That is what the word Paraclete means.

Now, the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity.  The Holy Trinity is three Persons in one God.  It is not three gods.  One God.  This means, then, that GOD IS OUR DEFENDER.  God is not a heavenly Judge who will "send" us to Hell.  God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, is our lawyer for the defense.

Who, then, is the Accuser? Satan. Satan is the Accuser.

As Saint John Paul II was fond of saying, "Be not afraid." Do not be afraid of God who loves you so much that HE came and died because He refused to accuse humanity, who had sent Him to the cross. Jesus came and showed us how to be the dissenting minority in the world.  "Judge not, lest you shall be judged."

I really think that this message has been all but lost among Christians today.  So many are leaving the Church because they are being judged by those who should be welcoming them with open arms and full hearts.

Let's follow Jesus' example--God's own example to us--and pray fervently for the grace NOT to judge others, not to follow the mimetic contagion towards the oh-so-tempting victimization of others. It will only bring temporary peace as we feel part of the very crowd who will only turn against us in time.

We must not judge.

We must forgive.

We must love.            

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Extremism and Controversy

The internet is always abuzz with some sort of new story that is dividing Facebook and com boxes across the country.

Right now it is the vaccine debate.  There is a measles outbreak in California that has been blamed, depending on who you listen to, on people who do not vaccinate their children, or on "illegal aliens". (It always seems to be the fault of  brown people, doesn't it?)

Stemming from this is a discussion that includes comments about how all vaccines are "perfectly safe" on the one hand, and, on the other hand, how the healthcare system is "just a branch of the government" and vaccines are "not meant to be protective."

The truth is that some people do have a real reaction to some of the components in vaccines.  Some of these people vaccinate anyway and some can't. There are also people whose immune systems are such that they cannot vaccinate.  There are those who belong to religious groups that have a true and long-standing objection to vaccines.

But, as for the rest of us, we should vaccinate for the good of the community. The more people who have no real reason other than fear, choose not to vaccinate, the more these diseases will return.  Do we really want our children paralyzed or dead from polio because we believe a conspiracy theory?

The problem here is that, once again, we are gravitating towards the extreme views because it makes us feel righteous and better than others, As Christians, we should guard zealously against that attitude.  This form of fundamentalism is what drives away as many people as it attracts. An attitude of humility is what is needed.

Apparently, this attitude of fear-mongering extremism is not new. The cartoon shown is from a Depression-era cartoonist.  This answers my oft-asked question as to whether things are really worse today, or whether it is just the internet that helps spread these extreme views. It seems to be the latter.

This is why critical thinking and media analysis (I took a course in high school with that title) should be taught early and often to our children. They need to be aware of what they face in this world.  They need to know how to judge whether an opinion they hear or read is most likely to be true or false. They need to know how to research and to discern what sources are reliable.

With the dawn of the internet, misinformation spreads instantaneously, and, with a society that moves as fast as ours does today, it is so much easier to just believe the first (or last) thing we've read, but it is VITAL that we not do this--for the good of our children and the good of society.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Sign of the Cross--the Sign of LOVE

When we make the sign of the cross, we say, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  When we make the sign of the cross, are we, as Fr. Richard Rohr asks, just going through the motions, or are we thinking of the Trinity?

Christianity joins the 2 other Abramic religions in worshiping one God.  But, our God is one in three.  Our God is a family.  Our God is LOVE.

Our spirituality is not based on an individualism, although our country is.  Our spirituality is based on a Person--a Trinity of Persons who are LOVE.

When we "bless ourselves" with the sign of the cross, are we really, consciously blessing ourselves? The sign of the cross is a way to bring to mind the Love that is our Creator God and to ask God to bless us with the Love that is the Trinity.

It is a Trinitarian blessing brought from God to our own consciousness.

Don't let it become just another thing to do.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Nixon's Resignation--40 Years Ago Today

Forty years ago, August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned. I remember all of us (my parents and some neighbors) sitting in our family room watching the president speak on TV. This was back when we all made sure to watch if the president spoke in prime time because we assumed it was important. There were rumors that he would resign, but we were all still shocked that he did.

This was a big deal to us then. Today, it seems that impeachment is threatened on a fairly regular basis, and, when carried out, nothing much results from it. Nixon was the first and only president to resign from office.

When Watergate first broke, I was in one school, in the state where I was born. By the time Nixon resigned, I was in another school in another state were we had moved. I had grown up. 

Unfortunately, for those of us who don't have a conscious memory of the Kennedy assassination, this was our watershed moment. This was the moment when cynicism was planted and took root.

He had accomplished a lot as president. He warmed up relations with Russia and China and finally managed to get us out of Vietnam  (albeit rather slowly and with much loss of life.)   All the more tragic, then, was his downfall.

I remember my father had ordered a set of books (Time Life, perhaps?) about the U.S. presidents. They were delivered right after Nixon's resignation and had a loose leaf insert stating that he'd resigned. That's where its history ended.

Those of us young enough to be impressionable and old enough to realize what was going on were left with such a denouement that it soured our opinion of authority figures of all kinds for decades to come.

 The '60s were well and truly over.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of BeesThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid is a life-affirming book that is pro-woman without being anti-man. It addresses such issues as abuse, suicide, race and religion without being negative. In fact, it oozes with positive energy as the honey oozes out of the comb. It illustrates the importance of a loving community, especially in tumultuous times such as the American South in the 1960s.

The version of Catholicism that is woven throughout the book is grown organically from an African-American woman who was raised Catholic. While the religion, stories and rituals she practices are far from doctrinally pure, they are entirely believable in the context of the story and serve to bind together the group of women (as well as some men) and add many layers of symbolism to the novel.

This book is one I will keep.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 01, 2014

"The Brain Needs Simplicity and Awe"

This very timely article article from the Freelancer's Union popped up on my Facebook feed and is
a good one to share given the new focus of this blog on balance.

Our brains tune out repetitive information in order to become more efficient.  The problem is, as our days become more habitual with their long commutes and fewer vacations, time seems to speed by faster and faster. This is because our brains are no longer paying attention to the specifics in our days--no longer internalizing what we do.  This results in our days, weeks and months blending into each other in a fast blur of years-long sameness.

Time seems to pass faster because nothing is differentiating one year from the next.

The article mentions 4 things that we can do to help slow down time.  They all boil down to 2: seek out beauty and awe and simplify your life.

Cultivate Beauty and Awe

If we take time to notice the beauty that is all around us, to get away from our desks and computers and spend time with a variety of people, nature, animals, art and music, we will develop a variety of experiences that the mind can hang onto and stop spinning out of control.

Keep it Simple

Doing this may require us to simplify our lives.

More and more people today (the article said 2 in 5 Americans) are choosing to work fewer hours and actually take that vacation. Simplification requires us to cultivate the serenity to know when to say no and when to say yes.

The brains we were created with need us to feed them with a simpler lifestyle filled with beauty and awe. To do this requires us to make sure we keep in touch with the joy that comes from being specifically thankful for the beauty with which God has surrounded us.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

St. Ignatius and Ignatian Spirituality

Happy feast of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, aka, the Jesuits, the order from which our dear Pope Francis hails.

Check out the Ignatian Examin on the sidebar. It's a great way to give your day up to God and see his hand in your everyday life.




How Many Rooms Does Your Heart Have?

This post is essentially a re-post from the comment section of Heather King's blog. I got there via Mark Shea's post on Facebook. In her comment, King re-posts an essay from Ron Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten Among the Lilies. It talks about the fact that Catholic means universal, and narrow fundamentalism is the opposite of that.


 "A Heart with One Room."

“Our age is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all.

Let me explain. 

We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping?

What does it mean to be Catholic?

The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy and apostolic.

The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

In speaking of the Father’s house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything.

It is wide, unpetty, open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs. Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That is another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal.

Jesus belies this.

He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping, in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood.

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room.

The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

In that sense, the fundamentalist’s heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room.

If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised.

In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism - and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

That is the real un-Catholicism."

Excerpted from “A Heart with One Room,” an essay in Ron Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten Among the Lilies Image Books, 2007).

Dymphna's favorite quotes


"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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