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The Runes – Another window into beliefs about the sacred and profane

Mosaic runes - the futhark and some runic messages with ribbons and symbols.

Mosaic runes – the futhark and some runic messages with ribbons and symbols – xjy via Flickr

Runes are the characters of different Germanic languages dating from 150 CE.¹

The characters gradually took on divinatory and mystical significance as they spread from southern Europe to Britain and Scandinavia. They were replaced by the Latin alphabet when runic cultures converted to Christianity between 700 CE and 1100 CE. Still used for decoration, some New Age enthusiasts see the runes as tools for depth psychology, divination and mysticism.

Not unlike modern interpretations of the I Ching, which adapt ancient Chinese commentaries, New Age runes are said to be based on runic inscriptions found on swords, stones and bronze pendants. Also like the I Ching, Tarot and other forms of divination, the runes have been commercialized.

Some believe the commercialization of the runes invalidates their divinatory and mystical significance; others don’t make a sharp distinction between God and commercialism.² This latter group believes that God’s ways are greater than any human thought or construction. So God can work through anything, be it a traditionally sacred vehicle or another branded as a sellout.³

evolution of the j-rune.

evolution of the j-rune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the language of Religious Studies, the debate over commercialization involves beliefs about the sacred and profane, cosmology, and how everything does or does not connect within a given belief system.4

Wikipedia, although claiming to be as objective as possible, displays a secular, slightly sarcastic bias when addressing modern forms of Runic mysticism.

The lack of extensive knowledge on historical use of the runes has not stopped modern authors from extrapolating entire systems of divination from what few specifics exist, usually loosely based on the reconstructed names of the runes and additional outside influence.

A recent study of runic magic suggests that runes were used to create magical objects such as amulets, but not in a way that would indicate that runic writing was any more inherently magical, than were other writing systems such as Latin or Greek.5

An inscription using both cipher runes, the El...

An inscription using both cipher runes, the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark, on the 9th century Rök Runestone in Sweden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Paula Byerly Croxon claims they can be traced to 1300 BC via archaeology. See PDMB&S (2003), p. 245.

² Next time you’re in a Catholic Church, take a look at the back page of the parish bulletin. Even though Jesus was enraged by ancient merchants peddling their wares and money-changing in the temple, Catholics are doing a similar thing today: Ads over the whole back page of the bulletin, sometimes really smarmy ones.

³ I tend to fall into this camp. So when some clergy preach against the horrors of TV, the internet or “secular” ways, I usually reflect on how regimented and ignorant they really are. I also smile inwardly when, moments later, they reverentially scoop up the “secular” money with an offertory hymn. Sometimes more than once in a given Mass. Does this somehow make the profane sacred? Some say it does. Others see it as rank hypocrisy and a general lack of psychological integration.

Picture of Runes used in Fortune Telling

Runes used in Fortune Telling (Wikipedia)

4 One of the leading scholars to address this issue is the Romanian, Mircea Eliade.

5 That’s why, as staggering as it is, Wikipedia often isn’t enough. We need books, articles, independent blogs and websites to unpack assumptions and to provide alternative perspectives. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes

Related » Odin

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Paul’s Letter to the Romans – Ancient innovation to overcome legalism

Rembrandt - St. Paul in Prison (Wikipedia)

Rembrandt – St. Paul in Prison (Wikipedia)

Paul’s Letter To The Romans is an important book of the Christian New Testament.

Most Catholic and Protestant scholars agree that it was written by the apostle Paul c. 56 CE., probably in the Greek city of Corinth.

Paul’s writings have a certain depth because he was not only traditionally ‘educated’ but also a former persecutor of Christians. His dramatic conversion while riding to Damascus gives him a unique credibility among contemporary believers.

In Letter To The Romans Paul writes to a specific community he is planning to visit. His message is clear. The Old Testament laws are holy but strict, legalistic adherence to them does not guarantee spiritual salvation.

Early Christians have metaphorically died to the old Jewish law and are reborn in the faith of Christ. With a pure heart set on Jesus, good thoughts and actions arise through God’s grace.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.¹

For Catholics, this means one is not saved through faith alone. Believers also must do the right thing before God.

Paul arrested - Wikipedia

Paul arrested – Wikipedia

The difference between Paul’s vision and the early, Old Testament approach is that good works are “alive” and adaptive in contrast to just doing what we’re told through a given set of rules and regulations.²

Put another way, Christians ideally live well from the inside, responding appropriately to a variety of complicated life situations. They do not simply obey from the outside, responding in a fixed way for every circumstance.

Paul’s letter also breaks new ground by saying that salvation through Christ is not just for a select few but for all—Gentiles, Jews and anyone who lives in Christ.

Salvation also includes women, who, in ancient times were not always too visible. About one-third of Romans’ greetings are to women. This may not be 50% but it is a significant step considering the ancient world mostly ignored women as equals.

¹ Romans 7:6

² (a) Historically, rabbis have debated the meaning of the Law coming up with different interpretations. I’m not sure if any interpretations have approximated Paul’s message. If any Jewish scholars know, please comment! I’d be interested to hear. (b) For some, it is ironic that the Catholic Church has adopted so many rules and regulations while, at the same time, upholding Paul’s position that the letter of the law “kills” while the spirit “lives” – 2 Corinthians 3:6.


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Sanskrit – Does God have a special language?

Sanskrit blogging on the rise by Debashish Chakrabarty

Sanskrit (samskrta = cultured, perfected, in contrast to prakrta = uncultured, popular) is the sacred, ancient language of Hinduism.

One school of thought believes that an early form of Sanskrit originated with Aryan invaders and their Vedic hymns around 2,000 BCE.

Another view suggests that an early form of Sanskrit existed within the Indus valley. And the entire Aryan invader thesis has been questioned.

Regardless of its disputed origins, the speakers of Sanskrit believed, as do many Hindus today, that the correct pronunciation of this language may elevate individuals to higher planes of consciousness, leading to greater spiritual awareness.¹

In Hinduism the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas and Kavyas were composed in Sanskrit.

Although Pali is the primary language of Buddhist scripture, some Mahayana texts were composed in a hybrid Sanskrit.

Sanskrit has also found its way into Jain scripture.

The earliest surviving character of its unique Devanagari (language of the gods) script is dated at 150 CE.

Not unlike Latin in the Catholic Church, Sanskrit remains sacred and prestigious among teachers and students throughout India and beyond.²

¹ This kind of claim is not unique to Hinduism. Not a few adherents of different religions believe that their own special language is the key to higher consciousness, awareness or God. I personally think it’s a joke to assume that God would prefer one “special” language over another. In Catholicism, some speak of the Latin Mass as if it has some kind of special sanctity. But what these people forget is that Jesus and his message is for anyone who wants to hear it. That’s why I applaud Catholic Bibles translated in any language and see them as equally valid as ancient Greek (original language of the New Testament) or Hebrew (original language of the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Old Testament) manuscripts. Some contemporary religious scholars use the language-game-power-trip to try to raise themselves above and literally intimidate others. But again, that is contrary to the Christian message.

² See https://www.highly.co/hl/58014caafb56eb5a9b00007e


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Max Müller – Another free thinker held back by creeps

English: Photograph of Max Muller as a young man

Photograph of Max Muller as a young man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Max Müller (1823-1900) was a German born Indologist who is often credited with creating the disciplines of Indian Studies and Comparative Religion. His Sacred Books of the East is downloadable and can probably still be found in most major libraries, in the archives if not circulating.

Muller was a freethinking Lutheran and the religious conservatives of his day hampered his career advancement.¹ He believed that Hinduism needed an update, much like Christianity underwent its protestant reformation. For Müller, the ideal Hindu would jettison what he saw as “superstition” and be Christian-like but neither Anglican nor Catholic. In other words, Müller wanted to get to the core of what makes religion great, getting rid of all the cultural constructions that make it pedantic.

I can certainly relate to this view, having converted to Catholicism after a non-churchgoing childhood and young adulthood. From that perspective, sometimes the rituals and expectations seem arbitrary, even superficial.

But at the same time, most of us need some kind of structure. The question is how much structure helps and how much hinders in serving God. And this differs from person to person.

Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christia...

Debate between Catholics and Oriental Christians in the 13th century, Acre 1290. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is really tiring is when-well meaning but narrow-minded Catholic acquaintances start preaching to me what I should be doing, how I should be approaching Catholicism.

Funny thing is, they usually pick and choose what rules and regulations work for them, ignoring the others. But at the same time, they get some kind of self-righteous pleasure out of telling me which rules and regs I should abide by!

It’s pretty hard to take people like this too seriously. They may mean well but clearly have not integrated their consciousness to a level of maturity that, I think, the future demands. I always feel like I’m dealing with psychological children when talking with them. True, Jesus said we should be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. But I think he was talking about being childlike in love and wonder, and not childish in hypocrisy.²

¹ Today, I think it’s more institutional corruption that hinders career advancement—at least in Canadian academia and in the Catholic Church. I’m not sure about the US and beyond. But petty differences in belief along with personal likes and dislikes could also play a role in career sabotage.

² It seems that some folks get a new social identity by playing the role of “saint,” “victim soul” or “missionary.” I think in reality there’s almost always a combination of unresolved psychological material and genuine religious experience. And anyone who claims otherwise probably could benefit from looking into whichever end of the psychological-spiritual spectrum they are ignoring.

Related » Veda, Vedanta


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The Old Testament – Timeless wisdom or old, outdated operating system?

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament is a Christian name for the books of the Hebrew Bible. This is a problematic term because Jewish people could easily find it disrespectful of their holy scripture.

The designation comes from a Christian perspective with the unabashed implication that the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament, rendering the latter imperfect and somewhat lacking. This way of viewing the so-called Old Testament is found within Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

In Christianity, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments seems confusing. I had one professor who argued that Christianity’s biggest mistake was to try to incorporate the Old Testament into the new religion. They should have just started afresh, he felt. I think this perspective lacks appreciation of the Jesus story. The “new” religion gains a certain depth and continuity by including the Old Testament. However, problems do arise, which theologians and preachers try to resolve in various ways.

The most notable difference between the Old and New Testaments is God’s apparent encouragement of violence and animal sacrifice in the OT but not in the NT. Sometimes, that is. The OT God doesn’t approve of all sacrifices, as we see with Cain and Abel. And sometimes he punishes doers of violence, if that particular violence is not in keeping with his Holy Agenda.¹

Also, the NT says we should live by the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.² Living by the letter of the law “kills” it. The OT, by way of contrast, lays out strict and fairly detailed laws as to how the righteous should behave. This difference in rules and regulations also applies to what and when we eat. Somehow the Catholic Church forgot this, and started making new rules of regulations about eating. But many modern Catholics see this as unimportant.

As for adultery and sexual lust, Jesus of the NT raises the bar here. You can’t even think about it without being sinner; whereas in the OT actually doing it is the sin.²

A representation of Saint John the Evangelist in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue on July 31, 2010 in New York City.

Some Christians make no apology for calling the Old Testament the Old Testament. For them, it’s just another instance of unwarranted political correctness to pretend that all religions are of equal value. The New Testament, again for them, is better. So why, they argue, water things down by pretending otherwise? But again, their Holy Bibles contain the Old Testament. So there’s a lot of room for debate here.

¹ Both the OT and NT, however, are sexist and often simplistic—especially in the NT with regard to nutritional needs.

² These are just some of the differences that came to mind while revising this entry; this is not an exhaustive list. The NT also emphasizes forgiveness while the OT prescribes the famous, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind of reactive punishment for wrongdoings. Follow this link for more perspectives.

Related » Adam, Bible, Book of Isaiah, Book of Job, Burning Bush, Daniel, Dead Sea Scrolls, Divination, Elohim, Eve, God, the Father, Heaven, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Jonah, Just War, Kabbala, Koran, Lilith, Lot, Lot’s Wife, Miracles, Moses, Pollution, Torah, Yahweh


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The Orthodox Church – another “true” Church?

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Orthodox Church (or Orthodox Churches)¹ is a body of self-governing churches recognizing the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople and abiding by the doctrine of seven Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea I (327 CE) to Nicaea II (787 CE). As such, the Orthodox Church recognizes the Nicene Creed.

As a whole the Orthodox Church includes the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem. It’s mostly found in Russia, the Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Poland, Greece, Moldova, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Cyprus and throughout the Middle East.

The Orthodox Church emerged within the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire; it was united with the Latin Church until formally splitting away in the Great Schism of the 11th century. Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church sees itself as the authentic Church, disseminating valid teachings given by Jesus and his Apostles. The two Churches differ on some organizational and theological points, however, making this claim problematic.

Can both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches be the only true Church? From the standpoint of traditional logic, either

  • both of these truth claims are are false; or
  • one is right and the other is false
English: The inside of an Orthodox church. Gre...

The inside of an Orthodox church. Greek Orthodox Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From a more contemporary approach to logic (that deals with probabilities and quantities)² one could argue that both truth claims are partially true.

Related » Greek Orthodox Church

¹ See Wikipedia for a list of titles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church

² For a readable, not too intricate, account of how the study of logic has evolved over the centuries, see John Passmore’s A Hundred Years of Philosophy. Reading the relevant passages in this book helped me to better understand something that I have intuitively grasped for a long time. When hard-nosed people say, “it’s just logic” or “it’s a fact,” I usually have some kind of inner reservation. I tend to feel their claim is simplistic but sometimes don’t have the words, energy or time to try to articulate my position—especially if the other person has already made their mind up. No point in spending hours banging your head against a brick wall. Better to dismantle the wall, piece by piece.


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Protestantism – Another take on the Biblical Jesus


The Apprentice Boys March of the Orange Order leads through a street in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The march, which involves the playing of traditional Orange songs such as ‘The Sash My Father Wore’, celebrates the ending of a seige on the town by the Catholic army under Lord Antrim in April 1689. An earlier attempt to hold the city was foiled by a group of 13 apprentices, hence the name of the march. Catholic protests against the march in 1969 led to stone throwing and rioting and partly towards the IRA terror campaign of 1969-1994. The 1995 march took place against protests that this kind of provocative behaviour should not occur in the light of the ongoing peace talks.

I didn’t always have a keen interest in religion and spirituality. Growing up as a kid, I was pretty average and didn’t belong to a churchgoing family. Weekends were mostly spent cottaging or skiing. And that really left no time nor interest for sitting in a stuffy old church on Sundays.

Things changed, though, and I became increasingly interested in psychoanalytic and, soon after, numinous issues. This led me to India where I did a Masters in Comparative Religion. Because, however, I had virtually no religious background, I remember being caught off guard by an Indian professor who once asked me, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”

“Uh… I was baptized in the Anglican Church,” I replied after quickly remembering what my parents had told me. So walking home from class I mused, I guess that makes me a Protestant.

In other words, I hardly knew the difference or, at least, never really gave it much serious thought. I was far more interested in Asian religions at the time. Christianity just seemed so wooden and non-experiential.

Again, things changed and I actually converted to Catholicism in 2001. But that’s another story. And today I am far from an uncritical Catholic, believing – or pretending to believe – in all the teachings piped in from the Vatican. In fact, I have evolved so much since converting that I only hold the core of Catholicism close to my heart. All the rest, all the hypocrisy and clannish thinking, well, I had to let it go.

Some may say I’m a “fallen away” or “lapsed” Catholic. But I’d just say that as I grew in spiritual maturity, the confines of the Church became more of a hassle than a help.

So with that personal preamble, I’ll jump to what I wrote about Protestantism several years ago:

Protestantism is a Christian movement that separated believers from the Catholic Church and its Papal authority in the 16th and 17th centuries.

A Protestant is a member of a Church that follows regulations formed during the Reformation. And today I would add… Important figures in the Protestant Reformation are John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli.

And that’s about all I have to say on the topic. I don’t find it very fruitful to enter into debates about “who’s right” because, frankly, I see both Protestant and Catholic teachings as only partially right. So why get into all the fuss of heated debates? I think many who do that are really working out their inherited biases and unresolved complexes, all under the mask of being righteous and holy.

In my case, I find it liberating to finally say what I really think rather than hold back out of fear. As a new Catholic, I knew I didn’t agree with everything. But I feared that if I said so, they’d kick me out. I admit, I wouldn’t like it if that happened today. But as Elton John sings,

And you can’t go back, and if you try it fails
Looking up ahead I see a rusty nail
A sign hanging from it saying, ‘Truth for sale’
And that’s what we did, no lies at all, just one more tale
About the captain and the kid

 oo

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