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Rastafarianism – The “evil weed” becomes “incense for the flowers”

Shira Golding Evergreen - coffeeshop free adam vis Flickr

Shira Golding Evergreen – coffeeshop free adam via Flickr

Rastafarianism is a Jamaican religious movement. Some of its adherents see blacks as the chosen people and Haile Selassie (1891-1975), the former Emperor of Ethiopia, is believed to be God, Jesus Christ or a manifestation of God (Jah from the Hebrew YHWH). However, Selassie denies this claim, saying he never advocated his self-deification.

In a 1967 interview when a Canadian interviewer mentioned the Rastafari belief that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, he responded by saying: “I have heard of this idea. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that I will be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human being is emanated from a deity.”¹

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, during a ...

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, during a visit to Washington, October 1st, 1963 (Wikipedia)

Like most religions, aspects of the Bible are cherry picked to support particular beliefs, but unlike other Bible based religions, much of the Biblical text is said to have been corrupted by ‘Babylon’—that is, the dominant white establishment.²

Despite overwhelming evidence that smoking cannabis has harmful effects on the mouth, throat, lungs and brain, smoking up is not frowned on but taken as a spiritual act.

For Rastas, smoking cannabis, commonly referred to as herb, weed, kaya, sinsemilla (Spanish for “without seeds”), or ganja (from the Sanskrit word ganjika, used in ancient Nepal and India), is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah. They often burn the herb when in need of insight from Jah.³

This practice is so widespread that it was made legal by the Jamaican government in 2015.4

It would be a huge mistake to suppose that all Rastas are down on white people. Softer forms of Rastafarianism respect every person as a potentially unique “flower within the Garden of Eden,” as international reggae star Peter Tosh once put it.

The great Bob Marley had a spiritual teacher, Mortimer Planno, who was a well-known drummer and elder in the Rasta movement. Many of Marley’s songs hit home, musically and emotionally, even if leaning toward a fundamentalist side of Biblical interpretation. Today Marley is mostly heard on web and college radio stations. But when I was a teen, he was a big deal among many different populations and ethnicities.

How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfill the book.

Redemption Song

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafari_movement

² By way of contrast, Catholic approved bibles make amorphous claims that some of the Old Testament teachings, especially, are culturally biased. But at the same time the Catholic Church regularly proclaims that the bible is “Holy Scripture” and “The Word of God.” Confused?

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafari_movement

Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau, seems to be heading in the same direction.


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Radha – From milkmaid to goddess

Radha Krishna by Balaji Photography via Flickr Radha Krishna by Balaji Photography via Flickr

In Hinduism Radha (Sanskrit = fortunate or successful) is an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. She appears on Earth as the female ghopi (cowherdess and milkmaid) who leaves her husband to become the playmate of the Hindu god Krishna.

Her loving and playful relationship with Krishna has become an integral part of the Indian popular imagination, comparable to Romeo and Juliet had Shakespeare not written a tragedy.

Radha is also interpreted on a higher, mystical level, symbolizing the soul‘s loving surrender to God. Contemporary Vaishnava religion in W. Bengal regards Radha as the ultimate female principle, the Goddess or Shakti.

While writing this I couldn’t help but note a loose parallel to Mary, the mother of Jesus. According to the Bible story, Mary was a humble teenager soon to be married to a carpenter (Joseph). Like Radha, she got a divine call. But she didn’t leave her husband nor humanity immediately to dance in the ethereal realms with God. Instead, she stayed on Earth and lived a real, difficult life, to the extent of watching her human/divine son die at the hands of some of the Jews and occupying Romans. Only after that terrible ordeal do both ascend to be with God.

An image like Radha dancing with Krishna in astral realms might be appealing to some wanting to sugarcoat or, perhaps, escape the world as quickly and easily as possible. But for those who believe that salvation comes from going through not only the joys but also the grind of life, the Christian story, as lamentable as it can be, may seem a bit more real.


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Elizabeth – The Mother of the Last Great Jewish Prophet?

Statue of the Visitation at Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel via Wikipedia

In the New Testament, Elizabeth a daughter of Aaron, wife of  Zechariah and the mother of John the Baptist.

Among Christian theologians and homilists, John is often spoken of as a link between the Old and New Testaments. He’s the last of a long line of Jewish prophets who announces the coming of someone so great that he, himself, is “not worthy to untie the strap on his sandals.”¹ That person, of course, turns out to be Jesus of Nazareth, who goes on to become the founder of the world’s largest and most international religion.²

A nice New Testament story is one that also becomes part of the Catholic Holy Rosary as “The Visitation” of the Joyful Catholic Mysteries.³ This is the tale, true or not, that the unborn John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when the pregnant Mary, bearing Jesus, comes to visit.4

This story reminds me of several studies, true or not, suggesting that the unborn get used to and turn out smarter if they hear classical music through their mother’s abdomen. 5

But in the case of John and Jesus, I would also think that these two babies, being who they were, would be especially spiritually sensitive. So quite possibly John leaped in the womb because he could sense the presence of Jesus. Not so much because he heard Mary’s voice. However, John’s reaction could have been prompted by both auditory and spiritual factors—if the story is true, that is, and not just a pleasant religious tale fabricated by early enthusiasts to advance their religious beliefs.

Most of us have heard the tale about the angel coming to visit the teenager, Mary, giving her the choice to be the mother of a miraculously conceived Jesus. But not quite so popular is a parallel story about an angel coming to visit Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah:

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born (Luke 1:13–15).

Again, is this just good religious storytelling or did things really happen in parallel as written? While scholars and religious people argue this point back and forth, for me the answer, like most things in life, ultimately comes down to belief.

Sadly, the human story ends miserably for both John and Jesus. John is beheaded at the hands of Herod Antipas who grants the cruel request of his step-daughter Salome and her mother. And Jesus dies on a cross after willfully submitting to a complex political web involving the Jewish religious leaders in Israel, some of an assembled mob, and the occupying Roman authorities. I say the human story ends miserably because, according to the belief, both of these figures endure in unimaginably great heavenly places, beyond time and space as we know it.

¹ https://www.google.ca/search?q=i+am+not+worthy+to+untie+his+sandals…

² https://www.google.ca/search?q=largest+world+religion…

³ https://www.google.ca/search?q=roary+the+visitation…

4  https://www.google.ca/search?q=john+leaps+in+elizabeths+womb…

5 https://www.google.ca/search?q=the+unborn+like+music…

Related » Hail Mary Prayer


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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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Original Sin – A powerful Western myth?

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and ...

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and Eve. Beech wood, 1533. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Erworben 1830, Königliche Schlösser, Gemäldegalerie Kat. 567) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Christian doctrine, original sin is a state of alienation from God. It is present at birth and collectively inherited from the first sin of the biblical Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:4-3:24).

In the Genesis account, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit growing on the tree of knowledge at the garden center.¹ Their eyes are opened, they become ashamed of their nakedness and cover themselves. So they hide from God who is “walking” in the garden. When God discovers them he basically flips out. God curses the serpent and tells the woman that he will make childbirth much more painful. Moreover, the serpent and human beings will forever be in violent conflict.

God then casts Adam and Eve out of the garden into the world beyond. The garden’s entrance is barred by a cherubim with a revolving, fiery sword. Adam and Eve’s offspring are cursed for generations. No longer is everything easy and good. They must not merely work, as they did in the garden, but rather, toil for their food (Genesis 3).

To the modern mind, this story seems to be rooted in primitive myth and beliefs. God is supremely anthropomorphic. The tale also seems sexist because Eve is blamed for the Fall. She is also condemned to be subservient to her husband, whom she desires all the same.

Adam and Eve - Albrecht Dürer

Adam and Eve – Albrecht Dürer (Wikipedia)

The Church Fathers mention the idea of original sin as early as the 2nd century. They believed, as do many subsequent Christians, that their views were justified by Biblical scripture. The practice of harkening back to Biblical scripture to try to legitimize the idea of original sin involves both the Old and New Testaments.

Christians generally say that the New Testament “fulfills” the Old Testament, so the NT has to sort of patch up and surpass a good deal of the gobbledygook, primitive hate and sexism found in the OT.²

In the New Testament, for example, the apostle Paul says sin came into the world because of one man—that is, Adam (Romans 5:12). For all his apparent visionary experience of the risen Christ, Paul still believes in the ancient OT story as if it were literal fact.³

The story of Adam and Eve is also mentioned in 1 Timothy 2 and upheld by many contemporary Christians who, perhaps inadvertently or unconsciously, legitimize sexism with scripture:

A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression. Women, however, will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2 [11-15])

For Catholics, there are two exceptional people in human history who do not inherit the taint of original sin: Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary. Protestants and Anglicans generally do not accept that Mary was born without sin. And the Orthodox position has its own complications.

The idea of original sin has been debated for centuries but the leading Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, along with the Protestant Reformers, have upheld it.

Recently, theologians like Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) have attempted to separate the mythic and cultural aspects of the Bible, on the one hand, from its spiritual essence, on the other hand. For Bultmann, the terms “authentic existence” and “inauthentic existence” are more meaningful to modern minds than are their traditional antecedents, “salvation” and “sin.” Other contemporary theologians challenge the notion of inheriting sin from a mythic past. And present-day thinkers like astronomer David Darling suggest that time is holistic instead of linear, which complicates the idea of original sin.

Surely there had to have been some special point of origin? But no. What was needed was a more panoramic view in which the universe, past, present, and future, was seen as having always been there–a permanent, all-encompassing, space-time eternity. Of course, it was natural for man, whose left-brain consciousness produced the illusion of “passing” time to think of past and future as somehow different in status. To dwell, moreover, on that elusive moment called now which transformed the potentiality of future events into the actuality of the past. But “now” was, in truth, only a chimera. Every point in space and time coexisted with equal importance. The future was there from the beginning as surely as was the past.4

If viewed this way, the idea of an evil force that runs through all-time and which compels humanity to sin might make more sense than stories primarily based on linear time.5

¹ Eve was tempted first by the serpent. After eating the fruit, she hands it to Adam, who also eats. The fruit is usually depicted as an apple, especially in Western culture. However, the actual fruit is unknown.

² Not to say that the NT is devoid of cultural bias. It may have done away with violence. But it still arguably discriminates on the basis of ethno-religion and sex in places.

³ Possibly many people today have genuine mystical experiences and yet unconsciously assume that this proves a particular set of theological stories and traditions. If a church gives them all the answers, they don’t have to bother reflect any further. And people like me who simply want to use the mind God gave them, are under the sway of “Satan.”

4 David Darling, Deep Time, New York: Delacorte Press, 1989, pp. 187-188).

The Catholic position is summed up here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution This Catholic position is at least partially rooted in a traditional understanding of linear time, and probably won’t be reconsidered by the Church until sufficient political pressure acts upon the Catholic hierarchy–that is, until the idea of holistic time becomes more commonplace. And that, ironically, will likely take centuries. Even the apparently “smart” Catholics, the Jesuits, are still largely rooted in traditional ways of looking at and analyzing problems. At least, they are compelled to uphold Catholic teachings during the Mass. The suppression of free thinking among the clergy and the faithful runs deep into Catholic history. Not as obvious now, as say, the house arrest of Galileo, it seems the Vatican still keeps a pretty firm grip on its shepherds; even if, perhaps, losing its grip on many of its sheep. However, Catholic conservatism isn’t entirely bad because it defends the Church against nutty extremists. But it can also hinder true theological progress and fair theological practice.

5 Many Christians and Catholics say that Jesus exists in or simply is “all-time,” so the Catholic view is not so linear. But the Bible tells us that Satan fell some time after the initial creation (see http://www.gotquestions.org/Satan-fall.html). Wikipedia lists some parallel stories to the Garden of Eden. Not exactly the same but with similarities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Eden#Parallel_concepts

Related » Brahman, Calvinism, Donatism, Felix Culpa, Jesus Christ, John Milton, Mortal Sin, Sin, Venial Sin, Virgin Mary


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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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Process Theology – A God who loves

Image credit - Anthony Easton via Flickr

Image credit – Anthony Easton via flickr

Process Theology means different things to different people. Generally speaking, it refers to the idea that God is both wholly other yet immanent within a process of creation.

Christian versions emphasize a God who is, on the one hand, eternal, unchanging and beyond, and yet who also feels and is affected by the actions of humanity.¹

According to this view, God suffers with humanity, leading individuals to eternal salvation not through coercion but as a loving parent, friend or spouse.

Wikipedia says that process theology comes out of the work of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, but this claim could be a bit misleading if taken out of context. Reading further down the Wikipedia entry, we see that Whitehead is influenced by a whole host of Medieval theologians and ancient philosophers—St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Aristotle, to name just a few.

The same entry at Wikipedia sums up the general Christian view of process theology very nicely:

Rather than see God as one who unilaterally coerces other beings, judges and punishes them, and is completely unaffected by the joys and sorrows of others, process theologians see God as the one who persuades the universe to love and peace, is supremely affected by even the tiniest of joys and the smallest of sorrows, and is able to love all beings despite the most heinous acts they may commit. God is, as Whitehead says, “the fellow sufferer who understands.²

¹ Those interested should look at the discussion of Dipolar Theism.

² See this entry for some of the variations present in Christian and non-Christian faith groups: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Process_theology

Related » Charles Hartshorne

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