A few items to discuss that I didn’t cover in my previous entry. As I’ve written before, there’s a vast ocean of difference between a belief and dialogue with God, and a belief in organized religion. One can believe in the invisible man and pray, talk, or have dialogues with him in the comfort of one’s own home, in the car, a shopping mall, or sitting on a park bench. (If you want to experience the most vocal praying, imploring, or beseeching of God’s favor, visit the craps or roulette tables in the Las Vegas casinos.) So while communication with God is purely a solitary endeavor, the decision to be involved with some religious faction is a whole different ball game. Organized religion is totally a man-made invention, and is usually used by its hierarchy to wield enormous political and social power. Keep in mind that both the old and new testaments were written by man, not God. As I explained last time, the stern gods of the Judao-Christian bibles essentially replaced the antics and shenanigans of the Greek mythology gods, with a new set of “thou shall nots.” The fables, myths, and superstitions of the ancient Greeks were superseded by a whole new system of rites and rituals, primarily for the benefit of the men establishing the new rules and regulations. And this type of authoritarianism was not just true in Judao-Christian societies. Other organized religions such as Islam or Hinduism are not exactly a barrel of laughs either.
The influence of the Christian Church throughout Europe; since the Emperor Constantine gave the okay to have Christianity become the official religion of the ancient Roman Empire; until the end of WWII, cannot be overstated. The Catholic Church followed by Protestant churches after the Reformation wielded enough power in virtually every European nation to make kings tremble. Church leaders had the final say in the very fabric of social and political day-to-day affairs within each country. Those that didn’t obey Church dictates were usually branded as heretics or worse, which usually meant banishment from society, imprisonment or death. Church elders often had the power to dethrone kings and queens; although that didn’t work too well for the Vatican when it tried depose of Henry VIII in England. It led, instead, to the British turning away from Catholicism and embracing Protestantism. As I’ve said, this type of religious power and domination did not wane until the end of WWII. After experiencing the tragic horrors, and massive death and destruction of that war, Europeans began asking where was God or Church leaders during all of this. This led to most Europeans becoming more secularized in most nations; a trend that is ongoing to this day.
In this country, organized religion, however, is still thriving. Even something as simple as the Government requiring health insurance companies to provide contraception for women in their health plans, brought howls of protest from Catholic leaders, as if church doors were being nailed shut by Government troops. In my last posting I tried to point out the absurdity of biblical stories being taken literally as points of fact. I didn’t mention, however, the extent to which both Judaism and Christianity were heavily influenced by pagan religions. Despite both religion’s denials, paganism has played a large role in their formation. For example, in the old testament, god calls upon Abraham to sacrifice a living being, as a display of Abraham’s total devotion to god. This is straight out of pagan religions which usually sacrificed animals (and sometimes humans) to appease the wrath of whatever gods they believed in. In Abraham’s case, instead of sacrificing a goat or lamb, as was the custom in those days, God asks him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham is horrified, but because god asks so nicely, he agrees to go ahead with the sacrifice. Of course, as we all know, at the last minute god stays Abraham’s arm as he was about to slit his son’s throat, and offers up a lamb instead for the sacrifice. But what did that poor, innocent, defenseless lamb do to deserve this. Isn’t god aware of his greatness, without having to cut open the throat of a defenseless animal.
An example of pagan influences in the new testament surrounds the birth of Jesus himself. Virtually all biblical scholars agree that Jesus was not born on December 25. Most figure his birth was most likely in the early Spring. But December 25 was selected because it coincided with pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. The whole kit and kaboodle- Christmas trees, gift giving, celebration- all part of pagan rituals surrounding the winter solstice. Most people don’t realize that the wedding ring was also taken directly from pagan practices.
Speaking of the birth of Jesus, I think that the holy ghost needs a new PR man. He is part of the divine trinity in Christian theology- the father, the son, and the holy ghost. But as Rodney Dangerfield might have put it-the holy ghost don’t get no respect these days. Supposedly the third most powerful entity in the universe, and yet, he hardly gets a mention. I mean people are always going on about God or Jesus, and telling the world what wonders either one has done for their lives. But who ever cites the holy ghost? Yes, he did impregnate Mary so she could give birth to Jesus. And he did it while she was sleeping; unquestionably an impressive feat for a being that is rumored to weigh only 7 ounces. But that was 2000 years ago. How long can one rest on his laurels. It’s time for him to get get back in the game and do something wonderous in this day and age. Like maybe creating peace between the Arabs and Israelis. Now that would truly be a miracle.
Oh, and the reason their are 10 commandments instead of some other number. There are 2 possible explanations. Years ago, the Hollywood comedian Mel Brooks (of Blazing Saddles fame) made a movie called “The History of the World.” In one scene he plays Moses coming down from his meeting with god on the mountain, and with 3 stone tablets in his hands. He proclaims to the crowd assembled before him- “I have 15 commandments that god wants his people to obey.” Suddenly, one of the tablets slips from his hands, and shatters into pieces on the rocky ground. “Oy vey” he sighs. Then, gaining his composure, he address the crowd again stating-” I have 10 commandments god wants his people to obey.
The other explanation comes from the late comedian, George Carlin. He pointed out that 10 is like a magical number in our society. There are lists of 10 best or worst in virtually every category. The 10 best movies of all time; the 10 best or worst dressed; the 10 greatest home run hitters; the 10 best quarterbacks; etc., etc. Ten is the basis of the decimal system, and amounts are easily multiplied or divided by ten. Ten is, thus, a revered number by mankind. Therefore, the plan to have 10 commandments was basically…..a marketing decision.