Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Gnostic Gospels, Part 2

As we learned last time, Gnostics needed someone to provide the special gnosis, or knowledge, needed to escape fleshly existence. So here's where the fun starts.

Gnosticism was a syncretistic belief system. That means it appropriated the mythology of the culture in which it existed. This means that you'll find Platonism, Judaism, and Christianity scattered throughout Gnostic teachings. Remember, in the ancient world, polytheism was the rule, monotheism was the exception. Therefore, it was very common to appropriate someone else's gods and mythology because you wanted to spark their interest, and because the existence of one pantheon didn't exclude the existence of other pantheons. Originally the Gnostics appropriated the Jewish Torah. The creator God of Genesis 1 became the Gnostic demiurge. God's wrath and strict requirements were accentuated, while his love and provision was ignored, to illustrate that he was an imperfect tyrant and not the one. Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, became the disseminator of the gnosis required to escape creation.

However, you can probably see where this is headed. Sethian Gnosticism decided to appropriate Christian symbolism as it had that of Judaism. Suddenly, the disseminator of gnosis became Jesus, who was not really a human, because flesh and the physical world are evil. He only appeared to be a man in order to illustrate how one casts off their humanity. This is a heresy known as "docetism" in the early church.

In order to fully appropriate Jesus, the Gnostics had to deal with all of those pesky things he said and did that contradicted their theology. Identifying with the Old Testament God and quoting the Old Testament were obviously out. So were the indications of his humanity. To this end, the Gnostics wrote their own set of "Gospels". Going along with the theme of secret knowledge, these Gospels largely argue that Jesus' message was mischaracterized or misunderstood by Peter and the rest of the disciples. That's why they have heroes like Judas and Mary Magdalene. These were supposedly the only people who really "got" it.

Just A Question

Can anyone see Barack Obama successfully attempting a chest-bump? Or even being willing to try? I'm not sure what that says, or if it says anything honestly. Just something that occurred to me while reading the article.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scott McClellan, Always Classy

The only lasting memory I retain from the years of Scott McClellan in the role of White House Press Secretary are the winces of pain as I watched a man who was obviously incapable of performing the job he had been given. His departure from the role was a relief for conservatives and Republicans hoping to see some semblance of competence returning to the White House's communications operation (please note: as badly as McClellan stank in his role, he is FAR from the only reason the White House's communications operation has been sub-par). Tony Snow was a breath of fresh air.

Now it seems, Scott McClellan is trying to salvage his reputation by claiming that his lousy performances were all due to the atmosphere within the Bush administration. He was deceived, and it was everyone else's fault. Sorry Scott, you stank all on your own, and stabbing the president in the back isn't going to cause anyone to respect you. That ship sailed at one of those stammer-fests you called a press conference.

Bionic Monkeys?

These people must be kidding. Are they insane!?!?!? Do they really want to combine these two?

Load up a monkey with mechanical enhancements and then tick him off by "gently restraining" him. You'll take that evil monkey brain and warp it even further. And that, my friends, is the very definition of a killing machine. We all know where this will end up. Just don't say you weren't warned...

The Gnostic Gospels, Part 1

Ok, as I said earlier, here's a little basic info on Gnosticism and the Gnostic gospels, as made popular by the Da Vinci Code movie, and various popular books. The main underlying issue is that the Gnostic gospels portray Jesus differently than the canonical Gospels do. People critical of Christian beliefs have seized on this to argue that early Christianity was a theologically diverse movement and the cannon of Scripture was essentially those books arbitrarily chosen by either the bishops or the emperor (choose whichever bad guy is more convenient) to create a false consensus and cement their power. Please remember that I'm not a scholar, and definitely not a scholar of ancient heresy or canonical developments, and be gentle towards any mistakes or omissions. Since this can get really long really quickly, I'll divide it into parts.

To understand the issue, you'll need a little background on Gnosticism. Speaking of "gnosticism" as a unified movement is a little deceptive. It's like speaking of "martial arts" as a unified discipline. It doesn't work, because there are many different subsets, some of which run contrary to others. However, some themes that run consistently throughout the whole of the movement are: the evil of the physical world, the necessity of secret knowledge to escape this world (gnosis, the root word of gnosticism, means knowledge), an impersonal and transcendent creator god, coupled with a dizzying number of levels of inferior spiritual beings.

Basically, Gnostics believed that the god (we'll call him the "one") who created the universe created a bunch of inferior gods. Since he was transcendent and relatively detached from creation, these gods were created by emanations from the one rather than through an active creation process. The process varies a little among Gnostics from period to period and time to time, but essentially, these gods then created other gods, who created other gods, etc. Each lower form of god was less perfect than the next, because he was further away from the one. Somewhere along the line, a god referred to as the demiurge created the physical world. However, since the physical world is as far away from the one as you can get, it is also highly imperfect.

Well, in an attempt to fix the demiurge's mistake, humans were given a spiritual side. It is through this spiritual side that we can gain knowledge and eventually leave this physical world. Fleshly things like sex, food, etc were generally considered evils that clouded one's spiritual side, so most Gnostics lived very austere lives. (To illustrate the diversity of the movement though, some Gnostics basically lived as hedonists. They argued that if only the spiritual matters, then you can do whatever you want with your evil, fleshly body, and it's all ok.) A point to remember is that Gnosticism developed separately from Christianity. No one disputes that. While it's roots are obscure and hard to date, it is at least as old, and maybe a tad older.

So, the question arises, how does one get the special knowledge needed to transcend the world? The answer is that someone has to provide it to you. And here is where things get complicated.

Judas Stabs His Buddies In The Back Again

Ok, not literally. But apparently, there is a new controversy surrounding the Gospel of Judas. It seems that bad scholarship, and possibly even bad faith, led the scholars working on the text to interpret it in a manner that may have been more sensational than accurate.

For those who don't know, the Gospel of Judas is a gnostic text that (until now) was said to portray Judas as a willing and friendly assistant to Jesus, who turned him over to the Romans at Jesus' own request. Now, it turns out that other Coptologists believe the team working on the text (there is only one extant copy) mistranslated key words in a way that changed the meaning of the text by 180 degrees. Considering that the team included people like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels, I can't say it's really all that astonishing. These are people who have built a cottage industry out of attacking the transmission of the Bible, so it isn't all that astonishing that they would jump to the interpretation that best supports their position.

I might try to write something on Gnosticism and the issue of the Gnostic texts a little later, but for now, I think there are two major points that need to be identified in this story. The first is the difficulty of doing historical work well. Old texts are not books to be read. Many times they are fragments to be pieced together, with smeared inks and missing sections. The languages they are written in may only be partially understood, or may change dramatically over time. We miss this when we see archaeological artifacts on display with neat labels, or transcribed into English.

On top of this you have the inherent biases of the humans working on the texts. While I have less than positive feelings about people like Pagels and Ehrman, can they really be blamed for seeing confirmation of something they've spent years defending in an ambiguous text? Can any of us say we know for sure that we'd really be above choosing the convenient translation over the one that is more accurate? Hopefully so, but no one knows for sure until they're actually in such a situation.

The more important lesson is this though. While we can get caught up in all of the arguments and sensationalist books, we need to remember that God doesn't need us defending him. This doesn't mean that such historical work is without value, or has no evangelistic potential. Merely that we shouldn't take it too seriously. God is bigger than any historical disagreement, and Christians who fall into despair anytime that some controversial text comes to light need to re-examine who and what it is that they believe in. God's word speaks directly to the hearts of those willing to listen to it. Those who aren't willing to listen probably won't be further convinced by arguments over the radiocarbon dating of a papyrus codex. Let him speak and defend himself.

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
Hebrews 4:12
Hat tip, Al Mohler.

***Update: 1st link corrected***

My Dog Is Cooler Than Yours

Just admit it now, and save yourself the embarrassment. That's 116 pounds of sheer, unadulterated awesome right there. Oh, and we just found out that apparently he eats veterinarians.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Emperor Norton, RIP

On this day in 1937, the grandest project of His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico, was completed. While his majesty's proclamation was issued in on March 23, 1872, it took decades for the project to begin in earnest.

Some other proclamations made by the far-sighted emperor included:
July 25, 1869 – Decree that San Franciscans advance money to Frederick Marriott for his airship experiments.
August 12, 1869 – Decree to dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties because of party strife now existing within our realm.
September 21, 1872 – Norton I ordered a survey to determine if a bridge or tunnel would be the best possible means to connect Oakland and San Francisco. He also ordered the arrest of the Board of Supervisors for ignoring his decrees.

Decline of Western Civilization, Example 1,684,867

A judge will allow a taxpayer funded sex change to go forward. The reason for the delay? The recipient is TWELVE. Put aside your feelings about sex-change operations in general for a moment and consider this. The average 12 year-old is not mature enough to choose their own breakfast cereal. In America at least, they are still 4 years from being allowed behind the wheel of a car. They are 6 years from being old enough to vote, smoke a cigarette, or buy spray paint. They are almost a full DECADE away from being old enough to allow them to buy alcohol. They won't even be able to rent a car for another 14 years. And yet, in our infinite wisdom, society has decided to allow them to make a decision on something as confusing (at that age) and complicated (at any age) as their gender? Hopefully someday, somewhere, angry adults will come storming back to these idiots and confront them over the damage they've done. "Are you insane? I was TWELVE! Why didn't you protect me from myself?"

And lest you think this was an isolated incident, it is not.

Hat tip to Mark Steyn and Kathryn Lopez over at The Corner.

Something To Think About

In an age of moral relativism, you'll find lots of people out there who claim not to believe in a universal standard of right or wrong. When you meet such a person, stomp on his toe. You'll see him resorting to the concept of right and wrong rather rapidly.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Obama's First Negotiation

Come on, you KNOW this is funny. Even if you're an Obama fan, you have to admit Frank J. has him pretty much nailed here. Besides, he had it coming after throwing a hissy fit over a speech in which he wasn't even named.

My Review Of The New Indiana Jones Movie In One Picture

**Contains plot elements**Yup, that pretty much sums it up. We went to see it at the drive-in this weekend. While I'm always nervous about attempts to revive a franchise, I was very excited by an article I read beforehand. It claimed that the people behind the movie were very aware of Harrison Ford's age, and were taking it into consideration in the plot. They also claimed that the movie would be very much like the originals in it's look. The director used film, and avoided CGI as much as possible to recreate the original feel.

Then I actually saw the thing. By "taking his age into consideration", they apparently meant the fact that he would make one or two remarks to the effect that he is, "not as young as I used to be" right before jumping into a car carrying 4 or 5 Soviet soldiers and single-handedly throwing all of these able-bodied young men out of said car. As for the "look", they threw in plenty of CGI and larger-than-life scenes.

All this would have been tolerable though, if not for one thing. They filled the plot with relentlessly stupid and unrealistic scenes. Granted, realism has always been a relative concept in the Indiana Jones series, but in this one they actually had a scene where random jungle monkeys decided to follow Mutt (as he swings through the jungle on vines like Tarzan) and attack the commies on his behalf. Of course, that was entirely believable compared to Jones himself surviving a nuclear bomb by jumping in a conveniently lead-lined refrigerator that was then thrown half a mile. Indy climbed out, wholly unscathed, and apparently unaffected by the fallout even though he was well within the blast radius. There was also a pointless Hollywood lament about the mindless evil of McCarthyism, as is obligatory in any movie involving the 1950's. The fact that it required 15 minutes of plot time without being related in ANY WAY to what was going on didn't seem to bother the writers.

My favorite scene, and one that deserves special mention for it's sheer ridiculousness involved the villainess, Irina Spalko. Colonel Spalko, in fleeing from pursuing bullet ants, climbs a tree. The ants actually make themselves into a paraponeran pyramid so that the highest ant can climb onto her leg, presumably to attempt to make her fall. Just in case you were wondering, no, bullet ants don't usually act as some well-coordinated group mind, capable of pack hunting and strategy.

Overall, if you like cheesy action and aren't a stickler for realism, it's good clean fun. If you're a fan of the Indiana Jones franchise, you'll probably leave wishing it was still a trilogy.


Ok, we're giving this another try. As some of you may have noticed, this blog pretty much fizzled out when I got married. Apparently having a wife cuts down on your free time. Who knew?

Now that things have settled down, I'm going to give this another shot. I'll be blogging about everything that interests me. That means primarily politics, theology, history, monkeys, and sharks. You'll also probably notice that I cleared out the old posts. I don't really have any particular reason for that, just felt like a re-launched blog should start fresh. There's nothing like a big, blank, blog to give me an incentive to fill it up with my own meandering, semi-coherent ramblings.

Ok, that's enough of an intro. Anything else you're dying to know, shoot me an e-mail.