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DISSIDENT ABOUT DANTE

DANTE AND HIS STATUS

To have problems with either Dante or Shakespeare might be to have problems with western civilisation itself. According to T. S. Eliot, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third”.

If you can ignore Goethe, for literature that may be true enough  – in music we might substitute Bach and Wagner – but what renders Dante and Shakespeare a crucial pair  is not just their similarity in terms of poetic brilliance but their complementary difference. Dante aspires heavenwards as surely as a gothic spire, while Shakespeare, world-conquering as a Renaissance mariner, explores outwards. One is explicitly religious, the other implicitly (as in Macbeth).

Some people, especially the Irish, see the two poets in competition and keep asking who wins? Having lost both their historic language and culture, the bard’s linguistic freedom appeals in one direction while the architectonics of Dante in another. The Catholic side of Ireland would like to think Dante wins by a slight margin, which in effect he does if a rare poetic sublimity as opposed to general elevation of tone is the consideration.

T.S. Eliot felt nothing in western poetry quite compares to parts of the Paradiso and certainly little enough in English does – the nearest comparison would be a piece influenced by Dante, Shelley’s Epipsychidion, with its waves of orgasmic emotion. The Protestant Yeats allows Dante to be the “greatest imagination in Christendom”. But here my unusual problems with Dante begin and the more I thought about it, the more I felt I should pursue to its source my at times real irritation with him. It has led me to a radical conclusion about what and  how the West thinks and believes, things which, beyond his originality and encyclopaedic range, Dante often simply reflects almost too well.

A PARADISO PROBLEM

Because it is great and sublime poetry I should like to like Dante, but as regards especially the Paradiso, I can only manage reading it in short spurts to get through it at all because something about it grates and jars and it gives me a hard-to-describe feeling of being cheated.

It must be immediately stated this is not, or not fully, based on reactions either Protestant or modern. It’s true that Protestants only began to discover Dante after the hauntingly beautiful illustrations of William Blake caught their attention two centuries ago and they have usually hesitated before a Purgatario (arguably the most charming and colourful part of the Commedia) they don’t believe in. However, many read it as just symbolic of a “sanctification” process associated more with this life than the next. And in some respects, especially in his criticism of the popes and Rome and given his quite extensive biblical literacy, Dante can anyway strike a quite “Protestant” note.

Nor is my problem the “modern” one which regards the whole of Dante as terribly “medieval” and its Paradiso, drenched in light, as good as someone on drugs gone bonkers. (The drugs theory of Dante’s inspiration owes something to the fact the poet belonged to the guild of apothecaries who also functioned as booksellers  in Florence for the latest manuscripts. So it’s possible Dante enhanced a natural visionary sense with chemicals).

The fact is you can be a modern unbeliever and still be entranced by Dante like Samuel Beckett for whom Dante was some of his preferred reading, and  atheist Clive James who has produced his own critically praised translation and who says somewhere that if there is any work should qualify as a bible, it should be Dante’s Commedia. Certainly there are people for whom Dante is a kind of bible. There is for example a Daily Dante Lenten Discipline of reading him!

But with that kind of recommendation I am a bit nearer to my visceral problem with the poet. He challenges, denies or revises at times to the point of near blasphemy, everything from scripture to the nature of inspiration and the poetic role itself in order to unfold, and often impose his vision.

I remain to be convinced that Petrarch’s cool response to Dante and his legacy marks simple resentment and jealousy as opposed to discretion. I suggest that as a poet with himself at times a “prophetic” message, he was simply unhappy with things Dante and his opus represent; and these did have critics from the first. But the sheer popular success of Dante as a new style poet employing  the vernacular would soon render his legacy hard for especially any Italian to question without bringing the house down.

The very language Italians now speak is the dialect of Florence which, by a nineteenth century political fiat it was decided, because of Dante, would be privileged above all other dialects as the national tongue. And for all time the vignettes of Dante’s cosmic journey have captured essential Italian character as surely as his contemporary, Masaccio, captured still recognizable Italian looks. Dante is taught in schools like so much bible and Shakespeare. So many of his lines are undeniably haunting like the famous “E’n la sua volantade e nostra pace / ell e quel mare al qual tutto se move “, (in his will is our peace/ that is the sea towards which all being moves”) words which seem to come from afar, drifting like a bird over a bright scene.

PROPHETIC SEEING OR FAKING JUST WHAT?

So altogether Dante can’t be avoided, so much so that as a national or international treasure he can scarcely be criticized either. He himself, with shameless vanity, declares himself as early as Inferno’s Limbo region, equal companion with Homer, Ovid, Virgil and others. He doesn’t go so far as to say he is the equal of the biblical prophets; he nevertheless as good as assumes their mantle as though he was one of them, especially as (even while admitting he has forgotten and can’t describe much of it), he claims to have seen or visited heaven itself. Biblically at least, it is only prophets who have been admitted to heaven and the council of Yahweh (Jer 23:18).

Any errors or memory lapses are plastered over and concealed, with exclamations “I saw, I saw” as though he really did see. Affirmations get chanted in tones fit for Isaiah and offered as though pure scripture …. at the same time as the poet incongruously calls upon Apollo to be his muse and evidently thinks so highly of this figure of pagan myth, he even seems to approve his cruel skinning of his musical rival. the satyr Myrsus. While obviously I am not Dante, I chance to be one of the very few today who has produced anything like visionary/metaphysical poetry and I know I could not, whether seriously or in play, treat of inspiration in Dante’s cavalier manner. One stresses as a sort of honest courtesy to readers what any inspiration means. (1)

By the time Dante arrives at the Paradiso, he has learned some lessons, but the overall impression is still of a rather self-glorifying and at times unforgiving soul. The enraged cursing of the already damned Filippo Argenti in Canto 8 of Inferno and still more the treatment of Bocca in Canto 32 where Dante actively tortures a hideously damned soul whom he impels to speak through a promise he doesn’t keep, has something obscene about it, while having Virgil exclaim in praise of the poet’s rage against Argenti, “Blessed the womb that bore you….” is disconcerting if not distasteful.

In presenting himself and/or Beatrice as redeemed, enlightened spokespersons for the inspiration of a world in spiritual darkness, Dante is necessarily compelled into some painful exaggerations or scripture-ignoring distortions at times preposterous. For example in Paradiso Canto 21, Beatrice (who has become Dante’s mentor in place of Virgil and as a vehicle of grace is teaching him including through her celestial beauty), become brighter than the sun itself in the heaven of Saturn, can’t now smile at Dante lest he be burned to a crisp. It is not possible, especially not before the general resurrection of believers, that Beatrice could be either so powerful or transformed as to do this. Dante has already accorded her power beyond perhaps the angels.

IMAGINATION AND IMAGE

But in modification of this severe judgement and to repeat Yeats, the latter was, however unintentionally, right to define Dante is the imagination of Christendom. Yeats meant this approvingly but “imagination” can have a downside and be deceptive. In religion it can bolster the vain dreams of the false prophets (Jer 23:16) and Dante largely reflects directions of the western imagination  to whose shape his vision conforms. It does so even when it makes assumptions of a kind which turn the Judaeo-Christian tradition on its head and psychologically into a kind of idolatrous expression of soul over spirit.

Dante’s is the supreme religious literary expression of a larger western idolatry of the image, and thus of the desire to see rather than to hear God, to contemplate as opposed to interact with God and to shift ordinary religious experience into a matter of seeking favours and contacting with intermediaries from saints to angels rather than deity. Dante himself embarks on his saving quest through the intervention of no less than Beatrice, St Lucy and the Virgin working together. What he discovers  about God is arguably less than what one might derive from the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets.

While, as said, Dante like many people today claiming NDEs, admits that he has forgotten much of his paradise vision and that he can only reconstruct it, the reconstruction is too often unsatisfactory no matter how glorious the poetic tones and images that sustain it. It corresponds neither to what the scripture he otherwise often refers to in the Commedia indicates about the afterlife, nor to the kind of things we might reasonably generalize from the diverse testimonies of NDE experiences today.

Nor does it satisfy the ethical sense or spiritual feeling to read of the dubious persons supposedly enjoying high blessedness in heaven like for example the emperor Justinian (seen as super corrupt and even demon possessed by some Greek Christians according to Procopius’ The Secret History). Numbers of Dante’s glorified notables have been chosen largely to fit the poet’s political theories and bolster his underlying conviction about the need for a secular saviour. This should be someone in the style of Emperor Henry V11 who had inconveniently died, someone independent of the corruptions of the papacy and ruling within an ideally church/state divided world, fulfilling the greater destiny of Rome first outlined by Virgil, Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

ODD HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP

Because the emperor Constantine’s established toleration of Christianity rendered the Virgilian ideal at least possible, this ruler (albeit criticized by Dante’s Justinian for transferring the imperial capital from  West to East ), is still glorified in heaven. The level of distinction is in blind disregard  that this emperor only formally converted on his deathbed, having largely used the church to further his position and support imperial unity, while he himself was guilty of murdering his wife and son. Arguably Constantine also stands as chief inspiration of the evil of most subsequent holy wars because of his dream that he could win battle victory under the sign of the cross. (Here, if ever, was a lying dream no Christians should have ever endorsed, given its source in a clearly unrighteous person not even at the time adhering to the faith).

The Holy War ideal is nonetheless celebrated in Dante’s heaven of Mars where knights of Christ, crusaders etc, have their reward. The whole of Paradiso is divided up into heavens of the seven planets (lowest moon and highest Saturn) in accordance with some notion of universal “justice” which with “love” should rule all things including celestial cycles. Saturn as a symbol of highest heaven below the Empyrean is odd given that across history, and certainly in medieval times, Saturn was a devil planet, source of misfortune, and misery. Dante places in this exalted sphere the dubiously uncorrupted St Peter Damien, a fanatical ascetic whose enthusiastic condemnation of gays had inquisitorial effects. St Dominic, a major promoter of the Inquisition, is found in Dante’s heaven of the sun.

In fairness, it would obviously be hard for anyone from poet to theologian to convincingly imagine the divisions and rewards of heaven; all would probably be unsatisfactory. Dante’s celestial levels at which souls are able to manifest to him (they really dwell in the Empyrean and elsewhere) are a sort of appearance only within the larger celestial rose, an exquisite garden overseen by the Virgin for Christ. It may sound all terribly mystical, but Dante’s distribution of bliss and glory is really quasi-philosophical; and as opposed to the would-be objective, schematic arrangements that ensues, it would have been closer to Christian tradition to have simply housed souls according to either or both of

a) how closely the individual had been to fulfilling the divine will and generally “knowing” the heart and mind of God (like the Beloved Disciple or the prophet Jeremiah to whom some of his contemporaries compared Jesus) or

b) emphasising the qualities of the planets over their order outwards to the Empyrean. Thus the poet could have put the heaven of Venus (signifying love) at the summit, if only because the Christ of the last things, the apocalyptic Christ, is self-declared as “the Bright Morning Star” (i.e.Venus) who has overcome Venus as Lucifer who is source of evil). Or again, since the Paradiso describes a progressive increase of light, Dante could have placed the Sun at the planetary summit.

One of the weakest points of the celestial organization (indeed of the Commedia’s entire system of value judgement at its three levels) is exemplified by the treatment of Cunizza da Ramono within   the level of Venus. Having earlier doomed to the hell of incontinence the unfortunate Francesca da Rimini, who surely had some case for divine forgiveness, Dante lets off the also real life Cunizza lightly, even glorifies her. A sort of Good Wife of Bath figure, she had had four husbands and two lovers, and left the first husband to become mistress of the poet Sordello, (whom Dante meets up with in Purgatorio). She is permitted to rejoice and she even laughs that she has forgiven herself because she has at last found the meaning of love in its divine aspect and thus she can make what was her occasion of sin the basis of redeemed life.

Ignoring that one could well stress God alone forgives sins (Mk 22:7) and that all redemption has something to do with “predestination” (as higher up even St Bernard concedes) never human choice alone, Dante’s depiction has to be understood against his system of values more generally. According to this – and it would have seemed more meaningful to medieval persons imposed on by tradition and parental authority – we have an inborn nature that must be fulfilled. Denied, it becomes unhealthy and will run to evil. This is true enough, as is also a belief that if God forgives us we need to forgive ourselves too. Even so, here and at points throughout the Commedia, Dante’s treatment of evil finishes over-rationalized, at times shallow vis this emphasis (perhaps never more so than when he attributes what today we would call homosexuality to mostly bad wives). To cite an Italian example against him, Italy today is the chief centre of revived practices of exorcism. Its exorcists would be the first to insist evil can run deep, and some bad impulses can even result from such as occult involvements and family curses, a case of the sins of the fathers visited to the fourth generation ( Ex 20:5). Much more is involved than a few thwarted impulses.

MARIA AND BERNARD OBSESSIONS

Having read and written in the past on this subject of exorcism and its effectiveness (2), I would further add that the effectiveness of exorcism (some are carried on over years!) can be weakened by another factor which features as one of the stand-out contradictions of the Paradiso and which I would associate with especially St Bernard of Clairvaux.

At almost its highest point of the Paradiso, from the Empyrean emerges Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. St Bernard is one of the most important figures in the Paradiso because it is his prayers to the Virgin permit the poet to “see” God. However, even if by divine grace Dante was granted some kind of visionary glimpse of the Beyond, we can rest assured he did not see St Bernard in highest heaven. Not only do the gospels famously declare “The first shall be last and the last, first” but Bernard could be grateful if he was even permitted the level of Dante’s moon.

At one time the almost uncrowned ruler of Europe for sheer influence with its rulers, as a preacher of the Crusades that caused the unnecessary death of thousands and an interferer in lives – his unrelenting attacks upon the philosopher Abelard as a heretic was behind the attack on him and castration, Bernard was one of the maddest of the Catholic mystics. This was less because he was so unwashed his fragrance was hard for his devotees to manage, but because he was an eccentric who believed the Virgin had fed him drops of her breast milk. Bernard couldn’t doubt this and nor could Dante and all devotees  because had not Bernard declared one only needed to have the Virgin perpetually in one’s mind never to be deceived?

Bernard’s devotion to the Virgin which Dante so trendily follows, helped form a vision which turned the West towards a cult of the Virgin exceeding anything prior to it. As in Dante’s vision, Christ for Bernard, though notionally acknowledged as redeemer, becomes as good as subordinate to an all-encompassing vision of the Virgin’s glory, “empress” of heaven.

Standard Catholic teaching is that the Virgin is venerated, not worshipped, but practically that can hardly be said to hold and one needn’t look far in the Paradiso to trace the effects of Bernard’s doctrines upon Dante’s representatively western/catholic spirituality as they are already dramatically present in the Purgatorio. In Canto 5 there is the case of Da Montefeltro the leader whose place of death was unknown but to whom the poet endeavours to supply an ending and a pious one to somebody religiously indifferent. Staggering towards the river losing his lifeblood.

There my sight failed me and my last word sped/ Forth in the name of Mary; there headlong/ I fell; there left only my body dead.

Hell shrieks in rage at this saving of this soul, in effect by Mary at a very last minute call. Here if ever is the neo-medieval gospel according to St Bernard. Last minute conversions are not a feature of biblical record, the individual is supposed to be working out their salvation in the virtual purgatory of this life (Phil 2:12); but there is undeniably the case of the thief on the cross – whose same day transfer to Paradise itself bespeaks a system of grace in which the toils and waiting of Purgatory have no place. The thief however makes appeal to the crucified Jesus, not to the Mary beneath the cross. This is entirely consistent with two lead statements from earliest tradition and which exclude Mary from any salvation equation: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved “ (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name [than Jesus] under heaven, given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

SEEING AND APPROACHING GOD: BEATIFIC VISION

Dante’s Bernard-inspired distortions of the original doctrine, are not limited to this rather crucial point. They enter to infect the whole aim, attitude and basis of his Paradiso vision, which is to “see” God, the Beatific Vision. In Canto 32 we read, what by some standards could be called pious blasphemy, the following words of Bernard to Dante: “See that face resembling Christ/closer than all; for that bright light alone/can make you fit to look on Christ”. This is then followed by around a page of the bliss and glories of Mary as the angels chant “Salve Regina” to heaven’s own “empress”.

There is much that’s between ignorant and shocking here. Fit to see Christ? Dante and Bernard should be aware that in numerous instances like 1 Pet 1,2 the original message it is the Spirit who sanctifies and prepares whether souls or church to become faithful disciples or devoted bride of Christ. Moreover – at least theoretically – there should never anyway be any problems about “seeing” Christ any time, anywhere.

As the human face of God, as divine incarnation and mediator, Jesus is simply available, as in his lifetime, to be approached. In Revelation the redeemed of many nations plainly see the enthroned Redeemer as a matter of course (Rev 7:9,10). Nothing could be further from the author of Hebrews with its “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb 4:16) than this remarkably over-awed approach to a Jesus so unavailable that it takes Bernard and the Virgin working together to make even the hope of seeing him possible. This is a whole new alternative religion and absolutely no longer one of “to God through Christ” than “to Christ through Mary” and in a way to render the Trinity virtually irrelevant save as Dante’s parting, suitably abstract and impersonal image of the intermeshed circles which sustain existence. This is scarcely Christianity; it is a colourful new form of neo-platonism.

And before briefly descending to Inferno level, reverting to the point made about weakness and contradiction introduced by the influential St Bernard, practically his Marian cult would successfully undermine fundamental spiritual energies of the faith. One arguably sees this in even the embarrassing failure of two modern popes to be able to exorcise. This was something which early Christians were well known for doing without prior permission of bishops and boards of clerics and in the name of Christ alone, not Mary and the saints under whose patronage, amid elaborate rituals, the exercise now exists to what is often its confusion – absurdly, modern exorcisms can function like therapy sessions that are carried on over years, never coming to any real conclusion, just as Dante never – quite – gets to see God despite the prayers of Bernard and the Virgin!

THE INFERNO

Even as a teenager when I first encountered Dante, I was disappointed with the conclusion of Inferno which has an almost pantomime Satan at the bottom of hell, tormenting not just Judas Iscariot but Brutus and Cassius. Surely this pair who rid the world of the tyrannical Julius Caesar, himself opposed by righteous individuals like Cicero (accorded a place in Limbo), couldn’t deserve the lowest point of hell for being “traitors”. Shouldn’t figures like, say, Caiaphas (who is higher up among the hypocrites) and Nero (who’s nowhere) be there? Of course it makes no sense – except that Dante is fixated on the need for a just imperial ruler and Brutus and Cassius interfered with the foundations of the empire he admires. But condemning the pair with Judas is like making Julius Caesar a Christ figure he very obviously wasn’t.

Which reminds us how much Dante’s is a political text and a semi-pagan one. The sins of hell are not organized as they could be according to, say, the ten commandments, but rather notions of virtue and vice as defined by Cicero and Aristotle (the latter being appropriated around the time by the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas). Thus the sins of love and lust can’t be covered by the circle of incontinence alone which carries the adulterous tragedy of Francesca da Rimini, but much further down hell will deal with seducers and panders under the head of Fraud. “Sodomites” and suicides are treated under the head of, and thus in the circle of, Violence because they have been “violent” against nature or the body. It all gets quite intricate and involved, more so than Purgatorio and Paradiso which have fewer sections. It also gets colder as Dante and Virgil descend rather than hotter, though sight is never really lost to effects of any nether gloom such as would apply to the nether gloom of especially Tartarus, prison of the fallen angels, that Dante doesn’t portray.

If Irish otherworld journeys influenced Purgatorio, it is believed the third century apocryphal Apocalypse of St Paul was the main inspiration for the Inferno and its gruesome, torture chamber type details and its icy lower depths. Necessarily so since the bible has little to say about hell apart from affirming its existence and declaring that (through a body of death rather than of resurrection), there is a gnashing of teeth and some torment by worms and by thirst, and then that at the end of time as we understand it, the Hell/Hades zone gets thrown into a lake of fire for “eternity”.

The Inferno is nonetheless truer than other parts of the Commedia to things we can know about the afterlife, if not from the Bible then negative NDEs. Those persons who report experiences of hell, frequently refer to pain and harm vented on them from tormenting demons. These demons moreover seem to torment people in relation to a single sin, or if demons don’t do that, the person torments themselves in relation to one besetting sin, like the alcoholic who is thirsting for and being burned by alcohol.

I struggled over this in my own poetic experiment, an attempt at an updated Danteque journey as in The Hell Passage (3). The poem drew upon especially one reported vision from South America of a visit to hell led there by Jesus. The sinners allegedly encountered on this journey sometimes had their besetting sin branded on them as surely as Dante can know the sinners and their sin by the circle they inhabit. Is this even likely, whether literally or more symbolically, since sin is of all kinds and is present in everyone?

FINAL IDENTITY TAGS

My (provisional) conclusion is that since hell is most essentially about separation from God and whatever makes for that, it could be that one besetting sin is what confirms that separation. And since everyone’s final identity is with and through God, in hell personal identity becomes whatever is not God. Alternatively some inhabitants are shown as branded (as none of Dante’s sinners are) not with a sin but with 666, evidently people who have taken the mark or who willingly would do so given the chance, an action which insures separation.

The activity of tormenting devils seems hardly credible or fair – if they are really fallen angels, why aren’t they themselves tormented? – but perhaps their role should be seen as the equivalent of biblical claims to the effect that (until finally overcome by the returning Christ) the world belongs to the realms of evil. Ultimate damnation would include the tormenting demons too. The final destination of damned souls is not Hades/Hell but the Lake of Fire, evidently a mirror of God who is “fire”, and entails an existence through God as fire but nothing else, hence God negatively experienced in proportion to the degree of spiritual separation.

Given how much Dante is prepared to send doubtful cases like Francesca da Rimini to hell and blast the already suffering damned, curiously, if generously, he is still concerned about who is lost and saved according to their beliefs. It prompts him to allow the good pagans Cato and Statius a place in Purgatory and the Trojan prince warrior Riphaeus even a place in heaven’s sphere of Jupiter for his righteousness. And it obviously pains Dante that Virgil has to return to the Limbo of the good pagans (among whom he includes that author of the arts of seduction, Ovid!). It was for this kind of juggling with doctrine some early critics considered Dante’s work heresy, but the salvation problem he wrestles with is and should always have been a non question.

Despite his wide reading in bible, Dante, like many to this day, never absorbed how St Paul teaches that ignorant pagans outside the Law will be judged “or perhaps excused” by their thoughts at the Last Judgement (Rom 2: 14,15). While undeniably the bible appears to assume that once the individual has heard and understood the gospel, they have responsibility for their decisions, no one is automatically damned for what they cannot even hope to know. Besides which, the whole subject of ultimate salvation is anyway subject to the statement, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom 9:15), which however is not a give-away. It is certainly no justification for notions that Dante sometimes borders on and that a modern Catholic mystic like Thomas Merton renders explicit, namely that each soul independently “chooses” whether they will be saved or damned.

READING DANTE TODAY

There are many benefits from reading Dante, and today perhaps especially from the enforced work of imagination which takes the reader outside of normal existence to hear people doing what everyone should periodically do, which is to assess their lives and motivations. The contemporary restlessness and materialism virtually imposed on everyone by media and the rat race, renders this imagining and self-distancing task increasingly difficult.

At the same time, we may also be drawn to awareness of something else we ought to know.  Dante is an imaginative summation of a particularly European way of perceiving reality but which is a distortion, at times even a negation of the Christianity it seeks to defend. There is a reason why deity for the poet, even as the love that moves all things, is so remote and abstract while women from Beatrice to Maria are so magnified, and a reason the religion of Jesus and the prophets becomes a faith politicized to the point of violence and corruption. The noted rationalism and romanticism of Europe are all of one psychological and philosophical piece.

Around the fourth century and the times of SS Augustine and Jerome, who between them rid Christianity of its chiliastic legacy (the prophetic dimension that believed Christ must return to Israel to rule in the Millennium – for Dante the Second Coming is reduced to the Last Judgement), it was reported that spiritual gifts (the charismata) of the early church were rare to non existent. One of the features of especially speaking in tongues was that the person did not usually know what it was they were saying to God (1 Cor 14:2). This was the original Christian via negativa, the not knowing which is nonetheless revelation and an uttering of the mysteries. This element of secrecy apart, it was assumed that individuals should relate to God more or less directly in a basically personal way and entering before the throne of grace boldly (Heb 4:16). And even if the glorified Christ or the enthroned God the Father were not exactly like humans, the long tradition of biblical references to their hands and eyes indicated an essential identity with the human. Christ is even described as the “icon”(image) of the invisible God (Col 1:15)

FROM CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE TO NEO-PLATONIC VISIONS

The fourth century revolution began a movement away from anything like this, and  it transposed practice to another level. It was no longer a case of saying unknown things to God but rather of not knowing or describing deity at all who must be described in negation (not good because beyond good etc) reached through the darkness and silence (the language of heaven itself according to the late medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart!) or who perhaps even was darkness or a superior Nothingness, attained by mental exercises rather than any more spontaneous means. These exercises needed to travel far, high and long as God became ever more remote, much helped by the influence of one of Dante’s own inspirations via Thomas Aquinas, (the latter high in the realm of the Sun) ,namely the Greek Pseudo-Dionysius.

Dante didn’t fall for the deception of the Donation of Constantine, but like many directly or indirectly he fell for Dionysius. Medievals decided this mendacious writer must be identical, as he tried to make out he was, with St Paul’s philosophical convert in Athens, not some fifth century subtle underminer of the entire Christian tradition via neo-platonic means.

Greek philosophy which was favourable to contemplation, almost despised the body as a prison of the soul and which held notions of a remote unmoved, mover deity, had never been entirely at home with the Hebrew legacy and its anthropomorphism dismissed in passing remarks of Dionysius. The Greek church had moreover been introduced to poisonous levels of anti-Semitism (Hitler would even approve it) through the Golden Mouth preacher St John Chrysostom. Pseudo-Dionysius is almost the summation of a Greek dissociation from a disdained Hebrew legacy. At the height of Pseudo-D’s system are angels, who, far from being co-workers with the faithful as per Rev 22:9, are exalted beings like Platonic ideas virtually barring the way to the hidden deity.

The anti Hebraic mindset of the Greeks was for all practical purposes sealed by the 8th Council of Constantinople in 869 which rid itself of the bible’s trichotomy or threefold anthropology of the self with its, Body, Soul and Spirit, substituting in line with Greek rationalism, a dichotomy of simply Body and Soul. Soul was now  what contained Spirit, a spirit as intellective spirit more or less reduced to Reason, the same Reason that underlines Dante’s entire rationalizing treatment of evil.

Originally, however, human spirit under the influence of Holy Spirit is what shapes and helps organize the imagination of soul. Soul (Gk psyche) is the reactive yin type function, the Hebrew/biblical nephesh or animal soul (the basic radiant aura or astral body of esoteric traditions). It is often what St Paul means when he refers to the “flesh” or lower nature which is more than just “body”  and which  is perceived as in conflict with the spirit (Gk pneuma, Heb  ruach) which should be allowed to dominate it. (One can picture the trichotomy as either body and animal soul nephesh together, with beyond it  spirit ruach  and then neshamah, the divine lamp,spark or higher soul, or you can portray the trichotomy as simply body, soul and spirit. Either way you have a possible reflection of the interactive Trinity that the simple soul/body dichotomy does not permit),

SPIRIT AND SOUL

If one reduces the whole drama of the self to simply a dualistic contrast and conflict of soul with body which in no way reflects the interactions of the Trinity, one is left with Logos or Word seen as purely masculine Reason tasked with dominating an unruly and despised purely feminine body. Whether in religious or cultural contexts, this distorts the masculine yang factor in man and God alike. What is masculine becomes a fixed, often cold, inflexible Reason, not a higher lyrical, adaptive, creative force. God is not a Creator whose creation can be also be poetry and sung over ( Zeph 3:7).

There is a Spirit of God, but there is also a Soul and Christ is that Soul; and because Soul is for humans the problem of what’s “fallen”, it is into the image of the perfected Christ to which the believer is supposed to be conformed (Rom 8:29). This does not and cannot happen in Dante where Christ is a dim figure, a cross, a griffen, “our pelican”, a wheel, because soul function  through the form and the work of woman (a Goethean  Ewig Weibliche  Eternal Feminine leading us ever on), has almost completely taken over obscuring the person. Dante in his ascent  instructed by Beatrice as a model of divine grace, is also teaching him via the beauty she embodies. This is problematic. Beauty is a reactive  yin force, its power dependent upon power before or beyond it.

Effectively substituting for the person of Christ, Beatrice even examines Dante in what is the equivalent of the believer’s presentation before the bema or judgement seat of Christ (Rom 8:10, 1 Cor 3:15). The entire image of Jesus  in the Commedia is suitably odd, empty or just vague. As said, it can be glimpsed (reflected in Beatrice’s eyes! ) from the head of the Christ-linked griffin in Purgatorio, to the forming and reforming cross of the heaven of Mars whose inhabitants are supposed to be close to Christ because, as or like crusaders, they literally took up the cross! And Dante at this level of heaven even identifies himself as a kind of Christ figure because of his exiled life! But ultimately, unlike other, especially female figures of the Paradiso, Christ is never quite clearly drawn, never quite characterized. He is an object of catechism, a sort of functionary to manage salvation, a precious symbol, but never quite either a recognizable person or inspiration. (Admittedly, over seven centuries later this treatment remains basically consistent with controversial statements  from  Pope Francis in July 2017 to the effect any claims to personal knowledge of or relation with Jesus can be dangerous and harmful; it is collectively through the mediation of the Church community and Mary that one may know of him).

On the social plain, the spiritual result of mis-vision in Dante’s style is that the very abuses he hated can still thrive because the outer forms (objectivised Reason) are respected as a sufficient perfection  and spiritual development (through controlled exercises rather than inspiration) can continue. And they can and will do so because they take individuals the way of soul rather than spirit. This is liable also to mean via the inspiration of women, for Dante from Beatrice to the Virgin. But this is not the way of will-shaping and correcting Spirit working on spirit as indicated by Jesus from the first in rejecting the salutations of the woman who praises the mother who bore him and the breasts that gave him suck (Luk 11:27), insisting only those that do the divine will are blessed.

DANTE THE MAN

A brilliant, erudite walking encyclopaedia of a man, Dante with his quirks is almost the epitome of the “mad” genius and poet, perhaps starting with the near crazy obsession with the indifferent and early deceased Beatrice dei Portinari. Eros and sexuality (the realm of especially “soul”) is one way to understanding the poet and not just of the Commedia but La Vita Nuova where he discovers Lady Philosophia.

Dante scholar Barbara Reynolds points to a connection in feeling and reference between the treatment of the sodomites Brunetto Latini in hell and Forsi in purgatory which she takes as a virtual confession of homosexual involvement (4). While we needn’t greatly doubt her – Florence like ancient Athens was a leading centre of openly expressed same sex feeling and art in especially the Renaissance, and Dante’s mentor Brunetto Latini was gay. But I am just not sure why Reynolds speaks of “homosexuality” when obviously in Dante’s case she should be speaking of bisexuality.

One of the clues that this orientation was the case is the astonishing way, often noted, that Dante simply never mentions his wife (from an arranged marriage) and mother of his children,Gemma (to whom he is anyway believed to have been unfaithful). I am however less surprised than some by the silent avoidance. It may not be quite  PC to say it, but it should be recognized that bisexually inclined men are often seriously bad news for wives. Dante exquisitely joins two other major  bisexually inclined poets: Shakespeare who famously bequeathed the wife he hardly lived with his second best bed, and the bible’s King David who loved Jonathan but banished one of his wives, Michal, from his bed without reprieve lifelong. From the outset doubtless Beatrice represented at any rate one way for Dante of dealing with his creative and erotic complexity. Obviously she represents an anima figure who carries the weight of his massive imagination at the same time as her inaccessibility helps prevent his being too overwhelmed by the opposite sex and by eros generally.

If Dante has been more “homosexual” even within his bisexuality, he would likely have developed spiritually more along the lines of Michelangelo who reflected himself in the rather anti woman and even rather gay prophet Jeremiah (5). And he would have given a quite different emphasis to portrayal of the Virgin. Rather notoriously, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement  fresco portrays a very human Virgin figure, almost cowering away from a commanding Christ figure. Anyway, I  consider Dante’s sexuality could use more critical attention as it affects his work. So too could another theme, not liable to be emphasized and even downplayed in academic circles.

As he enters the region of the fixed stars, Dante makes it very clear he was born under and takes the character of Gemini, the celestial sign of words and communication but also division. In a way, this is a vital piece of information for all sorts of reasons (including to some extent the poet’s rather experimental, flitting eros). Europe is traditionally put under Gemini and certainly Christianity, born at Pentecost amid a speaking in tongues, belongs to the sign. Also born under Gemini was modern Italy which has taken Dante’s language for its own (reflecting the indelible role of Dante,incredibly the horoscope for Italy shows a conjunction of asteroids Dante and Virgilius in the hell section of the chart) (6),  and so too were Dorothy Sayers and Barbara Reynolds who have translated and popularized Dante in modern times. Even if you say that politics is of Capricorn, the fact is that democracy itself, the idea of divided church and state, a prominent Dantean theme, is of Gemini. Quite simply Dante is a Geminian person broaching a mass of Geminian themes  and thus for better or for worse his opinions can both reflect and make what the West is in itself – which has been a rather dark/light, changeable phenomenon in harmony with the sign’s “mutable” status.

FAITH AND VISION SOULED OUT

Dante never went to any heaven, or if he did it wasn’t like the one he described. The Paradiso is the equivalent of Bernini’s stunning  but questionable The Ecstasy of St Teresa in sculpture. Dante was a visionary poet who incomparably faked rather too much of his vision because ultimately it arose out of  soul function rather than descended on him through the spirit function and depended too much on virtual orgasm. That vision and mystical religion  could  be thus dependent to  some extent is inevitable and we needn’t automatically dismiss it for that – unless  it’s allowed to become  the whole story which, when soul takes over at the expense of the impulses of Spirit, it risks doing so that religion falls towards the sensationalist idolatry which is also materialism.

I am not saying that Dante was a false prophet (if he had a sin it was overweening vanity!) but that he was sometimes victim to those who were, and that he expressed their beliefs by default at a particular point in history to which he was somewhat hostage and has left others hostage too. Dante is, as Yeats had it, the imagination of Christendom, but sometimes unfortunately so. Because what the European imagination in its Christian mode has too often done, is, like a divided Gemini,  run in one or other of the opposed directions of  elaborate superstition and reductive humanism, pursuing a religion of numerous pious forms or alternatively political agendas because in both cases it is not grasping God aright at the centre.

Dante’s God of (remote and static) light and love joined to his dream of an elusive perfect ruler,  a Roman rather than the early Christians’ Christ of history, the Millennium and Jerusalem (Dante turns the Second Advent  within historical time into the Last Judgement beyond it), is also remote  from original and authentic Christianity. It is so adrift in a sea of intricate symbols and allegories (each episode organized to give four different possible meanings) it could be appropriated by almost anyone today from New Agers to one world, one religion Globalists. The turns of history and culture are so peculiar such might yet even be the case.

NOTES

1) In Raphael and Lucifer p 10 I write:

So may you, Inspiration, now draw near
To assist, reveal, declare because
More felt than seen by me or anyone
The forces are too bright and dark
Too fair and foul to be directly held….
It’s thus by symbol and through fantasy
You will convey the truths unrealized…..

2) Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency esp Chapter 6   https://goo.gl/Xi1jv8

3) The Hell Passage https://wp.me/p2v96G-7e

4) Barbara Reynolds, Dante  p.296

5) Jeremiah’s Loincloth   https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm

6). A Picture of Italian Life and Mind  https://wp.me/p2v96G-Nc

 

 

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STAGING SWEENEY FRENZY: Irish parable or problem?

 

The legend of Sweeney’s frenzy or madness ( Buile Suibhne) carries a variety of messages and can be read as a parable of unresolved issues in Irish life.

If only for some impressive poetry, it has received occasional literary attention as in Flann O’Brien’s rather Joycean dense and difficult At Swim Two Birds, and the late Seamus Heaney  provided a modern “version”, basically a  translation, Sweeney Astray. But  the legend itself  has never really undergone the more psychological examination it deserves. It’s only in recent years that psychiatrist, Peter O’Connor of Melbourne, has given any Jungian interpretations of even standard Irish myth (in Beyond the Mist), never mind medieval legend…Perhaps one needs to be here at the safe distance of Australia to conduct objective inquiries into the Irish psyche?!

This has been Sweeney’s year, at least in music –  a Sweeney song cycle  by  composer Neil Martin was premiered in Dublin on St Patrick’s day and I see that in July that Clonmel Junction Arts Festival in Tipperary combined music with readings from the legend.  (I gather that this year a mad Sweeney character is in  a TV series American Gods but I haven’t seen this and know nothing about it, not even if the above images owe anything to it). But staging Sweeney, the original mythical character?

At the beginning of this month I had one of those moments of apparent enlightenment where everything clicks and connects and I realized things I had not seen many years ago in this story. I began to envisage its dramatic re-telling as outrageous tragi-comedy. For presentation and style it should be somewhere between Beckett’s minimalist dead pan and Denis Johnston’s more flamboyant and dream filled The Old Lady Says No, but anyway something recalling revelatory moments of Irish drama while telling us something about the current spiritual condition of Ireland.

At first blush, it seemed one could hardly go wrong if I tried – I was at Swim three or four Birds.  All sorts of issues and questions nicely and neatly  lined up for the tragic or comic treatment on a stage I imagined riven by flashing lights and sudden intervals of darkness suggesting confusion and general destabilization of familiar thought and worlds. Sweeney’s “madness” could be a mental condition, a case of bad nerves and undiagnosed tinnitus, or part of a larger unacknowledged element of troubled spirituality within the culture. All this could be suggested in the course of extracting the true meaning from behind the layers of high fantasy and propaganda interwoven with  the sources of a complex tale.

Things begin with an excitable “King” Sweeney (more like a local lord) who hates the sound of a saint’s bell and the thought a  church can built on his land without permission. But that someone could be cursed  by a saint to perpetual nakedness for his reactions (and  later to  die by spear point, a curse not able to be undone by another saint more merciful), invites questions like what really is a curse in Ireland  – many have long felt Ireland has existed under one!  It also raises question the significance of nudity in religious and secular terms, (I happened to have recently explored the latter theme  in the unusual perspectives of Naked in Thessaloniki: Riddle and Sign https://wp.me/p4kNWg-fD). Especially near its conclusion, the Sweeney saga in its kitchen level humiliation of the king drinking milk from a bowl of cow dung, has an element of the hidden, unfamiliar, sadistic Ireland that has sometimes lurked in the shadows behind the walls of orphanages, schools and  convents. Finally exposed, it has half traumatized the nation some of whose once trusted leaders had apparently been acquiescent in unacceptable conditions that have woken many from easy past loyalties,    

So, here were themes like plums for the picking. Sweeney  seemed an open sesame to some catharsis and national therapy session via drama. The characters were forming in my mind and making themselves heard……

Eorann:  What are you doing there, putting your hands to your ears? You should be ashamed of yourself, a silly paganish man that calls himself a king but can’t stand the sight and sound of a handsome bell resting on the sacred bosom of a holy saint. 

Sweeney:  You know the sound grates on me something terrible. 

Eorann:  More like the holy man grates on your dull conscience and you don’t want to sing a psalm of praise or repentance when it’s time to do so.

The character of Saint Ronan would obviously be crucial. Behind all the hagiography about “God’s faithful servant”, he is a vindictive wretch and one who opens up questions about what may have been flawed in the practice and beliefs of some Irish religion over the centuries.

Ronan:  Sweeney was in such devilish frenzies he seized hold of my painted psalter and threw it into the lake. Screaming against my bell, he said he preferred the sound of birds in the trees and the rushing waters of the glens. I stayed calm, rewarded with heaven’s blessing. An otter rescued my psalter. Brought it to the bank, not one precious painted page damaged by water. A miracle! A reason I could forgive Sweeney his unspeakable wickedness. I did so for a good example, though it’s not right or possible  to  pardon fully. Given heaven’s clear mandate to rid us of druids and replace their power, there must be signs of authority with impositions of penance. And my curse has the salutary grace of that. What upstart heresy was it taught grace was free and forgiveness absolute? For the good of all, Sweeney must suffer to shiver  naked in the night airs as long as he lives. He can hardly complain when I have brothers singing psalms stood  night long in the freezing waves of the ocean.

I was not sure if the sufferings of Job element to Sweeney’s story and his laments call for a treatment by chorus as he makes his way to the perhaps historically real Valley of the Madmen in Donegal or whether his faithful companion Loingsechan would be sufficient for the role. I envisaged the character of Loingsechan as an appearing and disappearing figure, almost a stage Irish type, a wise/naïve who sounds and acts a bit dim at the same time as he knows quite a lot. Sweeney is liable to forget who he is….

Loingsechan:  Forgotten again? Well, I’m used to it. I’m Loingsechan that some say is your natural brother and some say is your foster brother. But that’s only the beginning of the confusions people have around me  because they can’t agree what my name is, or should be, or if I’m under a curse like Ham that saw his father naked. Some say my real name should be the word that can’t be mentioned among Christians, whatever that is. I’m not striving to discover. I don’t draw attention to myself talking to people, even to my wife who’s disappeared off, the saints alone know where. I just keep travelling and keeping myself to myself when you’re not in one of your moods for the lively talking.  

However he later complains:

Loingsechan:  Aren’t I the loyal relative that’s always going around collecting peat or sticks to burn to keep your head and feet head warm against the night airs? And don’t I say to the holy prudes who keep looking or refuse to look, King Sweeney of the blond locks and the blue eyes, he doesn’t look too bad at all, now does he…? I mean, with or without clothes there’s not a man among us can have quite the fabled beauty of Naoise that Deidre loved. What do they expect?

The weird nature of the curses on Sweeney which I imagine Loingsechan asl confusing with a curse on Ham whose true meaning he will need to discover, may in the original texts  have been intended to evoke memories of the more striking effects of Gaulish Celtic warfare which included spear carrying naked warriors as recounted by  Posidonius.

NAMING A BLOCK OR WHAT ?

So far so good, but then after a few pages of notes, outline and sensing the voices, I suddenly stopped. It’s not advisable to do this mid flight because inspiration should be taken at the flood. It may not return at a  later date. Even so  I stopped, consented to it, willed it.

“Never say never” is sound popular wisdom and I don’t say it’s impossible I would resume. I just don’t sense it’s likely. It’s true that following some ghastly weather I felt suddenly tired and in my experience you need to be in top form to write even a poem – there’s something a bit athletic about the process. But that alone can’t explain my complex and conflicted mind in the matter. It was somewhere between just not wanting to finish, imagining there was no point (it’s hard to get anything to stage these days and my track record for being heard for anything in Ireland is abysmal) and that it probably wasn’t quite my fate to engage with the themes involved. These are points I return to in conclusion.

But if anyone wanted to be almost superstitious in the matter, it could be suggested that there was something else. It could be argued the Sweeney name partakes in, or itself names, a kind of curse that hampers expression, a reason it might be better to leave him to music! Consider that T.S.Eliot, beyond a couple of fragments, could never finish his Sweeney Agonistes which, despite its modernist content and non Irish setting, was influenced by awareness of the Irish material. The artist can never quite dissociate from whatever energies  the archetypes represent.

The early Irish gave a high status to poets, not least because they associated them with prophets and prophecy. It’s not hard to see how they might think so. The poet wouldn’t need to be any Nostradamus; things would need only to happen around them. I have given an example in the introduction to my first poetry collection Puer Poems.(https://goo.gl/avJhm7).In it I recount how I presented a copy of the introductory poem, Puer, celebrating the  archetype, to an actor who I felt exemplified the type. The poem happened to include the words, “and if he fell he’d bleed and bleed”. I managed to give this to the actor around the time he would shortly be performing  in a play with blood in its title. But he would also fall badly during performance, getting rushed off to hospital having bled across the stage or the dressing room, I’m not clear on this. The matter was never fully explained to me and that could have been because a notable star of screen may have been more responsible for events surrounding this than some would care to admit. All I know is that I was disconcerted by the news.

THE SAINT, CURSES AND A BIT OF THEOLOGY

There are twelve Celtic St Ronans, one of them a venerated evangelist to Brittany, so I have no idea to which Ronan the above icon applies. The half or wholly mythic saint of Sweeney’s Frenzy was St Ronan of Finn.  That St Ronan’s cursing is nonetheless  as good as canonical hagiography is bizarre and raises questions. Christians, not even saints and especially not saints can pronounce a curse as opposed to stopping and binding them. Ronan curses Sweeney more than once. That an Irish saint would even be thought to do this reflects a strong identity of early medieval clerics with the earlier druids much feared for their bans and curses. It also reflects a one time liturgical over-reliance on the Psalms and chanting them, which we know the Irish did. Some communities kept a perpetual round the clock chant. The psalms are more emotional than strictly theological and do thus include a few imprecations. Any influence from this might have been more balanced out if the liturgical  exercise (employed like a spell)  hadn’t been almost at the expense of the rest of the Old and New Testaments and theological teaching in general.

I looked into the often ignored, rather complex esoteric field of curses and exorcisms in Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency  (https://goo.gl/Xi1jv8 ).  Here I”ll just say it would be possible for someone to as good as curse themselves, a point of which presently; but the nearest any Christian leader might come to pronouncing outright curse on someone would be to refuse to declare a sin forgiven, normally if it was believed it was never genuinely repented in the first place (Joh 21:23 ). More in condemnation than outright curse, the disciples can shake the dust from off their feet against those who won’t hear their message (Matt 10;14). But in Christianity everyone is deemed under a curse anyway so that without divine intervention, often the result of prayer, individuals are constantly open to forces of evil whose powers over the earth it was the purpose of Christ’s incarnation to undo (“The Son of God was revealed…to destroy the works of the devil” 1 Joh 3:8). This is a work not completed until the Second Advent when the earth is reclaimed from the end times Antichrist.

St Ronan, either as cleric or person, fails to forgive (in the first instance almost comically because he feels disrespected that an infuriated  Sweeney dashes in  naked after his wife tears the clothes off his back). This offence taking is so unchristian it has to represent druidism. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” ( Matt 6:14,15). Such would be the standard Christian position, though in cases of extreme offence (such as some Irish have suffered under child abuse where time is needed to heal and it’s a special virtue to forgive at all), even if and when seeking justice, the victim still needs – for their own good since hatred corrodes – to “let go”, accepting that “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

The fact that the early Irish church promoted tales like those of St Ronan, is proof positive that no matter what St Patrick may have taught more evangelically, there would be little clear notion of forgiveness in the early Irish churches. We know there wasn’t or there could never have been the perverse labour of the Irish Penitentials that would greatly influence medieval Europe through some of  Ireland’s missionary monks. These imply the very opposite of any “amazing grace” but serve instead  a religion of salvation by works in harmony with the British Celtic heretic monk, Pelagius, for whom Christ was a perfect example, not a redeemer. What sociologically the penitential system bolsters is clerical power modelled on the ways of the druids and the value system of the Brehon lawyers.

Quite why Ireland was so merciless to sin and committed to the most difficult possible salvation by law and works is a mystery. A contributing factor could be the “matriarchal” dimension to the culture. Women are liable to be both more and less forgiving than men. They may forgive in pity and emotion, but alternatively may feel they augment their power by withholding forgiveness or behaving like witches to apply curses.

As I pointed out in a previous article on Ireland’s perennial spiritual problems (https://wp.me/p2v96G-126),  the crucial issue of the Irish and grace is anticipated by St Paul epistle to the Galatians i.e. to a basically Celtic – if by the apostle’s time fairly Romanized – Christian community. Oddly enough, however, exceptionally for the whole New Testament and almost against what I have just said above, the apostle declares to his Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let him be accursed…I repeat if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let that one be accursed” (Gal 1: 8,9)….We might interpret this as tantamount to declaring: let St Ronan and the brehon lawyers who inspire the legalistic spirit of  the penitentials be accursed”!

But St Paul doesn’t direct church members to pronounce curses on legalists. As I also said above, within Christianity people can only really be self-cursed. Rather as “the wrath of God” is not like Jove throwing thunderbolts but more like what happens when a basic fund of divine protection is removed so that evil takes its full and natural course, so it is with any “curse” in the Christian context. The Hebrew style that colours much of the bible’s expression is “extraverted” and often says God does something when it plainly means God allows it. Harmonious with this, what the Jewish  apostle effectively declares to the Galatians re potential self-curse, is that if certain fundamental principles of the spiritual realm are ignored, benefits are almost automatically deactivated or even go into reverse, backfiring on the individual.

Spiritually gifted though the Irish may be, arguably their Penitentials applied by a few ruthless saints (like Colmcille in permanent penance for starting a tribal war), indicate they have given away their spiritual power and rights, handing them over to  bureaucrats of religion who dole out more duties than inspiring ideals. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10). This situation is seen as  ruling out, or lessening, any claim upon divine blessing and protection, the more so if one doesn’t also reject the spirits of place, the apostle’s “elementary spirits of the earth” (Gal 4:3). He associates them with precisely Galatian practice and certainly feminist post-Christian thealogians like outspoken Irish American Mary Daly would gladly restore them.  I considered this old gods matter in Ireland’s Old/New Spiritual Problems (https://wp.me/p2v96G-126 ) where I suggested the nation remains in strange psychological thrall to especially the deathly Morrigan archetype (which some ill-advised neo-pagans are attempting to contact and channel !)

SWEENEY AND THE ULSTER SHADOW

At the everyday level, I don’t wish to imply that the Irish are chronically unforgiving. They are not. If anything they are more conciliatory than the at times rather shrilly self-righteous and intransigent citizens of Ulster.  Influenced by Calvinism, those north of the border are  less inclined to share the view further south that everyone’s a sinner, but more prone to take the moral high ground permitting attitudes too close for comfort to siege mentality and  cultural apartheid. But whether  the Irish, especially historically, have quite forgiven themselves or left matters of forgiveness to God, is another matter, and confusion in that area may have  had  a few consequences for the spiritual life and collective destiny.

I find an odd and potent symbolism in the fact the Sweeney legend is based in the kingdom of Dalriada, a province of historic Ulster. Sweeney banished to a tree within the kingdom of both the  High King and the original centre of Irish Christianity, is like a symbol for Ireland itself and even perhaps  a warning of its destiny. Sweeny as Ireland is someone doomed to lose history and culture to those who take the heartland, dismissing what it represents as little more than a threat to the settlers’ indelible connection to an idolized Britain and/or King Billy, a  point to which I add a few words in note (1).  At this level of reading one could perceive  the Irish destiny as subjection to an essentially materialistic system (which despite the Bible and Calvinism is what Ulster, supreme servant of Victoria’s empire, has always represented) and subject to this because a potential spiritual liberty was never quite accepted and claimed. Ulster and its plantation then  arrives to function as a kind of psychological cum spiritual shadow to what Ireland is, could or should be. It was often remarked that Viking and Norman settlers in Ireland became “more Irish than the Irish”. With Ulstermen development seemed to be in the opposite direction, the desire to more British than the British and thus truly an opposite or shadow force.

Yet if only mythically, the centrality or supremacy of Ulster for Ireland cannot quite die. It would be Belfast born writer C.S.Lewis invented Narnia with its high king at Cair Paravel (its model Dunluce Caste in Antrim). Ulster is a  strange “game of thrones” territory and one is hardly surprised that the super-successful TV series  (based on novels that can’t be attributed to any Irish American author though they are as intricate in their way as The Book of Kells)  should be mainly filmed in Ulster with its rather bleak landscapes in harmony with the region’s bleak and contested history.

But beyond any shadows, Ireland’s beloved emerald colour esoterically relates to transcendent, high ray spirituality and is the Venusian colour of love. The colour emerald subsuming the colours of the rainbow, surrounds God’s throne (Rev 4:3); but in a variety of myths emerald is also the colour or stone of Lucifer, Hermes et al who steal or claim to possess it. There’s no need dismiss this symbolism as entirely irrelevant to Irish destiny. I pointed out in the ” ‘Real Irish’ and Irish Reality’”  feature (https://wp.me/p2v96G-17D ) the rather astonishing fact that in the chart for modern Ireland, asteroids Lucifer and Theotes (Godhead) are locked in close combative conjunction. Eire  represents among other things spiritual influence and conflict

TO LAY MY BURDEN DOWN

I don’t think Sweeney means just one thing, but if it’s true he can equate with Ireland, its loss and  its silencing, then I think I should avoid the bullet he might deliver me in the role of interpretive artist. Years ago the director of the film Jesus of Montreal remarked he hoped its lead actor wouldn’t perform the part too well or it might not be fortunate for him. The archetypal dimension really can impose and take over in creative, original ventures.

I have had to learn that especially in trying to convey to the world that, (enlarging on the theories of astronomers  D’Occhieppo and Hughes) I have well and truly solved the mystery of Jesus’ birth astrologically down to the last asteroid, impossibly supplying data of a kind even the layperson can grasp, like the names of Jesus’ ancestors in his house of origins. But no matter the truth level involved and that the pattern still works today, when it comes to Christ truths, the principle “he was despised and rejected” (Is 53:3)  is par for the course . Even as a doctor of religious studies, published author and astrologer, and even while every tin pot, half crazed theory about Jesus gets proposed and promoted, I have never in years been officially published in this area or allowed so much as an author’s op-ed in the press of Australia, UK or Ireland on this vital theme, in its way like some Dead Sea Scrolls Discovery.

In the one exceptional case of Jesus-related material, one must just be resigned and leave a blind and secular world to its devices – “make the hearts of the people dull…..lest they understand with their hearts…” (Is 6:10). But otherwise I’m not prepared to hurt myself going around with begging bowls to  literary and artistic elites for Irish and Sweeney material. As it is, my treatment by what Kevin Kiely would call Ireland’s more or less West Briton establishment prominent in relevant elites where I’m concerned, already beggars description. It could put in the shade what James Joyce suffered in Ireland around publishing the single word “bloody”. My part in Sweeney madness was for even a day or two to imagine composing anything in the line that might register somewhere.

The hugely conflicted but at times unconsciously hilarious Louis MacNeice where Ireland is concerned exclaims (in Autumn Journal) “Why should I want to go back/To you, Ireland, my Ireland? The blots on the page are so black/That they cannot be covered with shamrock…”  A bit extreme, but even so I might need to remember and people should perhaps be more aware that:

  • I have never had a single poem published or broadcast in Ireland. This is odd given a poetic Celtic drama of mine managed to get performed here in Australia and other poetry would have been broadcast had it been published first.  I fortunately forget which literary or culture critic of The Irish Times it was never acknowledged receipt of a book, handed them by a would-be helpful fellow journalist, that contained the relevant play with some of my poetry. I do remember I had to ask a Dublin friend to go and collect it.
  • Last year the RTE national broadcaster refused to showcase anything poetic of mine because legally  it has already been published, even if only on the Net or Indi – the exact opposite situation to the mentioned Australian one where not being published was the problem. They required I offer something virgin. When I did so, rather efficiently and quickly on return to Australia, I never received acknowledgement.
  • I have never got a smidgen of  real interest  out of Poetry Ireland whether visiting in person or contacting with by email with material. When I last visited their centre and spoke  to a polite enough  couple of the team, I left behind for their publication manager a copy of my Raphael and Lucifer and other Visionary Poems https://goo.gl/DWsnZH with its updated Miltonics.  I explained it had been described by one of the few UK houses to accept metaphysical verse, as poetry to the highest standards. It had been recently refused solely  because of promotion problems. It was deemed unhelpful that I neither live in Europe nor am already known as a performance poet. Promised a reply from Poetry Ireland, which might have tried to help as I am an Irish not UK citizen, I would no more hear further than from the RTE.
  • The Irish Times has never given me a voice for anything whatsoever, its religion editor uninterested even to allow me back in 2016 space to comment on, or be interviewed topically about, the same sex marriage referendum. This is despite my published doctorate on the varieties of gay spirituality marking a world first from any religious studies department.( https://goo.gl/1Pr94i ) so that I could well be considered an expert voice. Other subjects I proposed like the Christ material were simply ignored.
  • I have never got material into the Irish press  of a more tabloid kind like Is the Patrick Prophecy for Ireland Encoded? (https://wp.me/p2v96G-MR) . “We don’t do anything like that” was the brief response from The Irish Examiner to which I had been recommended to apply. With regard to the potentially popular astrological Christ theme, after being left waiting to see Jerome O’Reilly at The Irish Independent, this journalist took time  to glance at only the title of the page handed him and declared “We wouldn’t do anything like that”. In which case just what would he/they do or even take the time to considering to do? The title was “Proving an Historic Discovery and Answering Pope Benedict’s Question“. I’m not a Catholic, but let none say the Irish Press doesn’t do news and  features on Popes! Pope Benedict had openly wondered what we should think about the eminently plausible D’Occhieppo/ Hughes thesis on Christ’s birth. I alone have the answer and proofs.

This by no means exhausts the list of complaints, it merely lists some ironic highlights I remember and that are relevant here.  Nobody needs this and I’m finally at an age (my Sweeney inspiration came hard upon my 71st) I am not  prepared to trouble myself with needless, abrupt dismissals or to waste time promoting myself night and day on the Net to obtain some gone viral status that protests the unjust treatment.

The ironies are nonetheless exquisite. If it weren’t that boasting has been an allowed part of Irish culture, I wouldn’t say here (what’s nonetheless a truth  it might by now be embarrassing for some to admit),  that I am closest, at least thematically and sometimes more, to the tradition of Yeats. Also that the standard at which I sometimes write can reach to better than much that gets published and called “Irish poetry” today. If, following Seamus Heaney’s decease, Brendan Kennelly is supposed to be Ireland’s leading poet, then I can write to and above that standard as should be apparent from even just my Judas stopped at Dublin ( https://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm ) which is satirical of Kennelly’s distasteful and super-profane Judas cycle of poems. I consider the limitations of modern Irish poetry  in Why Ireland Needs Yeats 2015 and more (https://wp.me/p2v96G-xA).

Enough said!  As the Taoist sages would have it, “to retire is best” and I  can’t disagree. Nunc dimittis! Why burden myself further?  I’ll not start quoting the gospels on such as casting pearls, but where Ireland is concerned it’s tempting to conclude with Yeats’ words over the Synge controversy: “You have disgraced yourself again”. And, as I would see it, by not living up to full potential….. I only regret that Ireland has never helped me, starting long ago when in the late ’80s I first offered some poetry, to live up to my own full potential.

NOTE (1). Ulster is not simply a place or a controversial  intervention in Irish history, it is almost an entire mind-set and worldview insufficiently interrogated. As such it has had major influence on international values and is so much an Other to Ireland it really is a species of shadow. Ulster mind has been influential through especially Scots Irish emigration to America, Several signatories to the  Declaration of Independence and several presidents including the ruthless Andrew Jackson of bad reputation for his treatment of Amerinidians, have been of Scots Irish origin. America’s religion of the radical fundamentalist and homophobic kind, its gospels of the prosperity and no gun control variety and even its masonic mysticism, all these have links to the heritage of the Scots Irish who took their exclusiveness to America where they established societies that banned Irish immigrants. I don’t wish to get into partisan politics and write as though there was never wrong on the Irish side, but there is nonetheless something particularly objectionable, even and especially at the spiritual level, in the Ulster/King Billy connection. Idolized for winning the Battle of the Boyne against the Irish and saving a  beleaguered Londonderry, the fact is William represents Real-Politik lies and deceit on steroids. King Billy only warred in Ireland because he obtained support from The Dutch, Germans, Danes and even exceptionally the Pope, to be against what England’s James 11 was trying to do through Ireland.  Billy had support solely on the grounds that if, as was likely, the international force would win, William would protect Catholic rights. At Limerick following Ireland’s last stand at the Battle of Aughrim, the Irish sued for peace on the basis they could avoid persecution. William agreed. When he returned to England he went back on all agreements with Europe and Ireland, the old pattern of confiscations returned and the whole system of crippling Penal Laws that would ruin native Ireland for a century went into place. Busy thanking God for their saint, King Billy, Ulster never protested for Ireland and never has. Into the modern era, Home Rule to Brexit Ulster has never ceded an inch in respect of Irish aspirations in their own land; it has not appreciated and scarcely admitted Irish culture even exists. Britain has always existed to serve a monstrous sense of entitlement without concern for  or appreciation of the place the descendants of the planted  have made their home. This sort of thing breeds misunderstanding and infects the spiritual life of a people.
 
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Posted by on November 12, 2018 in creativity, culture, Mysteries, religion

 

NO ONE COMPARES 2 SINEAD O’CONNOR, OUT AND PROUD AS A MUSLIM

THE BURDEN OF SINEAD

The ongoing saga of the life of Sinead O’Connor, aka Magda Davitt, and now Shuhada (Martyr)  Davitt to reflect Muslim identity, is liable to evoke sympathy and exasperation in equal amounts. She’s had a hard time from her abused childhood, but she has also played up, even openly admitting to enjoy being a trouble maker.

Who really is this strikingly chameleon, name changing singer and just what is she doing? To what extent is she victim of dire circumstances and a delicate psychological balance – she has at times threatened and attempted suicide – or is she, despite everything, a genuinely, independent moral and intellectual agent? A common enough, if half whispered Irish reaction to her painful, very public saga is, “she’s mad, God help her”. But is that quite true and the proper reaction? (It’s increasingly recognized Ireland could use more psychology and mental health care).

I heard the sad/mad evaluation being  expressed back in 2016 when Sinead had gone off the radar somewhere in  America and was threatening to end her life. When dining outside in sunshine at a restaurant overlooking the beach at Bray, I was told I was close to Sinead’s then Dublin home (since sold off to pay various debts). What struck me having wandered down the seafront to see the house, was how unkempt and untidy the garden was. Obviously this latest Vicar of Bray couldn’t be expected to wow fans and the curious by doing tidy-up beneath their gaze, but couldn’t a gardener have been hired? The condition of the place seemed a metaphor for a larger issue, not necessarily madness but some unresolved confusion of which arguably we now witness the latest episode.

The news this October is that the singer is now at last “very very very happy”  as an out and proud convert to Islam which is the summation of truth that renders all scriptures redundant. This turn of events certainly adds colour to the increasingly diverse, quirky and troubled Irish spiritual scene, helped along by another rock star, Bono, Christian promoter of the profane and virtually  Satanistic poetry of Brendan Kennelly’s Judas cycle. (See  my Judas Stopped at Dublin https://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm ). But even so, Sinead is almost sui generis in reflecting and enlarging certain problems.

In fairness to surprised and bewildered Irish onlookers, it’s not as though already and for years now Sinead not been rather vocally Christian, following her definition of that, as an ordained, dog-collared, whopping crucifix-wearing priest of the Irish Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church communion. In this phase she was “the property of Jesus” and asserted it was Christian beliefs helped her through the torment of her abused early years (for which her brother certifies) and believed the Trinity (which Islam denies) is real.

The breakaway Catholic sect to which Sinead belonged from the early nineties was evidently a very broad church because its pop star priest  managed to be and remain ordained within it despite her status of mother to four children through four marriages and known both to have significant relationships with several other men too before outing herself as a lesbian (in preference, it seems, to admitting to what looks more like free wheeling bisexuality).

RELIGIOUS THEATRICS ?

   

It is too easy to dismiss all this as only “madness”. It is not as mad as Jesus person Britney Spears shaving her head to  print 666 on it. In fact it corresponds rather neatly, if in the most extreme form, to something quite distinctive which is not so rare. It belongs to the behaviour of  persons born like Shuhada (and Spears) under the religion and philosophy sign of Sagittarius, a “mutable”, travelling sign (of the pilgrim and pilgrimage) disposed to often spectacular changes of belief, opinion and lifestyles triggering many disputes with friends and foes alike.

For reasons of space and discretion, I will cite only one notable example that I have had direct interaction with, namely the late Buddhist scholar and art critic, Danish born Tove Neville, author of the definitive work on The Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara in Asia. She, like Sinead, could also tell you of a very difficult childhood though not quite to the level of Shuhada’s. But when I stayed with Tove in Kyoto many years ago I came away feeling one would need twelve heads to manage  all she was saying and doing.

Tove had converted to Buddhism and been initiated to one of its esoteric orders some years before and was practicing the faith with a zeal fit to outdo the apostles. She felt compelled to stop in the middle of a street to pay homage to gods in wayside shrines; if we entered a temple she had the Japanese aghast at how she broke the silence to sing in praise of all Buddhas. If someone did something wrong they received lectures and even hell fire sermons from her. She conveyed me an esoteric secret (one that is not supposed to be revealed if it applies to you), that she was a bodhisattva come to bring peace on earth. This exalted position in the Buddhist hierarchy meant she was truly enlightened, the reason she saw fit to do various un-Buddhist things like landing  into Japanese steaks and drinking fine wines. She informed me she was entitled to live beyond the rules due to her initiated enlightened status.

Tove, a former journalist with White House connections was a scholar, a pleasant enough person in herself and quite  sane too, if eccentric, but eccentric like another Sagittarian, the German poet Rilke. He likewise suffered from inflation and exaggeration of religious affect to the point he thought, as in Love Poems to God, there was no barrier between him and deity so that he  even added to and helped complete and perfect God: “Are you then the All….Am I not the whole?”. It was this constant sense of either being or needing or deserving  to be in unmediated contact with the All which towards the end of Rilke’s life made him, like Sinead, sympathetic to the Islam which declares God has no Son/Mediator. (Even in her priestly phase Sinead was super-inclusive  evading any problems around salvation maintaining God saves everyone whether they want it or not).

Like Tove, Rilke’s sense of enligtenment was the indulgent one. Mean and even cruel to his wife, he was lifelong promiscuous, in short lacked any sense of his much vaunted sacred in terms of the holy or the unholy (sin)  which is why any Christian style mediation of the divine was never in question. No one has quite the sense of entitlement and a preacher’s moral high ground as Sagittarius whose “do as I say, not do as I do” attitude could describe many a problem within the religious circles in which they are prominent.

Almost predictably a Sagittarian was John Bunyan of Pilgrim’s Progress and I wonder if his sometimes excessive, opposite feeling of extreme sin and unworthiness to the point of black depression is what inflation in the style of Tove Neville and Rilke is trying to avoid. Balance is just not easily achieved, or perhaps not even desired, under this sign ruled by Jupiter (the Bethlehem star itself) which is involved with forgiveness and inclusion but not absolutely.

In fact, the philosophy of this sign and its planet of affinity favour theory, hence doctrine and dogma; and this element of affairs is emerging in Sinead in no uncertain fashion when she declares all scripture is redundant in the light of Islam and warns she will tolerate no anti Muslim statements to her site.

PAINTED INTO A CORNER?

In effect, Sinead could have a problem that a trendy, Hollywood style conversion to Buddhism might have helped her avoid – she even now sometimes looks rather  like Diane Perry, aka Tenzin Palmo, the Londoner who spent twelve years meditating Tibetan Buddhism in a Himalayan cave! Sinead likes change and development (emphasized under Buddhism’s “Impermanence” doctrine), but Shuhada has painted her mutable self into a traditionally strict and fixed corner from which she cannot now disengage short of the life threatening option of turning infidel. Her whole body she reports, trembles with ecstasy as the hijab is put on her. Other women might by contrast shake with horror that a woman in Iran who removed her hijab this year in protest for women’s rights has been sentenced to twenty years jail where she could well rot and die besides since against International law Iran doesn’t trouble to give medical assistance to its prisoners.

Our too often blind or timid media fail  to stress, and almost certainly Shuhada hasn’t researched, how almost every Muslim majority country is between dangerous to nightmarish for Christians and all religious and social minorities including of course gays as Sinead should know. In Pakistan Christians as infidels can even be deemed “unclean” rather like untouchables in India and popularly spoken of as fit only to clean toilets. It is because she had drunk from a Muslim cup of water on a hot day that Christian mother, Asia Bibi, has been nine years in solitary confinement on death’s row for blaspheming Mohamed by her action….indirect blasphemy it would seem so sensitive are Pakistani sensibilities, yet sensibilities hardly anyone would dare criticize lest they be considered “racist”, the reason police in UK didn’t deal with Asian child sex gangs for years, the reason it’s only Christian, not Muslim child abuse is liable to hog the news !

Everyone knows Bibi didn’t really blaspheme Mohammed but the courts have so much popular opposition with murder threats against both them and Bibi from Muslim fanatics if ever the unfortunate woman is released, that justice is delayed or even can’t be done. This and many other unspeakably unacceptable situations in not just Pakistan ( consider the bashings and murders, the attacks on homes and churches everywhere from Egypt to Khazakhstan) should make us question those like Sinead who now demand an almost one-sided toleration, in effect censorship across society, on behalf of all persons and things Muslim. Perhaps Shuhada is “very very very happy” that she is inevitably reported and celebrated in minorities oppressive  Pakistan like a trophy. Anyway  it’s her stern warning against criticism that finally breaks the pity spell for me as regards this “martyr” who doesn’t know what real martyrdom is.

As said, I think that for the “mutable” person Sinead is she has made a poor choice for one of her theatrical temperament because, unless age will now tire and subdue her verve, she has nowhere dramatic to go in religion unless she does something still more radical….like donning a burqa or leading a wholesale crusade to turn the Emerald Isle a Muslim Green. And I suppose she could always change her name to Fatima.

But you never know what Shuhada will do. Given her influence, one can only hope she doesn’t confuse Ireland’s confused, half traumatized religious situation still further, though it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if she did.

A MIRROR OF FATE

In describing the remarkable mirror of Irish life and destiny presented by the 1948 Irish Republic chart (see article  https://wp.me/p2v96G-17D), I mentioned how Ireland exceptionally showed a close conjunction of asteroids Theotes (Godhead/Trinity) with Lucifer indicative of almost a transcendent spiritual conflict developed at the heart of modern Irish life (and just  possibly reflecting the late Fr Malachi Martin’s extreme claims about a measure of actual Satanism among Catholic leaders).

However Shuhada’s own pattern shows tensions rather similar. In her ninth house of religion and beliefs she shows a remarkable conjunction of surprising, separative, controversial Uranus at 24 Virgo bracketed by Lucifer at 24 and Theotes at 23.  (It’s the sun rules her religion sector and it has been the transiting sun that in its conjunction to her expressive natal Moon conjunct Church conjunction, brings news of her final separation from her priestly church role).

I will not say more concerning her chart than to point out that Mars ruling her home and family origins and perhaps her mother, is conjunct her destiny and career Midheaven which reflects how she constantly brings her family issues into the public arena.

Shuhada’s pain and depression has more to do with a natal affliction square between Venus and Saturn, always a bad aspect but especially for a woman as it undermines esteem and leaves an unloved feeling and in this case martyrdom too since Chiron the wounded healer conjuncts Saturn worsening it. But I am not so sure that apart from this unenviably negative aspect the chart is really quite that bad or difficult. There would not have been so much fame, success and sympathy if things were otherwise.

A case could be made this person is dramatizing to some degree and enjoying it. Whether she is or not, this latest turn in the saga with its don’t criticize tone, if it does not exhaust my stock of sympathy it does rather deplete it.

 

[For the interface between types of belief and the expression of beliefs following astrological factors, see  The Astrology of Beliefs  https://goo.gl/oN9aQe ]

For more on the poet Rilke see two articles on this site  Rilke,Singer of Hades Parts 1 and 2  https://wp.me/p2v96G-mM

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in astrology, culture, Mysteries, psychology, religion

 

IRELAND’S APOCALYPTIC PUZZLES

IRELAND AND THE AGES

Ireland enjoys a strange place where the apocalypse is concerned, and it’s not just because of medieval forecasts of the disappearance of the island ahead of the Antichrist’s rule, or St Malachy’s twelfth century forecast of the Popes which, if valid, would render the present Pope the last in line.

Just as distinctive is how it’s now widely thought an Anglo-Irishman, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), was largely responsible for promotion of a now influential, supposedly unprecedented apocalyptic doctrine, more widely held in America than elsewhere, of the so-called Rapture. This is a disappearance and resurrection of (believing, prepared) believers prior to the Tribulation period dominated by the Antichrist. Especially a popular religion writer, Dave McPherson, made a name popularizing  theories of  a “Rapture hoax” and  of the Victorian origins of material supporting contemporary bestselling “Left Behind” fiction etc.

According to respected scholarship, Darby didn’t originate Rapture doctrine per se, though he did eventually include the belief within his general futurist outlook. But it’s of some value to understand what he did believe and why. And there is an odd connection of sorts between medieval Irish end-of-days prophecies and the Darbeyite  notions  that were evolving  at Conferences in the 1830s at Powerscourt House, the imposing Anglo-Irish Ascendency mansion at the edge of the Wicklow mountains. Quite simply, it’s a teaching of deliverance and there is a similarity of sorts between the concept of a purely fated Irish deliverance  via catastrophe and a more awaited,  invoked and earned believer’s Rapture, both events avoiding the Antichrist.

CRISIS AND CATASTROPHE

irish-flood

I have touched elsewhere on the Patrick prophecy of Ireland’s submersion (https://wp.me/p2v96G-MR) which is recorded in a seventh century biography of Ireland’s apostle.  A forecast along similar lines is said to be included in a ninth century document  now lost, of St Columba. More recently new agers note a forecast from the (American) spiritualist Edgar Cayce which claimed Ireland will disappear under the waves in an instant.

St Malachy of Armagh’s prophecy of the Popes is concerned with the world, not Ireland, but it obviously belongs to Ireland’s association with apocalyptic prophecy. That Malachy was a prophet even St Bernard of Clairvaux who knew him affirmed. We may doubt  however that his original forecast contained more than the number of the Popes till the Antichrist rather than the latin mottoes now attached to each pope. These could have been added in the Renaissance for political and family dynastic reasons within Italy. If the mottoes are authentic and valid they don’t like other forecasts promise deliverance from the Antichrist, only that the last Pope will protect his flock during the persecutions of the Antichrist. This hardly speaks to the current situation. It is admittedly interesting that the last Pope is called “Peter the Roman” and Pope Francis does call himself and behave as bishop of Rome, wandering and shopping in the city like an ordinary citizen. On the other hand, one could hardly regard him as protecting his flock in the times of the Antichrist! Even supposing that person was now present and active, Francis’ protests against the now worldwide persecution of Christians are strangely limited, and Chinese Catholics feel he has recently betrayed them into the hands of their atheistic government which is demolishing churches (1).

Regardless, if ours are at all apocalyptic times or approaching them, it might be well to understand some details concerning that and which not least the career and reputation of Derby raises. (This article is a continuation of reflections on Irish spirituality and religion more generally as in Ireland’s Old/New Spirituality issues  https://wp.me/p2v96G-126 

ANGLO-IRISH MISSION PROBLEMS

Nelson Darby’s father, who inherited a large estate with a castle in Ireland’s Offaly county,  intended his son for the law. But after an exceptionally distinguished study at Dublin’s Trinity College and some legal training, Darby opted to be a priest of the established Church of Ireland. Like Bishop Bedell in Co Cavan  who had tried to introduce a Gaelic bible two centuries before him, Derby took his role with unusual seriousness. This included succouring and converting the Irish poor of the Wicklow mountains and living in near poverty himself to do so. He was unexpectedly successful and hundreds converted to Protestant faith. This suddenly stopped when the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop Magee of Dublin intervened to insist upon converts taking oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the Crown. To become Protestant was to become English. Darby, who believed in the Irish right to be Irish, was disillusioned and appalled, and in the course of a long convalescence following a riding accident, his biblical studies led him towards certain reflections, the first major one in the tract form he often used and called Considerations on the Natural Unity of the Church of Christ” in 1828.

It became clear to Darby that existing “Erastian” views of Christianity (which as in Ireland allowed the  faith be practiced and extended in cooperation with the governing authorities), was profoundly wrong, albeit high levels of church state relations (and rivalry) had been virtually normative since Constantine established Christianity in the fourth century. Even Protestants, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Calvinists, had fallen for the old trap. It therefore had to be that there was a true church within the churches, a church of the Spirit. (The rather gloomy, exacting character of Derby instead of finding his church of the Spirit eventually founded the rather narrow Plymouth Brethren  sect instead – his future career as a religious independent embraced bible translation and much travelling in Europe and America as a missionary for true faith).

MARGARET MCDONALD’S VISION

Darby’s change of mind from 1828 onwards ran parallel to, rather than was directly influenced by, various movements of a revivalist kind in Britain and America with its “Great Awakening”. Something was “in the air” to which Darby indirectly belonged.  A few years after Darby declined from his church’s and Trinity College’s then beliefs (now a subject of scholarly inquiry), a pre-Pentecostal visionary in Scotland, Margaret MacDonald announced, supposedly under inspiration, an unfamiliar teaching. The true and spiritual church would be protected and taken by God before the persecutions of the Tribulation and the Antichrist. Citing the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matt 25: 1-13) she asserted that the five admitted to the Marriage of the Lamb are those with the oil of the Spirit. The rest who don’t have oil with them and whom the bridegroom doesn’t know and who are excluded, are those unprepared Christians who, to attain any salvation will need to suffer through the persecutions of the Antichrist.

The assumption that Christians would be persecuted at the end of days seems to have been what numbers of influential early Christians, especially Bishop Irenaeus, assumed all believers would undergo. They associated their final and resurrected redemption not with any Rapture but a “resurrection of the Just” at the end of the seven year rule of the Antichrist. Undeniably a resurrection of those martyred during the Tribulation is referred to in Revelation (Rev 20: 4-6) where moreover it is confusingly called “the first resurrection” though in broad  context it means the first kind of pre Last Judgement resurrection. (At the latter everyone who has ever lived is raised to gain or loss).

Darby would have known something of the proto-charismatic movement though meeting charismatic Irvingites present at the Powerscourt Conferences at the Irish Versailles of Powerscourt House south of Dublin in the early 1830s. He did   also  once attend a meeting in Glasgow at which MacDonald gave utterances but he didn’t even record what she said and  never showed marked interested in charismatic phenomena. He originally believed in the post-Tribulation picture and only came to pre-tribulation Rapture beliefs a decade after witnessing MacDonald. The noted Plymouth Brethren theologian F F Bruce finds no likely connection with MacDonald and it is even believed his change of mind was under the influence of writings of the pre-millennialist  Dominican Jansenist, Bernard Lambert. (2)

DISPENSATIONALISM

All that is certain is that Darby did not invent any pre-tribulation Rapture which constituted a hidden stream of belief in which even some Jesuits may have been involved. What he did pioneer is the “Dispensationalism” into which Rapture doctrine could be most neatly, credibly slotted with this Secret Rapture ending the age of Grace while Christ’s openly manifest return to the world marked the beginning of the next age. Dispensationalism and the related Futurism teaches different ages (basically seven) affecting revelation, laws or covenants, like the Dispensation of the Patriarchs, the Dispensation of Moses, the Millennium under Christ’s rule, but with all these phases of history centred around the Jews.

Darby’s real prophetic originality would lie not in any late accepted Rapture doctrine, but in assuming against all common belief of his times, that Israel had a unique destiny. It would and must be, (as it is today), re-established as a political entity for the promises of God and redemption to be fulfilled – in short, Dispensationalism had affinities with, and may be said to have anticipated,  contemporary Christian Zionism. (To whatever extent feelings about an Irish right  to a separate identity and its links to the practice of faith may have coloured all this, is an open question).

As regards the post-Tribulation redemption doctrine that Darby eventually rejected, there is a simple way of proving this notion, even though accepted in some early Christian quarters, it was always misleading or illogical. What most typically supports Rapture doctrine in Paul’s writings, especially in Thessalonians, refers to a resurrection/transformation that takes place in the air. Christ never leaves the clouds of heaven to touch earth to effect it, it is essentially hidden. This is quite different from all that occurs, including “resurrection of the just”, when he arrives, post-Tribulation, on earth. His feet are then not on the clouds of heaven but on the Mount of Olives and the streets of Jerusalem.

Even if the Rapture idea had gone out of fashion and even memory, it follows that McDonald’s position was no more original than Darby’s broadly similar but later acquired  position.  In the fourth century we read: “For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins” (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373). Moreover, in speaking of apocalypse, St Paul promises his believers at Thessaloniki they are not “appointed to wrath”. (1 Thess 5:9). This in itself means something rather specific and relevant to the larger picture…

All NT Christian notions of Tribulation are basically identical to the OT’s book of Daniel’s “seventieth week” which gospellers and apostles view in the light of Christian developments. The seven year Tribulation is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” an expression derived from Jeremiah (Jer 30:7) and described in Daniel as  “a time of anguish such as has never occurred” (Dan 12:1). It marks the time of final woe for the world and especially the Jews as the world turns against Israel, although  the nation will be delivered. This dark time’s outpouring of divine wrath (in effect divine absence or withdrawal of protection against events) is what is associated with “the Wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 16:6). This “wrath” is more or less parallel to “the Marriage of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7). The latter, if its imagery can be supposed to bear any relation at all  to traditional Jewish weddings, would last seven days, prophetically seven years. St Paul therefore has to mean that the believing prepared can escape the Tribulation/ Wrath. If you are not “appointed to wrath” (of the Lamb) you can attend the marriage feast (of the Lamb)  because if you are sufficiently aware and ready,  you are able to escape the universal woe in the way the Rapture idea uniquely envisages.

It seems likely that the emphasis placed by some early Christians upon a post-trib “resurrection of the just” as opposed to a pre-trib Rapture of the believing prepared, had an almost more psycho-social than theological basis. In the first, persecuted centuries it would have seemed that the believing community were either already under the rule of the Antichrist (Nero was the first to be seen as a type of Antichrist) or shortly to be so. It might require a period of sustained peace and toleration to even envisage any other fate than martyrdom and restriction. I suggest this situation blinded early understanding to the fact that deliverance could be associated with  an unexpected moment, even a time of pleasure and recreation like that of the bridesmaids awaiting the groom.

THE SHIFTING FOCUS OF PROPHECY

“We see through a glass darkly” admitted St Paul, and on apocalypse the churches may be said to have done just that. Until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, followers tended to believe Jesus would shortly return. Since however Jesus himself had declared, the gospel must be preached throughout the whole world first, second advent was unlikely to occur very soon and within  in a generation! Jesus had also said the generation that witnessed the budding of the fig tree (arguably the foundation of a new, independent Israel, not one colonized and divided by Rome), would be the generation of the apocalypse. (Matt 24: 33-35). That could be a good time off.

After Jerusalem’s dramatic fall to Rome had partially fulfilled Jesus’ apocalyptic forecasts, it was easier to have recourse to a biblical principle that scriptural reference can be not just linear but cyclical in application (Ecc 1:9). Another apocalyptic attack on Jerusalem and another temple could be involved – had not Jesus forecast a future Antichrist would enter another, evidently new temple?

It also became easier to admit that Jesus had only partially fulfilled messianic prophecy. He had been all of the messiah as Isaiah’s redeeming Suffering Servant, but not David’s ruling, triumphant heir. More attention was paid to this point when towards the end of the first century the book of Revelation portrayed a whole Millennial triumph and earthly rule which would fulfil all the prophecies like those of Ezekiel. This outcome  would moreover allow fulfilment of all the covenants made with those antecedents to the Christians like Abraham whose promised destiny was to own and rule lands never fully possessed by Israel and which he would need to be resurrected and able to enter a Millennial kingdom to see fulfilled.

THE CHILIAST STARTING POINT

The earliest Christians like Justin Martyr were basically Chiliasts or Millennarians, taking a fairly literal position on messianic prophecy and the Millennium. On the basis that biblically a day could often mean a year or something else, they assumed that, given a six day creation, there should be a six “day” history of humanity with the Millennium its seventh day, a Sabbath of rest. They of course took the six day creation literally whereas today we might speak of a seven millennium salvation story or priestly history.

And we do need to propose something of the kind, because the seven millennium pattern, however unusual and pre-scientific it sounds today, bears a real connection to something: the pattern and symbols of the ages more celestially, Jesus being born around the dawning of the age of Pisces (effectively St Paul’s ‘age of grace”) . This highlights a fact which symbolically and thematically has all kinds of significance for what biblically preceded Pisces in the ages of Taurus and Aries and should yet succeed it in the Aquarian – the utopianism assumed of the Millennium fits very well with Aquarius. The very concept of a Utopia and the word Utopia derives from the Aquarian Thomas Moore, while the number 7 in biblical numerology is the number of perfection and completion.

At least some false prophecies and misunderstandings about the end times  could have been avoided by merely realizing an aion or age, lasts something about 21000 years. Some early Christians employed a kind of Archbishop Ussher style chronology they deduced from the Genesis genealogies. But due to major discrepancies between the  Hebrew Bible and Greek Septuagint version, the dates and genealogies could be as far  as 1400 years out from four millennia originally assumed to precede Christ. For the Hebrew and Samaritan bibles Adam to Abraham makes 2000 years, whereas in the Septuagint they are 3400 years. As a result no one knew whether they were in or could hope to be inside a millennial Sabbath of not. No matter what a person believes and what precisely will happen, current apocalyptic feeling and expectation at least corresponds neatly to the cuspal situation between the eras of Pisces and Aquarius. Pisces with its Neptunian mysteries can well end in mystery and disappearance much as it began with the hidden birth of Christ, Aquarius with its blatant manifestations could well start with the lightning shock of revelation. Symbolic logic and archetypal pattern attends thinking of the lost or rejected Darbeyite kind.

TOWARDS  A PURELY SYMBOLIC FAITH – AMILENNIALISM

    

Gradually, as Christians and Jews drew ever further apart in the second and third centuries and the ultra-transcendent viewpoint of Greek philosophy influenced theology, there was less and less emphasis upon the literal and historical fulfilment of biblical prophecy – or anything at all. What wasn’t a symbol was almost vulgar, which is virtually the snobbish position of the  church father Origen’s who wasn’t beyond despising “ignorant”, uneducated Christians. Christianity began to lose contact with history, covenant and any Jewish roots. The mystically unnameable overtook the prophetically nameable. The symbol-driven medieval Catholic synthesis was on the way.

On the ground however, Christianity didn’t lose contact with the course of events at all. Between them, those allies in favour of things Roman, Ss Augustine and Jerome, created a quiet revolution for a church newly established in the fourth century. Jerome didn’t even hesitate to alter the text of even the first known commentary on Revelation to rid it of chiliastic features in favour of amillennialism, dishonestly attributing Victorinus’ changed commentary to the known heretic, Cerinthus. The outlook of these scholar saints compelled them to symbolize so much  that they turned the millennium into a foreshadowing of the present time, the rule of the church over everyone and everything with any promises and covenants to the Jews cancelled out and re-applied to the benefit of Christians.

The effect of what was effectively a replacement theology was and remains devastating. While in fairness to Augustine he lent some support to Jews whereas  in the Greek East St John Chrysostom was declaring against Jews in terms so extreme they would one day gain even Hitler’s approval – by untethering bible and prophecy from history, covenant and the objectively real, the door was opened to both future anti-Semitism and medieval ecclesiastical triumphalism which culminated in Popes declaring they owned the world or even the universe. The Last Judgement would then follow this time of privileged church rule. This is how St Malachy (or his suspect maybe later added papal mottoes) sees things because his Last Pope oversees a rule of Antichrist directly followed by the Last Judgement. This is unbiblical – the Last Judgement is for some future time following the earthly millennial rule of Christ the scholar saints had got rid of.

If like Derby you peel away the often Erastian traditions of the churches whose logic and reason are almost more Aristotelian than Hebraic, you are left with a rather Quakerish picture in which personal responsibility and bible take on new dimensions. Both these may appear chaotic, the bible presenting an array of contradictions real or imagined that await resolution. As a scholar and trained lawyer, Darby’s response was to seek to impose order and consistency and not least around the legal issue of covenants. The result was Dispensationalism that was also eminently exportable and that in America would be widely popularized away from Darbey’s heavy style in such works at The Scofield Reference Bible and the chart filled, rather fabulously illustrated Clarence Larkin’s Dispensational Truth (which last nonetheless opted for a mid-Trib Rapture).

Before concluding I will insert why, no matter what you what you believe and make of Rapture doctrine, it does appear to produce the kind of common sense, logical consistency Darby aimed for.

1) In Luke Jesus speaks of a time when one shall be taken and the other left Luk 17:34. This is preceded by mention of people going about their normal business when the event happens. This picture then agrees with the Pauline view that people are talking in terms of “peace and security” (1 Thess 5:3) at the time that disaster in the form of apparently Rapture and Tribulation strike. This scenario could hardly occur at the time of the extraordinary, life and death, catastrophic situations associated with the Tribulation period. If anyone finds Luke’s picture at variance with words in Matthew 24 and 25, then almost certainly this should be referred to the fact Matthew’s gospel is the most Jewish one unlike the Gentile one of Luke. Hence reference is to especially the Jews and believers present at the time of Tribulation who see he Temple abominated and so on and are told to flee rather than prepare for any bridegroom’s arrival. That season to the extent it is “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” is not primarily about the persecution of the believing prepared.

2) Any straighforward reading of Revelation surely supports Rapture. Its first chapters are taken up with addresses to seven churches in Greece and Turkey (which may be equally or additionally symbolic for types of churches across history). Following this the seer hears a trumpet which summons him to heaven (as Rapture doctrine assumes) where multitudes are celebrating the enthroned Lord. After this there is nothing more about the redeemed until nearly the end of the book, but there’s much about the misfortunes of the Tribulation era for those on earth. If the church is mentioned at all, it is in a separate visionary section which portrays a woman clothed with the sun giving birth and her child snatched to heaven before a dragon can seize the child from her. We know the early church as represented by Victorianus understood the child to be the church and therefore the woman Israel who originally birthed the church, not as per medieval interpretations, Mary, whose son ascended to heaven, not snatched there from the devil.

3) Already early on In Revelation in the message to Philadelphia, there is a promise of protection: “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth” ( Rev 3:10). This is quite plainly a reference to the general apocalyptic Tribulation that much of Revelation is about,  and being able to escape from it.

More could be said but if earlier persons and churches failed to see these simple points just mentioned, they were as blind to them as the first Christians were around issues affecting kosher diet, circumcision and the Gentile world. It is never assumed believers can and will know all Truth all at once. It is said the Spirit will lead into all truth (Joh 16:13). It is accordingly false to dismiss Rapture doctrine and/or elements of Dispensationalism as only and automatically late heretical invention when what it seems to be able to do is to clarify and enlarge upon what, on examination, can be seen as already present in the records.

AN IRISH SPIRITUAL PESSSIMISM?

One could call the intense, depressive, not entirely attractive Derby one of the Irish pessimists. Certainly it was another aspect of his originality that Darby did not follow the Victorian and Darwinian hope of the West for unlimited evolutionary improvement in the world. The world would continue evil and even become more so unless and until purged through the apocalypse and the setting up of Christ’s Millennial kingdom. Paradoxically this made Darby (who preached in England and Europe) popular in “optimistic” America  where as the country grew but away from the legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers, there was a feeling that the future of Christianity was anything but assured.

The element of hope lay chiefly in what preparation and belief towards the last things might obtain in terms of escape from the worst.

Despite Ireland’s reputation for spirituality expression of this is often closer to nameable prophecy than unnameable medieval and international mysticism. Darby is closer to St Malachy than other Irish prophets in anchoring his assumptions in historical development. This is something Ireland has always needed to do and still does if it is not to finish with either anti-Semitic feeling (such as some politicos have recently been accused of) because God is not Lord of any Covenants and history, or a spirituality of only symbols  more or less interchangeable and so as to render the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition disposable.

One historian has recently written on how the Irish became Protestants, by which he means not literally so but rather in the way American Catholics are now half Protestant in their independence of authority and reliance upon personal conscience. There are however limits to how far religious pick, mix and switch can go. The popular new age Irish spiritualist, Lorna Byrne, (she who has angels in her hair!) forecasts Christians will one day be worshipping with Muslims at Mecca. While that may well not be true (though if the Tribulation occurred who knows and anything goes?!) if Irish Christianity cannot now absorb something more biblically and historically grounded in the way Darby’s Dispensationalism and Futurism strove to be, they will only have symbols to deal in and belief may then go just anywhere, even into the hands of the prophet of the Antichrist itself. Sometimes pessimism constitutes wisdom.

Notes

1)  If vision can tell it, the Pope’s fate is more likely the assassination that the Catholic Seeress, the late Jeane Dixon, foresaw years ago for whoever would be the last Pope. It is a forecast Francis may know of since he once stated he hopes he won’t be assassinated. Dixon maintained that after the last pope’s death someone else would be enthroned in the Vatican and institute some kind of global faith. If so such a person existed and did that, he could only be the second beast of Revelation 13, the Antichrist’s prophet who generates belief in the masses. Right now especially conservative Catholics might say their Pope was preparing the way to the false prophet. He has already said atheist unbelievers are saved people of diverse beliefs all worship the same God under different names and claims to relationship with Christ are suspect. With these ideas he undermines Christian purpose and identity.
2) Timothy T. N. Stunt “Influences in the early development of J.N Darby” pp. 44-68
 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in culture, Mysteries, religion

 

GREG SHERIDAN’S “GOD IS GOOD FOR YOU”. A MAJOR BOOK WITH AN ODD FLAW

Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times is for multiple reasons a timely, important book easily recommended to believer and sceptics alike. Critical acclaim has immediately attached to it. I will however dwell chiefly on what I consider to be a hidden flaw that threatens its edifice and entails an error of understanding that ironically contributes to the kind of spiritual impasse for Christianity and the West that Sheridan is exercised about.

The book is the work of a successful Australian political journalist and it’s perhaps only his being well known and highly regarded that apologetic work of his kind could get past publishing within the current climate of opinion.  This climate is well evoked at the book’s outset and in conclusion. Sheridan even goes so far as to characterize Australia as effectively atheist or soon to be so. He regards the media today as almost the enemy (tending to ignore or misrepresent religion) and I won’t enlarge on quite how much I know that scandal to be true.

It is tempting to classify Sheridan’s offering with last year’s more secular bestseller, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. Both authors push back against a crisis in western thought and direction, Sheridan being more concerned with the extent of the erosion in faith and the glib dismissals of Christianity by often intolerant elites whose dismissals additionally entail a contempt for western civilisation at a dangerous moment for it. Sheridan demonstrates that this civilisation and often the best in it too, is far more dependent upon the faith than the average reader is likely to have been aware. (Especially Christian readers may finish shocked at how much they haven’t been told, that their leaders haven’t defended and even religious schools haven’t taught).

For many, both with and without faith, God is Good for You could be an education in itself for its range. It’s readably about history, philosophy, theology (including how to enjoy and profit from reading the Old Testament and not just the New), along with  many facts about society and even science you may not know. And there are meetings and interviews with various leaders of Australian society vis- a-vis faith. (The author is Catholic but very fair and open around non Catholic Christianities).

PASSING ON A FAITH

…..But none of this is quite my concern here which is rather with one, almost hidden point. It’s nevertheless a crucial one that opens upon something that potentially undermines, or at least confuses, the apologetic thrust of the whole book and reaches into one of the chief reasons Christianity is insufficiently defended or proclaimed, (or is wrongly proclaimed), and either way loses power and adherents after the manner Sheridan regrets and would redress.

St Paul asks “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom 10:14). Sheridan would reasonably enough answer that a lot of belief is derived from family and school but for various reasons these are not currently vital sources for communicating Christianity and this must be faced. (It’s true many church schools may as well not be such!)

But despite his  quasi-evangelistic call to teach more and better, Sheridan has a surprise for us. Not only is his spouse a Sikh (I don’t wish to be personal but St Paul counsels believers should not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, 2 Cor 6:14) but more significantly since mixed marriages do inevitably occur,  in consequence it seems his three sons are of the religion too (p.90). This strikes a note more obviously counter to St Paul’s concern with raising one’s children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Under elements of neo-Catholicism Sheridan somehow justifies his position, which includes attending Sikh services, by assuming that there can be great divine wisdom in non Christian religions  – theoretically Sikhism is monotheistic. So for Sheridan, while it’s perfectly true that Jesus is the saviour and even saves from hell (which he believes in since there must be “justice”), at the same time other systems can be true.

However reasonable this may sound, the position would for a start ignore that Sikhism, though monotheistic unlike the Hinduism it broke from, still teaches auto-salvation through multiple incarnations. In short, it denies grace, which is so original and radical in Christianity it distinguishes it from all other faiths as C.S. Lewis, one of Sheridan’s influences, affirmed when questioned on world religions. Christianity maintains evil is too engrained in life, nature and humans for anyone to reach perfection by their own efforts alone – and there’s anyway a limitation on the time for even  the best of would-be compensatory good works since we die once only and then is the judgment (Heb 9:27)!

A DISHARMONY OF FAITHS

It may be trendy or multiculturally convenient to maintain all the higher religions are essentially the same,  namely ways to God that make for love and peace. But it’s a far from obvious fact upon honest examination. Insisting upon it  ends in a fair deal of intellectual dishonesty, and that flight from any objective truth (or just the plain obvious) which is a part of the West’s sickness as Sheridan otherwise maintains.

Buddhism is theoretically atheistic and again allows no room for salvation as per Christianity; and the Buddhism of Burma, supposedly the religion’s purest, nearest-to-original form, when it comes to peace and toleration is clearly no paragon. Islam explicitly denies the divinity of Christ and the Koran enjoins execution and/or subjugation of infidels in stark contrast to the original Christian outlook like that of Tertullian, whom Sheridan cites, that though the gods of the pagans are demons, Christians are still to tolerate them in their beliefs. Polytheistic Hinduism is always hailed as a model of inclusiveness, but in its contemporary nationalist form under President Modi is anything but; it is currently turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christianity, the burning down of churches and beating even elderly worshippers senseless. (It belongs to the atheism and decadence of the West that the persecution of Christians outside the West is little reported or protested and concern with feminism enjoys more attention).

Even supposing claims are correct that God has supplied some vision to the higher religions, practically it doesn’t get through. At the grassroots in Asia people will say they are Buddhist or whatever, but  really they are  animists, devotees of local spirit or ancestral cults or gurus and shamans revered as though God (this somewhat happens among the Sikhs with their ten holy gurus).

FINDING THE PRIMORDIAL FAITH

It should be apparent from St Paul’s approach to Athenian paganism (Acts 17)  that he was not so much looking like some modern Christians to “dialogue” with existing faiths as guardians of  supplementary truths, as to uncover the world’s primordial faith, “the unknown god”, the creator who in world myth withdrew from human evil. In my The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness  https://goo.gl/ZHYQPw  I look into whether Asia, like Greece and the ancient West, ever had or has an unknown god, and the answer is yes. In some cases like the mostly Christian ethnic Karens of Burma (hated and persecuted by Burmese Buddhists),they had heroically waited centuries for the fulfilment of tribal visions that one day some stranger would arrive to bring them news of the true God.

Christianity is not a faith like Islam with a major conquest theme, but it is a religion of mission. Christ’s parting command, the so-called Great Commission, is to go and preach the gospel and to teach (Matt 26:16-20). Teaching rather than just rite and ritual as in most religions, is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its notion of spiritual health. Otherwise it’s a case of “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).

I would certainly agree with Sheridan that Christian religion is hardly being taught today, but would go further and maintain it has compromised its “evangelical” teaching task. It has done so to the point of substituting “the example” of charitable work alone to justify its existence, to cause least offence in a PC world and even perhaps to cover over what some may privately regard as the stigma of what the gospel message actually is, by emphasizing “unconditional love” to the exclusion of all else.

Undeniably Christianity is and teaches many things, but one still needs to be aware how at its core its message is one of deliverance from especially death and, by extension, hell’s destruction. Sheridan believes in hell while admitting to the difficulty most would feel as regards a perdition that’s eternal and/or apparently escaped from by an act of faith alone, two problems that receive astonishingly little treatment today given their controversial status within the whole.

A CORE DIFFICULTY

Actually, there is a perfectly simple, if nothing else logical reason to think of hell as eternal and it’s not, as per the Puritans, because God is so severe in righteous wrath against sinners he can never be appeased of their offence. It’s because, like heaven, hell stands outside of time in an intense eternal present (1).  God authored time which is a function of the (fallen, imperfect) material realm, and there will be a point at which God abolishes time along with the evil it permits. Where you are spiritually at that point fixes your essence into a single direction of will towards or against God.

It can seem reasonable enough to propose, and reassuring to believe, that evil souls will simply be annihilated (the sometimes chaotic contradictions of Pope Francis’ beliefs now countenance this along with atheists in heaven),( 2) , but to the extent God is “Lord/Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), divinity cannot destroy any immortal soul. Otherwise God becomes like Satan who Jesus says was “a murderer from the first” (Joh 8:44). God can only prevent and finish evil  through its exile and quarantine. It would follow the soul must, if need be, remain fixed in its (unregenerate) nature within the “eternity” which is outside time. This state, a very intense now, can well be portrayed as a sub-existence in tormenting “fire”, because everything exists through God and God is (spiritual) fire – albeit a lot more besides. But if God is rejected and separated from, there is only the divine fire left to subsist through, not the other elements which would render the fire creative and liveable rather than consuming and destructive.

Despite everything, Sheridan believes belief matters. It is important because no belief is exclusively rational but involves the will. It follows that for Christians to stress the importance of belief in Jesus is to stress that the will is and must be God-directed. This however allows Sheridan to argue that any talk about the claims of God upon us, or of deity being “jealous” around us, means we must be loyal and devoted to the Good. And this is something non Christians can unconsciously be, like the sheep in the parable of the sheep and the goats of Matt 25 where  the sheep are surprised to learn they had been serving Jesus by their actions all along.

TRUTH AND NAMING

There is truth in this perspective on the biblical picture of our destinies, but if taken too far it potentially undermines Christianity’s leading idea of any specifically “saving” belief and the obligation to  proclaim it.

Sheridan’s  universalist assumption is meaningful to the extent that many across history will never have known anything about Jesus and can hardly be condemned, especially not to hell, for that. As the apostle indicates at Athens, “the times of ignorance God overlooked but now he calls all people to repent”. (Acts 17:30). The statement is harmonious with another of the apostle’s claims that in the Last Judgement the thoughts of those outside the Law may condemn or excuse them before God (Rom 2:15). (And long before Paul Hebrew scripture has God declare: “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19)  – a statement incidentally counter to all post-Thomas Merton trendy Catholic notions that heaven and hell are things we simply choose, not what God chooses or predestines). So there isn’t and never should have been, as per some lunatic medieval teachings, notions of automatic damnation for all except those souls who are baptized and  consciously, deliberately Christian.

But Sheridan’s universalist take on doctrine is misleading to the extent that being loyal to what you fancy as good (and which may not even be so) can never automatically amount to the same as being unconsciously devoted to the Christ self-described as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Joh 14:6). The gospel position is that Truth and Goodness are ultimately a name, not ideas. If you have the opportunity to connect to Christ then you should do so and in disregard of the claims of history, tradition and family upon you, salvation being linked to specifically calling upon the Name and especially in self-critical “repentance” (it means “mind change”). The original teaching  was always “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name under heaven….by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

With this emphasis to its doctrines Christianity has always had an edge of urgency about it (which has perhaps affected the drive and engagement of western civilisation) where its “proclamation” is concerned. This is because there is understood to be a real struggle within the mortal time frame which is a theatre for our possible deception or injury by the forces of evil. These forces are seen as ruling this world and are the main source of human suffering and even what principally Christ incarnated to confront (1 Joh 3:8)  So there is this dramatic undercurrent “… night is coming when no one can work” (Joh 9:4) and “today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)… not your next incarnation or when you agnostically shuffle this mortal coil and find out what’s what!

SUFFERING, EVIL AND HADES

Though the supposedly definitive Nicene creed states, “we believe in all things visible and invisible”, plainly most Christians inhabit modern scientism’s materialist swamp alien to all mystery and don’t so believe. Sheridan rightly says if you can’t accept angels and demons you could have a hard time with Christianity and I agree. Certainly you’ll have a harder time explaining evil in the world (and a few miracles too) and Sheridan himself is weak in this area going little further than rather conventionally  to proclaim suffering a mystery and blaming the necessary existence of freewill which can’t be cancelled at every moment.

Reading him on the suffering theme I incidentally baulked at finding yet again the common error which has Jesus on the cross voicing doubt and despair at divine goodness in a sort of terribly human identification with us and human woes. Will even educated Christians never learn that Jesus was piously reciting from Israel’s death Psalm 22 (though now often seen as prophetic for his death)?  This  contains the forsaken cry, but any despair in Jesus’ case is part of the atonement sacrifice itself which involves temporary separation from the Father as he carries or becomes sin and  as such  undergoes what souls in hell must experience. This is “destruction” or  living death, severance from every source of the Good. Even atheists experience God indirectly in this life through whatever is good within it. Hell by contrast is Dante’s “Abandon hope”, the gospel’s “outer darkness”, final separation from the light – hence the sun itself is seen as dimming at the crucifixion.

Today, those who believe in an afterlife have decided most people just go to whatever or wherever heaven is (Sheridan quotes Australia’s former Prime Minister, the Catholic Tony Abbot, to the effect perhaps only Hitler and Stalin go to hell). But in the world of the New Testament,  the ancient West and arguably some other places like China, belief was that the soul, and just about everyone and everything including Lesbia’s sparrow, went to the prison of Hades and remained there. The gods did not spare or cure death though they might spare a few heroes to Elysian fields. Homer’s view of the afterlife in the Odyssey is particularly ghastly.  Blood alone brings  mournful ancestors to the surface and let’s them speak. Christianity arrived to confront this pessimism but Hades/Hell, though considerably challenged in their power  (Christ is seen as now having the keys to death and Hades) remain in place  and  I think if we are honest with the gospel  record, Hades/Hell is  seen as being – by and large – still the default fate of an unregenerate humanity….unless.

It is possible that if they even think about it at all,  deep down humanity even half believes and expects this negative outcome unless other influences from lively faith intervene. The last poems of D. H. Lawrence, for example, are surprisingly  depressing in this connection. He imagines his soul and that of others embarking for Hades,  but though he hopes “the oblivion god” may lead him to some kind of new dawn (reincarnate him?) it is hardly a strongly felt hope.

RESURRECTION FAITH

My father died some weeks ago and before this he had suddenly informed me as I put him to bed one evening, that this was the end and Jesus had told him he would soon take him to himself. The next day I couldn’t get him up  up or communicate with him, so he was taken to the hospital and passed away, faster than expected, within twenty four hours. Some people do have intimations of an end and some devout Christians might report an angelic message, but by any standards this experience and its claim, which took me off guard, could be considered a bit exceptional. But plainly it seemed downright extreme to those to whom I happened to mention it. I was impressed how much people couldn’t really deal with the subject of death, Jesus or the afterlife. It became clearer to me how little Australians (and probably many others in the West) believe or have any religious feeling. It’s the sort of thing should ring alarm bells for the churches;  but it doesn’t and it won’t because as Sheridan puts it, Christians seem to lack adequate “situational awareness” – some even imagining their society is somehow still Christian – leading to poor strategies(3).

Reading Sheridan, I was likewise impressed how little his Christians, even the devout, observant ones, seemed to have any clear notion of what form the afterlife might take and what mean and for whom, such as their relatives – the Christian afterlife is supposed to begin as a spirit in “paradise” such as Jesus promised to the penitent thief, which is a waiting place distinct from heaven and preceding the resurrection of the dead which entails the assumption of a new spiritual body akin to that of Christ after the resurrection.

I am not an evangelical, one of whose qualifications to be such would be belief in an inerrant as opposed to an inspired bible. However, when it comes to the afterlife I do sense that evangelicals are nearer to truth than the kind of hazy, confused modern Catholic and Anglican thinking represented by some of Sheridan’s interviewees like former PM  Tony Abbot. Beliefs like theirs neither quite help the self nor move the world, certainly represent no kind of gospel hope worth the proclaiming or like early Christians and  persecuted North Korean believers today, risking life and limb for. Abbot regrets that he doesn’t seem to hear from God. Again, I am not an evangelical to suggest such as Abbot should be hearing daily from Jesus (something surely reserved for the few, if any!),  but if he never has a few divine messages and intuitions there might be reasons. Belief should be clear, informed and committed if it is to work for you. There is such a thing as spiritual efficiency.

St Paul suggests that if you don’t believe in the resurrection your faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17); you might as well eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow die. I don’t like, and don’t think it’s quite possible, to go too far in deciding who is a “real” Christian by such standards as they’re highly orthodox, terribly “born again” , very prayerful or whatever. But I am coming to the conclusion that to possess some deep conviction of “the sure and certain hope of resurrection” could well be a litmus test for the definition. Unquestionably it was almost the central, original formula for Christian belief and identity:  “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

If nothing else Sheridan’s book can make you think about many things and essential ones. I will always wonder whether his book doesn’t arise from a kind of half unconscious penitential compensation towards society for what the author doesn’t seem to have been convincing his own offspring about in what could be deemed a dereliction of Christian duty. But  this doesn’t detract from the objective importance of the book’s information, statements and remarkable honesty.

NOTES

(1)  Conventional depictions of hell and some NDE accounts (of whatever validity), do seem to include a sense of time along with the possible anachronism  of free roaming, tormenting demons. Time in this case, along with any demonic freedom, would be a property of the pre/ temporal hell which is ultimately thrown into “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14),at the end of time,  the true hell which is existence through God as “fire” alone.

(2)  I evoke Francis’  contradictions in two satirical poems, Heaven for All  https://wp.me/p2v96G-8y  and Ichabod or Papal Glory Departing, https://wp.me/p4kNWg-6c  (These poems incidentally allow the possibility that some of the issues Sheridan raises are in fact end of era, “end of days” type matters, a fulfilment of Christ’s anticipation of a loss of faith towards the end (Luk 18:8).  

(3) The remarkable blindness of churches  to the spiritual, and even just social situation, is reflected in the way over recent decades they have relentlessly targeted the gay issue, first just opposing the gay minority’s right to exist, then opposing gay marriage as a threat to family and society.  Ironically, if they wanted to criticize and reform society towards more Christian lifestyles, it is the vast un marriage of heterosexuals which should have been their primary concern. It is precisely amid the loosened  or non family friendly structures of a permissive society that children are not raised to any religious beliefs and just pleasure or the convenient become central life values. Yet how often did clergy seriously preach against the drifting, the unattached or the serially divorced? Almost never. It was only gay marriage was unnatural and unholy; and this targeting  of a minority only further alienated society from the churches seen as bastions of arbitrarily undemocratic views. This feature of modern social history is a good illustration of Christ’s words that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luk 16:8). (The previous article entered on this blog, Today’s Christian Image Problem is relevant to the question of lack of “situational awareness”).

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Mysteries, religion

 

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TODAY’S CHRISTIAN IMAGE PROBLEM

If it’s your fate in life to be dismissed or hated, it’s reassuring to take the flack due to your support of good causes and so be able to protest with Jesus “they hated me without a cause (Joh 15:25). Today when in many places Christians are increasingly opposed or just left out in the cold and ignored, they need to ask whether they are not at least partly to blame for what has happened. They need to ask whether even Jesus might not remind them that in their generation the children of this world are wiser than the children of light ( Luk 16:8) and also that what Christians in the West are experiencing is less a straightforward “suffering for righteousness sake” than a type of judgement on the church through long insufficiently unexamined policies and beliefs (1 Pet 4:17).

For example, it is clear enough that recourse to secular courts was apostolically disfavoured (1 Cor 6:1).Yet today the main image of Christianity is not as any source of a preached gospel that cures souls but too often a political party or institution in constant legal war with the secular world to defend or impose rights and principles deemed old fashioned, unscientific or an interference in personal rights, a rear guard attempt almost to make society Christian by legal fiat than divine persuasion.

It’s not that some issues in contention like the right to die aren’t significant and complex, or that Christians should have nothing to say on them or that only secularist progressives are right about them; but too often what believers stand for is not as Christian or supportive of justice as they imagine….They may even serve little more than to stymie wider conversation around the faith and making persons, especially the unchurched young, hate God or feel excommunicated in advance as when a Pope (who has anyway controversially discouraged claims by believers to any personal relation with Jesus) compares abortion to Nazi crime.

Anyone would think such things as miscarriages (medically called “spontaneous abortion”) and stillbirths didn’t happen all the time, that God has not stopped them and has never pronounced about them, unless as mentioned presently. They are just a phenomenon of (fallen) nature. In the past leading Christians have rightly or wrongly pragmatically justified everything from war to prostitution but now they can’t allow an abortion for the most pressing reason.

Practically, the hard or traditional religious line that reaches the law courts (or plebiscite as in Ireland) on controversial themes too often serves to make do-gooders feel good or even pile up some other serious wrongs. Thus, when abortions are too strictly limited they only go to the back streets where they may occasion deaths of the mother, or they may, as in El Salvador, cause innocent women who have undergone still births or miscarriages to be imprisoned for years accused of murder. In Ireland until the recent plebiscite, the archaic penalty for abortion was fourteen years jail. Where did any pro-lifers protest this sword of Damocles over the heads of women and doctors?

It’s the likes of Amnesty International, not protesting Christian right- to- lifers, who are left to protest such scandals like El Salvador’s. Meanwhile few today will anyway listen to pro-lifers from churches that have turned up such high levels of child abuse, itself a proof of just how biblically illiterate or plain unbiblical some churches now are. Whereas some biblical scholars have long accepted there can be some wiggle room over matters from divorce to homosexuality, there really is none when it comes to Jesus and child abuse (Luk 17:4). The condemnation is made so strongly there never was any case for not dismissing a priest on the spot or defending the sanctity of the confessional in such cases.

Whole books could be written on sexual issues across time and culture for the churches, and some of my articles have now and again tried to tackle difficulties involved (like Issues of Sex, Love and Biblical ‘Incoherence’https://wp.me/p2v96G-111, but briefly let’s look at four main areas of contention. 1) Right to life and abortion, 2) Preservation of Life and Euthanasia, 3) Gay Rights and 4) the question of what is the occult.

ABORTION AND PRO-LIFE

If formerly unbelievers might be viewed as sinners, now some Christians have found a reason to either call or consider them murderers or unacknowledged worshippers of Molech (a god to whom live infants were sacrificed). Christians can agree that life must be respected and abortion as just alternative birth control, a lifestyle option in say, service of a career or dislike of the sex of a foetus, is wrong (as is likewise secular pressure to abort when a pregnant woman doesn’t want it). However, to deny that some abortion can fall into  this world’s ‘necessary evil” category and thus opposing abortion unequivocally, including in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s life or awareness of extreme deformity and handicap such as could render the rest of a parent and child’s life an unrelieved burden, is controversial. Failure to make concession, especially to non believers, places Christian belief into the too hard (or plain silly) basket and most people will be left thinking those Christians who wanted especially extreme handicap spared should themselves volunteer for a lifetime of personally caring for it. Anything else could be deemed hypocrisy.

It is so not least because (despite the ritually repeated verse that God knew Jeremiah in the womb Jer 1:5), the modern Christian line has little biblical basis but is grounded instead in absolutist, abstract medieval doctrine influenced by the pagan Aristotle. Taken to the extreme – as matters long were as regards contraception – with this line of thought one could finish relative to the Jains who preserve life to the point of carrying a strainer to preserve ants ….in fact it almost  was so taken in the days when such as masturbation was considered next to murder because it killed supposed miniature homunculi, not seed constantly and automatically expelled.

The reality is that even one of the biblical prophets, Hosea, declares death in the womb upon the godless (Hos 9:15). The laws of Moses if taken literally (they weren’t necessarily and always so understood) would have been the death of many foetuses in the womb if the adulterous wife was executed, while the notorious Law of Jealousy if literally adhered to would induce abortion.

Even if one discounted all this, the bible, especially the OT, is very concerned with objective and subjective states of purity and then purging impurity. Clearly any woman raped is liable and entitled to feel impurified and as such should be permitted if she wishes to seek the kind of purgation which in many cases only abortion could supply. Yet for the height of irony, those same conservative Christians, evangelical and charismatic, who in an age of ecumenism have followed a Catholic line (formerly American Baptists lent qualified support to abortion and Methodists still do) are the same who will write books on exorcism, associating possession states very often with the result of sexual impurity, not least through rape. Why then preserve impurified life that will need special treatment to avoid many other evils manifesting?

The bible respects life, but just not infinitely – if the bible and not abstract ideals counted, there would still be capital punishment for serial killers. And the pro-life campaigner ignores the extent to which the ideal that would preserve life under all and any circumstance is anyway simply a luxury of modern medicine. Not only under modern medicine does still birth and miscarriage still occur, but the mortality rate for women and their offspring in childbirth before modern times was enormous. Formerly godly persons accepted this as the will of God. Abortion should likewise be accepted as at least sometimes appropriate.

Failing reasonable compromise in this grey area, the churches have raised whirlwinds of secular demands for abortion for almost anything and often as just woman’s right to choose as though two persons weren’t involved. (Even that pre Christian advocate of free love, the poet Ovid, expressed shock at his lover’s blasé recourse to abortion).

VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

The role of modern medicine also affects the question of the termination of life and has led to increased pressure towards voluntary euthanasia. Here is obviously the most difficult of questions and not just for Christians. The possibility of misuse and exploitation of freer laws is patent and the average doctor doesn’t want to become as in Holland a Dr Death to people depressed or just tired with life. Moreover suicide under almost any conditions is deeply disturbing to relatives.

This said, not only is it controversial if religious beliefs rule the lives and choices of those who don’t believe, but modern medicine increasingly has the power to keep people in existence who are only existing, not living. Helped by medicine and advanced care, nature no longer always takes its natural course in ending lives as it has across history. In special if rare cases, it is controversially able to keep people in existence if they suffer locked in syndrome which cuts off all effective communications with the world beyond perhaps what a finger or eyelid can convey.

I recall the horror and disgust I felt a few years ago when the Catholic church in Italy refused Christian burial in the case of life support removed from a patient with locked in syndrome. This was treated as though murder while everything from ecclesiastical sympathy to representatives went to the Christian funeral of the popular but lifelong adulterous opera tenor, Pavarotti, a man so self indulgent at the table in later years he could barely stand up. Where’s the charity or godly insight? This sort of thing creates doubt and cynicism about the faith whose modern starting point is once again an intransigence so marked it is merely an invitation to secularist dismissal of religious and legalistic quibbling outright in favour of alternative policies of often radical licence.

GAYS AND THEIR RIGHTS

Although due a certain understanding of religious rights I personally believe Christians and independent businesses have a right to refuse to bake cakes or photograph for gay celebrations they don’t believe in, I don’t approve the Christian attitudes which have caused this to become an issue on the scale it has.

Much could be written and has been on what the Bible states or implies, theologically, psychologically and culturally as regards the “homosexuality” word it doesn’t use. Here I would only emphasize one thing which I think is a hinge to much else and which I would maintain conservative Christians wrongly ignore and at the risk of offending people’s integrity and denying the same scriptures they seek to defend.

No matter how you interpret Jesus on eunuchs in Matt 19 (and it’s claimed that by Jesus’ times its reference could include a wider range than just castrates and include the same sex attracted ) the fact is Jesus accepts that some people are born a certain way out of the norm. Conservative Christians of the cure party deny and ignore this vital point. Their assumption is that all persons are naturally born one way and can be re-directed into it and they may back this up with reference to rare cases of claimed cures (which may be real in the case of those sexually abused in childhood or the drug addicted whose sensibilities became blurred). And because they believe no one is born a certain way they make the further mistake of failing to realize how gay is more than just sex and the “lifestyle” they call it, but a whole outlook, psychology, even spirituality, (For some different views and approaches see   https://goo.gl/A8M4VV )

Scripturally, conservatives will further back their position with reference to St Paul on those who are contra naturam in Romans 1, implicitly rating Paul over Jesus as regards character fixity and thus any change and character issues. They will assume that the same apostle, (whom I’m sure they don’t really believe was right when in a weak, self-contradictory moment he declared women gain salvation through childbearing!), is the last word on the nature of sexuality. It follows that everything psychologists might claim and gays assert about themselves must then be wrong and even wicked lies. What can one say, and where is even common sense?

Although most homosexuals are not effeminate, some plainly are and nothing could ever make them he-men. If Christians are foolish enough to trust some translations and accept from St Paul a doctrine that “effeminates” will not inherit the kingdom of God, why not believe that say, on another plain, any obviously fixed condition, like say mongoloid children, will be damned for the original sin of being who they are? Sometimes there are grey areas in life, ethics and bible and this must be acknowledged and worked with. The expression “Gay Pride” which some Christians are dead set against as in itself another sin and a manifestation of a last days return of Sodom, is merely a reaction to attitudes long bent on shaming and persecuting anyone gay (in Russia you can still be dragged off the street by gangs and tortured if you merely look as though you might be gay, “effeminate” Some idiotic Christians like Franklin Graham are favourable to Russia because of its treatment of the gay question).

The charge of “pervert” that conservatives still too easily use (amid new, more self-defensive talk about loving the sinner but hating the sin), has always been around. Biblically King Saul directs it at the mutual attraction of David and Jonathan calling his son offspring of a perverse rebellious woman (1 Sam 20: 30) but the meaning is quite clear except to the conservative blind and deaf who to this day deny despite all the signs, that there was anything special in the relation of David and Jonathan whose lives are joined by a berith (covenant or marriage).

“Difference” stares out of the face of the Bible for those with eyes to see and not just In the case of David and Jonathan (consider my poem “Jeremiah’s Loincloth” https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm , but there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.

The behaviour of lunatic Portuguese missionaries to Japan abusing courtiers as lower than dogs and worse than Sodom because of homosexuality, was a major cause Christianity never progressed in Japan. The gay subject has always been divisive but it would be hard to describe the degree of damage (conservative) churches have done to modern Christianity via their approach to homosexuality. It succeeds to whole unrepented eras of outright, unchecked bullying and discrimination through (in America) what is often a kind of hill-billy theology of which the likes of the at least sometimes intelligent and interesting Perry Stone is representative. (Perry will sometimes mince and screech in imitation of – presumably – the drag queens he imagines all gays are, as he declares horror at all and any homosexuality whose toleration is a sure promise of America’s coming downfall and judgement).

Not only is this situation harmful to the churches now seen as merely unsympathetic and uninformed, but it’s unhelpful to gays themselves because it has largely or wholly prevented pastoral work, addressing questions like what are gays for, how should they live and so on.

And as in any community, wrongs and abuses are found in the gay community – one thinks especially of how youths from the country or thrown out of homes, instead of finding proper community acceptance and support have found instead exploitation. But nowadays the threat of charges of homophobia has virtually shut down the possibility of discussing or condemning corruption and any specific ills of the gay scene. Outside of conservative thought ghettoes, in secular society gay is now only ever good; it is not possible to state some of it may have a dark side or be soul damagingly misdirected.

Gays are  perfectly entitled to protest, why pick on them to moralize or save souls when so many heterosexuals live in irregular unions, some Christians several times divorced? Where are the Christians who protest the legal right to attend gay events to witness outside churches protesting some marriages?

When Gay Lib began the struggle was to deny gays new rights and the accusation was that they were just fornicators. When unions and marriage came into view that was as bad, another form of abomination. The message is clear and it’s homophobic. Gays are not meant to exist in even democracies. Gays have finally returned the compliment with the secularists among them wanting Christians dragged before the courts and denied their businesses and their rights. I don’t approve but can appreciate why it has happened and if one reads histories of homosexuality and the record of the church in relation to it, Christians can’t expect God’s favour on them short of some repentance and changed attitudes.

DEMONIZING ALMOST ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE THOUGHT ESOTERIC OR OCCULT

Religion is often seen as at variance with science, but in one area Christian conservatives might as well join the scientists and rationalists and unattractively so for the many today who still desire and perceive a few mysteries.

A fourth Christian image problem attaches to extremist treatment of “the occult”, a term those using it often don’t understand but are convinced is damnable in any form they imagine it exists. Granted Christians can and must agree that certain activities like the Ouija board and fortune telling cards are verboten, they constitute the biblical “divination’ which ultimately depends for its effects upon chance or the intervention of real or imagined familiar spirits which may trigger obsession or possession. Exorcists have been surprised at how much possession problems have their roots in this kind of dabbling.

There is however a distinction to be made between inspired dreams and what is more empirically grounded and requires neither pure intuition nor external forces to arrive at, chief of these being the astrology which features strongly in the Talmud of the rabbis. (Elements of numerology which also feature in rabbinic thought and possibly some principles of palmistry, some of it with medical support, could also be included). The rabbis understood astrology be the study of cycles and phenomena and on the basis of the astrologically implicit theories of Ecclesiastes for which “what has been will be”, what happens under one pattern can occur again and this is not fortune telling. (It is true the prophets can be construed as disapproving astrology – unless and until one realizes they are not talking about mathematical astrology as we know it since the Greeks, but a more primitive, oracular stargazing that functioned much like fortune cards).

Astrology is also not a damnable doctrine of “fate” when applied to nations and individuals – if you try to understand how it works. Astrological patterns in most instances include free will, there are various possibilities and attitudes under them. It is nevertheless true, and hardly unbiblical if astrology points out, that the life pattern of a person is involved with root traits and that thus Saturn may symbolize and apply differently in the life of a politician as opposed to an artist. It is perfectly biblical to recognize shape in a life or even a day – the outlines are present from the first as Ps 139: 16  indicates.  Study of diurnals are the nearest thing to proving the Psalmist correct in the matter of every person’s day being forewritten and known.

Jung hoped the time would come when basic astrology was taught in schools. According to the late Catholic seeress Jeane Dixon this will happen. Both believed that there is a basic psychology and wisdom that should be known. Although it is foolishness to think individuals can learn their futures from sun sign forecasts (and foolish of Christians to treat the entertainment of reading them monstrous error), it is useful to social interaction and toleration of difference to have a basic grasp of difference as revealed by astrology. It even colours very accurately the kind of things and philosophies people assume (see my The Astrology of Beliefs   https://goo.gl/oN9aQe).

In this respect let it be said that failure to acknowledge and assimilate some astrology is almost as great a problem for the churches as their attitudes to homosexuality. Christians today need to realize the significance of living at the end of the (Piscean) era that began near to Jesus’s birth. They need to understand the symbolism of Pisces and its opposite/complementary sign Virgo as it runs through the whole New Testament and how the OT and NT difference with the elements of violence and extreme patriarchy of the OT are involved with traits and themes of the previous Arien age. Many things fall into place and are quickly explained if only this simple fact is recognized. But it isn’t with many unfortunate consequences. And with the esoteric repressed it re-emerges in eccentric forms like trying to obtain “Christian” numerological messages and clues to the times by looking up the number of Greek and Hebrew words in the lists of Strong’s Concordance.

A PROBLEM OF AUTHORITY

According to the demonized system of astrology, the chart for the foundation of Christianity in AD 30 reveals a sun in Gemini, the dual sign. This bespeaks a dark/light, saints and sinners type organization. That sun is in (fortunately)  very wide conjunction to Saturn. This is a promise the community will be bedevilled by the shackles of Saturnian “tradition” (not least in languages that hamper Geminian communication  – Latin, Church Slavonic etc) and proper understanding and use of “authority” in everything from politics to management of religious affairs.

Much of the foregoing covered here can be traced to current problems, especially American, around authority in religion. Arguably, and not least from the astrological standpoint, we do stand at the end of the Christian aion (era) itself. It’s a time even Christ identifies with lack and loss of faith ( Luk 18:8) and undeniably some clergy and theologians do now seem virtual atheists for sheer doubt (as Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe has stated). But opposed to the doubt trend is an attachment to a radical concept of authority in its turn inconsistent with a religion that places so much emphasis upon not just belief, but faith so that not everything can and should be clear in all cases.

Among conservative Protestants there is almost a fetish of the Bible as “God’s Word”, totally inerrant. While it’s reasonable to call the bible inspired, it cannot and must not be deemed some kind of Paper Pope deemed inerrant.  And one doesn’t need to be a trained philosopher or theologian to know why it can’t. Commonsense dictates that when the Psalmists give voice to their complaints or St Paul talks about wanting some books he has left behind, plainly this is not “God’s Word” dictated from heaven. Anyone should be able to recognize  that when Ps 137 suggests it’s blessed to smash the heads of children of enemies against the rocks, this is outside the meaning and tenor of the bible as a whole.

Quite simply, there are degrees and levels of inspiration (in Corinthians Paul says the thinks he has the Spirit of God 1 Cor 7:40) on a subject, and there are a few glaring errors and low moments scattered about – much of Ecclesiastes is obviously weak. If there weren’t these moments, everything would be so clear there would never have been need for any biblical commentary past or present. If everything were perfectly clear there would also be no need for the Spirit to lead into all truth (Joh 16:30), or indeed for the Spirit to speak to the churches (Rev 3:22) at all because everything could be deduced from the scriptures anyway.

The bible is a guide and often a teacher to be dialogued with. A measure of doubt and argument should be almost fundamental to spiritual development. Truth is to be learned and acquired (Jesus says to go and make disciples teaching them). “To love God is to argue with him” is a rabbinic saying. There must be a modicum of wiggle room because there will be a few places where as even Jesus concedes to his disciples, “not everyone can accept this saying”. The bible is not something to hit people over the head with and to cut off all dialogue as so often happens in American religion where “The Bible says”  or, “God’s Word says” is used as a kind of ex cathedra, papal style authority to cut off all question and argument. The essential authority of scriptures is something to be learned and felt over time, not announced ahead of or in opposition to all questions put to it.

WHY ALL THIS REALLY MATTERS

Currently the churches are everywhere in trouble. Religious freedom and opinion are in danger from everything from political correctness in the West to outright persecution outside it as when last week thousands of Christians were slaughtered in Nigeria by Muslim fanatics and the fact scarcely reached the news. The relative silence was likely due to the fact secular liberal media cares little nowadays what happens to Christians anywhere  but cares a lot about never offending Muslims and pleasing offended women whose problems count for far more than believers tortured, imprisoned or murdered.

In these circumstances it is not however for Christians to cease from proper self criticism which if practiced would show how it became too easy for secular forces to dismiss believers. Nor is it for Christians today almost degradingly to plead they ought to be tolerated because of all the good works they do through charities and hospitals etc. It’s no good calling the charity card, however true, when otherwise justice and common-sense in the  direction of some policies have been (as most  notoriously in the treatment of child abuse scandals) too obviously lacking. Apart from which, and as should be remembered first and last, good works alone anyway never quite count. Christians should demonstrate good works as the natural expression of their belief in a gospel it was Christ’s parting command to go and preach. This preaching is now scarcely in evidence, but the right to be able to declare it (but without confusion and prejudice against whole classes of people from raped women to gays) is what needs to be understood and preserved as the Christian programme and the human law. Freedom of religious conscience and belief are the virtual basis of all human rights and freedom and this is ignored at our peril. So, to conclude……being, and still more important the decision to become Christian today, should never involve a commitment to be

1) unequivocally opposed to abortion on all and any grounds
2) unequivocally opposed to all and every right to die
3) automatically opposed to all gay rights
4) automatically, uncritically opposed to every possible form of the so-called “occult”, especially astrology (some converts are even persuaded to burn all books relating to that subject of the original Magi)

The religion that takes this line scarcely deserves the name of Christianity; it borders on a cult and is enemy to the very democracy that the struggle for Christian freedoms helped much to form.

See also article: Issues of Sex, Love and Biblical ‘Incoherence’   https://wp.me/p2v96G-111

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2018 in current affairs, ethics, religion

 

BEYOND EASTER DAWNING: A POEM

There is little enough celebration of Easter or any probing of its meaning today in specifically verse..In turn Australia, never the most poetic of nations, has become so  secular (or perhaps multicultural and fearful to offend those like Muslims who deny both the death and resurrection of Christ  occurred), that this year’s Good Friday TV contained not a single programme related  to the day. The following poem thus fills a poetic gap of sorts and is even a small act of  poetic justice in the face of blind secularism/multiculturalism.

Poems of mine can be found throughout this blog, but I have not written any poetry for a while – the last entry was for last September. This latest offering, composed very quickly by my usual standards, came to me (or at least the idea for it did) unexpectedly, while driving my car on the Tuesday of this Easter week. Because it was so quickly written and carries various implications, I may yet edit  the piece. It would nonetheless seem foolish to hold it back at this Easter season simply because I did not consider it as perfect as I could wish. But then, beyond poetry, I don’t think too much of art generally as regards the Resurrection theme (see comment below).

BEYOND EASTER DAWNING

A trembling of the earth alone gave sound
When Life revived. The pre–dawn air was still,
The sky dark amost as the Hades just traversed
And conquered too.

Though present and aware, no seeing angels sang
The moment that gave second birth to earth and soul
And most of all to bodily form, not owning which
Even lasting soul could live as homeless as the damned.

After the earth had moved and shouting soldiers,
Terrified, had fled their watch
The brooding silence had returned and
Lain across the hills of Zion’s troubled land
As though in wait for who at dawn
Might understand and celebrate
The range and heights of mystery.

Beneath the high serene of April sky
Within the second Eden of a garden’s place
What Nature’s Lord, the Morning Star, achieved
A passionate woman was the first to know.
And then the youthful bosom friend, the friend
Of soul. Both these while others talked in fear
Were able to believe if little more than
Joyful fact. Full forty days were needed to absorb
The larger truths and fifty till the Spirit sealed
With fire and tongues the new and growing
Powers now opened to belief on earth.

Though once revealed, the force of resurrection
Grows – the reason earth still travails to its liberty (1)
And still no heavenly choirs have sung the theme
Of life reborn and wholly changed.
Instead, towards the age’s end
And even as belief declines  (2)
They wait, like us, who now and here
See more a light of noon than dawn
A promise of the trumpet’s blast
That raises even those in dust. And thus
On Easter’s morn we feel us sealed
And called beyond as not before.

NOTES

1)  Rom 8:22 …..the whole creation groans and travails

2)  Luk 18::8  ….When he returns will the Son of Man find faith upon earth?

Until I started searching for pictures to accompany this poem, I had not quite taken in how curiously limiting and defective resurrection themed art is. You have little choice apart from archaic, misshapen mostly medieval images  and modern, kitschy, mainly American, emotion based ones, almost none of which suggest the mystery of spiritual, physical and natural power involved. Between ancient and modern Claude Lorrain captures something of the first Sunday mood in its dreamier mystical, peace/shalom aspect, but, though the artist can’t be blamed for it, there is no notable connection to historical detail and setting. Michelangelo’s Renaissance Risen Christ sculpture presents its own problems as discussed by Frank Salmon  ( https://goo.gl/7j36HP )  who points out how vastly more crucifixion than resurrection has engaged art and artists.  I feel faced with one big  artistic distortion, and for the first time have some sympathy for the aniconic position where religion is concerned. Better no image at all if the image can only be inadequate. However, all that is a subject in itself..

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2018 in Mysteries, Poetry, religion

 
 
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