“God is a concept by which we measure our pain” – John Lennon

Through the ages mankind has defined and redefined its concept of God. Mine has its roots in western Christianity, and through this site I'd like to examine it and other world religions - past and present. By studying the history and roots of religious beliefs I hope to gain a better understanding of their place in my world today – and what life and the concept of God means to me.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Death of God

“God is dead” is a widely quoted phrase that became very popular in the mid 1960s. It was the rallying call of a movement known as Radical Theology, and although it never attracted a large following and disappeared as quickly as it had arisen, it got a lot of press coverage. It was a statement that was tailor-made for journalistic exploitation, and in the uproar it created, the actual meaning of the phrase and the movement’s goals were misunderstood.

The origins of this ‘60’s cultural phenomenon can be traced back to Friedrich Nietzsche, who originated the concept in the late 1800s. This is what he wrote:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? - Nietzsche, The Gay Science

What he was saying wasn’t that God was physically dead, but that he had stopped being a reckoning force in people’s lives, even if they didn't recognize it. Even then, the phrase was misunderstood. People thought he was exulting the concept, when in fact he was lamenting it. Nietzsche was saying that humans were drifting away from a believe in a cosmic order, and that without it universal values and moral laws would also slip away. To solve this eventual problem, a re-evaluation of the foundations of human values was needed. For Nietzsche, these foundations were deeper than the Christian values that most people refused to look beyond.

This is what the founders of Radical Theology picked up on. In the 1960’s, Nietzsche’s concept on the relationship between modern man's loss of the sacred and eroding universal values had become manifisted in society. People were no longer flocking to church, and they no longer accepted ‘divinely revealed truths’ without question. It seemed to some that the moral decay evident in society was directly traceable to this. Their response was a quest for a radical revision of Christianity in a secular age. Basically, they sought to reconstruct Christian beliefs for the modern world.

The problem with this new theology was that every spokesperson for it had a different solution. There was Jesus as the model human being who acted out of love and whose faith would be celebrated in an open church-community. In this view, God no longer stood apart from Man, challenging him to follow a divine path - he simply represented self-giving love. A ‘Sea of Faith” group attempted to work out the practice of their faith within the context of their new religious understanding while still seeking to retain the accepted 'structures' of the Christian faith (prayer, worship, God, salvation, grace, etc.). Others reflected Eastern views and saw God as something within us, but the emphasis was on this world and not anything beyond. What each group was attempting was to answer the question, 'What place does God have in my life (or in society) today?'

In retrospect, too many ideas with too little a following quickly led to the demise of this movement. The real significance was that these modern theologies, by giving up the essential elements of Christian belief in God, had logically led to what were really antitheologies. The Christian masses misunderstood and/or dismissed the concepts presented. When the death of God theologies passed off the scene, the commitment of some to secularism remained, and manifested itself in other forms of secular theology in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

Although taken out of context here, it would seem that the general public of the 20th century was more inclined to accept a different widely quoted phrase from the late 1800’s. It was Mark Twain who said “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jesus and Mary Magdalane

For several years now, ever since Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” became a bestseller, there has been much speculation concerning the marital status of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Now, with the movie about to come out, the topic is again popular. So what is the evidence for and against? And why is it so hot a topic?

Part of the problem is that nowhere in the New Testament is it stated that Jesus was celibate or married. If one looks at the context of the times in which Jesus lived, an unmarried man was considered incomplete. Typically, all Jewish holy men – teachers and prophets alike – were married. It would have been highly unusual for a recognized rabbi (teacher) to be single. Originally, Christianity was a Jewish spiritual movement, and Jesus primarily taught Jewish individuals. Bearing that in mind, it would have been easier for students to accept that Jesus was married than to accept a rabbi unwilling or unable to sustain a marriage.

On the other hand, Jesus was not technically a rabbi, nor did he portray himself as one. The apostles addressed him as such to say he was their teacher, not because he held any kind of official Jewish office. The Jews asked Jesus 'by what authority' he did certain things because he did not hold any kind of formal office within Judaism. He did not have an official position that would have permitted him to do things like act within the temple (Mark 11:28). As far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, Jesus had no recognized role within Judaism.

One reason the question of marriage with regards to Jesus is a taboo subject among modern day Christians because it implies sexuality. In the 2nd Century, however, the theological reasons were different. There was a tradition among various heretical sects back then that Jesus was married. It was taught that Jesus Christ symbolically entered every critical stage of human existence and sanctified it. Since family life, including sexuality, is central to our lives, it seems logically consistent with the mission of a Savior to redeem and sanctify this aspect of our experience, as well.

In response, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria believed that a married Jesus was inconsistent with His role as the Savior of the world, not that marriage would have Him sinful, but rather, that His mission was too demanding and heavenly to allow Him the opportunity for marriage.

It was only later when the Catholic Church’s dogma became more established that the ideas of the marriage and offspring of Jesus became taboo topics due to their inconsistency with church doctrines (a celibate priesthood, ritual defilement of seminal emissions, etc.).

The true answers here cannot be known. If you know where to look, you can find biblical ‘evidence’ supporting both views. What is truly interesting here is the fact that as time has gone by our ides of Jesus have changed. In the early church there was much discussion as to the very nature of Jesus. Was he a man, or the son of God? In the Islamic tradition he was a great prophet – but definitely not God on Earth. Traditions grow and change with the times. So how important is it to know the facts? Are they threatening? Would they change what you believe? Would they change your belief in God itself?

Friday, February 17, 2006


“The Epic of Gilgamesh” is the world’s oldest heroic saga. The actual writings of the earliest portions of this epic can be traced to 2000 BCE and were found on twelve stone tablets. The eleventh tablet is particularly interesting in that it tells a story very similar to one found in the Old Testament. This is a story that we now know has been told in many different forms by ancient cultures around the world – but this, the oldest known telling, is so similar to the biblical story we are familiar with that it created quite a stir when it was first discovered.

The original translation was done by George Smith, an assistant in The British Museum in 1872. It’s said that when he first read it he “…jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself.”

Here, then, is the eleventh tablet of “The Epic of Gilgamesh”. See if you can recognize it.

Uta-Napishtim said unto him, to Gilgamish: I will reveal unto thee, O Gilgamish, a hidden mystery, And a secret matter of the gods I will declare unto thee. Shurippak, a city which thou thyself knowest, On the bank of the river Puratti (Euphrates) is situated, That city is old; and the gods dwelling within it Their hearts induced the great gods to make a windstorm, There was their father Anu, Their counsellor, the warrior Enlil, Their messenger En-urta andTheir prince Ennugi. Nin-igi-ku, Ea, was with them in council and reported their word to a house of reeds.

Ea Speaks to Uta-Napishtim

"O House of reeds, O House of reeds! O Wall! O Wall! O House of reeds, hear! O Wall, understand! O man of Shurippak, son of Ubar-Tutu [= Uta-Napishtim], Throw down the house, build a ship, Forsake wealth, seek after life, Hate possessions, save thy life, Bring all seed of life into the ship. The ship which thou shalt build, The dimensions thereof shall be measured, The breadth and the length thereof shall be the same. Then launch it upon the ocean."

[Uta-Napishtim's Answer]

I understood and I said unto Ea, my lord: "See, my lord, that which thou hast ordered, I regard with reverence, and will perform it, But what shall I say to the town, to the multitude, and to the elders?"

[Ea Speaks Again]

Ea opened his mouth and spake And said unto his servant, myself, "Thus, man, shalt thou say unto them: Ill-will hath the god Enlil formed against me, Therefore I can no longer dwell in your city, And never more will I turn my countenance upon the soil of Enlil. I will descend into the ocean to dwell with my lord Ea. But upon you he will rain riches A catch of birds, a catch of fish . . . an [abundant] harvest, . . . the sender of . . . . . . shall make hail [to fall upon you]." The Building of the Ship As soon as dawn broke . . .
[Lines 49-54 broken away.]
The child . . . brought bitumen, The strong man . . . brought what was needed. On the fifth day I laid down its shape. According to the plan its walls were 10 gar, (i.e. 120 cubits) high, And the width of its deck was equally 10 gar. I laid down the shape of its forepart and marked it out. I covered it six times. . . . I divided into seven, Its interior I divided into nine, Caulking I drove into the middle of it. I provided a steering pole, and cast in all that was needful. Six sar of bitumen I poured over the hull, Three sar of pitch I poured into the inside. The men who bear loads brought three sar of oil, Besides a sar of oil which the tackling consumed, And two sar of oil which the boatman hid. I slaughtered oxen for the workpeople, I slew sheep every day. Beer, sesame wine, oil and wine I made the people drink as if they were water from the river. I celebrated a feast as if it had been New Year's Day. I opened a box of ointment, I laid my hands in unguent. Before the sunset the ship was finished. . . . was difficult. The shipbuilders brought the . . . of the ship, above and below, . . . two-thirds of it.

Uta-Napishtim Loads the Ship

With everything that I possessed I loaded it. With everything that I possessed of silver I loaded it. With everything that I possessed of gold I loaded it. With all that I possessed of all the seed of life I loaded it. I made to go up into the ship all my family and kinsfolk, The cattle of the field, the beasts of the field,All handicraftsmen I made them go up into it. The god Shamash had appointed me a time, saying "The sender of . . . . . will at eventide make a hail to fall; Then enter into the ship and shut thy door." The appointed time drew nigh; The sender of . . . . . made a hail to fall at eventide. I watched the aspect of the storm, Terror possessed me to look upon it, I went into the ship and shut my door. To the pilot of the ship, Puzur-Enlil the sailor I committed the great house, together with the contents thereof.

The Flood

As soon as dawn shone in the sky A black cloud from the foundation of heaven came up. Inside it the god Adad thundered, The gods Nab and Sharru went before, Marching as messengers over high land and plain, Irragal tore out the post of the ship, En-urta went on, he made the storm to descend. The Anunnaki brandished their torches, With their glare they lighted up the land. The whirlwind of Adad swept up to heaven. Every gleam of light was turned into darkness. . . . . . the land . . . . . as if had laid it waste. A whole day long the flood descended . . . Swiftly it mounted up . . . . . the water reached to the mountains The water attacked the people like a battle. Brother saw not brother. Men could not be recognized in heaven. The gods were terrified at the cyclone. They shrank back and went up into the heaven of Anu. The gods crouched like a dog and cowered by the wall.

The Lament of Ishtar

The goddess Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail. The Lady of the Gods lamented with a sweet voice, saying:"May that former day be turned into mud, Because I commanded evil among the company of the gods. How could I command evil among the company of the gods, Command battle for the destruction of my people? Did I of myself bring forth my people That they might fill the sea like little fishes?"

The Flood Dies Down

The gods, the Anunnaki, wailed with her. The gods bowed themselves, and sat down weeping. Their lips were shut tight in distress . . . For six days and nights The wind, the storm raged, and the cyclone overwhelmed the land.When the seventh day came the cyclone ceased,the storm and battle which had fought like an army. The sea became quiet, the grievous wind went down, the cyclone ceased. I looked on the day and voices were stilled, And all mankind were turned into mud, The land had been laid flat like a terrace. I opened the air-hole and the light fell upon my cheek, I bowed myself, I sat down, I cried, My tears poured down over my cheeks. I looked over the quarters of the world, to the limits of ocean. At twelve points islands appeared. The ship grounded on the mountain of Nisir. The mountain of Nisir held the ship, it let it not move.
The first day, the second day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. The third day, the fourth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. The fifth day, the sixth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. When the seventh day had come I brought out a dove and let her go free. The dove flew away and then came back; Because she had no place to alight on she came back. I brought out a swallow and let her go free. The swallow flew away and then came back; Because she had no place to alight on she came back. I brought out a raven and let her go free. The raven flew away, she saw the sinking waters. She ate, she waded, she rose, she came not back.

Uta-Napishtim's Sacrifice to the Gods

Then I brought out everything to the four winds and made a sacrifice; I set out an offering on the peak of the mountain. Seven by seven I set out the vessels, Under them I piled reeds, cedarwood and myrtle. The gods smelt the savour, The gods smelt the sweet savour. The gods gathered together like flies over him that sacrificed.
Now when the Lady of the Gods came nigh, She lifted up the priceless jewels which Anu had made according to her desire, saying"O ye gods here present, as I shall never forget the sapphire jewels of my neck So shall I ever think about these days, and shall forget them nevermore! Let the gods come to the offering, But let not Enlil come to the offering, Because he took not thought and made the cyclone, And delivered my people over to destruction."

The Anger of Enlil

Now when Enlil came nigh He saw the ship; then was Enlil wroth And he was filled with anger against the gods, the Igigi, saying: "Hath any being escaped with his life? He shall not remain alive, a man among the destruction."Then En-urta opened his mouth and spake And said unto the warrior Enlil: Who besides the god Ea can make a plan? The god Ea knoweth everything that is done."

Ea's Speech to Enlil

The god Ea opened his mouth and spake And said unto the warrior Enlil, "O Prince among the gods, thou warrior, How, how couldst thou, not taking thought, make a cyclone? He who is sinful, on him lay his sin, He who transgresseth, on him lay his transgression. But be merciful that everything be not destroyed;be long-suffering that man be not blotted out. Instead of thy making a cyclone, Would that the lion had come and diminished mankind. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that the wolf had come and diminished mankind. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that a famine had arisen and laid waste the land. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that Irra (the Plague god) had risen up and laid waste the land. As for me I have not revealed the secret of the great gods. I made Atra-hasis to see a vision, and thus he heard the secret of the gods. Now therefore take counsel concerning him."

The Blessing of Uta-Napishtim

Then the god Enlil went up into the ship, He seized me by the hand and brought me forth. He brought forth my wife and made her to kneel by my side. He touched our brows, he stood between us, he blessed us, saying,"Formerly Uta-Napishtim was a man merely, But now let Uta-Napishtim and his wife be like unto us gods. Uta-Napishtim shall dwell afar off, at the mouth of the rivers. And they took me away to a place afar off, and made me to dwell at the mouth of the rivers."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Reaching the state of nirvana, in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, is the ultimate goal of existence. But what is nirvana? According to teachings, it is impossible to define directly. It’s easier to say what it is not. It is not the clinging to existence that is our daily life. It is not something that you become. It is not something that has a beginning or end. It is not a subjective state of consciousness. It is not something that can be described in words.

A literal translation of the word nirvana is “extinction” and/or “extinguishing” – and that is what reaching it does to the cycle of life. In the eastern religious teachings, life is experienced through the concept of reincarnation. All living beings, from plants to gods, live in a cycle of death and rebirth. The life you live today is determined by the moral behavior of your previous life, and the ultimate challenge is to liberate oneself from this cycle. In traditional Hinduism, a soul reaches this state after living many lives in which it climbs up through the varna, or caste system. Buddhism arose out of Siddhartha's alternate understanding of the transcendence of earthly life. In the Buddhist philosophy, anybody might achieve higher enlightenment and escape rebirth if he followed the right path, completely rejecting the caste structure that defined traditional Hinduism.

In either case, the basic premise is that our bondage to the cycle of rebirth is caused by ignorance. According to the predominant view among those committed to this way, our ignorance consists of the mistaken belief that we are individual selves, and not one with the ultimate divine reality – Brahman. It is this same ignorance that gives rise to our bad actions, which result in bad karma. Salvation is achieved through attaining a state of consciousness in which we realize our identity with Brahman.

So God, in this view, is not a being to pray to or spend eternity with – but an ultimate reality that one becomes a part of during their final lifetime in this world. What happens to a person after the cycle of life ends is not known. The Buddha himself discouraged speculation on the state of an enlightened being after death, as it was outside of all conceivable experience.