Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Case for Christian Vegetarianism

For approximately its first 300 years, Christianity was pacifistic and largely vegetarian.  Some of the earliest Jewish members of the Jesus movement were consistently vegetarian.  Many Gentile converts to Christianity were also vegetarian. New Testament text saying that John the Baptizer ate “locusts and wild honey” is likely a mistranslation wherein “locust” ought to be phrased as “carobs”. In no Gospel account of the Last Supper is the Passover lamb mentioned; rather, the references are to a meal chiefly consisting of bread and wine, albeit possibly taking place in or near Passover time. Some of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, but it must be recalled that this was only a temporary occupation, since once they had met Jesus, he then promised to make them “fishers of men”, adn they abandoned their former occupations to become “career disciples”. Additionally, the ancients classified animals, and therefore edible animals, quite differently than do we moderns; it is even possible that fish were not considered animals in the same way that mammals were so considered.

After Jesus’ death, leadership of the Jerusalem disciples fell to Jesus’ brother Yakov or James. It was said of James that he was devout, zealous for the Jewish Law … and vegetarian. One of the very earliest and important Jewish-Christian movements, the Ebionites, were also strict vegetarians, and there is evidence that their roots reached back into “apostolic times” and that their practice was a continuation of an original vegetarianism held by the original Jesus sect.

Moreover, without sentimentality or indulgence in modern concerns about animal rights, a case can be made that Jesus himself was a vegetarian whose prime objection to the priesthood was its carrying out of animal sacrifice; and that his “cleansing” of the Temple was an ancient example of animal liberation.

Typically, the lesson drawn from Jesus’ disruption of Temple commerce has to do with his outrage at “the moneychangers” who were stationed in the Temple precincts. However, this makes little sense, because the moneychangers were legitimate officials whose purpose was to assist Jews from all over the Empire to buy sacrificial animals at the Temple (rather than having to drag them all the way to Jerusalem from their respective points of origin).

Moreover, Luke’s Gospel even omits mention of the moneychangers. It appears therefore, that they were only a part of a much larger problem that loomed in Jesus’ mind: animal sacrifice itself. Nor was this idea novel or unique to Jesus. All through the Hebrew Bible, there is  a strand of anti-Temple/anti-animal sacrifice sentiment, centered around an apparent outrage at flesh and blood sacrifice. The Bible preserves both of these pro-and-anti-sacrifice themes.

Apparently Jesus was born into, and/or chose to adhere to, the ethics of the anti-sacrifice party or parties. And this is probably why at his final meal, Jesus offered wine instead of animal blood, and bread instead of animal flesh. From now on, Jesus indicated, bread and wine would serve as surrogates for animal sacrifice in Jewish conventicles that followed Jesus’ ethical teachings.            One Ebionite text has Jesus saying, “I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and until you do abolish them, my wrath will not cease from you”. In this, Jesus was reaffirming the ancient anti-sacrificial stance; and in the Last Supper, Jesus was attempting to inaugurate a non-bloody and therefore “new” covenant. This anti-priestly stance, coupled with his driving animals out of the Temple precincts, is one of the chief elements that led to Jesus’ execution:

And the scribes and chief priests heard of it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)

For those interested in vegetarianism as applied to and practiced by Jesus and the earliest Christians, there follows a short list of pertinent sources.


Why I am a Shin Buddhist

I am a Shin practicer for several reasons, all of which are encapsulated in the recitation of the Nembutsu. This post is a guest entry from a poster named “dumbbombu“, who posted the following reasons for reciting the Nembutsu over at the Dharma Wheel website.

= = = = =

i don’t say the nembutsu for my birth in the Pure Land
that was already accomplished by Dharmakara Bodhisattva aeons ago

i say the nembutsu because some people infuriate me
i say the nembutsu because i lose my temper about petty shit
i say the nembutsu because i use people
i say the nembutsu because i hurt the ones i love

(and love discriminately)

i say the nembutsu because i cling to what does not last
i say the nembutsu because i always want more of what i do not have
i say the nembutsu because i am ignorant
i say the nembutsu because i believe it is me saying the nembutsu

i say the nembutsu because i lie to others and myself
i say the nembutsu because i pretend to be humble
i say the nembutsu because i am arrogant
i say the nembutsu because i am full of pride

i say the nembutsu because i am not a bridge
i say the nembutsu because i am not a raft
i say the nembutsu because i am not Santideva
i say the nembutsu because i am not a bodhisattva

i say the nembutsu because i am human all too human
with all the frak up contradictions, inadequacies and blind passions which ensue
and because i am loved and held in spite of myself

i say the nembutsu

= = = = =

posted at:

The “Zeitgeist” Movie

A friend showed me approximately the first twenty minutes,  about Jesus being a solar myth. I anticipated that it was going to be biased when the segment was prefaced by a snippet of a George Carlin sketch. Carlin was a slight genius in the comic arts, but on religion he was a half-wit. So, too, apparently is the writer of this … “documentary”, who rushes to embrace 19th century and modern mythicism without the slightest inclusion of evidence from the other side. In fact, the film seems to presuppose that there _is_ no other side.

One cliche and half-truth is heaped upon another, a device designed to make the uneducated head swim with such “wondrous and challenging new information”. In reality, however, educated heads won’t spin – they’ll just sadly shake back and forth at the egregious feast of bombast.

The script writer is either blissfully unaware – or, worse, knows, but deliberately omits – that most (not all) New Testament mythic themes arise not from pagan Zodiacal myth, but from Hebrew myth and mystical experience. And this comes, not just from the Old Testament, but from the age in which Jesus lived, the so-called intertestamental period, or the Second Temple period. Jewish, not pagan, notions form the basis of the NT’s virginal conception narratives, the Eucharist, Jesus’ miracles and ascent to Heaven.

The writer completely overlooks critical scholarship’s consensus about the seven authentic letters of Paul, documents that mention Paul’s personal knowledge of Jesus’ own brother James and the apostles in Jerusalem; Paul’s insistence that Jesus was not a mythic or celestial being, but a recently crucified Jewish male, “born of a woman under the Law”, who had a specific teaching on divorce, and who had been crucified “in Zion” (Jerusalem); Paul’s describing the historical Jesus’ “meekness” and “simplicity” as real human, not pagan-divine, character traits.

Moreover, the writer overlooks Paul’s stance of conflict with the people who actually knew Jesus and were in an infinitely better position to understand Jesus than was Paul, who only “knew” Jesus through a private vision. The criterion of embarrassment suggests that Paul’s stated knowledge of Jesus’ closest relatives and disciples is historically plausible, and that Paul preserves it in his letters, and Luke, too, preserves it with some accuracy in his descriptions of Paul’s missions in the book of Acts. That Paul knows, and has the temerity to disagree with, Jesus’ own followers, is a remarkable, even glaring point of high plausibility for the argument for Jesus’ historicity.

Perhaps worst of all, the writer ignores Paul’s own complaint about the reception of his teaching of “Christ crucified”, which he calls “a stumbling-block to the Jews, an absurdity to the Gentiles”:

Now, if Paul was really merely refurbishing an ancient pagan myth of a dying-resurrecting god, then certainly the Gentiles would not have found it absurd in the least:

They would either have embraced it as a novel expression of their oldest, fondest myths, or they would have yawned it away as “it’s just another solar myth – who needs it when we already have so many?”
This Gentile resistance to a crucified savior reinforces the plausibility that Paul, in writing of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, is writing about the destiny of a real, historical, Jewish, messianic teacher whose mission had recently (twenty years before Paul’s earliest letter) lived and died.

Also the writer makes the erroneous assumption that if Jesus was really the immense avatar that the NT says he was, he ought to have entered the contemporary historical record. That this is a rather unrealistic expectation is evidenced by the generally accepted idea that Jesus’ entire public ministry lasted only a mere three years, with most of it taking place in Galilean backwaters.

Jesus’ mission’s only governmentally controversial  … and therefore its only historicallysignificant moment was probably that short week between “Palm Sunday” and “Good Friday” when Jesus finally brought his message to the Jewish capital, and in his famous prophetic act, “cleansed the Temple” of its sacrificial animals and their handlers – thus throwing down a lethal (for him) challenge to the priestly elite.

THIS brief week, and this week only, provided Jesus his “fifteen minutes of fame” in the Greco-Roman world, and there is no good reason to think that anyone would have bothered to preserve it as a significant moment of time for the Roman Empire.

A rural preacher, surrounded by some fans, enters Jerusalem the week of Passover, preaches in the Temple, makes an anti-priesthood protest in the Temple, is arrested and crucified. Truly a fly-speck on the Greco-Roman calendar, and thus no particular incident to be recorded for posterity.  There is no special reason why Jesus should have entered the political consciousness – and therefore the reports of – any contemporary historians. Nor would he have been in the least remarkable to the Sanhedrin which handed him over to Roman authority.

Jesus was a flash in the pan, and contemporary history treated him as such by simply not mentioning him … and, had contemporary history even had some vague awareness of his trivial public mission in the capital, it did not deem it important enough to mention him. On the other hand, the future could bring in some archeological evidence that Jesus had indeed been written about … but that, of course, remains to be seen.

Finally, the writer’s uncritical exhibition of Carlin’s critique of God, namely that God “always needs money”, is easily refuted from all religions, but particularly Christianity. In the NT, Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.” Obviously, the God of JESUS was an eschewer of Mammon – a fact which flies completely over the narrow minds of both Carlin and the Zeitgeist writer.

The writer, in not even hinting at the enormous problems posed by his simplistic view of Jesus as a redesigned solar myth, is guilty of communicating an agenda riddled by half-truths and misinformation. But … sadly … perhaps in our uncrcitical, uneducated age, this may be viewed as some kind of an achievement.

God Particle, Panentheism, Creator-Faith

Questions are being bandied about concerning the discovery of the “God Particle” and its potential relation to theistic faith.  I would like to state that this doesn’t affect my God-definition, because I am a panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), and the God-image which I conceive is neither a creator nor an intervener. “God” in my view is a transcendent being utterly unconnected to the creation and/or existence of the material universe – and therefore cannot be praised for the world’s goodness, nor blamed for its evils.

Following Fred Hoyle’s idea, stated in his sci-fi novel, The Black Cloud, I speculate that the notion of a divine creator may be derived from the making of artifacts by human beings, that is:  since we are born into a world of pre-made “stuff”;  and since we ourselves make or “create” artifacts; therefore our surrounding world of pre-made stuff must, by implication, be the artifact of a divine maker. At least that’s how I think the creator idea may have evolved in ancient times.

While I am glad whenever science discovers new data like the “God Particle” about the world and/or about the universe’s origins, this has no real impact on my God-conception, for the following reasons.

The issue as a religious proposition really only affects those who think of God as a creator. As already mentioned, I believe that God is real, but is not now, never was, and never will be, a creator or an intervener, so the issue does not impact my god-beliefs. If a particle or some other physical thing or process, for example, is proven to be the “glue” that binds all things together, this only means that those who formerly assigned this “binding function” to a creator are further marginalized, forced to watch as their “creator” is edged out of the cosmic big picture by one more increment of scientific knowledge. If memory serves, it was Julian Huxley who said, “operationally, God is becoming more and more to resemble the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat”.

Those who insist that a deity created the universe are risking the God of the Gaps gambit. More and more it looks as if the universe is, or is the result of, eternally extant quantum fluctuations. If that is the case, then we have met the creator, and “He” turns out to be a kind of eternally extant quantum field behavior, not some kind of sentient entity.

The picture gets much worse, however, if we ever actually do discover a creator, and that creator turns out to be a sentient deity. In view of the utter indifference of the universe to sentient life and to human needs, the creator – if such a deity exists – must be by turns indifferent, hostile, capricious, insane, cruel, and/or incompetent – Tennessee Williams’ “senile delinquent”.

I would much rather believe that the creator – if one exists – is quantum fluctuation than that it is a deity. Human suffering is far more explicable by invocation of mindless, indifferent quantum forces, than it is by invocation of a compassionate but apparently impotent creator-deity. The naturalistic creation story, though spiritually comfortless, is far more theologically sensible, and it accounts for much more, than the supernaturalist creation story.

That is, we would expect that the universe would be indifferent to, and unaware of, the fate of all the sentient beings who live within it. In that case, we would simply accept, and expect, the fact that we must suffer and die, with no hint of concern from the material universe.

But, if we posit a compassionate creator-intervener, then we would expect that “His” universe would be sensitively responsive to our physical and emotional welfare, our plans, our dreams. However, since this is so obviously not the case, the “Creator-Faithful” must jump through hoops and perform intellectual acrobatics, in order to somehow justifiy “God’s universe’s” non-friendly treatment of sentient beings.

Hence, for me, it is much easier and less frought with intellectual difficulty, to conceive of God as a non-creating, non-intervening transcendent entity, rather than as a “compassionate Creator” who has made such a botch of “His” creation that “He” can only repair it by all-too-infrequent, wildly inconsistent, and logically problematic interventions.

God’s Absence and Faith

I’m a theist, a panentheist (not a pantheist). I feel that my particular god-definition explains God’s absence and non-intervention in the material world in a way that creator-religion does not and cannot: it posits that God is not now, never was, and never will be, a creator or an intervener.

God’s interventionary and functional absence from the material world is no mystery, because, since God is not a creator or intervener, there is no logical reason to expect God to be responsible for the world’s creation and its maintenance. It simply does not come under God’s purview, and it’s not God’s “job description”. This is not a matter of an almighty creator messing up his creation, and then refusing to intervene to correct at least some of the mess. It’s a matter of a transcendent kind of being whose “business” is infinite love and compassion, to which there are paths of contemplative/meditative means of immediate, intituitive, “gnostic” experiencing.

Put simply: God is real; God is not a creator or an intervener.  God is therefore not absent for some atheistic claim that God doesn’t exist; rather, it’s more an issue of God being absent because God is real but nonmaterial, and therefore is not part of wordly existence and processes. Obviously, this kind of theology does not require a theodicy – a rationale which tries to explain why evil exists – and much worse – why it persists in a purportedly “good” creation of a “good” creator.

But a creator-religion does call for an explanation as to why a compassionate God who created and maintains “His” universe is so apparently absent. No evidence for such a creating and intervening God exists – quite the opposite, in fact, at least judging by the world’s randomness and the precarious and doomed position of sentient life within this “scheme”.

The absence of the Creator from his creation is one of the several insurmountable objections to creator-religion, and very few of “His” apologists admit to this brute fact. In this, the “Creator-Faithful” resemble an abused partner caught in a violent co-dependendent relationship. Like an abused wife, creator-religionists feel coerced to defend their abusive “spouse”, with all the excuses found in co-dependent relationships: “I’m not good enough”, “I misbehaved and deserve my punishment”; “I will try harder next time”; and “it’s not all bad, because sometimes He brings me gifts”. A pathetic view, which only carries meaningless suffering down through generations of the creator-faithful.

Some will criticise my God-definition by saying, “Well, what good is a God who is infinite compassion and infinite wisdom, but who does nothing?” This utilitarian question depends on what one regards as “good”. If we remove the Divine Good from the material world, we are left at least in theory with Divine Good as applies to the inner, spiritual sphere. And this is where the non-creator God performs the Good; this is where God does something rather than nothing.  That is, the purview of the God whose definition I have presented lies within the psyche of sentient beings.

As Meister Eckhart is claimed to have said, “God is known in the soul”. Eckhart is also said to have taught that “the eye by which we see God is the eye by which God sees us”. The shared “eye” is the soul. It is “the eye of contemplation” or “the eye of Spirit”. Unlike the physical eye, the eye of contemplation must be opened through various contemplative and meditative practices and processes. The theory is that once the spiritual eye is opened, the soul can perceive and unite with God, its object.

Perhaps strangely, this kind of faith – belief in a non-creating, non-intervening transendent God who can be known directly by, and in, the soul – is a much easier faith than a faith that clings to the notion of a creator-intervener God, to whom one must be utterly loyal  – in spite of all the wordly, daily-living evidence against the soundness of such a faith.