Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stephen Hawking's god

A recent PBS documentary on science, “Genius by Stephen Hawking” beckoned. Anything about genius and Stephen Hawking promised to be good. I hoped nothing would interrupt me when it was on TPT.

Hawking challenged volunteers to think like geniuses in finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. I expected to be intrigued. Volunteers saw plates suspended in the air and spinning. Magic?  No, it turned out to be magnets. We were to conclude that the laws of nature answer mysteries of the universe.

All mysteries? Some scientists thought so. Pierre-Simon LaPlace asserted: If we knew all facts of the universe, we would know everything that will happen in the future. He and others posited the clockwork universe of determinism, but I won’t get into that because I didn’t buy it and Hawking didn’t either.

In another puzzle that Hawking set up, a volunteer's head was wired up so that his brain was connected to a screen. When he moved his finger, something moved on the screen. A tiny moment before this change showed on the screen, electrical impulses indicated activity in his brain.

Conclusion? Hawking said that the brain made the decision to move his finger—not a thinking mind but a brain, that is, matter. In other words, we should believe that our decisions are determined by physical stuff, not by thought.
I saw clear signs of consciousness or thought operating in the demonstration, but Hawking and the volunteers never wondered what caused the brain activity before that brain activity caused bodily movement.

Hawking seemed intent on proving that no immaterial force exists. Apparently he is so mesmerized by the foolishness of belief in gods that he cannot grasp a more sophisticated concept of what is called “God.”

There were six episodes in the series shown in three evenings, two every evening. By the last evening I was bored. The admittedly ingenious scientific challenges Hawking set up for volunteers continued to engage their scientific minds.
But I'm no good at and not interested in solving math and science problems. I want to ponder the implications of scientific findings, the large questions of meaning. Hawking promised to address them, but I kept seeing promises broken.

He asked good questions: “Why are we here? Is free will an illusion? Can we take credit for our actions? How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Can we go backward in time?

To every question his answer was to show volunteers grappling with physical, scientific puzzles but never tackling the deeper issues. We saw evolution in process, how electrons befuddle experimenters, how old life is, where we fit in the universe, how unfathomably large it is, and more. We did not, however, see answers to ultimate questions posed in the experiments.

We did not see the origin of the universe demonstrated as Hawking had promised. One evening focused on life’s beginnings, purporting to show how we came to be. We saw amino acids + salt (sea water saw the first life forms) + glyceral + energy leading to life forms.
In all steps demonstrated that evening, the key ingredient was ENERGY—not a physical thing. Energy is non-material, therefore spiritual. Energy could be one synonym for “God,” but Hawking’s mind could not go there.

In another episode, blindfolded volunteers showed that the position of particles on the quantum level is unknowable. Hawking mentioned Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but he did not mention the most enigmatic part of it—that the outcome of every quantum experiment depends on the experimenter, on the decision of a human mind. The word “consciousness” came up but not its significance, the point where science meets spiritual reality.

The task Hawking seemed to set for himself in planning this series was to prove that God does not exist. To accomplish this, he tried to take the mystery out of physical phenomena, but he did not succeed. Instead Hawking revealed that his god is science, and physical science delineates the boundaries of his genius.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Israel & Palestine—facts

News widely reported in the U.S. the past few days.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in a Tel Aviv retail center. Israel reacted by banning Palestinians from visiting relatives in Israel, traveling to Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers or to Tel Aviv for travel out of the country. Since October Palestinian attacks have killed 33 Israelis.

News not reported in the US.
Since September 29, 2000,
Palestinians killed by Israelis—9,370 Palestinians, 2,112 of them children.
Israelis killed by Palestinians—1,224 Israelis,  133 of them children

More news not reported in the US:
Military aid from the U.S. going to Israel: $10.2 million per day!
Military aid from the U.S. going to Palestine:  0

Whenever Israel and Palestine are in the news I recommend
  If Americans Knew  or Jews for Justice for Palestinians or numerous other sites. I especially recommend this engaging video about Israeli atrocities in Palestine, which should be viewed by every American.

Apparently, many Jews in America disagree with the few rich Jews who keep Congress, the president, other politicians, and American media hostage to the one-sided view that Israel deserves unconditional support no matter what. Anyone who tells the truth is branded anti-Semitic. 

One day I was bored, too tired to read, and idly looking for entertainment on public television (I rarely watch commercial channels). I saw Risk Steves sympathetically listening to an Israeli man report an attack by Palestinian “terrorists” on settlers.  I could smell where this was going and didn’t keep watching to see whether we’d learn about the terrors committed by Israeli settlers who are stealing Palestinian land. I knew coverage of Israeli atrocities that provoke Palestinian “terrorism” was not forthcoming.

By the way, the government of Israel pays Israelis to settle on Palestinian land. Every once in a while the U.S. government protests but does nothing to stop the injustice. And the military dollars keep flowing.


When will this end?  When enough Americans get educated and pressure politicians to stop it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Sacred Feminine

May 6, 2016
I contributed to Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World, an anthology now available on Kindle for $1.99.  More information HERE.

My chapter is entitled, "Sexist God-talk: Reforming Christian Language."
When troubles assail us, we turn to Holy Mother God.
Other contributors are Roy Bourgeois, Matthew Fox, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Walker, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Riane Eisler plus many more. Roy Bourgeois writes,
In my years of ministry, I met many Catholic women who told me about their calling to the priesthood. Their eagerness to serve God began to keep me awake at night.
May 14, 2016

I love it when men evince as deep a knowledge of what the patriarchy has wrought as women do. Such an aware person is Don, whom I’ve quoted before.  In answer to my invitation to Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World, he writes,
Yes! We must continue to put the Divine Feminine before the people. Patriarchy is deeply implanted in our collective psyche and we are called to a change in our consciousness. And when I come out with this, I am reminded not to identify the Divine Feminine with Holy Mother Church, a reframing of Patriarchy as refuge.
Patriarchy as refuge—great insight. I experience it at Mass when good people, intelligent people confident of being insulated against sexism by their knowledge, nevertheless recite and sing praises to “the Lord.”

We know better but we participate in this offensive liturgy—I do too, sucked in because I cherish the sacred milieu of community relating to Divinity. But, oh, how I bristle at the words that reduce Divinity to an exclusively male lord god!

Don comments that John Nienstedt, Archbishop of St. Paul, resorted to the “Holy Mother Church” narrative. Not only Nienstedt, but the whole official Church reduces woman to worshipping the male god. Its script says
       "He is God and she is Holy Mother Church worshipping Him and she is soul worshipping Him and she is Mary worshipping Him, her own son!"

In Voices of the Sacred Feminine I was taken by Tim Ward’s “Why Would a Man Search for the Goddess?” It struck him strange when he returned after six years of living in Asia that the West worships only a masculine God. He ruminates:
This vague feeling that things are out of sync with the opposite sex rumbles around inside of us, mixes with sexual frustration, resentment, anxiety, anger and despair.

I applaud his courage in facing his own repressed anger towards women.


May 24, 2016       We Are God Stuff

My being published in National Catholic Reporter is not uncommon for me, but publication of my latest letter pleases me more than most. I hope it explains why I say (and surprise people) that I don’t believe Jesus is God. I cannot link to it online but this is what I wrote:
“Hallelujah!” I crowed when I read that Fr. Ed Hays taught the incarnation is not just one moment in time but a continuous “infleshing of the Divine Mystery within us” (NCR April 22-May 5). This captures exactly my understanding of the doctrine of Incarnation. I have felt secure in my interpretation but still feel a sort of vindication that the great Fr. Ed Hays taught the same. 
I understand the doctrine of Incarnation inclusively. We all are God stuff, and this is the meaning of Paul’s words, “Christ is living in me” (Galatians 2:20).
 Mass language imposed on us by the Vatican subverts this understanding by encouraging congregations to worship an external god resembling the Greek gods that surrounded Christianity in its infancy. I do not join in singing or reciting these words:
“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”
I sing, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the life of Christ alive in all of us.”
I have blogged about Sophia in the Books of Wisdom and Proverbs being a forerunner of Christ. Same with Shekinah. Same scriptural claims made for these feminine images as for the masculine one. We know why the masculine image, the Christ, officially became God, while the Church calls Wisdom and Shekinah personifications of God.

Insights come to me when I’m in church. While irritated as usual by Mass language turning Jesus of Nazareth into a god, it came to me: Jesus Christ is a personification of God.

Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter posts past

March 31, 2007
From a religious point of view, Easter is a more important Christian feast than Christmas, but it gets less attention because there’s less money to be made from Easter. So much for our supposedly Christian nation.

Like Christmas, Easter derives from pagan myth and ritual. The ancient religions surrounding the first Christians celebrated various saviors coming down from heaven and going back up to heaven.

A striking parallel to Easter is reported by church historian Henry Chadwick. He tells of the god Mithris, whose death was mourned on March 22 and resurrection celebrated on March 25.

The likeness of Good Friday and Easter to religious festivals of the pagans prompted them to accuse Christians of plagiarism. Besides the idea of dying and rising again in three days, Christians apparently borrowed ritual ideas.

My reporting this may give the impression that I have little respect for Holy Week and Easter. Wrong. I regard the Paschal mystery as a profound spiritual mystery, one centered on transformation, one that grows in meaning as I grow older.

But it doesn’t belong to Christians alone. Our tradition received appreciation of the link between dying and rising from both Judaism and paganism. Mythologist Joseph Campbell found thousands of transformation stories in myths of the world.

The word “paschal” is derived from the Hebrew word for the annual Passover celebration, when Jews commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. God brought death to Egyptian homes but passed over Hebrew homes on the night of their escape. They celebrate their break from bondage, the promise of a new home, and their birth as Yahweh’s people.

New Testament accounts say that Jesus was put to death on or around Passover, and so Christians and Jews celebrate the feast most important to them at the same time.

Pagan religious festivals honored several deities who died and rose in three days. The region where Christianity began teemed with death and resurrection stories prefiguring that of Christ.

Especially poignant is the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who gifted humankind with fertile land and bountiful harvests. Persephone is playing in a field when she is abducted by Hades, god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, who is Persephone's father.

Heartbroken and mourning fiercely, Demeter learns what happened. She vows never again to let the earth be fruitful until her daughter is restored to her. Zeus relents, but Persephone has to spend part of the year above and part of the year below. When she arises every spring, the earth turns green again.

This mother/daughter story balances against the father/son story of Christianity as both portray the central figure dying and rising—both symbols of transformation. And the Eleusinian Mysteries, which commemorated Persephone’s rise, were celebrated for almost two thousand years, about as long as Christianity is old.

These mysteries had much in common with Holy Week mysteries. Initiation, fasting, and extensive preparation preceded them. There were processions, music, purifying with water, ritual eating and drinking, fire and light symbolism—all the elements of masterful Holy Week liturgies.

At the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries, participants had a beatific vision that released them from the fear of death. They were transformed. Christians are urged to be transformed into new people, to die to our old selves and rise to new selves. But transformation from death to life permeates all of existence.

New shoots in spring arise out of dead vegetation left by winter. The end of a job opens the door to a new path in life. Births and deaths come together in uncanny ways. More than one family has seen new grandchildren arriving upon the passing of a grandparent.

The Paschal mystery tells us that beginnings and endings are joined in a mysterious way. John 12:24 states, “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces much fruit.”

Understanding this soothes the pain of change. Every end’s sadness opens to a fresh beginning. Easter and other religious myths and rituals symbolize this holiness in all creation.

Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Last evening a performance of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly reminded me of Good Friday's larger, deeper significance.

An American Navy officer marries a geisha girl in Nagasaki with the intention of soon leaving her. With steadfast faith she waits with their young son for his return. He returns with his American bride to take their son away from her.

She is Christ on the cross.

And Christ is Annemarie in Rwanda. Her son was born in the middle of the genocide. “My child was almost a skeleton because I didn’t have milk in my breasts. But that man, that rapist was with me. He kept raping me again and again. . . . we went through torture like no other person has gone through.” About her son, now 11, she says, “He is the only life I have. . . . If I didn’t have him, I don’t know what I would be.”

And Christ is the Shi’ite man in Baghdad kidnapped by Sunni militia, beheaded, and left on the street to terrorize others. And Christ is the Sunni victim of ethnic cleansing in Iraq.

And Christ is the people of Zimbabwe terrorized by their president Robert Mugabe. And the people of Uzbekistan terrorized by their president Islam Karimov.

And Christ is the families in New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina and now sickened by formaldehyde fumes from their FEMA trailers.

Good Friday services that fail to remind people of the suffering Christ in the world today fail as Good Friday services.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

God, Who?

The Creator/Source of All that Is and Could Be is portrayed by traditional religions in ways that do not comport with present-day knowledge and awareness. These poems say it better than I could. 

We must not portray you in King's robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.
You are like a web or you are like a tree
or you are a forest through which I run,
or you are a herd of luminous deer
and I am forest and dark
and you run through me.
                                               
Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Joanna Macy)



Offering from a Catholic Sister

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark dank of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
Brocaded robes belying barrenness,
Ordain that she not say it to him now.

--Sister Frances Croake Frank

Books recommended by Bp. Regina Nicolosi from the forum The Feminine Face of God
                      March 13, 2011

The first time this next poem stirred me, we were having Mass in a living room. The presider sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a small, draped coffee table. The rest of us were comfortable on chairs, floor, or whatever. The “homily” developed in reflections from whoever was inspired to speak, and prayer petitions likewise.

We passed around the plate and cup, breaking off pieces of the bread for each other. Ritually we became bread broken for each other, as each of us received from one and gave to the next. Then this poem:

BAKERWOMAN GOD

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft, and being-
shaped loaf.
I am your rising
bread, well-kneaded
by some divine and knotty
pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.

I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.
Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red flood.
Self-giving chalice swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up
in a red pool
in a gold world
where your warm
sunskin hand
is there to catch
and hold me.
Bakerwoman God,
remake me.

  Alla Bozarth-Campbell



Her Faith Is Mine  February 12, 2016

Since the 1990s I have communicated with German relatives at Christmas time. This last December Eva Igelmund wrote that their tulips were rising from the ground, almond trees were starting to bloom, and birds didn't know if they should stay or go south. I laughed upon reading this, but it also is sad and frightening to see predictions of global warming that I read decades ago come to pass.

In a later email she reported that the forecast for Christmas weekend called for 62 º F. Germany lies at a slightly higher latitude than Minnesota’s, but western Europe is warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Minnesota reaches temperature extremes because it is in the middle of a continent. Lake Superior is the closest large moderating body of water. Because of Eva's news I was actually glad that winter returned to Minnesota in January after an unusually warm December.

Eva summarized her relationship with religion and in doing so summarized mine. She gave me permission to translate her German words into English. Describing herself as a free spirit, she writes,
Although born and bred Catholic and from earliest childhood interested in spirituality, I began to question as a young child. Or did I perhaps question for that reason?

I read extensively and tried many paths, stayed away from the Catholic Church for a time, but never from God. Since then I have made my peace with the institution, knowing that its officials have the faults and weaknesses of us all.
I live an intense life of faith, celebrating daily worship by maintaining contact with the Creator/Jesus/God/One Source of all Being. From day to day, the face of this power shifts as my moods shift, depending on my experiences and sources of inspiration.

My childhood image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, now gives way to images more diffuse, ineffable, exalted, unbelievably near and trusted, but formless Being. Whatever the form imagined, uniting with it brings solace, power, joy, confidence and hope.
Eva’s words delight me, as they could be my own confession of faith. She states my thoughts and feelings as if she were in my mind. That she says them in German intensifies their meaning for me and the pleasure of having words convey thoughts.

If anyone would like to see Eva’s statement in German, email me. Hit the contact button at godisnot3guys.com 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jesus

Jesus’ real significance was concealed by the halo put around the man. The god in our liturgy and popular piety started emitting a bad smell for me early in my life. Worshipful language by Jesus-freaks turned me off. 

What a different figure I found when I read the scriptures with new eyes! A person so refreshing, so human, so real—a feisty, earthy, gutsy, and passionate man! He uses spit and dirt to heal, weeps openly, raises havoc, makes merry, and gets angry. He calls people names, loves it when a woman fusses over him, and uses shocking language to thrust home his points.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).
Jesus did not act like a “good Christian”—always nice, always accommodating, always smoothing things over. I like the real Jesus a lot better than the image coming out of evangelical fervor.

Present-day worshippers would shun the man who actually walked the paths of Palestine 2000 years ago. The real Jesus of Nazareth railed against privilege and honor; “lord” and “king” do not fit this revolutionary critic of status-seeking.

When I broke free of the stuffed-shirt Jesus, I found a spiritual rebel in the synoptic gospels who could be sharp, blunt, combative, and even caustic. He does not think, talk, or act like a guy trying to fit social expectations. With pluck and spunk he defies them, displaying uncommon freedom from the opinions of others. He hangs around with scum. Nice people are appalled.
Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Lk 7:34)!

I believe the historical Jesus taught and modeled spiritual goals taught by all spiritual masters. The Nazarene did not think he was God. Scholars agree that he didn’t say the words put into his mouth by evangelists of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus didn’t give himself an exalted title when he called himself the son of humans. “Son of man” was foolishly and mistakenly given ponderous significance by generations after Jesus who did not understand his Palestinian culture.


One way the man in history shatters popular images of Jesus is in his relationships with women, the most shocking with Mary Magdalene. I hope you can study this information about the Beloved Disciple without the prejudice I had in my first response to it. Whatever the historical details of Jesus’ conversations with women, it is unlikely that an evangelist would have invented the stunning reversal of patriarchal and hierarchical norms we see in the gospels. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I AM

The 1st reading on the third Sunday in Lent is Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15. It contains the best definition/description/summary of God in the Judeo/Christian tradition—I AM. God also says in this passage, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But the name of God for these patriarchs was El Shaddai, the Breasted God (Exodus 6:3).

Unfortunately, Bible translations commonly render El Shaddai  as "God Almighty," following early influential translations. But "God Almighty" subverts the original meaning, as shown by David Biale in a February 1982 article for the journaal, History of Religions.

The ordinary Hebrew word shad means “breast.” In ancient Akkad (north of Babylonia) shadu meant both “breast” and “mountain,” a link easily understood. The Egyptian word, shdi, meant “to suckle.” The ending –ai, an Ugaritic feminine ending, occurs in the name of Abraham’s wife—Sarai.

Biale adds that the term’s context in biblical texts supports the conclusion that El Shaddai should be translated “God, the Breasted One.” Genesis 49:25-26 asks that El Shaddai bring
blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the abyss below,
blessings of breasts [shadayim] and womb [rehem]
blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
blessings of the everlasting mountains,
delights of the eternal hills.
Mountains and hills follow breasts and womb, just one verse of seven in Genesis indicating that “God, the Breasted One” inhabits the Book of Genesis. She is the fertility Goddess, the One who generates and regenerates.

More evidence of the Goddess in the Bible comes from Phyllis Trible in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. She tells us that the Hebrew word for "womb"—rehem—is metaphorically and grammatically linked to the Hebrew word for compassion or mercy. Womb metaphors saturate the scriptures, suffusing them with female images of the Holy One. Trible observes,
The entire process of birthing has been attributed to the deity. In various passages,
God conceives, is pregnant, writhes in labor pains, brings forth a child, and nurses it.
Translations often conceal the feminine power.

David Biale, who makes the case for Shaddai being the Goddess without ever using the word “Goddess,” concedes that for exilic and postexilic authors in later scriptures, the name meant a storm and war god. He considers it
understandable that the Septuagint and the Vulgate [two influential translations] should render Shaddai as the ‘Almighty.’
But Biale thinks that Shaddai as “remote, mysterious, and destructive” may have been adopted “because it so thoroughly contradicted the fertility interpretation.” In other words, to counter any hint of the Goddess.

The word Yahweh also is the product of sexism. Scholars think it derived from the verb “to be” and originally carried no gender bias. Scriptures write the name of God as YHWH, four consonants of the Hebrew name of God, because ancient Hebrew was written without vowels. Out of fearful reverence, the ancestors of the Jews avoided pronouncing the name and substituted Adonai, translated “Lord” in English. The original pronunciation of YHWH is lost. 

Today the name of God in the Old Testament is written and pronounced Yahweh. "The Lord,” a male individual, emerged from patriarchal pressure and the human inclination to personify God. But imagining Holiness as a lord subverts the meaning of the revelation in Exodus 3:14.