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Archive for September, 2012

Samuel Mullet Sr., bishop of his Amish sect, was convicted along with fifteen other people in September 2012 of hate crimes for having entered Amish homes in order to clip men’s beards and women’s uncut hair–both of which have religious significance to the Amish. The Amish men getting their beards clipped apparently went into hysterics as did the women getting the haircuts, even crying wildly and praying out loud. Apparently the “punishment” was meted out to Mullet’s foes, some of whom had refused to honor his shunning decrees against his foes. The Amish who dared to claim that such decrees constituted an improper use of Mullet’s power as bishop were met with shears used on horse manes. According to the New York Times, “Prosecutors argued that the attacks were intended to humiliate those who questioned [Mullet’s] cultlike methods.” Those devices included “forcing errant followers to sleep in chicken coops and pressing married women–including his own daughter-in-law–to accept his intimate sexual ‘counseling’.”

Both the devices and the revenge point to the danger that may be inherent as human beings assume religious office. Indeed, even the title “bishop” seems presumptuous for a man who would have his sons walk into peoples’ homes in order to clip their beards and hair. To be sure, crying wildly and praying out loud simply because one’s hair is being cut raises questions of how religious belief can have unhealthy psychological effects.

In other words, both the clippers and those clipped can be accused of reacting irrationally (i.e., overreacting). Religion can account for the loss of perspective that is in both Mullet’s presumptuousness and his victims’ reactions while getting the haircuts. Even if it were the case that a beard or long hair is salient in the preaching of Jesus, hair does grow back. It is not the end of the world (which, by the way, did not come “within this generation”). Therefore, in addition to the obvious danger in religious authority being assumed by people, a related and more subtle perceptual loss and related propensity to over-react may be said to come with religiousity. An alien from another planet studying our species would doubtlessly wonder why such adults had lapsed back into childhood. “They are religious,” one might reply. Doubtless the aliens would be utterly bewildered, and so should we.

It might be said that we are too used to the religious mentality that we give it too much of an excuse. Mullet should never have been allowed to get to such behavior, and the victims’ co-religionists should have told those with the clipped hair to grow up. Not that the crime can be excused, but to cry wildly and pray out loud indicates that the person has really “lost it,” albeit under the cover of religion. I contend that it is time to pull back the cover and expose the illness for what it is. Put another way, the manner in which religion interacts with the human mind should give us all caution both in terms of how carried away we as well as others get with our religious beliefs and practices. I suspect that part of the problem is that religion itself needs to be clipped back to its native fauna. Quietly focused on transcendence centered on a referent point beyond the limits of human perception and cognition (the accent thus being on the reaching rather than on the nature of that which is yearned for) need not involve putting other people in chicken coops or cutting off their beards (or crying wildly just because your hair has been cut). It can be said that religion itself can easily get out of control in the human mind without the latter having any sense of the gravity of the danger. The lack of any feedback loop in the brain with respect to religion magnifies the inherent danger that is in religion itself as it interacts with the presumptiveness of the human mind. If “bishop” Mullet was at all still steadfast in his conviction that he acted well and with good intention, in spite of having received the verdict of being guilty of “hate crimes” from a jury, then the depth and utter intractability of the sickness must surely be admitted. For to be so wrong and yet presume that one cannot be wrong in one’s religious rationale demonstrates just how dangerous religion can be to the human mind.

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A piece of a papyrus paper written in Coptic in the fourth century, probably translated from another manuscript written in Greek in the second contains the following line: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’” A second clause just below says, “she will be able to be my disciple.” This wife-disciple combo dovetails with the line in the Gospel of Philip, which says, “[Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her on her . . . “  Lest these findings seem to upend Christian dogma, the significance should be carefully considered.

First, even if the paper is genuine, it does not prove that the historical person was married. Writers of religious texts do not view themselves as historians documenting empirical events; rather, sayings or narrative serves religious points. If such a point is best served by wandering from “what really happened,” doing so would be in line with the writer’s objective and thus perfectly acceptable in his or her mind.

Theologically speaking, a married Jesus who has sex with his wife as he wanders with his followers throughout his preaching days suggests that his way into the kingdom of God may not be foreign to us mere mortals. That is to say, stressing Jesus’s human nature can show his way as realizable rather than ethereal.  For this point to be made, the writer could have invented the marriage if Jesus had not been said to be married. In short, making Jesus more human (not at the expense of his divinity) is not the project of a historian. Superimposing the latter would reflect more on us than on anything in the writing of the text.

Second, even theologically, portraying Jesus as married does not mean that he could not be a god-man figure (i.e., the Son of God).  Being married—even having sex—is consistent with being fully human, fully divine, the two qualitatively different elements not intermingling. The biological sex act would doubtlessly be on the human side, though “making love” suggests that “divinity as love” could come into play. Therefore, a theologically orthodox Christian should have no problem with “married tradition” evinced in some early scriptures.

The question of whether Jesus and his wife had children opens up the question of whether Jesus’s “genes from His Father” could be passed down. In other words, if your dad is a god-man, are you likely to be a mere mortal or might you have some special qualities. Greek mythology contains god-men such as Hercules and Dionysus who had special qualities. I do not know whether the offspring of such an offspring of Zeus and a mortal woman were said to have special qualities. It could be that Jesus’s children would have laid low after their father’s cruel death, so the lack of any reported miracle-worker does not mean that Jesus’s children were only fully human.

Rather than serving as historical evidence or upending theology as it has come down to us, the reference to Jesus having a wife bears mostly on the traditions of some of the more traditional Christian sects, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, if Jesus was said by religious to be married and his wife to be a disciple, the tradition of the clergy being limited to single men (or simply men) would be directly confronted as dogmatic, or arbitrary. I submit that even this matter is of little significance in religious terms, as a tradition is not dogma. That religious functionaries would view the matter as much more important may suggest that they are more worldly than religious, for if one’s eye is on unfolding the Kingdom of God that lies within, the matter of the sex and marital status of priests would pale in comparison.

To be sure, if the Christology of theology—the identity of Jesus Christ—has through the centuries become “higher and higher,” the discovery that Jesus might have actually been married or portrayed  in faith narratives as such could “crack that pristine egg.”  That is to say, if the notion of the Son of God became less and less “human” through the centuries (or even decades), then introducing a married Jesus who had sex could be seen as discrediting the entire God-man concept—the entire Christology. Even if “fully human, fully divine” can support such a man who fucks his wife, the god-man figure as idol surely cannot. This does not mean that the “new information” is lethal to the theology; rather, it is the obsession that has engulfed the god-man concept at the possible expense of the historical Jesus that is at risk. At the very least, its utter inflexibility renders its decadence transparent. That a married Jesus need not cancel or invalidate Jesus’s message that the kingdom of God is at hand suggests that the significance of the reference to a wife is not a big deal  after all, at least to his authentic followers in the real Church.  In fact, the contrary reaction of the “guardians” of the Church could be helpful in making them transparent, and thus more avoidable as obstacles to the faithful.

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Months after a high-ranking assistant to a Roman-Catholic archbishop was convicted of child-endangerment and sentenced to prison for three to six years, a sitting bishop by the name of Finn was convicted in Kansas City of shielding a pedophile priest. However, whereas the staffer had been sentenced to prison, the sitting bishop was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation. The New York Times reported the verdict as a “watershed moment” in the priest sexual abuse scandal, but the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement indicating, “Only jail time would have made a real difference here.” Indeed, the judge had dropped two charges against the diocese itself. Moreover, it is not clear that Finn truly accepted responsibility for his role in shielding a pedophile. “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused,” he said just before being sentenced. Well, events did not cause the hurt; such a statement is actually rather strange—pointing perhaps to a certain underlying psychology. Finn himself caused the hurt by enabling a pedophile priest to continue to rape children. Perhaps it is true that only time to reflect in prison could help Finn to confront himself and his conduct as something more than “events.” That such a man could remain as a bishop indicates, moreover, a systemic corruption in his church that ought to be of grave concern to Catholics who would otherwise consider donating their time and money to their church.

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