Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Solstice is the Reason for the Season

"Thy birth, O Christ our God, rose upon the world as the light of knowledge;
for through it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness and to know Thee, the Sunrise from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee."

Yep. It's that time of year again. As much as I hate the holidays, I promised my wife that I would try very, very hard to be full of good cheer this Christmas. And trust me, I'm trying hard.

Regardless of my feelings for the holidays, particularly Christmas, it's once again upon us. So it is the perfect time to discuss what Christmas is really all about.

Our story begins, of course, with Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. However, Christ wasn't a name, but rather a title. It derives from the Greek word, christos, meaning "anointed one". The Jewish translation of christos is the word mashiyach. Mashiyach is also the same word used to for the terms messiah. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for oil or any oily substance, is shemen. You do the math.

Theologians and apologists state that no one truly knows when Jesus Christ was born. It wasn't until 350 C.E. that Pope Julius I declared that Christ's birth would be celebrated on December 25th. It is believed that he was trying to sway pagans, particularly in Rome, from their pantheon of gods who were also born on December 25th, namely the followers of the god, Sol Invictus. As with Christ, Sol Invictus isn't so much a name as it is a title applied to a deity. This title was given to at least 3 solar deities including Mithras. Others contend that December 25th was chosen to coincide with the celebration of the Saturnalia, a holiday celebrated by the Romans that occurred on between December 17th to the 23rd.

Saturnalia itself was dedicated to the Roman god, Saturn, one of the oldest gods of antiquity. To the Greeks, he was Kronus. To the Ammonites, he was Moloch. Throughout the Hebrew world, he was known as Remphan and Chiun. But before he was known as any of these titles, he was known as El, and worshipped by the ancient Hebrews. The ancient symbol for Saturn was a 6-sided star, that the Israelites likely lifted from Egypt. Again, you do the math.

While there are many gods that have the same attributes as the "messiah", one that holds the most striking resemblance to Christ is Mithras of Persia. Mithraism was most rampant in the late Roman empire, but its origin can be traced to Northern India and Iran, where he was known as Mitra. Mitra was known as the protector of the Hittites, and his name supposedly means, "contract", and was likened to the blazing Sun, according to the Vendidad, a collection of ancient Zoroastrian texts within the Avesta.

Many solar deities were said to have been born on or around December 25th, and Mithras is no different. While some say he was born of a virgin (Anahita), there is little evidence to support this claim. It is more widely accepted that Mithras was formed from a rock, and that the his birth was named, Dies Natalis Solis Invicta, or the Birthday of the Invincible Sun. Mithraism has had such a huge influence in the formation of Christianity around the first century that you could almost trade one for the other. Blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, baptism, an epic battle between good and evil, and perhaps even communion, have all played a part in forming Christianity. Even some aspects of the Egyptian cult of Osiris have played crucial roles in the formation of Christianity.

Anyway, I'm getting a little off topic here. Let's look at the annual solstices.

Summer begins on June 21st, the day of the summer solstice, as the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky in the Northern hemisphere. Shortly thereafter, the Sun begins its annual descent into the southern sky. As the Sun rises every morning from around June 24th to December 21st, it does so at a rate of approximately 1 degree per day. But on December 21st, the Sun reaches it's lowest point in the Northern hemisphere.

But something interesting happens for approximately 3 days. The Sun appears to rises in the exact some position in the east, not rising or falling. But on December 25th, the Sun rises 1 degree toward the North. Therefore, it can be said that the Light of the World has risen, offering hope, the eternal cycle of life, warmer days, and renewal.

If you go out on Christmas Eve and look toward the east around 7:00 P.M., you can see the constellation Orion, provided you have a clear sky. There are three stars that are of particular interest regarding the Christmas story. They are the "belt stars" of Orion, Alnitak, Mintaka, and Alnilam. In many ancient cultures, these three stars were called what they are sometimes still referred to -- the Three Kings. More on these three "kings" in a moment.

If you draw a straight line through these stars and follow them toward the east, you will see Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, which rises just before 8:00 P.M.
At approximately 3:00 A.M. on Christmas morning, the constellation Virgo, the Virgin, rises completely in the eastern sky. By 7:00 A.M., the Sun has risen.

Let's see what we have here: 3 stars, that the Egyptians referred to as the Three Kings, that point toward a bright star rising in the east, followed by Virgo, then the Sun on December 25th. Sound familiar? It should.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

Gospel of Luke 1:29-34

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they say the star, they were overjoyed.

Gospel of Matthew 2:7-10

Christian apologists will argue, of course, that the idea of the story of Christmas is a completely astronomical event false and misleading, particularly that the story of the magi. Apologists will state that the Gospel of Matthew does not record 3 magi, but only that they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh, and that this is where the idea of 3 people arriving to worship Jesus comes from. However, numerous texts have stated that the magi were indeed three, including Marco Polo's, The Travels: The Description of the World, that address them as Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior. Which brings us back to the Three Kings.

Balthazar is likely a variation of Belshezzar, the Babylonian king named in the Book of Daniel. Oddly enough, the name means, "god protect the king," or "the king's protector." But which god? None other than Ba'al, whom Christians and Jews alike refer to as Ba'al Zebub, Beelzebub, or the Lord of the Flies. The faithful refer to this figure more commonly as Satan.

Gaspar, or Jasper, is likely a corruption of the name Caspar. The Acts of Thomas possibly refer to him as Gondophares, the first Indo-Parthian king. Finally, Melchior, arguably derives from the melech, the Hebrew word for "king,"or "ruler". Interestingly, melech may likely be a form of Moloch, a Canaanite and Phoenician deity, whose worshippers offered him infants through sacrificial burning. Ergo, the Three Kings.

Err, Magi. Sorry.

As with many stories from antiquity, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ is found in the stars. Is it any wonder that the Bible tells its followers to stay away from astrologers? From the Egyptians and the ancient cultures throughout Mesopotamia before them, nearly every event in the New Testament has occurred in other mythic tales long before the advent of Christianity.

Stay tuned.

Father blames Richard Dawkins for son's suicide

"Ignorance, and prejudice, and fear walk hand in hand."

Dateline: November 20, 2008.

A father in New York state is blaming controversial author, Richard Dawkins, for the apparent suicide of his 22-year old son. Of course, I came across this story in God's news site, the World Net Daily. Take this story with a grain of salt.

Jessie Kilgore, 22, was a student at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, NY. He was a conservative Republican and Christian, as well as a veteran. According to his father, Keith Kilgore, Jessie committed suicide after being challenged by one of his professors to read Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. Mr. Kilgore reportedly found a copy of the book under his bed with a book marker at the last page of the book.

Being a former Republican and Christian, I can empathize with Jessie. It's a rather deflating experience to realize that all you've ever been told by those you trust is a lie, from your family to your pastor, to your state representative. It's like getting kicked in the stomach. Nothing could have prepared me for what I learned. But I had to find a way. Eventually, I did. And when I did I became angry. But I was able to turn my anger into curiosity. Now all I want to do is learn and rid of myself of 20+ years of a brainwashed mind. Many of my friends and family became concerned for my well-being when they learned that I became an Independent. The concern was only compounded when I de-converted.

But, while the story of a youth taking his own life is sad, it only fans my anger toward Protestantism. Particularly Jessie's father, Keith. To lay the blame of suicide of your son at the feet of a professor or Richard Dawkins only attests to Mr. Kilgore's own ignorance, fear, and weaknesses. Keith states of his son, "I told him it was my relationship with God, not my knowledge of Him that brought me back to my faith. No one convinced me with facts. ... it was a matter of the heart."

Therein lies the reason why Jessie took his own life. No one ever gave him proper coping skills, prepared him to think critically, to question things, and think for himself. And when challenged with "facts", Jessie could find no way to reconcile his education to what his pastor/priest and father told him his whole life, realizing his very upbringing had been a lie. Another tragic end to a young life brimming with potential.

Mr. Kilgore goes on to say, "I'm all for academic freedom...What I do have a problem with is if there's going to be academic freedom, there has to be academic balance. They were undermining every moral and spiritual value for my [son]," he said. "They ought to be held accountable." The author of the article states, "He suggested the moral is for Christians simply to abandon public schools wholly."

If that's the case, then Mr. Kilgore does not believe in academic freedom, but rather indoctrination.

I'm sorry that you lost your son, Mr. Kilgore. I truly am. But don't blame the death of your son on atheism. Blame his death on yourself for not teaching him to accept reality. His blood is on your hands, not Richard Dawkins'.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Vasectomy, anyone?

On Monday morning as I was trying to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I reached for the remote to turn on the television so I could perform my morning ritual of catching up on the news and weather for the day. After I caught up with the goings on of the previous night, I turned the channel to The Today Show, where I was introduced to 21, bright, shiny, smiling, yet somehow unnerving, faces. I had never seen these faces before, but I had just received my first glimpse of the Duggar family. Never heard of the Duggar family? Oh, you will.

The Duggar's live in Tontitown, Arkansas, where they comprise about 2% of the town's population of approximately 950, which is 96% white, 1.7% Native American, and 2% other ethnicities. The Tontitown website states that the town is diverse because of its people and ideas. A tad ironic considering the town is 96% white. Anyway, did you catch the part that the family comprise 2% of the town's population? Yep, 2 adults and 17 children with 1 more due next month.

The Duggar's have made quite a name for themselves, gracing television shows on The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and news programs throughout the country. It seems every time another Duggar is born, the media ascends on Tontitown like vultures to get the latest scoop. They recently put the finishing touches on their first book, The Duggar's: 20 and Counting!

Mr. and Mrs. Duggar have given no indication that they are going to stop having children anytime soon. In fact, they have gone so far to say that as long as God wills them to, they will keep having children. Perhaps Mrs. Duggar is aspiring to be like the wife of Feodor Vassilyev, who holds the world record for having the most births by one woman at the staggering number of 69. The Vassilyevs lived in a small town 150 miles east of Moscow in the 18th century. Mrs. Vassilyev lived from 1707 to 1782, and gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. One would believe that after the eighth set of twins she would have ceased.

When Jim Bob and Michelle married in 1984, they decided that they weren't ready to have children, opting instead to begin using birth control pills. After 4 years of marriage and deciding that they were ready to have their first child, Michelle stopped taking BCPs. She conceived, but during her pregnancy decided to go back onto the pill. Maybe she didn't know that you can't get pregnant immediately after conceiving, rendering BCPs useless. But it was during this time of being back on BCPs that she miscarried.

Understandably, Jim Bob and Michelle were distraught. After the loss of their first child they were told by their obstetrician, also a Christian, that what caused the miscarriage was the use of BCPs during pregnancy, even though there is little evidence to support such a claim. However, I am not an obstetrician, so I can't ultimately make the claim that BCPs cause miscarriages. But I am rather skeptical of this claim by Michelle and Jim Bob. Perhaps they didn't know that once your pregnant, there is no need to go back on the pill. This story just smells fishy to me. Even if they were so concerned, they should have taken the time to educate themselves of the potential dangers or resuming a BCP program during pregnancy.

Baptists, Jim Bob and Michelle advocate the Quiverfull movement, a belief that couples will receive God's blessing by delivering babies to the world, and discourages any form of birth control. The name of this movement uses Psalms 127:3-5 as its inspiration, and this passage can be found in the header of the Duggar website. The Duggar's also believe that the Bible is the "owner's instruction manual for life." I wonder if they actually took time to read the Bible, including the chapters and verses that advocates genocide, murder, incest, lying, infanticide, abortion, rape, and child sacrifice in the name of their god. My favorite example of Biblical infanticide and how much the god of the Bible hates children can be found in 2 Kings 2:23-25:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!"
He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

I seem to remember Jesus warning against causing children to stumble. So much for godly love.

Anyway, aside from these biblical shortcomings, I do have to say that the Mr. and Mrs. Duggar seem to be doing an admirable job of raising their kids. They do seem to be intelligent, and they sure are cute. No scathing remark here. I truly mean it. The kids are the best things about these two. But it seems to me that these two are truly irresponsible citizens of the world, and the same goes for anyone else who seeks to follow their path.

Throughout the world there are millions, if not hundreds of millions, of children who seek a better life. Abused, tortured, orphaned, murdered, raped, and sold into slavery. Not to sound "holier than thou" in my sentiments toward Jim Bob and Michelle, but I can't help but wonder, if they wanted to have children so much, why not rescue children from countries like Sudan, Chad, China, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Colombia, or even here in the United States? They would have committed an infinitely preferable display of humanity if they chose to adopt as opposed to conceiving every 9 months.

But I think possibly one of the greatest troubles I have with the Duggar's is that their house is claimed as a church, which rewards them tax-exempt status. I don't know for certain that this is fact, but if it is, the claim that they are debt-free is dubious at best.

In previous documentaries that showcase the Duggar family, it has been stated that the girls will not be allowed to attend college, and that the oldest is currently taking online courses because he hopes to start a career in law. I hope that the boy has more motivation than that. It's hard to get into some art programs let alone law. The real irony that I find is that these kids are being raised to believe that mankind and dinosaurs once walked the earth together. It's an insult to those with careers in the sciences that cable channels like The Learning Channel and The Discovery Channel have broadcast entire series based on the Duggar's.

If it is true that the girls will never be allowed to attend college, in my opinion, it is another blatant example of sexism and control within a religion that is dominated by men. This coming from a 36-year old white guy. But the sexism doesn't end with limited education for women. One need only look to Michelle, herself. I feel only a limited amount of sympathy for Michelle, but I still feel sympathy. It's sad to think that the only worth she can gain from life is to give birth every 9 months.

Don't misunderstand me. Let's be honest, when it comes to parenting, women admittedly do most of the work. That work load is doubled when the mother holds down a job, if not 2, even 3, just to make ends meet. But, Michelle's value has been greatly dimuned, not only by Jim Bob, but Michelle as well.

Anyway, that is the story of the Duggar family. A heavily distorted view of the Bible (without the slightest understanding of where it came from), indoctrination, and a poor perspective on the lives of women as well as the global community. 90,000 diapers, 200 loads of laundry per month, 17 children. And counting.