Sunday, December 22, 2013

Notes on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians

Jewish date:  20 Ṭeveth 5774 (evening) (Parashath Wa’era’).

Today’s holidays:  4th Advent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Bootsy Collins (Church of the SubGenius), Yule Feast (Heathenism).


I really need to learn to post more often.  Below you will find notes on another four epistles from the New Testament.  Sadly, Paul’s religious thinking has not gotten any better.  (I also feel like I should start looking for Bibleman episodes on YouTube.  I ran across the source of something I remembered from the three Bibleman episodes I have seen in Ephesians, and since Bibleman periodically quoted the New Testament, I could probably squeeze quite a lot of the show.  And for the uninitiated, I am certain the show merits attention; it was popular enough that people made fun of it.)

I also am now very slowly working may way through The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a Neopagan retelling of the legend of King Arthur.  In the introduction, Bradley reports that while she wrote fiction, she used a virtual who’s who of major figures in Neopaganism as sources.  So far it really shows in how the fictional setting is structured and how the characters think and behave.




Galatians 1:1-5—Paul greets the Christians of Galatia, claiming Jesus died to save them from their sins according to God.

Galatians 1:6-10—Paul preaches holding by the “accepted” gospel rather than other gospels. (Why any gospel is accepted is not stated.)  Paul emphasizes the principle of trying to win God’s approval rather than human approval.

Galatians 1:11-24—Paul says that he was called by God and notes his conversion on the road to Damascus and subsequent history.

Galatians 2:1-10—Paul emphasizes his belief that he is the apostle to the gentiles, while Peter and company are supposed to be apostles to the Jews.  Paul seems to believe in something of a conspiracy against him.

Galatians 2:11-21—Paul claims to have publicly clashed with Peter, arguing that Peter is a hypocrite and emphasizing justification through faith alone and the death of Jesus.

Galatians 3:1-14—Paul argues for justification by faith by citing various verses from the Hebrew Bible out of context.  He cites Genesis 15:6 as if YHWH justified ’Avraham by faith, completely ignorning all the deeds ’Avraham did.  Some botched form of Genesis 12:3 or 18:18 or 22:18 is taken as a prophecy of justification of non-Jews by faith, even though such justification is mentioned at all.  Paul misquotes Deuteronomy 27:26 as if it says that whoever does not do everything in the Torah is cursed, rather than one who fails to uphold the words of Torah, which actually takes into account human failing, repentance, and forgiveness.  Paul takes Habakkuk 2:4 as if it means that a righteous person is justified by faith, when in means that he/she lives by his belief—and by implication all the behavioral requirements of that belief.  Leviticus 18:5 is misquoted as if it supported justification by faith, when it actually is a strong demand for proper behavior.  Deuteronomy 21:23 is mangled and ripped out to context so it can be treated as if it refers to Jesus, when it actually refers to any executed criminal who is hung on a tree after execution.

Galatians 3:15-25—Paul, while maintaining the involability of covenants (in contradiction with the doctrine of supercessionism), maintains that the promises YHWH gave to ’Avraham (Genesis 13:15 and 24:7) as applicable to Jesus, Jesus being the “seed” spoken of; this is untenable, as Jesus  did not inherit the Land of Yisra’el.  Paul feels free to rant on about his recurring absurd claim that the Torah was given to make people guilty so that they could be saved through faith.

Galatians 3:26-4:7—Paul claims there are no distinctions in Jesus and that through him all become the seed of ’Avraham and heirs of the promises to him—clearly not what the original promises claim.  But Paul does not have much respect for the simple meaning of the Hebrew Bible in the first place.

Galatians 4:8-20—Paul is in anguish that the Galatians are too observant and that they do not fully accept his ways.

Galatians 4:21-31—Paul allegorizes the story of Haghar and Sarah, stripping it completely of its original meaning.  Haghar and her descendarts are made symbols of the covenant of Sinay and labeled as slaves, while Sarah and her descendants are made symbols of the “new covenant” and labeled as free.  Isaiah 54:1 and Genesis 21:10, both misquoted, are cited in an attempt to give the apperance that this allegory has any support.

Galatians 5:1-12—Paul again pushes justification by faith.  He claims that that the circumcized should keep the Torah, but sees this as an inferior path.

Galatians 5:13-26—Paul sums up the Torah with Leviticus 19:18.  (What?  If the Torah demands love and Paul repudiates keeping the Torah, does Paul repudiate love?)  Paul promotes living by the Spirit and contrary to one’s sinful nature.  This suggests that Paul makes a distinction between not violating the Torah and not acting sinfully, strange as that sounds.  Paul may also be thinking in very much emotional rather than rational terms.  Paul promotes love, as if it were something the Torah is against.  (It is not.  He is not particularly logical in this chapter.  He seems more interested in proclaiming how great his new ideology is, honesty be damned.)

Galatians 6:1-10—Paul promotes living by his ideas and the Spirit.

Galatians 6:11-18—Paul believes that those who promote circumcision are trying to avoid being persecuted and so that they can boast.  The idea that Jews may genuinely believe that keeping the Torah and thus circumcision is the correct thing to do escapes Paul completely.


Ephesians 1:1-2—Greetings.

Ephesians 1:3-14—Paul gives a summary of his Jesus-centered theology of salvation and grace.  Notably Paul speaks of the believers as being predestined.

Ephesians 1:15-23—Paul has prayed for the faithful Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:1-10—Paul holds that nonbelievers are “dead” in their sins, while the believers are “alive” in Jesus.

Ephesians 2:11-22—In keeping with his supercessionist theology, Paul holds that non-Jews can become one in Jesus, as if the church were one man.

Ephesians 3:1-13—Paul admits that the “mystery” of Jesus in his posession was not given to anyone before him, and that he is the one to preach to the non-Jews.  I.e., what he is doing is something different from what Christians have been preaching and doing before.  It is no wonder that Paul was in conflict with the Apostles.

Ephesians 3:14-21—Paul prays for the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:1-16—Paul again pushes the idea of the believers being one in Jesus, along with other onenesses.  He cites Psalms 68:19 in a botched form to implausibly claim support to the idea of grace as apportioned by Jesus.

Ephesians 4:17-5:30 —Paul urges his followers to behave morally.  Despite his general attitude of antinomianism, he does not take it to its logical conclusion.  Believers are said to be “children of light”.  Paul uses a fabricated quote to support his position.

Ephesians 5:21-32—Paul holds that just as Jesus is the head of the church and the believers the body, in a couple the husband is the head and the wife the body.  The wife must submit to the husband, and the husband must love his wife.  This may not be modern equality (or even something really approaching it anywhere people these days would like), but it is not the most extreme sexism either.  Paul cites Genesis 2:24 to support that a man should love his wife (not quite correctly), though he has no support for the inequality. 

Ephesians 6:1-4—Paul exhorts children to obey their parents, citing Deuteronomy 5:15.  He also wants parents to train their children.

Ephesians 6:5-9—Paul commands slaves to obey their masters  like God.  He also commands masters to treat their slaves well.

Ephesians 6:10-20—Paul exhorts his followers to put on metaphorical “armor of God”.  This is given a twist in Bibleman, in which the superhero Bibleman wears literal armor of God.

Ephesians 6:21-24—Paul wraps up his letter.


1:1-11—Paul greets the Philipians, thanks God for them, and prays for them.

1:12-30—Paul strongly identifies with his mission and his longing for Jesus.  He wants the Philipians to be so dedicated, too.

2:1-11—Paul promotes imitation of Jesus, emphasizing humility.

2:12-18—Paul wants his followers to be pure, in contrast with the rest of that generation, which he characterizes as evil.

2:19-30—Paul plans to send to the Philippians two men he considers comendable.

3:1-11—Paul denigrates circumcision and following the Torah in favor of believing in Jesus and seeking to imitate him.  Do note that Jesus according to the Gospels, while heretical, is not antinomian.  Paul’s idea of Jesus, on the other hand, is clearly antinomian.

3:12-21—Paul encourages his followers.  He characterizes his opponents as materialists interested only in their own pleasure and his followers as anything but.

4:1-9—Paul encourages his followers to behave themselves.

4:10-23—Paul thanks God and the Philippians.


1:1-14—Paul gives thanks and prays for the Colossians.

1:15-23—Paul gives a summary of his views of Jesus as extremely important and supreme over every other being—except God.  Jesus is God’s “image” and “firstborn”.  Paul does not seem to hold by trinitarianism.

1:24-2:5—Paul believes he is on a Divine mission to bring the mystery of Jesus to others.  He admits this mystery was previously unknown.

2:6-23—Paul pushes dedication to Jesus.  Paul becomes explicitly antinomian, even denying Divine origin of the rules.

3:1-17—The problem with antinomianism is that if there are no rules, then anything goes—a potential disaster for society.  Paul therefore promotes his own idea of morality, a split between body and soul and an explicit aversion to undesirable emotions.  Contrast with the Torah, which promotes good behavior but does not emphasize emotions.

3:18-4:1—Paul lays out rules for households.  Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, children to their parents, and slaves to their masters.  Note that these relationships are not meant to be one-way.  Husbands are supposed to care for their wives, parents for their children, and masters for their slaves.

4:2-6—Paul asks for prayer and care in conversation.

4:7-18—Paul concludes with greetings to specific people.

Friday, September 27, 2013

מכתב פתוח לממשלת ישראל • An open letter to the government of Israel

Jewish date:  23 Tishri 5774 (Parashath Bere’shith).

Today’s holidays:  Vincent de Paul (Roman Catholicism), Feast of Cosmus & Damianus (Thelema), Feast Day of St. Hieronymous Bosch (Church of the SubGenius).

Note:  The following letter has been sent to the office of the Prime Minister of Israel and (I hope) every member of the Keneseth.  The English version follows the Hebrew version.

פקידי ציבור נכבדים:

ביום הרביעי של חול מועד סוכות ניסיתי לבקר בהר הבית, וסירבו אותי משתי סיבות.

הסיבה הראשונה היא שאני יהודי דתי בעליל. והנה ידוע שהמשטרה מפלה ביהודים שומרי מצוות בהר הבית.  כל יהודי מנסה לבקר כפוף לביקורת הרבה יותר מכל נכרי, גם לפני וגם בהר הבית.  השעות שבהן עליה מותרת מוגבלות.  את מי שהמשטרה מאפשרת בהר הבית אחריו הולכים שוטרים ואנשי וקף במאמץ כדי לוודא שלא יבצע כל פעילות דתית.  זוהי הפרה ברורה של חופש הדת וכבר נקבעה שוב ושוב לא־חוקית.

הסיבה השנייה היא שכאשר מוטי גבאי, קצין המשטרה האחראי, ואמר אלי ואל יהודים אחרים המנסים לבקר בהר הבית, שאסור ליהודים להתפלל בהר הבית, ציינתי במאמר (http:// המצטט את מפכ״ל המשטרה יוחנן דנינו טוען כי תפילת יהודים בהר הבית מותר באופן מפורש.  במקום לאשר או להכחיש כי דנינו או הכתב שיקר, גבאי צעק עליי לעזוב.  התנהגות כזאת היא מגונה לקצין של החוק, כאילו קצין המשטרה עובר על החוק במקום הראשון היה הגון לסלוח.

הסיבה תמיד ניתנה לאפליה אי־חוקית נגד יהודים בהר הבית היא שהמוסלמים הם כל כך לא־סובלניים של דתות אחרות שהחשיפה הקטנה לפעילות יהודית דתית עלולה לגרום למהומות.  זה הוא מטבעו  נגד הדין.  אם המוסלמים הם תמיד אלה שמשתגעים ומתנהגים באלימות, מדוע היהודים נענשים? למה אין המוסלמים שעוקבים אחריהם למאן אותם מעשיית כל דבר אי־חוקי?  למה אין למוסלמים שעות מוגבלות על הר הבית?  למה אין אוסרים את המוסלמים  מעלות אל הר הבית?  הפרקטיקה של הגבלת יהודים למען שהמוסלמים יהיו בשליטה היא גם מוטעה מהיסוד:  מוסלמים מעת לעת משתוללים בכל מקרה, בפעם האחרונה ביום רביעי שעבר, במקרה שבו הם תקפו את המשטרה.

אין שום סיבה כשרה למשטרה לפעול באופן בלתי־חוקי ובלתי־מוסרי; כל מטרתם היא לאכוף את החוק ואת הסובלנות, לא משנה כמה קשה המשימה.  אם המשטרה לא יכולה לעשות את התפקיד שלהם, אתם חייבים לפטר אותם ולשים במקומם מי שיכולים.

תודה על תשומת הלב שלך.

אהרן שלמה אדלמן
אזרח ישראל

Honored public officials:

On the fourth day of Ḥol hamMo‘edh Sukkoth I attempted to visit the Temple Mount, and I was refused for two reasons.

The first reason is that I am a visibly Orthodox Jew, and it is well-known that the police blatantly discriminate against observant Jews on the Temple Mount.  Those who attempt to visit are subject to much more scrutiny than any non-Jew, both before and on the Temple Mount, and the hours during which ascents are allowed are limited.  Those whom the police allow on the Temple Mount are followed around by police officers and Waqf officials in an effort to make sure they perform no religious activities.  This is an obvious violation of freedom of religion and has been repeatedly ruled illegal.

The second reason is that when Moṭi Gabba’y, the police officer in charge, told me and a number of other Jews attempting to visit the Temple Mount that praying on the Temple Mount is forbidden, I pointed out an article ( which quotes police commissioner Yoḥanan Danino as claiming that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount is explicitly permitted.  Rather than confirm or deny that Danino or the reporter lied, Gabba’y yelled at me to leave.  Such behavior is indecent for an officer of the law, as if a police officer violating the law in the first place was excusable.

The reason always given for illegal discrimination against Jews on the Temple Mount is that Muslims are so intolerant of other religions that the least exposure to Jewish religious activity may cause a riot.  This is inherently unjust.  If the Muslims are always the ones going crazy and acting violently, why is it the Jews who are punished?  Why is it never the Muslims who are followed around and constantly monitored?  Why is it never the Muslims who have their hours on the Temple Mount limited?  Why is never the Muslims who are wholly banned from the Temple Mount?  The practice of restricting Jews to keep Muslims under control is also fatally flawed:  the Muslims periodically riot anyway, the last time being last Wednesday, in which case they attacked the police.

There is no valid reason for the police to act illegally and immorally; their whole purpose is to enforce the law and tolerance, no matter how difficult the task.  If the police cannot do their duty, they should be fired and replaced with those who can.

Thank you for your attention.

Aaron Solomon Adelman
Israeli citizen

Friday, August 9, 2013

Women of the Wall and a Temple Mount protest

Jewish date:  3 ’Elul 5773 (Parashath Shofeṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Teresiae Benedicta of the Cross (Roman Catholicism), Day of Rey Radbod (Germanic Neopaganism), Feast Day of St. Rozencranz/St. Gildenstern (Church of the SubGenius).


I would like to note what happened on Wednesday, or rather what did not happen.  Two events were scheduled:

  1. Wednesday was Ro’sh Ḥodhesh, the start of a new month on the Jewish calendar, in this case ’Elul.  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh is traditionally an extra day off for women.  As such, it has been chosen as the day for a Reform “feminist” group, Women of the Wall, to descend on the Western Wall and to hold services according to Reform norms (women leading services, wearing ṭallithoth and tefillin).  Now, I have witnessed people praying at the Western Wall who were clearly not Orthodox Jews, but always with respect for the other people there and the holiness of the site; in such cases, no one, even Ḥaredhim, complained.  The Women of the Wall are different.  On Ro’sh Ḥodhesh Tammuz (two month ago), the police (in their tradition of sucking when it comes to freedom of religion) evicted many Orthodox Jewish women doing nothing offensive from the women’s section so the Women of the Wall could enter and hold a service, very loudly and trying to get the attention of reporters and promote imposing Reform norms at the Western Wall.  Needless to say, there were a lot of complaints about this.  They also did not have much local support, as nonreligious Israeli Jews tend to be honest about their not being religious rather than try to dress it up as being “Reform”.  A new group was formed of Orthodox Jewish women in opposition to the Women of the Wall:  Women for the Wall.  On Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av (one month ago), the Women for the Wall collectively got up early and got to the Western Wall first, filling up the women’s section.  This time the police actually respected the few thousand women who were already there, and the 150-200 Women of the Wall were forced to be ostentatious and complain in the back of the Western Wall plaza.  I thus wanted to see what would happen in the next round.
  2. The police closed the Temple Mount to Jews for the second half of Ramāḍan, the closure lasting until this coming Sunday.  This was simple caving into Muslims getting violent over Jews on the Temple Mount again, something which I have complained about frequently in the past, both on this blog and on Facebook.  Thus there was a protest scheduled at the (locked) entrance for Jews to the Temple Mount at 7:30 AM.

So what did I see?

  1. I got to the Western Wall around 8:30 AM.  The women’s section was filled with women praying respectfully.  There was no sign of Women of the Wall.  Reportedly pretty much what had happened on Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av had happened this month, too:  Women for the Wall got to the Wall first, and the Women of the Wall had to pray in the back and grumbled about lack of support from other women.
  2. The protest at the entrance to the Temple Mount was going strong at the time and continued for about another hour.  Several dozen Orthodox Jews were there.  Many were praying.  Others had protest signs.  There were a over a dozen police officers there, but they did little but stand around, remove a Torah scroll which had been brought in to read, and ask the protesters not to block foot traffic.  Why there were so many police officers was not explained.  See “Jews protest visitation restrictions at Temple Mount during Ramadan” and “Activists Protest Closure of Temple Mount - Inside Israel” for more details.

In short:  Not much happened.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness, The Key of Solomon the King, and Save Me

Jewish date:  24 ’Av 5773 (Parashath Re’eh).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Ignatius of Loyola (Roman Catholicism), Lughnasadh Eve in Northern Hemisphere/Imbolc Eve in Southern Hemisphere (Neopaganism), Feast Day of St. Bill Gates (Church of the SubGenius).


I know posting on this blog has gotten irregular. Sorry about this.  Life is busy.

I would like to comment on a number of different things relevant to this blog:

1) Star Trek Into Darkness:  Preemptively, your humble blogger would like to note that he eventually wants to write a great grand review of religion in Star Trek, all series and movies, but as he saw it recently, he would like to jot down some thoughts on it now so they do not get forgotten.

Much ink (or rather the electronic equivalent thereof) has already been spilled on what is right and wrong with this film.  Considering the focus of this blog, I will note that what Harrison did with the photon torpedoes is such an obviously bad idea that he should never even considered it (duh!) and proceed to discussing religion.  This is not an especially religious film, but like Star Trek in general, it touches on it.  The movie starts out on the planet Nibiru, which is inhabited by humanoids who have not yet developed warp technology and thus, according to the Federation’s Prime Directive, must not be contacted at any cost.  Spock gets quickly trapped in an active volcano with a device meant to freeze the molten lava so the volcano does not erupt and kill the natives.  Due to the Enterprise being hidden under water—something which everyone says makes no sense—Kirk faces the dilemma of whether he uphold the Prime Directive, in which case Spock dies, or get the Enterprise out of hiding and where the transporter will work properly to save Spock, in which case the natives will probably see the ship—a clear violation of the Prime Directive.  Kirk being Kirk, the natives see the Enterprise rising out of the ocean.  The natives’ behavior soon afterwards suggests they believe they have seen a divine being or have had a prophetic vision.  To say the least, Admiral Pike is not happy.  

Religious misinterpretation of Federation activity actually has been done at least once before in the Star Trek universe.  The Star Trek:  The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers” revolves around someone on a technologically primitive planet inhabited by Vulcanoids mistaking Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a god known as the Overseer.  That episode deals with the consequences of such a mistake and how to deal with it—not to mention religious epistemology—in far greater length and detail than Star Trek Into Darkness, which says nothing about what, if anything, Starfleet does to clean up the mess on Nibiru.

Your humble blogger is not aware of anything quite like either of these fictional incidents happening in reality, though cargo cults approximate them to some degree.

Also noted is a little peek into the Vulcan belief system.  Whether Vulcans believe in the supernatural or not has never been discussed, albeit Mr. Spock once claimed to specifically not believe in angels.  However, the Vulcan belief system includes things like monasticism and mysticism which would normally be religious on Earth.  There is some arguing in this film over whether the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the one (reflecting Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock).  Also, Spock claims that war is “by definition” immoral, which sounds like an all-too-human attempt to skirt the problem that morality is intrinsically a matter of opinion.  Certain properties, such as weight and temperature, are matters of objective fact.  But whether an action is good or bad cannot be objective in the same way; no matter how hard one looks, one will never find goodness particles or evilness waves.  Spock seems to be trying to make morality objective by defining what is and is not moral.  One can argue about whether some action objectively fits this definition.  (And your humble blogger assumes that Spock, being no mental slouch, has a definition for war and every other relevant term.)  However, since the definition is not rooted in objective reality, it remains an opinion.  Klingons just as easily can claim that war is by definition moral (and act on this presumed morality, too).  Defining what is moral or immoral does not make it objectively so.

Also:  Considering that Vulcans have been depicted at times waging war, the Vulcan belief system appears to have a priority system.  Vulcans may consider war immoral, but they may well consider other things, such as being murdered by enemy soldiers, to be worse, thus making war the lesser of two evils.  Real humans tend to agree on this issue, though there are a few true pacifists.

2) The Key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Salomonis) translated by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers:  This is a grimoire repeatedly mentioned as source material in your humble blogger’s previous reading on Neopaganism.  It certainly looks like the source for Gerald Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid, the procedures for working magic being largely the same.  Unlike High Magic’s Aid, The Key of Solomon deals with working magic in a Jewish (or pseudo-Jewish) context.  There is none of the Neopagan business of duotheism, polarity of the sexes, or ritual nudity.  Magic instead is presented as an exercise in manipulating spirits for one’s purposes.  Much emphasis is put on the necessity of piety to work magic.  Consistent with this is the lack of any procedure for divination; after all, the Torah explicitly forbids several kinds of divination.

And, no, there is no convincing reason to believe that King Shelomoh (Solomon) actually wrote this book.  There is nothing in the Hebrew Bible to suggest he practiced any form of magic.

3) Save Me:  This gem of a show showed up recently on Hulu.  It is story of a woman with poor moral habits (such as drunkenness, petty theft, and embarrassing behavior) named Beth who accidentally chokes.  She survives, though feeling like she died in the process.  Reborn, she finds herself religiously moved and believes that God communicates with her.

One major issue that this show deals with is how would someone who experiences a sudden conversion would behave.  (This sort of thing does happen in real life at times.  See The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.)  Given the profundity of Beth’s conversion, she tends to go to extremes—absurd ones, as this is a comedy.  Having no previous religious experience, Beth frequently has no idea how a religious person is supposed to behave and makes some very strange mistakes.  For example, in one episode she prays constantly.  She also embraces love for her fellow humans and other creatures to the point of loving her husband’s ex-mistress Carlise and a spider.  At one point, she decides to read the (Christian) Bible, but finding the King James Version too hard, she turns to The Children’s Bible and proceeds to misinterpret the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Come to think of it, she never seems to get very far in either version.)  In another, she “honors” her parents by calling them excessively.  Trying to “honor” her daughter Emily into honoring her back proves socially embarrassing for the latter.  Despite everything being played for laughs, religious behavior Beth undertakes on her own really is no stranger than what a lot of converts do.

(And to be fair to Beth, none of the other main characters displays much knowledge of Christianity or religion in general, which is sadly normal for Americans these days.  (See Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero.)  Emily even hollows out a Bible to hide marijuana in.)

The other major issue is the nature of prophecy.  For Beth, this is something in the way of a comedic version of the sorts of things one would expect in Ezekiel and Jonah (or Evan Almighty):  She is told to do all sorts of strange actions in a gender-neutral voice, and she is not allowed to shirk her duty.  Refusing to do what God demands only results in pain for Beth, and compliance is quick.  Beth is assumed to be some sort of crackpot for claiming prophecy, though with the lack of theological sophistication of the characters, none of them ever thinks about empirically testing whether she can consistently make correct predictions.  This is despite that around Beth periodically occur unusually well-timed events (lightning striking Carlise, Beth’s car hitting a squirrel, various injuries to Beth, rain falling, the power in various houses going out, etc.) which serve to progress the plot, tie up loose ends, and bring Beth together with her family and friends.  Beth’s husband Todd is unusually generous in interpreting what happens to Beth and chalks her prophecies up to intuition.  Untraditionally, Beth prophetically has access to knowledge about people which she should not have.  Semi-traditionally, she actually has two visions of God, once in the form of Betty White(!) and the other as a black man.  (For comparison, YHWH or some suitable representative has a form which looks like it is practically on fire in Ezekiel.)  Less traditional is God claiming to have taken corporeal form when Beth was a child and played friend with her; while Christians generally regard Jesus as God somehow become corporeal, your humble blogger is not aware of them promoting the idea that He has made a habit of pretending to be human.  Then again, God in this series never claims to be the god of Christianity or any other religion, so some flexibility is warranted.

All in all, an enjoyable effort in theological fiction.  I am saddened that its run seems limited to just seven episodes.  I hope NBC changes its collective mind and continues the series.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thoughts on the Fast of ’Av

Jewish date:  9 ’Av 5773 (Parashath Wa’Ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Fast of ’Av (Judaism), Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Roman Catholicism), Display of the Embarrassing Swimsuits (Church of the SubGenius).

Today is the Fast of ’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, marking some of our worst tragedies.  When one reviews the laws for fast days, one of the first things one reads is that fasting and associated practices, while obligatory on certain days, are not an end in themselves.  Thus to spend a fast day touristing or playing video games is forbidden. because that would be missing the point.  Fasting and suffering are a means to the end of repentance.  This post is meant to comment on a contemporary mistake that we have yet to correct.

In previous generations, our ancestors saw fit to act on what they believed was going to happen soon.  YHWH forbade King Dawidh to build the First Temple, but since Dawidh’s son Shelomoh was supposed to build it, Dawidh made all the preparations he could ahead of time.  When many thought that Shim‘on “bar Kokheva’” bar Koziva’ was Mashiaḥ, many took up arms against the Romans to fight the wars that Mashiaḥ is supposed to fight.  And when many thought that Shabbethay Ṣevi was Mashiaḥ, many repented their sins and prepared to move to Israel.  The attitude was that one should act to move events along.  The fact that Mashiaḥ did not actually come at those times is irrelevant to this point.

We are closer to the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies now than at any time in the past 2,000 years.  Not only have we reestablished the Jewish state, but it has survived despite the constant hostility of its neighbors, including terrorism and unprovoked warfare.  All three of the major Abrahamic religions are scrambling to deal with this unprecedented historical change, with adherents trying to adjust their beliefs to the altered situation on the ground or rationalize their way around it.  And while we Jews have been a big winner in this new era, for too many of us the consequences of this new era have not sunk in.

As happened at the start of the Second Temple Period, few of us have returned home to Israel voluntarily, preferring to remain in the Diaspora.  Many of us who did come came because they had little choice in the matter.  Persecution and genocide, both before and after the formation of the State of Israel, have given Jews every reason get out of Europe and the Muslim world.  Those living in places of tolerance, such as the United States, have felt less motivated to make ‘aliyyah.  In such comfortable places, it is very easy to claim to be a Zionist but never act upon it.  Moving to Israel may be a dream or an ideal, but “maybe sometime in the future” very easily becomes “never” in practice.  I myself was guilty of this error until YHWH coerced me into reconsidering.  It is one thing to say one believes that Israel is where Jews belong; it is an entirely different thing to live it.

Even among those of us who live in Israel, the consequences of what we are supposed to be doing have generally not sunken in completely.  Yes, we tithe our produce, and we do not celebrate an extra day of major holidays.  But ever since the destruction of the Second Temple, we have not been able to fully practice Judaism.  Without the Temple, or at least proper access to the Temple Mount, many of the rites that are supposed to performed daily, on Shabbath, and on major holidays cannot be performed.  Part of the problem is the government, or to be specific, every government Israel has had, starting in 1967.  Almost immediately after the Temple Mount was liberated, Mosheh Dayyan returned it to Islamic control, where it has remained, aided and abetted by the police.  The police would rather violate freedom of religion to keep Muslims relatively happy in the short term, even though it is their job to enforce religious tolerance and pandering to violent Muslims never works in the long term.  Muslims are essentially allowed to do anything they want up there, even blatant violations of Israeli law, such as destruction of antiquities, while Jews are openly discriminated against.  Many Jews are turned away for no valid reason, while those who do ascend are warned not to pray and may be harassed by the police and Muslims.  Bringing sacrifices is something the police cannot conceive of permitting at all.

The strange thing is a general lack of concern, even among the observant, for the Temple Mount and the Temple service.  Many of us pray for complete redemption and sing about how we want Mashiaḥ now, but we expect YHWH to do everything and ourselves to do nothing—unlike what our ancestors did.  Very few of us bother to visit the Temple Mount.  Very few of us protest against Muslim desecration of our most holy site.  And very few of us have done anything to get ready for restarting the Temple service.  When confronted with their indifference, many will make excuses based on ritual purity (in contrast with what Jews did in earlier times or that certain sacrifices can be made even while ritually impure) or feign fear of Muslims should Jews reclaim the Temple Mount (despite Muslim complaints about Jews having little to do with reality).  Simply ignoring a large chunk of our religion is irrational, and I can see no way around the problem other than to reclaim the Temple Mount.

May YHWH help us get past the delusion that the status quo must be preserved and lead us to repent.

Various relevant articles:

Also note the Temple Institute, who are working to get ready everything needed for the next Temple.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A short review of The Book of the SubGenius

Jewish date:  22 Siwan 5773 (Parashath Shelah).

Today’s holidays:  Visitation (Roman Catholicism), Syaday (Discordianism), Desecration Day (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Alphonse Louis Constant (Thelema).


J. R. “Bob” Dobbs, savior of the Church of the SubGenius
Having written about Neopaganism, your humble blogger decided to examine the Church of the SubGenius.  The Church of the SubGenius is sometimes connected with Discordianism, an eccentric Neopagan group, and I happen to have a copy of The Book of the SubGenius, a central text of the Church of the SubGenius, on paper.    The Church of the SubGenius is also significant enough to make the news.  One of their holidays, X-Day, is periodically reported, and a child custody battle between two members gained some notice.  It therefore seemed like a decent idea to get it over with and review The Book of the SubGenius.

The Book of the SubGenius rather reminds me of the literature of the Church of Satan, which creates a huge aura of evil meant to scare away of non-Satanists, under which is hidden a philosophy of selfishness.  The Book of the SubGenius likewise creates an aura, only this one of some of the worst and most insane ideas from religion, both real and imaginary.  Anyone with the endurance to read The Book of the SubGenius will find examples of conspiracy “theories” which reach all the way back to the gods, doomsday predictions (which have turned out to be wildly inaccurate), maltheism (Divine disinterest in or hatred of mortals, clearly styled after the Cthulhu Mythos), racism, selfishness, love of money, predestination, eisegesis (reading meaning into texts which is not there), taking texts out of context, alien visitations (probably inspired by Raëlism and Erich von Däniken), salvation through paying money to the Church, salvation ultimately being dependent on one man (clearly inspired by Jesus), sexual perversion, and incoherent rants.  The book is also littered on every page with bizarre drawings which may give the reader nightmares.  (Really.  This material is safe for neither work nor family.)

Clearly the insanity is not meant to be believed; The Book of the SubGenius in at least two places inside, as well as in the blurb on the back cover, insists its own contents are false.  The mass of insanity would thus act in the same way as the Satanic aura of evil:  to scare the heebeejeebees out of anyone not prepared to do the long, hard work of trying to figure out what is hidden underneath.  There also is a quality of humor to the entire book, as befits a parody religion.  But I have heard that there are SubGeniuses who practice SubGeniusism as a real religion, necessitating that they find something very meaningful under the huge pile of freaky goofiness.  If so, what is it?  Is it just a philosophy of hedonism combined with a warped sense of humor and getting the most benefit out of society with the least effort?  Or is there something else hiding there?

Seeking answers to these questions, I could have driven myself crazy analyzing The Book of the SubGenius and various other materials found on the Church of the SubGenius Web-site.  Instead, I took a perfectly valid empirical shortcut:  I sent E-mail to Reverend Ivan Stang, founder of the Church of the SubGenius and thus someone who should know the answers.  He told me he was unaware of anything hiding behind the aura of insanity.  Thus the Church of the SubGenius can safely be treated as a parody religion.

As far as a parody religion goes, the Church of the SubGenius is shallow and unfocused.  Well-constructed parody religions, such as the famous Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, focus on one religion or even one idea and show what may be wrong with it.  SubGeniusism, on the other hand, is a mishmash of bad ideas and does not accurately reflect any real religion or real religions in general.  There is no attempt to show why any of these ideas are bad, only attempts to freak out the reader with them.  As far as humor goes, this book will not appeal to everyone.  Your humble blogger recommends that anyone who does not find disgust or shock funny skip this book and read something from the Discworld series instead.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

There are no atheists in twisters (or: The gods of Oz must be crazy): a theological review of Oz the Great and Powerful

Jewish date:  30 Nisan 5733 (night) (Parashath Thazria‘-Meṣora‘).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Hodhesh (Judaism), Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast for the Three Days of the Writing of the Book of the Law and Feast Day of Rabelais and Feast Day of Francis Bacon Lord Verulam (Thelema), Feast Day of St. Tommy Geogiarides (Church of the SubGenius), Day of Jarl Hakon (Norse Neopaganism).

There are no atheists in twisters (or:  The gods of Oz must be crazy):  a theological review of Oz the Great and Powerful


Much ink has been spilled (so to speak) recently by Ozophiles reviewing Oz the Great and Powerful, and a lot of is very accurate.  This includes a review allegedly by the Witch of the West on this blog’s sister blog, Weird thing of the day.  The graphic effects are indeed excellent and completely worthy of Oz.  The writing, while not as good as the effects, is good enough to be entertaining.  But while there is much that is good and many nods towards the literary Oz canon and the famous 1939 MGM movie, one needs to keep one thing in mind when discussing this movie:  it was produced by Disney.  Disney has a reputation for being driven by profits more than by the quest to produce true art—an attitude which produces botched works.

Oz the Great and Powerful is botched in an artistic aspect, because it was the wrong film to produce in the first place.  Oz the Great and Powerful has Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, also known as “Oz” and “the Wizard” as the protagonist, and Oz is absolutely the wrong character to center any prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz around.  Oz the Great and Powerful starts off and ends with it being very clear that Oz is human and a fraud.  This completely removes the major revelation that the Wizard is a fraud for anyone watching the movies in order—a serious artistic offense.  The writers should have learned this from Star Wars, Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith but did not.  Nothing can truly compensate for this error.

Even ignoring this blunder, centering the film around Oz is a clear violation of the norms set down by L. Frank Baum, the creator of Oz.  As noted in my previous post on this blog about Oz, Baum incorporated ideas of matriarchy and feminism—ideas derived from sources that also influenced Neopaganism—into his works.  He created many strong female characters, and he favored using girls as his protagonists.  Making Oz the protagonist makes it harder to write Baumian feminism; the easy way to write such a story, given that he is the hero, is to give him the lion’s share of successes in moving the plot towards a happy ending.  Thus any other character on the side of good—regardless of sex—is going to look second-class by comparison.  Thus Glinda, the most powerful mortal character in Oz, is noticeably less powerful than how Baum describes her; otherwise she would have no use for Oz at all except maybe as a figurehead—a position any man sufficiently skilled in lying could fill.  As the villains, Evanora and Theodora, can be as powerful as the writers want, so long as Oz can beat them, are both women, it is very easy to interpret this film as having the message that it is wrong for a woman to be too powerful, whether or not that was actually intended.

“The Witch of the West” does a nice job of detailing how the writers further screwed up on its portrayal of women.  Suffice it to say that the result is a textbook example of regression to the mean and fitting the ideals of neither Baum nor his proto-Neopagan sources.  Given that (and how) people routinely poke fun at the portrayals in Disney movies of women, such is (disappointingly) to be expected.  (For examples of poking fun of Disney’s portrayals of women, see “ Advice For Young Girls From Belle”, “Advice For Young Girls From Snow White”, and “Advice For Young Girls From The Little Mermaid”.)

Bucking Baumian proto-Neopagan matriarchy is not the only religious aspect of Oz the Great and Powerful.  The plot can be understood as a religious journey for Oz.  Oz starts off as a flawed man, albeit not a hopeless one.  Part of this is that he is a professional charlatan, practicing stage magic.  Lest anyone think this is necessarily harmless, his audiences—unlike modern audiences—believe his powers are real.  This gets him into trouble when he is asked to heal a crippled girl and he cannot comply.  He also is a serial womanizer, habitually releasing his charms on whatever beautiful adult human female is available without foresight—which creates problems, as he is somehow extremely attractive to women.  He rather guiltily has to turn down one Annie, who is struggling to decide whether to marry John Gale or continue a sporadic relationship with Oz.  He also has to flee to avoid getting killed by a strongman who does not appreciate him having charmed his wife.

Oz escapes the strongman in a balloon, which turns out to be a bad idea, as it quickly gets caught in a tornado.  Vividly animated flying objects with the potential to kill Oz evoke a religious response:  he prays.  Oz’s prayer is a prayer of the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes”:  unfocused and desperate.  He does not specify to Whom he is praying, not even a generic “God”, and he promises little more than to improve and accomplish something.  At this point, he is ready to do anything any god demands, just so long as he lives.  And his prayer is apparently accepted by a god Who expects Oz to make good on his prayer.

The previous king of the Land of Oz, father of the witches Evanora, Glinda, and Theodora, prophesied about the coming of the Wizard.  The Wizard would be named “Oz” and save the people.  Disappointingly, nothing is said of the critical details of prophecy, such as the name of the god in Whose name it was said or how anyone knows that the king had actual prophetic powers and was not delusional—a large theological plot-hole.  (Would it have killed the writers to add in “Thus says the Supreme Maker” or “In the name of Lurline”?)  Whatever the real details are, the prophecy is generally believed, and the arrival of Oz, quite logically, only serves to reinforce the belief.

Not all the characters unambiguously believe the prophecy.  Oz, who was not raised on the belief, is more confused about it than anything else.  While never claiming disbelief, he repeatedly quietly denies he is the foreseen Wizard.  Evanora and Theodora (post-slide into evil) seek to prevent the prophecy from coming true by killing Oz; technically this not require belief in the truth in the prophecy, but removing Oz also removes the possibility that a rebel movement of believers will coalesce around him.  Glinda also is ambiguous about her belief about the prophecy.  She is aware from the moment she meets Oz what sort of man he is (probably by magic or Sherlock Holmes-like perception), and from that moment she charms him into fitting the role well enough to launch and execute a revolution against Evanora.  Whether the prophecy is real or not seems of little import to her.  That her subjects believe the prophecy makes it a lot easier for her and Oz to get them to prepare for battle and fight.  The result, of course, is in accordance with the prophecy:  the revolution, led by Oz as the Wizard, is successful, Evanora and Theodora are defeated and have to flee, and Oz becomes the undisputed ruler of the Emerald City.  

The fulfillment of the prophecy opens a whole theological can of worms.  Is the prophecy genuine, or did Glinda just engineer the fulfillment of a false prophecy?  If the prophecy is genuine, did whatever gods exist have a hand in its fulfillment, or did they just foresee what would happen? 

Along the way to fulfilling the prophecy, Oz does undergo some moral improvement.  At the start of the movie, the only relationship he has which is not exploitative is with Annie.  At first in Oz, he follows his usual pattern—most egregiously by taking advantage of Theodora and then abandoning her without so much as an “It’s not you; it’s me”.  But he also exercises real sympathy, helping Finley the Flying Monkey and the China Girl (despite no hope or desire of a romantic fling with either) and eventually Glinda’s subjects.  Oz also manages to form a relationship with Glinda without exploiting her.  (To be sure, despite her maltreatment by the writers, even in this film taking advantage of Glinda would be hard.  Instead, she is arguably exploiting him.)  Oz even issues a public apology to Theodora and offers her a place in the Emerald City if she finds her “inner goodness”.

On the other hand, Oz’s moral improvement leaves a lot to be desired.  At the end of the day, he is still a charlatan.  He uses large-scale humbuggery to win the war, and he remains a humbug in his capacity as the Wizard even after his victory.  Also, his apology to Theodora is too little, too late; she dismisses it without a thought.  And there is something disappointing in knowing that this “hero” down the line is going to send Dorothy and company to kill Theodora.  This is a horrible thing to do to Dorothy and company, given that if they are crazy enough to attempt it, they will probably get killed, injured, or enslaved.  And it is a horrible thing to do to Theodora, given how badly he has treated her already.

This incomplete repentance makes for some serious question for the unnamed gods of Oz.  If the revolution is really their doing, why did they put a fraud in power?  Why do they let him get so out of hand as to risk people’s lives?  What sort of morals do they hold by if they do such things?  These are not insoluble questions.  E.g., the gods of the Land of Oz may be trickster gods, or they may consider Oz as the Wizard as their best available solution to the Land of Oz’s problems, not an ideal one.  But no attempt is made to answer such questions.

Theological rating:  C-.  (Your humble blogger doubts the planned sequel is going to clean up the mess the writers left.  Note Disney’s Tron Legacy, which does little to answer the unsolved theological questions of Tron.)

Appendix (because your humble blogger cannot resist commenting on things beyond theology and morality):  

1) The way to write a prequel to Baum’s Oz books covering the arrival of the Wizard correctly is to not write it with the Wizard as the central character.  Such a prequel should be about someone young, preferably a girl, living in or visiting Oz at the time of the arrival of the Wizard.  The Wizard might well appear as a character, but never, ever in his true form, only disguised and scaring the heebeejeebees out of everyone in that time of political turmoil, thus avoiding spoiling a major revelation.

2) I would like to note one continuity nod which I have not noticed anyone else mentioning.  As noted above, in the film, one Annie tells Oz that John Gale has asked her to marry her, the implication being that Annie and John will become Dorothy’s parents.   Alexander Melentyevich Volkov created a loose adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Russian and a series based on it which went off in a different direction from Baum’s books.  The equivalent of Dorothy in that series is named Ellie, and the names of her parents are… John and Anna.  This may not be a continuity nod to literary or MGM Oz, but it does indicate that someone who made this film really was an Ozophile.

3) “Oz” is conventionally translated into Hebrew as ‘Uṣ, apparently repurposing the name of the place ’Iyyov (Job) lived.  But “Oz” is translated into Hebrew in this film as ’Oz.  The name of this film in Hebrew is ’Ereṣ ’Oz (“The Land of Oz”)—corresponding to the conventional shortened title of the second canonical Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz.  Your humble blogger suspects these discrepancies may be due to less familiarity with Oz here in Israel than in the United States.

4) For those who are interested in seeing films which do a better job on certain themes in Oz the Great and Terrible, your humble blogger recommends The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space and Galaxy Quest.  Both films deal with the theme of people forced by their circumstances to impersonate people who do not actually exist and coming to accept the roles, albeit in science-fiction settings rather than a fantasy setting.  Captain Zoom also deals with religious issues, including having some uniquely dramatic evidence that a prophecy is real.  Both are very entertaining and worthwhile watching just for the fun of it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review of One Night with the King

Jewish date:  8 ’Adhar 5733 (evening) (Parashath Teṣawweh).

Today’s holidays:  First Sunday of Lent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Isaac Asimov (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Giordano Bruno the Martyr (Thelema), Quirinalia (Roman religion)


Considering that Purim is a week from now, I would like to give a review on a relevant movie, One Night with the King.

I have been told that I tend to give negative reviews.  Fair enough.  This is Divine Misconceptions, the blog which concentrates on religious fallacies and misinformation.  Thus I often read or watch material containing religious fallacies and misinformation—material I know full well has something wrong with it—and report on it, thus leading to negative reviews.  I am thus happy, for a change, to review a movie based on a book of the Hebrew Bible which I consider done well.

One Night with the King is an adaptation of the Book of Esther, and the people who made it thought a lot about what they were doing, and they took care to go back to the original material.  The basic plot, most of the characters, and much of the dialog are taken straight from the text of Esther.  In doing the work of adaptation, the adaptors were very careful to interpret the original story in a psychologically plausible manner rather than rewrite it.  For example, some examples of interpretation:
  • How was Haman descended from ’Aghagh when all of ‘Amaleq was wiped out?  ’Aghagh’s queen, pregnant with his child, escaped.
  • Why did Haman hate the Jews so much?  ’Aghagh’s queen passed on a multigenerational grudge.  (That does happen at times.)
  • Why was Mordokhay sitting in the palace gates so much?  He was a palace scribe.
  • Why did Washti refuse to come to ’Aḥashwerosh’s banquet?  She was protesting ’Aḥashwerosh’s plans to go to war against Greece in revenge for for his father dying in war against them.
  • Where was Haman to get that huge amount of money he promised ’Aḥashwerosh in return for being able to destroy the Jews?  He proposed to get it from the Jews by killing them and taking all their money and property; the money would be used to finance the war.
There was a lot of thought put into elaborating on the characters.
  • Mordokhay is well aware of the inconsistency between his religion and his remaining in Persia.  (This was a very real problem in the Second Temple Period, when most Jews remained in the Diaspora rather than return to Israel, and the inconsistency is a major problem today.)  He wavers between hiding his Jewishness and taking pride in it.  (This happens a lot today, too.)  
  • ’Ester has been blown up into a multilingual, literate, and educated character who wants to run off to Yerushalayim with her boyfriend.  After being conscripted into ’Aḥashwerosh’s harem, in the finest of human fashion, she becomes a writhing mass of contradiction.  She tries to make the best of her situation and becomes romantically entangled with ’Aḥashwerosh.  And she also cannot ignore the politics being worked about her; she has to become involved.
  • ’Aḥashwerosh is portrayed as torn between his love of art and learning, on one hand, and on the other hand the need for following protocol and wreaking revenge.  His attraction to ’Ester is not just based on her beauty, but her mind as well.  (He has taste in women and finds less-intellectual women boring.)
  • Haman is portrayed not only as carrying on a family tradition of hatred, but also as a master political schemer.  His ultimate goal is to become king, and he is quite willing to step on anyone who gets in the way of that goal.  About the only thing that matters to him other than revenge and political ambitions is family—and his wife Zeresh encourages Haman in his wickedness.  Haman repeatedly gives eloquent political speeches, spreading conspiracy “theories” about the Jews and the Greeks secretly plotting to destroy the Persian Empire.  He comes off as a truly evil and dangerous villain.
Are there inaccuracies in One Night with the King?  Yes.  For example:
  • ’Aghagh’s queen passes down to her descendants a symbol which is a variant on the swastika.  While this is an obvious reference to the Nazis, the swastika did not originate with anti-Semites and has been used by a variety of cultures throughout human history.
  • The anachronistic use of the swastika is balanced by an anachronistic use of the hexagram (Star of David, Shield of Solomon) as a symbol for the Jews.  Until Jews adopted the hexagram in the 1800s, it was a geometric and magical symbol.
  • ’Ester probably did not have a boyfriend before she was abducted.  The concepts of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” do not appear in the Hebrew Bible at all.
  • The Book of Esther makes no mention of the conscription of young men to become eunuchs.  Thus the undesirable fate of ’Ester’s boyfriend in the film probably never happened.
  • ’Ester in this film claims to have read The Epic of Gilgamesh in the original.  Your humble blogger is under the impression this may be anachronistic.
  • Haman is unaware that the names of the months are not Jewish.
  • In the film, it is repeatedly claimed that the Greeks practice democracy, as if this were a universal for them.  Your humble blogger is under the impression that Greece in the ancient world, at least before Alexander the Great’s conquests, was a collection of city-states with a variety of styles of government.
  • ’Ester’s fast is too short, and she only has one feast in the film.
However, none of the inaccuracies are large enough to make much of difference in an overall story which largely follows the original Book of Esther.  As such, they are for the most part forgivable.



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Proto-Neopaganism in Oz

Jewish date:  27 Shevaṭ 5773 (evening) (Parashath Mishpaṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Paul Miki and companions (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Tlaloc (Church of the SubGenius).


I have decided to put off writing about The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know?  These movies/books are eminently worthy of criticism, and the way the magic espoused in them is supposed to work does resemble that of Neopaganism and LaVeyan Satanism.  However, The Secret properly belongs to the New Thought movement, and What the Bleep Do We Know? is a product of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.  As such, discussing either properly requires a sizable amount of research which would be a major tangent away from Neopaganism.  The Secret also requires (or would prompt) digressions into the worlds of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Conversations with God, the authors of which appear in the movie.  As such, I deem them worthy of review at a later date.

Current reading more directly related to Neopaganism is going slowly, so please be patient.  I have read a little from The Key of Solomon, a classic grimoire which is cited as one of the sources for Wiccan ritual.  (And it certainly reads so far like something Gerald Gardner was cribbing from in writing High Magic’s Aid.)  I am also reading The Book of the SubGenius, a sacred text of the Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion connected with the Neopagan denomination of Discordianism.  (It’s also sufficiently disturbing that I want to get it over with.)

In the meantime, I would like to note Finding Oz:  How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz.  This is not a book about religion per se, but rather a book about how L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  This includes not just his personal history and the state of society in the United States at the time in general, but also religious influences.  One of these was Theosophy, a religion which was having its heyday in Baum’s day.  (Those who have read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West will remember that the Wizard in that story was a Theosophist on a mission from Madame Blavatsky.)  Another was Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk who spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and became popular for a time.  I hope to discuss Theosophy and Hinduism in the future, and thus I will not discuss them now, especially since I still have a lot to read of even basic Hindu literature (which is extremely extensive) and everything to read of Theosophical basic literature.

So what is there left to discuss from Finding Oz now?  Consider that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, and society in the United States back then was noticeably different than it is today.  Today it is generally assumed in the United States that women are equals of men and have the same rights (despite problems in implementation), thus leading to Republican politicians making themselves look really bad whenever they dare to suggest anything appearing otherwise.  This assumption of equality was not a foregone conclusion back in Baum’s day, which was decades before the era of women’s liberation.  Baum happened to live at the time of the suffragette movement of Susan B. Anthony and company, which sought to obtain the right to vote for women.  And his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was a leading suffragette.  Gage did not just break with common expectations for women at the time; she also broke with Christianity.  Not only did she embrace Theosophy as an alternative, but she also embraced... the pseudo-history of matriarchy, the idea of witches as “wise women” and Christian persecution of witches.  Please note that The Sorceress, Aradia, and the first edition of The Golden Bough had already been published, so these ideas were available already to be embraced.

These ideas rubbed off on Baum to the extent that they showed up in the Oz books.  This is not limited to Baum having a thing for strong female characters (Dorothy, Glinda, Ozma, Betsy, Trot, Scraps, etc.).  While Baum generally kept religious references in his books to a minimum, everyone is aware that Oz has witches.  (Gratefully, he avoids the cliché that witches are all evil or its inverse that they are all good.)  Dorothy Gale is told when she first visits Oz that Oz has witches, because it is an uncivilized country, the implication being that in civilized countries—such as the United States—witches are persecuted.  Both Glinda and the Witch of the North are definitely “wise women”, providing sage advice and help, especially the former throughout the series.  All four countries in Oz are ruled by women (specifically witches) when Dorothy first visits, and while there are male rulers after that, in The Marvelous Land of Oz a girl, Ozma, becomes ruler of all of Oz, a position she retains even in the works of succeeding authors.  Also note that Baum avoided the psychologically unrealistic equation of making all female rulers automatically good and all male rulers automatically bad, e.g., the Wicked Witch of the West is a terrifying dictator, and her replacement, Nick Chopper the Tin Woodman, is much beloved by his subjects.  (Baum still has plenty of fans today, and with good reason.)  Granted, the proto-Neopagan ideas were never taken to the extent of Aradia or The Golden Bough (e.g., Glinda never goes dancing naked in the woods, worshipping the Fairy Queen Lurline and doing something inappropriate with a warlock, and she most definitely does not murder a Quadling consort every year), but some of the basic ideas which later inspired Neopaganism are really in there.

(Now all I need to do is figure out how to tie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan into religious fallacies and misinformation...)



Friday, February 1, 2013

Notes on 2 Corinthians + Paul's Neopagan-like thinking

Jewish date:  21 Shevaṭ 5773 (Parashath Yithro).

Today’s holidays:  Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Chronos (Church of the SubGenius), Candlemass/Festival of Light (Ritual of the Elements) (Thelema), Imbolc (Neopaganism).


I really need to find more time to work on my blogs…

Progress on reading the New Testament is slow.  Koinē Greek is a complex language, and Paul loves to wax poetic in it.  Included below is my latest installment on the New Testament, my notes on 2 Corinthians, for what they are worth.  Paul has not gotten any more rational or lucid.  If I can tie this in my series on Neopaganism, I get the impression that while Paul was a monotheist, he was thinking a lot like a Neopagan.  As recorded in Acts, Paul had a vision of Jesus, and the emotional effect on him was so powerful that he was an instant convert.  The emotional effect was so powerful that it took days for him to recover enough to interact with other humans.  By virtue of his vision, Paul believed himself an apostle, and he went off on his own vision of Christianity, one different from that the people who knew Jesus believed and practiced.  Very much like Neopagans, Paul put an emphasis on having a strong emotional experience over following formal rules.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


2 Corinthians 1:1-2—Introduction.  Paul maintains that he is a God-chosen apostle of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11—Comfort from Jesus.  Subtext of persecution.

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4—Paul seems to be attributing a change in plans to God and Jesus, as well as not grieving the Christians of Corinth.  Emphasis on faith.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11—Paul preaches love and forgiveness of sinners.  Paul seems to think of himself as an authorized forgiver.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17—Paul went looking for his brother Titus.  He also waxes poetic about those preaching Christianity having the “aroma” of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6—Paul uses the metaphor of people being letters from Jesus written with the Spirit.  Paul promotes antinomianism, claiming “the letter kills”.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18— Paul continues promoting antinomianism, claiming the Torah as bring death and his antinomianism of the spirit as bringing righteousness.  (As if YHWH did not want us to do what He actually told us to do.)  Exodus 34:34 might be cited, misquoted and ripped out of context.

2 Corinthians 4:1-18—Paul uses the metaphor of unbelievers being in darkness.  He cannot understand that they might have good reasons for doubting that there is anything special about Jesus and claims that “the god of this age has blinded” them.  Paul complains about persecution, casting the persecuted Christians (persecuted even unto death) as working in the same mode of the persecuted Jesus.  Cites Genesis 1:3 (botched) and Psalms 116:10 under the delusion that they are relevant.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10—Paul mixes metaphors, talking about being clothed with a heavenly building.  He seems to be talking about an eagerness to go to Heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2—Paul speaks about living for Jesus rather than oneself and becoming reconciled to him.  Cites Isaiah 49:8 in botched form and out of context.

2 Corinthians 6:3-13—Paul readily accepts persecution.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1—Paul encourages separation from unbelievers, identifying the believers with the Temple.  Cites something which might be a botched version of Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:28, or Ezekiel 37:27, a fabricated quote, and a botched version of 2 Samuel 7:14.

2 Corinthians 7:2-16—Paul seems to be happy, because the believers in Corinth are such wonderful people.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15—Paul promotes love and generosity, citing Exodus 16:18, which is completely irrelevant.

2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5—Paul praises Titus and notes him being sent.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15—Paul encourages the believers to “sow” and “reap” generously, citing Psalms 112:9 unbelievably and incorrectly.

2 Corinthians 10:1-18—Paul defends his ministry, somewhat illucidly, but seeming to think that he has some sort of authority and power.  Cites something which might be a botched version of Jeremiah 9:23 irrelevantly.

2 Corinthians 11:1-15—Paul seems to be encouraging his followers to form a strong emotional relationship with Jesus, drawing on the frequently sexual symbolism for the relationship between YHWH and Bene Yisra’el in the Hebrew Bible.  Paul thinks of himself as equal to the apostles.  He accuses at least some of his opponents of being “false apostles”, bringing up Satan as a precedent.

2 Corinthians 11:16-33—Paul boasts about all the suffering he has undergone.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10—Paul relates someone who had an ecstatic vision.  He also talks about having a thorn in his flesh and interpretting it completely in theological terms rather than as something to be dealt with by removing it himself.

2 Corinthians 12:11-21—Paul asserts again that he is not inferior to the apostles and expresses concern for the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10—Paul cites Deuteronomy 19:15 in slightly botched form and irrelevantly to try to add more authority to his visits.  Paul claims that Jesus is “in” the Corinthians and encourages people to strengthen themselves in faith.

2 Corinthiatns 13:11-14—Paul sends his final greetings.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review of ten Neopagan books

Jewish date:  7 Shevaṭ 5733 (Parashath Bo’).

Today’s holidays:  Friday of the First Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Martin Luther (Church of the SubGenius).


I am finally getting around to posting something on a whole slew of Neopagan (mostly Wiccan) books, finishing up what I have for Wicca in print.  These are not ideal reviews, but this post has been put off too long so far.  After this I get to worry about pre-Neopagan magic, such modern magic as The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know?, Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and various other surprises.

The reviews follow below

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


The Sorceress (La Sorcière) by Jules Michelet (Michelet):

This pseudo-historical book, originally published in French in 1862. draws upon accounts of witch trials.  All the clichés found in the work of Margaret Murray, Charles Leland, and Gerald Gardner are present in abundance and luridly to the extent that any movie made of this book would have to have at least an “R” rating.  The Christian clergy and nobility are presented as being irredeemably corrupt.  This is emphasized for the priesthood, dwelling extensively on sexual abuse of nuns.  The peasants are downtrodden to the point where they are totally miserable, are rarely able to get married, and frequently resort to abusive incest.  The peasants, in their desperation, also resort to Satanic witchcraft, likewise depicted scandalously.  This book is useful as an example for how witchcraft was depicted back around the time Gardner was putting together his Book of Shadows.  As a representation of what actually happened, it comes off as if Michelet committed the logical fallacy of cherry-picking:  choosing the material which suited him—in this case, anything and everything smacking of sexual impropriety—and ignoring everything else.  Since all the characters are evil, desperate, or crazy, the book comes off as unbelievable.

Drawing Down the Moon:  Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler (Adler):

Anyone who wants to know about Neopaganism needs to read this book.  This is a genuine academic work, looking at what Neopagans actually believe.  Ms. Adler not only took a survey of the views of Neopagans, she did it twice.  Your humble blogger has the revised and expanded edition.  And what she turns up in the interviews, over and over again, is the real key to understanding Neopaganism.

Abrahamic religions put an emphasis on truth.  For example, Christianity hinges on the question of whether Jesus is the Messiah.  Thus the New Testament, especially the Gospels, spend a good deal of verbiage arguing that Jesus is the Messiah.  If he is not, then there is no point in being a Christian.  

Neopaganism, to the best of your humble blogger’s knowledge, never works like this.  There has been a good deal of arguing over whether there is any truth in the historical claims of Robert Graves, James Frazer, Margaret Alice Murray, and Charles Leland, but one will look in vain in the Neopagan works your humble blogger has read for any rational reason to believe in the Triple Goddess and the Horned God.  What one finds in abundance throughout Adler’s book, on the other hand, are emotional reasons.  People who convert to Neopaganism do so because it resonates with them.  They have had deep emotional experiences in response to paganism and have decided to adopt it as a lifestyle.  Some come to paganism through study.  Others have visions of various gods and goddesses.  And almost incredibly, some people play-act paganism for one reason or another and have such a powerful emotional experience that they become pagans.

How participants feel affects every aspect of Neopaganism.  They believe what resonates with them, even if the “belief” is what they act as if is true rather than what they actually think is true.  If polytheism resonates with them, then they are polytheists.  If duotheism, they are duotheists.  If belief in just a single goddess resonates with them, then they believe in just a single goddess.  Likewise, they do what resonates with them for rituals and magic.  If they enjoy Gardnerian rituals, then they perform Gardnerian rituals.  If they prefer rituals practiced by historical pagans, they do that.  And if they prefer to make up their own rituals, they do that, since whatever gives them a spiritual high is important.  The religious stories (“myths”) they tell are what resonate with them, be it genuine historical pagan religious stories, the pseudo-histories already discussed in this series, or brand-new stories which fit their tastes, or science-fiction.  Their moral/ethical behavior is also what resonates with them, which can be liberal or conservative, egalitarian, female supremacist, focusing on men, ecologically oriented, politically active, politically neutral, or just about anything else one can imagine.  So they end up creating such unusual-sounding groups and ideologies as the Church of All Worlds, the Reformed Druids of North America, Feraferia, Ásatrú, and Discordianism, and they go off in all sorts of unforeseen directions.  And since how one feels is all they consider important, many Neopagans indulge in whatever misconceptions they like without critical thinking, even if outside of religion they are fairly rational people.

Also in this book are some ideological discussions, a disdain for Christianity, rationalization that polytheism is somehow inherently more moral or otherwise better than monotheism, some talk of the predominant Neopagan theology of pantheism (belief that everything that exists is divine), and trying to subsume all Neopaganism (and sometimes even more) into a single, unified ideological framework.

The Witch’s Bible by Gavin and Yvonne Frost (Frost and Frost The Witchs Bible), The Prophet’s Bible by Gavin and Yvonne Frost (Frost and Frost The Prophet’s Bible) and The Magic Power of White Witchcraft by Gavin and Yvonne Frost (Frost and Frost The Magic Power of White Witchcraft:  Revised for the Millennium):

The Witch’s Bible happens to have been briefly reviewed by your humble blogger before this blog was founded (Adelman).  Unfortunately, his evaluation of it has not improved.

The Frosts are the founders of the Church and School of Wicca.  The School of Wicca runs a correspondence course, and thus naturally much of the material in these books instructs the reader how to practice magic and this version of Wicca.

The Church of Wicca is theologically unusual, to the point where some wish that it would not be labeled as Wicca at all.  Its doctrine is that there really is only one god, but in its rituals participants pretend there are two.  There is also a lot of theological emphasis on “the Other Side”, which is inhabited by the dead, who are progressing in their spiritual development and occasionally contact the living.

While Neopagans commonly practice ritual magic—which does get its fair share of discussion—these books push magical and irrational thinking to unusual levels and in a new direction; they are largely about how one can develop one’s psychic powers, and they are full of pseudoscience.  These books also deal extensively with magic as a form of self-improvement; one can read in them about how to use magic to increase one’s income, get what one wants, and rearrange one’s life for the better.  Intermixed with this is more traditional financial and career-development advice.  As such, these books come off as less spiritual or religious than many other Neopagan materials discussed in this series.

While Neopagans seem to be in general more sexually permissive than traditional Christians, the Church of Wicca actually mandates sex magic and regular swapping marriage partners.

Like Neopagans in general, the Frosts seem rather annoyed by Christianity and continue the tradition of botching Hebrew and Qabbalah.

A Witches Bible Compleat (Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way) by Janet and Stewart Farrar (Farrar and Farrar):

This is an extremely serious ritual manual and series of essays on Wiccan magic and theology.  The Farrars practice Alexandrian Wicca, one of the early offshoots of Gardnerian Wicca, and they worked with Doreen Valiente, one of Gardner’s high priestesses, to research the textual history of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.  (Valiente actually wrote parts of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.)  This is thus a useful book for anyone wanting to know about the origins of the Book of Shadows; it was not handed down intact, but rather was compiled from a number of different sources, and parts were written from scratch.  

The Farrars are not even vaguely rational people.  Their “rationale” for Wicca is philosophical, without the least bit of evidence to back it up.  They mix together anything from older religions which suits their tastes, factual or fictional, whether or not the combination actually makes sense.  They are also no more accurate in general than the Neopagan authors whose works are reviewed in this series.  They buy into Gardner’s doubtful pseudo-history of witchcraft and matriarchy, and like Gardener they love bashing Christianity over (real or imagined) crimes.  Like Gardner and the Frosts, the Farrars buy into pseudoscience constantly, unable to distinguish that which is supported by evidence from flimflam.  What separates them from the Frosts is the lack of financial and self-help advice, and a tone that many will find downright creepy.

This book should prove very useful for anyone wishing to study the practice of Wicca.  It may also prove useful for those looking for a peek into the minds of serious Wiccans.

A Wiccan Bible:  Exploring the Mysteries of the Craft from Birth to Summerland by A.J. Drew (Drew):

Mr. Drew does not appear to be a major figure in Wicca.  You humble blogger acquired his book only because he is aware of a large number of “Bibles” other than the Jewish and Christian ones, and he is collecting them for the Divine Misconceptions project.  Mr. Drew presents his own system of theology and ritual for Wicca, and much of what he writes can be found in other sources.  However, he goes into depth presenting a creation story, unlike other writers, and he takes a truly unique approach.

When trying to write a religious text, writers tend to take one of two paths:  either they present their text as something handed down to them, or they present their text as a work of scholarship.  The Wiccan works reviewed for this series tend to take one or some mixture of both these paths.  Mr. Drew takes a third path:  he blatantly claims he made up his own creation story.  While many people try to pass off something fabricated as something meant to be taken seriously, Mr. Drew is honest that he is simply making up his own story.  While this approach can work well when writing parables, Mr. Drew transparently cobbles together his story from the stories of previous religions and genuine history, actually having paragraphs giving the purported original stories.  The effect is to make for tedious reading and no aura of respectability that a (real or purported) transmitted text or a (real or purported) scholarly text might have.  The effect is even worse when one is familiar with any of the sources he draws upon and can recognize that he is fudging.  Since Mr. Drew is blatantly making things up, there is no point in him bringing sources, especially when he cannot be bothered to get them right.

This tedious “cobbled” approach is carried over to discussions of theology and ritual, as if any older religion’s tenets were evidence of Wicca (Mr. Drew’s version or otherwise).  Actually, it gets worse, with long lists of the gods (and purported gods) and holidays of numerous older religions.  How accurate any of this is unclear; for example, Mr. Drew is intent on finding polytheism in Judaism and Islam, in complete disregard of the fundamentals of Judaism and Islam.  Your humble blogger has no trust that Mr. Drew got anyone else’s religion right.

This book is for the Wiccan literature completist and the scholar of Wicca.  Almost everyone else can skip it.

The Wicca Bible by Ann-Marie Gallagher (Gallagher The Wicca Bible:  The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft) and The Spells Bible by Ann-Marie Gallagher (Gallagher The Spells Bible):

Like Mr. Drew, Ms. Gallagher does not appear to be a major figure in Wicca either, with her books also acquired for your humble blogger’s “Bible” collection.  While Ms. Gallagher seems to have some sort of academic credentials, they do not show in her books, which read like she is on a spiritual high due to Wicca, untempered by critical or analytical thought.  Practically everything in these books can be found elsewhere, only packaged with a plethora of color photographs and careful typography.  The main reason to read these books is the photographs.  Otherwise they can be safely ignored.

Witches’ Craft:  A Multidenominational Wicca Bible by Bruce K. Wilborn (Wilborn):

There is a bit of the history and theology of Wicca in this book, with the author buying into historically questionable claims of a secret witch cult persecuted by Christians.  There is also a section on how to perform divination and work magic with herbs.  However, the most interesting thing about this book is that it details the rituals of many distinct denominations of Wicca.  As noted above, Neopagans change their rituals in order to get the desired emotional experience, and Wiccans are no exception.  This book lists the variants of each ritual, one after the other, allowing easy comparisons.  This book is probably more useful for scholars of Wicca and Neopaganism than other people.

Adelman, Aaron Solomon. “Beware of the Surprise Narrator.”  (2009).  [].
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon:  Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. 1979. Revised and expanded ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Print.
Drew, A.J. A Wiccan Bible:  Exploring the Mysteries of the Craft from Birth to Summerland. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2003. Print.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc., 1984. Print.
Frost, Gavin, and Yvonne Frost. The Magic Power of White Witchcraft:  Revised for the Millennium. Paramus, NJ: Reward Books/Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.
---. The Prophet’s Bible. York Beach, ME: S. Weiser, 1991. Print.
---. The Witch’s Bible. Los Angeles:  Nash Publishing Corporation, 1972. Berkley Medallion ed. New York: Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1975. Print.
Gallagher, Ann-Marie. The Spells Bible:  The Definitive Guide to Charms and Enchantments. Hampshire, UK:  Godsfield Press Ltd., 2003. Cincinnati, OH: Walking Stick Press, 2003. Print.
---. The Wicca Bible:  The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft. London: Godsfield Press, 2005. Print.
Michelet, Jules. The Sorceress (La Sorcière). 1939.  [].
Wilborn, Bruce K. Witches’ Craft:  A Multidenominational Wicca Bible. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, 2005. Print.