Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Begorra!

'Tis amazing! The nice people at Tomorrow's World magazine have uncovered stirring new details of Irish history in an article titled Before St. Patrick...
Many would be surprised to learn that historical sources document the Apostle James visiting Ireland centuries before [St] Patrick, preaching the true gospel as he was taught by his elder half-brother, Jesus of Nazareth.
Yup, that's true... at least the bit about being surprised to learn.
Other historical sources indicate that the apostles Simon Zelotes, Simon Peter, Paul and others also brought the original Christianity of Jesus Christ to Europe's Western Isles [the reference is to Britain rather than Ireland here, but what's a little obfuscation when you're spinning a good yarn - G.R.] in the first century - roughly 400 years before Patrick.
Oh the blarney, the blarney!

I'm sure (to be sure, to be sure) that writer Richard Franz is the embodiment of scholarly acumen, but it's interesting that he provides no footnotes, references or bibliography for these alleged "historical sources". Nor does our informant provide details of his own expertise in the field of Irish history. Could it possibly be that he has none? (Tell us it ain't so Richard!)

Perhaps he's simply been away communing with the leprechauns and chasing pots of gold. Or perhaps he's just chugged one too many glasses of Guinness.

Of course there are ancient documents that allege such things, along with a host of kindred improbabilities. To call them "historical documents" is a tad misleading. These are legends, like tales of dragons and magic swords, made up from the whole cloth of imagination, mythology and wishful thinking. While Richard seems intent on swallowing them whole, I'd challenge him to cite one genuine historian of "Europe's Western Isles" in living memory who is dopey enough to do likewise.

There's an old Irish saying: "Pity him who makes an opinion a certainty." To be honest, I don't think Richard's little ramble through the shamrocks even counts as an opinion.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Thiel and the Racism behind BI

Bob Thiel certainly isn't representative of all the various splinter groups from the former Worldwide Church of God, but having a lot less nous, tact and subtlety that most of the smarter leaders in larger sects he tends to articulate what other groups tacitly endorse or encourage, though not in an overt way.

Bob the self-proclaimed prophet writes thus:
Studies have come out showing what many of us have observed, the USA is becoming less and less white, non-Hispanic, and if the trend continues the USA will no longer have a white, non-Hispanic majority... Those of us who understand that the USA was essentially given to the descendants of Joseph’s son Manasseh as part of the blessings that were promised to Joseph (Genesis 48:17-19; see also Anglo – America in Prophecy), also realize that getting non-Manassites in the land was also prophesied if the nation would not obey God...
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
[T]here are various biblical prophecies that seem to refer to the descendants of Manasseh as Samaria (e.g. Isaiah 9:8-12,21; see also Anglo – America in Prophecy).  Samaria was where Manasseh was based in ancient Israel and Samaria ended up being a land that was full of mixed people where the majority was no longer Manassite nor Israelite.
We are also seeing that type of “Samaritization” happening in the USA.
Now, it should be mentioned I do not expect that the USA will last until 2044, which is when there is projected to be no white majority.
If there is anyone out there who is under the illusion that British-Israelism isn't inherently racist, Bob's vile nonsense is clear evidence to the contrary. Groups like the United Church of God may have dampened down the rhetoric, but the essential teaching remains the same. BI is an Anglo wet dream inherited from the imperialism and jingoism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, racist to the very core. The American version championed by followers of the late Herbert Armstrong is a particularly unpleasant mutated strain that plays on irrational fear and overwhelming ignorance.

Bob doesn't expect the United States to be around in 2044. Apparently he learned nothing from the prophetic fiasco of 1972. My prediction is that it will be Bob and his gullible followers who will long since have disappeared, all fantasies unfulfilled, well short of that date. Hopefully along with all forms of BI Bullgeschichte.

God speed that day.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Why Jesus doesn't look Jewish

Valerie Tarico isn't a biblical scholar, so I guess Jim West might label her as a dilettante in the field. Nor is she a navel-gazing theologian in the broader sense. No, Valerie Tarico is a psychologist, and she has just published an utterly brilliant piece on how the popular devotional image of Jesus - the long haired Aryan with the blue eyes - came to be. Even Jim West could learn a lot from this lady.

If you read nothing else on Jesus this month, no matter your view on his historicity or role in the great scheme of things, do read this piece, it's a real eye-opener. The subject is simply how we came to portray this seminal figure in a way that is clearly a massive distortion of reality.

This is the kind of writing that people who are qualified in the field should be producing, rather than the half-arsed weasel semi-apologetics and academic pedantry we are constantly subjected to.

Revenge of the dilettantes! More power to you Ms Tarico!


Sunday, 15 March 2015

YECs and Tohu & Bohu

Miller Jones has a new post up where he comments on the nonsense of Young Earth Creationism in light of a course he's recently completed on dinosaur paleobiology. I sat back and silently applauded.

Then, as one does, I poured a coffee and thought about it some more. In the church circles Miller and I once bounced around in, the standard YEC position was definitely not the version of creationism we promoted. We were keen on "the gap theory". In fact we used tohu and bohu as if the use of those Hebrew words in Genesis (1:2, "without form and void") took care of all the objections to a literal reading of the creation stories - once we'd applied the appropriate spin. The dinosaurs were, according to this understanding, pre-Adamic, part of an earlier, failed creation which culminated in Satan's rebellion and fall. Problem solved! This made us feel smugly superior to the old school creationists.

The reality is that the Gap Theory is just as addle-headed as the YEC interpretation. It's addle-headed on both exegetical and scientific grounds. Yet it's still played as a "get out of jail card" in certain fundamentalist circles. If we're going to whack the YECs over the head, it's only fair that we also direct a well-placed slap in a direction that's closer to home.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Armstrongism Updates

The latest issue of The Journal is out, and you can access the full PDF here.

Being a bit of a radio nut, for me the biggest story was actually buried on the last page. The Flurrydians are launching their own radio station on their Edmond compound/campus.

KPCG (what else!) is licensed as a low power FM station. That means it wont have much juice to reach beyond the local area (34 watts, just under 10km reception radius). But these days you don't really need to, you simply stream online. According to the brief article in The Journal, the PCG aims to do just that, starting sometime this month.

Photographs on the PCG website show a larger than expected transmitter tower being erected. I don't know a lot about the requirements for low power stations, but this one seems a tad on the big side. Hmm, a touch of Freudian overcompensation perhaps?

And what audio delights can you expect to hear on KPCG? The Key of David programme, Trumpet Daily "analysis", musical treats from the in-house Philadelphia Singers, probably old Herbert Armstrong audio and "maybe concerts at Armstrong Auditorium".

Oh goody, can't wait.

Also in this issue of The Journal a truly head-banging article by Brian Harris which, despite initial indications to the contrary, isn't intended as satire. Nope, Brian is a dyed in the wool British Israelite believer. I'm sure he is sincere and quite a smart guy, but I find it hard to imagine nonetheless how anyone who writes stuff like this manages to tie his own shoelaces.

Finally brethren, if you've got a dollar or two to spare (asking price $11,000,000 - I suggest you haggle), there's a bargain going in the Pasadena Real Estate market.
The Historic Merritt Mansion was built by Hulett C. Merritt, one of Pasadena's most celebrated Millionaires. After his death, the approximately 17,329 SF mansion was sold to Herbert Armstrong and became part of Ambassador College. This spectacular property features 9 bedroom/dens, two bathrooms, a fully built-out basement with 6 additional rooms, two security vaults, and an underground swimming pool and locker room. The Formal East Garden showcases stunning and expansive grounds designed by the famed landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. The gardens are a frequent and desirable wedding venue accommodating up to 1,500 guests outdoors. Seller will lease-back the mansion while new owner completes renovation plans. Please contact listing agents for lease terms, income and tenant information.Property Highlights: 1.81 Acres of Land, Stunning and Expansive Italian Gardens, Located on Ambassador Collega [sic] Campus, Incredible Architectural Features. 
Two security vaults?

(BTW, whoever wrote that copy might consider taking up a remedial course in written English, starting with the correct use of the upper case!)

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Monday, 2 March 2015

Lions, lambs and the Big Rock Candy Mountain

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the panther lie down with the kid,
calf, lion and fat-stock beast together,
with a little boy to lead them.
Isaiah 11:6 NJB

The wolf and the young lamb will feed together,
the lion will eat hay like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent's food.
No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
Yahweh says.
Isaiah 65: 25 NJB

Peaceable Kingdom with Two Olives, by Will Bullas
Once upon a time I believed history was heading toward an omega point. Nothing sophisticated in the Teilhard de Chardin sense, but a very literal understanding of the utopian passages in scripture. In the particular community I was drawn into it was commonly referred to as "the world tomorrow".

Lots of Bible-believing folk believe in just such a literal millennium, a thousand years of peace following on from a time of "great tribulation" in which civilisation collapses and Christ the pantocrator (almighty ruler) rides in at the head of the heavenly cavalry to smash a few kneecaps (for "every knee shall bow") and rescue us from ourselves. Following a near touchdown on the Mount of Olives all the bad guys get zapped and the good guys (that'll be the true believers) take over and establish a kind of worldwide version of North Korea - an Islamic State without the Islam - to set things right. The Puritans called it the Peaceable Kingdom.

And after the thousand years? Well, there's a variety of interpretations available. In my one-time faith community there was a touch of universalism. Almost everybody eventually turns away from the dark side, and only a very few incorrigible types end up in a non-everlasting lake of fire. It's only fair to say that most scenarios are a lot less pleasant than that one.

But it was the poetic imagery that really appealed to my younger self. The lion dwelling with the lamb, carnivores morphed into herbivores, every man (sorry ladies) chilling out under his own vine and fig tree, every tear wiped away. Sweet!

It's a theology that shares a lot in common with the Big Rock Candy Mountain ("the land of milk and honey"). Minus the cigarette trees of course (the updated twee kiddie version has changed that to "peppermint trees".) No lions and lambs but...

The bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

We all recognise the lyrics for what they are. Even the most wooden-minded Southern Baptist. 

But the biblical images - at least some of them - are just as shallow. The mountains are all levelled and the sea disappears (Rev. 21:1). Imagine Planet Earth without majestic snow-topped mountains and vast oceans. This would be an improvement?

[Y]ou will thresh and beat the mountains to dust
and reduce the hills to straw.
You will winnow them and the wind will carry them off...
Isaiah 41:15-16 NJB

You can't be serious about anyone taking that literally you say?
"But God has the solution [to population pressure], and how simple it is. Simply make most of the earth cultivatable... Make level the awesome Pamir Knot, the huge giants of the Himalayas, the Atlas, Taurus, Pyrenees, Rockies, Sierras and Hindu Kush - level the immense sweep of the Andes, and all the other forbidding, towering, virtually uninhabitable mountains of earth." 
What kind of total moron would suggest such a thing? I can only note that the quotation comes from something called The Wonderful World Tomorrow: What It Will Be Like, 1982 edition.

But there's no such thing as cigarette trees.
Or lemonade springs.
The mountains won't be pulverised.
And without the oceans there'd be no life.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain is an entertaining bit of fun.
The World Tomorrow is a poetic mirage. At times it conveys great beauty while at others it's downright trite.

The virtue of any poetic vision is it's ability to inspire, not to program into the reader a deadening dogma. Truly, don't we all yearn for the lion to lay down with the lamb?

The omega point burns ahead of us on the far horizon. But as we all should know, horizons recede, and you can never reach the end of the rainbow to find that pot of gold.


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Modigliani, Meeham and Mouskouri

I'm an obsessive collector of classical music, but I'm also into sixties folk. Others may groan at the thought of Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger or The Seekers, but I'm in my element. Ja, I know it dates me but I'll happily extend to Nana Mouskouri, The Kingston Trio and Joan Baez. My folk CD collection is extremely modest, but hey, this is the age of Pandora, so that's no issue - and no expenses incurred.

But Jazz? Not so much.

But then along comes an album that captivates you. You'd think New Zealand would be a jazz backwater - and perhaps it is - but it nonetheless has a surprising pool of talent. In January I wrote about Brian Smith's album Taupo. This month it's Norman Meeham and his 2007 album Modigliani.

I confess to buying it on spec because (a) it was way, way cheaper than the horrendous list price of $25 and (b) because in my alternate non-Otagosh life I occasionally teach art to kids, and Modigliani is one artist I draw on to inspire the little ratbags to try their hand at portraiture. Modigliani was a master of the stretched technique - taking the proportions of the human face and working wonders. That his visual art has inspired musical art... who could resist?

I'm not a jazz aficionado, but as with other forms of art I know what I like, and I enjoyed this album immensely.

(Too bad Modigliani didn't get around to creating a portrait of Nana Mouskoui...)