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Nas Asuf

May. 2nd, 2006 09:56 am
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Jesus survived the crucifixion, fled to Kashmir, lived to be 80 and is buried in Srinigar, where his tomb, under the same roof as the tomb of a much later Muslim holy man, is still venerated- though no-one seems to get terribly excited about it.

In Kashmir they remember him as Nas Asuf- meaning the Healer.

That's what they told me on TV last night. Wow.

So I Googled. The tomb is for real. And it contains a burial oriented east-west, which is the Jewish standard, rather than north-south, which is the Muslim standard.

It also contains an odd little carving of Nas Asuf's feet. The feet have marks on them which the easily-persuaded interpret as the scars of crucifixion.

So?

There the trail runs into the sand. We have traditions of Jesus (Isa) having visited India and studied Buddhism, but they are either oral or based on documents that have disappeared (rather in the manner of Joseph Smith's golden tablets.) The prime propagators of the legend were a nineteenth century Russian adventurer and a nineteenth century Muslim bloke who set himself up as the Messiah- dodgy characters, both of them.

I get a strong whiff of theosophical nuttiness.

But the story isn't utterly implausible. People did survive crucifixion, there were established trade routes between the eastern Roman Empire and Northern India, and there's a tradition that the people of Kashmir are descended from the Jews who were carted off into exile by the Assyrians- and didn't Jesus say he had a mission to preach to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel"?

A simple way forward would be to dig up Nas Asuf and have a look at his hands and feet. But that would be sacrilege. And consider all the vested interests...

It's not going to happen, is it?

Visitor

Apr. 24th, 2006 10:32 am
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"Turn over slowly," says Ailz. "And tell me what you see."

We're in bed. We've been in bed ten minutes or so. It's just past midnight.

I turn over. "Where?" I ask.

"About level with my shoulder."

I can't see anything and I say so. "What am I supposed to see?"

"There's a shadow. I was looking at the wall and suddenly the darkness got darker. And there's movement inside it."

"You think we've got a visitor?"

"Yes. You really can't see it?"

"No. But then I never can."

Bah; I find it really frustrating. I'm the one who's interested in ghosts- the true believer- but I never see a thing.

Shortly after she'd drawn my attention to it, the shape faded. I don't think this house is haunted; we don't have any permanent, unlisted residents; but we do get these visitors from time to time. Ailz never sees enough detail to identify them, but there was no feeling of menace or hostility- there never is (we have protection in place)- so I guess it was a friend.

I'd love to know who...
poliphilo: (Default)
A whole bunch of 20th century writers converted to catholicism. One of the first to jump was G.K. Chesterton; one of the last was Muriel Spark (who has just died).

The attractions of Rome (I've felt them myself) are antiquity, infallibility and art.

It's lonely being an intellectual in an age of collapsing certainties. You feel the need for something to snuggle up to.

Some Daddy or other.

Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Franco...

At least the Pope's a gentleman; he has Michelangelos on the wall.
poliphilo: (Default)
The Greatest Story is not the greatest story

It begins and ends in fairytale and has a central section where the hero just bats about from place to place causing awe.

You've seen one healing miracle, you've seen 'em all.

Relationships are sketchy and there's no love interest.

The central figure is almost impossible to identify with.

The role of Jesus kills careers. Max von Sydow went from being Bergman's leading man (unforgettable as the knight in the Seventh Seal) to sitting beside his Hollywood pool waiting for the phone to ring. Robert Powell went from nowhere very much to playing a curly haired comic policeman opposite Jasper Carrott.

The only Jesus movie I've ever watched from beginning to end was Jesus Christ Superstar. It was crap.

It Burns

Apr. 13th, 2006 09:49 am
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Religion is corrosive stuff.

This is the time of year when the Jews bang on about the seven plagues of Egypt and Christians bang on about a God who was crucified.

Violence, smiting, dead babies, torture, betrayal, death, vengeance; our lot against your lot.

We got saved and you didn't.

Like the tipping over of a barrel full of toxic waste.

Acid reflux.
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Without the crucifixion there'd be no salvation and without the betrayal in the garden there'd be no crucifixion: so why is Judas seen as the villain of the piece? I thought this was a modern idea, but the newly discovered Gospel of Judas (a gnostic text from c. A.D. 300) has Jesus telling Judas to betray him.

The gnostics treated theology as an art form. They were happily irresponsible. They invented, speculated, played games.

Then the Church clamped down and it has taken us something like 1500 years to get those freedoms back.

Read more here
poliphilo: (Default)
Things I've tried on at one time or another:

Charismatic Christianity
Ultramontanism
Anglo-Catholicism
Liberal Protestantism
Anarchism
Revolutionary Socialism
Hippy Idealism
New Age Mysticism
Wicca
Celtic Paganism
Classical Paganism
Zen Buddhism
Atheism
Agnosticism
Spiritualism
Theosophy

I grew out of them all.

But I still have them in my wardrobe.
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It's refreshing that militant Darwinist Richard Dawkins has been given the opportunity to attack religion- all religion- in his new TV series The Root Of All Evil.

On the other hand there's something a bit stringy and gristly about his case.

While it's quite true that the worldwide revival of fundamentalist religion- Islamic, Christian, Hindu- is one of the scariest developments of recent years, it's quite false to argue that religion has been behind all that is bad in human history.

The greatest atrocities of the 20th century were committed by atheist or areligious regimes- Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Communist China, Communist Cambodia. The First World War had little to do with religion and everything to do with nationalism.

Human beings like to believe. They like to believe en masse. It keeps them warm. But they don't particularly need to believe in God. Any ideology will do.

And Dawkins igonores the good that religion can accomplish. It was evangelical Christians, as I wrote the other day, who broke the slave trade. And- on a different tack- recent research has shown that, as a matter of statistics, believers are more likely to be happy and fulfilled than unbelievers.

Religion is a stalk, a branch, a tendril- not a root.
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You may have gathered I have problems with evangelical Christianity.

But yesterday afternoon we were watching an Open University video about how 18th century evangelicals- people like the Wesleys and John Newton and the poet William Cowper and the bluestocking Hannah More and, above all, William Wilberforce- spear-headed the fight against the slave trade. These people were passionate humanitarians and immensely brave.

Their spiritual descendants include the likes of Pat Robertson. I'm trying to get my head round this and it's a struggle.

Winterval?

Dec. 24th, 2005 03:29 pm
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First you set up a straw man, then you kick the stuffing out of it, all the while emitting shrill cries of outrage.

I thought this "War of Christmas" silliness was an American phenomenon, but here's the Bishop of Salford- a fat-faced, middle-aged chap called Terence Brain- shouting from the front of the Manchester Evening News that we need to rally to SAVE OUR CHRISTMAS.

Apparently there's a plan afoot to rename it "Winterval".

Really? First I'd heard of it.

Winterval- that's really snappy. That's really going to catch on.

Come off it, Brain, get real. If Christmas is endangered then Pandas are as plentiful as pigeons.
poliphilo: (Default)
The Winter Solstice has been THE big seasonal festival in the Northern hemisphere since prehistoric times.

Stands to reason: This is when the sun starts coming back. Who wouldn't want to celebrate?

Very few of the trimmings of Christmas are specifically Christian. Fir trees, holly, mistletoe, fat beardy men in fur-coats, reindeer- not many of any of these were to be found in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem in the good old days of Caesar Augustus.

The early Church worked on the sound principle "if you can't beat 'em join 'em". Finding they couldn't stop people decking their halls with boughs of holly, the fathers co-opted the festival by declaring it the birthday of their own Sun-god.

Cool.

Come on in, Jesus, and meet the gang. The guy in the mask is Horus and that's Dionysus presiding over the punch-bowl and the Japanese lady in the shiny dress is Amaterasu.....

Seasonal

Dec. 8th, 2005 12:18 pm
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Here's something I got from Channel 4's Time Team.

Durrington Walls is the largest prehistoric henge in Britain.

Archaeologists digging at Durrington Walls have found rubbish pits full of pig bones.

Pigs farrow in the spring. These pigs had been slaughtered at nine months old. Ergo the people at Durrington Walls were in the habit of enjoying a slap-up pork dinner at the Winter Solstice.

"Jesus is the reason for the season"? Only if you accept that "Jesus" is just another name for the Sun.

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I spent longer than was healthy on Deathclock yesterday. I return with a message for you all- we're doomed, I tell you, doomed.

William Holden slipped on his bedside rug, hit his head on the bedside table, tried to phone for help then passed out. Because of his reclusive habits he wasn't found until four days later, by which time he was maggoty.

Chris Farley, that funny fat man, spent his last hours in the company of a hooker taking lots and lots of drugs. When he collapsed on the floor she thought, "about time too", took some pictures to show her grandchildren and left. Trouble is, he never got up again.

Benny Hill, that other funny fat man, fell asleep in his chair in front of the TV. Like Holden he was a recluse.....

But after a while these stories lose their impact. Yes, he died and the worms ate him- tell me something I don't know.

I think about death quite a lot these days- I guess I always did- but then it was all gothicky shrouds and scythes and happening to somebody else; now it's personal.

I'm not afraid. Not really. A little nervous perhaps, like in the dentist's waiting-room. Pass me that magazine...

Because I'm really, really curious about what happens next...

So life is short and death undignified but the question you have to ask yourself is, "have I found this excursion to the earth plane interesting?" Because if you can answer "yes" to that- as Holden, Farley and Hill all could- then I reckon you've cracked it.
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One of my party pieces when I was a Wiccan was, "Look, Halloween ain't that special. We celebrate eight festivals and they're all of equal importance."

It irritated me when journalists came a-calling and all they wanted to talk about were spooks and skeletons and magic pumpkins. "No," I said, "Wicca is just as much about spring flowers and high summer and icicles hanging on the wall...."

But I was always an awkward cuss. Show me an orthodoxy and my instinct is to start doing some spadework round its foundations.

For example, our temple was dedicated to the Sun.

Hermes, Aphrodite and the Unconquered Sun- those were our patrons- and as often as not we worked in daylight.

I was impatient with the mystification, with the smoke and mirrors, the mind games. I cut that stuff back and cut it back until finally I was standing in an open meadow with the sun directly over head and a clear view in all directions.

Then I shouldered my scythe and left the field, shutting the gate behind me.

Clink!

Yesterday

Oct. 17th, 2005 11:22 am
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Yesterday was one of those days when all the things there are to worry about ganged up on me and made me feel physically sick, so I went out and took a walk in the park with my camera. It was a beautiful, slightly hazy afternoon (photos to follow.) About halfway round I was struck with the feeling that this self I happen to be at the moment isn't the real me at all. The real me is someone entirely other.  Untouchable. Outside of time. Amused. For a little while I was so closely identified with this larger self that I was looking down at the everyday me as if it were a rumpled suit of clothes and thinking, do I really have to slip back into that again?
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The trees along King's Rd are turning. Some are now bright yellow all over, others have patches of red. Those that are not yet rusting look sorry for themselves.

I sit in the waiting room at the health centre while Ailz goes through diabetic clinic. First I read the publicity pamphlet for the Alpha course, which aims to turn turn run-of-the-mill people into happy, shiny Christians. It carries endorsements from Cliff Richard and Old Beardie the archbishop of Canterbury and some smooth chopped catholic and- oh my God- Hercule Poirot. Yes, folks, Hercule Poirot- I mean actor David Suchet- has had his life turned round by Alpha and has celebrated by shaving off the moustache.

I scan the pictures of happy shiny faces (so many, I had not thought death had undone so many) in search of black ones. On the second run-through I find my first example- miniscule- and then another- so tiny you almost need a magnifying glass.

Then I read Emmel- the glossy "magazine of Muslim lifestyle". After the white-bread wilderness of Alpha it is nice and warming to look at pictures of people with a bit of colour in their cheeks. Emmel is liberal. It has pieces about criticising Islam and how good it would be to have female Imams. I'm thinking of taking out a subscription.

Seriously.
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Judy sent me an article about Pat Robertson's mining interests and how his charities stand to make money out of Katrina. I understand that the man's sailed pretty close to the wind in the past, mixing God's business with his own.

When I was studying the Bible the thing that really stood out for me (and made me feel extremely uncomfortable) was the bit about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I wasn't exactly rich back then, but I was comfortably middle-class and it gnawed at me that I wasn't poor enough to satisfy God. It was reading the Bible that made me a socialist (of sorts.) I didn't (and don't) see how a serious Christian can jump any other way.

You have to go through the Bible with a fine tooth-comb to find (debatable)texts condemning homosexuality, but the ones condemning the rich are lying about on the surface in plain view. The New Testament says that people who concentrate on obscure, fiddly bits of doctrine and miss the bleeding obvious, are "straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel." If Pat read the Bible as closely as he says he does he wouldn't be mining diamonds. He really wouldn't. A wealthy evangelist- it's a contradiction in terms.

Ratzinger

Aug. 30th, 2005 11:05 am
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The Catholic Church taught gay men to hate themselves, then offered them a way out by becoming (celibate) priests and monks.

Now Pope Ratzinger plans to stop gays entering the priesthood. (Though God knows how.)

As we plough on into the 21st century the Church hierarchy responds to the pressures of modernity by becoming even tighter-arsed.

It's a mad policy- one that will deepen an already calamitous manpower crisis.

Of course it's impossible to be sure how many of the great figures in the Church's history were gay, but it's certain that lots of them were. Several of the Renaissance Popes were shameless. Julius III made his lover a cardinal. So did Paul IV.

More recently Pope Paul VI (1963-78) was outed by the writer Roger Peyrefitte as the patron of an exclusive male brothel in Milan.

At the heart of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel. Its paintings are among the core images of western Christendom. They are the work of Michelangelo- the greatest of the many gay artists to have served the Church. I like to think of Ratzinger sitting there in his white and gold with all those voluptuous male nudes gesticulating at his back and flying over his head.

They will be gesticulating and flying (and seducing all-comers) long after Ratzinger has gone.
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Omar Bakri Mohammed- Islamic firebrand and loudmouth- has buggered off to Lebanon rather than risk being arrested here in Britain on a charge of treason. Fine. But just because he's no longer under our noses doesn't mean that he'll no longer be a risk and a nuisance. In the age of the internet and EasyJet travel a person's geographical location matters very little. Bakri Mohammed can still access us and his British followers can still access him. The change is purely cosmetic.

Peter Preston was saying yesterday that we're not laughing enough at the preachers of Jihad. We should be using humour as a weapon to deflate them. I guess the fear of being thought racist is what holds us back. But Omar Bakri- a very fat man who waddles- is surely good for a laugh. And then there's that other guy with the glass eye and the hook. And what about the robes and turbans? They're there to suggest spiritual authority- just like the Archbishop of Canterbury's mitre or the Pope's white frock. I think it's time we put aside our scruples and pointed out how silly they look.

Seed

Aug. 8th, 2005 09:36 am
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Fanatics like to be persecuted. It confirms them in their sense of their own importance, gives them publicity and draws disciples. And it proves what they were saying all along about the state being unjust and wicked.

The early Christians- who were fanatics of Al-Qaida-like intensity (the accusation that they were behind the burning of Rome in AD 64 is entirely plausible) courted persecution. Tertullian, who was as keen on martyrdom as any Islamicist, spelled out the logic, "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."

He was right.

The Blair government is responding to the current terror campaign by curtailing the human rights of Muslim extremists. It's a populist move, guaranteed to win the favour of the right-wing papers. As a liberal I'm against it. I think our respect for human rights is what makes us better than our enemy. But more than that, I think it's dumb.

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