That I Am a Christian is not Religulous

As a teenager, I was watching a foreign film on Showcase in the middle of the night and was rewarded with a simple message delivered in subtitles from a Catholic priest.

The essence of the priest’s sermon can be summed up in one line: “Christianity is not an ethic, but a lifestyle.”

As someone who was already trying to figure out what salvation meant to me, the point really struck home.  Christianity is much more than a shared system of beliefs and values – it’s the complete expression of the person who is committed to Christ and his teachings.

It is this understanding that has kept me firm in my belief in God despite the growing voice of criticism that has been aimed at religiousness in general, although I do think this criticism has been well earned by those religious types who prioritize system over kindness.  The movie Religulous is a perfect example of a much needed call to reason.  I openly admit that I’m fond of this movie, and I admire Bill Maher for trying to convince religious fanatics to open their eyes to the implications of what they profess to believe in – how willful spiritual blindness is an affront to both common sense and compassion.

However, if there’s one thing Religulous didn’t do, it was convince me that my Christianity was ridiculous.

For me, the comparisons between Horus and Jesus that have become more public over the years have actually strengthened my faith.

When someone isn’t apologetic or ashamed of our humanness or concerned with moral perfection, salvation isn’t very high on the list of reasons to pursue a spiritual life.  My spiritual life is all about making sense of God’s mystery, growing in knowledge, and living as peacefully as I can with all living things.  My hope is that our experiences in this world are meaningful and that life now suggests a continued existence beyond the veil.

But I’m not overly concerned about the accuracy of the historical Christ, the efficaciousness of his mission, nor do I care if his life is depicted in the literary shell of Horus or manipulated in ways that fulfill Messianic prophecy.  These things have no impact on my faith.  All I have to remember is that the world changed after Christ lived, and that’s as far as I have to look for any literal transfiguration.

If we take the time to try and make sense of Horus’ place in Egyptian mythology and then contrast his story to Jesus’, some of us will conclude that the archetype for redemption has psychological significance – but I’m not sure how we can use their stories to form uncompromising conclusions about sin, atonement, and salvation in particular.  It’s when we try too hard to create dogmas out of interpretive events that we risk becoming religulous.

The chart below is from the a series of essays called Parallels Between the Lives of Jesus and Horus, the Egyptian, which can be found on www.religioustolerance.org.  This website also provides a more detailed comparison of Horus and Christ, as well as some scholarly insight.

Comparison of Horus and Jesus: 

 

Event Horus Jesus
Conception: By a virgin. There is some debate among scholars about this. By a virgin.
Father: Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Only begotten son of Yehovah (in the form of the Holy Spirit).
Mother: Isis-Meri. Miriam (now often referred to as Mary).
Foster father: Seb, (a.k.a. Jo-Seph). Joseph.
Foster father’s ancestry: Of royal descent. Of royal descent.
Birth location: In a cave. In a cave or stable.
Annunciation: By an angel to Isis, his mother. By an angel to Miriam, his mother.
Birth heralded by: The star Sirius, the morning star. An unidentified “star in the East.
Birth date: Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (about DEC-21). In reality, he had no birth date; he was not a human. Born during the fall. However, his birth date is now celebrated on DEC-25. The date was chosen to occur on the same date as the birth of Mithra, Dionysus and the Sol Invictus (unconquerable Sun), etc.
Birth announcement: By angels. By angels.
Birth witnesses: Shepherds. Shepherds.
Later witnesses to birth: Three solar deities. An unknown number of wise men. 3 They are said to have brought three gifts; thus the legend grew that there were three men.
Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Herod tried to have Jesus murdered.
Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child. An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.
Rite of passage ritual: Horus came of age with a special ritual, when his eye was restored. Taken by parents to the temple for what is today called a bar mitzvah ritual.
Age at the ritual: 12 12
Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. No data between ages of 12 & 30.
Baptism location: In the river Eridanus. In the river Jordan.
Age at baptism: 30 30
Baptized by: Anup the Baptiser. John the Baptist, a.k.a. John the Baptist.
Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Beheaded.
Temptation: Taken from the desert of Amenta up a high mountain by his arch-rival Sut. Sut (a.k.a. Set) was a precursor for the Hebrew Satan. Taken from the desert in Palestine up a high mountain by his arch-rival Satan.
Result of temptation: Horus resists temptation. Jesus resists temptation.
Close followers: Twelve disciples. There is some doubt about the actual number of disciples. Twelve disciples.
Activities: Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He “stilled the sea by his power.” Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He ordered the sea with a “Peace, be still” command.
Raising of the dead: Horus raised Osirus, his dead father, from the grave. Jesus raised Lazarus, his close friend, from the grave.
Location where the resurrection miracle occurred: Anu, an Egyptian city where the rites of the death, burial and resurrection of Horus were enacted annually. Hebrews added their prefix for house (‘beth“) to “Anu” to produce “Beth-Anu” or the “House of Anu.” Since “u” and “y” were interchangeable in antiquity, “Bethanu” became “Bethany,” the location mentioned in John 11.
Linkage between the name of Osirus in Egyptian religion and Lazarus in the Gospel of John: Asar was an alternative name for Osirus, Horus’ father. Horus raised Asar from the dead. He was referred to as “the Asar,” as a sign of respect. Translated into Hebrew, Asr is “El-Asar.” The Romans added the sufffix “us” to indicate a male name, producing “Elasarus.” Over time, the “E” was dropped and “s” became “z,” producing “Lazarus.1 Jesus is said to have raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Transfigured: On a mountain. On a high mountain.
Key address(es): Sermon on the Mount. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7); Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49).
Method of death By crucifixion or by the sting of a scorpion; sources differ. 2 See note above. By crucifixion.
Accompanied by: Two thieves. Two thieves.
Burial In a tomb. In a tomb.
Fate after death: Descended into Hell; resurrected after three days. Descended into Hell; resurrected after about 30 to 38 hours (Friday PM to presumably some time in Sunday AM) covering parts of three days.
Resurrection announced by: Women. Women.
Future: To reign for 1,000 years in the Millennium. To reign for 1,000 years in the Millennium.
Nature: Regarded as a mythical character. Regarded as a 1st century CE human prophet by Jewish Christians. Viewed as a man-god in the Gospel of John, and by Christians in the 2nd century CE and later.
Main role: Savior of humanity. Savior of humanity.
Status: God-man. God-man.
Common portrayal: Virgin Isis holding the infant Horus. Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.
Title: KRST, the anointed one. Christ, the anointed one.
Other names: The good shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, the winnower. The good shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, the winnower.
Zodiac sign: Associated with Pisces, the fish. Associated with Pisces, the fish.
Main symbols: Fish, beetle, the vine, shepherd’s crook. Fish, beetle, the vine, the shepherd’s crook.
 

Criteria for salvation at the time of judgment

 

“I have given bread to the hungry man and water to the thirsty man and clothing to the naked person and a boat to the shipwrecked mariner.” “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me…” Matthew 25:35-36 (KJV).
 

“I am” statements

 

I am Horus in glory…I am the Lord of Light…I am the victorious one…I am the heir of endless time…I, even I, am he that knoweth the paths of heaven.” “I am Horus, the Prince of Eternity.” “I am Horus who stepeth onward through eternity…Eternity and everlastingness is my name.” “I am the possessor of bread in Anu. I have bread in heaven with Ra. I am the light of the world….I am the way, the truth and the life.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. 

(All from the Gospel of John)

 

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Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven

When I was checking my Kindle to see if a book had become available in this format, Don Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, came up as suggested reading.

Since it seemed like a great value and I like reading about case studies involving NDEs, I decided to give it a chance.

I really liked the way the book is written.  The tone is sincere and personal, and Piper seems to provide a credible account of the afterlife, as spectacular as he makes it sound.  Like any person who tries to find words to describe a near death experience, language seems to be inadequate.  Even the brilliance and the intensity of the colours he witnessed are difficult to describe, and, understandably, he struggles to convey existence without the constraints of time.

To go from his depiction of an afterlife to his suffering in the hospital is traumatic even for the reader.  His pain is intense and drawn out, with no end in sight.  You can really appreciate the resistance he experiences when people try to help him, and how he comes to the conclusion that denying others an opportunity to do something nice for him is ultimately selfish on his part.  I found myself relating to this kind of pride, and I think the message is transferable to our own lives.

There are couple big question marks for me.  Don believes he was given his life back because of prayer, which seems reasonable from his perspective.  First, there’s the heartfelt prayer of a pastor who felt compelled to join him in the car when he was already declared clinically dead. Then there were the prayers of family, friends, people in the church, and even strangers who had heard of his accident that he believes helped him survive his injuries.

I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to the power of prayer and its influence on God, but I’m a firm believer in the placebo effect.  But in all fairness to prayer in this particular case, Don had no desire to return to life and he was indifferent to those who prayed for him in the hospital because he wanted to die anyway. His recovery is, indeed, a miracle.

The second question mark is something that is rather disappointing to me.  Don is a baptist minister who has this incredible taste of the afterlife, and yet he comes back to life just as convinced as ever that some people are meant to experience heaven and others hell.  To me, this is the most discrediting part of his story: his theology didn’t change.

When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about John 3:16:  “. . . that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Is it a coincidence that the most popular verse in the New Testament is one of the most polarizing?

The danger is that the verse makes it easy to reduce salvation to a matter of belief.  To someone with Don’s theology, it makes perfect sense that you have to believe a certain way or you won’t be permitted to experience life after death as he describes.

If Don would have had this incredible experience and came back to life prepared to change his fundamentalist ways, I would have an even higher opinion of his book.

So, it’s with a grain of salt that I recommend 90 Minutes in Heaven.  If you fear death, I imagine it can be of comfort to you.

 

Pulp Christian – Pulp Fiction vs. Passion of the Christ

One offers brain particles all over the interior of a car, the other a drawn out, bloody journey to the cross.

One is viewed as gratuitous violence, while the other is praised for portraying the anguish of the Savior.

Let’s face it, Pulp Fiction and The Passion of the Christ rival each other in brutality.  However, I left the one movie feeling like I had witnessed a miracle while leaving the other feeling like the extreme torture and suffering were imposed on me.

To start, let’s take a look at the two examples of grace in Pulp Fiction.

The first scenario has Jules and Vincent narrowly escaping with their lives after a round of bullets misses them from pointblank range. Jules calls the experience “Divine Intervention,” and he upholds this view even after Vincent’s gun goes off by accident and blows a kid’s head off in the back of the car. To be fair, Jules’ understanding of grace is flawed. According to his logic, we have to conclude that if God saved them from the bullets the reverse is true as well: God’s equally responsible for the kid’s unfortunate, untimely—not to mention inconvenient–demise.

From this perspective, a depiction of God’s grace is ambiguous at best.

Then there’s the other storyline involving Butch, a boxer in the twilight of his career who’s being paid by Marcellus—Jules and Vincent’s boss—to throw his upcoming boxing match. Butch, always feeling underestimated, find himself at a moral crossroad and ends up double-crossing Marcellus so that he could walk away with a good chunk of change and every last ounce of his pride.

It would have been the perfect plan if Butch didn’t end up crossing paths with Marcellus while retrieving his most precious possession, his watch. After they nearly kill each other, Butch and Marcellus are captured while both of them are in a weakened, vulnerable state. When they wake up, they find themselves tied up and gagged by a redneck store-owner and a dirty cop, who have extremely ill intentions. When Marcellus is dragged into the back room so that these perverts can have their way with him, Butch frees himself and heads for the door. He could have abandoned Marcellus, but something “within him” compels him to turn around. Butch chooses to make the compassionate decision and saves Marcellus, putting his fate back in his boss’ hands.

So I have to say, it’s only appropriate, after Butch and Marcellus have a no-nonsense discussion where they come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement, that Butch rides off on a rather loud chopper with the word “Grace” airbrushed on it to collect his girlfriend and start a new life with her in a new city.

Now let’s take a look at Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and see how he handles what’s “supposed to be” the ultimate religious example of grace.

When Mel Gibson brought out his Passion of the Christ, I wasn’t interested enough in the theme to see it in the theater. I think many Christians allowed themselves to be emotionally swept away by the image of the tortured Christ and all the bloodshed he endured on their behalf. But after taking the time to watch the movie and form a reasonable opinion, I found that I wasn’t touched by this graphic recreation of Christ’s execution at all. In fact, I felt that by reveling in Christ’s flogging and eventual crucifixion—when I say reveling, I mean allowing ourselves to be emotionally swept away by it, sickened and saddened—we were indulging the dark side within ourselves that would entertain the idea that this gruesome episode was required by God to atone for our sins.

If there’s an example of grace in this movie, it would only be from Christ’s point of view—I mean, if he did, indeed, think he was enduring all of his torture and punishment as a way taking the sins of the world upon himself. This would be a monumental sacrifice, no doubt about it.

The way I see it, Pulp Fiction brings out two very important elements of grace. In the first scenario, Jule’s convinced that God saved him for a reason. This conviction leads to a spiritual transformation, the miracle, which we see come to life when he doesn’t kill Ringo in the cafe in the final scene of the movie. So the miracle really happens within.

In the second scenario, we see Butch come face-to-face with his humanity. He chooses to save the very man who was trying to end his life only hours earlier. Not only is this compassionate, but this mercy is born under conditions where he was willing to risk his life to do the right thing.

I think that all of us are our own worst critic and that it’s difficult to forgive ourselves. Grace isn’t exactly forgiveness. It’s more powerful than forgiveness. Grace isn’t extended because one asks for forgiveness (although asking for forgiveness can have a role). It’s granted regardless, and wipes away the slate as if the transgression never occurred. For Jules, the bullets missing him allowed him to wipe the slate clean with himself and go on with his life with the intention of being a good person from that point forward, and he did so feeling validated by God.

With Butch, it was all about what he was willing to live with. When it came to the boxing match, he couldn’t live with himself if he threw the fight. In the situation where he saved Marcellus, he went back because he couldn’t leave anybody, even his most deadly enemy, to the devices of such degenerates, and he couldn’t have lived with himself if walked out of the store without helping. This is the type of grace that’s born for goodness sake—the selfless kind, grace in its purest form.

As for The Passion of the Christ, I don’t think there’s much we can learn about grace from this depiction, unless you consider the opposite of grace—which has plenty of material available in this picture. One man’s obsession with the torture of another human being does not transfer really well. The true miracle of the crucifixion is the difference it made in the lives of those after Christ, not the pain he endured.

There’s no need to be a pulp Christian and obsess over blood and guts. If you yearn for grace, consider the miracle of your own existence—that you were introduced to this world with so many experiences ahead of you and so many people to love. And then look to the love, forgiveness, and kindnesses people afford each other, for that’s where you’ll get the best representation of the grace of God presently active in this world.

Spell-Binding Sunset – Response To Dostoevsky’s “The Devils”

Spell-Binding Sunset

After finishing Dostoevsky’s “The Devils” again, I was struck by how sad Stavrogin’s decision made me despite the atrocities he committed; and I also found myself thinking about spell-binding sunsets.

Whenever I find myself awed by the brilliant colors of a setting sky, two scenarios take place: I either enter into a mode of appreciation and become distracted from my life; or I experience deep, untapped other-worldly emotions en route to a moment of transcendence.

When I’m spell-bound, I can experience it in two ways: Incapable of thought or overwhelmed with thought.

And from my experience, either predicament leads to paralysis.

In the past, whenever a woman has made me pull over the car to look at a sunset, I’ve always been more spell-bound by the girl and her deep appreciation for beauty—and her willingness to share that beauty with me—than the sky itself. Afterwards, I reflect on the experience and wonder how sharing something so small with someone else can prove to be so meaningful.

The truth is that you sometimes have to move out of the moment to process things. Kierkegaard said that to reach the spot you have to move away from the spot, and I’m not so sure any of Dostoevsky’s characters are willing to take a step back so they can see themselves in light of their own views about God and politics.

Once I learned the fate of Stavrogin and closed the book, I was left with the impression that almost all of the characters are spell-bound by their own idea of a beautiful Russia, except for Stavrogin, and perhaps Shatov. I also found it interesting that almost every character had the courage to act on his or her beliefs, which makes reaching a belief the core value of the book.

Apparently, for Stavrogin, the resulting guilt from his actions could not be reasoned away. He was spell-bound alright, but by his acts of nihilism, which no philosophy could provide an escape. When he ended up taking his own life, I get the feeling he did so quite certain in the existence of God.

 

 

On Joy – How It Can Sneak Up On You

After reading C.S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy” again I felt inspired to write. Since I was fortunate enough to get a snapshot of his world while visiting Oxford, I’ve thought about his experience of “Joy” in spiritual terms and how, coincidentally, years after he wrote this book, a woman named Joy appeared in his life. If you watch the movie “Shadowlands,” you can get a glimpse of how a man’s carefully constructed fortress can crumble into ruins when a strong woman enters the picture and how a garden of emotion can grow in its place.

The three elements I noticed about Lewis’ definition of “Joy” is that it involves an intense experience of feeling that can be traced back to childhood; that the feeling is bitter sweet; and that the feeling is accompanied by a deep sense of Other (an overall sense of connection).

What’s strange is that I experienced this feeling of “Joy” while standing by the pond where Lewis used to sit and smoke his pipe. I recognized the feeling because I used to get it sometimes as a child while walking to school with a friend. We’d gaze at Penetang Bay from the top of the Sandpit and I’d often procrastinate with stone throwing and such so that I could saturate myself with the moment—enough that I could recall it if I happened to get into trouble that day. At Lewis’ pond, I felt a twinge of that old sense of awe for the first time in what has seemed like ages.

It made me recall the last time “joy” truly sneaked up on me. I went an hour or so north with a girl I had been dating, and she introduced me to a very beautiful location that I would never have known existed otherwise. There were streams of water gushing out of big slabs of Canadian shield, a quaint wooden bridge where you could look out over a lake, and a quiet, little waterfall. It would have been quite a scene to soak in by myself and I knew it, but the sense of sharing that time with her made me appreciate it all the more. I remember that bitter sweet of it all and how it evoked those warm childhood feelings. It was very special to me because we knew the moment had to end, the sense of connection in the relationship was destined to end, and even that sense of God behind the whole experience had to end as well.

I think the consolation behind Lewis’ so called “Joy” is that it’s unpredictability and rarity make it special enough that when we do experience it, we remember it. And yet, as Lewis said, “Joy” is “only valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.”

Therefore, the one element I did not mention is perhaps the most important, the impression the experience of “Joy” leaves on the heart. As Lewis point out from his own experience, this impression of “Joy” sticks around so that we don’t really have to pursue it over and over again—although it will certainly appear—but rather, so that we can spend our lives trying to deepen that connection to its source.