Showing posts with label religions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religions. Show all posts

26 March 2015

A Little Religious Conspiracy Theory

by Eve Fisher

As you hopefully know by now, I love a good conspiracy theory.  And some events generate lots of them.  A very early event that has not yet stopped generating conspiracy theories is, of course, the death of Jesus, and since Palm Sunday is the 29th and Easter comes next, I thought it would be a good time to review some of most interesting conspiracy theories.  If nothing else, just to prove that it's not just politics that brings out the crazy...

First of all, there were at least three real conspiracies that surrounded Jesus:
  • The first one in (among other places) Matthew 26:14-16, where the chief priests paid Judas to betray Jesus so they could have him executed, quickly and relatively quietly, before the Passover.  
  • The second, of course, was the show trial before first Caiaphas and then Pilate, complete with manufactured witnesses and a lot of fake weeping, wailing and tearing of clothes in horror.
  • The third in Matthew 28:11-15, after the finding of the empty tomb:  "Now while they [the disciples] were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day."  
    • BTW that "keep you out of trouble" part was VERY important, because Roman guards who lost prisoners were killed in their stead.  
But enough of reality, let's get on with the crazy:
"When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage & Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent 2 of his disciples & said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, & immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it & bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away & found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; & they allowed them to take it. Mark l1:1-6
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. Luke 22:7-13
The above  two passages have been used repeatedly to prove that there was a plot, a conspiracy, and Jesus was in on it and/or was the mastermind. But what kind of plot?  What kind of conspiracy? Folks, there are a lot of them:

(1) That Jesus would be replaced by his twin, or doppelganger, who would die on the cross for him so that he could appear to be resurrected and, thus, start a whole new religion. Or get out of town later. Both ideas have been used. The most likely candidate?  Thomas, who was known as "the Twin" (Didymas), which certainly puts a whole new spin on Doubting Thomas, doesn't it?

(2) Another theory says that these 2 messages - the colt and the guy with the pitcher of water - were coded messages, letting the conspirators know that the time was at hand for a major magic act to take place.  This conspiracy theory breaks down a couple of ways:
  • One version says that the plan was for Jesus to be arrested, tried, convicted, crucified and drugged with that vinegar on a stick (John 19:28).  He was then taken down - comatose but still alive - nursed back to health, appeared to the disciples, who spread the story of his resurrection while he went off to Tibet to become a monk in the Himalayas. 
  • Another version was given in the 1960's book "The Passover Plot", where they said that everything was going according to the above plan BUT then came some stupid soldier with a spear.  For some reason, he hadn't been bribed, and he killed a living Jesus on the cross by mistake.  And then the disciples had to make up a story and stick to it.  Hence, John 19 & 20, Luke 23 & 24, etc.  
  • Dorothy Sayers in her "The Man Born to be King" says that it was a code, a conspiracy, but it was set up by the Zealots:  they offered Jesus a choice between a horse and a colt, and if he took the horse, they'd follow him in an uprising against Rome.  If he took the colt, he was on his own.  They'd find another leader.  He took the colt, and death was the result.  BUT Judas didn't know the details, and he thought that by taking the colt, Jesus had turned political, and so Judas turned him in for being less holy than Judas wanted/needed him to be.  Actually, I kind of like this one - at least it makes sense in the political climate of the time, and it gives Judas a reason to betray Jesus.
(3)  Jesus was a myth.  Variations:
  • D. M. Murdock, in her book "The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold," says that Christianity was invented by a variety of secret societies and mystery religions to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion.  Without, of course, bothering to figure out WHY the Roman Empire needed one state religion and ignoring the fact that it already had a form of it in Rome's ready worship of any new god that came along, not to mention the Emperor Cultus...  Let's just say that this is the kind of book that makes historians like me go bang their head against a wall over and over again...
  • Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Grail - ad infinitum, ad nauseum...
  • My personal favorite of all conspiracy theories is in an obscure book from the 1970's, "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" by John Marco Allegro.  According to Allegro, Jesus was actually a psychedelic mushroom.  Or hallucinations resulting from taking psychedelic mushrooms.  And, in case you're wondering, yes, I absolutely do believe that psychedelic mushrooms were indeed consumed in the conception and writing of that book...
Why do people come up with these things?  Or believe them?  Well, there's a lot of reasons.  But I think the main reason is simple:  conspiracy theorists feel like members of an elite club or cult, in which they are in on the "real" truth.  People love to be in on a secret - it makes us feel like we belong, like we're knowledgeable, like we're superior.  Nobody can fool us.  We're in control, because we're in the know, whether it's about 9/11 or Roswell or Bigfoot or a death in Judea 2000 years ago.

Coming soon - who killed Chaucer? 

05 June 2014

A Matter of Belief

by Eve Fisher

There's been a lot of talk on-line about a movie called "God's Not Dead" in which an evil atheist professor forces his students to sign a declaration saying "God is Dead" to pass his class.  (Of course the Christian hero doesn't and wins the day.)  Well, contrary to certain ultra-fundamentalist myths, that doesn't happen.  No professor requires anyone to sign anything against their personal beliefs.  But we do often require them to learn things that don't necessarily agree with their beliefs and therein hangs a tale.

When I was teaching World and Asian history at university, I honestly developed a resentment towards certain types of the home-schooled.  There was the guy who, when I started talking about Charles Darwin, put down his pencil and refused to take a single note.  He didn't care that I wasn't teaching science but history. He didn't care that Social Darwinism was a major part of racism, militarism and WWI.  He wasn't going to learn about Darwin.  Period.

There was another who, when I asked for the connection between the Mexican Revolution and Karl Marx, wrote "Communism is a failed ideology".  (By the way, the correct answer is that Mexico claims that its revolution was the first Communist revolution, which it is.)  He wrote this for EVERY question about Communism, and I gave him a zero every time.  Communism was a huge problem for a number of people, by the way.  They just didn't want to have to learn about it, since, after all, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Empire was destroyed, and Communism was dead.  (I'd remind them about China, and sometimes there would be a moment of silence followed by a long sigh as most of them picked their pencils back up.  But not all...)

There was always one person who, when I was teaching about Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, etc., had to explain to the class how Christianity was the only true religion.  Sometimes they would demand to know my beliefs, and I would say "I'm here to teach history, not proselytize", but they wouldn't get the hint. In fact, they usually decided that I must be an atheist, since I didn't let them preach to the class.  That or I was a Roman Catholic, and if you can see the logic to that, please explain it to me.

The connecting thread here is that these people all thought that learning ABOUT something was the same as believing IN it.  They really felt that if they learned about a political alternative, like socialism or communism, or a religious alternative, like Buddhism or Islam, they were (1) accepting it, (2) approving it, (3) in danger of becoming it.  Even though they had no problem hosing up all the info they could get about Nazis or serial killers.  Sometimes  they could take it if it was far enough in the past - I could talk paganism till the cows came home, and discuss Plato and Aristotle, Stoicism and Epicureanism.  Although they did get a little nervous when I'd point out the points in Platonism and Stoicism that had been adopted by early Christianity...

But, as I said, I developed a resentment.  I got so sick of trying to teach them that learning about something outside their comfort zone was not me trying to convert them, but was quite simply trying to get them to understand how the world got the way it is, today.  I had to teach them how to learn fearlessly.  And in the process, I realized how much the concept of learning about something = believing in something is a wonderful tool to control people. I don't know what these students were being taught at home, but I do know that if you scare people so they won't learn, you can tell them almost anything.  You have gotten them to put bars on their own minds, which only makes it harder to ever get them off.

Orwell got these statements straight from Jean Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract".  But you'd have to have taken notes in my class to know it.