Saturday, 7 April 2018

Popes, bishops, priests and other clergy. Are they scriptural?

 “Pope Francis is a humble man who believes he is infallible” – Professor Garry Wills
      Soon after the present Pontiff was elected, religious writer Professor Garry Wills claimed on BBC Radio 4 that there’s no scriptural basis for the Pope - or, for that matter, any Christian clergy.
       He should know what he’s talking about. As a Roman Catholic, educated by Jesuits, Garry once considered the priesthood himself, but settled instead for academia, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University.  His controversial new book “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” questions the supposed line of descent from the Apostle Peter whom may Catholics claim was the first Pope, quoting Matthew 16:18 as their basis:  “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.
       According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, the term used for ‘a mass of rock’ is the Greek word ‘Pe’tra’ (feminine gender) which denotes a mass of rock rather than ‘Pe’tros(masculine gender) meaning a detached stone or boulder that can be thrown or easily removed:  “Here  the distinction between Petra, concerning the Lord Himself, and Pe'tros, the Apostle, is clear.”
       Another Bible commentator writes, “That the apostles did not understand Jesus’ statement to signify Peter was the rock-mass is evident from the fact that they later disputed about who seemed to be the greatest amongst them. (Mark 9:33-35) There would have been no basis for such disputing had Peter been given the primacy as the rock-mass on which the congregation was to be built.
       ‘The scriptures clearly show that as foundation stones, all the apostles are equal. All of them, including Peter, rest upon Christ Jesus as the foundation cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-22; Re 21:2, 9-14) Peter himself identified the rock-mass (pe’tra) on which the congregation is built as being Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2:4-8)
       Having originally believed Peter to be the ‘rock-mass, even ‘Saint’ Augustine (354-430 CE) later changed his view, saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian after Christ.  For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18 ftn, p.296) Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
       A further line of argument against a clergy class, mentioned by Prof Wills, is that by giving his life ‘once for all time’ as the ultimate sacrifice (He 9:11-14) Jesus became the sole mediator between God and humans, abolishing the need for a priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people on a regular basis.
       But perhaps one of the most telling comments is by Jesus himself who, in Mt 23:6-10, puts himself at odds with many religious leaders, ancient and modern:
       “Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the Heavenly One. Neither be called ’leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.”

Sunday, 1 April 2018

10 Plagues of Egypt

       Most people have heard how Moses, commissioned by God, confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh and demanded freedom for the Jewish slaves. Had this haughty ruler been more reasonable  there’d be no story but, unfortunately for him and his subjects, he refused to even consider this request, dismissing Moses and brother Aaron with the words: “Who is this God and why should I obey him?”
       The Pharaoh’s intransigence was to be his undoing as, time and time again, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob brought a series of catastrophes against Egypt, the greatest world power of its day. These plagues not only forced Pharaoh to liberate the Israelites but served an even higher purpose; to magnify God’s name amongst the nations, in the process humiliating and executing judgement on Egypt’s most revered gods and goddesses:

       Turning Nile waters into blood
       After Aaron struck the river with his rod, he struck a major bow against Nile-god Hapi. As all the rivers pools and waters of Egypt turned to blood, fish died creating a stink. Some types of fish were venerated by the Egyptians and even mummified.
       Plague of Frogs
       This miracle proved the Hebrew God’s superiority over Heqt, the Frog-goddess. In Egypt, frogs symbolised fertility and resurrection but now they teemed throughout the nation, getting into ovens, troughs and every corner of the home.
       Dust turned into Gnats
       Up to this point, Egypt’s priests, headed by Jannes and Jambres, were able to duplicate God’s miracles through magic arts supposedly bestowed by the god Thoth. But on this occasion their powers proved unequal to the task and they were forced to acknowledge the Hebrew God’s superiority: “It is the finger of God!”
       Swarms of Gadflies
       This presented another demarcation being the first plague not to affect the Israelites in Goshen. From now on, only the Egyptians would suffer from God’s miracles. No one knows for sure what type of insect gadflies were but the English term usually includes bloodsucking horseflies and botflies. Botfly larvae are parasites which burrow into human and animal flesh, causing great distress and even death.
       Pestilence on Livestock
       Attention now turned to Cow-goddess Hathor,  Apis who resembled a bull, and Nut, a female deity conceived as a cow with stars fixed to its belly. Again, God made a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. Not one animal in Goshen died from this severe disease.
       This was a direct attack upon deities with supposed healing powers such as Thoth, Isis and Ptah. Again, Egypt’s gods were put to shame, along with the priests who became so badly afflicted they couldn’t appear before Pharaoh.
       As well as his other roles, Thoth was apparently responsible for rain and thunder too, while lightning came under the power of Reshpu. Neither, of course, could prevent Almighty God from showering “a very heavy hail” which killed many Egyptians and their animals.
       Anyone who has seen a swarm of locusts on the attack can imagine the devastation caused by this eighth plague which highlighted the impotence of Min, a fertility god whom worshippers believed protected crops.
       The whole nation was plunged into pitch-blackness which Sun-gods Ra and Horus were unable to alleviate. Despite his other ‘hat’ as god of sun, moon and stars, Thoth was just as helpless to cast light upon his followers.
       Death of Firstborn
       This final plague hit right at the heart of Egypt’s entire belief system. Like every Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh believed he was a son of Ra or Amon-Ra  and that his first-born son likewise resulted from a union between the Sun-god and the queen.  As a god incarnate, death was unthinkable, yet the death of Pharaoh’s heir proved no one – not even their gods - could stand against the power of the Almighty.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Meet Pete, before and after Locked-in Syndrome

Peter Coghlan
Meet Pete - preteen Pete. Cute, ey? Yet this handsome, happy-go-lucky lad was already verging on hooliganism.

You know the type - the type mums tell their sons not to play with and dads tell their daughters not to date.....or at least, in Pete's case, they would have done had it not been for 'AvaChat' Coghlan's engaging charm and genuinely good heart.

This angelic boy was soon to become a typical teen, wilder than most with a taste for 'magic mushrooms' and a habit of setting things on fire. (If you read the first chapter of his book you'll find out what I mean!)*
Pete served in Northern Ireland after joining the army
It's fair to say Pete's teens and twenties were a blast (sometimes literally!) Despite serving in Northern Ireland during the dying days of the troubles, and having a brush with Hodgkinson's Lymphoma aged 21, which put an end to his army career, he maintained his cheerful outlook, met the girl he was to marry and emigrated to Perth, Western Australia for a new life in the sun.

For several years, Pete worked hard, played hard, had loads of laughs, gained Australian citizenship and managed to satisfy his arsonist tendencies with plenty of barbies.

Then, out of the blue, tragedy struck with a blow to the back of his head while laying drains on a build. Next news, he was being rushed to A&E with a massive brain stem stroke which left him paralysed. Totally paralysed - except for some movement in his eyes. At just 32, he faced a grim future.
Totally paralysed after his locked-in stroke, Pete needed sandbags to hold down his arms
Locked-in syndrome, they called it (LIS) - a rare and little understood condition, brought about by brain injury, illness or severe stroke. Not even top neurologists could tell whether he'd recover from this frightening 'disease of the walled living' as LIS is sometimes known.

But Peter fought back. Having survived bullying, mobs, cancer and years of hard work, he was determined, not only to survive, but to regain everything LIS had robbed from him.

Six months and one day after being admitted to hospital, he walked out of Shenton Rehabilitation Unit, albeit shakily, and began his long, exhausting journey back to life.

After 6 months, Peter could walk but only shakily
Since then, he has taken part in marathons, regained his voice to become an inspirational speaker, learned to play the guitar, qualified as a Health Assistant supporting disabilities in the community, begun training as a bodybuilder and written a book about his experience with the aim of bringing hope to thousands of people struck down, locked-in and often left to battle on their own, with his resounding cry: "Keep trying and never ever give up!"

Triumphant after completing Pdrth's City to Surf marathon

*"In the Blink of an Eye" by Peter Coghlan is available from Amazon 




You can follow Pete's journey on his website

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The origins of Easter

       Ask people in the western hemisphere what Easter means to them and many will think of chocolate eggs, new-born chicks, baby rabbits, a welcome weekend break and maybe a new outfit or two. Spiritually-minded individuals may also mention Christ’s resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday as one of the church’s most pivotal feasts. 
       Yet, far from being a Christian practice, Easter is a pagan festival with roots in ancient sex worship. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, “A great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. . . . The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.”  
       The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible says Easter was “originally the spring festival in honour of the Teutonic goddess of the light and spring, known in Anglo-Saxon as Eastre or Eostre. There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians. . . . The ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl. v. 22) states, with perfect truth, that neither the Lord nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival . . . and he attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of an old usage, ‘just as many other customs have been established.’” 
       Another source, The Encyclopedia Americana, refers to the Venerable Bede, English historian of the early 8th century, in saying: “The word [Easter] is derived from the Norse Ostara or Eostre, meaning the festival of spring at the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in resurrection after winter. Hence, the rabbits, notable for their fecundity, and the eggs, colored like rays of the returning sun and the northern lights or aurora borealis.” 
      Eggs and rabbits feature strongly in Easter traditions, as both were viewed by ancient pagans as important symbols during their spring fertility rites. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, explains: “Children roll pasch eggs in England. Everywhere they hunt the many-colored Easter eggs, brought by the Easter rabbit. This is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility. Furthermore, the rabbit was the escort of the Germanic goddess Ostara who gave the name to the festival by way of the German Ostern.” 
       Significantly, the only event Jesus commanded his followers to observe was the Memorial of his death, the only event for which we have a date – Nisan 14, the Jewish Passover, which Jesus observed with his 11 faithful apostles. 
      As for Lent, the 40-day fast was meant to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, yet Jesus never asked his disciples to observe this. The first mention of this period of sacrifice before Easter was in a letter by Athanasius dated 330 CE. Prior to this, fasting in the early part of the year was common among ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks.

Should the cross be venerated?

        Men have bowed to it, fought for it and even died for it. Revered by Christendom, it has come to symbolise the supreme sacrifice of one perfect man for a grossly imperfect world.
       Even today, despite determined attempts by militant secularists to efface it from schools, council chambers, courts, colleges and other public buildings, the cross remains a powerful image, a rallying point for some 41,000 Christian denominations.
       So it may came as a shock to learn that, according to several respected scholars, Jesus didn’t die on a cross at all. Instead, scriptural accounts indicate that Jesus was impaled upon a single, upright stake.
       In his Expository Dictionary of New & Old Testament Words, W E Vine distinguishes the Greek word ‘stauros’ (‘stake’ or ‘pale’) as used in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, “from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross”.          This is backed up by The Imperial Bible-Dictionary which says that the word stauros′ “properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling a piece of ground.......Even amongst the Romans the crux (Latin, from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” The Catholic Encyclopaedia also admits that “the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end." 
     Another Greek word used in the gospels to describe the means of Jesus’ execution is xy’lon, which in the Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament is defines as “a piece of timber, a wooden stake.” This is in agreement with the King James Version at Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [xy′lon]”, while other versions, including also translate xy′lon as “tree.” At Acts 13:29, The Jerusalem Bible at Acts 13:29 says: “When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about (Jesus) they took him down from the tree [xy′lon] and buried him.”

Origin of the Cross
       Vine explains that the cross originated from ancient Chaldea where it was used “as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.”
       By the middle of the 3rd century CE, the early Christian faith had been polluted by unscriptural doctrines, many drawn from pagan beliefs. “In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches....and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”
       Much of the blame for this can be laid on Rome’s sun-god worshipping Emperor Constantine who, it was claimed, had a vision of a cross emblazoned on the sun with the words “in hoc vince” (by this conquer) just before an important military victory. As a result, he supposedly became a Christian, but was not baptised until just before his death 25 years later. Questioning his motives, the author of The Non-Christian Cross stated:  “He acted rather as if he were converting Christianity into what he thought most likely to be accepted by his subjects as a catholic [universal] religion, than as if he had been converted to the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene." 
      Interestingly, the image of the cross is not exclusive to churchgoers. The ancient Egyptians had their own version with the handle-shaped ansate - a T shape topped by a circle - while the ‘gamma’ cross venerated by Hindus and Buddhists is more commonly recognised by its Sanskrit name: “swastika”.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Bipolar, schizophrenia or an illness as common as flu?

       If you’ve read my blog on daydreams*, you’ll know that for most of my life I’ve lived in another universe. Which for a writer is no bad thing.
       However, some time ago, these imaginings began to take a sinister turn. The line between fantasy and fact became blurred. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell the difference, but my parallel universe became so vivid, so exciting and invoked such powerful emotions I was reluctant, if not unable, to return to my ‘normal’ existence with all its mundane problems.
       Secondly, having previously enjoyed the occasional trip to La-La Land, my mind not only visited this virtual holiday home more often, but took up permanent residence. My work suffered (I could scarcely bring myself to turn the computer on), I didn’t go out unless I absolutely HAD to and, when with friends, I rarely took in their conversations, being too wrapped up with my own fantasies, which grew more complex and intriguing every day.  And then they turned on me!
       From the heights of these reveries, I found myself plunged into an abyss of despair - so much so I felt suicidal.  My moods switched faster than Usain Bolt on speed; the most inane humour set me off into peals of helpless laughter; a chance remark could reduce me to tears.
       And, worst of all, when I tried to come down to earth, my mind kept dragging me back into what was no longer a dream but a dystopian nightmare. I was in a loop, a video that had somehow got stuck and never stopped playing.  I just wasn’t ME anymore.  I needed help. Drugs. Tranquillisers. Gin. Anything to stop these now intrusive imaginings trampling all over me.
       As it happened, I had an appointment for a check-up with Dave,* my bio-resonance practitioner. I first visited him on a friend’s recommendation, presenting with extreme tiredness, bad headaches and painful joints.  Using electro-magnetic waves, which pick up the frequency of parasites and bacteria, he correctly diagnosed 20 different kinds of Candida and advised me on the foods to avoid.  I now felt so well physically, I almost cancelled my appointment, but having grown so concerned with my mental aberrations, I decided to see if Dave could help.
       Turned out I had not one but two protozoa – single-celled organisms which cause diseases in humans and animals. The most serious was the Borna virus, usually found in horses and now apparently in me, ever since I suffered a particularly nasty flu-like illness in March- which was when my fantasies began.
       Borna affects the brain, heightening emotions and causing sudden mood swings. Left untreated, the it can lead to depression, OCD, bipolar symptoms and even schizophrenia. And, most worryingly, it can spread as rapidly as a common cold. Dave had, over the previous few months, treated literally 100s of people for this virus, each having suffered some form of psychosis. In fact, he experienced Borna himself when this normally kind, mild-mannered man suffered intense feelings of rage.
       The other virus he found in my brain was Toxoplasma, a protozoa that causes similar problems to Borna. And, as if two were not enough, I also had Trypanasoma, which fuels obsessions and fantasies.  Paul had of course encountered these viruses before but never all three in one person at the same time!
       “Some people take Sativa to get the highs you’ve been having,” he said, cheerfully.  
       “Ah, maybe I should keep the viruses then,” I replied. 
       Dave shook his head: “Not a good idea. They can be dangerous if untreated – even fatal. But don’t worry, you’re in the clear now.”
       Fortunately for me, it took just half an hour’s zapping with electro-magnetic waves to eradicate all three viruses and, within a matter of days, I was back to my old, rather boring, self.
       Borna did recur some months later, however, but at least then I knew what it was. How many people are walking around in a mental fog – or worse – unaware that, far from being psychotic, they are suffering a virus as potentially common as flu!

**Not his real name

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Ark of the Covenant: Does it still exist?

Fashioned by master craftsman Bezalel from acacia wood overlaid with gold, it measured 111cm x 67cm x 67cm (44” x 26” x 26”) and had a solid gold cover supporting two angels with bowed heads and outstretched wings.

Truly, the Ark of the Covenant was a treasure beyond price. Yet, to the nation of Israel, its material value was as nothing compared with what it represented – the presence of its original designer, Almighty God himself!

In fact, the Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments and, initially, a golden jar of manna and the flowering rod of Aaron, was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to touch it – or even to look upon it - on pain of death.

When the people of Israel came to rest during their 40 year wanderings through the desert, it lay in the Holy of Holies, an inner chamber screened off from the main tabernacle (or tent), accessible only by the High Priest for just one day every year - the Day of Atonement. And when the people broke camp, the Ark had to be carried by Levites on poles slotted through two rings of gold on either side and covered with blue cloth and sealskin to shield it from the gaze of the people.  In this way the Ark was carried into battle ahead of the nation of Israel, putting courage into the people and striking fear into their enemies, particularly after the spectacular fall of Jericho. 

Not a magic charm

However, contrary to the Indiana Jones movie, the Ark of the Covenant had no miraculous properties in itself. Success or victory depended entirely on the people’s loyalty to God – a lesson which the Israelites learned to their cost. Acting against divine instructions, Hophni and Phinehas, renegade sons of the High Priest Eli, took the Ark from the tabernacle in Shiloh, wrongly viewing it as a magic charm that would protect them against their enemies and help them conquer the Promised Land.

They soon realised their mistake. After a humiliating defeat in which 30,000 Israelites lost their lives, the sacred chest was captured by the Philistines who brought it back to Ashdod. Here, it was placed in the temple next to the half-man half-fish image of the Philistine god Dagon. But not for long. Overnight, the idol fell flat on its face before the ark. It was then put back on its plinth, only to be brought  crashing down again the following night, this time losing its head along with the palms of its hands.
Later, as the Ark was paraded on a seven month tour of Philistia, the people were plagued with haemorrhoids, the land was overrun by jerboas, and the city of Ekron was hit by death-dealing confusion. These woes were enough to prompt the Ark’s speedy return to Israel, accompanied by a suitable offering!
Eventually, the Ark was brought to Jerusalem, although it did not have a permanent home until Solomon’s temple was built. In 642 BCE, King Josiah arranged for the Ark to be brought back to the temple, although there is no indication as to why it was removed in the first place. It may have been for safekeeping during temple renovations; or it could have been to prevent its misuse by one of Josiah’s predecessors, including his own father Manasseh, who fell away to false worship.
Whatever the reason, the Ark is not mentioned again in Hebrew scripture and there is no evidence that it was taken to Babylon after Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 BCE. It simply disappeared.

Does it still exist?

Various archaeologists have spent years searching for the Ark of the Covenant without success. Some believe it’s in Axum, Ethiopia at the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, having been ‘acquired’ by Menelik, the Queen of Sheba’s son during a visit to Jerusalem. However, this does not square up with the Bible account (2Chronicles 35 v 3) which, as previously mentioned, places the Ark in Jerusalem during Josiah’s reign – nearly 400 years later. This might explain why the “Keeper of the Ark”, the monk who claims to have possession, refuses to let anyone see it.

Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer claims to have discovered where the original Temple’s Holy of Holies was located, pointing to a bedrock section in the centre which matches the precise dimensions of the Ark. Whether the Ark is indeed buried there is likely to remain a mystery, as neither the Muslim or Israeli authorities will agree to an excavation.

To sum up, it seems unlikely that the Ark of the Covenant will ever be found, partly because it has served its purpose, and also because such a precious artefact would doubtless attract unwarranted veneration.