Monday, August 28, 2017

The Rap on Afterlife



A recent book, titled Surviving Death, cites various cases culled from the writer’s personal experiences, published reports, interviews with psychics and more in an effort to prove that personalities survive death.

The information collected by Leslie Kean is interesting, although much of the material with psychics is drawn from the 19th and 20th century.  Nevertheless, there’s still a lot not discussed. 

When I finished the book, I had too many questions.

For starters, only some dead family members supposedly contacted a client through a living channeler.  What happened to the others?  Are they blocked from “appearing?”  If so, why?  Who blocks them? 

On top of that, some of the information provided by the psychics was wrong.  True, it’s amazing that they got somethings correct, especially when holding a reading for total strangers, but why did they make mistakes if the information is coming from an unimpeachable source?  Didn’t the spirits remember? 

Not lifelike
Then, too, several ethereal visitors who were members of the Christian faith claimed to have seen Christ.  That makes no sense.  After all, no one knows what Jesus looked like.  The standard picture of a tall, white man with flowing locks and a white robe actually is drawn from the image of a Roman god called the Good Shepherd.  Jesus would have been small, dark and Semitic appearing.  So, who did they really “see?”

Hindu wheel of life
Did non-Christians see someone else?  No information was given about reincarnation studies done among Hindus and Buddhists, members of religions that espouse multiple lives. I have read several books that contains that information.  They don’t claim to see Jesus.  Do Muslims see Muhammad or Jesus?

Also, there’s no indication of punishment for sins.  What does that mean for Christianity, which says Jesus died so believers could be saved?  If there’s no saving, then why is Jesus hanging around anyway?

Old-time seance
The séances often contained familiar activities, such as rapping on doors and levitating chairs.  A magician friend years ago told me those were just tricks.  I want to know this: if a spirit comes back from the dead, why is it just performing tricks?  Shouldn’t the spirit be explaining what is the afterlife like?  Is it just like a train station where everyone waits to be called by a psychic, after a client has paid the proper fee?

In addition, the spiritual manifestations offered different visions of life after death.  That makes little sense, since all of us should have the same thing happen.  Why are there differences?  Are there multiple post-life sites?

Then, too, do spirits die again?  That’s a big question.  After all, the Earth has a lifespan, estimated at around 4 billion years from now.  Human life, assuming we overcome Climate Change and other potential disasters, should survive, at best, another million years.

Then what happens to all those spirits waiting in the netherworld?  There would be no one to visit in this world or, for that matter, anywhere else.  Maybe they’d start amusing themselves.

I’m not a debunker like Harry Houdini, who spent much of his later years unmasking frauds.  So, I’m not going to venture in physics and ask questions about energy conservation.  Nor am I really concerned if my consciousness continues after death.  It’s possible, since none of us can imagine nonexistence.  Besides, to date, scientists really aren’t sure what consciousness means or how it develops. 

On the other hand, it is conceivably possible that memories are transferred.  Studies today show that we all constantly throw off bundles of energy everywhere we go.  We breath air that passed through the lungs of the famous and the infamous (see Caesar’s Last Breath, an excellent book), and possibly pick up more that affects our brains at the same time.  DNA also contains memories, especially when involving trauma, such as starvation.

Besides, I’ve been involved in some of the research.  In my case, it involved regression – where subjects “return” via hypnosis to a previous life.  I interviewed individuals while in regression and found some of the answers plausible and others invalid.

I have also read multiple books by sincere researchers.  All of them raised the same sorts of questions posed above.

The reality is that answers are hard to come by.  Spirits seem to know details of a client’s life, but little else.  Maybe they just enjoy rapping on doors and lifting tables.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion, among other books.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Biblical Rewriting Increasingly Evident



Halbertal
A recent book about the Bible made an interesting and telling observation.  The book, coauthored by Moshe Halbertal, Hebrew University professor of Jewish thought and philosophy, and by Stephen Holmes, NYU law professor, examines the political aspects of the biblical Book of Samuel, and how the themes in the book resonate across history.

At the same time, the authors conceded that Samuel 1 & 2 were produced by multiple writers, at least one of whom was an “astute observer.”

Notice that God isn’t credited with picking up a pen.

This book on Samuel continues the gradual undermining of the belief that the Bible is the “word of God.”  Many in this country still believe it, although the percentages continue to decline.  A 2014 Gallup poll found that more than 25 percent of Americans now accept that the Bible is a secular book, almost double the percentage who thought that a few years earlier.

At the same time, the percentage of Americans who think the Bible is God’s handiwork has fallen from 38 to 40 percent in the 1970s to 28 percent less than 50 years later.

Halbertal and Holmes’ tome, titled The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel, continues the erosion process.  They agree that the Bible was written by people, not a deity.

To counter, believers insist the Bible was faithfully transmitted generation after generation so that, with minor copying errors, it does reflect the Lord’s exact statements.

That claim is simply, factually, and demonstrably wrong.

Sample of Dead Sea Scrolls
Consider the Old Testament, the first 39 books.  Until the mid-1900s, the oldest complete copy dated from around 1000 C.E.  Scribes continued to copy each letter exactly at least from that point and probably for hundreds of years earlier. 

However, in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered in Israel near the deserted city of Qumran.  They date as far back as 200 B.C.E., at least 1200 years prior to the previous complete version.  To the delight of archaeologists and historians, the large ceramic storage jars uncovered in caves there contained almost all books of the Bible.  The book of Esther was not included because it was a later addition to the canon.

Also, the Scrolls included many texts that were no longer considered sacred, such as the writings of 2nd century B.C.E. sage Ben Sura.

To everyone’s surprise, though, there were multiple versions of each book. Some books were longer than our current version; some were longer.  Many contained alternative paragraphs or other major changes. 
Finding editing

Biblical scholars quickly realized that there was no authentic text.  No one had copied each word carefully.  At one time, the books were obviously not considered sacred or untouchable.

As a result, there is no way to determine the original version of each book now included in the Old Testament.

Von Tischendorf
The same is true with the New Testament.  In 1844, a German scholar named Constantin von Tischendorf found the earliest known version of the book of Mark.  

A devout Christian, von Tischendorf had become upset with academic research then beginning to cast doubts about the historical accuracy of the Gospel.

His solution was to search for the oldest documents he could find in hopes of proving that the texts had been faithfully transmitted.  At Mount Sinai monastery, he found leather rolls containing the gospel texts.  The monks had been burning them to keep warm.

Once apprised of their contents, the monks refused to let von Tischendorf take the scrolls with him, so he faithfully copied them.  He was forced to make numerous changes because the Gospels he had memorized varied from the versions he uncovered. 
Johnson

Historian Paul Johnson called the handiwork “pious editing” as later writers changed the text to concur with new ideas.  Some of the changes were minor.  Some, however, were significant.  

In Matthew, for example, someone appended “who was thought to be” at the end of Jesus’ genealogy, which leads to naming Joseph as Jesus’ father.  When the Virgin Birth became the accepted teaching, the sentence was altered to cover up the idea that Joseph could have sired Jesus.

In addition, the entire resurrection account in Mark, then part of the Gospel that von Tischendorf knew, was not in the book he found or in a second copy he located in the Vatican.  As a result, that inserted tale was removed from subsequent Bibles, but resurrection stories in Matthew and Luke, which are based on the pseudo-Mark material, were retained.

Historians now know, as with the Old Testament, there is no original version of the New Testament.  At best, hundreds of thousands of changes were made in the sacred texts by editors who did not believe the books came from God.

Pious folks today aren’t likely to pay attention to the research, even when what they believe is merely the revised imaginings of writers with little to no respect for the original material.



Bill Lazarus is a long-time religious historian who has published multiple books on the topic.  His works are available on such sites as Kindle, Amazon and others.  To contact him, write him at wplazarus @aol.com. 





Monday, May 15, 2017

Science and Religion Face Off





On my Sunday afternoon radio show (107.1 FM), my guest, Tony, and I discussed some of the newest biblical research.  Better understanding of ancient languages, improved telescopes and computer-enhanced archaeology are continuing to shred Bible accounts.  Naturally, Tony rejected much of it because of his sincere Christian belief.

His main focus that day was on creation.  Tony argued that, even if the Big Bang Theory regarding the origin of the universe was correct, then there had to be a beginning.  He credited God for that. He also noted that the Earth is so perfect for life that it could have only been set up by a creator.

Contrary to Tony’s claims, both objections to scientific studies do not enhance his argument. Let’s look at each in turn.

Big Bang?
The Big Bang Theory proposes that the universe was created in one massive explosion, leading to the formation of galaxies, planets and everything else we see via telescope.  The idea was criticized severely, but became a paradigm after sound engineers in the 1960s uncovered the hum still echoing around the university from that powerful detonation.

Religious folks like Tony then argue that God must have started it.  They have no choice to limit His involvement to the kickoff because modern telescopes in space have revealed that planets and stars form naturally.  No divine presence is necessary.  Unfortunately for God the creator, if He actually initiated the process, He has had little else to do afterwards.  That hardly seems like a heavenly creature worth worshiping and certainly does not match up with anyone’s beliefs.

Moreover, newer research seems to indicate there are multiple universes.  Indeed, we just may be inhabiting one of many, and universes may come and go.  The most recent discovery is that part of the universe is colder than expected, which may indicate the merging of universes.  If the supposition is correct, then God is neatly excised from any creation story.

Moreover, scientists have determined how everything could appear in the universe from nothing.  I’m not a physicist and won’t try to encapsulate the well-documented  research, but there are plenty of books available to explain the process. 

Either everything occurs naturally and endlessly repeats itself or God had only one function.  Neither option supports religious claims.

Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, supplied the final blow to that kind of logic.  On a talk show that was streamed on Facebook, Tyson was asked if he believed in God.  His answer was the most people seem to believe in a god who is all powerful and all good.

Citing massive earthquakes and natural disasters that have killed millions of people just in recent years, Tyson said it was obvious that God couldn’t be all powerful or all good.  If all powerful, He failed miserably to preserve life.  As such, He couldn't be all good.  No one would define a devastating tsunami as good.

As such, Tyson said he couldn’t believe in that kind of deity. 

That same is true for one that starts the universe and then vanishes.

As for Tony’s second concern, the ideal conditions on Earth for life: that’s been long answered by logic.  If Earth were not the right distance from the sun, with the proper axis tilt and liquid water, we wouldn’t be here.  We all know other planets without those conditions, and they don’t seem to harbor surface life.

That would seem to make Earth unique.  Modern research has smothered that claim. There must be trillions of planets in the universe, just based on the telescopic observations that virtually every star is being orbited by multiple satellites.  There are trillions of stars and, so, many more planets.

Even if only 1 in a trillion planets is perfect for life, there would still be untold numbers of planets that would be ideal for humans. 

Some exoplanets
As a result, the argument that God must have created a perfect planet completely falls apart.  After all, we know one such planet, and, based on research, many more exist.   In fact, scientists are devoting a lot of energy to look for them and have already spotted several possible candidates among the exoplanets.

Tony, of course, will continue to believe.  In doing so, he will have to ignore both logic and scientific discoveries.  That’s never a problem for the faithful.

Turning a blind eye, however, won’t change the torrent of facts now undermining religious ideas born in darkness thousands of years ago and being exposed as aging, illogical and incorrect in the light of modern science.

I agree with Tony that science is neither reassuring nor supportive emotionally.  Religion plays that role.  Nevertheless, I prefer to place my faith in substantiated fact than earnestly spouted, but unsupported, claims.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University and an M.A. in communication from Kent State University.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.

He is the author of the famed novel The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus as well as The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.