Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Triple Bill no 2 – Why was Jesus killed?

Well the usual answer to the question about the crucifixion is that Jesus died to save us all.  But why did he really die?  Let me run through some of the personalities and the events to throw up a few theories.
JESUS -   This charisma kid managed to get himself killed after less than a week in Jerusalem which is quite an achievement.  He was obviously annoying.  He so got on people’s nerve in his home town of Nazareth that they were going to throw him off a cliff but relented.  He then left (or was forced to leave) Nazareth to wander the Galilee.  So Jesus was clearly no saint.  Only Jesus could unite both the Nazarenes and the Romans by being so irritating that the two groups wanted to kill him which again is quite an achievement.  He then had a couple of years building up his following in the north of Israel urging reform of Judaism.  He seems bipolar from afar.  He spent 40 days depressed, alone and hallucinating about the devil in the desert and then bounced back hyper and as charismatic as ever.  He stole the Pharisee Hillel’s Golden rule.  He was one of many Messiahs and would be Messiahs of that era. He sounds like a bit of a prick but as you know, I’m a bit biased.
JUDAS – He was the real victim.  He and Peter were the 2ics of the little group from the north.  He was the organiser and the money holder.  Like any CFO, he urged financial restraint, particularly when Jesus wanted an expensive foot rub.  I believe he was set up by the Gospel writers for every story needs a hero and anti hero.  His death is mired in ambiguity.  One account says he hung himself in remorse but another says that he died of some abdominal issues.  Judas has become a victim of history and unfairly represents betrayal.  I respect Judas as a solid, no nonsense plain speaker.
PETER – He was called the “Rock” but was weak as water.  He chickened out at the crucifixion.  He then chickened out again at the Jerusalem Council with St Paul some 20 years later.  I suspect that he gained favour with Jesus because he was a bit of a “yes” man but that is supposition.  Clearly the gospels portrayed him well.
CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE – Jerusalem was a tourist centre and money changing was needed for both tourism and taxation.  I imagine that the money changers, whilst not taxation authorities themselves, were associated with the odium of taxation.  So attacking the money changers was not an unpopular strategy.  Jesus threw some sort of tantrum which was dangerous to do.  The Romans, nervous with the huge crowds of the Passover pilgrimage, valued stability over everything else.  Whatever the cause of this hissy fit, it was very risky.
PONTIUS PILATE – This man was a complete bastard whitewashed by the Gospels.  He was so cruel he attracted demonstrations at his palace in Caesarea on the coast.  He was sacked by the Romans for being too pitiless which is an extraordinary achievement.  The Gospel writers exonerated Pilate as reluctant and vacillating as they had to suck up to the Romans.  Every story needs a bad protagonist and this could not be the Romans.  There’s no point in making the Romans the baddies of the story for they looked like being permanently in power and so Pilate was redeemed.  We need some accurate historical revisionism on this bastard.
THE SANHEDRIN – This was the Jewish parliament that virtually never condemned a man to death.  That too is evidence of a Roman whitewash.
JOSEPH CAIAPHAS – the other JC of the story.  He was the High Priest of the Temple, a fashion tragic and maybe or maybe not a quisling.  This JC raises the question when collaboration is noble (such as the Anglo Saxon Robin Hood collaborating and supporting the Norman King Richard) or ignoble (Marshal Petain).  He is an interesting quandary and I believe Caiaphas to have been defamed by history.
In short, I believe that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  By Good Friday he was dead.  There is no way the Jewish Sanhedrin parliament condemned him as that was not their style.  However, cruelty was Pilate’s style and so Jesus was just another trouble maker bumped off by the Romans. The Romans have been saved by the Gospel writers and this scripture cannot be viewed in any other way than a lie.
What is your view?
Was Pilate the vacillator of history or the complete bastard we now know him to be?
Are the Gospels a Roman whitewash?
Why do you think Jesus was killed?
Over to you…

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Easter Triple Feature – No. 1 Jesus, Passover and Food

Over the next few days, I intend to hit Easter really hard with a triple bill.  Today we look at Passover and Easter. On Friday we will look at why Jesus got the chop and after Easter I will opine on what I really think happened with the empty tomb.
We think that we have an obsession with food what with “Masterchef” and “My Kitchen Rules”.  Puff and piffle I say.  The ancients were so obsessed with food that the symbolic power of food was central to their ritual. 
Easter coincides with Passover.  Jesus was in Jerusalem for the main pilgrimage of the three Jewish pilgrimages at that time.  This coincidence means that like Passover, Christianity is full of food symbolism that it inherited from the Last Supper which was in fact, a Passover Seder.  Food symbolism is entrenched in Passover and similarly touches on the Eucharist.  Let’s unpack the story in order to look at the foodie stuff.
Prior to the crucifixion, Jerusalem was utterly chock a block.  This was the time of the Passover pilgrimage so the place was packed to the gunnels.  Jerusalem had been under Roman control since Pompey conquered it in 63BC.  It housed the great Temple which was the tourist destination of the area.  The Romans were very twitchy for crowds made them nervous.  One of the things one did at Passover was sacrifice a lamb. The sacrifice was not chucked but shared with the Priests of the Temple.  The place would have smelt like a Barbie.  Sam Kekovich would have been pumped. So when I say above "Jesus got the chop" in fact he got it twice - in the literal sense with the lamb chop after Temple sacrifice and in the metaphorical sense when he ended up on the crucifix. 
At the Passover, like the Last Supper, food symbols are at the forefront of the ritual.  The bitter herbs hark back to the Egyptian slavery. Salt water represents tears.  Egg portrays the cycle of renewal and a lamb shank signifies the exception that the Angel of Death made for the Jewish houses that had been daubed with the blood of a slain lamb. The unleavened bread recalls the haste of the escape from the Pharaoh. There are a few other food rites.  It is the foremost example I know of food being used to tell a tale.
Jesus on that night was used to using food for powerful and resonant symbols.  So it is unsurprising that he added a couple more.  Wine became his blood and the wafer became his body.  Ever since that night, and because of the proximity of Passover, bread and wine became the primary food symbols of Christian faith.  But of course, they were the prime symbols of bounty in every religion extant at that time.  Bacchus was not the God of whiskey or beer found in the areas of northern Europe.  He was the God of wine and Judaism was similarly obsessed with this product of the Mediterranean.  Nothing really has changed.  So Jesus used local Mediterranean food symbols as did Judaism. 
Since then, there have been murderous wars over the difference between interpretation of those food symbols such as the fight over transubstantiation and consubstantiation.  So there is no doubting the power of these symbols.  They can kill.
But time changes the symbols.  I think that in the circles I move in, the power of the food symbolism has declined with the growth of the secular view point.  No one would go to war over interpretation of the symbols as was the case in The Thirties Years War (1618–1648) when differences over the body and blood of Jesus were an ostensible cause of war. Now, the bread and wine of Christ’s body is competing with much more powerful and far sweeter foods.
EASTER is named after a pagan goddess!  Ironically, Christianity’s greatest celebration is named after the Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn.  Easter is a moveable feast because it is worked out on the lunar calendar.  Clever invaders would mash festivals together to make the imposition of the conquering culture less offensive.  That is why time honoured festivals have layers of different meaning with symbols of many cultures combined.
Easter eggs have become the overwhelming food symbol of the Australian Easter, just ahead of hot cross buns.  The eggs have nothing to do with Jesus but are a pagan symbol of the fertility and birth of spring.  As I said above, this symbol is also found in the Jewish Passover.  Resurrection is a form of rebirth I suppose but it is all about the fact that Easter occurs in the northern Spring.  So whilst the original Easter food symbols were Mediterranean in source the primacy of northern Europeans in running Oz has meant that their food symbols run rampant whilst secularism is diluting the resonance of the bread and wine.
What about the EASTER BUNNY – German folkloric figure based on the Easter hare.  This was imported and popularised in the USA.  Once again, this is a fertility symbol hence, “mad as a March hare” conjures the image sexually charged animals.  One hates to pollute our lovable bunnies with such sordid images but the truth is often odious.   
Food symbols tell us much about the world.  The Christians pinched the idea of food symbolism from the Jewish Passover.  Commerce ripped off the northern symbols of eggs, bunnies and buns.  We live in a land where faith is in decline and commerce is king and the symbols demonstrate this.
What is your view?
Do the declining powers of the bread and wine symbols tell us about the decline of faith or am I being unduly optimistic?
The rising power of the chocolate egg is a victory for commerce, nostalgia or secularism?
Over to you…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Let me quickly put out some views on Pope Frank, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop The Most Reverend Justin Welby.  They have hit the news and not just for their fantastic titles and amazing headdress. 
Let’s start with Pope Frank.  He is playing a blinder early on in the first half of his pontificate.  He is stressing two values: concern for the poor and deviation from Papal clothing statements.  Often these pronouncements might sound empty and meaningless.  But I would argue that they have symbolic power. 
Simplicity and alleviation of poverty are two of the fundamental values that are encapsulated in the vows taken by Catholic clergy.  For the godless it is depressing to see him stick to such core values. It confirms my pessimistic belief that if the next couple of pontiffs stick to a reform regime and core values, the sexual abuse scandal will quickly fade from the amnesiac memory of the populace.  There are those godless who harboured views that the abuse scandal was a fatal blow.  It might not be thus. 
Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, like Francis is embarking on an amazing innovation. You will recall that from the demise of the Roman Empire until the Schism of the Middle Ages, Orthodoxy (based in Istanbul nee Constantinople) and those who became Catholics headquartered in Rome (and Avignon), waged an internal war for the leadership of Christianity. But after a row in the 11th century, there was a mutual excommunication between East and West. Thus the Great Schism of 1054 is almost 1000 years old.  Amazingly, since that time, no Orthodox Patriarch has darkened the doorstep of St Peter’s for a Papal Investiture.  Bartholomew has broken their duck!
Finally, and almost invisibly, the Anglican Communion has a new leader.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has just been ceremonially invested with his office.  Justin Welby faces huge issues identical to the Catholics – how do we keep the conservative growth areas in places like Africa aligned with progressive Western dioceses?  That is worth a blog on its own. I think he will struggle and fail.
Well this flush of change has everyone in the Church happy as Larry.  What is your view?
Will Pope Frank be the answer to all of Catholicism prayers or will he slip up on the gay inclusion issue and his underwhelming role in Argentina’s Dirty War?
Are Bart’s Orthodox overtures the beginning of a new age?
How Most Reverend Welby cope with his contradictory Church?
Over to you guys….

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papa Frank – A Godless Assessment

Pope Francis is probably one of the best choices for number 266 the Convocation of cardinals could have made.  Even if Catholicism needs radical surgery, only gradualism will not produce a counter reformation. 
So the candidate had to be clean of abuse scandals and anti Curia (well not promoting the values of largesse and waste that is the hallmark of the Vatican). The successful candidate ought not to be North American where the abuse scandals rage undiminished. He ought not to be European because the European Church is sclerotic and undeserving of continued claims to the leadership.  Frank is Italian by heritage and Latin American by birth which is a divine compromise between the Old World and the New. His ethnicity equips him to be the Bishop of Rome and his nationality represents an overdue but fundamental shift away from Europe.
His ostentatious modesty and socially progressive views on poverty give him moral power.  Being publicly seen to repudiate the luxury of office of Archbishop will elevate his reputation for the rest of his life. That moral power is enhanced by some evidence of his clandestine opposition to the cruel dictatorship of the Dirty War in Argentina from 1976 to 1983. However, those survivors of this baleful time would argue that his failure to publicly oppose the Junta was deplorable. There is insufficient evidence yet on this issue.  It is clear he was not a supine collaborator and it is equally clear he was not publicly an uncompromising opponent.  My uninformed guess is that he did quite well in an awful situation but time will be the ultimate arbiter of his behaviour during this complex time.
His social conservatism is unsurprising.  He is anti gay reform and contraceptive availability. Unlike during the Dirty War, his war on sexual and gender freedom is palpable. This is appalling but expected.  We godless mutter to ourselves, “Thank God for the unchanging views of Catholicism to moral progress.” There is no ambiguity for doubters about why the Church is morally irrelevant and undeserving of ethical air time.
Is this a John XXIII moment?  Pope John, recognised by history as a great reformer and a beautiful man, is a hope the world cherishes for every papal elevation. The scope is there for honesty on abuse, reform of the curia and the embracing of moral progress.  I don’t feel in my waters that this is a John XXIII moment.  Do you?  What is your view?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Papal Bull*

The first day of the Papal election season has finished without a result.
The black smoke emerged from the oven at the Sistine Chapel indicating that after a day of stirring ceremony, prayer, consultation and lobbying, no candidate could call a clear majority his own.  And so the amazing and intricate ritual around the 266th Papal Conclave will proceed for a while longer.  It is anticipated to be several more days whilst the winner and his faction marshal the votes.  Today I will look at the ritual and next time the politics of the Conclave.
What excites me about this Conclave, is the intensity of the pomp and ceremony and how that ritual both inspires believers yet mystifies and even repulses the godless.
For the Catholic believer, the ritual is full of non verbal signals to the every Catholic in the group – the largest religious grouping in the world. The costumes indicate power. The prayer indicates communion with the Almighty. The architecture speaks again of potency, a venerable history and a group capable of making buildings of great beauty. It is a moment when those within the Catholic Communion can happily cease to be rational and take in the symbolism as exciting.  It is an invitation to feel a sense of awe and, indeed, transcendence.  The ritual is literally awesome. 
Nothing embodies the non rational ritual as the smoke signal on the days election results.  Rather than doing something boring and prosaic like making an announcement, putting up a notice or even tweeting, the Conclave chooses something completely abnormal.  This can only enhance the extra-ordinariness of the Conclave. The ballot papers are burned and a chemical added to make the smoke black for a locked vote and white for a new Papacy.  This arcane ritual, so unnecessary, so kinky and so removed from the real world is a fantastic strategy. This rite announces to the world that this decision is so moving that we cannot even communicate with words. We are going to use the ballots, now suffused with holy “stuff” (regardless of their carbon footprint). It is a master stroke.  Usually observers struggle to see the colour of smoke. This ambiguity and suspense adds to the sense of the holy, the enigmatic and unreality of it all. If only the godless could invent rites of equivalent power.
Unfortunately I don’t get the symbols.  They impress me because more than anyone I know, I like a good ball gown, striking hats and a grand parade in sublime surrounds.  But because I am godless their power to persuade passes me by.  Accordingly I see the conclave as a bunch of sexually dysfunctional blokes in startling frocks playing with themselves.  They get to play in some of the best real estate in the world and so the whole conclave reeks of delusional decadence.  The delusion, for this unbeliever, seems to infect both the Cardinals in the Conclave and the millions of minions who are hanging on this decision.   In my more lucid moments, when I can stop fantasizing about wearing my own red frock, the whole thing is utterly insane.  But being objective, I do see how for those within the tent, the whole shindig is one of the great religious moments of the decade.  Grandeur works. Pomp and ceremony inspire.
So, just as the ritual strikes many godless as both an unnecessary expense coupled with self importance, the ritual has the opposite effect on the believers. It transforms a mere election into something other worldly.  The weirder the Conclave becomes the more it obtains authority.  This is something the godless need to appreciate and it is hard for us and we too often turn off our ability to have our brains suborned by theatrical ceremony. It’s a problem for us. But it isn't a problem for the Vatican. Like the British Royals, the Vatican's ceremony is so powerful it is trans-formative and a key to it longevity and resilience. 
What is your view?
Do you find the ceremony inspiring or ridiculous?
Given the abuse scandal, is it tactful to cross dress as the Cardinals almost seem to do?
Can the godless ever hope to have such an involving ceremony?
Can the ceremony be so powerful that it becomes a matter of substance when it is really merely form?
Over to you guys...

*A Papal bull is a particular form of papal document.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A New Godless World

Welcome to the latest incarnation of Godless Gross. The apron strings have been cut.The umbilical cord has been severed. Godless Gross has been cut loose from its founding parent – the National Times of Fairfax Media.
This is a shame as the blog’s audience will plummet from tens of thousands flooding in per week to a tiny trickle.  But everything starts small.  When Godless Gross commenced, it attracted a small and dedicated band of readers where barely any comments were made. It finished last week, on anecdotal assessment, the most commented on blog in the country.  Fifty thousand comments have been received and mostly published.  In its popular periods, it would average almost 500 comments per week, far beyond even the most rabid and popular of bloggers.  It seems that transcendence and death, ritual and sin are still turnstile turners.  But the problem is that many in the leadership of the media world have a younger focus. They don’t get higher order, existential issues as salient, front mind topics. 
The end has been coming slowly. First, promotion of the blog in The Age and SMH declined.  Then there were the disagreements over moderation. I was a more accommodating moderator than others on the site. Many comments I would have let through were cut off at the knees by others moderating the site. Then the blog went to fortnightly from weekly. This meant that immediacy and currency were lost.  So I felt that notwithstanding the success of the blog at the National Times, its days were numbered there.
Of course the good thing is that independence bequeaths control.  I have often yearned for a blog where I could rap out a quick report on some dastardly religious atrocity. I have craved the ability to enter a debate with a few lines my own drivel.  So the future is flexible even if less well read.  There will be no editor correcting my many errors and tasteless observations.  Life without the safety net of corporate protocols and editors will be more fraught. This will add to the tension.
Anyway, this is the first of a hopefully fruitful and entertaining blog. I start on the Papal battle tomorrow.
See youse in the blogosphere.