Christian loving-kindness 15

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Children’s Home, Dublin Road, Tuam, Ireland circa 1950. (Courtesy of Catherine Corless/Tuam Historical Society)

This heart-searing story comes from the Washington Post.

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours [“Good Help”] nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins. …

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. …

Malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Infant mortality at the Home was staggeringly high. …

Special kinds of neglect and abuse were reserved for the Home Babies, as locals call them. Many in surrounding communities remember them. They remember how they were segregated to the fringes of classrooms, and how the local nuns accentuated the differences between them and the others. They remember how … they were “usually gone by school age — either adopted or dead”. …

A 1944 local health board report described the children living at the Home as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” …

The historian Catherine Corless, who uncovered the septic tank grave, remembers the Home Babies:

“If you acted up in class, some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies.” … She recalled one instance in which an older schoolgirl wrapped a tiny stone in a bright candy wrapper and gave it to a Home Baby as a gift. … I copied her later and tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time…. Years after, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. … “

Locals suspect that the number of bodies in the mass grave, which will likely soon be excavated, may be even higher than 800.

A photo of some of the children at “the Home” in 1924 (Connaught Tribune, 21st June 1924)

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, Ethics by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 5, 2014

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Atheist Ireland 3

Such a transformation has come upon Ireland, not long ago so staunchly Catholic.

When did it come? With prosperity? With mass immigration?

From Creeping Sharia – a website we recommend to our readers – we learn this:

Ireland is to hold a referendum on removing a blasphemy ban from the constitution, the justice minister announced yesterday.

At the beginning of the year, the republic introduced legislation making blasphemy a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,800).

Interesting that the constitutional ban needed to be augmented by legislation. And then, so soon after the new law is passed, the referendum is proposed.

The law defines blasphemy as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted”.

The referendum will be held this autumn.

The advocacy group Atheist Ireland welcomed the decision today. When the law became operational, Atheist Ireland published 25 blasphemous statements on the internet to challenge it, including Richard Dawkins calling the Old Testament God a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; … a capriciously malevolent bully” …

Atheist Ireland chairperson Michael Nugent said: “This is a positive move by the minister. We look forward to the autumn referendum as part of our overall campaign for an ethical, secular Ireland. We ask all reasonable citizens to work together to ensure that the referendum is won.

“We reiterate that this law is both silly and dangerous: silly because it is introducing medieval canon law offence into a modern pluralist republic; and dangerous because it incites religious outrage and because its wording has already been adopted by Islamic states as part of their campaign to make blasphemy a crime internationally.

“The blasphemy reference is one of several anachronisms in our constitution that will ultimately need to be changed. Other examples are the religious oaths that prevent atheists from becoming president, or a judge, or a member of the council of state.”

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Islam, Muslims, News, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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How a rich ship owner affected Christianity 10

From time to time, for the entertainment of our atheist readers, and also (being lovers of argument) to stimulate the indignation of any believers who may visit our website, we provide notes on a religion.

The following is about Marcion and his doctrine.

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There was a time when the followers of Marcion were as numerous as those of the Pauline Christian church, and the importance of his movement is that it had an impact on the direction in which Catholic Christianity was to develop.

Marcion, son of the bishop of Sinope, a Black Sea port in Asia Minor  (modern Anatolia, Turkey), was a very rich owner of ships, a shipping magnate – the Aristotle Onassis, one might say, of his time.

He established himself as a religious leader and theologian circa 142 C.E. in Rome, which remained the centre of eventually widespread Marcosian Christianity, though he himself returned to Asia Minor where he died. Tradition has it that he started off as a Pauline Christian, but then found himself drawn by the Gnostic teachings of Cerdon, one of the many teachers who followed and diverged from Simonian Gnosticism (the teaching of Simon Magus). Cerdon preached – in Rome and elsewhere in the Empire – that the God of the Jews was not the Father of Jesus Christ. But he did not, as many other Gnostics did, anathematise the Jewish God or replace him with an evil Demiurge. While he did not hold Jehovah to be good, he did not go so far as to say that he was evil; the trouble with him was that he was merely just, and Justice was not good enough, being hard and often harsh. He was the Creator of this world, and did not know that far above him was the True Father, unknown and unknowable except by the spark of the Gnosis (the Knowledge) deep within individual souls. Only the True Father was good.

Marcion became convinced that Cerdon was right in the belief that the supreme unknown God was separate and distinct from the ‘known’ Creator and Legislator who was ‘just but not good’. Marcion named this lesser God, the God of the Jews, ‘the Cosmocrator’.

In Marcion’s system there are three planes of the universe: The highest plane or third heaven, home of the Unknown God, who could only be known to mankind after the revelations of Pauline Christianity. This is a point particularly worth noticing as very rarely has St Paul’s teaching been connected with a remote Unknown God, though he did claim that he ‘knew a man in Christ’ who was  ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (II Corinthians 12.2).

Next down was the plane of the Cosmocrator, God of Genesis and the Law, whose ‘visage is like the Devil’s’ – distorted, as it were, by an insatiable appetite for justice.

The lowest plane contains the Earth and its visible heaven, where dwells the (female) Power of Matter – in Greek, Hyle.

In Marcion’s cosmogony, the Cosmocrator creates the World along the lines told in the Book of Genesis, except that he does it in partnership with Hyle. It is she who, when he has fabricated Adam out of dust, breathes a living spirit into him. God, in fear that Adam might worship Hyle, forbids his creature to worship any other gods but himself on pain of death. But Hyle distracts Adam by multiplying gods innumerably about him, and as he cannot recognize which one of them is his Master whom he dare not fail to worship as commanded, has no choice but to worship them all. By this device, Hyle leads Man astray from obedience to the Cosmocrator, and draws him instead to herself. The Cosmocrator, angered by the defection of humankind, punitively thrusts the souls of all men into Hell – indiscriminately, in contradiction to his just character – as soon as their earthly lives come to an end, condemning them to remain there for 29 ages. But the good unknown God, the remote Stranger, sends down his Son, the Christ, to ‘take on the likeness of death’ (ie seem to die as Jesus) in order to descend into Hell, rescue all the souls of men – also indiscriminately – and take them up to the third heaven.

It was because his way to Hell lay downwards through this world, this life, that Christ came to earth. While he sojourned here, he did good. As the Good Stranger’s representative he was instructed to ‘heal lepers, raise the newly dead, and open the eyes of the blind, so that the Lord of Creatures will see thee and bring thee to a Cross. Then, at thy death, descend to Hell and bring them hence.’

When the Cosmocrator, the ‘Lord of Creatures’, realised that this was what was happening at the crucifixion, his wrath was great. ‘He tore his garment, rent in twain the veil of the Temple, and covered the sun with darkness.’ But he was helpless to intervene, and Christ emptied Hell.

Christ descended a second time, and appeared in his divine form before the Cosmocrator, and charged him with the shedding of innocent blood, the blood of Jesus. He demanded justice from him ‘for the death I suffered’. Only then did the Lord of Creatures realise the divinity of Jesus and that there was another God above himself who had sent his Son to redeem mankind. When he had fully comprehended this revelation, he supplicated Christ, confessed that he had sinned, but pleaded that he had killed him in the person of Jesus unwittingly, ‘not knowing he was a god’. Wanting to make recompense, he bid Christ ‘take all where thou wilt, until all believe in thee.’ Then Christ decreed that all who believe in him would be saved. To Paul he revealed the conditions and price (ie the blood of Jesus Christ) for mankind’s salvation, and Christ himself sent Paul to preach the redemption. So, Marcion taught, ‘the Good has purchased us with a purchase price from the God of Creatures.’ Therefore the God of Creatures, who was the God of the Law, should no longer be worshipped, his laws no longer obeyed, and the books of his Law, which had been given to his chosen people the Jews, no longer held holy.

There has been much debate as to whether Marcion should be classed as a Gnostic. The only significant difference between his teaching and that of Pauline Christianity, it has been argued by those who disregard or deny the influence of Cerdon, is that Marcion rejected the Law of Moses and the Jewish scriptures in their entirety, whereas the ‘Pauline Church’, against the wishes of Paul himself, adopted the Jewish Bible into its canon as the pre-history of Christianity, and held that the moral law it enshrined remained valid, even though the Jewish faith had been superseded – or ‘fulfilled’ – by the new revelation, only its ritual requirements being no longer in force. As it was the putative author of the Epistles himself who first proclaimed the message that the Law was abolished by the sacrifice of ‘Christ Jesus’, that the Christ had always existed since the beginning and had come to earth to save mankind; and as he sometimes used the same vocabulary, and sounded the same notes of rejection and hope that is found in the Gnostic creeds, it might be nearer the truth to class Paul as a Gnostic, rather than insist that Marcion was not.

It is not implausible to suppose that the Christian Church, beginning with Paul’s innovative ideas, was one among many emerging Gnostic creeds. That it had shed almost every discernible thread of Gnostic theogony, with its layers of heavens full of mystic Powers, by the time it came to assemble its canon for a New Testament towards the end of the 2nd century, was at least partly due to the failed efforts of Marcion to establish a purer Pauline church, according to his interpretation of the message of Paul.

Some distinctly Gnostic passages remain in the Christian canon, such as this from the Epistle to the Ephesians (6:12):

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

But the Church-approved New Testament revised, diluted,  contradicted, reinterpreted, and to a large extent transformed the Paulinism which Marcion knew and loved, until such exciting and beautiful passages of Gnostic poetry that lie like nuggets of gold in the leaden texts have lost the meaning they once had.

The Catholic Church, carefully developing internal order by means of a structured hierarchical system, made the decision to retain the Jewish scriptures and reaffirm the commandments engraved in the stones of Sinai precisely because its leaders could see in the rival church of Marcion what happened to a new religion if its adherents clung to antinomianism and depended on inspiration alone for continuance. The Marcionite church steadfastly refused to take on a structure, so it could not last. As the centuries of our common era wore on, it gradually dissolved before the eyes and – to the relief of the Catholic Church – lost itself in the opacity of an esoteric mythology, and slowly faded away. In the West it lasted for some three hundred years, longer in the Byzantine empire.

Before it disappeared, it taught the Church a lesson, by means of which it contributed to the history of Catholicism and all the faiths that sprang from it in heresy or rebellion or reformation in later ages. What happened was that Marcion put together a New Testament (Apostolicon). The Church Fathers did not approve of all his choices, but realised that a body of scripture was vitally necessary to the validation and spread of doctrine, and could be as important to the survival of the Church as a constitution. Marcion’s New Testament was not sufficient in itself to keep Marcosianism alive, but Christianity, however well organized and established and governed, found it could not do without the written word. Of course it might very well have come to the same conclusion had Marcion not given it the idea, but it was in reaction to Marcion’s compilation of Christian scriptures that the Church decided to do the same thing. The Church compiled a New Testament after Marcion had done so. There are similarities and differences between the two sets of gospels. What Marcion started the Church built on, and the eventual result was the much redacted New Testament that the ages have inherited.

Jillian Becker  January 2, 2010

Posted under Articles, Christianity, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Saturday, January 2, 2010

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