Thomas Paine: Biblical Arguments for the American Revolution and the Thomas Jefferson Bible

Since today is the American Independence day, here is a brief look at the issue of how the founding fathers understood the Bible. In view of our current political challenges, it is worth asking whether the Bible itself supports monarchy or democracy.  (And, as an aside, do we have a new King George, aspirationally or in the making, on our hands. See link: USA Today: King Trump).

Were the founding fathers of America, most of them Deists, opposed to divine revelation or to the inspired quality of the Sacred Scriptures?

Thomas Paine

In his argument for the American Revolution and in his tract Common Sense, Thomas Paine argued, making biblical appeals, that America should accept no King except God. Paine cited Judges 8:23: “And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.” (KJV). Here is an interesting argument, in this regard, which I quote from the article linked here: Thomas Paine: No King but God

The children of Israel being oppressed by the Midianites, Gideon marched against them with a small army, and victory, thro’ the divine interposition [providence], decided in his favor. The Jews elate with success, and attributing it to the generalship of Gideon, proposed making him a king, saying, Rule thou over us, thou and thy son and thy son’s son. Here was temptation in its fullest extent; not a kingdom only, but a hereditary one, but Gideon in the piety of his soul replied, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you. Words need not be more explicit; Gideon doth not decline the honor, but denieth their right to give it; neither doth he compliment them with invented declarations of his thanks, but in the positive stile of a prophet charges them with disaffection to their proper Sovereign, the King of heaven.

Thomas Jefferson 

Thomas Jefferson argued for American democracy on the grounds that Jesus was an exemplary moral teacher, whose principles form the foundation for American democracy.  For Jefferson, in his adaptation of the Bible called the Jefferson Bible, miracles were but superstition.

See this article:  Jefferson Bible. Here’s an article about the Bible that Jefferson must have used in making his own adaptation: Editing Jefferson’s Bible

See this video:

Advertisements

When Prophecy Fails (or Seems to)

2012 Prophecies: the Shift 

What ever happened to the golden age, which was supposed to be impending, long predicted by the Mayans and other ancient seers? On December 21, 2102, it was said, we would shift to a higher dimension or the 5th dimension. Suffering would dissolve, at least for those who cooperate with the process.

Since the world did not transform in an instant, in the aftermath of the shift predicted for 2012, many explain that no miracle had ever been predicted. A new heaven and new earth would not suddenly descend and be made real. Quite the contrary, the shift predicted would be an ongoing and gradual one.

Can’t you feel it? We are living in a new time, a quickening, aren’t we? The prophecy has come true, at least for those who have a heart to experience it.

A statement that can meaningfully be true, in logical terms, must be falsifiable, capable of being true or false. Prophecies are not always falsifiable which means that they cannot, necessarily, be verified logically.

It may be that prophetic speech is less like a prediction – which can be verified and falsified — than like a warning, which people may heed or ignore.

Biblical Prophets: No-Win 

Biblical prophets have faced a dilemma from at least the time of Jeremiah. If a prophet’s teachings are accepted because they prophesy good times and prosperity, they are likely to be false; the prophet has conjured an auspicious forecast in order to flatter the ruling establishment and to garner popularity for him or herself.

If the prophet forecasts doom, however, he or she may be regarded as a false prophet if the doom and disaster do not happen as planned. Under such conditions, it may seem that the only way a prophet can earn a reputation for accuracy is by forecasting a horrible fate that, in fact, transpires just as foreseen — (in which case, naturally, the prophet suffers because he or she will be assaulted and attacked for stating a dire predicament from which none can escape).

No wonder many prophets argue and protest when they are called to the office of  prophet!

Biblical Prophecy: Prediction or Warning?

The prophet’s fate may be rosier if he or she gives others the chance to repent and change their future.  Prophecies may be intended less as predictions than as warnings.  Does the prophet predict a future that will happen with undeviating precision? Or are prophecies aimed at moral reform, in which case the prophet serves to alert people that they ought to change their ways, lest there be unfortunate consequences?

The latter option — that prophecy aims at repentance and a change of heart — makes sense of the prophet’s role as a grim supervisor of morality.  If a painful outcome is avoided, the people may have been fairly warned and may have changed their ways in order to avert the negative outcome. Conversely, if the golden age has not yet arrived, perhaps people must change their hearts before being capable of receiving it.

So what do you think, Lightworkers? Did we undergo a shift or turn of the ages with 2012? What does that prophecy mean to you? (Send along your thoughts.)

See this classic treatment of failed prophecies:

http://Book: When Prophecy Fails 1956 Online Full Text

See this article about the prophecies of Nostradamus at the millennium. The article discusses Delores Cannon, one of the prophets of the new age.

1996 article on failed doomsday prophecies

Be like a Child

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14

What makes a beloved childhood adorable, to so many of us, may be the child’s exuberance, creativity, playfulness, and imagination. A child’s emotional honesty is also compelling. While adults harbor complicated infatuations, children respond to kindness with openness and generosity — from wherever it comes. Although children will shrink from cruelty,  usually they keep no record of wrongs (unless their trust is betrayed) nor do they play the victim.  Adults hold grudges, propelled by self-righteousness and victimization.

Feelings flow through children: sadness, anger, or boredom can give way, relatively rapidly, to joy, peace, and rapt interest. If only the hearts of adults were not so frozen over by despair, disappointment, and even (occasionally) deceit, they might regenerate their joy in life,  easily.  Children, attracted by a joyful heart, would visit them, unhiindered, to play games or to rest and to be renewed.

Besides the expressive and emotional qualities of children, which are enlivening and rejuvenating, the miracle of a child is that he or she enters the world already equipped with an intact personality and innate gifts. How do such well-formed persons emerge from invisible dimensions? Biology can trace the material foundations of life, and describe the human person in terms of DNA, without ever touching upon the mystery of the incarnation of life (in earthly and visible from) from a transcendent source (which is heavenly and invisible). Astonishing.

Children generally show a benign indifference to their own limitations — (at least until they are much older or until they are socialized to inhibit themselves). For instance, one child I know draws elaborate maps of neighborhoods in his native city. After doing so, every afternoon, he moves onto singing while making videos of his performances. After these activities, he has a snack and takes a rest. Next, this curious child mops the floor of the kitchen. Fascinated to experience this thing, too, he slides on suds of soap. What may be a chore to an adult is fun and a game for a child. The child reads or acts out a skit. At dinner time, he helps the adults to cook by cutting vegetables.

By way of contrast, consider how adults behave.  Clutching to their talents and contributions, adults develop an identity in the world from which to derive their  self-esteem. In the longer run, this identity may deprive them of spontaneity and joy.

Let us suppose that an adult proficient at maps becomes an engineer or graphic design specialist. Thanks to awards, this hypothetical person gets jobs based on such skills. Once commodified, however, the skill in question is liable to become something clung to for fear of loss. Furthermore, as the engineer in question compares his or her talents to those of others in the field, this act of comparison may tempt her or him to indulge in arrogance or envy.

Once talents are defined, owned, and commodified by people and economies, people can become burdened by their gifts by losing flexibility. The graphic designer with expertise at visual art holds him or herself back from performing songs: “After all, I’m a graphic artist not a musician. And by the way, I will hire somebody to mop my floor and cook for me since those chores are no fun.”

Let us as adults become like children. We shall move to the center of our being– to that spontaneous, creative place. Letting go of ideas of who we are, and who we should be, we dispense with limiting beliefs about our talents and our deficiencies. We explore our joys and interests. Experimental, playful: such are qualities of children. Freedom.

 

 

Bread, Freedom, or a Kiss: John 6 / Grand Inquisitor

j6hj3k43Hello Lightworkers,

This post is for our Gospel of John study #35 (see the text reproduced below– all the way below the second picture).

Satan’s Temptation

The Grand Inquisitor, in Dostoyevsky’s parable, asks Jesus to justify his claims to freedom and his refusal of Satan’s offer. In the famous temptation scenes in the Gospels, Satan offers Jesus the chance to prove his abilities by turning stones into bread. In Dostoyevsky’s episode, the character Ivan (who speaks for the Grand Inquisitor) argues that the ability to feed the multitudes by bread is the basis for both political and religious authority. Human beings require to have their stomachs filled. Where one aches in hunger, freedom will count as whatever thing may appease one’s appetites and guarantee one’s survival. Thus, if Jesus had wanted a popular following, he should rightly have accepted the Devil’s suggestion, to turn stones into bread.

In John 6, while Jesus does perform a miracle of feeding, he refuses to become a political king on this basis; even though the crowds wish to make him a king, Jesus escapes from their grasp.  In effect, Jesus dissents from the Grand Inquisitor’s worldview (as spoken by Ivan) and from seizing for himself spiritual authority on the basis of an economic and political platform.

What is Freedom?

In what does freedom consist? And must our survival be assured (our material needs satisfied) before freedom can be enjoyed? Dostoyevsky provides an answer which bypasses this alternative: a kiss (this resolution will be explained below).

Jesus Refuses the Role of King

In John 6, Jesus continues his miracles by feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-15). The feeding of the five thousand occurs in all four gospels. John interprets this miracle as a sign to the crowds that Jesus is king. Jesus is the long awaited “prophet like Moses,” who was expected to become king while doing miracles–reminiscent of a legendary time in Israel’s history. Just as God fed the people in the wilderness with manna, so Jesus will do so with bread. Yet, if the crowds expect Jesus to be king, it is a role that Jesus himself refuses: (John 6:15) “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

In this historical period while Israel rose up against Rome, the imperial overlord, a number of leaders performed miracles while claiming to be prophets and kings. One may read about such movements in the works of Richard Horsley here: Bandits, Prophets, Messiahs. Significant for John is that Jesus refuses the role of popular political leader or king.

Later in John 6, Jesus will make the baffling claim that unlike Moses, he does not merely feed people with bread. Rather Jesus is himself the Bread given for the world: (John 6:35) “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus’s refusal may be elucidated, then, by the Grand Inquisitor episode in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Here is the audio book version: Audio Book: Grand Inquisitor. Here is the full text of the episode: Text Grand Inquisitor Episode and here: Grand Inquisitor.

Ivan’s Challenge

In this episode, Ivan claims that if Jesus were to return, he would be arrested by the Church and prosecuted by the Inquisition, specifically for his refusal of Satan when Satan challenges him to turn stone into bread. Ivan’s challenge pertains also to John 6:15, where Jesus refuses to become an earthly king, whose job is to feed and improve the material conditions of people’s lives.

The masses, Ivan says, require a political ruler who will give bread to eat. Virtue and freedom lack utility and have no substance when economic conditions are unstable.  Regarding Jesus’s claim to provide the bread of heaven rather than earthly bread, Ivan urges: “And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly?”

Ivan’s question is alive in our own day: how may we live in freedom if our basic needs are not supplied? Shouldn’t bread come first and our needs be satisfied? Before freedom can be genuinely claimed and lived?

Christ’s Solution: The Kiss

The response of Christ to Ivan’s challenge, in this episode, mirrors the response of his brother Aloysha, who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and it echoes a scene earlier in the book. In the earlier scene the monk Zosima bows to their brother Demitri. Similarly, Jesus responds with a kiss.

The kiss reverses the kiss of Judas from the Gospels. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, kisses Jesus to reveal his identity to the arresting party. Judas trades Jesus away for money. Judas has argued that the perfume, which Mary squanders by anointing the feet of Jesus, ought to be sold and donated to the poor. Judas puts material needs above the intrinsic dignity of life itself. Mary, by contrast, lavishes love upon Jesus by making free use of perfume to anoint Jesus’s feet in honor of his role as savior.

Christ’s kiss in Dostoyevsky’s story does the opposite of Judas’s betrayal. Like Mary’s anointing of Jesus’s feet in the Gospel, so Christ’s kiss affirms the intrinsic dignity of life and the human being. Each of us is beloved. Our beloved stature before God, not bread alone, gives us our freedom.

Freedom: The Kiss Reconciles Heaven and Earth

The kiss reconciles heaven and earth. On earth, we need food and bread. In heaven, our freedom is assured. The two realms, heaven and earth, can be discrepant. Love — the kiss — reconciles them. Through love, we know our own worthiness. On the basis of this love, we may create a social order which generously provides, for all, sufficient material resources: bread not stone, the bread of life (love), not the stone of greed and materialism.

the-arrest-of-christ-kiss-of-judas

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss

John 6  (NIV) Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Crossing Cultures: Algonquin Bible (1663): First Bible Printed in the USA

Hello Lightworkers, and other spiritual non-conformists,

How do cultures and religions mix, so that each party has an equal standing with the other? May such free exchanges occur? Or does religion tend to take hold and spread only through conquest and rank aggression? As I will indicate, certain figures play mediating roles, between cultures, even in times of strife or warfare. Such was the case in colonial America.

Please note before we start that I am not an expert about this complicated and controversial episode in the history of North America. However, I am judiciously concerned to raise some questions about the history of missionary pursuits and intercultural religious exchange.

Throughout  US history, Indian culture and religion came to be curtailed and rudely suppressed by the government. There were massacres. Yet, episodes of equal exchange, mutual curiosity, and reciprocal aid, may have punctuated early Puritan history.  In the 1600’s, in fact, the English colonists in North America to the “new world” were often quite eager to find refuge, welcome, and hospitality among the Indians. In turn, the Indians may have been comparatively reluctant to assimilate to European ways. (See: Crossing the Cultural Divide: New Englander and Indians).

John Eliot, the 17th century Puritan, “apostle to the Indians,” who translated the Bible into Algonquin, an Indian language, undertook his work in collaboration with Indian allies. A biblical scholar, adept in translation and ancient biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), Eliot had the linguistic ability to translate not only the Bible but also documents, called the Indian Library, which preserve Native culture for later generations and other cultures. Eliot may have served, also, to defend Indians against the more rapacious colonizers, among Eliot’s compatriots, who would seize and plunder their land. Eliot immersed himself in the culture of the Indians and learned Algonquin, a difficult language, so well that he preached in the Algonquin language, for the first time in 1647. He set up towns of Praying Indians, which governed themselves. He advocated for the Indians with the British King.

Many of the colonizers, and missionaries to the Indians, were exiles from their own homelands in England and the continent. They had lost their religious home. They were, themselves, deracinated.  Such was John Eliot. In the process of leading missions to the Indians, he was escaping religious persecution, directed at him as a “non-conformist” in his native England. If the colonizers knew persecution and violence first-hand, some of them – like John Eliot – refrained from inflicting the same on Indians in the new world –while others perpetrated such ills against them.

Indian figures like Squanto (who died in 1622), and Samson Occom (an Indian convert to Christianity and preacher during the Great Awakening), established concord with the Christian white people, although their peace and kindness were later repaid by betrayal–(at the hands of other men). According to the Life of John Eliot, the Apostle of the Indians, by John Wilson (1828), similarly one Indian named John, a Sagamore, requested of a Boston clergyman, on his deathbed, that his son might learn about the God of the English.

Conquest, kidnappings, and the cruel suppression of Native American cultures did occur in US History. Was the Algonquin Bible, however, a counterexample and a testament to amicable relations, across cultures?

Such questions cluster around the first printed Bible, in the Algonquin language, produced by John Eliot. The Indians he met in Massachusetts did not read or write. They relied on their spoken language.  Eliot taught them the English (Latin) alphabet. He then used this alphabet to transcribe, phonetically, the Algonquin spoken language.

Thus, the first translation into a Native American language of the Bible may exhibit a spirit of friendship, between the English and the American Indians, thus modeling a certain parity and amity. Some scholars do regard John Eliot as an inter-cultural mediator of beneficent impact (see: Eliot as Mediator). Eliot may have protected the Indians, and advocated for their rights, with his own more bellicose compatriots.

Below is a leaflet from the first edition of the Algonquin New Testament. Here is a reprint of the Algonquin New Testament: Algonquin NT. Dartmouth holds Eliot’s originals : Eliot Collection. Here is some information about religious persecution in Europe of the period: 17th century religious persecution

leaf_eliot1663