Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Monday, February 4, 2013

Is there a hell?


Here's some very good news for all Christians.  Not just good news, but REALLY good news.  THERE IS NO HELL.  That's right.  It doesn't exist.  It's all one big fairy tale, to scare children into behaving; and likewise those oodles of grown-up children who need the threat of punishment to keep them on the straight and narrow path of righteousness


So how can we be sure Hell doesn't exist?  After all, our immortal soul is at stake here.  What if we make the wrong bet and spend our eternity in Hell?


What proof is there that hell doesn't exist?  Indeed, if we had to vote for one place that we would prefer didn't exist, it would probably be Hell; so you'd think if there was any proof it didn't exist, somebody would have found it out by now.   Unfortunately no-one has ever found it.  There is no such proof because no-one has ever come back to tell us one way or the other.

So how about extra-terrestrials.  No-one ever sees them, but people still believe they exist.

So if your rationale for believing that hell exists is that there's no proof it doesn't, then you should also be a believer in ETs; and likewise you're right up there with the OJ Simpson jurors, who, when confronted with the evidence that the only footprints at the scene of the murder were OJ Simpson's, chose to believe that some other being that trod the Earth without leaving footprints had murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.


For those who want actual proof (and believe that OJ Simpson was guilty), the question becomes: what proof is there that Hell does exist?

Let's go to the bible and look there for the answer.  Let's even go one step further and agree that if the bible says it's true, then it's true (even though we might hate to beg the question like this.)

Let's take that as our starting point:

What does the Old Testament say about Hell?

No, seriously, what does it say?

Does it say Hell exists?

Does it say anything about Hell?"

Does it even mention Hell?

The answer is a huge NO.

There is no mention of "Hell", and there is no mention of the possibility of suffering after death anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament.


It all comes down to a misinterpretation of the hebrew word "Sheol", which is given the meaning "Hell" whereas it really means "the grave".  How do we know this?  Let's take some examples where Sheol is mentioned and for the moment give it the meaning of "Hell" (an inescapable place of suffering where God is absent.)

(1) King David said that if he made his bed in Sheol, God would be there with him.

    - God in Hell with David - hardly.  But in the grave, yes.

(2) Job asked to be hidden from suffering in Sheol.

    - the grave as a place where a man can finally hide from his sufferings in this life.  Hell would not have served that purpose.

(3) The sons of Korah said that God would redeem them from Sheol.

    -they would have asked for redemption to be granted them in this life, to be saved before they had died and gone to Hell.

(4) The prophet Ezekiel and the apostle Paul agreed that all Israel would be saved, and yet Israel himself said that he would be reunited with his son Joseph in Sheol.

    -would it make sense for all of the nation of Israel to be saved and yet for Israel himself to be living with his son Joseph in Hell?   Yet a father grieving for the death of his favorite son would wish to be reunited with him in the grave.  In each case Sheol clearly means "the grave" and cannot be interpreted as "Hell".

This has been confirmed by conservative Bible scholars because there is no mention of the word "Hell" in the Old Testaments of the New International Version (the best-selling Bible), the New American Bible Revised Edition (published by the Roman Catholic Church), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (published by the famously literal Southern Baptist Convention), or most other modern translations of the Bible.

Where did Hell come from?
What is Heaven?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Did Santa get high?


Quick!  What does this image remind you of?  If you said or thought Santa, read on.


What do we really know about this  guy who climbs down chimneys dressed in red and white, and gives presents to children?

Well, we know he wears a bright red outfit, trimmed with white fur.
We know he has a white beard and glowing, red cheeks
He rides around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
He also flies around in the same sleigh pulled by reindeer that can fly.
And of course, he climbs down chimneys.
He puts presents into stockings hanging by the fireplace.
He has something to do with the North Pole.

That pretty much covers the sum total of our knowledge of Santa.


Now let's ask the question, "Why".

Why does Santa wear a red and white outfit?
Why is he an old man?
Why does he live in the frozen, northern wastelands, (instead of, for example, on an island in the Mediterranean)?
Why does he fly?
And again, why does he climb down chimneys?

Also, why do we put a star on top of our Christmas trees?
Why are Christmas trees coniferous?


A theory that answers all of these questions takes us to Siberia and the ancient traditions of the Siberian shamans.  At least we're in the right place - the frozen north lands.

The word 'shaman' comes from the Tungus-speaking people of Siberia, and it can be defined as a religious specialist.  The Tungusic are Russian indigenous people who live in the Arctic circle.  They are reindeer herders.

The shaman dealt with mushrooms, and their spiritual (hallucinogenic) properties, in particular with a mushroom called Amanita Muscaria, also known as Fly Agaric that causes visions and altered states.  It is also toxic, and must be handled in a particular manner so as to get the psychedelic effects without the toxic ones; and that was the shaman's job.  (For more on the subject of this marvelous mushroom, go to Little Foxes and the History of Civilization.)


Santa Claus, so the theory goes, is modeled on this shaman.  His appearance, his clothing, and his mannerisms all mark him as the reincarnation of these ancient mushroom-gathering shamans.  The shaman would also have been an old man, which explains Santa's white beard.

In fact, our current idea of a roly-poly Santa has him even looking like a round red and white mushroom.

One of the side effects of eating amanita mushrooms is that the skin and facial features take on a flushed, ruddy glow; and Santa is always shown with glowing cheeks and a red nose.

As for his jolly "Ho, ho, ho!", that could be the euphoric laugh of one who has indulged in the magic fungus.

Santa also dresses like a shamanic mushroom gatherer.  When it was time to go out and harvest the magical mushrooms, the ancient shamans would dress much like Santa, wearing red and white fur-trimmed coats and long black boots; probably ceremonial clothing to match the mushrooms.  (The white fur would be easy to get in the frozen north of silver foxes and other fur-skinned animals, but where did the red dye come from?)


What about the gifts in a sack slung over his shoulder?

The shamans would gather the mushrooms from under the sacred trees (coniferous trees, now Xmas trees) where they grew.

First they would hang the mushrooms on nearby pine boughs to partially dry.  This is why we decorate our Christmas trees with ornaments and light bulbs, because the gatherers would  adorn trees with drying mushrooms.

Drying the amanita mushroom before it is consumed is crucial; the drying process reduces the mushroom's toxicity while increasing its potency.

The dwellings in which these peoples lived were made of birch and reindeer hide.  They were called "yurts", and were similar to the teepees of the North American Indians.  The yurt's central smokehole is often also used as an entrance after snowdrifts have covered the lower parts of the yurt, where the regular entry flap would be located.

The shaman would take his sack of partially dried out mushrooms and enter the yurts through the smoke hole, (Santa coming down the chimney.)

He would distribute his gifts, the mushrooms, which would then be threaded on a string and hung around the hearth-fire to dry out.  Alternatively the mushrooms could be placed in socks and hung by the fire.  Socks were probably used because clothing amongst these poor peoples was crucial in winter, and anything that resembled a bag would have a more important function as a sock.  These traditions are echoed in the modern stringing of popcorn and other items, as well as the hanging of socks by the fireplace

The shaman would deliver his 'presents' on the evening preceding the winter solstice; and the mushrooms would be ready to share their revelatory gifts in the morning of the solstice.


Santa's famous magical journey, where his sleigh takes him around the whole planet in a single night comes from the "heavenly chariot," used by the gods Odin and Thor.  The chariot is now known as the Big Dipper, which circles around the North Star in a 24-hour period.


Flying reindeer?

Possibly the reindeer would drink the urine of the people who were under the influence of the amanita mushroom and get 'high' and start prancing around.  Having experienced the magical effects and knowing them to be akin to flying, the people would come out of their yurts to watch and laugh at the 'flying' reindeer


The World Tree .

These ancient peoples, including the Lapps of modern-day Finland, and the Koyak tribes of the central Russian steppes, believed in the idea of a World Tree.  It was seen as a kind of cosmic axis, the roots stretching down into the underworld, its trunk being the "middle earth" of everyday existence, and its branches reaching upwards into the heavenly realm.

The North Star was considered sacred, since all other stars in the sky revolved around its fixed point.  The top of the World Tree touched the North Star - and that is the true meaning of the star on top of the modern Christmas tree, (and also the reason that Santa makes his home at the North Pole.)


"Getting Pissed"

Gross-out warning!

The active ingredients of the amanita mushrooms are not metabolized by the body, and so they remain active in the urine.   In fact, it is safer to drink the urine of one who has consumed the mushrooms than to eat the mushrooms directly, as many of the toxic compounds are processed and eliminated on the first pass through the body.

It was common practice among ancient people to recycle the potent effects of the mushroom by drinking each other's urine.  The amanita's ingredients can remain potent even after six passes through the human body.  Some scholars argue that this is the origin of the phrase "to get pissed," as this urine-drinking activity preceded alcohol by thousands of years.

Reindeer were the sacred animals of these semi-nomadic people, as the reindeer provided food, shelter, clothing and other necessities.  Reindeer are fond of eating the amanita mushrooms; they will seek them out, then prance about while under their influence.  Reindeer also enjoy the urine of a human, and they can get hooked on the urine which follows the consuming of the mushrooms.  Some tribesmen carry sealskin containers of their own collected piss, which they use to attract stray reindeer back into the herd.


Well, there is.  It's just a theory, but it covers all the bases, from chimneys to the North Star.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

TO BE thine own self, or NOT TO BE thine own self


In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius says:

                  "...... to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Polonius gives this immortal advice to his son Laertes who is leaving home to begin his university education.


Here's another quote, author unknown:

"I've been many things in my life, but the one thing I've never been is myself."

Reconciling these two quotations could mean the start of a new life.


Given the character of Polonius that Shakespeare was fleshing out, what his advice probably means is, "look out for yourself first; when you take care of yourself, you'll be in the best position to take care of others." In this case "true" would mean "loyal to your own best interests".  We shouldn't mistake this for Shakespeare's so-called "universal wisdom".  He was a writer of fiction after all.  It does make sense though; if you want to be charitable, you need to have the money to give.

Perhaps it's best to ignore this bit of realism.  Let's focus on the poetic sensibility of the lines and stick with a meaning where the poetry speaks to the heart.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Columbus' Egg and Facebook


Columbus' Egg refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact.

Italian historian and traveler Girolamo Benzoni in his book 'History of the New World', published in 1565, wrote that Columbus was dining with a number of Spanish nobles when one of them said: "Sir Christopher, even if your lordship had not discovered the Indies, there would have been someone else here in Spain, which is a country abundant with great men versed in cosmography and literature, who would have started a similar adventure with the same result."

Columbus did not respond to these words but asked for an egg to be brought to him.  He placed the egg on the table and said: "I will lay a wager with any of you that none among you is able to make this egg stand on its end, which I will do without any kind of help or aid."  They all tried without success.  When the egg returned to Columbus, he tapped it gently on the table to flatten the tip slightly and so stood it on its end.  All those present understood what he meant - once the feat has been done, anyone knows how to do it.


According to Vasari (a chronicler of Renaissance artists), the young Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi had designed an unusually large and heavy dome for Santa Maria del Fiore, the new cathedral of Florence.  City officials had asked to see his model, but he refused.

Instead he proposed that anyone who could make an egg stand upright on a flat piece of marble should build the cupola, since in this way a man's intellect would be revealed. None was able to accomplish the feat.  Whereupon Filippo was told to make it stand.  He took the egg graciously and gave one end of it a blow on the flat piece of marble, thus making it stand upright.

The craftsmen protested that they could have done the same.  Filippo answered, laughing, that they could also raise the cupola, if they saw the model or the design.  And so the decision was made to give Brunelleschi the commission to carry out the construction of the dome.

When the Duomo was finally built it had the shape of half an egg slightly flattened at the top.

The concept of this story is a little different from Columbus' Egg, for that was a metaphor for those acts of creativity that give everybody 20/20 hindsight after the fact; the Brunelleschi story is more of an intellectual conundrum since his plan had not yet been revealed.

It is possible that Columbus, being Italian, had read the Vasari story, whereas the Spanish Grandees were not aware of it.


What could be more obvious than a website that would function like a private house where friends gather to talk in private, and invite other friends, and share photos, ideas, opinions etc.

But no-one did it till that guy from Harvard came up with Facebook - Columbus' Golden Egg.


If the story of Columbus' Egg says anything, it's this - the mark of  a creative mind is an ability to see the obvious.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Farmers and The Magnificent Seven.


 Dialogue about peasants (farmers), from The Magnificent Seven:              

"They are afraid of everyone and everything.

They are afraid of rain, and no rain...

The summer may be too hot, the winter - too cold.

The sow has no pigs, the farmer is afraid he may starve.

She has too many, he's afraid she may starve."


The farmers across the midwest were complaining that this would be a terrible year for them because of the extended drought - all the worse because the early spring had raised hopes of a banner year, and they had over planted accordingly.

Amazingly, after all the complaining about the heat and lack of rain, this year (2012) may not be so bad.


There's no question there will be less corn for sale than expected in the U.S. this year. But here's the rub - it's driven grain prices to record levels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said despite the current drought, it predicts net farm income will rise 3.7 percent this year to more than $122 billion, as high grain prices offset loss of production.

Most grain and oil seed farmers have taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance which will cover, on average, 70–80 percent of their loss of "average production."  It is also becoming apparent that most farmers will still have some corn they can sell at top prices, if they haven't pre-contracted too much of it back when corn was $5 a bushel instead of $8, and provided they made the decision to buy crop insurance - it's a free country, and it's their choice, but they could complain that they made the wrong choice


In fact, some farmers will make more money this year having crop insurance than they would have if there was a normal yield because they planted so many corn acres.

Surely someone's got to get hurt.  Possibly the livestock producers because of the high cost of corn.  And so it goes on - unless there's still another angle to this.

And then there are the insurers, which includes the federal government, which means taxpayers like you or me.  We should be the ones complaining.  We're the peasants from The Magnificent Seven.


It seems someone always benefits from a drought.  Remember the movie Chinatown. There's a drought in Los Angeles sometime in the thirties. The sheep farmers certainly aren't benefiting, as is made clear at the beginning of the movie when a flock of sheep is herded into the city water department meeting in protest.

Turns out it's Noah Cross, (played by John Huston), who's going to benefit.  He's been buying up land in the Valley at daylight robbery prices driven down by the drought; and while he has been siphoning off city water to irrigate his orange groves, he's been depriving the other landowners of water so that he can buy their land cheap.  Too far fetched?, or not.

Victorian Bodybuilding (Lack of).

                                       Members of Brighton Swimming Club, England 1863.


1863, the middle of the American Civil War.  That gives an idea of the time period of the photograph.  Note the physiques.  No six-packs.  Bodybuilding was not part of the health club culture of Victorian England.  Yet this was the England that was building an empire as large as that of Genghis Khan, and sending out young men like these to administer the vast domains.


From the top hats that they are wearing, they appear to belong to the upper classes.  The working classes, who do not appear to have been invited to participate in the activities of the Brighton Swimming Club, may well have had more solid physiques.  But just as Theodore Roosevelt writes in his "The Winning of the West: The spread of English-speaking peoples", the American frontiersman was seldom a match for the Indian in a one to one fight; so the English soldier, whichever class he came from, would seldom have been a match for a Zulu warrior.  But that is not what colonial warfare was about.  It was about firepower and military discipline, and character.


Victorian England was the age of the cold showers as a way of building character.  Even the Prime Minister of England, Benjamin Disraeli, was not immune to the cold shower craze; but he had a hard time pulling the trigger, and while he stood apprehensively under the shower, it devolved on his wife to actually turn on the cold water.

The photograph is from the BBC History magazine, August 2012