The Rite: Propaganda at its Finest

The Rite is another movie in a long series of the everything ever conceived by the Catholic Church is absolutely true genre that would have us clutching religion for salvation. I have to admit, it is a very effective piece of propaganda. The words Based on True Events usher in the movie where we find that after nearly completing seminary school, the young Michael Kovak has apparently lost his faith. Excelling in psychology, he views religion as a false answer to people’s qualms about death.

Clever to use a skeptic to be the protagonist, as Kovak will learn through the tutelage of Father Lucas Trevant (played by Anthony Hopkins) that Satan is, in fact, very real and counts on our ignorance or lack of belief in Him as being his strongest power for deceiving wayward souls. Kovak is seemingly rational as he disputes the evidence of demonic possession in Rome as a first-hand witness to Father Trevant’s “client roster”.

If you actually believed that this movie was a literal transcription of true events, then you would probably be scared shitless that you might be possessed in your sleep tonight. If you somehow suspect that Hollywood has resorted to a little artistic flourish in dramatizing these events (replete with movie make-up effects and all), then you’ll doubt the accuracy of the movie entirely—as I do.

But I’m not going to approach this problem from a purely atheistic perspective, mostly because I’m a pantheist. But let’s grant monotheism for a moment. So there’s God: loving, all-powerful, all knowing. . . If Christian’s grant this, then the idea of Satan falls flat. Why would an all powerful God allow Satan to exist throughout time to tempt weak souls? Why would a loving God allow souls to be tormented for all time in Hell? Why should we suppose that an omnipotent God would allow his anti-thetical opponent to battle him for all ages for the claim of human (or alien) souls?

The answer is, he wouldn’t. A loving God could not refuse entrance to any dead person wanting to be in Heaven, if it meant that person would go straight to Hell. It’s simply not possible to be the perfect manifestation of love and then condemn people through their unworthiness to unimaginable, unendurable, and unending suffering in some plane of existence. Maybe a sadistic God of the Hebrew Bible would allow this to happen. But the God of Christ would not allow such thing, should he be loving as so many followers of Christ insist he is.

Then there is the all powerful problem. If God is all powerful, then why should he even allow Lucifer to persist in tempting souls? Why not just destroy him? God’s all powerful, but he won’t smote the most crucial enemy of his whole plan? He’ll just let this Fallen Angel doom many of God’s flock to unending torment and suffering?

These are just inconsistencies of the Christian notion of God which allow for Satan. It simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s employ the great Ockham’s Razor here. Let’s do it as a theist or agnostic even. . .

Is it more likely that a loving, all-powerful God wants humans to go to Heaven but has decided not to use his power or immense love to save humanity from the grips of Satan? Or is it more likely that Satan is one of the most effective recruiting tools in the employ of the Christian churches in scaring people into believing in God and whatever the church tells you to believe?

*Side note, God is all-powerful and omniscient, but he’s no good with money. Can do anything he wants but doesn’t know what to do with a dollar bill. That’s why you have to give so much to your churches (tax free income for them, of course).

And, yes, I stole that joke from the great George Carlin.

Yes, Satan is a powerful recruiting tool when you are a child being compulsed into going to church to hear sermons of a fire-and-brimstone Hell ruled by Satan and the suffering souls of people who made the wrong choice with their Free Will.

Never mind that Free Will is a farce if there is only one decision you can make that God will accept. What choice is there in living 80 years as you like if you suffer eternity in Hell because God gave only a couple right answers and a billion wrong ones to the multiple-choice question of what to do with your life?

No, I don’t believe in Satan, and have far different notions about God(far removed from the one that Christians are so adamant that they believe in). Pantheism is both a difficult and simple concept all at once. Does it allow for some singularity-type consciousness in the Universe? Maybe. Does it transcend the Universe or is it imbued into it? Hard to say. I’m not going to use this entry to outline Pantheism here. I just want to outline that I don’t take the “evidence” that The Rite displays as evidence for Satan. More likely, it just shows how a lot of people (both possessed and ordained) are seeing and believing things that they want to believe.

I’ll end with a short, nonsensical story that I heard a Christian tell me once as justification of the most cliché version of Heaven you could ever conceive. He had read a book about a boy who was dead for 3 minutes and was resuscitated. Since his close family were apparently die-hard Christians, they interrogated the boy about what he saw while he was dead. Let’s say that this boy is about 5.

This Christian man felt that the boy’s answers proved beyond all doubt that when you die, you float up to the clouds and see the Pearly-White gates version of Heaven. He was asked, who sits to the right of God? “Jesus” the boy answers. Who sits to the left of God? “Gabriel”, says the boy. Now, queries the Christian man to me, “How does a boy of 5 know about Gabriel?”

Hmm, if I had to guess, I’d say it was his parents or church? No, that’s too simple. The boy had to get this knowledge from an actual, after-life experience. More “evidence” for you to consider from the nearly empty collection of Christian evidences.

© David Metcalf

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What you DON’T know about Jesus

If you think I’m going to write scathingly about Jesus, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This is not an attack piece on the central figure of Christianity. Jesus is easily an admirable person, as Douglas Adams humorously stated, “[Jesus] was nailed to a tree for basically asking people to be a little nicer to each other.” But I will tell you something very few people know about the man who has tremendously influenced the Western world for two millennia.

The New Testament doesn’t reveal much about Jesus’ early life. There is a story that Mother Mary lost track of him at some point, and he was found giving a lecture to Judaic priests at the temple at (roughly) age six. But after that, the Bible is surprisingly silent on the time spanning that event and his arrival to Palestine at age (30?). So where was he, and what was he doing during that time?

Most accounts say that Mary and Joseph took him into hiding through a circuitous route through Egypt. Most people fairly knowledgeable of the Bible are aware of this. What almost all Christians don’t know is that there is an account of this missing period. But it isn’t in Egypt, it’s in south-east Asia.

I had once speculated on this to a college professor when I was writing a paper on Mo-Tzu, whose doctrines (pre-dating the days of Christ) are strikingly similar to Christ’s teachings. He replied, “that’s an interesting idea, but you’ll never find any evidence for that.” It turns out there is such evidence. It’s buried in ancient Sanskrit texts. German philologist Max Müller (1823-1900) claimed that he found this evidence hidden away in a remote temple.

He discovered an old text that claimed a man named Jesus did travel to India in the appropriate period and was exposed to Hindu and Buddhist teachings. As Jesus was apt to do, he got into a tough spot with Hindu priests over the Caste system, which he condemned. Deciding not to passively wait to be murdered, he fled India and eventually returned to Judea.

Interesting no? Well, if Max Müller discovered this over 100 years ago, how come no one knows it? He did write a book about it, you know. In academic fashion, his book was ignored for several years. Eventually the Catholic church caught wind of it and were appalled. Christ didn’t arrive at a seemingly Buddhist philosophy on his own, you say?

Another interesting point about this is that this Sanskrit record also details what happened to Jesus in Palestine. Its claims challenge the New Testament teaching that the Jewish priests were the architects of the crucifixion. In this account, the priests actually tried to intervene to spare the life of Jesus.

This would be news to the scores of Christians who condemned historic Jews by association for the crime of murdering the only son of God and messiah to Christian peoples. I would be rather cross on that point if I belonged to a people who have faced persecution and endless suffering for a crime a handful of their ancestors didn’t even commit.

Now, before we glorify Jesus, we need to understand—like all historical figures—he was more complicated and not so perfect as people think. He is quoted as saying that no man may follow him “if he doesn’t have hatred in his heart towards his mother and father.” Doesn’t sound like the Jesus Christians are acquainted with; you know, the one who adheres to the honor thy father and mother commandment?

He is also widely known to have said not to “cast pearls before the swine.” This has the obvious implication that wasting words of wisdom on the dull and ignorant is no different than taking precious pearls and throwing them into a crowd of barn-yard animals. Some take this quote to mean that Christ intended his message for Jews only. And that, like Buddha, maybe he did not intend to start a new religion but instead to reform an old one. But suppose that we assume that Christ had a world-wide message he intended for everyone, I’ll grant that. You still have to consider the story of the money-changers at the temple:

The loving Christ is biblically documented as giving the money-changers at temple a severe beating. We’re not talking about a mere slap here, we’re talking about a genuine ass-kicking. Arguably, he viewed the sacrilege of conducting business at the temple as defiling the house of God. This may be excusable (as I suppose a man who takes God seriously could understandably do this), but it does paint a different picture from the peaceful Christ familiar to Christians.

Christ was no doubt a complicated person. I won’t even get into the accounts of dozens upon dozens of other messiahs with the same attributes of Jesus (you know: virgin birth, twelve disciples, the death and resurrection in 3 days, forgiving your enemies, etc), or perhaps the apparent plagiarism of Christ’s miracles from the earlier Egyptian god Horus. I also won’t mention the scores of people who challenge that Jesus even existed. I’m willing to accept that a man named Jesus did exist.

But gosh, wouldn’t it be good to finally apologize to all Jews for laying the crime of all times at their doorstep?

It’s like a pen I once saw a manager with at JcPenny’s, “Why doesn’t anyone blame the godless Romans?” Isn’t it time we lay the responsibility with the Roman law that dictated that Jesus should be crucified (a Roman punishment) for the act of disrupting public order by violently attacking several respected merchants in front of a temple? And, just maybe, issue an apology unto all Jews for the tremendous suffering they have endured by prejudiced–and misinformed–Christians?

*Edit 6/1/11: I have received some thoughtful criticism of this post. Mostly, that it needs citations and some evidence. I quite agree, and will now post some preliminary evidence, hope to add more later.

Also, I was mistaken about Max Müller, it appears that it was actually Nicolas Notovitch and Levi H. Dowling who primarily argued that Jesus traveled to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here is a 8 minute video from a longer 1 hour video which I could not locate:

© David Metcalf