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The Joy of Statistics: Hans Rosling (BBC)

I saw this the other night on TV and really enjoyed it. Great shots of Sweden, and the quirky professor really does bring statistics to life. Not sure about his history, though. Wikipedia tells a different story. Oh well, most countries do that. Pump up their own importance at the expense of accuracy. Still, a fun video. Highly recommended. —MC


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Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish – Jewish Reconciliation by Louise Steinman a book review by Haim Dov Beliak, Jewish Journal

Poland in the 1990s by HBC

Poland in the 1990s by HBC

One of our contacts, Rabbi Allen Maller, suggested that I take a look at this book review by Haim Dov Beliak. It brought to mind some connections my own family has with both Poland and WW-II.

My father completed his officer training a short time before the war ended. Lucky for him, I guess. And I suppose lucky for me. If he had been killed like so many in that hideous conflict, I wouldn’t be here now.

Later in life, he and my mother did volunteer work with CESO in Poland. Although I didn’t go along with them, I did some editing for CESO and heard many stories about Europe from my parents, enhanced by my mom’s photos, which were featured at the old Earthpages (before we became a blog).

So in a roundabout way, Rabbi Maller’s link spoke to me » http://www.jewishjournal.com/books/article/retrieving_a_familys_thread_in_poland

—MC


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DVD Review: The Rosslyn Frequency

rf_rfilms

Title: The Rosslyn Frequency
Genre: Knights Templar, History, Conspiracy, Occult, Paranormal
Production Company: Reality Films

The Rosslyn Frequency takes us to Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel, which some say has esoteric links with the Knights Templar. The DVD author, Brian Allan, adds that the chapel could be a kind of mystical portal to another world.

Allan tells how he and a team of investigators set up an audio frequency modulator to play an augmented fourth, based on their reading of cryptic symbols found within the chapel itself.

The results of this experiment leave Allan and his team firmly convinced that something strange is going on at Rosslyn, something so unusual that one of his team members gets too upset to continue the investigation.

Essentially, Allan believes the chapel is a kind of architectural amplifier for spiritual powers. And his own unique experiences within its walls seem to support the idea that the building is structurally tuned to something out there—just what, he’s not sure.

"Green Man" of the

“Green Man” of the Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One might be tempted to dismiss this as sheer bunk, but instead of coming across as a flake or scam artist, Allan appears to be an intelligent, level-headed investigator seeking to get at some mysterious truth within the chapel.

Allan’s reflections on quantum physics, gnosticism, DNA and the mediation of otherworldly powers suggest he’s a sober thinker using everything at his disposal to try to make sense out of the paranormal experiences he’s had within the sanctuary.

The Rosslyn Frequency doesn’t give all the answers but, then again, it doesn’t pretend to. Like all good science and alternative history, hypotheses are presented for further research, testing and analysis.

Some of Allan’s ideas may irk traditional religious persons—for instance, the assertion that prayer and magical spells are identical. But for those who don’t mind reexamining their habitual or cherished beliefs (instead of reacting defensively), this film should leave them feeling better informed about what’s happening in the world of parapsychology today.

—MC


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DVD Review – God Kings: The Descendents of Jesus

godkings

Title: God Kings – The Descendants of Jesus
Genre: Documentary – Ancient History, Religion,Occult
Production Company: Reality Films

Is the Jesus story an ancient Roman marketing plan? Did Christ have a wife and daughter? A twin brother? These and other controversial questions are posed in God Kings: The Descendents of Jesus, a new DVD by Philip Gardiner.

Borrowing from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip (which was discovered near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945), retired professor Hugh Montgomery openly challenges mainstream Christian belief by arguing for an alternate history of Jesus and the Christian Church.

Legend has it that Constantine, the very first Christian Roman Emperor, conquered the pagan Romans in the name of Christ. Apparently Constantine was empowered by a vision (in some accounts, a dream) of a cross in the clouds that he encountered on the road to Rome, just before the Battle at Milvian Bridge.

On this and similar points Montgomery believes he’s dispelling 2,000 years of Church propaganda by suggesting that Constantine was a clever manipulator, seeking to control the lives and afterlife beliefs of the masses. Montgomery says that important details of Jesus story were allegedly fabricated and sold to the public to ensure Constantine’s complete control over their temporal and eternal aspirations.

But not only that. Jesus also had a wife and daughter, Montgomery says. And he interprets certain key Coptic words in the Gospel of Philip to support his idea.

Not every scholar would agree with Montgomery’s translation of the Coptic terms in question. But that doesn’t deter him from saying that Jesus’ powerful descendents can be traced along the bloodlines of the Germanic Odin and biblical David. Those of Odonic and Davidic lineage are said to have a quiet, inner power not necessarily exerted over others but which nonetheless can be sensed. And Montgomery, funnily enough, says he’s one of them.

Montgomery then proceeds to speak out against The Da Vinci Code, claiming it’s a work of plagiarism and, except for the idea that Jesus was married and had children, is largely hogwash. Montgomery also offers some seemingly Freudian influenced comments about language, rhythm and musical preference and presents a vision of God that fits with the idea of naturalistic pantheism—that is, God is everything and everything is God.

This is an entertaining video but it’s doubtful that all contemporary scholars would agree with Montgomery’s claims. However, he does point out – and I think rightly so – that the Jesus stories we’ve been told are not necessarily the whole story, and that power and politics may have played a part in their formation and promulgation.

Montgomery is a well-spoken man with not a few credentials to his name. Having said that, my main reservation with his work is that it might lead some non-experts to hastily replace one set of assumptions with another. Instead of leaping from one position to the next, it seems a better way to approach the history and, perhaps, heart of Christ’s life and teachings is to carefully study the existing evidence. True, a difficulty arises here in that it’s virtually impossible to read everything that’s been said about Jesus. But with the power of the internet, we can at least check to see if different perspectives can be found within surviving textual accounts.

And I highly doubt that Jesus would object to this. After all, he did advocate personal responsibility and the freedom to choose.

—MC (revised from 2009)


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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 6 – Philosophical and historical reasons / conclusion

Roman Catholic by digitalexander via Flickr

Roman Catholic by digitalexander via Flickr

1 – Introduction
2 – Theory and method
3 – Theological reasons
4 – Social and political reasons
5 – Psychological reasons
6 – Philosophical and historical reasons and conclusion

Philosophical Reasons

Philosophy is an ancient discipline that has branched out in many different, sometimes conflicting directions. So it’s difficult to write just a few lines about why people dislike Catholicism from a philosophical perspective.

Having said that, a broad distinction can be made between philosophers who rely solely on thinking, or believe they do, and those who are open to the idea that reason can follow divine revelation or be inspired by God.

The former type, the thinkers, seem to get tangled up in a web of conceptual thinking, perhaps never learning anything beyond the range of their own abstract ideas. They usually take great pains to define certain concepts (e.g. love, meaning, being, knowing, caring, commitment) and then talk about why their particular brand of thinking is best. They may talk about the importance of experience, but that experience is typically gained from the conventional senses. For convenience I’ll call these type A philosophers.

The latter type, whom I call type B, consider the possibility that thought may be informed not just by everyday experience but also by religious or numinous experience.

Type A individuals may or may not believe in a Godhead. But their ideas tend to be limited to their extremely limited (say, through drug use) or highly constricted experience of the numinous.

Type B’s typically would believe in some notion of God, a higher power or a divinity within. And their beliefs may be pantheistic or theistic. But even so, their ideas and convictions could still be limited by their interpretation of a particular numinous experience or set of experiences.¹

As for the dislike of Catholicism, if neither A nor B had experienced the numinous within a Catholic setting, they’d have no reason to believe in the spiritual efficacy of Catholicism. However, Catholics who consciously sense the Holy Spirit upon entering a Church and through the sacraments (such as the Eucharist) do have reason to believe in their religion. They may not agree with all aspects of Catholicism as it currently stands at this point in history but they do revere its core elements. After all, the true elements of Catholicism, if they really are true, must be holy and everlasting.

Historical Reasons

Finally, there are definite historical reasons why people dislike Catholicism.

Sometimes when I mention words like ‘Mass’ or ‘Church’ others instantly point out the dark aspects of Catholic history, such as the Inquisitions, the torture of so-called witches, blatantly greedy, reprobate Popes and the ridiculous trial, condemnation and house arrest of Galileo when he observed with his telescope four moons around Jupiter. While it’s important to recognize the past atrocities and idiocies of any social or religious institution, it’s also important to consider the positive aspects they may have to offer today.

Another reason why people dislike Catholicism has to do with psycho-history. Psycho-history is an odd sounding discipline. Rest assured it has nothing to do with Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates or disturbed people going on killing sprees. Instead, it’s about past generations influencing present generations through a possibly genetic and definitely cultural heritage.

The importance of psycho-history cannot be overemphasized. Practically speaking, many individuals have been raised in non-Catholic families that go back for centuries.  When our family roots are deeply defined by a given tradition, it’s arguably difficult to adopt a new set of beliefs. Not impossible, of course. But difficult.

These people dislike Catholicism because they’re psychologically biased by their non-Catholic genealogy. They may see themselves as open-minded people but longstanding biases, extending back for generations, discourage them from exploring the Catholic vision on its own terms, as it stands today.

Conclusion

It seems that many self-proclaimed freethinkers arguably aren’t as hip, liberated and progressive as they say. Some seem to shut right down when it comes to talking about Catholicism in a mature, adult way. They’ve got it all figured out. At least, that’s what they believe.

But to be truly open-minded is to investigate even seemingly rigid, arid and authoritarian practices to discover if there is anything of value within. It’s about coming full-circle and getting past one’s preconceived beliefs about intellectual and spiritual freedom. It’s also about humbly recognizing the limits of the intellect and understanding how past and present influences may inform our preferences, thoughts and opinions.

This kind of journey examines religious experience with the same kind of critical and scientific edge that we’d hopefully apply to our external experiences. And its beauty is that one doesn’t have to travel around the world to get there. Nor does one have to agree with every aspect of contemporary Catholic teaching to enjoy the riches of this tradition. In fact, one can still disagree and even dislike aspects of Catholicism while remaining open-minded and balanced enough to appreciate its spiritual bounty.

¹ For instance, some Christians in the first century vigorously believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and that the end of the world was near.

Copyright © Michael Clark, 2012.


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DVD Review – Robin Hood: The Truth Behind Hollywood’s Most Filmed Legend

Reality Films

Title: Robin Hood: The Truth Behind Hollywood’s Most Filmed Legend
Genre: Documentary, Robin Hood, Action and Adventure
Production Company: Reality Films

Robin Hood: The Truth Behind Hollywood’s Most Filmed Legend is a documentary by Philip Gardiner. The film opens with contemporary actors playing Robin Hood and his band of noble rebels, with enchanting scenes of Sherwood Forest and some medieval ruins and artifacts.

Within this authentic setting, Robin Hood digs into historical records, folkloric possibilities and mythological parallels around the legend of Robin Hood, the pervasive culture hero who “steals from the rich and gives to the poor.”

The film is rich and informative and the recreation atmosphere is convincing. While the actors portraying the outlaw community are obviously modern, they seem to resonate nicely with the Robin Hood myth, probably because most are local forestry workers who volunteered for the film.

The first half of Robin Hood covers all the proverbial bases. Then the film shifts to advance the filmmaker’s Gnostic leanings, which closely resemble those of the Swiss psychiatrist, C. G. Jung. At least, this seems to be the case. I’ve never met Philip Gardiner and am assuming that Gnosticism reflects his own beliefs. This seems a reasonable guess because many of his films depict Gnosticism as a shining counterpoint to a tarnished old Christian Church.

Christians who see the New Testament as a theological work containing elements of fact, myth and exaggeration, might balk at Robin Hood’s claim that Jesus Christ and John the Baptist are equals.

Consider the New Testament:

John replied to all of them, “I am baptizing you with water, but one is coming who is more powerful than I, and I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps. It is he who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

Despite what the New Testament story pretty clearly says, Robin Hood suggests that the archetypal pair of Jesus and John also manifests in the images of Robin Hood and Little John, the Graeco-Roman twins Castor and Pollux, and in countless other mythic exemplars and cosmological models.

Carl Jung, who devised the modern idea of the archetype, also made liberal use of analogy in world religion and myth. Jung claimed that the basic truths underlying diverse archetypal imagery were discernible through his own brand of “analytical” psychology.

Some scholars, however, have little sympathy for Jung’s approach, maintaining that the extensive use of analogy is usually too loose and not connected to actual historical and cultural contexts. Unrestrained analogizing, they say, yields specious arguments and ultimately detracts from a given study’s credibility.

Scholars like this say that contemporary scholarship is quickly falling into a kind of black hole where any pseudo-historical truth claim is passed off as fact—as long as it sells. Meanwhile, other authors and researchers promote the liberal use of analogy, equating it with seeing “The Big Picture.”

Does the unrestrained use of analogy really give us the Big Picture. Or does it just seem to, if we don’t know any better?

Enter the Christian theologians, particularly Catholics, who say the contemporary Church doesn’t mindlessly bash Gnostic and Pagan elements but ennobles their worthwhile aspects within the higher, more comprehensive perspective afforded  by Christian belief. That’s why, they’ll argue, we find various artworks depicting Pagan themes within the Vatican museums.

Not a few Protestants, of course, object to this scenario. Some even pejoratively call the Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon.” But this isn’t the place to delve into the complexities of religious rivalry.

Robin Hood has something for everyone. It brings to life the timeless tale of a notorious sinner-saint who, like many before him, takes refuge in the woods while seeking justice in the face of an ignoble ruler.  Even the most discerning of scholars might learn from this film, lest they get lost in the minutiae and miss the forest for the trees.

Special features include more commentaries and Gnostic/Pagan pop music videos.

—MC


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Review: Gardiner’s World 2, The TV Show (DVD)

rf_gw2

Reality Films

Gardiner’s World: The TV Show, Series 2 is a great introduction to various metaphysical ideas, alternative histories and holistic psychologies.

This is the second in a new series for Sky TV (UK) hosted by the acclaimed and controversial investigator Philip Gardiner.

First up on the show is Hugh Montgomery, a retired professor whose views about Jesus not dying on a cross, possibly traveling as far as India and apparently having two wives will no doubt raise a few eyebrows among the Christian orthodox.

Next, author and journalist Philip Coppens talks about connections among the New Pyramid Age, (which he believes began in 1994), the Grail Story and Sacred Stones. Among other unconventional ideas, Coppens says the Grail shouldn’t be viewed as legend but as a family history.

Third, visionary musician and artist Nick Ashron appears unplugged live after talking about the healing properties of music. This is a classic instance of theory and practice working together. One can literally feel the peace as Ashron works his magic on the guitar.

To wrap up the program, the international author and speaker, Brian Mayne, discusses the power of positive thinking, suggesting that looking on the bright side of life increases serotonin levels, which in turn activates the whole brain. With all of our cerebral cylinders firing, Mayne says we can solve problems better.

This DVD is testimony to Gardiner’s versatility. Part scholar, mystic, film producer and now TV host, it seems there’s practically nothing he won’t try. And perhaps it’s that innovative, “can-do” spirit that keeps Reality Films fresh.

–MC

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