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Review – Angels, Demons and Freemasons (DVD)

Reality Films

Are we ruled by a secret society of powerful mystics? Do the Freemasons represent more than just a charitable organization?

Philip Gardiner’s new DVD, Angels, Demons and Freemasons explores these and other intriguing issues, leaving us with just as many questions as answers.

At the heart of Gardiner’s argument is the idea that Freemasonry, along with its hidden rituals and archaic symbolism, embodies centuries of esoteric knowledge once shared among priests, scribes, military elites and the nobility.

Gardiner’s analysis probes deep into the gnostic world of the Egyptian pharaohs, Kabbalistic Judaism, Islamic Sufism, and many types of ancient and medieval alchemy.

All these mystery cults and Freemasonry apparently share one key element—the underground transmission of a stream of covert, illuminated knowledge. And since knowledge is power, those in possession of that knowledge are best positioned to shape the course of history, be it peacefully or through acts of violence.

History demonstrates that individuals have always formed relatively small, hierarchically arranged groups to maximize their power over the masses.

This has been the social dynamic for centuries within Churches and other ruling bodies enjoying both knowledge and power. And so it is today, Gardiner believes, with Freemasonry and some of its allegedly related offshoots.

The contemporary power brokers differ, however, in that neither religion nor nationality figure in their domination. According to Gardiner, the real kingpins of the so-called New World Order are mostly hidden from view and, perhaps equally important, interdenominational and internationally connected.

However, an unanswered question runs throughout this video: Are unique social symbols of the 21st century society, while similar to their ancient roots, consciously (or unconsciously) influencing mankind?

Angels, Demons and Freemasons seems to suggest that the mere presence of these symbols in contemporary artifacts is evidence of secret societies flourishing in the 21st century, replete with esoteric knowledge and power.

English: Jean Baudrillard in 2005

Jean Baudrillard in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But a postmodern semiotic analysis could interpret things another way.

Jean Baudrillard, for instance, argued that the meaning of signs becomes imploded over time. Although ancient symbols carry on, they take on entirely new meanings (or lack of) in contemporary culture. For Baudrillard we live in the hyperreal consisting of so many distorted or entirely reinvented simulacra. Simulacra are signs once having clear meaning, of all which has changed or vanished in the 21st century.

Not to say that Baudrillard is necessarily correct. One could argue that reinvented signs continue to carry some kind of numinous allure and deeply entrenched significance.¹ For instance, the U.S. dollar bill has the image of a pyramid with an eye in the capstone. And this might make the US bill more appealing on some unconscious level. But is this clear-cut evidence for a secret society operating deep within the US government? Some have argued that, if these societies are so secret, why would they blatantly display their esoteric symbol?¹

Now, to switch gears a little, another point to consider is the New Testament portrayal of Jesus Christ as the King of Heaven, while Satan is deemed the Ruler of This World. Here Gardiner makes the astute observation that practical leaders (and we do need them) ideally possess a healthy balance between mankind’s dual nature of vice and virtue, greed and goodwill.

Organizational leaders are often called upon to make personal sacrifices and difficult compromises in order to render legal decisions among competing interest groups. For Gardiner, this shouldn’t be a free-for-all or raw and brutish survival of the fittest scenario. The wise leader, he says, ideally leans toward the compassionate rather than Machiavellian end of the spectrum.

Concerning personal freedom, theologians might not agree with Gardiner’s view that individual choice is merely the outcome of all preceding influences, a view which seems to omit the possibility of grace and divine intervention while decision making. But these apparent theological differences may be more a matter of semantics than actual difference. For the film closes with an undeniable ray of hope.

Angels, Demons and Freemasons is a thought-provoking film that poses seminal questions about the complexities of power in contemporary society. It should appeal to specialists and intelligent laypersons and serve as a consciousness-raiser for those who, perhaps, put a bit too much stock in what the evening news says.

MC (With minor edits to original of 12/23/09)

¹ (a) See: Is the dollar bill’s eye-on-a-pyramid the symbol of a secret society? http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1064/is-the-dollar-bills-eye-on-a-pyramid-the-symbol-of-a-secret-society .

(b) We can’t assume that ancient simulacra had just one fixed meaning. In ancient Rome, for instance, a huge iron meteorite was a simulacrum (religious representation) of Cybele. But the meaning of Cybele cults was debated and contested, even then.


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Proof God’s Universe Is Filled with Life Comes Closer

Kepler mission Delta II liftoff

Kepler mission Delta II liftoff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

During Medieval times almost all Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. The Catholic Inquisition punished those who dared to voice other ideas.

I do not know why Catholic theologians believed that the rarity of life in our universe proves that God must have created life only on this planet. Perhaps they believed that if intelligent life were found to exist on other planets; it would diminish the miracle of God’s creation of Human Beings.

For me the opposite is true. That God’s universal creation is filled with life is simply the result of God’s love of living beings.

The Qur’an and the Hebrew Bible teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life. The Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107) Many commentators say “this refers to the 18.000 worlds created by Allah. Our world is one of them”. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77).

The Hebrew Bible says in the Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel; “ Your kingdom is a kingdom of all the worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Psalms 145:13)

In January 2013, astronomers estimated that there could be at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in just our galaxy; the Milky Way. They also said that one in six stars could host an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit.

Now, two years later, proof that God’s Universe is filled with life is coming closer. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet, which is 50% larger than planet earth, orbits in the zone where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water and perhaps life to exist.

The star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets. The star is close enough for astronomers to study the planet’s atmospheres to determine if it has oxygen could possibly be conducive to multicellular life forms.

The star is a cool red M-dwarf about half the size and mass of our own sun. At a distance of 150 light years, the star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets. The star’s proximity means it’s bright enough for astronomers to study the planets’ atmospheres to determine whether they are like Earth’s atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.

For those who believe in the One God of all the inhabitable worlds, these two new scientific studies are not shocking. For unlike the Roman inquisition’s condemnation of Galileo, no Muslim or Jewish astronomer was ever condemned by a Muslim or Jewish inquisition, because Jews and Muslims never had an institution like the inquisition.

Also, because both Muslims and Jews had many philosophers who were critics of Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s science, most medieval Jewish and Muslim religious leaders did not feel they had to prevent new science from disagreeing with Greek science.

Thus, even as new discoveries always change the scientific understanding of God’s universe; the religious belief that the whole universe exalts God and reveals God’s glory remains the same.

As it is written in the Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel; “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Zabur of David-Psalm 19:2)

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com

Julius Wellhausen and the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

A name on the map

The Tanakh and the Talmidim of Yeshua

Christian: if New Testament is false, why not Hebrew Bible too?

Kepler Breaks The 1,000-Planet Barrier With More Confirmed Discoveries

Three nearly Earth-size planets found orbiting nearby star


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Mysticism and Sainthood – Part 1 – One or Many?

Image via Tumblr

By Michael Clark

The word “mysticism” speaks to a variety of phenomena reported within most world religions.

In his 1963 classic, Mysticism in World Religion, Rev. Sidney Spencer looks at the idea of “interior perception” as one aspect of mysticism. Spencer says that virtually all mystics claim to be in contact with a transcendent realm “which typically assumes the form of knowledge, often described in terms of vision, and of union.”¹

Spencer also believes that mysticism is essential to not only religion but to humanity’s future. But Spencer warns against generalizing the claims of mystics without sufficient facts. To do so, he says, could be misleading.

The religion scholar Ninian Smart talks about religious experience within a global-historical context and, in a similar vein as Spencer, highlights their differences through the analogy of sports: To say that all sports are essentially the same is ridiculous. And Smart believes it is equally wrong to say that all religions are essentially the same religion or, for that matter, that all different types of mysticism can be reduced to a single mysticism.

It is, I think, useful to distinguish between religion and religions, or to put it another way between religion and a religion. This is similar to the distinction between sport and sports. A religion is a given tradition of a religious kind, and so religious experience is often picked out by considering crucial experiences in the lives of those who belong to such traditions.²

Critics of Smart say his analogy is unjustified because mysticism deals with God, and there is only one God. And some New Age and politically correct thinkers denounce anyone trying to analytically assess and soberly compare different religious truth claims, insinuating that to do so is religious fascism, bigotry or hate.

It’s almost as if it has become a great sin to simply think about religious differences instead of mindlessly accepting the idea that all religious experiences are exactly the same.

Contrary to this prevalent bias, Geoffrey Parrinder argues

The important distinctions in mysticism are not so much between the layman and the expert as between the assumptions and the objects of the mystical quest. It is popularly said that all religions are the same though their differences should be evident to unprejudiced eyes and part of their fascination is their diversity.³

Parrinder highlights Martin Buber’s distinction between mystics who say they

  • are God (I-It)
  • relate to God (I-Thou).

To say there is no difference, Parrinder says, “is like telling a lover that his experience of embracing his beloved is the same as embracing the hedge at the bottom of the garden.”4

Indeed, it is entirely reasonable to question whether one person’s experience (and interpretation of) their alleged encounter with God differs from another person’s. And to say otherwise is just silly.

To draw another analogy, imagine an ancient or medieval astronomer who sees the Andromeda galaxy as we see it today. He or she doesn’t see Andromeda as a magical being or as mysterious cloud. Instead, he or she views Andromeda as a distant group of stars. If this challenges the local dignitaries’ beliefs, the astronomer might be punished, perhaps even killed.

A similar situation arose with Galileo, whose heliocentric theory hit a brick wall with Catholic power brokers who insisted on a Biblical geocentric model of the solar system. These apparently loving and religiously inspired clergy put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his days, a scene which wasn’t easy for Galileo to deal with.

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that authoritarian stupidity is alive and well today. Like many short-sighted folk of former times, some people today see themselves as open minded but instantly shut down or react if their pet paradigm is challenged.

Perhaps these narrow-minded individuals find it too scary to envision a broader canvas. Well that’s fine. But problems arise when they hold positions of social power and use their power to trivialize, exploit or oppress those who simply wish to rationally investigate the intriguing idea of mysticism and its sometime companion, sainthood.


1 Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963: 9). A footnote to my article Krishna, Buddha and Christ mentions the idea of interior perception as described by Catholic saints.

2 Ninian Smart, “Understanding Religious Experience” in Steven Katz, ed., Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978: 11). On the same page Smart adds that many religious experiences happen “out of the blue” to people of no particular tradition. He also says that conversion experiences often occur “at the frontier between non-belonging and belonging to a given tradition.” Thus “we should start with traditions in pinning down religious experience [but] we should not confine religious experience to this area.” Interestingly, the Catholic understanding of conversion is that a Christian exists in “seed form” before becoming fully aware of this ontological fact.

³ Geoffrey Parrinder, Mysticism in the World’s Religions (Oxford: One World, 1995: 192). Parrinder also critiques R. C. Zaehner’s sometimes unreasonable statements about mysticism as found in Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (Oxford, 1957).

4 Ibid.

Part 2 – Mysticism, Science and Politics


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Non-Jews or Pre-Jews

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish People have been a small and often persecuted minority. So it is not surprising that less than ten thousand non-Jews convert to Judaism every year.

But very surprising is when an Israeli newspaper (HaAretz) reports that British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, and a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference in early November. claimed that the number of non-Jews who believe they are descendants of Jews or ancient Israelites, about equals the total number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses.

Twenty five hundred years ago the prophet Zachariah declared: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary identification with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon, which only began in the five decades following the recreation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa, he said.

In many cases, the global spread of Evangelical Protestant Churches, with their emphases on eschatological thinking, in the decades after the resurrection of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, has stimulated a self selecting group of the ‘locals’ to relate so strongly with ancient Israelites, that they have found vestiges of Jewish identity within their own souls.

For example, Matthew Fishbane reports in Tablet Magazine (July 8, 2010) that he traveled to Medellín, Colombia to see how a part of an evangelical megachurch called the Centro de Terapia Integral Para la Familia, or the Center for Integral Family Therapy, has morphed into a Hebrew-speaking, Sephardic, Orthodox Jewish community complete with daycare, a Hebrew school, a self-managed kosher market, and claims to an ancestry that makes them more returnees than converts.

But other Judaizing communities in Africa have an even more amazing connection with Jewishness. Parfitt, an emeritus professor of modern Jewish studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says, “I think one of the interesting, paradoxical things is the effect of the Holocaust on the way that people want to identify as Jews. You’d think that it would be the opposite, but in the case of both the Igbo and the Tutsi tribes in Africa, for example, they both had their own genocides, and they increasingly perceive themselves as Jews as a result of that.”

Among these millions of Judaizing non-Jews are small communities in Asia and Africa that see themselves as descendants of the 10 lost tribes (the part of the original 12 Hebrew tribes deported from the Kingdom of Israel after it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian empire in about 720 BCE).

Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on the lost Israelite tribes, said the growing worldwide Judeophile phenomenon was motivated partly by a desire for economic improvement. since many of those claiming this status were members of impoverished and marginalized communities.

But, Weil said that this was not the primary motivation and that globalization in general was a more important factor. In particular, she noted the tendency of young Israelis to explore remote corners of their world, including places where locals may not otherwise have had much interaction with Jews.

Thousands of backpackers go forth from Israel each year on post-army trips, “where they come into contact with exotic and wonderful people and begin to see similarities with their own religion,” Weil noted.

Another factor explaining the proJewish identity she said, was the worldwide rise of evangelical fundamentalism, with it’s messianic fervor. “Eschatological visions have always been associated with the 10 lost tribes,” she said.

While some of these communities, like the Bnai Menashe of Israel, have undergone official conversion processes so they could emigrate to Israel, most of them have not been driven to move to Israel as part of the realization of their Jewish identity.

In Africa, among groups I work with, there doesn’t seem to be a large number that want to come to Israel,” noted Parfitt. “They love Israel, they support Israel, they want to study, but they’re not dying to come.”

I myself think they would be happy to just be welcomed into the worldwide Jewish community without the traditional Orthodox suspicion of potential converts, in fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of prophet Zachariah: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition – 3 – Theological reasons

Soufrière Catholic Church

Soufrière Catholic Church (Photo credit: waywuwei)

Theological reasons

Sociologists and philosophers, alike, say that Catholicism creates and legitimizes “truth claims.” The idea of a truth claim provides a good way to talk about beliefs without necessarily advocating or dismissing them.

Most non-Catholics will say that Catholic truth claims are not eternal but, rather, culturally and politically motivated—that is, relative truths. And some non-Catholics believe that all Catholic teachings are Satanic. These people often describe the Church as “The Whore of Babylon” or use some other shocking and alarmist, not to mention sexist, epithet.

Infallibility

The idea of Papal infallibility is probably one of the biggest reasons why people dislike Catholicism. But informed Catholics realize that only two Catholic truth claims are deemed infallible. Most others are less authoritative, and merely disseminated as general guidelines for good moral behavior. Many critics of Catholicism are unaware that not all Catholic teachings are said to be eternal, unchangeable truths.

Catholic theologians say the Church’s teachings have various levels of certainty. And Papal infallibility only applies to these two dogmas:

1 – The Blessed Virgin Mary’s sinless birth (Dogma of the Immaculate Conception)

2 – Her bodily assumption into heaven (Dogma of The Assumption)

All other Catholic teachings are not infallible.¹ So it’s incorrect believe that all Catholic teachings are infallible when they’re not. True, some Catholics say that infallibility includes all of the Church’s teachings. But I believe these people are misguided. And thankfully, they represent a vocal minority that the majority of sober theologians, Catholic or not, would readily dismiss.

Emblem of the Papacy

Emblem of the Papacy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Papal Authority

For some non-Catholics, even two (allegedly) infallible declarations are good enough reason to dislike Catholicism. From their perspective, Popes are mere pretenders to the throne of truth. So these critics don’t believe in any kind of Papal infallibility, whatsoever. And the fact that only two dogmas are deemed infallible makes no difference. These people simply want none of it.

Christianity as a Stereotype

Another theological reason people dislike Catholicism is based on a misunderstanding and, arguably, unclear thinking.

Many use “Christianity” as a blanket term for all types of Churches, organizations and individuals calling themselves Christian. If I say “I’m a Catholic,” sometimes it’s like waving a red flag in front of people who dislike Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Televangelists, and who don’t know the difference among different types of Christians. It’s just one big amorphous dislike for all things Christian.

However, differences among Christian denominations (and even among individual believers within each denomination) are significant. In Ireland, for instance, Protestant and Catholic youth gangs engage in violent clashes. And as CNN’s Anderson Cooper has pointed out, some Christians align themselves with the Green movement while others are out to make greenbacks.

Falling Short of the Ideal

People also dislike Catholicism because clergy and churchgoers inevitably fall short of the Christian ideal. Some Catholics criticize and even denounce one another. Mean-minded gossip and talking behind another’s back is not unheard of in Catholicism, even though Jesus teaches us to love one another. As in most spheres of humanity, pettiness and hypocrisy are alive and unwell in Catholicism. Not surprisingly, this can be a huge turn off for non-Catholics.

Counter protesters to the Westboro Baptist Chu...

Counter protesters to the Westboro Baptist Church demonstration at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Private and Public

With a little probing sometimes it becomes clear that a given Catholic’s private beliefs differ from his or her apparent beliefs as publicly expressed at the Mass. After all, human beings are social animals who normally don’t want to rock the boat. But arguably just as important, most Catholics believe in the necessity of liturgical structure. Structure affords unity and continuity amidst inevitable points of disagreement. So Catholics concealing their own private beliefs are not necessarily being hypocritical at the Mass. They might be respecting the need for structure while perhaps secretly believing in (and doing) their own thing—e.g. engaging in homosexual, premarital or extramarital sex, or practicing birth control.

On the need for structure, learned Catholics point out that the very first Christian disciples disagreed on certain issues (Acts 15: 1-21; Galatians 2: 11-14; 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23). So there’s a need, they believe, to clearly outline a set of teachings to carry the Catholic ship of salvation through all storms of disagreement which likely will arise in centuries to come.

English: Pope Leo XIII guides the ship of God'...

Pope Leo XIII guides the ship of God’s Church. Painting in shrine Kevelaer from Friedrich Stummel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Judging a Book by its Cover

Another reason people dislike Catholicism has to do with their perception of being spiritually “alive.” Some non-Catholics say the Catholic Mass looks and feels dead or depressing. To them, Catholic parishioners behave like robots or maybe zombies; they’re victims of a Roman cult, just going through the motions, not really thinking nor believing in what they profess during the Mass.

With few outward signs of ecstatic joy or other grandiose emotional displays, critics wrongly assume that Catholics are spiritually dry and unhappy. These critics have no appreciation for the Catholic possibility of experiencing a high and delicate form of interior sweetness, healing and joy.

By way of contrast, Catholics, especially the more contemplative, may see non-Catholic displays of easily recognizable joy as commendable and perhaps even of Christ. But if possible, these manifestations of the spirit should be subjected to a process of discernment. Generally speaking, discernment aims to determine if spiritual experiences are from God or some other source. More specifically, discernment also tries to distinguish among different spiritual qualities, textures or environments, if you will, to find out if they differ from the sacramental graces conveyed through the Catholic sacraments.

Catholics are instructed to respect most other religions. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said she “loved” all religions but was “in love” with her own religion. Along these lines, the existence of worldwide Catholic missions speaks volumes. Why would Catholic missions exist if Catholics did not have some reason to believe that their religion was best? And even though they may look dead on the outside, many Catholics base that belief on how their religion makes them feel–on the inside.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus as another teacher

Another theological reason some non-Catholics dislike Catholicism is that Christ is viewed as just another teacher. For these people, Christ is no different from the Buddha or the Hindu god Krishna. They overlook (or don’t know about) the Buddhist denial of a willful God, along with Krishna’s advocacy of physical killing in the Bhagavad Gita.

The view that Jesus is just another teacher often comes from contemporary gnostics, or those interested in gnosticism. These folks cherry pick from various traditions, believing they perceive some higher code or deeper order among them. For them it’s a mistake to insist on Jesus’ uniqueness. And the structured Catholic liturgy just gets in the way of supposedly genuine, gnostic spiritual experience.

In response, the Vatican claims to recognize any truths or partial truths in non-Christian teachings but firmly disagrees with the belief that Buddha or Krishna, for example, are equal to Christ. It’s as simple as that. And it’s doubtful that any politically correct, sugar-coated interfaith dialogue will lessen this firm point of disagreement. From a Catholic standpoint, it’s possible that some non-Catholic critics have yet to reach a point in their spiritual formation to fully appreciate the heavenly body of Christ as conveyed through the sacraments.

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by ...

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary (1714), the Karlskirche, Vienna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary and the Saints

Another theological reason people dislike Catholicism relates to Saint Mary and the remaining Catholic saints. Misinformed Christians often dispute the supposed Catholic ‘paganism’ of praying for the saints’ intercession.

As outlined at Earthpages.ca:

Some Protestants and Fundamentalists believe that Catholics have got it wrong because, so they assert, Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man. But, quite ironically, many of these very same people freely ask their friends and associates to “pray for them,” which clearly is a request for intercession.

Catholics often reply to this Protestant and Fundamentalist charge by asking, “If we can ask souls on Earth to pray for us, why not souls in heaven?”²

Catholicism clearly outlines its stand on intercession. Asking the saints to pray for us does not elevate them to the status of gods and goddesses, as so many non-Catholic detractors would have it. This is just theologically wrong and an entirely groundless reason for disliking Catholicism.

¹ Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, Illinois: 1974 [1960], Tan Books, pp. 8-10 » See online discussion at socrates58.blogspot.com

² http://earthpages.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/virgin-mary-the-blessed

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2014

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Elements of prophecy – reflections and new directions

The Sibyl (1891), Paul Ranson via Tumblr

Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film Minority Report (2002) is soon to be re-imagined as a TV series by Fox.

In the original Minority Report three clairvoyants called Precogs (precognitives) spend their days in deep meditation, afloat in water. Their job is to predict murders that could take place in the future. Tom Cruise, a good and honest cop, relies on the Precogs to arrest would-be criminals just before they commit a homicide.

Minority Report puts an interesting twist on the idea of precognition because, in real life, individuals claiming to possess this ability are often treated with suspicion, even derision. But the Precogs’ abilities are highly valued and they are given a kind of eerie reverence.

True and False

As the administrator of Earthpages.org, I’ve met many complex and fascinating seekers, on and offline. Some claim that spirit beings appear or speak to them. Others believe they have seen objects, places or souls during their astral travels. Several allegedly read minds; and some say they’ve had a vision of Christ or the Holy Trinity. And like the PreCogs, others claim to foresee the future.

Dealing with alleged psychics and mind-readers is both rewarding and challenging. If psychic abilities are real, it seems there’s no guarantee they’ll be applied ethically. For instance, those who haven’t dealt with personal pain could take a compensatory turn toward self-aggrandizement.¹

Clearly, some folks do take a wrong turn in the spiritual life, and a few might be repeatedly deceived and paranoid. Interior perception is an exacting process and not everyone does it well.

Leading writers on mysticism like Evelyn Underhill say that sincere mystics strive to be humble and analytical in order to avoid deception by the imagination or by negative spiritual influences (traditionally viewed as “demons,” “tramp souls” and “ghosts”).

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym of Thomism. Picture by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this is the ideal. In reality, many alleged psychics and prophets seem pretty out to lunch. They speak in such roundabout terms that their predictions could mean a thousand different things. And when flat wrong, some of them just fudge it. False prophecies are quickly swept under the rug or recast as “symbolic” predictions.

Philosophers call this the ad hoc hypothesis or possibly ex post facto reasoning. Rather than openly admitting mistakes (as an honest researcher would) sham mystics do their best to cover them up.

Christian Response

Christian theologians say that genuine prophecy is revealed or infused from a supernatural source. They also tend to believe that God is omnipotent. This means God could use weak and sinful personalities for genuine prophecy, even for a short while. According to this view, one doesn’t have to be a holy guru to be a prophet. For Christians, no one is perfect. And to claim otherwise is misguided.

In Catholicism, personal revelations are called private revelations. Private revelations occurring after the time of Christ are said to add nothing to the faith as defined by the Church. But private revelations declared authentic may have inspirational or cultural value.

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations”²

New Directions

Of course, many modern people question the authority of a traditional religious body that, in he past, has proved to be just as susceptible to temptation and error as anyone else. Historically, the Catholic Church has made gruesome mistakes, only to apologize hundreds of years later.

It’s also entirely possible that even the best of prophets distort their revelations through their unique personalities. That is, they interpret according to who they are at a given moment in history. According to the view, much of the Bible is laced with cultural bias and political infighting. That hardly sounds like the “Word” of God.

Guercino, The Persian Sibyl, 1647-48 via Tumblr

So where does this leave us? And by what standard do sincere seekers judge interior perceptions?

I think the answer might be found in a cross fertilization of psychology and spirituality. Einstein once said “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”³  Perhaps we could adapt that to something like, “psychology without spirituality is superficial, spirituality without psychology is questionable.”

Only then can we move forward to a spirituality suitable for the 21st century and beyond.


¹ Many saints say that vanity and jealousy figure prominently in the spiritual life. The more we open to spiritual realities, the more vulnerable we are to temptation and deception.

² Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 67. Catholic theology looks at prophecy in its own unique way. St. Thomas Aquinas is often cited in Catholic discussions about prophecy. But we’d do well to remember that after having a direct encounter with God, toward the end of his life, Aquinas apparently said his writings were like a “house of straw.”

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

Copyright © Michael W. Clark 2014


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The story behind The Bible

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mini review: An Introduction to the Bible by J. W. Rogerson

This introduction to the historical aspects of the Bible should be required reading for every religious person who talks about “The Word” without ever really thinking about what they mean.

Shows how the Bible was put together by (mostly) men over the centuries. God may have overseen the entire process, but the Bible didn’t drop down directly from heaven.

Here’s a freely online revised edition, with minor updates to the original >> https://archive.org/details/J.w.Rogerson-AnIntroductionToTheBibleRevisedEdition

—MC

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