A common heart

I think Luther would be happy that modern Catholic congregants are no longer forced into passive obsversation. Many can choose to get involved.

At the mass I am attending today, the priest is assisted by a small group of helpers of all ages and genders who have signed up in advance. One person carries the Book of Gospels and does the first reading and the Responsorial Psalm. Another is responsible for the second reading and the Prayers of the Faithful. Younger altar servers carry the cross and candles.

The priest and his helpers walk down the aisle in a processional sequence explained on several printable pages on this church’s website. It spells out every detail: when to bow at the altar, where to place the candles, how to move from one spot to the next. Perhaps on some days, some priests will venture off script to say a few words of their own. The priest who is running the show on this day stays true to every word and movement handed down to him by a higher authority. My thoughts rise like a helium balloon, freed by this spectacle that feels strangely reminiscent—though of what, I’m not sure.

I imagine myself as one of a huge brigade of soul soldiers stepping in unison. Day to day, the congregants here know that millions of others across the globe are reading the same Bible selections, contemplating the same issues, experiencing the same basic service. It’s like the menu at a McDonald’s or Starbucks: items arrive exactly as you expect. But this is more than Big Macs and Frappuccinos. It’s a connection to the infinite, to a higher power.

Here lies the crux of all religious innovation: do you accept a product as-is, and the backing that comes with it? Or do you opt for something new and risk standing alone?

I rein in my musings only to have them float off again.

Being in the Catholic church keeps hurling me back in time because the connection, I see, is not just to others living around the world today, but to previous generations; it offers a continuity with the past that even new denominations must honor. Here is an ancestor they have in common. I picture the face of my great-grandmother who, by the time I met her, was toothless and whiskered and blind; her name, Aphrodite, did not quite suit her.

Then I recall a day I haven’t thought of in years. My grandmother and I are on an errand to drop off her special finikia cookies for the upcoming Greek Festival. The outside of the Orthodox Church in downtown Dallas is pure white—smooth stucco with a big mound in the middle like an overgrown igloo, its ancient ways preserved on ice by the long-ago split with the Catholic church.

Tables are being set up in the courtyard and in the hallways. Grandma lets go of my hand. The door of the chapel is ajar, and I can see a sliver of bright red so incongruous with the pearly exterior; I am drawn to it. Opening that slit and stepping through was like performing an autopsy, peeling away the smooth skin to reveal a beating heart. Bright red carpeting lined the aisles leading to the altar, like arteries carrying me along. The ceiling was painted with faces motioning for to me to look up. The light reflected off the abundant gold paint in the murals, creating a warm glow; a smoky sweetness lingered in the air. So otherworldly did this seem—so unlike the corridor outside where kids were running around and boxes of baklava were being dropped off—that I felt like a character in my favorite book the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, stepping across a threshold into a different dimension.

My grandmother, her grandmother and all our mothers before that, we each had our individual heart in our chest, the one that pumped blood and kept us alive, but this was a heart we shared—one that beat through generations.

41 thoughts on “A common heart

  1. I don’t think that many truly stand alone as you suggest:: “Here lies the crux of all religious innovation: do you accept a product as-is, and the backing that comes with it? Or do you opt for something new and risk standing alone?” I think that, instead, people leave one religious experience for another where they are still part of a group dynamic. Something appeals to them that gives them something they didn’t find in the original religion. I have Aunts and cousins who grew up with me in the Catholic church in much the same way as you describe for your grandmother’s heart and what was in it religiously handed down from generation to generation. For whatever reason they moved on to a variety of Christian religions which they have referred to from time to time as “born again”, “spirit filled” , “evangelical”. Over the years they have moved from one group to another after ten or so years and delight in calling each of them “non-denominational” which makes me smile.
    Of late some have moved into churches that loudly proclaim Tea Party Politics believing they are the only ones to save the country. Others have joined Jews for Jesus. If there are some who attend no church or have any group socialization they are few and far between.

  2. Hey, Corinna, where’d your mustache go? Funny, as it was starting to grow on me (pun intended: yuk, yuk). Let’s face it: not every girl can pull off the mustachioed look, but you did…. 🙂

    Corinna said:

    “I think Luther would be happy that modern Catholic congregants are no longer forced into passive observation. Many can choose to get involved.”

    heh, well many are not aware that ol’ Marty was a bit of an intolerant hot-head, with a nasty habit of writing vitriolic anti-Semitic diatribes (something that many good Catholics living during Medieval times were known to do).



    “Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death. My advice, as I said earlier, is:

    First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss in sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. That would demonstrate to God our serious resolve and be evidence to all the world that it was in ignorance that we tolerated such houses, in which the Jews have reviled God, our dear Creator and Father, and his Son most shamefully up till now but that we have now given them their due reward.”

    He wrote entire BOOKS filled with that kind of bile, some of which goes even further, imploring others to burn not just houses of worship, but the houses of Jews, forbidding rabbinical teaching under penalty of death, etc.

    So if by “congregant participation” you actually mean, “helping to toss sulphur and pitch onto a burning Jewish synagogue”, I don’t think Marty would have any objections at all. 🙂

    “My grandmother, her grandmother and all our mothers before that, we each had our individual heart in our chest, the one that pumped blood and kept us alive, but this was a heart we shared—one that beat through generations.”

    You DO realize that you share a genetic connection, a carrying of the family genes, which is a much-stronger bond than any external rituals that you may perform? That’s something that many modern people don’t have a sense of, a sense of the familial heritage of their blood-line; many are actually mourning for that sense of loss, rather than a loss of cultural traditions.

    BTW, I’m reading a book by Edward Blum you might like, “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race In America”. The book discusses Jesus Christ’s ever-changing depiction throughout American history, and the different manner in which the icon of Jesus was seen by various groups (Native Americans, etc). Not to give away the punch line, but different groups often interpreted Jesus through the prism of their own unique World view.

    • Hi Dave, I shaved that sucker off but thank you for your appreciation of it. I thought it was hilarious but much of the feedback I got was from people who thought I looked like a hideous monster. Shows you how much I know. Actually, I am familiar with Luther’s vitriolic writings about the Jews. I am hoping to touch on that when I start my exploration of the Jewish faith. His words are often so crazily over-the-top that it’s hard to take it seriously. But, alas, I believe he meant what he wrote. Oh, that sounds like an interesting book.

      • I don’t miss the mustache–I just figured it was a disguise :). Luther could launch into some vitriol against Catholics as well, which is why I commented on the previous post he might not be so comfortable sitting with you there.
        We visited Israel in 2011, and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum)–a heart-wrenching experience–where there are ample references to “Christian” hatred of Jews as being responsible for a lot of the persecution against them–and I don’t think there’s any love lost toward Luther. During WWII, we avoided helping the Jews. FDR was a great friend to the poor and downtrodden, but not so much toward persecuted Jews (not the most shining moment of our history).

  3. Frank I think I share your thought that few truly stand alone. I also think that few would look at it in the all or nothing way that you presented, Corinna. Your thinking may be colored by the fact that you are indeed more independent, consciously searching each of the churches for what’s real or helpful or wise. Most would not do that, though they may question individual practices, aspects of worship, or doctrinal points. Did we understand you correctly?

    • Hi Walt and Frank, Actually, I was thinking more historically…referring to those who have innovated or broken from old traditions and set off on a varied course (like Luther or Joesph Smith, for example). But I think the way you interpreted it raises interesting ideas too. The ordinary person is probably more likely to be exploring faiths or denominations already in existence. So your points are well-taken. Thank you.

      • Hi Corinna, What came to my mind in your writing was from the Apostles’ Creed, the “holy catholic (little c) church” which means universal, across the ages. The Apostles’ Creed expresses the beliefs that make the connection. It goes way back, but was formalized I think around 384 AD. I imagine you are familiar with it from many of your church experiences.

        I haven’t read Luther’s anti-Semitic writings and from what folks have contributed here, don’t want to. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and offer a collective apology, and learn a better way.

        Wow, a whole new you without the beard, which I thought reflected your tongue in cheek humor very well. 🙂

  4. This social dynamic is a very interesting one, for sure. I am part of a “religious” group that some call a social club, some a cult, and for sure the Unitarian Universalists do not demand any adherence to a particular doctrine or dogma to become a member. In most of our UU churches, it is a matter of making a personal commitment to our broad covenants and signing a membership book. We have agnostics, atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Jews (etc), people who are seeking spiritual support and those who define themselves through social justice. and I expects a few “nones.” I expect that most of us are looking for the comfort and strength in being a part of a group….a community.

    I have been a UU since my early 20’s, but for many years I did not attend a UU church. Now I not only attend, but I am an active participant in the work of the Church. It is a source of great strength and loving relationships…..and with all due respect, I do not feel any sense of fear or dread that my life is heading into a “black abyss” …..it holds a great sense of peace and I am grateful for those UU friends who are a part of my journey….especially since I am no spring chicken, and my mortality is not some abstraction! I hope you can find a stopping point eventually in your search, Corinna, that will provide you with this same spiritual security, I might say, what ever that might be.

    And on this Memorial Day weekend, may we honor those friends and family members who have left us ….remembering them at their best! Be safe. Merrill

    • Hello Merrill, I’m glad you clarified your ‘spiritual security’ . . . I, too, was bothered by the bleak reference to the ‘black abyss’, as I always think (after reading your entries) – “Here’s a lady with her ‘stuff’ together!”. As my Grade 9’s would say- YOU ROCK!

      • Merrill and Carmen:
        Merrill: It’s curious to me that, in your fellowship, you seem to be more concerned with many of the things that Jesus actually came to teach and show to people: about what it really meant to love God and people….am I anywhere near the mark? While I’m sure I wouldn’t endorse a UU doctrinal statement (if it exists), it sounds like you’re engaging in things things that we Christians often only talk about.

        Carmen: I began teaching in traditional junior high (7th-9th grade) and I was a history teacher, though by my second year I began teaching special ed, which I stuck with. Now I’m back in a high school setting: 9th graders rock, too!

        • Ahhhhh. . . so that’s why I detect a humanist sentiment in your replies. .. one definitely needs to be, to deal with Junior High students! They’re my favourites; plus I also remember Gr. 9 (vividly!) as being one of the most turbulent years of my life – I think they need someone around who understands and likes them just as they are.
          To make a connection to Corrina, though, I think it’s safe to say that she is masquerading as an intuitive instructor herself – asking all the right questions and putting forth her own ‘spin’ on the topic; in general, being an excellent facilitator. I am SO enjoying the ‘lessons’!

          • ps: this might sound like heresy to my Christian friends, but God is a humanist. While many in the circles I run in would admit only to saying “everything is for the glory of God,” there is an intriguing thread in the Scripture–from the Garden to the end of Revelation (Rev 21:3)–that shows God WANTS to be with us. That’s an astounding assertion: literally incredible and unsettling to some, but indeed Good News to those for whom this world is nothing but crap and God is the judge who can’t hardly wait to give us what we deserve by heaping mounds of fire and brimstone on us! …and, pss: this would ultimately and truly glorify God.

  5. Thanks, Carmen. I trust your 9th graders assessment! I don’t know if I “rock,” but I do appreciate your kind thoughts. As I lay there in bed last night, unable to sleep, my thoughts went to Corinna’s comments about the “heart that beat through generations,” and Dave’s read on it with his “strong bond of genes.”

    When I was 31, I changed my first name to Merrill. It seemed to suit me better than “Melody,” which was my name given to me at birth. It came to me soon after, that this was NOT just some random name. It was my great-great grandfather’s surname……my great-great grandfather who was a Methodist minister….and who was followed by a great-grandmother and grandmother who were all devout Methodists. My mother opted out of this religious waterfall, but I seemed to have been blessed with an interest in the spiritual from early on. Perhaps it was because of that strong devoutness that was tattooed onto my genes at my conception! I am obviously not of the Methodist faith, but I AM of the belief that there are many ways to reach that Peace of Soul and a Loving Spirit. My heart seems to still be firmly planted in that journey. Perhaps I should say thank you to The Reverend Joseph B. Merrill.

  6. Hi Merrill and Carmen. I just want to clarify something. I am the one who spoke of a “black abyss.” I was referring to my own personal and private reaction to what I tried to find in non-Christian theology and philosophy. What I still find. As I also said, what your heart tells you is YOUR business and God’s. Not mine, for sure.

    I think I agree about the genetic streak in our spiritual journey. At least in my family there is the strong tradition of commitment to and practice of a faith life, and for sure of a strong commitment to humanity and help to fellow men. My mother used to tell me about my great-grandfather, who in common with most farmers of his time had little money. But every year he filled a wagon with food and supplies and gave it to the local Methodist church as his ‘tithe’. Or of my grandmother, who made very little money, but who saved two rolls of nickels each payday. She lived in Ft. Worth, Texas and this was at a time when there was still “the poor farm”, a place where indigents and homeless could go for shelter and sustenance. Grandmama went there each month and passed out her roll of nickels to everyone she could (and a nickel went a WHOLE lot further in 1940 than it does now.)

    I think, Walt, that that background is one reason why I tend to think of myself as a “Christian” humanist. I quite agree with you that God is a humanist. Unfortunately Christians sometimes aren’t. But neither are those of many other faiths. We could just as easily lament what Hindus have done to Moslems or what Buddhists have done to Hindus or what Moslems have done to Christians. Or what Bosnians have done to Serbians or Tutsi’s to Hutus, so it exists as strongly outside of religion as it does inside – to answer the critics of organized religion.

    Humans don’t need God to find ways to divide from each other. But I think they do need God to find a way to unite to each other. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it, lol, though I know that is not the philosophy of everyone who posts here. But it is interesting to hear from you all, and I continue to enjoy.

    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti:
      Lest I get in more trouble than I’m likely already in, let me say that, in saying ‘God is a humanist,’ I’m thinking that ‘God is in favor of humans.’ We are, after all, his creation and bear his image in some way–which I think has to do in part with our creativity and ability to originate–and he loves us. I said this because some people think of “humanism” in terms of what we humans can do apart from God.
      btw, you’re spot on in saying that we need God to find a way to unite to each other.

      • Lol, Walt, believe me…..I realized that as soon as I posted it. But in my heart, I still believe it. Pope Francis said this week that where we all meet is in doing good, and that the ability to do that comes from creation. I, personally, interpret that to mean God. If you believe that God created EVERYTHING and we are made in His image, then when we do good, we mirror creation, or God. I even like the idea of mirroring creation instead of being the more anthropomorphic ‘image’ of God, because the language is more accurate. God is to huge to be limited to the image of a bearded old man.

        I also, personally, believe that when there is any call to goodness in us, it IS the Spirit of Grace in us. Even if we don’t recognize it. Hence – we need God to find a way to unite to each other, even if we don’t call it God.

        Thems my thought and I stand by them, lol!

  7. Corinna wrote:

    “My grandmother, her grandmother and all our mothers before that, we each had our individual heart in our chest, the one that pumped blood and kept us alive, but this was a heart we shared—one that beat through generations.”

    I’m just glad modern humans know that the heart is the organ (muscle tissue) responsible for circulating blood, and is NOT the center of cognition (role of the brain). Ancient Hebrews actually believed that the heart WAS the center of cognition, as absolute literal truth, and continued to do so for long after, since the misconception was supported by the Tanakh, the so-called inspired Word of YHWH (as I’ve written about recently, YHWH speaks in first-person voice of “evil thoughts in hearts of men” in the Flood account of Genesis: whoops! Someone’s not showing supportive evidence for having been the so-called “Intelligent Designer”, if He seemingly don’t know the most basic details of ‘His’ design! Any modern Western pre-schooler points to their head/brain, if asked where thinking occurs).

    YHWH needn’t feel quite so bad for failing Anatomy 101, though, as he was in good company: Aristotle wrote (almost as passionately as Marty did about how he hated Jews) why he believed the heart was the center of cognition, sensation, and movement, and his writings survive to this day so we can review his reasoning based on supportive evidence he provides (eg Aristotle noted that the heart beats faster when someone gets excited/emotional, it was connected with sense organs via blood vessels (where blood was mistakenly believed to play the role that nerves actually perform, the conduction of impulses that carry the actual information), it’s central location was befitting it’s central role, etc). All good reasoning, yes, but nevertheless, it is flat-out demonstrably WRONG.

    Fortunately for humanity, Alcaemon, Plato, and Hippocrates did something different from Aristotle (besides argue): they actually conducted clinical studies on patients with head injuries (and there were many subjects from battlefield injuries in the period: it was a brutal age, what with the military campaigns of Alexander the Great serving as an endless supply of subjects). That was where Aristotle went wrong: he carried out only ‘thought experiments’, and relied on what made sense to him via pure reasoning vs developing and testing hypotheses to let the evidence guide his conclusion.

    Walt, I’m still trying to wrap my head around your claim that “God is a humanist”: REALLY?

    Is THAT why God ordered the Flood after being extremely disappointed by humankind for their murderous activities, since He had apparently forgotten to tell humanity not to kill each other? You’d think the first-recorded murder (Abel, at Cain’s hand, in Genesis 6) would’ve given Him a slight hint that it might be wise to alter the Divine timetable and tell humans, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” 1,000 years ahead of schedule (the Mount Sinai bit is found in the Decalogue of Ex 24)?. Nope: YHWH didn’t intervene until the murder and violence got so rampant in the Antediluvian World that He just couldn’t stand it one minute longer: He threw out the innocent babies drowned within the bathwater, and started over.

    (BTW, what did the Plant and Animal Kingdoms do to piss God off, such as to deserve getting dragged into this mess between humand and God? I’m trying to see the humanism shown by the Job account, Sodom and Gomorrah, the slaughter of innocent Caananite infants, etc)?

    If God is a “humanist”, as you say, then thanks, but I’ll just stick with the secular humanists: they’re paradoxically more God-like and moral/ethical in the loving actions displayed towards their fellow humans, not because God ordered them to do so, but simply out of empathy and true love for their fellow man.

    PS Corinna, I dunno how much time you have to spend reading books and researching topics, but I’d highly recommend David Biale’s, “Blood and Belief: Circulation of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians”. Prof David Biale is the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History and Department Chair at UC Davis (specializes in Jewish history), and handles the blood topic with skill, reviewing how the concept ‘blood libel’ (the claim that Jews used the blood of Xian children in their rituals) grew within Xianity during the Middle Ages (thanks Marty!), which led to such beliefs being further twisted by Nazis to justify the Holocaust, all done under the name of serving Christ (as their beltbuckles said, “God Mit Uns”).

    The interesting thing to consider is that some Xians believe both Martin Luther AND Adolph Hitler are saved, just as long as they both repented of their sins before death. And religion claims God possesses ABSOLUTE moral standards, by letting those who’d advocate and carry out genocide off-the-hook for their crimes? WOW, that’s some forgiveness!

    • Don’t forget to breathe, Dave. Don’t forget to breathe. Your writing reminds me of a wonderful Catholic Portuguese Great Aunt I had
      named Tia Mary Jesus (some name ‘ey?} Tia Mary Jesus was a very intelligent woman who loved to talk. When a bunch of us kids were around her chair listening to her, every once it awhile we’d all take a loud deep breath in and out because she almost never completed a sentence with a breath. She just kept going.

      • Hi Frank,

        Uh, you DO realize that as the reader, YOU are in complete control of the pace at which you read the words on the page?

        (I know, I know: my arguments are so air-tight, that it might SEEM like I’m able to magically force you to propel ever-onwards through the words with baited breath, but I assure you the effect is only illusory: I cannot force you or anyone else to read my expressed thoughts. Really.) 🙂

        But since you apparently are hell-bent on engaging in form-critical analysis over my use of punctuation (!), I can’t help but point out the irony of this comment coming from someone who believes the Torah was “inspired word of YHWH”, and recorded in Hebrew, a language devoid of not just those new-dangled punctuation marks, but also vowels! Heck, even that evil Pat Sajak (host of Wheel of Fortune) provides punctuation marks in his puzzles, and magnanimously allows contestants to buy vowels to help them solve!

        With that in mind, let me make a shelamin (peace) offering, a smorgasbord of punctuation marks from which the readers may choose:

        . , ? ! : ;

        Feel free to insert those wherever you feel they’re necessary to convey my original intent. Good luck! 🙂

        PS one more fun “fact” from the Bible that indicates why YHWH deserves to win that coveted “primary humanist of the millenium” award:

        In Ex 4:11, YHWH takes the dubious “credit” for making humans deaf, mute, and blind:

        “The LORD said to him (Moses), “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

        Sooo, since God claims to give humans disabilities at His will, then are those humans who comply with the dictates of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) actually committing a sin since they’re directly counteracting His Divine Will (the same Will which Jesus prayed, “thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven”)?

        (I can only imagine that God doesn’t want any wheelchair ramps destroying the aesthetic beauty of the architecture in Heaven. But down here on Earth, anyone who installs a handicapped ramp on a building, or works to treat/prevent diseases that cause total blindness, or those who work as ASL translators to overcome the isolation of the hearing-impaired: are they ALL violating YHWH’s Divine Will and likely going to Hell for if they don’t cease and desist helping those disabled?

        BTW, does the same go for anyone who speaks foreign languages and works as a translator: sinners, every last one of them, for directly opposing God’s Divine Will as expressed at the Tower of Babel?

        Everyone remembers the story: YHWH the Great Humanitarian desired to block cooperation amongst mankind by confusing their language. Bedlam resulted, and the construction had to be abandoned (and the name, Babel, is a play on words in Hebrew that still remains visible today: it was apparently a not-so-subtle jab at their captors, the Babylonians, as a thinly-veiled way to insult them without saying it outright.)

        So, much like the Flood, did YHWH apparently bungle His own stop-gap measure to prevent cooperation? How did mankind manage to pull off the NASA space program (culminating in placing a man on the Moon in 1969)?

        Of course, the Tower of Babel myth is the Torah’s attempt to explain where different languages come from (ie genesis of languages), and quite analogous to the creation narrative in Genesis 1/2 which similarly attempts to explain where mankind came from. Both rely on concepts that Iron Age men could fathom (eg Adam fashioned from clay of the Earth (Adamah), or languages confused by a capricious God. In fact, some versions of the story found in other ancient documents say that humans intended to build the Tower of Babel in order to break through the solid firmament to invade Heaven. YHWH didn’t allow THAT, so confused their language).

        It’s curious to note that most Xians don’t attack the ‘Proto-Indo-European Theory of the Evolution of Languages’ with the same vigor which some attack Darwin’s theory of evolution. After all, the Bible claims to be the inspired word of God, and some still believe in the LITERAL TRUTH of the Tower of Babel story, too (despite watching languages ‘evolve’ even within our very own lifetimes, right before our eyes)?

        PSS the information on Aristotle’s belief of thoughts occurring in the heart can be found in the Journal Neuroscientist (1995) in an article by Charles Gross entitled, “Aristotle On The Brain”.

    • Dave, the use of the word “heart” as you described above is a metaphor, of course. You seem to be well read, but your perspective is skewed to the point that with every entry a voluminous amount of anger, rage, and even hatred becomes evident. I certainly can understand rejection of the Christian faith, but I am wondering about what seems to be an extraordinary level of deep, negative emotions. If you don’t mind me asking, why are you so angry?

      If you do mind me asking, then please ignore this.

      • Ginger, I don’t ‘hear’ anger, rage, or hatred. What I hear is another side of a debate – with concrete, well-researched points to back up his opinion. It seems to me that to suggest these negative emotions somehow diminishes his arguments in your mind i.e: you’re trying to explain away his point of view by suggesting that he’s just in a high state of “P.O” at someone/something and therefore cannot be taken seriously. I appreciate the other side of the debate – after all, if we have questions about this whole (fascinating) topic, how are we supposed to think it through when/if all the comments are of the same ‘stream’? Just my humble opinion. . . cheers!

      • I must agree with Ginger on this. Dave is obviously well-read and intelligent, however, he seems too willing to dismiss those who believe in God or a higher authority as ignorant, or worse. Look back at a few of his posts–you often see words like “bigoted” “blind faith” and all the other trigger words used to inflame rather than discourse. I’ve known many agnostics and atheists who can debate the existence of God without reverting to name-calling, and I find them to be compassionate, decent people who don’t think name-calling and anger is a proper way to carry on a discussion. I think Dave has raised many valid points, some of which I agree with, but his thoughts are too often lost in a screed of anger.

      • Hi Ginger,

        Again, I quote your words not to be confrontational (or “angry” as you put it, LOL!), but simply to keep the conversation on a specific point.

        Ginger said:

        “Dave, the use of the word “heart” as you described above is a metaphor, of course.”

        As I said, sure, it’s considered metaphor NOW, but that’s precisely my point: ‘metaphor’ becomes the fall-back position of Bible literalists only AFTER an overwhelming amount of evidence makes it impossible to claim it as literal truth. The domain of Bible concepts admitted to be “only metaphor” has only increased over the past 2,000 yrs, as more and more people cannot deny undeniable evidence from the world of science that the Hebrews were living in the Iron Age, and not surprisingly, shared the concepts with other Iron Age people in the vicinity.

        The same downgrading process from “literal to metaphor” has been repeated over millenia; off-the-top of my head, here’s a few more examples:

        1) Kidneys were thought by writers of the Bible to be the center of emotions and decision-making, a concept taken as literal truth (and hence why YHWH ordered kidneys to be offered as sacrificial atonement for one’s bad decisions). For more on that topic, Google for Journal of the American Society of Nephrology article entitled, “The Kidneys in the Bible: What Happened?”

        The author (Garabed Eknoyan) treads lightly on the topic (he also downplays by saying the Bible was being poetic, when it wasn’t: it was believed as LITERAL truths). Such attempts to water-down didn’t shield the Journal from criticism from Bible literalists for daring to present more evidence of the Bible’s indisputable evidence revealing long-disproven ancient incorrect beliefs.

        Note the part where the author points out the wholesale replacement of the translation “mind” being used in modern translations, where older translations (eg KJV) used the actual names of the organs offered in the Hebrew Torah (eg liver, kidneys being replaced with the incorrect but more foregiving, “mind”). That’s the kind of updating of the Bible that intellectually-dishonest translators employ to keep the Bible “fresh”, burying the ‘smoking guns’ that often get buried in incorrect translations, out of fear that they might point out how outdated the concepts in the OT actually are.

        One more example (for now):

        2) Firmament (Hebrew word, ‘raqia’):

        Hey, where’d this once-literal belief disappear to?

        It also has been relegated to the land of ‘metaphors’, alhough that’s MUCH HARDER to pull off, since it’s not exactly a suitable metaphor for anything that is actually known/proven to EXIST (ie the atmosphere, clouds from which rain and snow is produced, distant stars, our much-closer Sun and the even-much-closer Moon). Hence, the firmament is PURELY fictional, a construct of ancient men’s imaginations; it’s harder to make the claim that it’s a metaphor for something that doesn’t even EXIST in reality.

        However, the Bible shows YHWH spoke of the firmament as being the solid dome-like roof that covered the Earth, a solid surface that He walked upon (Job 22:14), even rested his feet upon; it supposedly contains openings through which angels poured rain upon the Earth (since the vast storehouses of waters and snow were said to be above it, as in Job, or as the source for the rains produced for the Flood of Noah), and to which the stars and celestial bodies were attached (as if the Sun, Moon, and stars were hanging lights that traveled across it’s surface, like track-lighting, as if the Sun was part of a geocentric universe).

        Google for Paul Seely’s article, “The Firmament and the Water Above” as he addressed the ancient Hebrew conception of the firmament (although, more than a few men of science were executed for daring to dispute the Word of God, including concepts like the firmament).

        BTW, Here’s a picture of the Biblical concept of firmament, and cosmology:


        I could go on with other examples, but hopefully you get the point…..

        Ginger said:

        “You seem to be well read, but your perspective is skewed to the point that with every entry a voluminous amount of anger, rage, and even hatred becomes evident.”

        As Carmen points out, any anger or rage (and “hatred?” Really, don’t flatter yourself, if you think those I don’t even know have the power to elicit such a strong emotion as ‘hatred’) you read into my words is likely the result of projection. Fact is, I’m as calm as can be, and actually ENJOY studying history, and sharing what I learn with others via writing (I’m sitting here typing, enjoying a nice cup of camomile tea on a lazy Holiday evening).

        The projecting is fine, except you completely ignore the circumstantial evidence I present, and thus fail to accept the opportunity offered to anyone here to defend their faith. Certainly you or someone else can defend that raqia (firmament) concept, or defend YHWH’s double flip-flop depicted by regretting the Flood, an example I offered above?

        Instead, some bypass all those challenges (I prefer to think of them as ‘opportunities’ to defend the faith, as remember: Jesus is watching!). Instead, some proceed to questioning MY motives, conjecturing that I MUST be one of those “angry atheists”, etc.

        Sorry, but since you haven’t even addressed the cognitive-dissonance-inducing questions and challenges that I present as arguments, you do not “Get To Pass Go” and ignore inconvenient arguments simply to offer ad hominems (mild as they may be): per the rules of debate, you cannot side-step evidence and simply proceed to questioning another debaters’ motives like that. That’s just not how the rules of debate work.

        In contrast, note how I present actual arguments (only to go ignored), but I also do the extra work of providing hypotheses to explain ANOTHER debater’s behavior (consider it as a “bonus”, LOL). Since I bothered to offer a semblance of evidence in the form of a cogent argument, I get to offer a hypothesis as to another’s motives.

        So go for it: look at the sources I quoted, attack their interpretations, translations, etc, and then challenge their conclusions. But if you’re going to be fair, you really need to explain to us WHY you don’t agree with someone’s conclusions, and stick to challenging the evidence, NOT simply going after the motives of the other debater(s). That’s how the rules of debating work.

        NOW, if someone CAN’T (or worse, they WON’T, since they feel they’re entitled to believe what they WANT, DESPITE any evidence to the contrary), then that’s another matter entirely. I’d assert that’s the very operative definition of being closed-minded, and as the old saying goes, if the shoe fits….

  8. Patti, Walt, Carmen, et al:
    A few years ago, I was a member of men’s group at my Episcopal Church when the talk turned to salvation, etc. I opined that for far too long. most churches have put way too much emphasis on hell and damnation rather then bringing the Kingdom to fruition here on earth. After all, there must be something about us humans God thinks is worth saving, or He would not have sent His son as a sacrifice for us. To paraphrase the old Anglican Missal Mass, “God once created and then restored the dignity of man”. I guess that makes Him the Ultimate Humanist! Humanity has a long and terrible history of taking just about all the institutions–secular and religious–it established and warping them into something to be used for evil purposes. But in every generation, there have been people in individuals and groups, from Francis of Assisi to Dr. King, who have shown us what good can be made of faith. I prefer to think they represent true humanity.

  9. I suspect the Carinna will find that being a compassionate None who lives life with a sense of joy and gratitude and a willingness to allow her spirituality to grow in its own way is quite enough.

    • Well said, Frank.. I think all of us know too many people who go to church every Sunday and forget what they hear five minutes after they walk out the door. As I’ve said before, I don’t presume to know how God thinks, but I do believe He thinks what is in our hearts and how we treat each other is far more important than what we building we spend time in on Sundays.

  10. Hi Dave:
    Well, I guess we’re back at it…..

    Two questions, and a comment, so far.

    First, re the outdated non-scientific terminology used by the Hebrews et al: I’m sue you don’t believe that God (assuming there would be a God) would actually believe that the heart was the actual, physical center of cognition, do you? Or the kidneys the actual center of emotion?

    Second, re the honesty of translators: Your saying that Bible translators were “intellectually dishonest” and that they switched to currently-used terms “out of fear” that using literal equivalents would reveal outdated thinking—in effect, that these translators engaged in a cover-up—is an unwarranted conclusion, unless you have some proof. If not, then, who’s attributing motives? I have done Bible translation (while living in Africa) and so am familiar with some of the difficulties of transferring these concepts to other languages. Decisions are never simple and are complicated by politics (e.g., using “baptism” and its cognates where Greek has ‘baptizmo’ etc, even if the context is not water baptism). Most translations that strive to be somewhat literal (NIV, ESV, etc.) generally have footnotes covering such stuff, though not always.
    I rather think it would be close to intellectual dishonesty to imply that God didn’t know anatomy simply because he used culturally appropriate terminology rather than correcting those poor humans’ lack of understanding.

    The comment: I doubt that I could say anything that might assuage your contempt for a God who might just actually be more of a humanist than you suspect–and genuinely care for you, Dave. Death comes to us all, and brutal deaths have attended even the most godly and gentle souls (lions, tigers, and bears–and fire come to mind). I don’t know why all of those people died the way they did. Apparently, they would not accept Noah’s hundred-year-long advance warning and encouragement to repent. That last point often gets overlooked in these discussions.

    • Walt said:
      “Well, I guess we’re back at it…..”

      And so it seems…. (eyes darting, back and forth, up and down).


      “First, re the outdated non-scientific terminology used by the Hebrews et al: I’m sure you don’t believe that God (assuming there would be a God) would actually believe that the heart was the actual, physical center of cognition, do you? Or the kidneys the actual center of emotion?”

      If you study common ancient beliefs in the Ancient Near East, you’ll see that many of the ideas presented in the OT were in fact the common knowledge of the period, and not unique to ancient Israel. Their views of the natural world typically were based on ideas offered by the more-scientifically advanced beliefs of the Egyptians, respected far and wide for their views on cosmology, as well as their great experience with human anatomy (Egyptians had millenia head-start, due to the practice of mummification; furthermore, Egyptian physicians were considered the World-renown experts, and highly in-demand as guest members on royal courts throughout the region, serving as personal physicians to royalty of other countries).

      To the Hebrews (who had strict cultural taboos against even remote contact with a dead body, much less dissecting one!), the Egyptians were light-years ahead (as were the more-scientifically-inclined and advanced Babylonians) and Hebrews had to trust on their expertise.

      So YES, ancients LITERALLY BELIEVED that the heart was the center of cognition, from Ancient Greece to Persia, etc. That WAS the common belief amongst non-educated until Galen in 2nd Century CE, and it’s an idea that certainly the Intelligent Designer SHOULD’VE known wasn’t correct. In fact, the Bible omits ANY MENTION of the brain, NONE. Certainly the crowning achievement of YHWH’s creation of man should warrant SOME CREDIT, rather than allowing the organs of urine formation (kidneys) or the circulatory system pump (heart) to take credit for the functionality that was actually performed by the brain?

      What possible reason could YHWH have NOT to tune His “Chosen People” into the TRUTH? Isn’t YHWH all about helping mankind, so they can sing His praises, to His glory? Just think about how Hebrew physicians could’ve been highly-regarded as THE experts in medicine, having been given Divinely-inspired insight into curing disease that would’ve given them special advantage over the others. Instead, Egyptians (who’s deity was Ra), not Hebrews (YHWH) were in demand on royal courts from early times.

      What a missed opportunity for the Torah to offer REAL TRUTHS, REAL INSIGHTS to humanity, offering clear-cut indisputable evidence that could later be CONFIRMED as truth by science, and not DISPROVEN as falsehoods. Now THAT would be a sign of Divine inspiration: correct information. Isn’t that the ENTIRE basis of “the gift of prophecy”, claiming to be able to ACCURATELY predict the future? It’s not much of a sign, if it’s incorrect knowledge.

      Walt said:

      “Second, re: the honesty of translators: Your saying that Bible translators were “intellectually dishonest” and that they switched to currently-used terms “out of fear” that using literal equivalents would reveal outdated thinking—in effect, that these translators engaged in a cover-up—is an unwarranted conclusion, unless you have some proof. If not, then, who’s attributing motives?”

      Can I quote Jesus, who made frequent reference to “those lying scribes”? No? 🙂

      You apparently didn’t Google for the article on “Kidneys in the Bible” I cited, as the author mentions how some recent translations replace the Hebrew word for “kidneys” with “mind” or “soul”.

      Here’s a link:

      Click to access 3464.full.pdf

      The excerpt that refers to recent Modern translations that take liberties by eliminating all the “eye-brow raisers”:

      “It is not unexpected then that in recent translations of the Bible, the “mind” and “soul” are substituted for the original “reins” not only by Christians but also by Jews as in the most recent Tanakh Translation of the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim (48). It will be unfortunate if future generations are not able to appreciate the nuances and multi-layered overtones of the reins that the biblical authors intended and may have been one reason for their use as sacrificial offerings to the Lord.”

      The nice thing about online parallel Bible translations is it’s trivially easy to confirm that kind of claim, using sites such as biblehub.com. Here’s Psalms 26:2:


      Now, compare to the original Hebrew, and notice the word, ‘kelayot’ (kidneys, plural) in the original Hebrew.


      Note how KJV translated the word as ‘reins’ (Old English term for kidneys), but modern versions instead use “mind”.

      Walt said:

      “I have done Bible translation (while living in Africa) and so am familiar with some of the difficulties of transferring these concepts to other languages. Decisions are never simple and are complicated by politics (e.g., using “baptism” and its cognates where Greek has ‘baptizmo’ etc, even if the context is not water baptism). Most translations that strive to be somewhat literal (NIV, ESV, etc.) generally have footnotes covering such stuff, though not always.
      I rather think it would be close to intellectual dishonesty to imply that God didn’t know anatomy simply because he used culturally appropriate terminology rather than correcting those poor humans’ lack of understanding.”

      The general problem with that line of reasoning is that the Bible IS responsible for human lack of understanding. There is NO GOOD REASON to explain why Hebrews should believe that the HEART, and not the BRAIN, is the center of cognition. The brain of the sacrificial animal could just as easily be used to atone for the poor choices one made vs using the kidneys, and it arguably would be easier to remove from the body and burn on an altar.

      But that’s kind of the point: Hebrews knew that kidneys were deeply buried in the torso, and hence considered them as more inaccessible, more guarded, more “secret” (plus the fact there are TWO kidneys: hence the ancient concept of two spirits trying to influence a person to make a choice/decision, each standing on each shoulder, trying to lure someone into going one way or the other. In fact, that’s also the meaning reflected in the word, “reins”: it refers to leather reins that are still used to ‘steer’ a horse).

      “The comment: I doubt that I could say anything that might assuage your contempt for a God who might just actually be more of a humanist than you suspect–and genuinely care for you, Dave.”

      Uh, again: how can I have “contempt” for something or someone I don’t even BELIEVE in?

      I know how hard that is to accept it, but truly, truly I say to you today: I don’t believe in God(s), only very clever men who lived in the past and created the IDEA of God in order to control others. It caught on like gangbusters, but that doesn’t mean the idea is TRUE.

      “Death comes to us all, and brutal deaths have attended even the most godly and gentle souls (lions, tigers, and bears–and fire come to mind). I don’t know why all of those people died the way they did. Apparently, they would not accept Noah’s hundred-year-long advance warning and encouragement to repent. That last point often gets overlooked in these discussions.”

      I see you simply ignored the post where I explained there’s absolutely NO evidence to indicate that Noah offered any warning to his fellow man before the Flood, I see. The whole agreement between the deity and Noah, agreeing to save only Noah and HIS family, as if the Bible doesn’t mention that part. Nice, at least I see how open-minded you are, ignoring my posts.

      I really don’t get it: WHY are people soooo scared of death, such that they’d waste the ONLY life they’ll ever have in pursuit of the false hope of an ETERNITY spent in Heavenly bliss? Is it more of the fear of Hell, the eternal torment? Or is it the Spiritual Lottery, thinking you can win the Holy Jackpot?

      I’m truly sorry that you cannot see that the Bible is actually a horrific book, filled with not-so-veiled threats of horrible and gruesome death and torture, and has been responsible for more nightmares and emotional abuse of children than even Freddy Kreuger on a bad hair day. But instead, some choose to facilitate that belief, covering it up by claiming that YHWH is a humanist, a “God of Love”? Sure, if you believe that true love is the same as showing signs of Stockholm Syndrome Love.

      • Hi Dave, I honestly appreciate your point of view and recognize that what you express represents what many people believe or feel (to some degree or another). Maybe it’s because I’m not reading the Bible as something that was “written by God” that I’m not bothered by the inconsistencies and lack of scientific knowledge. I see it mostly as stories that existed in the minds of generations before us, perhaps some of it based on true events. I find it fascinating for that alone. Pointing to details–like the author’s thinking that kidneys were the seat of the soul or whatever–and making big proclamations about its validity based on these doesn’t really interest me. Perhaps you are directing your comments at those who read the Bible as every word being literally true…and, if so, your words might have a greater impact among a fundamentalist group (though the audience may be less receptive).

        A reader sent me a book he wrote in which he painstankingly details every horrible thing that God does or demands people do in the OT. I’m actually in the middle of reading it right now. He self-published it and it’s available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Mousetrails-THE-FIRST-HOLY-WAR/dp/1418490601. Even half way through, there’s no denying the God of the OT can be a horrifying entity who smites people, approves of slavery and rape and killing, etc. I met a rabbi once who said that God “evolved” over time. He is on the liberal side of things, so I think what he meant is that people’s depiction of God in the Bible changed through the centuries from this terrible entity to something kinder and more benevelont (though at times still scary). I think the Bible helps us recount and understand how our ideas have changed. I think it’s possible to know exactly how gruesome the Bible can be and still want to read it and discuss it–though I agree that much of it is not suitable for children. I guess in that way, I am lucky that I am coming to it fresh as an adult and don’t have the baggage of having been terrified by it as a kid.

        More than anything, I really want us to be kind to one another in this forum. You may not have contempt for a God you don’t believe in, but at times you seem to express contempt for those who might believe differently from you. The point of this blog is not to prove one thing is right and another thing is not right. It’s to explore and exchange ideas. I want to find what is good in religion–those things that will help us both individually and collectively as we move forward. I’ve heard some people say you must take everything from religion (or the Bible) or nothing at all. Well, that’s just not going to work for me. I want to find the parts that heal us and discard those that divide or harm. That’s what interests me.

      • Hi Dave:
        Aren’t we all glad Einstein wasn’t an Egyptian—his precious brain might have got sucked out of his nose instead of preserved for posterity, sort of. 😐
        I don’t consider myself a fundamentalist, at least not in the sense that Corinna mentions below and that you seem to be aiming at. I know the Bible is from God in some way, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the various doctrinal statements: I prefer to say that God told us what he knows we need.
        Sorry, I don’t have time right now to read that article that you put a link to. There are lots of issues surrounding decisions to translate literally (such as use of “reins” etc.) It’s generally scholars who like more literalness–but then we peons have to spend a lot of time digging into the nuances. I prefer a plain-spoken translation (which the KJV was in its day).
        I didn’t ignore your comments earlier about Noah, but never saw them. I do know that there is a debate raging on that very issue. I’m probably thinking of Hebrews 11 where it speaks of how Noah ‘condemned the world’ in building the ark because the rest wouldn’t accept that there would be a flood.
        I’m not seeking heavenly bliss. There’s a God-shaped void in all our hearts (or, better, brain–if you prefer). I do believe in the reality of the soul and mind that is something somehow distinct from our brain. I’m not looking to be controlled by anybody. I do know there is a lot of truth in what you say about powerful people seeking control by religion–that’s one of the things that Jesus spoke against in the strongest way! That sort of manipulation is likely the most insidious evil ever known, but it doesn’t necessarily make all religion evil or wrong.
        As Frank says, BREATHE!

      • Dave, Corinna, a couple more thoughts:

        Dave: FYI, I am committing myself to read the article at the link you sent….I just really don’t have time this week and it may be a week and a half before I can. By then, this discussion thread will have become an ancient scroll. The temptation in our Google age is to search it out and find the necessary comments and come back with some cheap shot. I’m too slow a reader and value context too much to do that, but I will get to it.

        For all your cynicism and, yes, anger (for it does come across that way to a lot of people even if you don’t think of it that way), I do believe you have some honest questions that thoughtful people need to consider, however it would be good (which I think is what Corinna is asking for–it is, after all, her blog) to discuss it in a way that respects their views, the meanwhile engaging their minds and hearts (plug in any organ you choose). For all the controversy swirling around religion, the person of Jesus never seems to draw much attack, instead a thoughtful hearing, because he always sought to engage hearts. He was (is), in a word, winsome–except with the religious leaders of his day. We, please be mindful, are not them.

        Thinking this a.m. about Corinna’s statement that the God of the OT can be a “horrifying entity”: That’s a very candid evaluation. That eval is very common, even among Christians who may think it but never voice it. It’s part of what’s behind the secret fear that many of my fellow believers have that, while God is “love,” he is “in love” waiting to give them what they deserve, which could never be pretty. I’ll admit that I’ve been caught up for the past 2-3 years in devouring the Gospel accounts and I’ve neglected going back much to the OT–it is, of course, the OT (Hebrew Scriptures) that Jesus read and still presented a picture of that OT God that is counterintuitive to any horrifying entity. Where’s that at? Well, I could come up with some quick rejoinders, but I respect your search (you, really) too much to do that and, as you know, I’ve been engaged in my own journey of un-assumption. I guess I’ve just made a decision to make the OT one of my chief summertime reading activities.


  11. REALLY! The end. Amen. Please.
    Sometimes people”s posts feel like they are in picket lines on two sides of a street…..holding up signs and shouting at one another…..except some people’s posts would need a whole roll of butcher to cover what they want to say on their signs! I would rather sit down over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine–your choice–and have a conversation, speaking from our heart’s ——and that would not be the one pumping blood, but the one which is at the center of our beliefs. People have stated Bible verses; others have stated detailed facts from Biblical historical research…both of these activities tend to lose me because they tend to get too abstract or too preachy, or just too long-winded……for my brain to handle!

    It has been my long experience that religious beliefs are so tightly held that any conversation around them IS personal….and people are not likely to “change sides” when there is a lot of shouting and jostling. It diverts attention from meaning, which is the whole point, for me anyway.

  12. One of the most frustrating things about being a Christian (or in a broader definition, “spiritual”), is that we lose sight of what we hold in common far too easily. From Universalist to strict Orthodox, we all believe in a loving God who in turn expects us to love one another. Despite falling short of that expectation, we keep trying. Being raised in the liturgical tradition, (first Roman Catholic and now Anglican/Episcopalian), I’m more comfortable in that environment than I would be in others, such as Evangelical or Pentecostal. I think the most important thing is to find what brings you closer to God’s ultimate goal—for us to love another. I think His tent is much larger than we can imagine

  13. Corinna! You write so beautifully. I love reading your blog. Thanks for taking this journey and sharing it with us.

  14. Walt, I apologize, as I realized you weren’t bypassing what I wrote on the Noah topic; I had posted that stuff in a different thread which you may not have been following (it was the one where I was discussing Noah’s Flood and the Noahide Covenant (found in Genesis 9) with Chuck. I had posted about the covenant agreement Noah entered into with YHWH, agreeing to the “passenger manifest” which is found at Gen 6:18, where YHWH promised to save Noah and his family in exchange for labor of building the Ark. It’s classic OT covenant stuff).

    The version presented in the Q’uran actually depicts OTHER survivors being allowed on board (about 60, IIRC), but it sticks closer to other ANE renditions by making the flood of much shorter duration, which solves the logistics issue of having sufficient food/water for all occupants, human and animal, for an entire YEAR without needing to resort to more undocumented “miracles”.

    Corinna, I’m not ignoring your comments, but am working on a response (which is growing exponentially more wordy than likely is necessary). Don’t suppose you can recommend any good editors? 🙂

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