I was just reading … a scary book

No, no. I was just reading a, uh... a scary book.

(In case you are not familiar, Shrek was just caught reading the old childhood diary of his now-wife, Fiona. This clip should help you imagine the title of this blog post being delivered in a Scottish accent.)

But, here is the actual book that skeered everybody real bad:

BEHOLD!

And … behold! I have posed it with my scary black nail polish.

In my experience so far, the people who are most alarmed by this book are just reacting to the title. And it is a scary title, because Wolfe is trying to do something that many people try to do, which is take a derogatory term and own it, while of course redefining it somewhat or at least clarifying the definition. In fact, this book is nothing more nor less than one big, extended definition/explanation of what Wolfe means by the term, and what he thinks Christians should mean by it.

Most of the people who reacted to the publication of this book as if their hair were on fire, apparently did not read it, because their definitions of Christian Nationalism are very different and, in many cases, the opposite of the extended definition found in this book. I will demonstrate this with quotations from the book, below.

(To be fair: the other possible problem is that they did try to read it, or else they listened to an interview with Wolfe trying to explain it. I have heard a few such interviews, and I cannot say that Wolfe is the clearest at expressing himself in person. The book, too, is … dry. It sounds like it was written by a lawyer, or a more-than-usually-dry theologian. Combine this with the fact that many of the concepts in this book are entirely foreign to modern Americans, especially those who have not been raised Presbyterian, and I can easily imagine that someone could dip in, get dizzy, and quickly flee … or else fix on a phrase or two and completely misconstrue them. If you want to hear Wolfe’s ideas expressed in a vivid, accessible, and much clearer way, seek out the blog posts of Douglas Wilson.)

But anyway, here are a few of the assumptions people often make when they hear the phrase Christian nationalism, and quotes from the book that show Wolfe’s actual take on the topic:

Here’s what the scared people are saying:

Nationalism means imperialism or jingoism

Several ethnicities can share the same language, of course. But since language is a particular and is necessary for civil fellowship, it follows that at least some particularity is a prerequisite for civil fellowship. Hence, sharing only what is universal — viz., common humanity — is wholly inadequate for a complete social bond. And even a cursory reflection on one’s daily habits and everyday life reveals that more extensive unity in particulars is necessary for living well. We do not, and indeed cannot, live (let alone live well) according to universal rules. Nor can we live well among contrary particulars; there must be a normal to which all conform or assimilate, at least in order for people to live well together. Thus, an instinct for a suitable normal is a good instinct; so too is the moral expectation that people conform to that normal or else face some degree of social separation.

Exclusion [of out-group members] follows not necessarily from maliciousness or from the absence universal benevolence, but from a natural principle of difference that recognizes for oneself and for others the goods provided by similarity and solidarity in that similarity. To exclude an out-group is to recognize a universal good for man — a good made possible only by respecting and conserving difference. Since it is a universal good, you and your people are entitled by nature to a right of difference. This is a natural right, because particularity is necessary to live well according to the nature of man.

pp. 144 – 145

The principle of exclusion does not preclude the reception of foreigners absolutely. Nations ought to be hospitable. At the individual and family levels, hospitality demands generosity to strangers, especially to those in need. A nation, as a sort of corporate person, can and ought to be hospitable as well. But hospitality is subordinate to higher duties: no individual, family, or nation is duty-bound to welcome strangers to the detriment of the good of those most near and bound to it. Furthermore, guests have duties toward their hosts.

p. 167

Christian nationalism is a code phrase for wanting an all-white America (a.k.a. White Supreme Pizza)

Nations express Christianity like they express gender through dress — a universal is expressed in a particular way. Christianity perfects the whole not by eliminating earthly particularity, just as any man who comes to Christ does not lose his personality and other unique characteristics. The Christian nation is still a nation as described in the previous chapter, having intergenerational memory and love, degrees and types of loves, and a delight in people and place. Grace sanctifies sinners, but it does homogenize personality; likewise, Christ sanctifies nations but does not eliminate national distinctness.

p. 175

“Christians should not have any loyalty to any particular country or family, because ‘all are one in Christ.'”

Man’s limitedness is expressed in the natural need for a sort of directed gregariousness. That is, he is close at heart with a particular, bounded people, who ground and confirm his way of life in the world and who provide for him his most cherished goods. [Even] Unfallen man is benevolent to all but can only be beneficent (i.e., act for the good of) to some, and this limitation is based not merely in geographic closeness but in shared understanding, expectations, and culture.

Cultural diversity is, therefore, a necessary consequence of human nature, and so it is good for us. It is good that particular practices are made habitual by localized socialization and are “owned” in a sense by a particular place and people. It is good that the particularity of each community distinguishes it from the others. Man’s limitedness was not a divine mistake; neither is cultural diversity, separated geographically, an error. It was God’s design for man and thus a necessary feature of his good.

p. 65

“Christian nationalism” mean getting rid of the First Amendment, and establishing a national church to which every citizen is required to belong.

Althuis states, “Franz Burckhard therefore errs, and the Jesuits with him, who think that the magistrate is not able to tolerate diverse religions.” Burckhard, a Roman Catholic professor at Ingolstadt, is reported to have said, “What more just than to cut off the heads of all these villains of Lutherans!” Burckhard … called for Roman Catholics to rescind the Peace of Passau (1552), which granted religious freedom to Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire.

This rigid position is natural enough for Roman Catholic theology, which asserted that it is the one true visible church … But in Protestantism the church is essentially invisible and composed of the elect by faith, and belonging to that church is not conditioned on or grounded in one’s outward belonging to a visible, centralized communion. Thus, Protestants of different doctrinal persuasions can mutually recognize their shared faith. This is the basis for principled toleration and religious liberty in Protestant commonwealths. Indeed, the unfolding of Protestant principles — not Enlightenment or Roman Catholic “doctrinal development” — is what led Americans to affirm religious liberty in the 18th century, which I demonstrate in the next chapter. The point here is that a Protestant people have principled flexibility when faced with religious diversity. How a Christian magistrate navigates this complexity requires wisdom, prudence, and resolve.

p.375

The political status of non-Christians in a Christian commonwealth is a matter of prudence. Since civil society is a human institution, it must guarantee equal protection and due process with regard to human things for all people. That is, it must guarantee justice and secure natural rights. But this does not entail equal participation, status, and standing in political, social, and cultural institutions. Thus, they are guaranteed a basic right to life and and property (the absence of which would harm the common good), but they may be denied by law to conduct certain activities that could exploit or harm Christians or the Christian religion.

This position, though fairly standard in the Christian tradition until recently, will be received with controversy today, and few would stomach any legal discrimination on the basis of religion. But even in the absence of legal distinctions, the cultural norms of a Christian nation will require non-Christians to be the exception to the norm.

pp. 392 – 393

“It means that the same person is the leader both of the church and of the country in a civil sense.”

I think that a strictly indirect role for civil leaders in intra-ecclesial affairs is both preferable and most consistent with Protestant principles. There is, I admit, a natural fittingness to Christian nationalism and the [civil leader] as the “head of the Church.” But granting the leader this title would be, in my view, an abuse of power and constitute the usurpation of Christ’s kingship over the church. I offer my reasoning below.

p. 300

It means giving church leaders political power.

God does not (ordinarily) declare by special revelation that this or that person has civil power. Rather, it is “a characteristic property resulting from nature,” writes Suarez. He continues:

‘This [civil power] does not emerge in human nature until men gather in one perfect community and unite politically … Once constituted, this body is at once, and by force of natural reason, the site of this [civil] power.’

The people possess civil power as a necessary and natural consequence of their combination.

One important corollary is that recognizing the true God (or Christ) is unnecessary to possess this power, for having this power is simply a natural consequence of the people’s combination into human society. And they can likewise devolve this power upon those who do not recognize the true God. Hence, true civil authority does not depend on true religion, though certainly in failing to acknowledge the divine source of civil authority, the people and civil ruler are in a perilous situation. It doesn’t bode well for them, but being godless or idolatrous does not itself preclude true political order. Hence, Peter instructs his recipients to “honor the [Roman] emperor.”

pp. 283 – 284

Though we can in principle disobey unjust laws, we should recognize the difficulty in determining whether a law is unjust. It one thing for a law to be unjust and another for you to know that it is unjust. Civil magistrates are necessary, as I’ve said, because of natural epistemic limitations in individuals to determine expedient actions for the common good. … [M]any or perhaps most laws evade a simple evaluation, mainly because civil authorities are typically in a better position than private persons to make judgments about what serves the common good.

Pastors can admonish erring magistrates to correct injustice in the law, but pastors must not mistake their theological training or scriptural knowledge for expertise in jurisprudence. Pastors as pastors are no more competent to analyze or make civil law than any other private person.

p. 274, 275

“People who advocate Christian nationalism think that they can use outer means, such as laws, to compel people to believe.”

Civil power cannot legislate or coerce people into belief; it can only command outward things — to outwardly do this or not do that. No classical Protestant has ever claimed that civil action can itself bring about assent to, let alone true faith in, the Gospel. Though the ultimate purpose of civil action can be the spiritual good of the people, the direct object cannot be the conscience. Spiritual good is a matter of the heart before God in Christ. Thus, civil action for the advancement of the Gospel only indirectly operates to that end.

p.182

As for power over conscience, implicit power can influence beliefs, such as assent to Christian truth, but civil law cannot command belief. It can only direct bodies. It orders outward action. Civil power cannot touch the conscience. Why? Because the conscience is a forum of persuasion and civil power is the power of command. The civil command “believe in Christ” violates a necessary condition of belief, namely, that belief is a matter of persuasion.

p. 253

It means that the entire Mosaic law, including the ceremonial laws, would become the legal code of the land.

[W]hether any civil law is good depends on the circumstances, which requires the discernment of a prudent man. Calvin writes, “[E]ach nation has been left at liberty to enact the laws which it judges as beneficial.” Nothing about this disparages the Mosaic law — a law of God. It is a perfect example of law. But it is not a universal body of law.

Some civil laws in the Mosaic law are universal in a way. But they are universal because they are necessary for any just and commodious human society.

Though not universally suitable, the civil laws of Scripture provide certainty as to their inherent righteousness. They are, therefore, morally permissible in civil law, and the closeness of the circumstances aid in determining whether any of them is suitable.

pp. 267 – 268

We can just have a neutral, secular nation, with no national religion at all.

This “neutral” or “common” space lasted only about twenty years, which shouldn’t surprise us: the most common human arrangements in history for public space are decidedly not neutral. It is a shame that we treated this neutral world as normal and universal.

Experience over the last decades has made evident that there are two options: Christian nationalism or pagan nationalism. The totality of national action will be either Christian, and thus ordered to the complete good, or pagan — ordered to the celebration of degeneracy, child sacrifice (e.g., abortion), mental illness, and idolatry. Neutrality, even if it was real for a time, will never hold, because man by his nature infuses his transcendent concerns into his way of life and into the place of that life. The pagan nationalist rejection of neutrality is correct in principle

p. 381

For decades, theologians have developed theologies that exclude Christianity from public institutions but require Christians to affirm the language of universal dignity, tolerance, human rights, anti-nationalism, anti-nativism, multiculturalism, social justice, and equality, and they ostracize from their own ranks any Christian who deviates from these social dogmas. They’ve effectively Christianized the modern West’s social creed. The Christian leaders most immersed in the modern West’s [actual] civil religion are those who loudly denounce the “civil religion” of “Christian nationalism.”

p. 5

Killers of A Certain Age: A Book Review

Three stars.

I picked this up with moderately high hopes. The protagonists are all sixty-year-old ladies who spent their youth as private assassins. I thought there would be more old-lady thoughts, but in the end, they mostly seem like 21-year-olds in 60-year-old bodies. So, the character development and themes disappointed a bit.

What did not disappoint was the research and the plot. Unlike some novels, where the premise is only half-developed, this one takes us on a very thorough ride. We get to see how the ladies got recruited, how they got trained, and to see a number of hits they did in their youth, in exotic locations throughout the world. These interleave with hits they are carrying out now, in their old age, in self-defense. There is not just one but many tense, intricate, detailed climatic action scenes. And it all works together into one big, overarching tale of betrayal. It’s like not just one, but all of the Mission: Impossible movies, in novel form. If this had billed itself just as a thriller, then these factors alone would cause me to give it four or five stars.

But unfortunately, the cover and premise promised not just Thriller, but a study of what it’s like to be a woman of a certain age. Have your goals changed? Do you miss what you were able to do in your youth, or are you content with that and ready to move on to something else? Have you left a legacy? Had any children? Are you ready to go?

No, none of that. One of the four women has married, but the only effect of her recent widowhood is to make her lose her nerve in survival situations. Another has married another woman; another is still chasing younger men at sixty. Meanwhile, the main character, Billie, never married or had children.

He was six years older than me and ready to settle down, build a life, make some babies. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to make myself small enough to fit into that picture.

page 309

So, Billie, you think making and raising people is a small life, huh? It is sooo much smaller than your life of traveling around the world killing people. You couldn’t reduce yourself to being a mom.

This quote pretty much encapsulates the book’s shallow yet heavy-handed feminism, and it is the reason I have bumped it down to three stars.

Spade & Archer: A Book Review

“Jo Marshall, Dashiell Hammett’s only surviving daughter, in 2006 said ‘Yes!’ to a prequel to the The Maltese Falcon. Jo gave me not only her blessings and inspiration but also the idea (and the research) for much of part III of the novel. Vince Emory let me write the introduction to Hammett’s Lost Stories, then shared his vast knowledge of San Francisco and Hammett with me. A history of the coroner’s office from 1850 to 1960 gave me the idea for part II.”

Ten stars. Ten.

This is so well researched and written, so atmospheric. Naturally worked into the story, we find a wealth of details about San Fran in the 20s: how people dressed (including disguises), what they ate, and how much it cost. (They ate well, and for cheap!) There are ferryboats and fishing boats, there are foghorns, there is lots and lots of fog. There are immigrant communities: Greek, “Portugee,” Chinese, and German. Stuff happens that will rip your heart out, and Spade reacts to it in his characteristic hard-boiled way. Twists are many, revenge is sweet. This book covers the years 1921 to 1928.

Quote: How do you tell someone, “You are not God”?

In her silence, Winter’s eye flicked to the gold cross gleaming on her blouse. He began to compose a speech in his head. In the speech, he told Molly Byrne that her husband had had a vision, a drugged vision in the jungles of Brazil. He had seen a god who was both the mind of the universe and somehow his own mind at the same time. In his speech, Winter confessed to her that he did not know anything about God. He did not even know whether or not God existed. But he knew this: if God did exist, He might be many things, but He was not Gerald Byrne. And Gerald Byrne was not God.

He did not make the speech out loud. He didn’t have the nerve.

A Strange Habit of Mind, by Andrew Klavan, p. 205

Book Review: The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries by David Ulansey

I thought you should know that this book exists.

I don’t even remember where I got it. I have a feeling I got it at a used book store or a library sale, or maybe I stole it from my dad’s library. I know it’s been sitting around my study for a few years, waiting for me to get to it. It was published in 1989.

This is a good, accessible piece of scholarly work that first explains what the cult of Mithros was, then traces the history of scholarly thinking about it, and then advances Ulansey’s theory about what was really behind the cult.

What Is Mithraism

Mithraism began to spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century C.E., reached its peak in the third century, and finally succumbed to Christianity at the end of the fourth century. At the cult’s height mithraea could be found from one end of the empire to the other, “from the banks of the Black Sea to the mountains of Scotland and to the borders of the great Sahara Desert,” as one authority puts it.

ibid, p. 4

As a result, many of the underground Mithraic temples whose iconography Ulansey shows pictures of are found in Germany or in Italy, although this is a cult that had its origins in Tarsus, in southern Turkey.

For a long time, the accepted theory among scholars was that the god Mithras got his start as the Iranian god Mithra, because they happen to share a name. However, the attributes of Mithras don’t line up very well with those of Mithra, which leaves the door open to other explanations.

The cult was apparently based on a story where Mithras slaughters a bull, and from the bull’s body sprang all the plants that man finds useful, such as wheat, grapes, etc. Because it was a mystery cult, nothing was ever written down about the secret meaning of this story, nor of the levels through which the neophyte progresses as he is initiated deeper and deeper into the mysteries. But in all Mithraic temples, there is consistent iconography. This includes a picture of Mithras slaying the bull, with wheat coming out of the wound. Mithras is typically looking away from the bull (though this is “corrected” in some reconstructions), wearing a distinctive hat which was associated with Persia and with Perseus in the ancient world. Around him are placed other figures which will prove to have significance in unravelling the meaning of the cult. Sometimes, the whole scene is placed under an arch or inside a circle that shows the zodiac. Sometimes, Mithras is also portrayed as standing inside a circle or hoop lined with star symbols.

A Brief Tour of the Ancient Mediterranean, Near East, and Europe

In unfolding his theory, Ulansey takes us on a fascinating tour of the ancient world. For example, he spends a lot of time establishing how and why Mithras came to be associated with (based on?) Perseus, who was the founder and hero of the city of Tarsus and, in fact, the local god of that whole region. (Mithras’ hat — a “Phrygian cap” — was originally worn by Perseus, and Ulansey contends that he looks away from the bull as he slaughters it because Perseus looked away from Medusa as he slaughtered her.) He gets into the fact that the cult may have originated with pirates of Cicilia, which lies just off the coast from Tarsus:

[T]he Cicilian pirates were far more than a mere band of thieves. Rather, the pirates, who numbered at least twenty thousand, formed what amounted to a small nation which at its height controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea.

ibid, p. 88

Ulansey then quotes Plutarch from Life of Pompey:

“The power of the pirates had its seat in Cicilia at first … then, while the Romans were embroiled in civil wars, the sea was left unguarded … until they no longer attacked navigators only, but also laid waste islands and maritime cities … There were also fortified roadsteads and signal-stations for piratical craft in many places … more annoying than the fear [the pirate fleets] inspired was the odious extravagance of their equipment, with their gilded sails, and purple awnings, and silvered oars … For you see, the ships of the pirates numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred … Presently men whose wealth gave them power, and those whose lineage was illustrious, and those who laid claim to superior intelligence, began to embark on piratical craft and share their enterprises.”

ibid, p. 88

There are plenty of other fascinating historical nooks in this edifice, such as the figure of a lion-headed man, entwined by a snake, standing on a sphere; the idea of Mithras being born out of the rock; the exact nature of the Gorgon, and many, many others. Every single one makes sense when it comes up in context. That said, there were certainly some bizarre ideas floating around in the ancient world.

The Zodiac

So, to get right down to it, Ulansey’s case is that the Mithraic mysteries were a way of encoding astronomical knowledge. Because this is the ancient world we are talking about, this knowledge could equally be considered scientific, cosmological, and religious, as will become clear shortly.

Lately, I’ve been studying the zodiac in a desultory fashion. Don’t worry, I am not planning to take up astrology. Astrology is specifically forbidden to faithful Jews, and to children-of-Abraham-by-faith like myself. But it is of interest to me, because it was so important to the people of the ancient world. They worked it into their monuments and their mythology. The signs of the zodiac, and other constellations, were associated with the gods, and a good case could be made that this association started in pre-Flood days.

The other thing that fascinates me about the zodiac is that it’s so hard to observe. Now that I keep chickens and also work outside the home, I’ve been obliged to get up before dawn to let the chickens out. I live in a rural area with relatively dry weather, so you’d think it would be easy for me to take a quick glance at the horizon while I’m out there, and be able to tell which constellation is in the east, right where the sun is going to rise in an hour or two. As it turns out, it’s not so easy as all that. You not only have to know which direction is due east, you also have to have something that helps you sight where the sun is going to rise … and it moves. Then you have to be able to recognize the constellations. To really figure out the whole zodiac, you’d have to be making these observations daily, throughout all the seasons of the year, until you noticed that the constellations of the zodiac make a notional belt around the earth, and that at different times of year, they take turns “housing” the sunrise. This is already difficult enough that you’d have to have a pretty strong motivation to pursue it. (Stronger than mine is right now.) Ancient people thought this was so worthwhile that they managed to master the very difficult science of astronomy. Many ancient monuments, in fact, were built as observatories, from Stonehenge to many structures in the Americas.

Why were they so motivated to study the stars? That’s a discussion for another time.

According to Ulansey, the Mithraic iconography (and probably the whole cult) was designed to encode the secret of Equinoctal Precession. This is a really complicated phenomenon, so if you don’t know what it is, I’ll let you look it up. Basically, because of an irregularity in the earth’s rotation, the zodiac sign that “houses” the sunrise on the equinox will stay the same for 2,160 years, by which time the sunrise has migrated back to the previous zodiacal sign (hence, precession). (Also, incidentally, Polaris has not always been the the pole star.) Precession has been discovered at different times in the past by different civilizations. Graham Hancock makes a pretty good case that it was known by somebody, before conventional history began. But due to the difficulty of observing it, it has not been known at all times by all peoples. Around the time that the cult of Mithras apparently started, it had recently been discovered, and begun to be talked about, in the vicinity of Tarsus, in the same intellectual circles that were also providing aristocratic pirates.

Breaking Hoops and Wheels and Mills

Now, to you and me, equinoctal precession might fall into the category of “Oh, that’s interesting.” Not so for the ancients. For one thing, this cult probably started among pirates, who use the stars to navigate. The idea that the stars were once different and are not the same all the time would be earth-shattering to them. But this news gets even more ominous when we understand ancient cosmology.

(And when I say “ancient” here, I am talking about the cultures of the Mediterranean, Ancient Near East, and parts of Europe. Though, not to keep mentioning Graham Hancock, but in his book Fingerprints of the Gods he finds similar cosmology in ancient India, Central America, and Scandanavia. So a case could be made that this cosmology was once worldwide.)

This ancient cosmology, then, conceived of the heavens as a huge machine, constructed of two or more intersecting hoops (the zodiac, the celestial equator, and, essentially, the prime meridian/international date line projected into the sky). Sometimes the heavenly machinery is portrayed more as a big edifice with four pillars supporting it. Sometimes it’s a “mill” that turns. Probably some ancient people took this more literally than others; some understood it was notional, but represented something real.

Now, imagine that you think of the universe as a big, finely tuned machine, where the constellations always end up in the place they are supposed to be. If the whole hoop has moved out of its place, this could be conceived of as “breaking” the machine. This is why cycles of a certain number of years (not everyone got the precessional intervals right) were thought to bring cataclysms upon the world. So, we get myths worldwide about a mill being broken, and this causing the stars to fall from their places, the sky to become dark, fire and floods to sweep over the earth, etc. Again, read Hancock to find out more about this than you ever wanted to know.

But the point is, whether the Cicilian pirates thought that precession caused a cataclysm, or whether it just meant the universe was less stable than they had imagined, this would have been a revolution in their scientific, cosmological, and religious thought. (Religious because, in ancient times, science and cosmology and religion were really all a part of one system, especially when you consider that the stars and other heavenly bodies were thought to metaphysically influence events on earth.) So, whether you count it as belonging to three, two, or just one unified field of knowledge, this was a big enough discovery to be kept secret (a “mystery”) and passed on to initiates in a whole new cult religion.

More Horrors of Hermeticism

This two-volume book, The Devil’s Redemption by Michael J. McClymond, is just too good of a resource to fuel only one blog post.

Last week, it was McClymond who helped me sort through the (intentionally?) confusing tangle of different claims about what Hermeticism actually is. We scratched the surface of Hermetic/Esoteric/Gnostic/Platonic/New Age thought enough to recognize that we have all encountered it before, and that it has had a pervasive influence on our culture in all sorts of ways. This week, I’m just going to list a number of characteristic doctrines of Hermetic/Esoteric thought.

Each of these bullet points (or cluster of them) could have a volume written about it (and probably has). I could write a 1,000-word blog post about each one: My personal history with it, the damage it does to people, why it seems to make sense, how it differs from biblical teaching. But today, I’m not going to do that. I just want you to be able to recognize these doctrines when you hear them, so you know that they are neither just common sense, nor orthodox Christian teaching, nor are they a profound new insight that was just had on the spot by whoever is asserting them to you. They are characteristic doctrines coming from an ancient, broad and deep, but erroneous, stream of human thought. All of these bullet points are paraphrased from the section “Common Esoteric Teachings” in McClymond’s Appendix A: Gnosis and Western Esotericism: Definitions and Lineages, pp. 1069 – 1070.

  • The godhead has within it some or all of these things: inherent crisis, inherent evil, inherent or intrinsic suffering, temporality or process arising from inherent imperfection.
  • Apophatic theology: God does not know himself, because “the infinite or unbounded cannot in principle be known” (p. 382).
  • A divine feminine principle (sometimes called Sophia) exists in the godhead.
  • Coincidence of opposites
  • God did not create from nothing, and/or nothing is not really nothing; instead, nothingness or chaos is a “constitutive principle.”
  • Spiritual things are somehow material, and material things are somehow spiritual. (“Spirit stuff”)
  • All things are alive.
  • “The material universe [is] ontologically inferior.”
  • “The material universe [is] generated by human desire and imagination.”
  • God/heaven/etc. was originally somehow human, or defined in human terms.
  • And was also an androgyne (male and female at the same time).
  • Christ: only seemed to have a material body (docetism); was an example or teacher rather than a savior; and did not atone for human sins.
  • Humans have divine or godlike powers; human imagination has the power to create material reality; therefore magic, divination; and astrology are OK.
  • Souls are reincarnated or transmigrated; this life (and sometimes, processes in the life beyond) acts as a purging fire to get rid of the soul’s imperfections.
  • Following from all this, salvation is understood as “self-knowledge, self-realization, or self-integration” (p. 1070). Therefore, “love, not law.” Strict justice is understood as mean and unenlightened.
  • Spiritual elitism: the good people are not those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in God, but those who have secret knowledge. Hence, we do a lot of allegorical and other nonliteral readings of the Bible, and we make authoritative religious claims based not on the text but on “visions, dreams, or supernatural encounters” (p. 1070). (What could go wrong?)

I hope I don’t need to point this out, but … none of these doctrines are remotely Judeo-Christian. They cannot be reconciled with the picture of reality that is painted, both explicitly and implicitly, in the Old and New Testaments, unless we are willing to do violence to the text by reading it in an arcane, “symbolic” way which allows us to import our own esoteric doctrines. Esotericists, of course, are completely willing to do this, because they don’t like doctrines or definitions anyway.

Making things even more confusing, many of these ideas are alluded to by the New Testament writers, because they were “talking to” the estoeric philisophies that were already popular in their day. For example, John begins his gospel with “In the beginning was the Word [ho Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In first-century Gnostic and Platonic thought, the Logos was a character which was sort of embodiment of the organizing principles of the universe. John is saying, by implication, that these thinkers were close, but not quite right in their cosmology. The Logos, for John, is an actual person, namely Jesus, who is also actually a member of the godhead as God was understood by the ancient Israelites. He is not immanent nor present in everyone, and rather than there being inherent conflict within the godhead, He and the Father are one. John does all of this in just a few phrases. But if we bring esoteric assumptions to the gospel of John, it will be easy for us to “prove,” from this and other lines lifted from this gospel, that John supports our Hermetic or Mormon or New Age theology.

Next week, we will see how the apostle Paul upbraids esotericism directly in just one short, beautiful paragraph.

The Book About Human Dispersion I’ve Been Waiting For

… I was going to put, “… I’ve been waiting for all my life,” but it hasn’t been quite that long.

[T]he scientific community selected father-son pairs (or other male relatives of known genealogy) and sequenced their Y chromosome DNA. Then they counted the number of differences between the relatives. The number of Y chromosome DNA differences between them revealed how many copying errors occurred each generation. These differences told them how fast the Y chromosome clock ticked.

One of the first studies to measure the error rate was published in 2009. Two Chinese men of a known genealogical relationship going back to the 1800s had their Y chromosome DNA sequences determined. The resultant rate of copying errors was slow. It fit the existence of a “Y chromosome Adam” (the ancestor of all living men) about 200,000 years ago. In 2015, a study of hundreds of Icelandic men produced the same result.

So far, these results would leave the mainstream time scale as is.

However, due to financial and time constraints, these earlier studies were based on low quality DNA sequence. Then, in 2015, another research group compared father and son Y chromosome DNA sequences. This time, they used high quality methods. The result was a copying error rate that was much faster than the previous, lower quality studies: “The number of [father-son Y chromosome] differences was approximately 10-fold higher than the expected number … considering the range of published [Y chromosome copying mistake] rates.”

In fact, the data from this study implied that “Y chromosome Adam” lived just a few thousand years ago.

What was the mainstream scientific community to do? Oddly, they filtered their results, removing data that contradicted the 200,000-year timescale. They did so until the Y chromosome copying error rate matched their expectations.

In 2017, researchers compared the DNA sequences between 50 parent-offspring trios — i.e., they obtained DNA from father, mother, and child. Again, they did so by using high quality DNA sequencing methods. The researchers published detailed analyses of the copying error rate in these people. But conspicuously absent from their published results was a statement on the father-son Y chromosome copying error rate. Why?
From the raw data that did make it into their published study, a potential answer emerged. From this raw data, the father-son Y chromosome DNA copying error rate could be extracted. The results were consistent with the 2015 high-quality study. The 2017 Y chromosome copying error rate again implied that “Y chromosome Adam” existed about 4,500 years ago.

Traced, pp. 67 – 68

Jeanson, the author of this book, is a geneticist who works for Answers in Genesis. In this book, written for the lay person, he explains the study of genetics and its often counter-intuitive results. For example, early in the book he covers how, if all of your ancestors were unrelated to each other, by the time you go back about a thousand years you have to have had more great-grandparents than the population of the world at the time. Obviously that can’t be right, so in the deeps of the past, you must have had cousins or second cousins marrying each other. Also early in the book, he walks us through a simple thought/mathematics experiment to show how a minority population moving into a new area could make their genes the majority in that area after several generations by dint of simply having a few more children per family than the native population. This has actually happened in Europe with a Central Asian population that apparently came to Western Europe fleeing the Mongols.

Having oriented us and laid some foundational principles, Jeanson moves on to looking at specific branches of the human family tree as it has been reconstructed through geneticists looking at Y chromosome data. Using this data, we can “see” historical events like the population collapse that happened in the Americas in the few centuries after the arrival of Columbus; the massive people movements out of Central Asia in response to the Mongols; and the dispersion of certain haplogroups from East Africa into the rest of Africa in response to the Muslim expansion. Going deeper in the family tree, we can reconstruct the movement of certain haplogroups: for example, one group that started in Central Asia, split, and moved into India and into Europe, without meeting up again. Jeanson has a method, which he explains, to convert conventional dating for these events to his young-earth dates. In some cases, historical records like the ones mentioned above corroborate his method. If you look at the pages of his book end-on, the middle third of them are thick, high-quality, glossy paper. These are the diagrams, illustrations, and numerous maps to which Jeanson is constantly referring his reader. It really is important to be able to reference these in order to follow his arguments, so that you can visualize geographic dispersion and understand the different branches on the human family tree. (Being named by scientists, the branches have names like R1a and R1b, so it is really helpful to have a visual, where they are distinguished by different colors, to help you keep them all straight.)

Everyone likes to imaginatively trace the footsteps of their ancestors, but this book is a special treat for me. I am the kind of person who can get story ideas just from staring hard at a map. Give me a multigenerational migration story to go with it, and I’m in my element. This gets even more so when you start trying to use it to peer into the deep past. Bearing in mind that the world population was much smaller in past ages than it is now, when we look at these branches of haplogroups we are, in most cases, not seeing entire nations as we would now conceive of them. We are “seeing” clans, maybe in some cases individual families.

Traced is a real gift to people like me who want to write novels about early human dispersion. Of course, Jeanson is a good enough scientist to tell us that it is not the final word. Some haplogroups have been identified, but the sample size has been small. There are probably more out there, waiting to find their places on the big family tree. There are probably also haplogroups that have been completely wiped out, that will never be found no matter how many currently living men we sample.