Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Hellfire Conspiracy

       Whoever thinks Manchester lacks colour has never been to Market Street on a Friday afternoon! 
       Market Street is the main shopping centre where, competing with the shops, buskers and street traders, assorted street preachers take their stand.
       On this particular Friday, there are not just one, but TWO groups of preachers, both with loudspeakers and a determination for everyone to repent. The first group features a couple of visiting preachers from the States who talk a lot about hellfire but very, very little about  what we actually need to do to avoid it!
       Further along the street two pairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses stand by their literature carts, holding out books, brochures or Watchtower and Awake magazines with serene smiles. They’ve been conducting this form of ministry since October 2013 and most people have got used to seeing them, passing by with barely a glance. Occasionally, there’s a nod or a smile or an eager hand reaching to take the proffered literature.  Even more occasionally, someone may stop for a chat – friendly or otherwise – but communication is rarely, if ever, initiated by the witnesses who stand, quietly and patiently during 4 hour stints.
       Such a lot has changed in Manchester over the years: so many colours, cultures and languages, nationalities from all over the world.  No wonder preachers view the city centre as fertile ground – it certainly offers more potential than most churches these days!  
       However, there’s a tactful way to represent the Lord and a NOT so tactful way. A young Muslim family pass by as one of the preachers starts dismissing the Koran along with the entire Islamic religion.  The husband stops, walks back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and takes a magazine…..possibly as a ‘statement’.     Whether the evangelists have noticed this small act of ‘defiance’ is debatable, but one of their crew approaches the JWs and attempts to start a debate, only to be ambushed by another man – unconnected with either religion - who wades in against the evangelist! 
       The JWs are now free to distribute more literature without hindrance and further hellfire threats.
       Meanwhile even more fire and brimstone is being breathed by the second group of preachers, attracting quite a crowd. A blonde woman who claims to be a lesbian is yelling fiercely at the main speaker who is just as fiercely yelling back at her, both being roundly condemned by the other; the preacher to the hate crime police, the lesbian to hellfire on Judgement Day. At least she’ll have company, as (according to the speaker) most of us are going there anyway!
Or are we? Will we all be engulfed by perpetual flames? Does hell as portrayed by many denominations actually exist? In order to find the answers, let’s examine the source of such beliefs:
     Cue Ancient Babylon, home of Nimrod and many uncanny practices still in use today. Fortune-telling, omen-spotting, entrail-reading, runes, star-gazing and communing with the dead all have their roots in this magic-obsessed city. Incidentally, Babylon also invented the fiscal system, which, considering recent history, some may regard as the ultimate nightmare!
       Ironically, atheists’ refusal to believe in a separate, invisible soul is backed up by scripture.  Here, death is clearly shown to be a state of total unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep from which, according to several Bible verses (particularly the Lazarus account) people will ‘awake’ to a physical resurrection when paradise is restored on earth.

“There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]….The term nepeš [ne’phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person….The term [psy-khe’] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with nepeš. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being.” – New Catholic Enyclopedia

The Mosaic Law did not allow for any form of spiritism whatsoever - in fact it was forbidden on pain of death for the nation of Israel - and it wasn’t until Greece began to stride the world stage that afterlife philosophies began to take root.
       In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine, unable to quell the rise of Christianity by other means and determined to unite his empire, cunningly  infused original gospel teachings with pagan beliefs such as the immortality of the soul, the trinity doctrine,  and – that most terrifying concept of all – eternal hellfire! The Biblical word rendered as ‘hell’ in many versions simply means ‘grave’ or  ‘death’. (Hebrew - sheol; Greek - Hades)

“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.” – The Jewish Enyclopedia

       Constantine’s ‘miraculous conversion’ marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire from which the rest of Christendom developed, combining Bible accounts with Babylonish rites and practices while keeping generations of adherents in ignorance. The Dark Ages had truly begun and the Bible was unavailable to the majority of people until the 16th century when William Tyndale translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. His aim - for ‘even a plowboy’ to understand scripture - was not appreciated by the church; hardly surprising as, from the Vatican to house churches, Christendom has done more than any other organisation to promote spiritistic practices. According to one spiritualist I met some years ago, “the church already preaches life after death – all mediums do is prove it!”
       What harm does it do? Well, for one thing, the whole concept of life after death is a cruel deception, especially for people who have lost a loved one. Believing they can communicate through a spiritualist medium can lead to all kinds of fraud and extortion; even if the medium is basically well-meaning, it can still open the floodgates to a very dangerous world. 
       As for the churches, keeping the flocks in fear of everlasting torture has proved very lucrative, with masses for the dead, indulgences, prayers and various fetishes swelling their coffers over centuries. 

“….The nether world…..is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness.” – The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1998, Morris Jastrow, Jr)
       
       But the worst sin to my mind is the reproach beliefs such as hellfire and purgatory create towards the Creator. Would a loving Father, even a sinful human one, hold a child against a fire until he screamed in agony? Is being damned to everlasting torture even just for the amount of sinning humans can fit into their three-score years and ten?
       I doubt it. 








  

Saturday, 9 September 2017

VAMPIRES, ZOMBIES AND GHOSTS – FACT OR FICTION?

       With an unprecedented fascination for the occult over the last few years and cinema queues growing for spine-chillers such as the ‘Twilight’ series,  ‘Resident Evil’ and, most recently ‘It’, spiritistic themes are providing juicy pickings for the film industry. Well, box office takings speak for themselves.  
       But is there any basis for believing in the ‘undead’ or the ‘after life’? Are films that feature spiritism in its myriad forms suitable for the young and impressionable? In order to find the answers, we first need to trace the source of such beliefs, to find out whether there is any foundation for them.
       Cue Ancient Babylon, home of Nimrod and many uncanny practices still in use today. Fortune-telling, omen-spotting, entrail-reading, runes, star-gazing and communing with the dead all have their roots in this magic-obsessed city. (Incidentally, Babylon also invented the fiscal system, which, considering recent history, some may regard as the ultimate nightmare!)
       Ironically, atheists’ refusal to believe in a separate, invisible soul is backed up by scripture.  Here, death is clearly shown to be a state of total unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep from which, according to several Bible verses (particularly the Lazarus account) people will ‘awake’ to a physical resurrection when paradise is restored on earth.
       The Mosaic Law did not allow for any form of spiritism whatsoever - in fact it was forbidden on pain of death for the nation of Israel - and it wasn’t until Greece began to stride the world stage that afterlife philosophies began to take root. 
       Unbelievably, considering their supposed Christan roots and reliance on the Bible, churches of every denomination have espoused and continue to promote the false teaching of a separate, immortal soul. This is in fact one of the greatest conspiracy against true teaching that has ever existed - Satan's original lie to Eve in the garden of Eden. (Gen 3:1-5)  
       In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine, unable to quell the rise of Christianity by other means and determined to unite his empire, cunningly  infused original gospel teachings with pagan beliefs such as the immortality of the soul, the trinity doctrine,  and – that most terrifying concept of all – eternal hellfire!+  
       Constantine’s ‘miraculous conversion’ marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire from which the rest of Christendom developed, combining Bible accounts with Babylonish rites and practices while keeping generations of adherents in ignorance. The Dark Ages had truly begun; and the Bible was unavailable to the majority of people until the 16th century when William Tyndale translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. 
       Tyndale's aim - for ‘even a plowboy’ to understand scripture - was not appreciated by the church; hardly surprising as, from the Vatican to house churches, Christendom has done more than any other organisation to promote spiritistic practices. According to one spiritualist I met some years ago, “the church already preaches life after death – all mediums do is prove it!”
       What harm does it do? Well, for one thing, the whole concept of life after death is a cruel deception, especially for people who have lost a loved one. Believing they can communicate through a spiritualist medium can lead to all kinds of fraud and extortion; even if the medium is basically well-meaning, it can still open the floodgates to a very dangerous world.
       One particular form of spiritism – now available as a game! – is the Ouija board, regarded by many as a bit of harmless fun. Others, however, no longer share that view. While at university, John*, a relative of mine, was persuaded to attend several Ouija board séances by a neighbouring couple. At first, the spirit seemed friendly and jovial but over several weeks, it became more sinister, prompting John to avoid these sessions. He was reminded of them sometime later when watching a movie about demon possession: “The first scene showed people playing with a Ouija board,” he explains, “What really scared me was how closely the spirit portrayed in the film mirrored the one conjured up by the couple at my student digs! Afterwards, I couldn’t sleep for weeks thinking how close I’d come to having the same horrific experiences.  There’s no doubt the movie played on my mind and had a very negative, frightening effect.”
       Such negative feelings are common in those who dabble with spiritism, sometimes even resulting in serious mental illness as the unwary are drawn into darker and darker practices. (Apparently, John’s former friends eventually joined a coven).
       Fascinated with fortune-telling, Mary* began visiting a psychic to gain insight into the future. Dissatisfied with her safe but dull husband, she believed the psychic’s prediction that a special man would into her life – prompting her into a divorce, a disastrous love affair and a life of poverty for herself and two children. It was only after a particularly harrowing session to which she’d been invited that she finally came to her senses, realising how deep her obsession with the occult had become.
       Others are not so fortunate, developing paranoia or psychotic symptoms, hearing voices, and suffering night terrors with horrific dreams. In many countries, the occult is particularly rife with of voodoo priests and witches threatening curses or spells in order to bend others to their will. Fear of vengeful spirits has caused many to be forced into drugs, slavery and prostitution.
       So much suffering could be so easily avoided if only people knew the truth. That’s why care should be taken with the kind of entertainment we choose. If it promotes spiritism, it could create a chink for unwelcome and unwholesome forces.

*Not their real names

+The Biblical word rendered as ‘hell’ in many versions simply means ‘grave’ or  ‘death’. (Hebrew - sheol; Greek - Hades)

http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Two_Babylons.html?id=OD_ATrB-g2gC&redir_esc=y






   






Friday, 25 August 2017

Woof! Trainspotting dogs and shades of purple

“Of trainspotting dogs and shades of purple”

      A few weeks into the job and, much to Albert’s irritation, I still hadn’t established a routine. Not through any lack of efficiency, I hasten to add; it’s just that, unlike people, dogs that stray, make nuisances of themselves or get stolen or lost, don’t do so to schedule. To most of my charges, 9 to 5 means absolutely nothing, whereas to me it often means being called upon at any time of day or night.
       So, inevitably, there were occasions when I failed to show at Pest Control HQ at 7am precisely, as demanded of my fellow employees.
       “I don’t expect special treatment!” I argued.
       “Tell that to Batty or Worth!” sneered Albert, who seemed in a particularly foul mood.
       Worth agreed. “Wish I could wander in at all hours in the morning……”
       “Aye, an’ clocking off at 3!” said Batty. “Rest of us have to work regular shifts. Unlike some.”
       Pleased to have caused a rift between my colleagues and me, Albert leaned back in his chair with a satisfied snort. “See! Told you they didn’t like it!”
       “That’s all very well,” I began. “But someone who finds a few fleas on their carpet can wait until daylight, whereas dogs running rampant or in some kind of distress need help straightaway. I mean, how would YOU like being called out at 2 o’clock in the morning ‘cos someone’s dog’s been run over or fallen into a slurry pit? Bet you wouldn’t turn out, would you?”
       “I would!” insisted Batty. “If there was a poor little rat in trouble, I’d….I’d….”
       Everyone turned to look at him, surprised by this sudden burst of emotion. Aware that he’d drawn attention to himself and his previously undetected love of rodents, he trailed off mid-sentence.
       “Ted! I never knew you cared!” exclaimed Worth, not unsympathetically.
       “Just ‘cos I exterminate rats for a living doesn’t mean I don’t like them” bristled Batty.
        Albert smirked. “Now I’ve heard everything! What about you, Worth? Fallen for any tasty cockroaches recently?”
       Fortunately, the telephone put an end to his sniggering. Albert answered it with his customary yell.
       “PEST Control! What!? A dog!? Where!?” He reached for his pen and, instead of passing the phone to me, started scribbling down the details. No doubt this gave him a sense of control but, as I could never read his terrible scrawl, was yet another bone of contention. I sighed, knowing another 5 or 10 minutes would be wasted. After finishing the phone call with his customary curtness, he handed me the chad-torn page from his notebook.
       “If I gave this note to a chemist, he’d make it up!” I said, trying to decipher the instructions. All I could make out was the word ‘station’. “Which station?”
       “You know - The one with all the trains?” replied Albert. “Choo-choo-choo!” And he laughed unpleasantly at his own wit.
       “It might have escaped your notice, Mr Scrum, but there are several stations in the area....”
       “Want the co-ordinates?” Albert snapped, “Maybe you’d like an ordnance survey map while you’re at it!!”
       “Just the name of the station, that’s all.” I replied, as politely as I could.
       After finally wresting the information from Albert, I set off for Marchington Station, a few miles out of town. The station master, a cheery man in his fifties pointed to the latticed railway bridge nearby where a terrier cross was gazing longingly down the track, waiting for the London express.
      “He’s there every day, watching trains go by, and he’s never usually a bother. But one of the passengers complained so we had to report it.” As he was speaking, the dog’s ears pricked up and it started shuffling its front paws, yapping with anticipation. The station master grinned. “Ahhh, the 10.55! He can hear it coming from 20 miles away. Just watch!”
       It was another couple of minutes before we too could hear the soft rumbling of a distant engine, by which time the animal was dancing, hardly able to contain itself. At last, I saw the train approach, travelling at great speed.
      “Stand back!” warned the station master. “Express trains come through here at 90mph!” Obediently, I stepped away from the edge of the platform. The terrier, however, had no such fears but was jumping fearlessly from side to side, barking, yelping and wagging his tale frantically. Although his joy was obvious to me, I could see why anyone not used to dogs might be a little concerned at having to walk past him.
      Whoosh! Right on schedule, the 10.55 express flew by, dragging my cap along in its wake. As I ran up the platform to retrieve my errant headwear, the force from the train reached a crescendo, echoed by the dog on the bridge above us, howling as loudly and for as long as his lungs would let him.
      Cap and dog now safely under control, I escorted the runaway to his home a couple of streets away. Good job he was wearing a collar with an address tag, otherwise I’d have had to take him down to the police station instead, something I tried to avoid whenever possible. (The sight of me has already got the duty sergeant’s eyes rolling skywards – all those extra forms!)
       Nobody was in. I sighed. This was a common problem, dogs left to their own devices day after day while owners were at work or school. Fortunately, on this occasion, I’d misjudged the owners. “There he is!” cried a young woman, followed by an older woman who was negotiating a push chair up the drive. Having seen my dog warden van parked outside her house, she looked rather shamefaced. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to let him out, but as soon as I open the door, he streaks past me and doesn’t come home for hours. We seem to spend all our time searching for him.”
      “Well, in future you won’t have far to look,” I said and told her about her pet’s obsession.
      “Fancy that!”  she exclaimed. “My brother Tim’s a train enthusiast. Maybe he could take Rooney with him on excursions.”
       “Good idea,” I said. ”Although you’ll have to get him kitted out first.”
       “Oh? What with?” asked the owner, genuinely intrigued.
       “Well, a proper lead might help,” I suggested. “And something no self-respecting train-spotter should be without….
       ‘A waterproof anorak.”
      From then on, Rooney continued to take his station on the bridge, the railway staff agreed to keep their eye on him and passengers came to welcome his endearing presence. And, occasionally, his owner would accompany him, complete with toddler.
      Meanwhile, back at the van….”PEST Control to Panther Z! Come in Panther Z! Are you receiving me?”
       “Panther Z receiving you. What is it?”
      “There’s a strange dog running rampant round the trading centre at Bagley Wold.”
       “What’s so strange about it?” I inquired.
       “You’ll find out,” said Albert, sounding very mysterious. “A load of rubbish if you ask me.”
       “Thanks Albert. That’s really helpful, I don’t think. Will I need a grasper? Special equipment?”
      “A good pair of sunglasses might come in handy.” But beyond that, Mr Scrum kept firmly shtum.
      “So now he’s moonlighting for MI6!” I muttered to myself. Why did everything have to be so flipping confidential all the time? I continued grumbling under my breath for another two miles or so until a weird looking creature darted straight across my path, forcing me to brake. I swerved violently to avoid hitting the animal which vaguely resembled a dog, then pulled into the kerb to get a better look. The spectre had gone.
       “I’m sure that was a dog!” I thought yet, despite several years with the RSPCA and a love of animals since I was chewing rusks, on this occasion I just couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t even blame the demon drink, having imbibed nothing stronger than Pest Control’s PG Tips all week. Then I glanced into my rear mirror. There it was again, lolloping along the highway, cool as you please, looking for all the world like a sleek Saluki. Only purple. Not just any purple, you understand. Not the kind of purple favoured by the blue-rinse brigade. This was a deeply dazzling, brilliantly luminous purple, as eye-catching as any Technicolor dream coat.
       Now I understood what Albert meant about wearing shades. I remember hearing about certain dog owners who, having nothing better to do, dyed their pets to match their outfits. Although any garment in that particular shade would hardly prove flattering.
       Emerging from the van, leash in hand, I whistled to the dog which broke obligingly into a run and made a bee-line for me.
       “Come on, Chappie!” I called. “Let’s see what’s happened to you then.”
       It didn’t take long to find out EXACTLY what had happened. In one bound, the dog leapt up to lick my face, leaving purple paw-prints all over my uniform. “Eeeuuu!”
       At that moment, a panda car drew up beside me and Charlie Matthews wound down his window, grinning from ear to ear.
       “You’ll have a job getting that off,” he crowed. “Gloss by the look of it!”
      “Thank you Charlie. I HAD noticed.” To add insult to injury, my Saluki friend chose that moment to give his coat a vigorous shake. Now I had purple spots all over me, much to Charlie’s amusement.
       “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mr Blobby! Aw, if I only had a camera!”
       “What are you doing here, anyway?”
       “Same as you, I expect. Someone reported a strange creature running riot….but it seems you got here first!” And he had the cheek to shake his head in mock disappointment. “Tough call! Still, in this case, it seems the best man won!”
       By now we’d been joined by the manager of the local paint factory.
       “You caught him, then?” he said. He went on to explain how the Saluki had strayed into the factory and somehow fallen into a large vat of paint. “We tried to fish him out but he was too nimble for us. Still he’s in good hands now, I see.”
       “Could you do us a favour and hold him for me while I make room in my van.“ I asked.
       “What, me?” was the reply. “Not likely. I’d get covered in paint!”
       “What about you, PC Matth….?”
       But Charlie was already accelerating away.

Read the first chapter here: 
http://jacybrean.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/adventures-of-dog-warden.html


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Can world governments ever succeed?

         The current stand-off between the US and North Korea provides yet another example of man’s failure to achieve true peace and security. It also demonstrates the sheer powerlessness of any human government to come to any agreement over anything whatsoever.
             It’s the same old story. One that has reverberated through every generation – World domination. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini – you’d need more than ten fingers and toes to name them all. And today, no doubt there are several would-be dictators waiting in the wings.
       But where did it all start, this determination by certain individuals to rule over everybody else? And while we're about it, why do we need human governments at all? A case in point: Thanks to a hung parliament a few years ago, Belgium had no government for several months, yet nobody seemed to notice. (In fact, while the politicians were trying to sort things out, the economy actually improved!)
       Belgium apart, has there ever been a period when humans could live freely, independently, tilling their own patch of paradise and feeding their families with no interference from anyone else? After all, wasn’t that the original plan when Adam was a lad?
       The oldest, most widespread form of human government is monarchy, (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) whereby a single individual is imbued with supreme authority as permanent head of state. If this is absolute, he or she becomes a majority of one whose word is law. As a governmental system, monarchies have been favourable viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,    “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.”* In those days, kings invariably conquered such areas by military means – so much so that, as another historian reflects, war was “commonly regarded as the first criterion of successful kingship.”
       This being the case, military genius Alexander the Great was an ideal candidate and the first of the Hellenistic kings to be viewed as a god, setting a precedent for the deification of kings and queens throughout the ages, and such perceived divinity persists to this day in one form or another. Conceited yes - yet, ironically, the very fact so many sovereigns have insisted on being viewed as gods, particularly during the Roman Empire, is a tacit admission that they really don’t have the RIGHT to rule their fellow humans.
       They certainly don't have the ability. The world has now seen every conceivable type of government – capitalism, communism, republicanism, democracy, theocracy and straightforward tyranny – none of which has succeeded in providing the peace, security and justice the human family craves. One notable exception was Solomon’s reign, which kept Israel peaceful and prosperous until the king’s latter years when he succumbed to some of the pagan practices of his 1,000 wives!
       Sadly, throughout history it’s been the strong and the greedy who have commandeered the land; annexing pastures, woods and rivers, and forced ‘common’ folk, or serfs, to look to man-made governments for their means of life as well as paying taxes for the privilege.
       Will it always be this way? Only time will tell.


*“The High Middle Ages 1150-1309” by John H Mundy



Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Turin Shroud - The Face of Jesus?

Over the years, much has been made of this relic, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth which, according to one website, is “the single most studied artefact in human history” (Barrie M Schwortz).

Opinion has been since its supposed discovery in 544 CE, when an image seemingly created by supernatural means turned up in Edessa (now part of Turkey) and was later thought to be in Constantinople, although few historians believe this was the same image that came to be displayed in an airtight bulletproof case at the Cathedral of San Giovanni in 1998. During its 3 month exhibition and despite a strictly view-per-reservation policy, around 2.5 million visitors filed past it, some ecstatic or tearful, others merely curious to see the imprint of a man who supposedly met a violent death almost 2,000 years ago.

Measuring 14 feet 3 inches long by 3 feet 7 inches wide (463 x 110 cm) the shroud belonged to Geoffrois de Charny in the 14th century before coming into the hands of Louis, Duke of Savoy in 1453. It was then transferred to Chambery and was later taken to Turin by Emmanuel Philibert where it’s been ever since.

But is the haunting image really that of Jesus? In 1988, radiocarbon dating seemed to place the cloth in medieval times, yet ten years later, Pope John Paul 11 seemed convinced it was “the imprint left by the tortured body of the Crucified One.”

And now, there are fresh attempts to verify this relic. According to the Telegraph a couple of years ago, “a group of  Italian scientists conducted a series of advanced experiments which, they claim, show that the marks on the shroud – purportedly left by the imprint of Christ's body – could not possibly have been faked with technology that was available in the medieval period.” 

As a result, many theologians thought this was the actual face of Jesus. However, gospel accounts firmly contradict such a claim.  In his account of Jesus’ burial, the apostle John describes how, not one long sheet, but bandages were used to bind the body of Jesus with spices – a method of anointing still used by many Jews today. (John 19:39-42)

Later, the apostle Peter entered the (now empty) tomb and “viewed the bandages lying, also the cloth that had been upon his head not lying with the bandages but separately rolled up in one place.” (John 20: 6,7) Had there been a long winding sheet, would it not have been mentioned, especially if it bore the image of Jesus’ face?

So, whether the Turin Shroud is the result of some supernaturally superimposition or a clever con-trick by a clever technician, the evidence does not point to it being in any way sacred.

It’s also worth mentioning that the worship of relics, images, statues and other idols was and still is strictly forbidden under the Ten Commandments.

PS. Would like to add my own personal observation: As a perfect man, Jesus would have been extremely handsome – unlike this image. It’s also doubtful that he had long ‘hippy-style ‘hair, given that men in Israel general kept their hair short in line with Jewish law and tradition.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Kings, Queens and other rulers

       Although my trilogy, ‘The Runaway Children’, is just a story, it draws on what is perhaps the most commonly used plot of all time: World domination by a megalomaniac.  
       Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini – you’d need more than ten fingers and toes to name them all.
       Where did it all start, this determination by certain individuals to rule over everybody else? And while we're about it, why do we need human governments at all? A case in point, thanks to a hung parliament a couple of years ago, Belgium had no government for several months, yet nobody seemed to NOTICE. In fact, while the politicians tried to sort things out, the economy actually improved! 
       Belgium apart, has there ever been a period when humans could live freely, independently, tilling their own patch of paradise and feeding their families with no interference from anyone else? After all, wasn’t that the original plan when Adam was a lad?
       The oldest, most widespread form of human government is monarchy, (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) whereby a single individual is imbued with supreme authority as permanent head of state. If this is absolute, he or she becomes a majority of one whose word is law. As a governmental system, monarchies have been favourable viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,    “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.”* In those days, kings invariably conquered such areas by military means – so much so that, as another historian reflects, war was “commonly regarded as the first criterion of successful kingship.”
       This being the case, military genius Alexander the Great was an ideal candidate and the first of the Hellenistic kings to be viewed as a god, setting a precedent for the deification of kings and queens throughout the ages, and such perceived divinity persists to this day in one form or another. Conceited yes - yet, ironically, the very fact so many sovereigns have insisted on being viewed as gods, particularly during the Roman Empire, is a tacit admission that they really don’t have the RIGHT to rule their fellow men and women.
       The world has now seen every conceivable type of government – capitalism, communism, republicanism, democracy, theocracy and straightforward tyranny –none of which has succeeded in providing the peace, security and justice the human family craves. One notable exception was Solomon’s reign, which kept Israel peaceful and prosperous until the king’s latter years when he succumbed to some of the pagan practices of his 1,000 wives!
       Sadly, throughout history, it’s been the strong and the greedy who have commandeered the land; annexing pastures, woods and rivers, and forcing ‘common’ folk, or serfs, to look to man-made governments for their means of life as well as paying taxes for the privilege.
       Will it always be this way? Only time will tell.




Friday, 26 May 2017

Are you ruled by fate & superstition?


Sandy was on the motorway heading for Preston, Lancashire. Suddenly, she saw a single magpie flutter across her path. Desperate to spy a second magpie, she missed her junction and found herself on the road to Hull.

Bad luck? Had this inoffensive black and white bird, or ‘harbinger of doom’, really caused Sandy to veer off course? Or had she simply allowed herself to get distracted?

Every day, millions of people face similar situations. Walking under ladders, passing someone on the stairs, having recurring dreams and – a particular dread for actors -  whistling backstage are all viewed as potential hazards in the bad luck department. Sportsmen and women too are usually prone to lucky mascots and pre-performance rituals, and I’ve even known of people refusing to get out of bed if their horoscopes were unfavourable.

Of course, it’s easy to make light of superstition but for many lands it can be highly damaging, even dangerous. In India, AIDS is being spread by truck drivers who think sexual relations will keep them cool in hot weather. In other parts of the world, the birth of twins is viewed as a curse, sometimes causing parents to kill one – or even both - of them. And superstition can actually enslave whole communities, especially when combined with an overdeveloped fear of the dead.

Like Sandy, one  of my worst phobias was lone Magpies (“one for sorrow, two for joy” as the rhyme goes), but there were plenty more where that came from, such as breaking a mirror  ( 7 years’ bad luck!),  putting new shoes on a table (death within a year), opening umbrellas indoors and uncrossing knives (broken friendship)......so many  superstitions, in fact,  they were actually affecting my life and it was only through  research and applying simple logic that I eventually learned to cope with them in a rational way.

What’s the point if the future’s already written?

Omens, superstitions and predictions all have one thing in common - Fate, a philosophy which began with the original three Fates from Greek mythology, goddesses who spun the thread of life, decided how long it should be for each individual, and cut it at the predetermined time.

Despite its mythical roots, this belief is very widespread, pointing to inevitable (often adverse) outcomes for every event - outcomes that are totally inescapable because they’re determined either by God or by other supernatural forces. As a result, fatalists may have a laissez-faire view of life, displaying a lack of purpose and an unwillingness to make decisions.  After all, what’s the point if the future’s already written?

If there IS no point and if the future is truly controlled by unseen forces, then why do we visit doctors? Why do we try to live healthily? And why are there fewer fatalities for people who wear seat belts when setting off in cars? If you’re fated to be an X-Factor winner, why bother with singing lessons? If you’re meant to pass that exam, why bother swotting? And if the job’s destined to be yours, does it matter how you dress for the interview? 

According to astrologers, a person’s character can be determined by their horoscope, the precise positioning of the planets and signs of the zodiac at the time of birth. Despite many challenges to astrology over the years, belief for many in its abilities - not only to predict the future but also to influence human behaviour - is very deep-rooted. 

Yet is such faith backed up by evidence? As part of an A-level course in Psychology, students were given a horoscope that had supposedly been drawn up according to each individual’s date and time of birth. Most students agreed it was extremely accurate, only to find they’d all been given exactly the same character description! 

So what’s the harm? Well, convincing someone they have a certain nature, set of talents or even destiny can exert undue influence over his or her decisions for the future......almost as though a screenplay of their life has been written in advance by somebody else. Social workers and psychologists have highlighted how being typecast as, say, the black sheep of the family, the clever one, or the ditz can colour  youths’ development,  virtually obliging them to live up (or down) to their given role. 

Even worse, whether it comes via zodiac chart or family members, such prejudgement interferes with our most basic human right – free will. 

We may be born with certain traits, we can certainly be influenced by nurture, and circumstances we encounter throughout life will obviously affect us. But with free will, we have the right and the means to change ourselves. So be the person you want to be, choose the path you want to follow and never, ever let fate or superstition dictate yours – or your children’s -  life!















Monday, 22 May 2017

'Woman in Gold' and the Nazi regime

'Woman in Gold' by Gustav Klimt

Watched the ‘Woman in Gold’ recently, an evocative true account of a Jewish woman looking to reclaim the famous Klimt portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. This painting, one of many treasures stolen by Nazis in 1930s Austria, later took pride of place at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, where trustees were determined it should stay.

As the story unfolded, with flashbacks to the awful pre-war events, my blood boiled at the petty sadism and insatiable greed of Hitler’s regime, at seeing human beings stripped of their possessions along with their dignity.  For heavens' sake - what were ORDINARY people doing?! 

How easy it is to rage against barbaric Nazi practices from the relative comfort of one’s armchair 80 years later! Until a not-so-comfortable thought hit me. What if I’D lived in Germany or Austria during those critical times?  Would I have supported Hitler? Would I have been intimidated by his storm troopers, or believed the lying propaganda? Would I have turned a blind eye to the concentration camps and vicious persecution of minorities?

Sadly, many did; ordinary people who, but for the National Socialist Party, would have remained decent, peace-loving citizens. Christians with long-held loyalty to the Catholic Church. On July 20, 1933, a concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany was signed by Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII). His co-signee was former chancellor and Papal Knight Franz von Papen who mustered support for Hitler from industrial barons.

For this act of patriotism, Hitler made von Papen vice-chancellor and used him to rally support from Germany’s Catholics. By the end of 1933 (proclaimed a Holy Year by Pope Pius XI) Vatican support was a major factor in Hitler’s push for world domination and swastikas hung from every cathedral.

A few brave priests and nuns denounced Nazi atrocities and were quickly silenced. Yet the Catholic Church as a whole gave active or tacit support to the regime, as did their followers.

Could such a situation happen again? This is a question that may never be answered but needs to be asked.

Fortunately, most of us have an innate sense of justice which fires us up against tyranny, oppression and cruelty of all kinds. But we must never forget how easily whole populations can be swayed. Given human fears and weaknesses, each and every one of us should look to ourselves, examine our hearts, and root out any prejudice or misplaced loyalty.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_in_Gold_(film)

https://www.amazon.com/Satan-Top-Hat-biography-Franz/dp/B0007DTB82








Saturday, 13 May 2017

What are Saints?

The canonisation of Mother Teresa and, more recently, the children of Fatima, seems as good a time as any to explore ‘sainthood’ – a privilege imbued by the Catholic Church on men and women of outstanding virtue.

According to the Tridentine profession of faith, these paragons, who now (it is believed) live with Jesus in heaven, are to be invoked as intercessors with God, while their relics and images are venerated.  One case in point is the big toe of St Peter’s statue in Rome’s Basilica. Next to the papal ring, it is arguably Christendom’s most ‘kissable’ item, with millions bowing down to press their lips against it as they make their petitions! This toe-curling practice has not only added a shine to Peter’s foot but has doubtless spread many a tummy-bug to hapless worshipers!

Saints proliferate. There’s a saint for every occasion and activity you can think of. One of my favourites used to be St Genesius, patron saint of actors, lawyers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, musicians, printers, stenographers and victims of torture! A former thespian, he used the stage in ancient Rome to mock Christianity - until experiencing a sudden conversion mid-performance! I dare say many luvvies (who, with the possible exception of Ricky Gervais, are notoriously superstitious!) have ‘invoked’ Genesius’ help before that nerve-racking first night. Victims of torture indeed!

So why do we have saints? The answer lies with the Emperor Constantine, who supposedly converted to Christianity in the 4th century. With previous Roman Emperors having tried and failed to contain this vibrant new religion, Constantine used a subtler approach: He simply fused fusing Jesus’ pure teachings with Rome’s polluting pagan beliefs and practices.

Believing Jesus to be the only mediator between God and humans (1 Tim 2:5, Matt. 6:9; John 14:6, 14), genuine Christians never prayed through other  intercessors, nor does scripture allow prayer to be addressed to anyone except God Almighty to whom Jesus directed his own prayers, telling his followers to do the same.

Which left Constantine with a dilemma. If Christians worshiped and prayed to only one God - whom nobody could see - what would happen to the thousands of pagan gods? Were they to be made redundant? Would silversmiths and image makers lose their livelihoods? 

The solution was to re-invent Rome’s existing deities with Christians and market them as ‘Saints’. Foremost to undergo this marketing ploy was Apollo who, with his handsome features, gold halo and sun-god attributes, made a very acceptable Christ!  Jesus’ earthly mother Mary became a substitute for Juno, mother of the gods and wife of Jupiter. And there have been countless other deities now posing as saints under different names.