Friday, 27 March 2015

Origins of the Cross

In the run up to the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, here’s an intriguing question for Christians: Should the cross be venerated?

       Men have bowed to it, fought for it and even died for it. Revered by Christendom, it has come to symbolise the supreme sacrifice of one perfect man for a grossly imperfect world.

       Even today, despite determined attempts by militant secularists to efface it from schools, council chambers, courts, colleges and other public buildings, the cross remains a powerful image, a rallying point for some 41,000 Christian denominations.

       So it may came as a shock to learn that, according to several respected scholars, Jesus didn’t die on a cross at all. Instead, scriptural accounts indicate that Jesus was impaled upon a single, upright stake. 

       In his Expository Dictionary of New & Old Testament Words, W E Vine distinguishes the Greek word ‘stauros’ (‘stake’ or ‘pale’) as used in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, “from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross”.
       This is backed up by The Imperial Bible-Dictionary which says that the word stauros′ “properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling a piece of ground.......Even amongst the Romans the crux (Latin, from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” The Catholic Encyclopaedia also admits that “the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end.”
       Another Greek word used in the gospels to describe the means of Jesus’ execution is xy’lon, which in the Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament is defines as “a piece of timber, a wooden stake.” This is in agreement with the King James Version at Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [xy′lon]”, while other versions, including also translate xy′lon as “tree.” At Acts 13:29, The Jerusalem Bible at Acts 13:29 says: “When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about (Jesus) they took him down from the tree [xy′lon] and buried him.”

Origin of the Cross

       Vine explains that the cross originated from ancient Chaldea where it was used “as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.”

       By the middle of the 3rd century CE, the early Christian faith had been polluted by unscriptural doctrines, many drawn from pagan beliefs. “In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches....and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”

       Much of the blame for this can be laid on Rome’s sun-god worshipping Emperor Constantine who, it was claimed, had a vision of a cross emblazoned on the sun with the words “in hoc vince” (by this conquer) just before an important military victory. As a result, he supposedly became a Christian, but was not baptised until just before his death 25 years later. Questioning his motives, the author of The Non-Christian Cross stated:  “He acted rather as if he were converting Christianity into what he thought most likely to be accepted by his subjects as a catholic [universal] religion, than as if he had been converted to the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene.”
       Interestingly, the image of the cross is not exclusive to churchgoers. The ancient Egyptians had their own version with the handle-shaped ansate - a T shape topped by a circle, while the ‘gamma’ cross venerated by Hindus and Buddhists is more commonly recognised by its Sanskrit name.....
 “Swastika”.












Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Miracles: Do they happen today?

       According to a recent article* in the BBC magazine, some Christians maintain that, ‘Yes’, miracles really DO happen, a belief which many members of medical and scientific communities would dispute - especially as some religious ministers even claim to have raised people from the dead!

       Such claims inevitably lead to heated arguments with no middle ground and even less tolerance, with people on both sides of the issue firmly entrenched in their own particular stance. 

       So who’s right? With anything vaguely religious, particularly from the Judeo-Christian perspective, it’s a good idea to look at the scriptures and do a little digging.

       That miracles were performed in Jesus’ day is for any Christian beyond dispute. Supernatural feats -such as the feeding of the 5,000, calming storms and healing every kind of disability and sickness - demonstrated what God's Kingdom will accomplish when, under Jesus' oversight,it is ruling fully over the earth. Such miracles also offered tangible proof that Jesus was truly the Messiah and had his heavenly Father’s backing.

       Another factor to bear in mind is that not everyone whom Jesus healed demonstrated faith. Think of the disabled man waiting to enter the pool of Bethzatha; the young blind man who didn’t realise he was speaking to Jesus; or the widow of Nain whose son Jesus resurrected. (John 5:1-9; John 9:25; Luke 7:11-17)

       Sadly, even after being healed, some failed to show appreciation for what Jesus had done. Ten lepers were cured on their way to show themselves to the priests, yet only one returned to thank his saviour. (Luke 17:12-19)
Miracles continued to take place in the first century until the last apostle died.

Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works, yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’

      Writing to the Corinthian congregation, Paul clearly stated that such ‘gifts’ as healing and praying in tongues would cease, having played their part in convincing people who held firmly to the Mosaic Law that the new Christian arrangement was the ‘Way’ and had God’s blessing – once this was established there’d be no further need to keep on proving it over and over again. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

       What about today? If these miraculous gifts are no longer in evidence, why do some Christians insist that spiritual healing – or miracles such as Pope Francis liquidising the blood of a saint in Naples – still take place?  It’s sobering to consider that these may come from sources other than God and Jesus.  Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works (‘miracles’ JB, NE, TEV) yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’. (Matthew 7:15-23) Think also of Pharaoh’s magic practising priests in Egypt and their ability to copy the first two miracles performed through Moses. (Exodus 7:22; 8:7)
 
       There are supernatural forces in the world which may on the surface appear beneficial. However, before submitting to them in the hope of a cure - or a message from God - it would be wise to do some research.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Does Your Teenager Self-Injure? How Can You Help?

Even in the height of summer, Julia preferred long-sleeved, high-necked tops to the snappy, strappy, crops worn by her peers.  The reason? Pus-filled sores which covered her arms and shoulders along with  vivid red scars where Julia’s nails had dug repeatedly into her flesh. Not a pin-prick of uninfected skin remained - due to her incessant picking. 
  
Excoriation (or Dermatillomania) is just one type of self-injury. Others  - including cutting, bruising, head-banging, burning, scratching, eating disorders, stabbing with sharp objects and hair pulling – are used to create the same effect; temporary relief  from overwhelming feelings, anxiety and stress.

Julia had ‘issues’. Lack of self-esteem, even self-hatred, was certainly one of them, as was a plethora of repressed emotions. But there are several underlying factors: Mental disorders (such as depression), trauma (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), social factors (bullying, conflict within the home, or poor interpersonal skills), and additional stress (exams, bereavement and other distressing events). Whatever the cause, the sufferer may experience intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, an inability to communicate feelings and a complete lack of worth.

A self-injurer is “someone who has found that physical pain can be a cure for emotional pain” (Cutting* by mental health specialist Steven Levenkron)

Self-harmers are usually (though not always) adolescents who, by inflicting pain on themselves, attempt to regain a sense of control, or to break through emotional numbness. Of course, some may wish to manipulate others or it could be a plea for help but, usually, sufferers are ashamed of their compulsion and try to keep it hidden.

If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is self-injuring, what steps can you take to help them?

First of all, don’t blame yourself. Wondering whether faulty parenting has contributed to your child’s condition is a waste of time.  Look instead on how you can positively help him or her to recover.

Communication, of course, is key, and it’s important that, on discovering your teen’s secret, you stay calm. Reacting with horror or disgust will only make matters worse. So don’t yell. Be consoling, supportive and reassuring. Convince your son or daughter that you’re on their side.

Ask the right questions, and leave out the ones that could alienate, such as “How long has THIS been going on, then?!” Nonthreatening questions should encourage the child to express their viewpoint, “I know you find it hard to feel confident at times. What frustrates you the most?” “How can I help you when you’re worried or feeling low?” “What can I do for us to break down any barriers between us?”

So you’ve asked the questions. Now comes the difficult bit: Listen. Without interrupting. Without disagreeing. Without judging.

As adolescents tend to focus on their flaws, be positive. Point out his or her qualities, the ones you genuinely admire them for. Encourage your teen to write three or more things they like about themselves, so getting them to focus on their strengths.

An in-depth, one-to-one with your teen will work wonders. Glad to have got the problem off their chest, he or she will be happy that you’re prepare to share the burden with them, and relieved that they’re no longer alone.

Most of all, your kindness and concern will assure them of your love – which may be all they really wanted all along!

*http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cutting-Understanding-Self-Mutilation-Steven-Levenkron/dp/0393319385  

Monday, 9 March 2015

Could a virus cause mental illness?

       If you’ve read my blog on daydreams*, you’ll know that for most of my life I’ve lived in another universe. Which for a writer is no bad thing.
       However, 2 years ago, these imaginings began to take a sinister turn. The line between fantasy and fact became blurred. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell the difference, but my parallel universe became so vivid, so exciting and invoked such powerful emotions I was reluctant, if not unable, to return to my ‘normal’ existence with all its mundane problems.
       Secondly, having previously enjoyed the occasional trip to La-La Land, my mind not only visited this virtual holiday home more often, but took up permanent residence. My work suffered (I could scarcely bring myself to turn the computer on), I didn’t go out unless I absolutely had to and, when with friends, I rarely took in their conversations, being too wrapped up with my own fantasies, which grew more complex and intriguing every day.  And of course, as the star of each invented scenario, I was totally amazing – beautiful, witty and extremely brave!
       Finally, just as my dream world started to deliver, offering all the success and ego-boosting attention I’ve rarely achieved in reality, things started to go horribly wrong. The handsome man absconded with somebody else; the Nobel prize was snatched away by a vastly superior author;  none of my characters behaved as I expected or wanted, even though I’d created them! From the heights of these reveries, I could be plunged into an abyss of despair - so much so I felt suicidal.  My moods switched faster than Usain Bolt on speed, the most inane humour would set me off into peals of helpless, hysterical laughter.  A chance remark reduced me to tears.
       And, worst of all, when I tried to come down to earth, my mind kept dragging me back into what was no longer a dream but a dystopian nightmare. I was in a loop, a video that had somehow got stuck and never stopped playing.  I just wasn’t ME anymore.  I needed help. Drugs. Tranquillisers. Gin. Anything to stop these now intrusive imaginings  trampling all over me. 

Borna Virus is reaching epidemic proportions
       As it happened, I had an appointment for a check-up with David, my bio-resonance practitioner. I first visited him on a friend’s recommendation, presenting with extreme tiredness, bad headaches and painful joints.  Using electro-magnetic waves, which pick up the frequency of parasites and bacteria, he correctly diagnosed 20 different kinds of Candida and advised me on the foods to avoid.  I now felt so well physically, I almost cancelled my appointment but, having grown so concerned  with my mental aberrations, I decided to see if David could help.
       Turns out, I had not one but two protozoa – single-celled organisms which cause diseases in humans and animals. The most serious was the Borna virus, usually found in horses and now apparently in me, ever since I suffered a particularly nasty flu-like illness in March- which was when my fantasies began.
       Borna affects the brain, heightening emotions and causing sudden mood swings. Left untreated, the it can lead to depression, OCD, bipolar  symptoms and even schizophrenia. And, most worryingly, it can spread as rapidly as a common cold. David had, over the previous few months, treated 100s of people for this virus, each having  suffered some form of psychosis. And he's still treating the condition which, he believes, is reaching epidemic proportions.  David has also suffered from Borna when, despite being a kind,mild-mannered man, his personality changed and he suffered intense feelings of rage, causing him to isolate himself from his family.  Yet so far, conventional medical practitioners seem unaware of this virus and its potentially devastating effects. 
       The other virus he found in my brain was Toxoplasma, a protozoa that causes similar problems to Borna. And, as if two were not enough, I also had Trypanasoma, which fuels obsessions and fantasies. David had of course encountered these viruses before but never all three in one person at the same time!
       “Some people take Sativa to get the highs you’ve been having,” he said, cheerfully.  
       “Ah, maybe I should keep the viruses then,” I replied. 
       David shook his head: “Not a good idea. They can be dangerous if untreated – even fatal. But don’t worry, you’re in the clear now.”
       Fortunately for me, it took just half an hour’s zapping with a electro-magnetic 'wand' to eradicate all three viruses and, within a matter of days, I was back to my old, rather boring, self.
     
      Update: Since the first diagnosis, I've suffered from the Borna virus again but, thanks to bio-resonance, can keep it at bay. 
     


**Not his real name

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Church of England vs Russell Brand

Some Church of England clergy are in a lather over UK comedian Russell Brand’s urgings for young people ‘not to vote’ in the forthcoming election.

Lining up alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones - who believes Christians ‘have a duty to vote’ - is trying to counter the ‘profound effects’ of Russell’s comments, which have apparently been endorsed by heiress Jemima Khan.*


Russell Brand

So who’s right? The established Church of England? Or the alternative (and often controversial) comedian, Brand? Whose views are most in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

If you really want the answer, check out Jesus’ own words at John 17:16 and John 18:36. By his actions, Jesus also showed his determination to resist political involvement  – John 6:15. And he identified the real ruler of this world in John 14:30.  (See also 1 John 5:19).

According to The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries – Augustus Neander (translated by H J Rose) “The Christians stood aloof and distinct from the state, as a priestly and spiritual race, and Christianity seemed able to influence civil life only in that manner which, it must be confessed, is the purest, by practically endeavouring to instil more and more of holy feeling into the citizens of the state.”

Nice one, Russell!

http://t.co/Rmyiwnax8u

Saturday, 7 February 2015

WHAT, NERO? NICE?!

Coming up to an election, it’s remarkable how very nice many of the candidates appear to be. Approachable, generous, principled, passionate, caring and, above all, sincere. Being easy on the eye certainly helps, although once enthroned - either in politics or religion – people with power are automatically imbued with the charisma to match. An airbrush of fame works wonders for the complexion!

And because ordinary mortals desperately want leaders they can trust and admire, years may elapse before those feet of clay poke out from under the mantle.

Take Nero, for instance.




Believe it or not, before starting to barbecue Christians, Nero seemed a decent young cove, a promising ruler who would unite the people and help Rome to flourish. His first five years as emperor were marked by modesty, generosity, compassion, and help for the poor, enhanced by his strong sense of justice. In The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, historian C Suetonius Tranquillus described Nero as a man of good intentions who abolished or reduced taxes, gave the Praetorian guard a monthly allowance of free grain (on top of their wages, no doubt!) and subsidised senators of little means with an annual salary.

“He let slip no opportunity for acts of generosity and mercy, or even for displaying his affability

Nero was affable, greeting men of all walks of life, even remembering their names! So approachable; he allowed common people to watch him exercising in the Campus and to listen to his poetry recitals both in private or at the theatre. If he lived today, he'd probably be a boozer schmoozer; blokily propping up a bar, downing pints with the lads and slapping a few backs! 

He was a generous patron of the arts and provided plenty of distractions with drama, spectacle, sports, chariot races and gladiatorial combat, much to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowds. The populace also benefited from his generous hand-outs in times of need - bread and circuses kept them happy.

And, believe it or not, for a God-Emperor Nero was surprisingly modest. When the senate proposed thanks to him, he replied, "When I shall have deserved them." Merciful too: ‘When asked according to custom to sign the warrant for the execution of a man who had been condemned to death, he said: "How I wish I had never learned to write!"

Of his outrageous treatment towards Christians later in his reign, no more needs to be said. Yet despite his descent into paranoia and persecution, he remained popular with the poor until his suicide at the age of 31.

OTHER RULERS WHO SEEMED ‘NICE’

Absalom

Gilded youth is a fair description of King David’s astonishingly handsome son who would stand at the gates of the city, hugging and empathising with every citizen nursing a grievance. He definitely had the 'Princess Diana' factor! 
A consummate politician, Absalom feigned deep concern for the people while inferring that his father was disinterested in them. In this way, he quickly won hearts and a formidable following which led to civil war.

Pride, ambition, murderous hatred and treachery were Absolom's hallmarks……and his undoing!

Herod the Great

Early in his rule, Herod rid Judea of robbers and set up remarkable building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, along with theatres, amphitheatres and hippodromes. In common with Nero, he was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and instituted Greek and Roman games at the amphitheatre in Caesarea.

He must have had great charm and awesome diplomatic skills; having started as a supporter of Julius Caesar, he managed to align himself with the emperor’s assassin Cassius, yet later won over Caesar’s avowed avenger, Mark Antony. Switching allegiance yet again, he sided with and was forgiven by Antony’s enemy, Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and became his friend, likely with the aid of generous bribes!

He referred to the Jews as “my countrymen”, despite being a proselyte with no interest in the religion – in fact; he was hated by Jewish religious leaders. He did, however, manage to appease ordinary people by lowering their taxes, providing relief in times of famine, and persuading Augustus to grant privileges to Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

All in all, a solid, all-round politician. Had he not murdered his beautiful wife Mariamne, 3 of his sons, his brother-in-law, grandfather, several former friends and all the under-2-year-old boys in Bethlehem, he could have gone down in history as a rather ‘nice’ chap!

Henry VIII

Another ‘paragon’ who fell short of his early promise. Tall, handsome, athletic, artistically gifted, pious and charismatic, Henry could have had the world at his feet – well, England anyway. But his persecution of Catholics and abysmal marriage record went against him in the end. And, like so many privileged people who are continually fawned over and made to feel omnipotent, power went to his head - losing many people theirs in the process!

Hitler

Hailed as a saviour, it seemed Adolf could turn Germany’s fortunes round, and be a real force for change. Sadly, it was another kind of ‘force’ he had in mind entirely!

TODAY'S CANDIDATES

With modern media and spin doctoring, politics in the 21st century is ever more reliant on outward show - the charisma, charm and graciousness of viable candidates. Let’s hope the next world leaders will truly be as ‘nice’ as they appear!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Racism: Who or what is to blame?

       Evolution? 

       If ever there was an argument for Creation, the idea that humans just evolved - some races more gradually than others – must take the biscuit.  Dismissing the belief that ‘mankind’ was made in God’s image surely led to the atrocities of the slave trade, undertaken by so-called godly men who claimed their captives were ‘not quite human’.  (How they squared that with the Book of Genesis, which says we all descended from Adam and Eve, has never been explained.)

       Adding insult to injury, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution led to his cousin Francis Galton developing the concept of eugenics, so favoured by Hitler and the Nazi regime with catastrophic results.

The Bible?

       On the other hand, racism – especially against Africans – has been blamed on the Bible which, they say, condemns black people to slavery. The scripture most commonly used to support this travesty is in Genesis 9:25 where Noah is quoted as saying: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.”  However, this verse doesn’t mention skin colour. Instead, the curse was made against Ham’s son due to a shocking act which he perpetrated against Noah while the older man was inebriated.

       It helps, of course, to identify who Canaan’s descendants actually were. Not black, but with paler complexions, Canaanites settled by the Mediterranean in land later occupied by Israel and surrounding Arab nations. They eventually came under divine judgement because of their depraved practices and rites, including child sacrifice. Most were wiped out by the Israelites, and those Canaanites who survived were forced into labour by their conquerors, so fulfilling Noah’s curse.

       As for the black races, these did not descend from Canaan but from another of Ham’s sons,  Cush, whose own offspring included Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca (Gen 10:6,7) When mentioned in later portions of the Bible, the term Cush corresponds to Ethiopia, while Seba refers to people in Eastern Africa.

       The Bible offers no basis whatsoever for racism or apartheid in any form. On the contrary,  in Acts 10:34,35, the apostle Peter states that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

       Incidentally, black people specifically mentioned in the Bible include Ebedmelech (Jeremiah ch 38), the Sulammite maid (Song of Solomon, aka Canticles) and the Ethopian official (Acts ch 8 vs 26-40), each of whom displayed remarkable faith and courage.