Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Ark of the Covenant: Does it still exist?

Fashioned by master craftsman Bezalel from acacia wood overlaid with gold, it measured 111cm x 67cm x 67cm (44” x 26” x 26”) and had a solid gold cover supporting two angels with bowed heads and outstretched wings.

Truly, the Ark of the Covenant was a treasure beyond price. Yet, to the nation of Israel, its material value was as nothing compared with what it represented – the presence of its original designer, Almighty God himself!

In fact, the Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments and, initially, a golden jar of manna and the flowering rod of Aaron, was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to touch it – or even to look upon it - on pain of death.

When the people of Israel came to rest during their 40 year wanderings through the desert, it lay in the Holy of Holies, an inner chamber screened off from the main tabernacle (or tent), accessible only by the High Priest for just one day every year - the Day of Atonement. And when the people broke camp, the Ark had to be carried by Levites on poles slotted through two rings of gold on either side and covered with blue cloth and sealskin to shield it from the gaze of the people.  In this way the Ark was carried into battle ahead of the nation of Israel, putting courage into the people and striking fear into their enemies, particularly after the spectacular fall of Jericho. 

Not a magic charm

However, contrary to the Indiana Jones movie, the Ark of the Covenant had no miraculous properties in itself. Success or victory depended entirely on the people’s loyalty to God – a lesson which the Israelites learned to their cost. Acting against divine instructions, Hophni and Phinehas, renegade sons of the High Priest Eli, took the Ark from the tabernacle in Shiloh, wrongly viewing it as a magic charm that would protect them against their enemies and help them conquer the Promised Land.

They soon realised their mistake. After a humiliating defeat in which 30,000 Israelites lost their lives, the sacred chest was captured by the Philistines who brought it back to Ashdod. Here, it was placed in the temple next to the half-man half-fish image of the Philistine god Dagon. But not for long. Overnight, the idol fell flat on its face before the ark. It was then put back on its plinth, only to be brought  crashing down again the following night, this time losing its head along with the palms of its hands.
Later, as the Ark was paraded on a seven month tour of Philistia, the people were plagued with haemorrhoids, the land was overrun by jerboas, and the city of Ekron was hit by death-dealing confusion. These woes were enough to prompt the Ark’s speedy return to Israel, accompanied by a suitable offering!
Eventually, the Ark was brought to Jerusalem, although it did not have a permanent home until Solomon’s temple was built. In 642 BCE, King Josiah arranged for the Ark to be brought back to the temple, although there is no indication as to why it was removed in the first place. It may have been for safekeeping during temple renovations; or it could have been to prevent its misuse by one of Josiah’s predecessors, including his own father Manasseh, who fell away to false worship.
Whatever the reason, the Ark is not mentioned again in Hebrew scripture and there is no evidence that it was taken to Babylon after Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 BCE. It simply disappeared.

Does it still exist?

Various archaeologists have spent years searching for the Ark of the Covenant without success. Some believe it’s in Axum, Ethiopia at the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, having been ‘acquired’ by Menelik, the Queen of Sheba’s son during a visit to Jerusalem. However, this does not square up with the Bible account (2Chronicles 35 v 3) which, as previously mentioned, places the Ark in Jerusalem during Josiah’s reign – nearly 400 years later. This might explain why the “Keeper of the Ark”, the monk who claims to have possession, refuses to let anyone see it.

Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer claims to have discovered where the original Temple’s Holy of Holies was located, pointing to a bedrock section in the centre which matches the precise dimensions of the Ark. Whether the Ark is indeed buried there is likely to remain a mystery, as neither the Muslim or Israeli authorities will agree to an excavation.

To sum up, it seems unlikely that the Ark of the Covenant will ever be found, partly because it has served its purpose, and also because such a precious artefact would doubtless attract unwarranted veneration.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Could the Pope get married?

       Australian Catholic Church claims priests’ vow of celibacy may be linked to child abuse.
       26 Italian women in loving relationships with Catholic priests urge Pope Francis to relax the celibacy rule.

       No doubt about it, the papal view of celibacy has caused misery for many people over hundreds of years. But is it scriptural? Does God really demand that priests (and nuns) forego the natural joys of marriage and parenthood? A simple view of the Bible and early Christian teaching will answer these questions: 
Doctrine from devils?
       According to the New Jerusalem Bible: “The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron: they forbid marriage and prohibit foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth.” (1Timothy 4:1-3)

Doctrine from Jesus?       
       Even Pope Paul VI, a pontiff not generally noted for liberal thinking, admitted in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Priestly Celibacy, 1967) that “the New Testament which preserves the teaching of Christ and the Apostles….does not openly demand celibacy of sacred ministers…..Jesus Himself did not make it a prerequisite in His choice of the Twelve, nor did the Apostles for those who presided over the first Christian communities.” – The Papal Encyclicals 1958-1981 (Falls Church, Va.; 1981), p.204.

Doctrine from Peter and apostles?
       Considering that Simon Peter** was married (Mark 1:29-31) as were the rest of the apostles along with Jesus’ fleshly brothers and first century ‘bishops’ (1Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2), then the Catholic church has no real basis for insisting that priests should be celibate, a doctrine that must surely be partly responsible for the shocking incidence of child abuse by various clergy.

Doctrine from Paul?
       Obviously, Christian teaching has never endorsed celibacy except when freely espoused by its adherents. The apostle Paul, while outlining the benefits of singleness, also advised it was “better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) The ultimate authority, of course, was Jesus Christ who described singleness as a ‘gift’ for which “not all men can make room.” (Matthew 19:11)
       “Celibacy was commonly practiced before the Christian era by Buddhist priests and monks, and even earlier by the higher orders of the Babylonian priesthood” – The Two Babylons by A. Hislop. P.219

*See also:

**Peter was also known as Cephas – (John 1:42)

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Was there really a global flood?

       Cataclysmic. That’s the only word to describe it. Billions of tons of water let loose from the skies to cover the earth, destroying all land-based creatures except for eight humans: Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives.
      Heeding the warning and having gathered the animals onto the ark seven days beforehand, Noah and his family climbed aboard – and the ark door shut firmly behind them. The ark was not a boat as commonly depicted, but an enormous rectangular structure  measuring  133.5m x 22.3m x 13.4m (437 ft.6in  x 72 ft 11 in X 43 ft 9 in) – roughly half the length of the QE2 and with height to width to breadth dimensions used by ship designers to this day.  Made out of resinous wood (possibly cypress), flat-bottomed and waterproofed inside and out with tar, it had taken Noah between forty and fifty years to build - in between the serious business of warning the entire inhabited earth of the coming destruction.
       Not an easy task. Especially as the earth of Noah’s day was an extremely unpleasant place to be, thanks to a horde of rebellious angels who’d created bodies for themselves in order to marry the good-looking women. Their giant hybrid offspring, the Nephilim, also known as Fellers or ‘men of fame’ because of their superhuman strength, tended to throw their (considerable) weight about, and, like their angelic sires, created fear wherever they went until the ‘earth was filled with violence’. Mere humans were little better; with ‘every inclination of the thoughts of (their) heart only bad all the time’, they became increasingly aggressive and were no doubt unimpressed by Noah’s attempts to preach.

Could it happen today?

       With many countries deluged in recent months, this question is understandable. However, if all the water in the atmosphere was released in one downpour evenly across the globe, it would only amount to a couple of inches. In contrast, Genesis describes how the deluge lasted 40 days and nights, covering ‘all the tall mountains that were under the whole heavens’ and overwhelming the earth for 150 days. (Genesis 7:17-24)

So where did the water come from?

       Now here’s an interesting fact: Before Noah’s day, it had never actually rained. Instead, at night, ‘a mist would go up from the earth’,  creating a thick layer of dew upon the surface  (Genesis 2:5,6). Originally, the earth was surrounded by a ‘heavenly ocean’ – a vast girdle of water which no doubt protected the earth from the sun’s harmful radiation, much as the ozone layer is credited with doing today. This was the source of the torrential downpour.

Where did all the water go?

       Actually, it never went away. Pre-Flood, the oceans were much smaller and the land mass far greater, as can be seen by river channels branching out under the oceans, and scientists say mountains were once much lower, having since been forced up from under the seas. A huge amount of water is also contained in the huge ice mountains of the arctic.
        Arithmetic also helps prove that the floodwaters are still here. According to National Geographic, January 1945 “there is ten times as much water by volume in the ocean as there is land above sea-level. Dump all the land evenly into the sea, and the water would cover the entire earth, one and a half miles deep.”  As things stand, water covers around 70% of the planet.

Effects of the Flood

       In the short term, the Flood destroyed all land-dwelling life except for the eight people on the ark along with the various animals which accompanied them. In the long-term, earth without its protective watery canopy became more susceptible to harmful cosmic radiation. Some scholars have linked this to a significant drop in human life expectancy, although the Bible itself is silent on the matter. Even so, such a change in radiation would have affected the rate of radioactive carbon-14, making any pre-Flood radiocarbon dating virtually impossible.
       The land mass was greatly altered, owing to the shallowness of the earth’s crust (est. 30km [20 miles] and 160km [100 miles] thick) which, under the massive eight of floodwater would have shifted considerably. There would also be a deepening of sea basins, while new mountains were created and existing mountains thrust to greater heights.

Evidence of a global deluge

       Mammoths and rhinoceroses have been discovered in various locations, most notably in Siberian and Alaskan ice. After examining these remains, experts have found some animals with “food undigested in their stomachs or still unchewed in their teeth, indicating that they died suddenly. The fossil remains of many other animals, such as lions, tigers, bears and elk, have been found in common strata, which may indicate that all of these were destroyed simultaneously.” (Insight on the Scriptures Vol 1 by Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania International Bible Students Association)

Can the remains of the ark be found?

       When the waters subsided, Genesis says the ark came to rest upon Mount Ararat. Ararat or Aghri-Dagh (Mount of the Ark) is a range of mountains in modern eastern Turkey near the borders of Iran and Russia. There are two conical peaks roughly 11 km apart and the higher peak reaches 5,165 metres (16,950 ft) above sea level.
       Some say there is an outline of a massive wooden vessel on the top of one of these peaks which can be made out by satellite but, so far, the Turkish Government has refused permission for the site to be explored.

Flood legends

       Legends of a catastrophic Flood abound. Aside from the Bible account, many versions have been passed from generation to generation of various races throughout the earth. Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, British Druids, Eskimos, Greenlanders, Polynesians Native Americans, Africans and Hindus all have details in common, such as a place of refuge (ark) for a few survivors,  global destruction by water, and the preserving of a human seed from whom we’ve all descended.
       “Flood stories have been discovered among nearly all nations and tribes. Though most common on the Asian mainland and the islands immediately south of it on the North American Continent, they have been found on all the continents. Totals of the numbers of stories known run as high as about 270.....Moreover, some of the ancient accounts were written by people very much in opposition to the Hebrew-Christian tradition.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol 2 – Edited by G Bromiley, 1982)

Halloween and other Festivals connected to the Flood

       According to Bible chronology, the Flood occurred in 2370 BCE in the 600th year of Noah’s life, between the end of October and beginning of November.  Many indigenous people throughout the world – including Mexico, Fiji, Australia, Society Islands, Peru and Egypt - hold a Festival of the Dead or Festival of Ancestors around this time, while Halloween has become a popular celebration across western civilisation.
       One writer believes Halloween with its glorification of suffering and death, can be traced back to when all the Nephilim, sons of the fallen angels, were destroyed along with wicked humans “on or about the very day on which, according to the Mosaic account, the Deluge took place, viz., the seventeenth day of the second month – the month nearly corresponding with our November.” (The Worship of the Dead, by J Garnier)

Were humans meant to eat meat?

       I must confess, I do like bacon. Not as enthusiastically, as some, I might add, and I’m rapidly fancying that rack of spare ribs a lot less than I used to, but I've certainly eaten my pound of flesh. So the following statement is not a pious, self-righteous attack on carnivores but an honest presentation of the facts:
       Humans were not designed to eat meat.  
       If you believe in creation you also have to believe God's words to Adam in Genesis chapter 1:29*. "Here I have given to you every seed-bearing plant that is on the earth and every tree with seed-bearing fruit." Steak was not on the menu!
       It doesn't end there. According to Genesis 1:30, even animals were vegetarian: "Let them serve as food to you. And to every wild animal of the earth and t every flying creature of the heavens and to everything moving on the earth in which there is life, I have given all green vegetation for food."
       Of course, we all know this idyll didn't last. Adam and Eve turned away from God and were turfed out of Eden to eat bread in the sweat of their faces until they returned to the ground (Genesis 3:19). The treacherous twosome lost their wonderful privilege of filling the earth with their perfect children, caring for the animals and turning the rest of the earth into a paradise.
       Even so, humans didn't eat meat until after the flood when God gave Noah and his descendants permission to do so. (Genesis 9:3,4) No doubt in consideration of the animals, he instilled in them a fear of humans instead of the trust they had enjoyed originally. (Genesis 9:2)
      The good news for animal lovers is that meat eating will one day be abolished. When the catastrophic results of Adam's rebellion are reversed, all living things will return to their original diet of seed-bearing fruit and vegetables. Isaiah chapter 11 promises: "The cow and the bear will feed together, and their young will lie down together. The lion will eat straw like the bull." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

* New World Translation

Monday, 9 October 2017

Monogamy - is it possible to love someone forever?

Lovelocks on bridge at Bakewell, Derbyshire
       When it comes to relationships, there’s one line of thinking that has arguably caused more damage to the human condition than any other....that     monogamy is not only unnatural but, for the most part, impossible.
      And this belief is by no means new. Leo Tolstoy, for example, opined: “To say that you can love one person all your life is just like saying that one candle will continue to burn as long as you live.”
       Or what about this little gem from 19th century Irish poet, Thomas Moore:
       ”Romantic love is an illusion. Most of us discover this truth at the end of a love affair or else when the sweet emotions of love lead us into marriage and then turn down their flames.”
       Even women have expressed similar sentiments: According to Goldie Hawn: “Monogamy is impossible these days for both sexes. I don’t know anyone who’s faithful or wants to be.” 
       The late film actress Katherine Hepburn advised: “If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.
      And this quote from Bette Davis takes the biscuit! An affair now and then is good for a marriage. It adds spice, stops it from getting boring… I ought to know.”
       So that’s all right then. Sorry no, it isn’t, and I challenge the assumption that men were programmed to spread their seed while women are merely seeking sound physical specimens with which to procreate. These propositions may be all very well for evolutionists but not for people who feel love and sex should be viewed as something higher. And if you accept the Bible’s account, then you’ll no doubt believe, as I do, that true romance can and should last forever.
       Whether they believe in it or not, most of us are acquainted with Genesis and the first marriage between Adam and Eve, two perfect humans who were joined together by their Creator. What you may not have realised is that their partnership was meant to last a great deal longer than your average Golden Wedding Anniversary. How do we know?
       Well, in Genesis 2:17, God warned the couple not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad - for in doing so they did so, they would die. The rest is history. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, became imperfect and, sure enough, began to grow old and turn to dust.       But, let’s just  suppose they hadn’t disobeyed their Creator. Would they have died? Would they have aged? Would they still be happily married?
       The Bible, of course, encourages the highest form of love, love for God who insists on exclusive devotion. (Exodus 20:1-5). Scripture rarely touches on romantic love but, when it does, it stresses the need for loyalty, exclusivity and, yes, everlasting love. Check out Proverbs 5:18,19 which describes the ‘constant’ love of a man for his wife. And for pure romance, consider these beautiful verses from the Song of Solomon (Canticles) Chapter 8 verses 6 &7:

“Set me as a seal upon your heart,
   as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
   passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
   a raging flame. 
Many waters cannot quench love,
   neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
   all the wealth of one’s house,
   it would be utterly scorned.”  (New Revised Standard Version)

       Why settle for anything less?

Monogamy in animals

       Incidentally, many animals enjoy lifelong relationships with their mates.  Wolves, beavers, eagles and even termites are thought to be monogamous while swans are renowned for their fidelity. But for sheer fidelity, one creature tops them all: The stork.
In Hebrew, this bird’s name is ‘chasi-dhah’, which means ‘loyal one; one of loving kindness’, signifying its enduring faithfulness to its mate and exceptionally long-lasting, tender care for its young. You’ll see it on many greeting cards for new parents, usually carrying a baby in its enormous beak.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

       Believe it or not, there are millions of people who don’t. Yet one 6-year old at our local primary school was almost lynched recently after telling his classmates there was no such person.  
       In the interests of inclusivity, the same school once tried to rename the seasonal celebrations as ‘Winterval’ only to meet with howls of disapproval from its nominally Christian parents. Despite their own pew-eschewing ways, they proved surprisingly touchy about this issue.
So what is Christmas and why do people feel obliged to re-mortgage their homes to celebrate it? Why do harassed Mums (sorry, but it’s usually Mums) spend hours preparing food that doesn’t get eaten and buying gifts that nobody wants?
       Some people (surprisingly not as many as you might think) point to the birth of Jesus - surely the world’s longest surviving infant, confined as he is to a cradle year after year. There’s just one small problem with that; Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th December, not by a long chalk. Bible scholars have been unable to find the date of his birth in any of the gospels; however, as Jesus was 33½ years old when he died, he must have been born around October/November, which makes sense, considering the shepherds were still living outdoors at the time.

Why December 25th?

       According to The Encyclopedia Americana, this date may have been chosen “to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun’.” This also corresponds with the Roman Saturnalia (a festival to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun) and “some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”
       The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives further information on the December solstice when, “as the sun began to return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).”

Three Kings or Magi

       The exact number of these visitors from the east is not known. What is known, however, is that they were astrologers and the ‘star’ didn’t lead them to Jesus as is often supposed, but to King Herod, alerting him to the Messiah’s birth with devastating consequences.* Herod immediately ordered the deaths of all males born in Bethlehem during the previous 2 years.
       *In fact, Matthew's gospel account clearly shows that the chief priests discerned the where the Messiah was born through the prophesy at Micah 5:2. (Matthew 2:4-6)

Santa Claus

       Santa has several alter egos. St Nicholas, Father Christmas, Knecht Ruprecht, the Magi, Jultomten (or Julenissen) the elf, and even a witch called La Befana have all been credited with bringing gifts to children. As none of these stories are true, does presenting them as such help children develop an appreciation for truth in later life?
       Christmas trees, mistletoe, Yule logs, puddings and other seasonal accessories all have roots in pagan practices – either to protect against evil spirits or to encourage fertility, growth and general good fortune for the coming year.  Whether you embrace them or dispense with them is, of course, a matter of personal choice.
        But next time that annoying child at school insists there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, please don’t be too hard on him.


Monday, 2 October 2017

Origins of Halloween

       First sign of autumn and the shops are full of it. Ghouls, ghosts, zombies and a whole array of devilish guises. 
       Even as I write, parents and grandparents are stocking up on candies to meet the young extortionists who’ll soon be knocking at the door. Pumpkins are carved for lanterns, apples prepared for ducking and treacle toffee is poured into trays.
       Yes, it’s Halloween, a night of mischief and harmless fun for all the family.  Or is it? Where does this feast originate and why is it so prevalent today?
       According to The Encyclopedia Americana, “Elements of the customs connected with Halloween can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods – a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The festival of the dead was gradually incorporated into the Christian ritual.”
       “Halloween,” says The Encyclopedia of American Folklore, “is integrally related to the prospect of contact with spiritual force, many of which threaten or frighten.” Certainly, many of the customs involved have close links to ancestor worship  and are meant to ward off or appease wicked spirits. The Celts, for instance, wore scary masks in the belief that evil spirits would think the wearers were spirits too - and leave them alone.
       In the 7th century CE, Pope Boniface IV is thought to have adopted ‘Samhain’ as an annual event to honour martyrs, renaming it All Saints Day or All Hallows’ Day. (Hallow is an ancient word for ‘saint’). The evening before this celebration was called All Hallow Even, which later became Halloween, making some Christians throughout the world feel comfortable celebrating it.
       But the real roots of Halloween are far more sinister, dating back to the Flood of Noah’s day.  In his book, The Worship of the Dead, Colonel J Garnier explains: “The mythologies of all the ancient nations are interwoven with the events of the Deluge…..illustrated by the fact of the observance of a great festival of the dead in commemoration of the event, not only by nations more or less in communication with each other, but by others widely separated, both by the ocean and by centuries of time.
       ‘This festival is, moreover, held by all on or about the very day on which, according to the Mosaic account, the deluge took place, viz., the seventeenth day of the second month – the month nearly corresponding with our November.”  In effect, Halloween began by honouring people whom God had destroyed due to their wickedness in Noah’s day. (Gen 6:5-7; 7:11)
       Also destroyed by the Deluge were the Nephilim, sons of disobedient angels who left their heavenly positions and took human bodies for themselves in order to mate with women. These hybrids  were known as ‘fellers’ due to their immense size and violent tendencies, and, along with their materialized sires, could well be the source of many legends of beings with superhuman powers, along with stars of various comics and computer games!
       Halloween is celebrated on 31st October throughout the USA and Canada, and its continued spread across the world delights pagan adherents. Thousands of Wiccans, for example, following the old Celtic rituals, still refer to the event as ‘Samhain’, regarding it as the most sacred night of their calendar.
       Will knowing the origins of Halloween stop millions making mischief on the last day of October? I doubt it. But before you don that ghoulish costume, spare a thought to what you’re actually celebrating.  

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… 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


       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)


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: