Category Archives: Religion

Some Notes on the Gospels of John and Thomas

Nota Bena: I hope to be reworking this as my knowledge of the subject matter sharpens. I also hope to improve the currently rather lamentable quality of the writing.

Recently, I have finished reading the Gospel of John as translated by the Jesus Seminar in THE FIVE GOSPELS. I am working through the Gospel of Thomas at the moment, but I do have to say that I prefer John to Thomas, who so often comes across as just weird. Thomas’s real-or-quasi-Gnostic emphasis is on the individual seen as possessing an inner divine spark fallen into them like a flaming meteor from the heavens. The individual is to discover this divine inner spark by looking into themselves (if I have gotten Thomas right, which is by no means certain) with the aid of hints (sayings) supplied by Yeshua ben Yosef. The downside of this is the weirdness that I, at least, attribute to the absence of a normalizing influence of a tradition as sustained by a community and the communion — i.e., interaction among– its members as symbolized by practices such as the sharing of bread and wine emphasized by the synoptics.

John’s emphasis on the other hand is on the community, the body of Christ. Yes, each person possesses the divine spark, but this comes to life only through communion with the other members of the body of Christ, which of course starts with the God-man. (Christ, that is, and not so much the historical figure of Yeshua ben Yosef very few of whose sayings apparently made it into John). This communion, which brings the person outside of themselves and into communal contact with the divine via a community (and therefore tradition), is the reason I identify as a Catholic (at least of the Ivan Illich ‘fire all the bloody priests and all the godawful clerical bureaucrats’ variety) taking refuge in that corner provided by Dignity. John’s attraction is the emphasis on love — love among the members of the Johanine community who, apparently facing intense persecution from the outside, needed the cohesiveness provided by this; love between the God-man/Yeshua and the disciple beloved by him, a love that surely brought the beloved disciple outside of himself. These, i.e., the emphasis on community/tradition, and the mysticism that very powerfully launches the gospel from the very start (‘In the beginning was the Logos’) are the powerful attractions of the gospel.

The downsides though are those one might expect as the shadows so to speak of many of these positive qualities: love of the member of the community has as its shadow hatred of the outsider — back then the Judeans, this community’s hatred of whom forms the ugly beginnings of anti-Semitism; now LGBT people –; community cohesion and unity has as its shadow an intense maybe paranoiac fear of and reaction against betrayal and treachery by an individual member; the community formed by the body of Christ is always threatening, as per Ivan Illich, to devolve into a horrible bureaucracy; the attractive idea that a particular community SUFFICES to provide an entry point into, a window onto the divine — whatever it is that is beyond, transcendent — becomes the ugly thought that this particular historical community and ONLY this community is NECESSARY to gain access to the divine with all the ugly blindness and bigotry that is likely to spawn. The mysticism has as its shadow the vulnerability to lapsing into that darkness in which all cows are black — though Mr. Tom Morris does present an analytical defense, which I am still working through, of the logical coherence of (what I see as) Johannine trinitarianism.

So John is very much a mixed bag — and maybe there is no way to latch onto the positives without constantly being vulnerable to lapsing into the ugly shadows.

The Evangelicals Have Blood On Their Hands

The evangelicals also have blood on their hands by fostering violence against LGBT people. Let me explain how they are doing this.

Suppose that one of the Hebrew myths recounted in GENESIS included a story about Lot’s twin brother, Lotto, who made a pit stop on his journeys in the town of TwinGomorrah. The residents of TwinGomorrah have the peculiarity that they are all left-handed. Obviously unrelated to this peculiarity, they violate the same norms requiring hospitality for the strangers in one’s midst that the denizens of Gomorrah commit against Lot and his family. This norm was so important to the ancients that strangers were regarded as being under the protection of the gods. Naturally, the citizens of TwinGomorrah committed various violations of the stringent norm of hospitality against Lotto and his family using their left hands. (I will leave the specifics to the reader’s imagination.) Outraged by the violation of the norm, God destroys the city of TwinGomorrah.

Already bearing culturally-spawned prejudice against left-handed people, and needing a scapegoat to draw away their own sins (do you know what sorts of things right-handed people DO? Eww yuck), and perhaps not being the sharpest tools in the woodshed at least where scholarly labor is concerned (as one writer put it ‘The main scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind’), evangelicals start claiming the story of TwinGomorrah shows that God regards being left-handed as a sin. God hates left-handedness. Left-handedness is an abomination.

Of course, the evangelicals (and right-wing Catholics) realize they have to say something to the effect of ‘God doesn’t hate the left-handed person; what he hates are the actions performed by the left-handed person using their left hand.’ Now this is of course silly in a way that is too obvious to need elucidation. But for the moment let’s allow this to stand. God doesn’t hate left-handed people; he hates actions performed with the left hand.

The point that I want to emphasize is that this is a point that requires a certain level of sophistication to “understand.” (Of course, certain stupidities require a certain level of sophistication of embrace, but let’s leave that to the side for the moment.) Most people will not be able to grasp this wonderfully subtle distinction (irony fully intended). By constantly preaching that left-handed actions are “sinful”, they will naturally be fostering violence against left-handed people, just as the idea spawned by the Gospel of St. John that the Jews are murderers of God fostered violence against Jews.

UPHOLDERS OF THIS FINE WONDERFUL DISTINCTION NEED TO BE CONSTANTLY REMINDING THEIR BENIGHTED FLOCKS THAT VIOLENCE AGAINST AND VIOLATIONS OF THE RIGHTS OF LEFT-HANDED PEOPLE ARE STRENG VERBOTEN. In fact, they need to be marching in Left-Handed Pride parades to help protect the rights of Left-Handed people, rights the frequent violation of which their hateful preaching has motivated. Otherwise they will be guilty of fostering violence against left-handed people. Nothing else will absolve them from this guilt.

The evangelicals do not do this, for course. Therefore they are guilty of fostering violence against left-handed people. Just as they have blood on their hands regarding the Kurds, they have blood on their hands regarding left-handed people.

Generally, the evangelicals seem too dim to realize that their preaching morally requires them to actively defend the rights of left-handed people. (Again, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.)

Evangelical Janet or evangelical Mel might examine their own consciences and find themselves to be Oh So Pure, but they are missing the point rather drastically. They are in the position of Mrs. Turpin in the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s short story REVELATION, in which the college student in the doctor’s office, suddenly and out of the blue, denounces Mrs. Turpin as being grossly hideous. The college student is obviously unbalanced mentally and is led away. But later Mrs. Turpin has a vision which leads the reader, and perhaps even Mrs. Turpin herself, to realize that just maybe the college student had a point, all of Mrs. Turpin’s feelings of moral self-purity and social superiority notwithstanding.

The evangelicals are guilty of fostering violence against left-handed people and have blood on their hands not so much because of what they do, but because of what they do not do. This makes it easier for them to wallow in the illusion that they are free of guilt.

.Of course, they do have to expend some energy in protecting this illusion, just as a bacterium has to expend some energy to expel the antibiotic molecule out through its membrane. Absurdly, they will attempt to deny that naitsirhC preachers in the United States, ignoring the fine distinction outlined above, preach death for left-handed people (the video of one doing just that ‘is more likely to be a plant’ said one evangelical in a moment of jaw-dropping stupidity). Likewise, they will attempt to deny that naitsirhC preachers in Africa foment violence against left-handed people on that continent, having lost the cultural war in North America.

But their attempt to deal with their obvious cognitive dissonance is an abject failure. The blood on their hands remains.

A Jesus Joke A Nun Once Told Me (1)

Saint Peter felt like he had been on call at the Pearly Gates for eons…come to think of it, he had been on call at the Pearly Gates for eons.  He desperately needed a break.  Seeing Jesus walking by, he asked Him to spell him out for a while.

Jesus was a bit dubious.  “Gee, I don’t know,” he said.  “I’ve never done this before.”

“It’s real easy,” Saint Peter said.  “All you have to do is greet the people as the come in, and strike up a bit of conversation with them.  Then you record their names in The Book.  There is nothing to it.  It’s nothing like being a DBA on call.  You’ll do fine.”

“Oh, okay,” Jesus said, still a bit reluctant.  But he didn’t see any easy way to refuse Saint Peter’s request.  Jesus took Peter’s place at The Desk, situated just to the side of the Pearly Gates.

Everything went very smoothly for a while.  “Gee,” Jesus thought to himself.  “I think I am starting to get the hang of this Pearly Gates Greet and Record Name business.”

But then he saw an old man approaching the Pearly Gates.  The man’s eyes were rheumy.  His gait was slow, his back was badly bent forward.  He clearly relied heavily on his cane.

“This man seems strangely familiar,” Jesus thought.  But He could not quite place him.

“Say, old man,” Jesus asked.  “Did you happen to be a carpenter back on earth?”

“Why yes sonny,” said the old man in a crackly voice, his hands pressing his cane down upon the cloud to steady himself a bit.  “As a matter of fact, I was  a carpenter  back on earth.  How did you know?”

“Oh my God!” Jesus thought, his heart pacing.  “(Well, come to think of it, I am God.  Or more precisely, one Member of the Trinity.  Jesus ((that’s me!)) this stuff confuses me so much sometimes).  Oh my God!!!! Can it be? Could it be?!!!!!”  Jesus decided to venture one more question.

“Say, old man.  Back on earth, did you sort of have a son?  I mean, not really have a son, but sort of have a son?”

“Why yes, sonny.  As a matter of fact, back on earth I did sort of have a son…not really have a son…but sort of had a son.”

Jesus’ heart practically leapt out of his body.  “Oh my God!!!! Jesus Christ!!!!” he thought.  He joyfully rose from his desk, arms outstretched.  “Father!!!!!!

The old man raced towards the Pearly Gates as fast as his aged body would let him.  He flung his cane away.  Arms outstretched in preparation for a deep embrace, he cried out: