Lord of Spirits podcast

Yard sign Calvinism

Time was, people put yards signs up for three reasons: the house was for sale, an election was about to happen, or they wanted you to know who re-paved their driveway.

But over the last few years I've noticed a different category of yard signs - they don't tell you to vote for anyone or even advocate a specific policy, they are simply there to let you know the property owner's beliefs.

Some of them even say that, providing a secular credo cribbed from bumper stickers that used to appear on the rusting exteriors of college-town Volvos.

I'm not the first person to notice that much of what animates the modern American left is a secularized form of Calvinism.  Thomas Sowell beat me to it decades ago, but the traditional Elect were a bit more subtle in advertising their self-righteousness (okay, the "In the case of the Rapture, this car will be empty" bumper stickers were a bit much).

Calvinism is a frequent target of the Lord of Spirits podcast, and justly so.  John Calvin took the Lutheran concept sola fides to its irrational extreme and modern secularists have run with it.  If faith alone can provide salvation, then simply announcing one's virtuous beliefs demonstrates moral superiority in the secular realm.

One of my favorite signs is one that reads:  "Wherever you are from, you're welcome to be our neighbor," which appears in English, Spanish and (presumably) Arabic.  I like it because I see them in the yards of houses that cost $300,000 or more.  Clueless irony is the best irony.

Another point of amusement (which is only possible if you live in the same neighborhood for a while) is when these houses are put up for sale, the virtue-signalling signs disappear.  The contractor ones can stay ("see, we just repaved the driveway"), but the owner is willing to mute their self-righteousness to recoup their investment.

I mean, the sign already proved their virtue.  Now they're just trying to sell the house.

Paganism in the 21st Century

Since for Catholics like me, the Christmas liturgical season is just getting started, I have no need to modify my Christmas wishes to all of you by adding "belated."  I can simply wish you a "Merry Christmas" like normal, since there are almost two weeks of Christmas left to go.

This may seem like a strange time to bring up paganism, but I can't think of a more appropriate circumstance given the state of the world today.

Christmas itself has been warped into a retail holiday, something even irreligious people observe by taking time away from work, gathering with friends and family, and of course exchanging gifts.

There was a time within my memory that people who were not Christian (or were part of one of the more obscure heretical sects) pointedly did not celebrate Christmas, and that was why "Christmas Concerts" became "Winter Concerts" or "Holiday Concerts."  But I digress.

Driving home from the early Mass yesterday, a new thought occurred to me.  For many years I believed that pagans were just superstitious and that when they offered sacrifices, cut upon animals to gaze upon the entrails and approached oracles, it was one giant con by the elites against the rubes.  Thanks to The Lord of Spirits Podcast, I now understand that those 'gods' were real insofar as they could influence events and offer advice.

This is why ancient Israel was constantly tempted to break their covenant with God and participate in pagan rituals - they actually worked!

Of course another reason was that the pagan code of ethics was generally more permissive of sin - in fact it regarded some sins as virtues.  Some of the pagan philosophers advocated humility, but in practice the bigger the ego, the bigger your following.  Yes, they saw a relationship between hubris and nemesis, but so long as you kept sacrificing to the gods, nemesis could be kept at bay.

At least that was the thinking.

In any event, my revelation was this: growing up, I wondered why people would truly become Wiccan in light of the fact that it was mostly made-up and the practitioners I knew didn't seen happy or well off - the two traditional signs of divine favor across almost all cultures.

And then it hit me: their prayers were in fact being answered, and in exactly the way they wanted.

The Wiccans I knew seemed to want three things from their faith.  First, they wanted to get back at their traditional (often Dutch Reformed) parents.  Wicca was about as bad as they could be.

Second, they wanted absolute sexual license, and this they got.  The Goddess (or whoever) absolutely blessed them with frequent and (in theory) very intense erotic encounters. 

Finally, they wanted a moral framework that absolved them of guilt while placing their will and desires at the center of what is great and good.  This may seem like a repetition of the second point, but every Wiccan I've known (even the "incel losers" for you modern cool kids) was into the 'pansexual' component of their faith.

What these people did not get were stable, wholesome relationships, or inner peace, or a sense of true salvation or prosperity, or any of the markers that I would seek.  They got drama, and lots of it and they seemed to feed off of it.  I'm not sure how they turned out, though I know a few who 'grew out of it' and returned to Christ.

My point is that while they didn't explicitly articulate those goals, those were their goals and their prayers for those goals were in fact answered.  Whether you choose to believe it was through behavioral choices or the offices of a Fallen Angel masquerading as "The Goddess" (or a combination of both, which is my belief), that's fine, but the outcome is unmistakable.

This was yesterday morning.  Yesterday evening I got word that one of my relatives had renounced Christianity and become pagan.  Right over the holidays!  How splendid.

The reason was she placed a premium on approving sexual license.  The homosexual and transsexual agendas are very important to her (she is neither, btw), and she felt that Christianity was wrong to condemn these behaviors.  Instead, she came up with a theory of reincarnation where people are reborn into the wrong bodies and struggle to reconcile the difference.

I give her points for not doing the Anglican thing and just ignoring the Biblical texts that contradict her views.  She's at least being honest in that respect.

But I think one can see what else is going on - that when faced with a conflict between current societal views (which are less than 25 years old) and ancient laws of faith, she throws the faith away.

This is how the Israelites consistently strayed - they wanted to fit in.  There was no logic to their actions, just as there is no logic in play here.  It's a religion made up on the fly and molded to justify whatever social pressures arise.

This malleability of faith features prominently in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and (in a more veiled form) those of J.R.R. Tolkien.  (It's interesting that the great villains of Middle Earth are Fallen Angels - Sauron, Saruman, and the Balrogs.)

Needless to say, we will pray for her and hope to bring her back to Christ.  I think many people have to stray and take a hard look at the alternatives to the Church before they appreciate what she has to offer.  Certainly I did.

The blind spot of religious scholars regarding prophesy

I've been going through one of my dated history books, and one passage in particular struck me as emblematic of everything that is wrong with religious (and therefore Bible) scholars.

The book is titled The Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, edited by Arthur Cotterell.  It consists of a selection of essays by various experts on Sumer, Egypt, Babylon, etc.  At first I just hopped through it here and there, but now I'm reading it sequentially, but with no great urgency.  It's a back-up time-killer that informs and amuses.

In the article on Babylonia, A.K. Grayson writes: 

One of the interesting types of historiographical works was that of prophecy.  This was a literary text which described past events in prophetic terms as though they author had predicted these before they happened.  Having thereby established his credibility, he proceeded to make real prophecies which had a variety of forms according to the particular purpose he wished to achieve.  The Babylonian prophecy was a forerunner of apocalyptic literature, a genre to which the Book of Revelations belongs.

I think this is pretty much the perfect distillation of what most religious scholars still think today, and this is particularly true of the secular Bible scholars.  They love to dissect, analyze, and conjecture about how the various pieces came together and the one thing they all seem to agree on is that none of it can possibly be divinely inspired. 

All recorded prophesy was patched together after the fact to give religious leaders legitimacy by which they could control the masses.  An alternative view is that ancient people were simply stupid compared to modern man, and since they had no idea of science, attributed everything to invisible spirits. 

This view inevitably leads to scientism, which is the cruelest faith of them all. 

Put simply, the evidentiary standard they want to see is all but impossible to achieve.  Most writings of the ancient world are difficult to date, and books in particular have had to be copied and re-copied in order for their texts to survive to our age.  This opens up myriad possibilities for editorial changes - something not lost on scholars.

Their gold standard of evidence would be a positively dated writing that can be clearly placed before a given event.  By its very nature, that's an almost impossible standard to meet because prophesy is often extremely close to a specific event.  The warnings typically come when the gods are just about done with the offending nation/city/people and the lightning bolts are practically already on the way.

How would one track that?  In a newspaper?  Magazine story?  Ancient wire report?

In fact, even modern works would likely fail this test.  Consider Winston Churchill's history of World War II.  The first book of the first volume of The Second World War, The Gathering Storm, painstakingly documents Churchill's attempt to stop German rearmament and subsequent aggression.

The thing is, it was published after the fact.  Let us say that centuries from now, our only record of British politics from that era is Churchill's mammoth work.  Using Grayson's logic, Churchill's claims would have to be regarded with the deepest suspicion.

Whenever one considers and ancient text, the first thing one has to consider is why it even survived.  This is especially true in fragile media like books and scrolls.  Someone had to think what was in there was very important and therefore reliable.  Yes, there were official versions of history and that complicates things, but the default assumption has to be that whatever we have is true, not the other way around.

You see, most predictions aren't carved in stone, particularly if they were made only a few months or weeks (or even days) in advance.

However, once they are proven true, suddenly its the talk of the town.  For example, it is now well known that James Woods observed the 9/11 hijackers on a training flight, noticed their strange behavior and reported it to the FBI (who of course did nothing).

How much media play did his observation get?  Lots, but it came only after the attacks had been carried out.

It is not a stretch to imagine future accounts of what Woods saw would survive but the FBI's corroborating reports would not. 

The same is true in ancient times.  Some nobody on a corner says "Doom is upon us!" and everyone ignores them.  If nothing happens, nothing will be written.

But if something does happen, it will be a major event and recorded.  Even if the earliest records date from decades after the original event, there is still a link through living memory to what happened. 

In fact, it is typical for historical accounts to be written not immediately after the fact, but at least a generation later.  This is because there is no point in writing about something everyone still alive clearly remembers.  It is only when that generation begins to fade and a new one rises to maturity that there is a necessity to write things down.

This is why many of the accounts of the American Civil War only emerged decades after the conflict. 

One will also find examples of how subsequent events will change how previous ones are interpreted.  Thus histories of the First World War written before 1939 will have a very different sensibility than those written after 1945 even though the passage of years was relatively short.

I would therefore say that Grayson has it exactly backwards - the only reason someone would write down a new prophesy was that the old one was correct.