Lord of Spirits podcast

The Spirituality of Ghostbusters

I recently watched Ghostbusters for the first time in a long time.  It has to have been at least 25 years since I had seen it, largely because it was so ubiquitous in my youth.  In addition to be a smash hit in the theater, it did heavy duty on the TV movie circuit and of course was a popular video rental for parties.

Don't get me started on the theme song.

At any rate, I was pleased to see that it holds up pretty well and being much older, I got some subtle jokes that evaded my younger sensibilities.

Of course, I also approach the subject matter of the film vastly differently than I did as a teenager, particularly after spending the last two years listening to the Lord of Spirits podcast.  Part of why I was willing to watch it again was that I wondered what Ghostbusters looks like through the spiritual lens.

Despite its nominal topic, the film presents a very secular version of the spirit realm.  The protagonists famously use mad science to capture and contain ghosts and it is the application of technology that "saves the world."

To be sure, religious people are seen praying for them, but that's part of the spectacle.  In the end, technology - not prayer - is decisive.

That being said, it is interesting that one of the assumptions of the film is that ancient gods can be real and inflict physical harm.  Since God has often various means to achieve His goals, having the Ghostbusters thwart Goser or Zuul or whoever could be seen as a dismissive wave on the part of the Almighty.

One of the key concepts of the Lord of Spirits is that the ancient gods were in fact real entities and that the sacrifices offered produced tangible results.  As a recent episode pointed out, the rise and fall of various cults is in part explained by the success of the people who worship them.  Wars between the various city-states and later empires were at the time seen as struggles of their gods as well.  The Trojan War was famously a contest that divided the Olympian gods, who repeatedly intervened.

In our modern secular worldview, we see gods as a purely cultural matter and in our contempt for our ancestors assume that the temples and rites were no more than superstition by ignorant savages.

However, as I've mentioned before, cause and effect are not a modern invention, and given the amazing sophistication of ancient metallurgy and architecture - that is, the stuff that has survived - it is the height of arrogance to assume we know more than they do.  In fact, I think we are far less logical, since many "rational" people rather irrationally refuse to consider even the possibility of the Unseen.

It's interesting that Ghostbusters also prefigures the later "ghost hunter" reality TV shows, which clearly seek a secular answer for a spiritual problem.   After I became more aware of the spiritual realm (and the fact that most if not all "ghosts" are likely demons), I asked my wife (who was an avid watcher for a while) how many of the shows were still on.  She replied that many of the first generation had stopped and that the cast had complained that "their work" tended to follow them home.

Well, yes.  Absent a "trap" and a containment field, mucking about looking for the Unseeing armed only with an voltage meter, shotgun microphone and a thermal camera is remarkably stupid.

If only they'd watched Ghostbusters, they'd have known better.



The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The liturgical calendar was something I was only vaguely aware of when I entered the Catholic Church 16 years ago.  Yes, I knew about some of the bigger religious holidays, but the extent to which all time is organized in accord with religious memorials, solemnities and feasts escaped me.

Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy was something of a wake-up call.  One of Waugh's quirks was to order the events in the book to the liturgical calendar, rather than by giving specific days and months.  This book really opened my heart to the richness of what the Church offers.

The Lord of Spirits podcast pushed me further, helping me to recognize that the world can be viewed with both secular and spiritual lenses.  As time has passed, I'm more quick to push the secular ones aside and take a glance at the Unseen as well as the Seen.

So of course the momentous news that Roe v. Wade had finally been decisively repudiated came on day of religious significance - and one that will no doubt have more significance going forward.

The ruling had been leaked, but to what end?  Was it genuine?  Would it hold?  Apparently it did, and for much of the day I struggled to adjust myself to the new reality.  I am only a little younger than Roe v. Wade, and have grown up in its long, dark shadow.  I've watched society become ever more obsessed with personal pleasure at any cost, and I've seen the act of abortion go from being considered a lesser evil to a positive good.

This is nothing short of demonic.  There are few perversions so profound, so stark as convincing mothers to slaughter their unborn children so that they can better enjoy life.  At least in pagan times, children were offered up to the gods in exchange for timely rains or abundant harvests - matters of communal survival.

Today, the payoff is a few extra packages from Amazon or a week's vacation through Airbnb.  Put simply, humans have become really cheap dates for the dark powers.

That changed yesterday, and while it was a great victory, the struggle is not over.  It will new enter a new phase as the Enemy tries new methods and attempts to break up the coalition that achieved it.

Still, as the calendar reminds us,  there is a time for everything.  I will spend the next few days contemplating the great goodness of God, and how fortunate we all are to see this day.

Welcome to the (secular) Poxy-clipse: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

It may seem strange to put it this way, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is arguably one of the more realistic depictions of the post-apocalyptic world.

Bartertown is a functional economy and (just as with Road Warrior) you get the crazy punk-meets-tribal look, only it is now more fully realized.   The use of livestock manure to supply natural gas for power generation is actually "a thing" these days and large scale operations can reach a remarkable degree of self-sufficiency.

We also see the progression from nomadic raiders to a growing settlement and a semblance of civilization.

One must make a special call-out to Tina Turner, who is exceptional as the matriarch of Bartertown.  I've said this many, many times before, but strong women in films is nothing new.  It is as old as film (and before that theater) itself.  Her portrayal is marvelous, and her discussion of how she was a "nobody" and is now "somebody" is a wonderful shorthand way to describe her rise to power.

There's also her undeniable presence, something sorely lacking in today's stars.  You can readily believe that she can gain and hold attention.

Amidst all the fun and now iconic phrases ("two men enter, one man leaves!"), there is a sour note that I missed when I saw it back in the 80s but now standing out like a flashing light: a complete absence of faith.

The Lost Children have learned their legend, and ascribed semi-divine power to an airline pilot, but what about God?  There's a reference in the memorial the parents left behind them, but that's it.

I suppose it is a sad commentary on Australian culture that even in 1985 no one would think that parents would teach children their prayers or a little scripture.  If they were trying to flee the urban nightmare, might not one have brought the family bible along with a recording of French lessons?

This hearkens back to something that The Lord of Spirits podcast brought up more than a year ago: the modern assumption that settlement patterns are driven entirely by economics, with religion being a later addition, a luxury item.

The origin for this notion is probably in the settlement of the American frontier - or at least the modern secular interpretation of it.  We see it in countless cowboy movies set in the Old West: the town starts has a tavern/general store, later a jail and then once civilization shows up, a church.

This completely ignores that fact that many settlements were actually built around missionary communities.  Indeed, the United States itself was in large part a refuge for religious communities - the Pilgrims, and later Catholics, Anabaptists, etc. - all came seeking freedom of worship rather than simply a chance to build a log cabin.

Even the Old West was shaped by this drive for religious freedom.  Utah exists in its present Mormon-heavy configuration because the practice of polygamy led to that faith's persecution east of the Mississippi. 

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, humans are spiritual creatures, incapable of existing outside of a moral framework.  Those who claim to be most secular have simply substituted their own divine code, which they delude themselves by thinking is "rational" or "science-based," but it really just a reflection of their own personal priorities.

It would be interesting to imagine a post-apocalyptic world with a religious element - mission settlements built around surviving churches or even a shrine commemorating a miracle during the Downfall.

This brings us to the great irony that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome itself uses religious language ("Poxy-clipse") to describe the collapse of civilization without any thought to its deeper meaning.

Reading the Bible the Orthodox (and Catholic) way

I'm continuing to enjoy listening to the Lord of Spirits podcast, though as the show has progressed I've noticed a few missteps regarding Catholicism that strike me as unfortunate.

That being said, Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church are farm more similar than different - and many of the differences are a function of culture rather than doctrine.

For example, the treatment of the Bible is essentially the same.  Like the Catholic Church, our Orthodox brothers do not believe that it can be taken out of context or interpreted on an individual basis.  This approach has led to schism and confusion.

Recently they did an episode specifically about this topic.  I should note that most of the podcast goes through how not to read the Bible, and various "Bible scholars" receive (well-deserved) criticism.

The core issue is people who do not understand the way in which the Bible was written, lack historical context and also an understanding of how the Church Fathers interpreted it.  One of the things that attracted me to Catholicism was the fact that all of the 'big questions' had already been answered centuries ago.  I find it terribly annoying when someone comes up with what they think is a hot new idea when in fact they've stumbled on something people figured out hundreds of years ago.

You get a lot of that in what we now call "Bible study," and it bugs me to no end.  I love that I live in a country where people have the freedom to read a simplified translation, come up with their own take and start their very own special church dedicated to what they think it says.

I don't love all the spiritual confusion this creates.

One of the Christian virtues is humility and I wish more of the people who styled themselves authorities in this area were willing to consider that the countless people who came before them were not ignorant or unintelligent and given the same problem set, likely figured out an answer well in advance of this particular generation.

The Bible has effectively been analyzed by a massive multi-century crowdsourced distributed computer system, yet some people think their single brain can compete (and even surpass) the collected knowledge of centuries because we possess an internet search engine.  That's pretty arrogant.

Anyhow, it's a good listen and as usual my only quibble is the stray derogatory remark (often based on a shocking degree of ignorance) about Catholic doctrine and practices.


Orthodox disorder and the "pure church" fallacy

While I've been listening to shows sponsored by an Eastern Orthodox web site, I have to admit I wasn't really keeping tabs on what our sister church is up to.

When I saw Pope Francis ask for a day of prayer over the situation in the Ukraine, I figured that the Orthodox were surely doing the same, since a clash between Russia and Ukraine would be spiritual fratricide pitting Orthodox against Orthodox (okay, Western Ukraine has some Catholics in it, but my point stands).

I was shocked to see that the political dispute is also a religious one.  The Patriarch of Moscow is fuming at the decision of other Patriarchs (Constantinople and Alexandria, specifically) to recognize the independence of the Kiev Archbishopric.

I spent a whole evening trying to untangle all of this, and I'm still not sure who did what to whom when, but our eastern brethren are currently going through all manner of schisms.

The lesson here is not that the Eastern Orthodox are better or worse than the Catholic Church but rather that all institutions, even churches, are prone to error.

At the same time, there are always new churches being created who brag about their purity and lack of scandal.  To this one can only say:  "Just wait, you'll get one."

I know some disgruntled Catholics have serious problems with Pope Francis, and some speak of leaving the Church because of it.  The problem is where to go?  If one truly believes that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, then there aren't a lot of options.  Eastern Orthodox is about it, and as we've just seen, their hierarchy isn't praying for peace so much as pronouncing anathemas on each other.

No one is perfect.

Bad Books of the Bible looks at Maccabees

I've discovered another ancientfaith.com podcast that I enjoy: Bad Books of the Bible.

This series is dedicated to going through The Apocrypha - those writings not generally found in Protestant Bibles.  Throughout the series they go over how this division took place and I won't get into that discussion here.

Instead, I will note that their first 'season,' which was about Tobit, was entertaining but moved rather slow.  The hosts took a lesson from that, I believe, and their discussion of 1 Maccabees is much more enjoyable.

The exclusion of 1 and 2 Maccabees from the Protestant Canon is unfortunate, because as my wife (who was raised Baptist) noted, they provide a crucial connection between the Old Testament and the time of Christ.

They also deeply undercut the notion of Christian pacifism, because it is explicitly spelled out that allowing God's temples to be desecrated and His people killed cannot possibly be pleasing to Him.  Rather than meekly submit to idol worshipers, they will draw the sword in defense of the Covenant.

For those who don't know, the Maccabees were Jewish rebels who rose up against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BC.  The Seleucid Empire was a successor state to Alexander the Great's empire, and its king, Antiochus, decided that his Jewish subjects' faith was an affront to his notion of imperium.  The therefore offered the Jews a choice - assimilate into Hellenistic culture or die.

The Maccabee family (it's not a true surname, but means "hammer") lead the ultimately successful rebellion against Greeks.

I'm still going through it as I listen to the podcast, but it is - like 1 Enoch, a remarkable "metal" book of the Bible.

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.