Category Archives: Humanities

Jesus the Radical Humanist


HUMANISM – Any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate. ( 


There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy. All you need is love, love, love is all you need…. 



He was a tradesman’s son of 1st century Palestine: the modern era to its citizenry for whom life was a current affair and their industry, state of the art. The wheel was commonplace, chariots were the last word in high tech, and leprosy had long been diagnosed as demon-related. Monsters, angels, imps, sorcerers, heavenly visions and miracles were customary at a time when people through no fault of their own knew little better. And as with most of the mediterranean world the local population was subject to Roman rule in the reign of Caesar Augustus: divi filius, (son of a god). This was the zeitgeist in which Yeshua, son of Yehosef, entered and exited.

Home was Nazareth (pop:400 approx), an agrarian village of no fixed visibility. At about a day’s walk from Jerusalem the place was barely a provincial pin prick on the map: And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said unto him, Come and see ( John 1:46), but it was no holiday getaway, the entire region was a hotbed of politico-religious unrest exposed to a variety of cultures and beliefs introduced via the trade routes of the Hellenized West and Indian East. Stoicism, Buddhism and the ascetic practises of the Essenes were among the more influential systems doing the rounds in Yeshua’s backyard. In a nutshell: Nazareth and the Galilee convulsed with dogmas.

He could often be found at the local synagogue contemplating the will of Yahweh or maybe evesdropping on the myriad apocalyptic prophets on the scene. One such prophet was the Essene, Johanan the Baptist, Yeshua’s second cousin and mentor, so named for his purification ritual of cleansing buck naked believers of sin by full immersion. The Baptist was a seriously hard core Torah junkie, completely committed to the letter of the law of Moses, and with a growing following, an irritant to the local ruler, Herod Antipas. Johanan’s apocalyptic outbursts no doubt grated with Herod but meddling in his personal affairs hit a nerve – when news broke that Antipas had married his divorcee niece, Herodias, Johanan denounced him publicly in full voice from the hilltops. An incensed Herod had him slapped around and thrown in prison, but the Baptist remained defiant, refusing to recant, for which he was rewarded with a free ringside seat at a beheading – his own.

Yeshua by contrast was more restrained and questioning. Charismatic and self assured he drew people to him. Frankly, for a working class tradesman from the outback he was positively saviour faire! He was a liberal Pharisee who made it his business to question the decrees of the Temple priests, at times finding them remote and implacable. He questioned the economics of the day, the taxes and division of wealth. And he became disillusioned with the apocalypse merchants and their failed promises of a messianic age that was always ‘just around the corner’. It drove him to ponder a new reality for a world rigidly divided into elites and non-elites, the filthy rich and the dirt poor. The fabric of his society was entrenched with a corrupted hierarchical order, with governance – religious and political – in the hands of a privileged minority that would never relinquish control. Even the Roman gods were split up into elite and non-elite camps.

Clearly the status quo was in need of a radical overhaul. He would find the spark in Hebrew scripture and the early prophets with whom he identified as harbingers of the Kingdom of God: …*on Earth as it is in heaven* (Matthew 6:9). Certain Torah passages spoke of Yahweh’s mandate being in every heart and mind and of the need to call social injustices and moral reform to attention (Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26). These were later revisited in the Epistle to the Hebrews: This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:16) / Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (10:17). 

He surmised that Yahweh himself now recognized the scriptures and Temple priests had failed to make people righteous – in fact they had become a hinderance – and so Yahweh had internalized the moral standard within people’s hearts: And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21). 

The upshot: while the faithful were sitting around waiting for God to act, God was waiting for them to act having already invested within them all they would ever need. The obstacle: blind faith in the old ways which had closed their hearts to the new. Yeshua resolved to be the key that opened them, thereby ushering in the kingdom of heaven on Earth. Not a new covenant but a flowering of the old covenant.

From the outset he knew that a just society required an even playing field, and he felt that the negative feelings that infested people’s hearts would continue to rule without critical self-analysis and a kind of excessive generosity towards each other: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Mat 7.5) / Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on (Mark 12:43).


People, he concluded, needed to move away from the idea that morality was inherent to top-down divine law (vertical), instead embracing humanized ethics (horizontal), engaging in it as a moral code drawn from the heart. It followed that his kingdom of heaven on earth could only be grasped when everyone realized they were now the custodians of the moral standard and that it was intrinsic to human feelings, the inward moral sense, not a set of instructions memorized from a book or sermon as dictated from upon high. The effect of this among others things would be the end of the old system and its figures of oppression. Equally significant, it would pluck divine law out of the sky and entrust it with the people, making them accountable.

It was an audacious idea: courageous but daunting. He would preach that the kingdom of heaven on Earth had come and could be entered when all of life’s decisions were filtered through the principles of love, compassion and non-violence (principles he equated with the true nature of Yahweh, now internalized). It would be a socio-political revolution based on a moral platform with the old system supplanted by a simple magnanimous community of love that would irresistibly transform human relations. The moral laws and the people would then be one. His course was set, and so was his unappreciated place as the first modern radical humanist in history. Naturally his plan was framed in the religious context of the day but it’s clear he was championing a form of communal humanism. It would become known as the Way. And it would fail.


Much has been written about his mission up until his arrest so I won’t labour on it here too much. Suffice to say it began from the time of his ritual washing by cousin Johanan in the Air Jordon and lasted about three years. From among his disciples he chose 12 apostles (symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel) to form the nucleus of his movement – they included members of his own family. No longer a disciple of Johanan the Baptist he would branch out with his new message. Not too long after the Baptist’s beheading he left Nazareth and moved in with a mate, Shimon (Simon Peter), who had a house in Capernaum. There he taught in the synagogue and in nearby towns around the sea of Galilee. He taught in a compelling way: by aphorism and parable, and he chose his themes carefully to challenge and cajole. He prompted people to remodel their thinking:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Mt 5:39b-41)


 It is easier for a camel (rope) to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Mk 10:23b, 25)


There is nothing outside a person, which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a person are what defile him. (Mk 7:15)


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? If then you are unable do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26)


A following grew daily: mostly downtrodden peasants, the lame and the impoverished, enthralled with their new champion and the prospects of a better life. Good news for them, not so good for the rich and dominant who had it all to lose. Thus in the fullness of time the inevitable collision course would culminate in accusations, arrest and trials with only one possible winner. The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem under the auspices of the all powerful Sadducees took a dim view of having their authority challenged by some hick from the bush riding in on a donkey. Some of his followers were even calling him the Meshiha, the anointed redeemer of the Jews prophesized to set them free and vanquish all evil.

But the priests were less concerned about messianic claims being bandied about than they were with Yeshua’s new paradigm which would pretty much put them out of a job. The only way to save their skin was to have him removed from the scene which they did through the agency of the brutal Pontius Pilate. He was found guilty of sedition for claiming to be a King and opposing taxes. Pilate gladly complied as insurance against the chances of further insurrection.

He was executed on a Friday morning at Golgotha between two fellow revolutionaries (thieves were not crucified), witnessed by a handful of Roman legions and a few of his followers including his mother and wife, Maryam of Magdala, and their son the “beloved disciple”: When Jesus therefore saw his “mother”, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his “mother”, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:26-27) This verse was written to record the event at the crucifixion scene while hiding the true identity of the beloved disciple (whose name was always kept secret) by substituting his wife with his mother.

Yeshua is now long dead – about 1,980 years – that is why he has not returned.



 Origins is a condensed personal assessment of the historical Jesus, fashioned to cut through the mystique of mythos and miracles, hopefully giving the man a more human face as agrarian preacher and political activist. But more than a narrative is required to explain how Yeshua the tradesman’s son ended up as Jesus Christ the Son of God. An investigative approach via the findings of academia must be deferred to in the telling. To this end where relevant I have hyperlinked words or phrases in the text with research sources.

Undeniably the Bible is one of the great collective works of literature. It’s depth and powerful metaphorical poetry is monumental – testimony to the genius of Jewish thought. But it’s also a product of pre-modern minds lacking the benefit of 2000 years of cultural/scientific progress of the kind we enjoy. Hence it is incumbent on us to deconstruct the events of the resurrection story in search of their historicity. Difficult to say the least though it’s made easier when the leading player has a history we can examine: Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, without whom Christianity wouldn’t exist. 

Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and the furnace of early Christian doctrine, however, he did not operate in a vacuum. To understand the shaping of Pauline dogma we must take into account the social dynamics at play in the context of a very Imperial Rome. Making early Christianity culturally acceptable to gentiles required a redefining of the original ultra egalitarian creed that Jesus (and Paul to a lesser extent) embraced, adapting it to the dominant conventions of the times. It needed to be a traditional-values friendly theology steeped in the same kind of mythos that Romans and other gentiles would recognize. The same was true for conservative Jewish traditionalists who believed slavery and the subordination of women was all part of Yahweh’s will. So what Paul originally said in his early epistles and what others or others in his name said later are sometimes quite different. There was a watering down, a gradual orthodox revisionism of the more radical aspects of Jesus’ egalitarianism. The following are a few little known facts that suffered the same revisionist fate:

 Jesus was of the House of Hillel, the liberal left wing school of the Pharisees movement. Evidence for this is in his adoption of sayings originally made by the school’s founder, Hillel the Elder. Right wing conservative Pharisees belonged to the House of Shammaite. Hillelites were inclusive, open to gentiles and preached tolerance and peace. The Shammaites were exclusive, sceptical of gentile conversion, fearful of women’s impurity and endorsed force in overthrowing Rome.  

– Paul reputedly had a vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, but there is no mention of it in any of his 13 New Testament Epistles, only seven of which he actually wrote himself. The only known account is by the gospel writer, Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, written after Paul’s death in 67AD. Luke was a Syrian gentile and early follower of Paul who would later “revise” Pauline doctrine in his writings.

– Shimon (Simon Peter the Rock) did not die in Rome and probably never visited the city in his life. The evidence for this comes from the Bible itself as well as the discovery of his likely burial site and ossuary excavated near Jerusalem in 1953. If this is factually correct then the legitimacy of the Papacy (Bishops of Rome) allegedly stretching back to Peter is questionable.

– The entire New Testament canon was written by scribes who never knew Jesus, and in the case of the writer of the last gospel (John) he probably wasn’t born when Jesus died. This applies to the Book of Revelation, which far from being about end times, was a form of code using heavy Hebrew apocalyptic metaphors to secretly warn early Christians about the allure of Roman paganism and the transgressions of the hated emperor, Caligula. The numerological mark of the beast is not 666 but 616 which translates as Caligula (not Nero as previously thought). 


Paul (Saul’s latin name) was from Tarsus in hellenized Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), schooled in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew; erudite and cultured, though according to academic sources, as a Hillel Pharisee he had  a poor grasp of Hebrew law. He was widely known as Saul of “Tarsus” though he claimed he only lived there as a boy before moving to Jerusalem to study among the Pharisees – it suggests he actually left Tarsus as an adult and may not have been a Pharisee. Further to this it is unlikely that a Sadducee High Priest would commission a liberal Pharisee to arrest followers of the Jesus movement. Paul was a self appointed Apostle who would fall into serious dispute with the original twelve on the direction of the early church. There are a number of such oddities in his background.

One thing is clear from his epistles, he was a driven individual, fanatical in everything he did. Moody and volatile, he had a pathological self loathing that suggests there was something eating away at him: And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2 Corinthians 12:7) / O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)

Some scholars claim he was an epileptic to explain away his so called ecstatic visions. A better explanation to my mind is one from the reformist theologian, Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong suggests Paul was a repressed homosexual: So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:17-18) /  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:21-23). 

Homosexuality meant more than instant stoning, you were cursed for life, weighed down under the burden of a guilty secret. Paul would have grasped at anything to alleviate his mental suffering. Whatever was eating away at him I’m of the opinion his conversion is directly related to it. Paul found in the teachings of Jesus a god of total forgiveness; that the moral standard now internalized exempted everyone from the harsh judgements of the scriptures and Temple authorities. He thought of it as a new kind of personal relationship with Yahweh which had “saved” him from himself. Ergo, “salvation” could be extended to anyone who accepted this new theology as distinct from the traditional Jewish collective salvation. This “realization” is the foundation of Paul’s conversion experience parabled by Luke much later in typical 1st century metaphorical terms and is the basis of his Jesus the Christ: Lord and Saviour of the world. Perhaps what clinched it a little later was the death of the first martyr, Stephen.

As an early persecutor of the Yeshua sect, Paul was largely reponsible for the stoning of Stephen who made the big mistake of declaring his allegiance to Yeshua in public at a time when the movement had been driven underground. Stephen was physically ejected from the city by an angry mob then stoned. As he lay dying he said in imitation of Yeshua on the cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Father forgive them for they know not what they do). Perhaps those words so played on Paul’s mind that at some point in time they became epiphanic to him. And from that time onward, Yeshua…Jesus would become the redeemer of (his) sin. Considering the times and circumstances, how else would Paul have thought of Jesus other than the son of the “living” God.

 His conversion doesn’t explain the resurrection story but it is the precursor. To state my opinion up front: the resurrection narrative is an allegorical parable devised for two purposes: to convey complex theological concepts to ordinary, mostly illiterate people, and to sell the Yeshua movement to the gentiles to whom a Jesus-god would be decidely more attractive. It was written apocryphally to fit Hebrew scripture and accord with Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ death. Its core purpose was political – similar in intent to the political propaganda of today. The Jewish people of Ist century Palestine were ruled by a theocracy where politics, economics, morality and religion were virtually indistinguishable (words such as sin and redemption are derived from commerce). Even local civil matters were under the jurisdiction of Temple priests. It has been said elsewhere that life in those times was not much different than for the Afghans under the Taliban – I think this paints a fair picture of how strict is was. So the overriding purpose of the resurrection story was to give hope to a crest fallen people that Yahweh was on their side  – people who were endlessly waiting for him to free them – while at the same time passing on this new belief system in a user-friendly form to the gentiles. 

As a hellenized Jew living in the diaspora, Paul would have been well schooled in Greek mythology. He would have known about Dionysus and Attis as well as the Egyptians, Osiris and Horus, the Persian Mithra, and being a Roman citizen with his ear to the ground he’d be aware of a rapidly developing new kid on the block, the Roman sun God, Sol Invictus. There are numerous similarities in the stories of these deities to the “resurrected” Jesus – virgin births, miracles, apostles, last suppers, and resurrection after three days. It was a competitive environment for builders of a new faith to work in. As the embodiment of the living God, Paul’s Jesus needed the attributes of the divine. He needed not only to be able to perform miracles – which were fairly common at the time – but he required supernatural status if the gentiles were going to take notice. Henceforth Paul’s blueprint – drawn from prophecies, the sacrificial lamb/scapegoat custom, and gentile pagan dieties – would take on a life of it’s own. The story in its rudimentary form would be orally transmitted through the generations to the gospel writers who would put their own spin on things. It was from this series of events that the transformation of Yeshua the Nazarene into the Son of God developed.

The historical role of the 12 apostles in the creation of the resurrection story is difficult to ascertain because it was filtered, altered and air brushed by the Paul friendly gospel writers  – this includes the role Yeshua’s wife, Mary Magdalene, played in spreading the faith. The involvement of other early Yeshua followers, the Ebionites, for example also got short shrift because of their antipathy towards Paul ( The Ebionites are still around today and still anti-Paul). From the time of their first meeting, Paul and James the Just, the brother of Jesus and true leader of the early church were at loggerheads over the interpretation of his death. Paul’s self appointed mission to take the Way to the gentiles didn’t meet with approval from James or Peter at first…if ever. They saw their movement as being intrinsically Jewish. 

It’s not hard to imagine how lost the apostles must have felt when Yeshua was executed. To say they were gutted is the understatement of the millenium … two millenia. What did it mean to see their leader and all their dreams and aspirations crushed in such a humiliating way? Did it mean Yawheh was really on the side of the Romans? This was impossible to countenance. How could they possibly let Yeshua die? If not in body surely he was with them in spirit …. literally. Therein lies the curnel of the apostles perspective on his death, but it is far from deifying him as God made flesh as Paul would have it. A prophet yes, the Messiah perhaps but the apostles could not have imagined Yeshua as Yahweh incarnate. 

It is important to restate the NT gospels were written many decades after the death of Yeshua, with no written contributions from the apostles. The two letters attributed to Peter are certainly not authored by him as he was an illiterate fisherman (Not hypothetical but in accord with a consensus of biblical scholars and historians). Ergo, the gospel narratives differ markedly as they progress chronologically from the first (Mark) to the last (John). They do have one common thread: they were written in accordance with Pauline theology. Things are never that simple though – in a twist of fate, Paul’s original radicalism in support of Yeshua’s ethics would gradually be revised by the gospel evangelists, scribes writing in Paul’s name and other early church figures … straying from the original message: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

The story of Yeshua the tradesman’s son is one of transmutation – an original thinker’s legacy moulded to suit the prevailing biases of the times in terms of cultural needs, politics and prevailing superstitions. He would be hoisted up from his humble beginnings, his real life refined beyond recognition, fitted up with a false genealogy (How can God’s “seed” have a genealogy?) and converted into a deity to be worshipped and adored. The church would thereafter see to it that Jesus was managed by them. He would become … property.



 As I begin this concluding section I’m acutely aware of the incursion of politics into the entire essay. It keeps cropping up to explain the motivations behind Jesus’ teachings and the formation of the early church. Not without good reason. I’m not referring to the daily Machievellian intrigues but the archaic divide that continues to define human beings: liberalism and conservatism – the greater good versus individualism. It’s quite obvious Yeshua’s agenda was radically liberal for its time and equally clear the conservative traditionalists opposed it. Over time the strictures of early church doctrine in reaction to his radical ethics would transform him, ironically, into a deified personification of his teaching, ensuring the now man-god was palatable to the pagan gentiles. The seeds of anti-semitism were being sown all the while. Consequently he would be absorbed into the establishment – that top-down hierarchy he defied during his ministery – later to be portrayed in murals and masterpieces draped in royal robes with sceptre, seated at the right hand of God in judgement – the divine right of kings – concepts that would have been completely alien to him in life. His moral message would thereafter take a back seat to his new role of divine saviour. There are no other words for it: he was betrayed, not by Judas but by the parochialism of the faithful, and his betrayal was now complete.


There are 38,000 distinct Christian denominations and sects around the world today, characterised either by theology, culture, practise or language. Many are closely related, some are like chalk and cheese, but all have one thing in common: they all think they are right. For most people Christianity is Christmas, perhaps fish on Good Friday, and a basic understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the golden rule as they go about their daily lives – they don’t think about it too much. Of the devout Christians a small minority closely follow the ethical teachings ( I personally know a few). A prime example are the traditional Quakers who from their very beginnings called themselves “children of the light” or “friends of the truth” in deference to terms used in the early church. They opposed (and still do) military interventionism, advocated the separation of church and state, and as a principle of their faith: “rejected religious dogma preferring to follow the ‘internal light’ of Christ rather than a literal reading of the Bible”. After being persecuted in 17th century England they migrated to the U.S where they encountered the same problem, culminating in the torture and  death of a number of their followers at the hands of the Congregationalist Puritans and a mixed bag of Baptists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. 

For the majority of devout Christians the doctrine of Atonement – salvation or redemption from sin through faith – is central to their belief. Most are good people who lead normal, everyday lives, but others are less ethical. Some enrich themselves by exploiting faith, others attempt to influence government. When “deliverence” and “eternal life” in heaven outweigh the ethical teachings we know there is a major bug in the system. Such an attitude enables some to lead double lives, praising the Lord while living lives of self indulgence; enabling mass murderers to suddenly be “saved”, and then there’s the convenient death bed conversion. Some pray to God as though “He” was a celestial sugar daddy around just to grant them their wishes. And there are those for whom salvation is a safety net… an insurance policy against the unknowns of death and the afterlife. It’s a regrettable outcome and indicative of what can happen when self interest and the ‘personal god’ individualism at the core of Salvation meet.

It is no coincidence that Protestant fundamentalists, not just in the U.S but everywhere including my own country, are mostly conservative in their politics. It is not religion that brings this about but their entrenched values which shape their religious convictions. Of course this is a generalization but in the main I think it’s true. I’m putting aside my own convictions here as I have no intention of taking political sides on this issue – liberalism and conservativism both have their merits – I’m simply stating the case to show how a set of contradictions can arise through religious belief; specifically how a pacifist, forgiving Jesus can be worshipped as Lord and Saviour by people who maintain pro military, pro death penalty, eye for an eye moral and political convictions. It is a legacy of the doctrine of atonement for original sin and a consequence of personalized faith – that is to say, when God becomes “MY god”. 

Since the late 20th century a new force has arrived on the scene: the New Atheist movement to which I nominally belong. Like most Christians they are normal, decent people with the best of intentions, abiding by their own non-theistic beliefs. But to be even handed, we/they are not without blemish either. The militant wing of atheism in particular has caused its fair share of resentment. The leading lights and their online acolytes too often exhibit a rather disturbing contempt for all things religious that borders on arrogance, even victimization. Unjust and counterproductive it seems to me, and far removed from the kind of tolerance secular humanists are meant to exemplify. At times the more vociferous of them leave the impression their distain is less than objective; perhaps an opportunity to hate out loud. But they are, I’m happy to say, only in the minority.

A more general criticism, however, is the perpetual use of the word “irrational” in describing religion and the faithful. This is far too sweeping a statement. Certainly there are aspects of religion that are irrational – and they need to be brought to attention – but the same can be said of any system of thought whether religious, social or political. In fact you could probably find the irrational in democracy – Socrates certainly thought so. Theology at its finest is as sophisticated as any school of philosophy, as shown by this discussion between atheist, Dr Jonathan Miller and Cambridge theologian, Denys Turner. I for one wouldn’t fancy going up to a Mahatma Gandhi or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer and call him irrational.

The endless rounds of show-debates between new atheists, Dawkins Dennett and Harris, and Christian apologists such as Dr William Lane Craig, may be to some degree intellectually stimulating but they lead nowhere – they never can when the answer to the question is ultimately unknowable. Here is where “faith” plays its trump card. Too often the burden of proof is tactically placed on the theist to prove the existence of God. I find this to be “intellectually dishonest” as Dr Craig has remarked (one of the few times I’ve ever agreed with him). Put simply it’s a debating tactic to avoid having to prove the unprovable. To wit: an atheist debater will take the “weak” position (there is no proof) rather than the strong (there IS no God) to avoid burden of proof. But even when taking a weak negative position in an argument, and even though there is only circumstantial evidence, a position held must be supported with a valid argument. Of course it has been well argued that a negative existential claim cannot be proven, hence the tactical switcheroo. It’s a game that doesn’t do the subject matter justice.

When you boil it all down … nobody knows. You either believe or you don’t – you can’t get around it. Perhaps the difference between belief in an Einsteinian universal intelligence and the anthropocentric personal God of man made religions is the only theological distinction worth debating. If there is a God (which I don’t believe) it is outside human contextual experience and utterly beyond comprehension. In my opinion, religion is the great parable of humanity’s adolescence. What really matters is how we treat each other and how well we live in the moment. The latter was championed by Siddartha Gautama the Buddha, who challenged people to find ultimate reality by direct experience. The former is the domain of Yeshua the Nazarene. His moral lessons as sage and teacher ratify the wisdom of an ethical life in the midst of uncertainty. You can see him looking back through the centuries of dusty relics and cloistered ignorance, all that inquiry steamrolled by dogma and vanity; the original source of those sayings and parables – one mind, one motive – urging us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, to love our neighbour. Not the son of God, not the Messiah, but something greater: a mortal human being who put his life on the line for his core belief that love can conquer all. I believe it’s something Christians should finally accept and atheists should gracefully acknowledge.

I think it appropriate that I end this essay with the words of Yeshua himself. Of all his parables the story of the Good Samaritan seems to best sum up his philosophy. Yeshua’s Ethics was revolutionary and quite distinct from earlier Greek thinking because it placed responsibility for their germination on us. Only since Kant and the Enlightenment have we looked at knowledge in such purely humanist terms. Before then it was considered to be given, objective and Realist. The basis of his thinking is best described as Non-Realism. As a moral philosophy it is not easy to live by because it requires sacrifices that would test the most ethical of people, and in the Good Samaritan our most basic instincts are challenged, asking us to rise above them in the cause of harmony. He does this cleverly by making a hated enemy the hero of the story – Galilean and Judean Jews despised the Samaritans as the lowest of the low, descendents of the Babylonians, idol worshippers who had perverted the faith. They hated them more than the Romans. Yeshua is talking to a group of religious scholars who ask ‘what IS a neighbour’. His parable forces these “righteous” men to trade places, to become the enemy. The answer is everyone … there is no enemy, but the inference is potent: if you cannot show compassion, then have you not become the enemy of your friend?

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?” He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”



Filed under Humanities, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Sciences

Abraham Lincoln and the Confederate War of Independence

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.  ~African Proverb


For years I’ve had an abiding interest in the underlying causes of that watershed event in U.S history, the American Civil War of 1861-1865 – also known as the War of the States or the War of the Rebellion. As a military study it is  no less fascinating: a grand sweeping saga of tragedy and triumph replete with the old world charms of another age. Yet it is the political intrigues, the motives and the unfolding clash of two New World cultural identities under one constitution that interest me most. In pursuit of a greater understanding of the events my habit is to search for truths often obfuscated by what the “Readers Digest” condensed version of official history invariably presents to the general public. Given this rule it would serve no purpose to be anything but totally objective if I am to arrive at honest conclusions. No expert or panel of scholars can ever provide a definitive analysis of such a complex event let alone a lay observer like  me. However an outsider’s impressions combined with an impartial approach to research may, hopefully, produce something a bit different; another way of looking at the subject. I have called this blog post, Abraham Lincoln and the “Confederate War of Independence” for a very specific reason that – if I haven’t bored you to death with Sainter speak – will soon become clear.   🙂



Slavery has long been considered the root cause of the American Civil War by mainstream historians and the popular press even when all other factors have been taken into account. In my opinion a closer examination from a different perspective suggests otherwise. Here it is not my intention to expound on the repugnance of slavery and its inherant racism – it is obvious to all of us in this day and age – but it does make sense to review past attitudes towards servitude as a whole, not only in the South but especially the North. To do this we need to explore a few harsh realities of 18th and 19th century America.

  Though the slave trade was officially abolished throughout the U.S in 1807, slaveholding still existed domestically here and there in some Northern states up until the 1840s, with New Jersey the last to effectively emancipate in 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed that year. It should ne noted that both whites and free negroes used slave labour. Further to this the slave trade historically was not an all black and white affair. White indentured “servants” – slavery by another name – provided the main source of labour for the growing colonies, continuing well into the 19th century.

Redemptioners, also known as unfree labour, were forced to pay their passage to the U.S in wageless labour on arrival. These “White Cargo” servants were in the main  of  English, Scottish, Irish and German stock under the age of 21.  Redemptioners accounted for an estimated 80% of the total British and continental emigration to America prior to 1776. Abuse of the system caused many to die before either their 7 year contract was up or debt was paid. Some believe that at this time the term Redneck – akin to Redshanks or Redlegs in the Caribbean – came into usage to mock Irish indentured servants as “niggers turned inside out” because they’d been in the sun too long.

For the ordinary man in the street or on the farms, North or South, servitude was part of the fabric of their world. Secular and religious expediency saw to it that the future of the American colonies would be built on back breaking labour under brutal conditions, for black or white. In fact up until the 19th century, slavery (from the word Slav) was widely believed to be sanctioned by God in accordance with Old Testament scripture. The general attitude to negro slavery was thus, in truth, ambivalent, with the ordinary working class Protestant poor more concerned with large scale Catholic immigration or eking out their own meagre living. If a minority of Northern lower class whites backed black freedom it was generally out of self interest given that slave labour took jobs from free labourers and indentured servants. Slavery as a growing moral issue thus fell to a mixed minority of social reformers and upper class business elites  – the Abolitionists – with  backing from the Quakers and Baptists. The Abolitionist’s cause was noble but their motives were less so – only 30 years prior they had been exploiting the slave trade for profit. As Pennsylvanian historian and author, Douglas Harper, points out:

Early 19th century New Englanders had real motives for forgetting their slave history, or, if they recalled it at all, for characterizing it as a brief period of mild servitude. This was partly a Puritan effort to absolve New England’s ancestors of their guilt. The cleansing of history had a racist motive as well, denying blacks — slave or free — a legitimate place in New England history. But most importantly, the deliberate creation of a “mythology of a free New England” was a crucial event in the history of sectional conflict in America. The North, and New England in particular, sought to demonize the South through its institution of slavery; they did this in part by burying their own histories as slave-owners and slave-importers.

He goes on to say…..

Having solved its slavery problem by a very gradual emancipation, and by aggressively proscribing the rights of its free black minority, the North was content. Its ships continued to carry slaves to Southern ports, and slave-grown cotton to Europe. The North reaped the profits of the Southern plantations, and the federal government collected the tariffs. Any further effort made in the North toward resolving the slavery issue generally went into the pipe-dream of colonization and to making sure Southern blacks stayed there, or at least did not come north.

Historian Edgar J. McManus, author of A History of Negro Slavery in New York also wrote of motivating factors behind Abolitionism:

  “Upper-class whites were motivated by idealism, and their attitude toward the Negro was philanthropic and paternalistic. Members of the upper class supported Negro charities and schools much more generously than they supported organizations assisting poor whites.” This idealism, however, “had no counterpart in the lower classes, among whom could be found neither sympathy for the Negro nor understanding of his problems. From its inception, slavery had been detrimental to the working class. On the one hand, the slave system excluded whites from jobs pre-empted by slaves; on the other, it often degraded them socially to the level of the slaves with whom they had to work and compete in earning a livelihood.”

The salient point from those quotes is the clear divide in interests between the upper and lower classes. Abolitionism as proposed by a Northern patrician class was actually a vested interest not as altruistic as has been portrayed. Slavery as a factor in the conflict is not in doubt but it was far from being the sole motivator. As is nearly always the case in historic upheavals, trade and profit was also a major factor. In making this case the following extracts prove the folly of simplying the complex for the sake of a comfortable national mythology. 

  • From an article in the Washington Times by the African American economics professor, Walter Williams of George Mason University:  Most historical accounts portray Southern blacks as anxiously awaiting President Abraham Lincoln’s “liberty-dispensing troops” marching south in the War Between the States. But there’s more to the story. Black Confederate military units, both as freemen and slaves, fought federal troops. Louisiana free blacks gave their reason for fighting in a letter written to New Orleans’ Daily Delta: “The free colored population love their home, their property, their own slaves and recognize no other country than Louisiana, and are ready to shed their blood for her defense. They have no sympathy for Abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plenty for Louisiana. They will fight for her in 1861 as they fought in 1814-15.” 
  • And this statement by Abraham Lincoln made in a speech in 1858 at Charleston Illinois while debating Senator Steven Douglas before a crowd of 15,000 people: “I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.”

 Cometh the Taxman 

Even from the time of Independence the U.S economies of both the North and South were becoming increasingly polarised, the North tagging onto the Industrial revolution while the South remaining largely agricultural. In the years leading up to the Civil War the main source of income for the federal government were taxes in the form of import tariffs – income tax did not exist. Import tariffs as an economic tool could be used in a variety of ways to benefit various sectors depending on tariff levels and who assumed the burden as a percentage of federal internal revenue. They also became an effective form of protectionism against cheaper products from overseas – mainly from Great Britain.

In the tariff of 1816, tariff structure changed from revenue producing to protectionist to assist the industrialization of the North. It was aimed at the lucrative Southern market. By 1832, and to protect Northern manufacturers from cheaper products being purchased by the South from overseas, the U.S  federal government had introduced a series of tariffs on many imported goods needed by the Southern business sector, effectively forcing the South to pay much higher prices while at the same time penalizing British industry. By this time the Southern states – 25% of the population – accounted for 87% of federal tariff revenue. Inevitably the tariff “war” came to a head with the introduction of the infamous Morrill tariff of 1861. Columnist for the Times Examiner Mike Scruggs explains the effects on the economy of the South:

U. S. tariff revenues already fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for 87% of the total. While the tariff protected Northern industrial interests, it raised the cost of living and commerce in the South substantially. It also reduced the trade value of their agricultural exports to Europe. These combined to place a severe economic hardship on many Southern states. Even more galling was that 80% or more of these tax revenues were expended on Northern public works and industrial subsidies, thus further enriching the North at the expense of the South. 
In the 1860 election, Lincoln, a former Whig and great admirer of Henry Clay,  campaigned for the high protective tariff provisions of the Morrill Tariff, which had also been incorporated into the Republican Party Platform. Lincoln further endorsed the Morrill Tariff and its concepts in his first inaugural speech and signed the Act into law a few days after taking office in March of 1861. Southern leaders had seen it coming. Southern protests had been of no avail. Now the South was inflamed with righteous indignation, and Southern leaders began to call for Secession.

On the other side of the Atlantic, British trade with the South was being seriously affected. Charles Dickens, then the publisher of a news magazine called The All Year Round, published the following perspective, further validating the view that the War Between the States was in reality a tax burden and profit issue:

If it be not slavery, where lies the partition of the interests that has led at last to actual separation of the Southern from the Northern States? …Every year, for some years back, this or that Southern state had declared that it would submit to this extortion only while it had not the strength for resistance. With the election of Lincoln and an exclusive Northern party taking over the federal government, the time for withdrawal had arrived … The conflict is between semi-independent communities [in which] every feeling and interest [in the South] calls for political partition, and every pocket interest [in the North] calls for union … So the case stands, and under all the passion of the parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this, as of many other evils… [T]he quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.

The “fiscal quarrel” would therefore appear to be the primary cause of the Civil War – the case that has often been put forward by the Southern side of the debate – except for one snag: the fact that the South’s economy was inexorably tied to slave labour, and that the States and Confederacy constitutions all included amendments invariably specifying that “…citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired”. 

Effectively, slavery and tariffs are bound together. The Southern States seceded to protect their standards of living (justified) but based on the institution of slavery (not justified). Unfair tariffs as an issue proved to be the greater of the two but it is fundamentally inseparable from slavery as the one issue. However, in my conclusion I put forward that there was something even more profound and elemental to the lives and sensibilities of the men and women of the Confederacy that ultimately caused them to take up arms, and that profound feeling is still evident today in the resentment the South has towards the North and the Federal Government: the sovereign right to self determination.


Up to this point I’ve said little about Abraham Lincoln and nothing at all about the military conflict. The war itself is a vast subject on it’s own and I don’t propose to get into it here, but Lincoln should be explored given his pivotal role before and during the war, but  without going into too much detail as so much has already been written about him.

Abraham Lincoln has been described as everything from the Great Emanicipator and the saviour of the Union to a dictator and a monster. I don’t subscribe to such extreme views of the man either way. Lincoln was a politician first and foremost who typically mixed lies with the truth to achieve a political end –  there’s never been a politician born who wasn’t hypocritical at some time in his or her career.

Lincoln was a man of his time: patriarchal, parochial, pragmatic. Convinced of the white man’s supremacy. He had no love of people of colour, believing they were morally and intellectually inferior to the white race. Nevertheless this didn’t stop him from taking up the abolitionist cause  – a fair contradiction it would seem. These character traits say plenty about the man and will always be of historical interest, but they aren’t all that relevant when asking the fundamental question of the Civil War: was the war justified.

 I believe that Lincoln was right insofar as wanting to preserve the Union for unity’s sake and the dream of a prosperous future. I believe such a vision is vindicated by the greatness of the United States today. But I do not believe his prosecution of the war was justified. In fact it could have been avoided all together by either letting the Confederate States go or reaching a fair and equitable economic compromise. On the issue of slavery, Lincoln could have waited until the South abolished it of its own free will. Lincoln may have preserved the Union in a political and geographical sense but from my perspective he went about it the wrong way – parochially advantaging the North to satisfy powerful business interests and Republican Party economic ideals to the ultimate detriment of the South. Lincoln became a captive of ulterior motives that had nothing to do with the emancipation of slaves and everything to do with generating national wealth via the Industrial North.

I am of the view that political pressures from all sides affected his judgement, leading to a war that cost the lives of 620,000 soldiers and countless Southern civilians. Time was what Lincoln had on his side and he didn’t use it. A more equitable tariff arrangement was within his power but he didn’t explore it. Lincoln’s gravest mistake was not putting the whole of the country’s welfare first – rather, he saw the nation’s interests through the myopic prism of Northern industrialisation, believing it to be the appropriate avenue to future strength and prosperity. This by extension meant favouring Northern interests. Not a monster, nor an emancipator, but a fatally flawed politician who’s legacy in the pantheon of American presidents has been air brushed and manicured for the sake of establishing a mainstream, populist mythology. 

 There is another matter that must be taken into account: the United States Constitution – whether the U.S was (and still is) a consolidated and permanent federation or a league of sovereign states who’s own constitutions can legally nullify federal statutes. Did the South legally or illegally secede? Was it a revolution? I wonder, does it really matter? Should the complex world of constitutional legalities take precedence over the spirit of freedom that underpins the constitution?  What happens to the unalienable right to self determination as the core principle of liberty? Perhaps the greatest loser of the war was liberty itself.


 As I write this conclusion a rhetorical question keeps going through my mind: what is freedom. Is freedom the right to liberate a people by subjugating an entire population? Is freedom the right to enslave a people while bemoaning the loss of one’s own freedom? Is it right to disregard one freedom in the pursuit of another kind of freedom? It seems to me that liberty as envisioned by the American founding fathers is immutable; a right that is beyond negotiation or convenient interpretation. If freedom is a person’s birthright then surely it is the birthright of a people. Liberty is explicitly the unalienable right to self determination; to find one’s own way in the world in search of a more enlightened, just, equitable society – the very thing that the colonies fought for during the American Revolution.

  The self evident proof of Liberty should not be confused with causes and motives in the name of freedom. If Liberty is reduced to a political device then the case can be made that Adolph Hitler was justified in annexing Czechoslovakia because a small minority of Germans lived under Czech rule. We must not accept that liberty is good for one but not the other. Just as servitude in the North was wrong, and slavery in the South was wrong, so too was the obstruction of the South’s right to secede. Liberty must be perpetual, fixed, sancrosanct. As a duty we should resolve never to pevert it. If we allow the exploitation of Liberty to accomodate partisan, political ideology then we stand for nothing. And no one is free. No one is free because we remain chained to the same arrogance of “I know what is best for you” that is at the very root of all the mistakes that have gone before and are destined to be made forever.

 Elsewhere in my blog I have referred to the self righteous “moral superiority” of elite minority views that insist on what is best for us; those who believe that “my way is the right way”. No matter the assumed righteousness of the cause, even with the benefit of hindsight, we cannot allow one side to ride roughshod over the other side. Consensus comes not from the intransigence of two polarized opposites but from the middleground working outward in search of commonalities. Without the one taking the other by the hand then liberty loses and self righteousness wins. Consider that most quintessential of Southerners, Robert E. Lee. General Lee, who openly and publicly stated that he detested slavery as  a “moral evil”, nevertheless  fought with great distinction on the side of the South. Why? Because he refused to “raise a hand against my family” who’s sovereign right to self determination was being taken away.

Time is not of the essence when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at stake. By 1890, slavery and indentured unfree labour had been abolished throughout the Americas: Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, West Indies, Cuba…everywhere. It was done peacefully, and there was no segregation because of bitter resentment over a civil war. This would have been the fate of the South too. 

While researching I luckily stumbled across a site with the first pages of the reminiscences of a Confederate officer. Written in 1903 by Major-General John B. Gordon, it is refreshing for it’s measured fairness and lack of bitterness. Written in the beautiful language of the old South it conveys a highly pertinent message for the reader to reflect on. I will end this rather long blog essay with an extract. Thankyou for reading my post. – Wayne 

 The causes of the war will be found at the foundation of our political fabric, in our complex organism, in the fundamental law, in the Constitution itself, in the conflicting constructions which it invited, and in the institution of slavery which it recognized and was intended to protect. If asked what was the real issue involved in our unparalleled conflict, the average American citizen will reply, “The negro”; and it is fair to say that had there been no slavery there would have been no war. But there would have been no slavery if the South’s protests could have availed when it was first introduced; and now that it is gone, although its sudden and violent abolition entailed upon the South directly and incidentally a series of woes which no pen can describe, yet it is true that in no section would its reestablishment be more strongly and universally resisted. The South steadfastly maintains that responsibility for the presence of this political Pandora’s box in this Western world cannot be laid at her door….

 …slavery was far from being the sole cause of the prolonged conflict. Neither its destruction on the one hand, nor its defence on the other, was the energizing force that held the contending armies to four years of bloody work. I apprehend that if all living Union soldiers were summoned to the witness stand, every one of them would testify that it was the preservation of the American Union and not the destruction of Southern slavery that induced him to volunteer at the call of his country. As for the South, it is enough to say that perhaps eighty per cent. of her armies were neither slave-holders, nor had the remotest interest in the institution. No other proof, however, is needed than the undeniable fact that at any period of the war from its beginning to near its close the South could have saved slavery by simply laying down its arms and returning to the Union.

 During the entire life of the Republic the respective rights and powers of the States and general government had furnished a question for endless controversy. In process of time this controversy assumed a somewhat sectional phase. The dominating thought of the North and of the South may be summarized in a few sentences.

 The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; that the original States were not the creatures but the creators of the Union; that these States had gained their independence, their freedom, and their sovereignty from the mother country, and had not surrendered these on entering the Union; that by the express terms of the Constitution all rights and powers not delegated were reserved to the States; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State.

 The North, on the other hand, maintained with the utmost confidence in the correctness of her position that the Union formed under the Constitution was intended to be perpetual; that sovereignty was a unit and could not be divided; that whether or not there was any express power granted in the Constitution for invading a State, the right of self-preservation was inherent in all governments; that the life of the Union was essential to the life of liberty; or, in the words of Webster, “liberty and union are one and inseparable.”

 To the charge of the North that secession was rebellion and treason, the South replied that the epithets of rebel and traitor did not deter her from the assertion of her independence, since these same epithets had been familiar to the ears of Washington and Hancock and Adams and Light Horse Harry Lee. In vindication of her right to secede, she appealed to the essential doctrine, “the right to govern rests on the consent of the governed,” and to the right of independent action as among those reserved by the States.

 There were those, a few years ago, who were especially devoted to the somewhat stereotyped phrase that in our Civil War one side (meaning the North) “was wholly and eternally right,” while the other side (meaning the South) “was wholly and eternally wrong.” I might cite those on the Southern side of the great controversy, equally sincere and fully as able, who would have been glad to persuade posterity that the North was “wholly and eternally wrong”; that her people waged war upon sister States who sought peacefully to set up a homogeneous government, and meditated no wrong or warfare upon the remaining sister States. These Southern leaders steadfastly maintained that the Southern people, in the exercise of the freedom and sovereign rights purchased by Revolutionary blood, were asserting a second independence according to the teachings and example of their fathers.

 But what good is to come to the country from partisan utterances on either side? My own well-considered and long-entertained opinion, my settled and profound conviction, the correctness of which the future will vindicate, is this: that the one thing which is “wholly and eternally wrong” is the effort of so-called statesmen to inject one-sided and jaundiced sentiments into the youth of the country in either section. Such sentiments are neither consistent with the truth of history, nor conducive to the future welfare and unity of the Republic. The assumption on either side of all the righteousness and all the truth would produce a belittling arrogance, and an offensive intolerance of the opposing section; or, if either section could be persuaded that it was “wholly and eternally wrong,” it would inevitably destroy the self-respect and manhood of its people.

 Truth, justice, and patriotism unite in proclaiming that both sides fought and suffered for liberty as bequeathed by the Fathers–the one for liberty in the union of the States, the other for liberty in the independence of the States.

 While the object of these papers is to record my personal reminiscences and to perpetuate incidents illustrative of the character of the American soldier, whether he fought on the one side or the other, I am also moved to write by what I conceive to be a still higher aim; and that is to point out, if I can, the common ground on which all may stand; where justification of one section does not require or imply condemnation of the other–the broad, high, sunlit middle ground where fact meets fact, argument confronts argument, and truth is balanced against truth.



July 6, 2011 · 11:10 pm

Atheism, Human Nature, and The Death of Freud

SINCE THE ENLIGHTENMENT the towering works of three men in particular have stood as portals to the mindscape that is current scientific understanding: I speak of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.  Two of them were avowed Atheists, and Einstein was at best a Deist who scorned organised religion. An interesting symmetry of completeness is apparent when you compare their disciplines:  Darwin dealt with the outer world, Freud the inner world, and Einstein beyond the world.

Of the three men only Freud independently created a distinct branch of science in Psychoanalysis, and only Freud attempted a universal explanation – Weltanschauung in German – of the nature of man.  Because of this, and for other reasons that I hope to make clear shortly, I contend that he was the greater scientist of the three.  For me, Freud’s contributions to psychology and behaviouralism are of such scope that they form nothing less than a blueprint of hope for the future of mankind.  – A big statement? Isn’t he that dirty old man with the genitals fixation? Dismissing women as victims of penis envy and always chomping on a cigar that comedian George Carlin once laughed at as being a “big brown dick?”

When I was about 16 yo I attempted to read Freud’s seminal book ” The Interpretation of Dreams” from cover to cover. I very quickly realized – from the first page of the preface actually – that I wasn’t reading “The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.”  It’s complexity was astounding.  From then on I was determined to come to grips with Freudian thinking.  At that age you tend to think you know all the answers but of course you’re only at the starting line of personal knowledge; old ideas fall by the wayside as you take new ones on board, usually reflecting the zeitgeist of the day.  However, one idea I had back then I still hold to this day.

I believe that the boogeyman of intolerance with regard to race, creed, class and social status, and fear of change, is in fact inherited ancestral conditioning imposed on us by the very first tribe, the biological family unit. Though these prehistoric predilections once had a practical use, namely survival, they are now unconscious biases projected into “reality.”   In this explanation I include the origins of evil spirits,  gods and religion.

In time I was amazed to discover that Freud had long held similar views, though obviously his observations were vastly greater, deeper, and immeasurably more developed than my stumbling amateur ideas. Nevertheless I felt like i’d found a home base.  It was like finding daddy.

It’s quite plain that a large proportion of life’s conflicts has it’s origin within the recesses of the psyche.  These conflicts come from an internal unconscious battle between basic instinctual urges/needs, and the need to repress, sublimate or fulfill  them in order for people and society to function effectively – psychological balance can only be achieved by the presence of conscience, a tool we learn during early childhood. Freud concluded that this battle or conflict is unavoidable and can never be completely resolved, therefore suffering is to be considered an inevitable part of the human condition. I think we all know this intuitively despite our best efforts to bring about change for the better. 

The “battle” gives rise to innumerable externalizations across the full spectrum of human behaviour: political, social, cultural, and individual. It is expressed in art and mythology as well as religion – “original sin” is one such intuitive glimpse, albeit expressed as religious myth. The crunch time is during one’s infancy up to around 5 years of age.

One of the most persistent of all these conflict-manifestations is religion. Personally I have always considered religious faith to be an emotional impulse driven by a deep seated need for a protective overlord or father figure who rewards, punishes and saves from fear and death, however it is not necessarily a product of irrational thinking as some would suggest. Some of the greatest rational minds in history have been religiously devout. It is though a psychological safety net for those in need. Nor do I believe for a minute that intelligent, well educated people literally believe all the stories of the Bible given it’s obvious flaws and contradictions, not forgetting recent archaeological findings, eg  scientific proof that the Exodus didn’t happen.

My thinking on the religious impulse is rooted in Freudian analysis so I think the best way of explaining it is to quote Freud himself  –

“One can only understand the remarkable combination of teaching, consolation and precept in religion if one subjects it to genetic analysis. We may begin with the most remarkable item of the three, the teaching about the origin of the universe, for why should a cosmogony be a regular element of religious systems? The doctrine is that the universe was created by a being similar to man, but greater in every respect, in power, wisdom and strength of passion, in fact by an idealised superman.  It is interesting to notice that this creator of the universe is always a single god, even when many gods are believed in. Equally interesting is the fact that the creator is nearly always a male, although there is no lack of female deities, and many mythologies make the creation of the world begin precisely with a male god triumphing over a female goddess, who is degraded into a monster. This raises the most fascinating minor problems, but we must hurry on. The rest of our enquiry is made easy because this God-Creator is openly called Father. Psycho-analysis concludes that he really is the father, clothed in the grandeur in which he once appeared to the small child. The religious man’s picture of the creation of the universe is the same as his picture of his own creation. If this is so, then it is easy to understand how it is that the comforting promises of protection and the severe ethical commands are found together with the cosmogony. For the same individual to whom the child owes its own existence, the father (or, more correctly, the parental function which is composed of the father and the mother), has protected and watched over the weak and helpless child, exposed as it is to all the dangers which threaten in the external world; in its father’s care it has felt itself safe. Even the grown man, though he may know that he possesses greater strength, and though he has greater insight into the dangers of life, rightly feels that fundamentally he is just as helpless and unprotected as he was in childhood and that in relation to the external world he is still a child. Even now, therefore, he cannot give up the protection which he has enjoyed as a child. But he has long ago realised that his father is a being with strictly limited powers and by no means endowed with every desirable attribute. He therefore looks back to the memory-image of the overrated father of his childhood, exalts it into a Deity, and brings it into the present and into reality. The emotional strength of this memory-image and the lasting nature of his need for protection are the two supports of his belief in God.”

THE ABOVE excerpt taken from a Freud lecture illuminates one of the many unconscious sublimations that make up human consciousness.  Intolerance towards others of differing race, heritage or culture is another example of the inner child’s need for security in the comfort of familiarity. The child knows only that it needs to identify with it’s immediate surroundings and feel protected by them. Anything out of the norm constitutes a threat to varying degrees. Everybody is afflicted by this tribalist impulse. We are prejudiced by nature, and only lessons learned in society and the strength of our conscience corrects this to a socially acceptable degree. So often that degree isn’t acceptable.

So to the death of Sigmund Freud. Hopefully the following reflections will put this blog into sharper focus. Firstly though it needs to be understood that Freud saw the human dilemma in fatalistic terms – consciousness being subject to forces largely determined by the unconscious. However, he was at heart a life affirmer. In fact his whole career in neurology and psychology is testimony to that. He believed that humanity could rise above it’s problems if it understood the nature of those problems.

 Complex issues can sometimes best be defined in simple terms, like headlines in a newspaper.  Behind the authority and enormous depth of Freud’s life work lay three simple propositions he was putting to mankind:  #1 Know who you are. #2 Face up to your fears, and #3 Overcome your  inner child and grow up. This third proposition Freud saw as crucial to the mental  health of the world, vital in securing a progressive future free of childish insecurities, irrational fears, and baseless superstitions.

In 1939 Sigmund Freud was facing an ignominious death. In the last year of his life his mouth/jaw cancer, despite 30 operations, had become incurable. His daily routine now included round the clock morphine injections and cleaning the huge prosthesis that fitted inside his mouth. The pain was extreme and yet it hardly slowed down his prodigious work output. He was determined to fine tune his legacy for the benefit of us all. His decision to leave Vienna for London in 1938 was expedited by a lovely bunch called the Nazis who’s hatred of Freud was not only due to his jewishness but of course his theories expounding on sexuality and the aggression impulse of the unconscious. These ideas didn’t exactly fit in with the image the Nazi regime had of it’s master race, nor was it what they wanted the people even thinking about. 

Freud had often warned about the masses’ natural leaning towards authoritarianism. A strong leader. A demi god. A father figure to keep us safe! The Nazis in fact were living proof of everything he warned about, particularly the aggression impulse. At the station to board the Orient Express  he was forced to sign a document asserting that he had been treated by the authorities, especially the Gestapo, “with all the respect and consideration due to my scientific reputation, that I could live and work in full freedom”. He signed, adding, “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”  Fortunately the sarcasm was not picked up by the morons that surrounded this wizened “jew boy” from Vienna. Vienna’s official Nazi organ, the Voelkischer Beobachter, in reporting  Freud’s departure did not mention his name but referred to the Freudian psychoanalytic school as a “pornographic Jewish specialty.”

Freud was resigned to his death but of course he was as human as the rest of us: he was frightened of the pain and the uncertainty that lay before him, already being well aware of his body shrivelling before him. At least he had the satisfaction of finally being lauded for his achievements as the London establishment fussed over him. Finally, when the pain became too great for him to work he asked his doctor to administer a lethal injection of Morphine. In his own words:  “It is only torture now, and it has no longer any sense.”

His death, though not heroic, has a Socratic feel about it. He faced the end true to his convictions, accepting that all that consciousness of his would soon be no more. I cannot help but feel that Freud was something of a secular prophet. He laid before us a map of the mind and gave us the tools to advance the human race in harmony despite the inner disharmony. His work must also be seen as a sharp warning to us all about the human prediliction for fascism and fundamentalism.

On the 3rd of September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Three weeks later on the 23rd of September Sigmund Freud died. Then. After decades of ridicule for his controversial theories – throughout his life right up to the present day – leading neurologists in 2002 released findings that they had begun physically detecting areas of the brain that corresponded with Freud’s original map of the mind. Accordingly  they began a new branch of science: Neuropsychoanalysis. It has taken 80 years but perhaps finally his ideas will be vindicated.


April 1, 2010 · 2:04 am

Letters of the Ancient Romans

We all share an appreciation of what is good in both the very old and very new.

These days we worship at the temple of the techno-geek god who rewards us with an endless smorgasboard of new and improved whiz bang toys – the soft and the hard. With this comes the promise of convenience- a reduction in time wastage thereby giving us more leisure time, so we are told…Ironic considering  now we not only work more hours per week but even our leisure time is owned by these toys. It seems our age is increasingly becoming articulated by information overload as we take the many tantalizing turn offs along the super highway. As enriching as it is, it also has it’s drawbacks, but it is our thing in the 21st century.

On the other hand we are fascinated by the lives and technology of antiquity and it’s inherent simplicity, it’s uncomplicated nature. Perhaps what also holds our fascination is the intuitive glimpse it provides, a deep recognition of what we are losing in our own time: a *long hand* way of living as opposed to our twitterized, shorthand cyberworld; supersized, and with instant everything. At a root level perhaps there’s a little bit of Amish in all of us; a yearning for a simpler, closer knit community of people we actually know rather than a thousand and one aquaintances we only think we know. How can we relate to that which we don’t understand?

In my opinion, the technology of any era defines the sociology of the day. The two go hand in hand – contemporaries – and reflect eachother. But even so, technology doesn’t change the psychology of people. We are what we are because of our humanness. I think this is well illustrated by the personal epistles of the ancient Romans. The letters show how little difference there is between peoples, no matter what time in history we belong to. Their virtues and vices, noble endeavours and petty jealousies are our own. And regrettably some of their more dignified qualities are less and less our own. By and large though it is the customs and culture of the ancient worlds that differentiate us.

While reading these ancient Roman letters I was immediately struck by their salutations and closes. With a few exceptions the salutations were formal, lengthy affairs while the closes ended with just one word, “Farewell.” Today we’d probably begin a letter with…”Dear Agnus, how are you?” Compare this with an opening from the 5th century Egyptian Claudius Terentianus, a soldier in the Roman legion:

 “Claudius Terentianus to Claudius Tiberianusl, his lord and dearest father, very many greetings. Before all else, I pray that you be strong and cheerful and well, together with our entire family, and I am pleased whenever I have news from you.”

With time to pause and think in a less complex world there is a deliberate consideration in their words that have a distinct charm all their own…and yet that practical Roman soul still show’s itself with that one stoical word at the end: “Farewell.” Roman heads are always held high in their letters.

The following is a letter from Tabetheus to her brother Claudius Tiberianus, in which our 21st century angst can be seen in hers even though the letter was written around 1,600 years ago. Different civilizations but same concerns.

“Tabetheus to Claudius Tiberianus, her brother, very many greetings. Before all else I pray for your health and I make obeisance for you in the presence of the lord Souchos. I was happy that you sent my son in order that I might greet him. But you have not . . . . For Saturnilus has not found out what I did for him. I bought three minai of linen and I sent them. Do not blame me if you did not deliver them to Metellus the soldier. I want you to write concerning a friend; deliver them to him immediately. I was much annoyed. I was able to send you the robe this year; I did not send it last year(?), but I sent and sold them to Kabin the attendant. When I went down from our home at Tonis and came to Saturnilus’s lodging and saw our things – may the evil eye not touch them, I did not approve that he, my son, should trust Menas. And after he had killed him, he told me not to be distressed; I told Saturnilus that I was sleepless from worry. Since you caused me damage to the extent of twelve hundred drachmai, let them go to my son’s ransom. And I went down to Alexandria with my son. For this reason a madness took hold of him, because he did not approve that he [i.e. Menas] and his family should consume the rations. If god wills and you receive the rations that I put up for you, do not you also . . . them. Concerning last year’s rations, I did not prepare them; . . . prepared them last year. I sent them from Alexandria as late as the second shipment upstream. And he became ill. I was tortured with the grief that he caused me, but I was utterly happy that he remained alive. I have insistently urged him, “Take a taste of Alexandria,” and he says to me, “I don’t want to.” I thank the gods that he is like you; no one can mock him. Salute all your people, each by name. How much damage have I incurred this past year on account of Saturnilus! Neither was he(?) liable for it nor was I, but I have incurred damage on every side. Farewell.”

We flatter ourselves about the advance of our species but it’s really our technology that progresses. People remain people throughout the timeline of history, regardless of the state of their civilizations. The only true differences between now and then are values and the speed of life. Here are a couple of casual letters fired off by Pliny the Younger in the 1st century AD of a still pagan Rome.

How is Comum looking, your darling spot and mine? And that most charming villa of yours, what of it, and its portico where it is always spring, its shady clumps of plane trees, its fresh crystal canal, and the lake below that gives such a charming view? How is the exercise ground, so soft yet firm to the foot; how goes the bath that gets the sun’s rays so plentifully as he journeys round it? What too of the big banqueting halls and the little rooms just for a few, and the retiring rooms for night and day? Have they full possession of you, and do they share your company in turn? or are you, as usual, continually being called away to attend to private family business? You are indeed a lucky man if you can spend all your leisure there; if you cannot, your case is that of most of us. But really it is time that you passed on your unimportant and petty duties for others to look after, and buried yourself among your books in that secluded yet beautiful retreat. Make this at once the business and the leisure of your life, your occupation and your rest; let your waking hours be spent among your books, and your hours of sleep as well. Mould something, hammer out something that shall be known as yours for all time. Your other property will find a succession of heirs when you are gone; what I speak of will continue yours for ever — if once it begins to be. I know the capacity and inventive wit that I am spurring on. You have only to think of yourself as the able man others will think you when you have realised your ability. Farewell.”

And the other side of Pliny:

” To Septicius Clarus.
What a fellow you are! You promise to come to dinner and then fail to turn up! Well, here is my magisterial sentence upon you. You must pay the money I am out of pocket to the last farthing, and you will find the sum no small one. I had provided for each guest one lettuce, three snails, two eggs, spelt mixed with honey and snow (you will please reckon up the cost of the latter as among the costly of all, since it melts away in the dish), olives from Baetica, cucumbers, onions, and a thousand other equally expensive dainties. You would have listened to a comedian, or a reciter, or a harp-player, or perhaps to all, as I am such a lavish host. But you preferred to dine elsewhere, — where I know not — off oysters, sow’s matrices, sea-urchins, and to watch Spanish dancing girls! You will be paid out for it, though how I decline to say. You have done violence to yourself. You have grudged, possibly yourself, but certainly me, a fine treat. Yes, yourself! For how we should have enjoyed ourselves, how we should have laughed together, how we should have applied ourselves! You can dine at many houses in better style than at mine, but nowhere will you have a better time, or such a simple and free and easy entertainment. In short, give me a trial, and if afterwards you do not prefer to excuse yourself to others rather than to me, why then I give you leave to decline my invitations always. Farewell.”

I’ll end the letters with this simple note from Aline to her husband (she calls him “brother”) who has gone off to fight in a Roman civil war:

“Aline to Apollonios her brother greetings. I am terribly anxious about you because of what they say about what is happening, and because of your sudden departure. I take no pleasure in food or drink, but stay awake continually night and day with worry, your safety. Only my father’s care revives me, and I hope to see you safe, I would have lain without food New Year’s Day, had my father not come and forced me to eat. I beg you to keep yourself safe, and not go into danger without a guard. Do the same as the strategos here, who puts the burden on his officers…”

The rest of the letter is fragmentary. No doubt it would have ended with one word. Farewell.

Empathy is the best word to describe what I feel; a recognition of myself in the letters. The times and social customs, though of great interest, are secondary to an affinity with these people who lived thousands of years before us. The papyrus that transports their world through time to us is also a bridge. And their words flag to us what must not be forsaken – the importance of truly touching one another – even as it is ironically being lost as our global village shrinks too fast for us. In the rush for global unity and oneness, perhaps true community is the thing that will suffer most.

Some useful links: Women’s Letters From Ancient Egypt 300BC-800AD Roman Letters- History From A Personal Viewpoint Letters of Pliny the Younger Claudius Tiberianus Letters by Pliny (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) The VRoma Project

Leave a comment

September 21, 2009 · 12:18 am