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Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Peacetime President

I remember George Bush frequently referring to himself as a wartime president. The point being that he had hard decisions to make. He was a serious president. He could not be held accountable for what he did. He was above it all; he was a wartime president. I understand that we have never voted a president out of office with soldiers in a combat zone. Although, LBJ would have been the first had he run. When Plutarch chose to write about a great Roman leader he identified Numa Pompilius. Of him, Plutarch wrote:
[The] temple at Rome has two gates, which they call the gates of war, because they stand open in the time of war, and shut in the times of peace; of which latter there was very seldom a . . . But, during the reign of Numa, those gates were never seen open a single day, but continued constantly shut for a space of forty-three years together; such an entire and universal cessation of war existed. For not only had the people of Rome itself been softened and charmed into a peaceful temper by the just and mild rule of a pacific prince, but even the neighbouring cities . . . began to experience a change of feeling, and partook in the general longing for the sweets of peace and order, and for life employed in the quiet tillage of soil, bringing up of children, and worship of the gods.
I love the phrase pacific prince and will try to remember it for a brief some time.

My question: Who is our pacific prince? Who is the greatest American peacetime president, and behind how many wartime presidents does he rank? And, I guess, why is this so?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arizona's Monument Garden

Arizona's Wesley Bolin Plaza features a monument garden that I think is pretty impressive. I had the opportunity to walk through it today and was reminded of just how diverse the objects of memorial are. Sure, we have monuments to wars, but there is also a monument to police dogs that died in service. And there is the pictured monument to those who died in the Armenian genocide and another one to the conservation corps that did so much work during the Great Depression. There is plenty of controversy: memorials to confederate soldiers, to Spanish missionaries, and a 9-11 memorial that gives more notice to dissenting voices than some would prefer. There is also a Ten Commandments Memorial.

How are we Arizonas doing at living up to the principles found in these commandments that are allegedly foundational to our society. The first four deal with respecting and honoring God. We have agreed not to compell participation in a religion, or even to directly support any religion. But there are other ways to honor God. In fact, the prophet Micah suggests that God doesn't care about "com[ing] before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old, . . . with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil [or even] offer[ing] my firstborn for my transgression." Rather, God "has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." To my knowledge there is no First Amendment prohibition against loving mercy or acting justly. Do we do that here? I suppose we do okay on the behavioral commandments.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Immaculate Fertilization?

I believe the virgin birth stories in Matthew and Luke are intended to demonstrate the special character of Jesus. I do not believe that God provided the sperm that fertilized the egg in Mary's womb. I have often heard that when Matthew writes, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”)," he mistranslates the word 'alma' from Isaiah 7:14 because he used the Greek Septuagint as his source. According to someone on the internet, that is ridiculous because the Septuagint available to Matthew only included the Torah. The Septuagint we talk about today has the whole Hebrew Testament, but it was written by Christians much later. Also, I've read other places that alma refers to an unmarried young woman--which frankly, in ancient civilization seems to me to be pretty synonymous with physical virgin given how young people married. So, I don't know.

Anyway, from Plutarch's biography of Numa Pompilius we have Numa's response to those who would want him to be king. He says, "Yet Romulus had the advantage to be thought divinely born and miraculously preserved and nurtured. My birth was mortal; I was reared and instructed by men that are known to you." At some point I'll start thinking about Numa, but note that Romulus was "divinely" born. For me, the fact that another first century biographer notes that a tremendously important, foundational figure is divinely born bolsters my notion that Luke and Matthew were making it clear to the readers that Jesus was every bit as much an ordained leader of the world as these Romans. I'm not sure what the claim means to those who believe that God literally impregnated Mary.

Is it impolite to suggest God provided sperm to fertilize the egg in Mary's womb? First, I don't see why that would be the case. If you believe in literal virgin birth then at some point Jesus has to have human physiology, and it seems conception would be a natural place for that to take place. Second, if you think that is impolite, consider this: Could a human man fertilize an egg to grow in God's womb? Plutarch didn't address the conception part of this question, but seemed to think it is ridiculous to think gods could only have sex with mortal women:
And this in particular gave occasion to the story about the goddess, namely, that Numa did not retire from human society out of any melancholy or disorder of mind, but because he had tasted the joys of more elevated intercourse, and, admitted to celestial wedlock in the love and converse of the goddess Egeria, had attained to blessedness, and to a divine wisdom. . . . Though, indeed, the wise Egyptians do not plausibly make the distinction, that it may be possible for a divine spirit so to apply itself to the nature of a woman, as to imbreed in her the first beginnings of generation, while on the other side they conclude it impossible for the male kind to have any intercourse or mixture by the body with any divinity, not considering, however, that what takes place on the one side must also take place on the other; intermixture, by force of terms, is reciprocal.
Hence, the question: Is immaculate fertilization possible?

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day Reminds Me

Legend has it that Claudius II hoped to keep young men of his day single because they would make better soldiers that way. Valentine was put to death when found performing secret marriages.

Read more: Valentine's Day History

Reminds me of another story. Several years ago Chalice Christian Church resettled a man named Kambiz Golsham from Iran. Kambiz was Bahai. A part of the persecution he endured was that his marriage in the Bahai church was not recognized by the state. The totalitarian regime in Iran went so far as to arrest clergy who performed the ceremonies for facilitating prostitution, but it did not recognize the Bahai marriages.

Reminds me of something else. There are several gay couples who attend Chalice, which is located in the United States of America. The government here rejects their marriages, like the Iranian government rejected Kambiz's and Claudius II rejected young Romans'. When I log their donations to Chalice, I must keep them separated because the couples can't file joint returns. So, once a week I am reminded that my country continues senslessly discriminate against my friends and fellow Christians. I wonder how often they are reminded of that?

P.S. thanks to Jimmy Gawne for reminding me of the legend of St. Valentine in his FB Status.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

For Kate

Lycurgus set the number of Senators at 28. In discussing the reasoning behind the number Plutarch writes:
As for the determinate number of twenty-eight, Aristotle states, that it so fell out because two of the original associates, for want of courage, fell off from the enterprise; but Sphaerus assures us that there were but twenty-eight of the confederates at first; perhaps there is some mystery in the number, which consists of seven multiplied by four, and is the first of perfect numbers after six, being, as that is, equal to all its parts.
I have asked Kate what 6, 28 and 496 have in common. This will serve as her clue if she takes me up on my suggestion to read my blog. (Anything to drive up traffic.)