Clearly Conspiracy

What an odd place to find ourselves in.  Some evangelical Christians, who used to be guardians of decency and moral human behavior, now have to have their clergy explain to them why Trump wasn’t the messiah he’d been touted as for the last four years.  A piece in the Los Angeles Times recently described the struggles of one such minister with his congregation that had fully bought into the conspiracy theories Trump promulgated in order to mask his own lack of care for his country and its citizens.  Conspiracy theories have become big business in academia with faculty from many departments exploring them.  I haven’t seen much in the way of religion departments participating in the discussion, but I think they should.  Why?  Religions are all about getting people to believe and act in prescribed ways.

Image credit: Johann Lund, Wikimedia Commons

Not that religions alone can explain this.  Psychologists and sociologists must have some important insights as well.  I used to tell my students that not all religions are about beliefs.  Some have to do with behaviors—acting in a certain way, regardless of belief, is to be part of it.  Certainly that explains part of the membership in the cult of Trump.  Many who follow it must know in their consciences that a man who defrauds the government he “governs,” who actively womanizes, and who displays overt racism can’t be the ideal evangelical.  Ah, but the conspiracy theories explain it!  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, right?  You can sure get away with a lot that way.

Religions have a lot to teach us about both strange behaviors and strange actions.  Many years ago someone pointed out to me as I was enumerating what I considered odd beliefs of a New Religious Movement just how odd Christianity looks from the outside.  When I stopped to think about it, this made sense.  The unconventional aspects of the faith had become naturalized because I’d been taught all my life that they were true—unlike all other religious beliefs.  Not only that, but I had been taught that accepting them without question was the only way to avoid Hell.  Over the years the strangeness became normal.  Trump and his conspiracy theories had their way smoothed by an evangelical narrative of unquestioning belief instead of an examined faith.  Now many ministers, awaking sober, are having to try to convince their flocks that they’d accepted lies for truths.  It’s an uphill battle, unfortunately.  Religions, after all, have been about getting followers to believe without questioning, or, apparently, considering the source.


Turin Turnabout

Turn about, they say, is fair play.  Turin, on the other hand, is a city in Italy.  Its claim to fame is a shroud housed there that is believed by many to be Jesus’ burial cloth.  Tests have been done over the years, most authoritatively a carbon-dating done by three independent laboratories, with the results suggesting a medieval origin to the cloth itself.  In case your chronology is a little hazy, the medieval period comes centuries after the time Jesus lived.  Now, some thirty years after the definitive study, some scientists are questioning the results.  They’re being skeptical of the skeptics.  Turn about.  According to a story in The Catholic Register, a Freedom of Information Act request, honored only by one of the three labs (the one at Oxford University) has revealed that the bits of the shroud subjected to analysis were the worst possible parts of the cloth to test.  Herein lies the rub: scientists like to poke holes in credulousness—what do you do when your science is itself the subject of skepticism?

The Shroud of Turin, like Donald Trump, is one of those utterly arcane artifacts that unites Catholics and Evangelicals.  When I was growing up these two groups were the cats and dogs of the theological world.  They united under the umbrella of conservative social causes during the Bush years and have been sleeping together ever since (while both convinced that the other is going straight to Hell when it’s all over).  You see, the Shroud is a Catholic possession and allegedly bears wounds that support the Catholic narrative.  (The Vatican has never declared it an authentic relic, however.)  Evangelicals see it as proof positive that Jesus was resurrected, and so they tend to go further than the Catholics in citing it as proof.  We live in odd times when believers successfully out-skeptic the skeptics.

Since the other two laboratories (the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) haven’t released the raw data, the grounds for a conspiracy theory grow fertile.  When information is kept secret, that’s a natural enough response.  The conspiracy-prone mind asks why the data isn’t being made public.  They do have a point.  The claims of religion are often hoisted on the petard of “no evidence” and when evidence (such as the lab results) exists but isn’t shown, that suggests somebody’s hiding something.  I have no vested interest in the authenticity of the shroud, but we all should have such an interest in getting at the truth.  The turnabout in this case, however, was completely unexpected.


Ark Apocalypse

I get lost in the web. Although my work requires that I remain plugged in to the internet all day long, I confess to feeling lost on the weekend. I don’t know what to browse or where to look for titillating new information. A friend then asked me what I thought of Gabriel’s Ark being sent to Antarctica. I had no idea what Gabriel’s Ark might be and I had to hunt through the corridors of rumor and conspiracy that make up much of the worldwide web to find it. Once I did the story grew incredible and also impossible to verify. Maybe this is why I avoid the web on weekends.

337px-Folio_29r_-_The_Ark_of_God_Carried_into_the_Temple

So the story goes like this: Gabriel, the archangel, gave Mohammed a secret weapon called an ark that would herald the last days. This ark was buried in Mecca. So the story goes, it was unearthed in September and it was the power of that ark that led to the tragic crane collapse that killed over a hundred pilgrims in Mecca last year. Days later the weapon went off again, leading to the death that the media blamed on a human stampede. Wanting to rid themselves of the ultimate weapon, the Saudi officials handed it to Russia. A research ship headed for Antarctica took on the mysterious cargo in Arabia before chugging south. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church met with Pope Francis, so the story goes, to receive an ancient document to control the ark. The Patriarch then showed up in Antartica to enact a strange liturgy before the trail goes cold on the story.

No major, respected news media carried the story. That only confirms that it is a cover-up in the eyes of many. What is so fascinating about all of this is that those who continue to keep the story alive clearly believe that the end of days is being unleashed not via the Christian apocalypse, but a supposed Muslim one. It’s as if Revelation didn’t deliver, so now we need to turn to some other ancient, obscure document to document the apocalypse. Meanwhile, those who’ve spent their lives learning to read ancient texts by accredited universities scrounge for whatever work they can find. Odd people aspire to very powerful political positions. Money is the only thing that matters. Maybe it is the end of days after all.


Asherah in Australia

It has been one of those weeks dominated by a lady from my past. Asherah. Just when I thought I could forget her and get on with my life, she has reappeared with a fury. The problem is, I haven’t kept up with where she’s gone over the past few years and we all know what kinds of problems society has out there. Turns out she’s in Australia. At least according to a comment left on one of my old posts about Asherah. The author of the comment provided a tip that led me to abovetopsecret.com, a conspiracy theory website. One of the threads is from Brian Leonard Golightly Marshall, a man who claims to be the messiah – apparently he’s returned with his spouse Asherah, in her form of Mary Magdalene. Also, he states, Prince Charles is the anti-christ.

The internet has provided a forum not only for the serious exchange of ideas that help shape the future, but also a soapbox more massive than any other. In general I don’t believe conspiracy theories – just this week my daughter came home from school with news about Disney’s alleged subliminal smut, leading me to recall the hysterical claims made about the New World Order. The more things change, the more predictable they become.

So, is Asherah down under, waiting for a new apotheosis, or has the collective imagination of the internet just taken over? I’m not the one to judge. Nevertheless, while doing a little web research on Asherah I discovered that Asherah greeting cards are now available. They’ll have to wait until I find a job, however. Maybe once that happens I’ll also be able to afford a trip to Australia to see the goddess I’ve researched for so many years.