The Nature of Epiphany

Last year on January 6 we had an epiphany.  Many of us thought, I suspect, that since the angry mob wanted to kill Republicans and Democrats both that their actions would be condemned unilaterally.  Instead we learned that the Republican Party said, “Boys will be boys.”  And of course boys like to kill things.  A year later the GOP has stalwartly refused to condemn the attempt of a violent takeover of the government by a legitimately defeated candidate.  If the other party tried this they’d be calling “treason.”  We had an epiphany of a double-standard masquerading as evangelical Christianity.  Now, instead of thinking of today as the Christian epiphany, well, wait a minute.  Maybe that’s the epiphany we had—understanding what Christianity can become.

One of the tenets of democracy includes the freedom of religion.  Studying ancient religion can be quite revealing.  For one thing, we get a better idea of what religion was.  Few ancient authorities were concerned about what individuals actually believed.  Religion was largely what the powerful and influential did to placate gods who were easily bribed by sacrifice and praise.  The role of the average person was to be taxed to support this, and the monarchy.  I’ve been watching how, since the 1970s, the United States has been going that route.  We’ve always been a religious nation (“Christian” is much more debatable), but Richard Nixon’s ploy to swing evangelicals to the Republican Party worked.  Those not blinded by ideology will know that evangelicals tended to be staunchly Democrat.  Through the ensuing decades we watched Republican presidents giving our tax money to religious organizations they supported.  Why not throw another lamb on the altar while you’re at it?

The sacrificial system, you see, supported the temple staff.  Somebody had to eat all that meat!  Even in the Bible it was recognized that God didn’t exactly consume it the way a human being would.  Then last year on Epiphany, the party that’s supported just this kind of thing tried to throw all but Trump—yes, even Pence—onto their sacrificial pyre.  A year later we see those very senators saying, “well, it might be useful to have such people in reserve, just in case.”  Early Christians believed that you could tell another believer by their actions.  In that they weren’t wrong.  And those who are able and eager to kill in order to get their way have revealed, by their actions, their true beliefs.  It was, and still is, an epiphany indeed.


Lizard Lords

In the aftermath of last week’s attempted coup by the alt-right crowd, NBC ran a story about conspiracy theories.  Specifically the lizard people (actually aliens) who secretly run the world.  If you hang out in weird places, like I do, you already know the story behind this: fueled by David Icke, some conspiracy theorists believe a race of shape-shifting alien lizard people control the government.  They’re deadly serious.  (You can fairly easily find videos purporting to show lizard people caught transforming at government events.)  The NBC story, by Lynn Stuart Parramore, traces the belief to an old anti-Semitic trope.  I haven’t studied this enough to have any opinions on the idea, but what caught my attention is that this particular conspiracy grew out of objections to Darwin.

While teaching I’d planned to write a book on Darwin and Genesis—I researched it for years.  I would add to Parramore’s story the fact that most of our political troubles today can be traced back to that same unwillingness to accept evolution.  Over the centuries in western culture, the Bible (while not necessarily read) had grown into such an object of veneration that anything which challenged it had to be rejected.  Charles Darwin was well aware that anyone following the dictates of science would be pilloried by a “Bible believing” culture, and this was in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Elitist intellectuals assumed this literalism would just go away but it never has.  When it appears (which it frequently does) they laugh at it and insist that if we ignore it it’ll just go away.  Then an armed mob takes over the U. S. Capitol.

The concern shouldn’t be that people believe in lizard people, but that they can’t let go of a threadbare literalism toward a book.  Biblical scholars are routinely ignored by those who believe their way of reading the Good Book is the only possible way to do so.  All other ways are “interpretations,” and these interpretations don’t reflect what God has told them personally, so they’re clearly wrong.  This view, simply dismissed by most of the educated, is extremely widespread.  It must be addressed in some way, rather than being treated as some passing fad.  There may be no lizard-people taking over, but this view of the Bible has been politically active for going on two centuries.  Instead of studying it and trying to understand it, we cut departments and positions that might help to solve the problem.  Maybe the lizards are controlling us after all.