Saturday, February 18, 2006

the third battle of moytura. (1)

the third battle of moytura.
(part 1)
- an engagement with the dark side of god.

i want you to imagine lisa bourke, the sky news weather girl.

this is not the typical or everyday sky news weather report. there has been a suicide bombing of a nuclear reactor in the north of england. there has been a massive explosion and a widespread escape of radioactive material. sky news is reporting the spread of the contamination. there is a deep depression over the north of england with winds circling anticlockwise. this is creatiing an effect similar to that of the chernobyl disaster, across most of ireland, back into south wales, and with intense radiactive fallout carried back towards london. the bombers have picked their day very cleverly.

now meet elena, the biker girl of chernobyl. she has a website of text and images at -

she rides her bike to deserted villages, and to a deserted city. she passes hundreds of abandoned fire engines and military vehicles, too contaminated ever to be used again. but nature is now resurgent. at either side of the road the forest is regenerating. there are red deer, wild boar, beavers, wolves, badgers, otters, moose, lynx and wild horses, all in unprecedented numbers. the only species in decline are the rats, the mice, and the pigeons, which are the companions of human settlement and agriculture. nature is always in balance. remove the human element and all of the other species readjust themselves to the new situation. bears occasionally take up residence in the shelter of abandoned farmhouses.
in ireland, i want you to imagine the crisis as it affects dublin zoo, with many animals having to be slaughtered as a total evacuation gets under way. others species are let loose - those who are able to survive independently in the wild at this temperate latitude.
in county sligo most people have left the country, but not all. as in the ukraine - a few elderly farmers stay, preferring to die rather than to leave their land. and in the course of the summer a bear takes up residence in this building, the gyreum.

the door is off its hinges but there is a knock on the window. the bear thinks the bear equivalent of 'uh-oh.' who can it be ? it is two jehovah's witnesses . . . they have come to tell the resident - in this case to their discomfort it will turn out to be a bear - that the world is a battleground between good and evil.

so this is our scene - the gyreum, a unique circular building in county sligo, on magh tuireadh, the plain of towers, site of the second battle of moytura.
and our characters - two jehovah's witnesses, and a bear.
2. it is not my intention to pick on the jehovah's witnesses, i am probably about to offend adherents of all beliefs - and the atheists most of all.
most of you reading this will be catholic or protestant, lapsed catholic or protestant, or born again catholic or protestant. you may be a new age eclectic, a rational humanist, agnostic, or atheist. but i don't believe in atheism. i am a lapsed atheist.
in belfast in the nineteen thirties the royal ulster constabulary carried out the census in some more disaffected areas. one of the questions was 'what religion are you ?' if you answered the question 'atheist' - you were asked whether you were a catholic or protestant atheist . . .

all gods which are worshipped, exist. worship is their vital nourishment and they live for as long as they are worshipped. to deny this is so is to deny some of the major factors in global history. but if you do deny the existence of gods, that does not leave a vacuum - it tends to elevate reality to the position of a supreme being.
now, 'reality' definitely does not exist. it is an abstract noun and not a tangible object. reality is a theoretical concept. it does not meet its own criteria for deciding what is real. if you elevate reality to be the primary and self evident foundation of the world, you are promoting no more than a fundamentalist dogma. so there.

likewise, a disconnected christian, muslim, or jew, who lapses into atheism, does not live in a vacuum from then on. if you become entirely secular, you not only tend to elevate reality to the status of ultimate truth - you also risk elevating yourself and your personal opinions to be the sole authority in the universe. give us a break. gods are not subject to a supreme court of your personal opinions. who are you anyway? the same purely scientific criteria which fail to find evidence of the existence of gods, cannot prove your existence either. five minutes after a fatal heart attack a dead body is chemically much the same as a live one. so what is the scientific difference ? none.
the gods do not exist ? then nor do we. so that is that dealt with.

none of these arguments matter a damn to the bear, who was going fishing.

according to the jehovah's witnesses and other christian sects the bear has no soul. if there is one great distinction to draw between the christian and the pagan world view, this is it. to the pre-christian mind the world is full of gods and spirits. in the christian / pagan border country of the early celtic church, the world also had a soul. in latin - 'anima mundi'. this is sometimes referred to as the celtic 'world-soul.'
one of the first people to impersonalise nature was caesarius, the bishop of arles in provence, in the early 500s a. d.. early christianity came to gaul as an imperial and an urban centred religion. among other things paganus means a country person, the opposite of the urban sophisticate. caesarius was concerned to eradicate - or as a last resort, christianise - the surviving pagan culture in rural provence.
this was a slow process, never completed. in ireland the holy wells still exist in this christian / pagan no man's land.
all of the modern christian sects deny that the bear has a soul, so if there is a heaven for bears, it has to be here on earth and in the present - not a bad place for it to be.
3. but our jehovah's witnesses press ahead with their case. the world is a battle ground between good and evil. the righteous, who are at present only a small percentage of the people, will inherit a new heaven on earth, while those who fail to mend their ways will be severely punished. evil is at work in the world and many will succumb. the end is at hand.
everything we hear about this battle suggests that the devil is no walkover. in fact the battle is not going well. jehovah's side are behind and the match is already well into injury time.
how do we respond to this jehovah ? 'jehovah' here stands for the god of israel, yahweh, el, adonai, el shaddai, or the elohim of the creation story in the book of genesis. jehovah is in origin a composite god, hence the many names.
he is also allah. allah the god of bin laden, who inspires al qaeda, is the same as the god of israel, who supposedly told george bush to go into iraq. if both men are telling the truth then this god is somewhat troubled, and in danger of cracking up.
the so called clash of civilisations is no more a war between different gods than is a belfast riot. it is what we would recognise here as sectarian conflict.
an american general has declared allah to be an idol - as against his own god, the true god of the fundamentalist christians. this is pure sectarian ignorance. both gods are originally the god of abraham. so also is the god of the jews - and note that george bush carefully credits 'god' for his inspiration - not either of the other persons of the christian trinity. he has to avoid any offence to israel, his most significant political ally.
one way for us to respond to god is to say simply 'you do not exist.' but hold on. you are in denial. a suicide bomber has just blasted your country, your farm and your family, and trashed everything you ever achieved and all your hopes for the future, in the name of allah. he did so in the expection of a martyr's welcome in paradise that very same evening - you have to take notice of a god who motivates a suicidal attack.
a god like allah does not show up on early warning radar, nor under the microscope. where do you find him? we have to conclude that gods are somehow part of the software - not part of the hardware. the philosopher bertrand russell was one who said god does not exist. so who laughs last ? god could now point out that bertrand russell does not exist.

suppose we approach the god of israel and the allah of the suicide bombers from the evidence of what their followers are doing ? both sides seem to be prepared to do bad and cruel things in pursuit of what they assert are noble objectives. after an attack there would be those on our own island who would pray to jesus and the u.s.a.f. to hit back at someone, anyone. smite them on our behalf, the bastards. - and show us the bits afterwards on sky news. nuke them for the sake of lasting peace.

george bush says clearly - 'you are for us or against us.' what is he quoting ? matthew 12 v. 30. 'he that is not with me is against me.'
karl rove is on the ball there. this plays well with their fundamentalist republican constituency. i only use bush as a highly visible and extreme example of a very widespread mentality.
jehovah like america is the sole superpower. jehovah, like president bush, is commander in chief, and with a not dissimilar pro-israeli bias. he is all powerful. he is however benign, and he is merciful, - but all monarchs would say that, wouldn't they ?
but he does not tolerate dissidents. like george bush, jehovah has a system of rendition to underground torture camps, from which there is no appeal. it is called hell. there are no visiting times, and the relatives who put flowers on your grave do not even get to know where you are.

jehovah, in the beginning, was a jealous god. so jehovah, in the beginning, was not a monotheist, just as jesus was not a christian.

i believe that there is a great crisis brewing for monotheism. i do not say a crisis for religion. i mean a crisis for monarchy, hierarchy and centered authoritarianism. the way in which we think is changing.
4. i believe that the second battle of moytura, here on the plain of towers, was essentially a theological battle. robert graves, in 'the white goddess', describes a battle of the trees, which he thinks was about sacred alphabets. similarly, i believe that the account of the battle of moytura, in which the participants are gods, is a druidical tale of theological conflict.
when danaans invaded the peninsula we now call greece - their masculine god of the thunderbolt, zeus, 'married' the local goddess, hera. gods can marry in a theological sense. but in the primitive mind marriage also implies subordination. thus a virgin goddess does not mean virgin in the sense of 'never had any sex' it means 'not subordinate to another divinity' - or autonomous. gods can also merge. witness the many original different names for god in the old testament. they can also speciate or divide, as did the god of abraham when he became both allah and yahweh. gods can also simply displace other gods, by vanquishing their theological rivals.
in early irish mythology boann, and brigid, and eire, and the hag of beara all have triple moon goddess elements. lugh, and balor, and diarmuid, and the daghda all have solar elements.
there is no easy way to sort these irish gods out. i think that nuada, a de danaan moon god, is displaced by balor, a fomorian sun god, who is in turn displaced by lugh, a later sun god. but i am open to persuasion if any folklorist has a different interpretation.
one thing we do know is that the fomorians were ugly and violent. all of you who went to irish national schools know that. but hold on, says who ? the peace loving tuatha de danaan ? who beat up who ? remember history is always written, or sung, by the victors. when i was at school in the england of the nineteen fifties it was the germans who were known to be ugly and violent. the paperback books that we read about the war, and the films that we watched, all confirmed this fact - they were an arrogant and ruthless and ugly and violent race. i grew out of that belief, but it took a long time. so maybe the fomorians too were not all that bad looking ?
5. there is one god whom the christians, jews, and islamic fundamentalists have in common. it is satan, or the devil, who is acknowledged by all - and herein lies an old contradiction : god is good. god created all. so how to explain the devil ? because the devil in hell is apparently just as immortal. hell is clearly also a monarchy.
like laura bush with fallujah, god is not held responsible for this terrible evil - but is not doing much to prevent it either. just as the white house is whiter than white, but guantanamo bay is its dirty underside - could it be that the courts of heaven are constructed over the basements of hell ?

i hope i have said enough to show you where i am coming from. mythologies develop and proliferate and have real consequences. i have no patience with those who are in denial about their very existence. i do not have a lot in common either with those who still take them as literally as you were expected to when you were seven years old.

i want to bring you up the mountain to the god of mecca, jerusalem, and waco, texas, and say - 'just who the hell are you ?'

our resident bear has visitors who wish to communicate, in effect, that the world is a battle between a good god and an evil god. the bear might note that both divine contestants are mythologically male - i say mythologically male because it is not clear how or why a divinity would have a biological sex, not having a material body.
each contestant is monarch in their respective sphere. ( satan is brilliant, satan is an administrative genius. and that is a direct quote from a catholic online website.) but only one of the contestants is credited with designing and creating the whole universal scenario, which the other inhabits.
could it be that there is no separate power in hell ? could it be that the devil is no more than the god of israel's own dark side ? who after all blasted sodom and gomorrah ? who sent plagues and other afflictions into egypt ? who ordered the ethnic cleansing of canaanite cities ? who inspired the sack of constantinople ? how do these massacres differ from the destruction of fallujah ? are george bush and benjamin netanyahu in this sense the true followers of jehovah ?

we separate our morality into compartments. things that get you a medal in basra, would get you twenty years if you tried to do them in kensington high street. but the same is true of religion. we humans are capable of moral partition - evil is tolerable just as long as it is kept separate. but whether we are created in the image of god, or whether we create gods as a reflection of ourselves - evil and good are not separate. many everyday acts have both good and dire consequences. the pure evil that the churches project on to the devil, should be acknowledged as god's own darker side. this practice of projecting has immediate consequences for us. projecting evil intentions on to your opponent makes responsible and constructive engagement with them very difficult.

i want you to come to terms with this concept. gods are part of the communal software. if you reject the tenets of the religion in which you were brought up as a child - you are then weaned from literal belief. but you have to be weaned on to something in its place. if that something is to enthrone your personal opinions and consumer preferences as your supreme authority, and if there is nothing in your whole world bigger than yourself, then you are in big trouble. you are a self appointed god and your professed atheism is something of a self delusion. you have taken on a role that you cannot possibly fulfill.

typically the individual who becomes disconnected from their religion retains the original mental patterns formed by that religion. thus there are green john the baptists among us who have reconstructed the whole 'end of the world' scenario - the good becomes sustainability. evil becomes the pollution of the planet. paradise becomes some green consumer paradise that the elect are striving to achieve. sin becomes burning plastic bottles. each individual is urged to practise self denial or they will not attain this paradise.
in any case the idea of the individual is a romantic fantasy. when n.a.s.a. looks for life on other planets they will find either an inter-dependent community of living beings, or they will find nothing but dead dust and rock. what they will not find is a solitary individual. in nature there can be no such thing.

6. now theology is a complex subject. i am talking about the dark side of god, and i am going to propose that like the poor fomorians, the devil - or call him the fallen angel, lucifer, if you like - is a straw man who has been set up, demonised and dumped upon. he serves to distract us from the dark side of god.

in the christian tradition - unlike that of the jews, muslims, or unitarians - god consists of three equal persons in one being. the others being the holy spirit and jesus.
many books have been written trying to disentangle the historical jesus from later accretions. but i am not primarily interested in the historical jesus. i am more interested in the mythological jesus, the spiritual force. you cannot easily reconstruct the historical figure, because the gospel accounts were not written as history. the gospel does not attempt to file a report or take a photograph. it is an icon, it is a collage in many glittering layers built up by many hands. to attempt to analyse the gospels as literal historical accounts is a crude misunderstanding.

or suppose that we treat jesus as a painting that has been overpainted. we undertake to clean the picture. we take off several layers of church applied varnish, and a few early attempts to revise the composition. some figures have been painted out. we are getting closer to the original. then a point comes when it is no longer getting clearer and simpler - but less clear and more confusing . . .

we come down to a layer in which jesus is greek - or at least a citizen of a partially hellenised galilee. the very name jesus is greek, iesous. the jewish equivalent is joshua. the arabic is issa and the gaelic is iosa. my name is gillies which is giolla iosa.
they tell us that under the greek of the new testament lies an aramaic original. but 'it ain't necessarily so.' instead of an aramaic original it may just be that the authors are bilingual expatriots, writing in greek but thinking in aramaic. just as you have hiberno-english, where the speaker uses english but with the thinking habits of gaelic speech showing through. it does not have to mean that it is a translation.
you want to hear jesus speak ?

'ameen lego humin hoti oudeis propheetees dektos estin en tee patridi autou.'

( an approximate transliteration from greek letters.)

'truly i say unto you that no prophet is honoured in his own country.'

jesus was an educated hellenised jew, probably of royal descent, and cosmopolitan outlook. john the baptist - who may have been a cousin - was by comparison a backwoods conservative.
the reason why jesus is such a complex seeming personality, is because somebody, in the confusion after the fall of jerusalem in 66 a d, took the words of jesus, and the words of john the baptist, and interleaved them into one single book of sayings. thus the character whom you take for the historical jesus, is a literary compilation. this then became a source document for the gospel writers luke and matthew.

likewise with the picture of 'the father' - you have to clean the old testament picture all the way down to a time when yahweh himself was still evolving. dig too deep and you come to a period of early history when yahweh, and el, and the elohim, and the other local deities had not yet fused into one high god.
at an early stage in their religious development, the children of israel lived among canaanites and other tribes. we know the trading canaanites of the sea coast as the phoenicians. yahweh then had a consort known as the asherah, and other names.
although heavily overpainted, the religion of the canaanites is a part of our christian religious inheritance, just as is the religion of the children of israel.

the irish king bres, at moytura, who was half fomorian, half de danaan, was the son of elatha. elath was another of the names of the canaanite great goddess, consort of el, the high god. that may be no more than coincidence, but then again . . .

7. we have now made life difficult for our jehovah's witnesses. we are going to refuse to accept the political domination of the universe by one elderly male divinity. we are going to refuse to declare either for jehovah or against him. protest is a form of homage. we also decline to lock ourselves into a sterile atheism, which can be as dogmatic and restricting as any catechism.
so we offer to act as advocates for the bear and say -
'hey, what about this bear ?'
we do not need to commit ourselves as to whether the bear has a soul or no soul. we just make this point. our bear represents all of the natural world. if you picture the living world and its wonders as simply a useful convenience store without life or soul or meaning - then brother you are in big big trouble. you are going to continue to consume your world, to mine it, to burn it, to dump on it and destroy it.
what are you then going to create ? a new heaven and a new earth ? or an exploited wasteland, a new hell upon earth ?

how you choose to visualise the bear, affects how you treat the bear. all of nature likewise. the witnesses build meeting halls and call them sacred places, failing to see that the whole world is full of sacred places. the patterns of nature are sacred. in the course of western christendom's long struggle to eradicate the last vestiges of the pagan mindset, that intuition has been almost stamped out. if we could get people to refer to all of nature not as 'it' but as 'she' - nothing in nature would be different , but our attitude and behaviour towards the natural world might begin to change.

what is our attitude ? do we own the natural world, or does nature own us? did god create the world ? or does mankind create gods ?
gods and the human mind are in a chicken and egg relationship. human culture gives rise to gods, but gods are powerful actors in human history, transcending the lives of mere individuals.
we construct the language of theology, but that language shapes who we are.

every person - theist, polytheist or atheist - has a religion. just as every voice has an accent - even if your own is hard to detect. and every mind has a style and a basic operating system, and it is this which mythologies attempt to influence. our theology relates to the software of our minds. if you have lost contact with your own mental theological software, that does not mean that it is not there. if you discard the childish mythology of sleigh bells and red nosed reindeer, that does not mean that christmas does not exist.
the atheist says there is no such thing as gods. that is itself a religious dogma. the impotent man says there is no such thing as sex. the four year old child says that whiskey tastes horrible. we hear what they are all saying, and we cannot argue with them, we can only pity them.

worshippers of all kinds understand that their particular god is immortal. 'trans-generational' would be a better word. the egyptians reckoned the life of a god at about 4000 years. over that period the god will evolve, as the worshippers themselves evolve and hopefully, achieve spiritual growth. the tribal gods of hebrews wandering in the bronze age desert, gave rise to mediaeval christianity, even though the long evolutionary process made the outcome almost unrecognisable. likewise the modern culture which you could call 'christian materialism' is a smooth development over time from the same origins, and the cultural patterns continue. the ex-believer cannot help but employ the pirated software of the past. you will hear of sectarian riots between catholic and protestant, between sunni and shia, and between muslim and hindu - but not many between monotheists and rational consumer materialists. that is because there is no clear line between them.

so our question to the atheist and to the jehovah's witnesses would be much the same -

- with or without a soul, this bear is alive. she is the end product of four billion years of evolution. who brought her safely this far ? and how old is your god? 4000 years ? if your god had any hand in creation, why would he stand aside while it is degraded and destroyed ? if you say the bear has no soul, is there then no exploitation, no level of cruelty, that would cause your god to cry out in her defence? one by one the amazing diversity of species that nature gives rise to are being driven into extinction. so when did your sole superpower of a god take over ? or for the atheist, when did your solitary personal opinion take over ? who woke you up this morning ? to whom did you entrust your conscious mind, last night ? and for both of you - how is the divine plan working out ? and if it is not working out, what are you going to do, who are you going to blame ?

but are we, the friends of a bear caught squatting in a gyreum, now going up the mountain to confront a god who seems, at first sight, to be failing ?

is there a danger that we fall into the same arrogance of personal opinion that i have been complaining about ?

will we deal with jehovah, now, by demonisation ? that is one of the very things we are trying to get away from. george bush demonises the muslim fanatics who are the mirror image of himself. in turn radical and alternative thinkers demonise george bush. we all do it. bush - or whoever succeeds him - is cast as the bad guy, or the multinationals, or the government, or the politicians, or the international bankers. we and our friends by implication get walk on parts as the good guys.
we are guilty of recreational moralising.
like the jehovah's witness, we create a punch and judy show, with the entire world as a theatre of war between good and evil. it is much the same play - but we cast different people in the key roles. it is dead end, manichaean, confrontational thinking.

i am hinting that the way forward now, is by 'enfolding' the current religion of the community - rather than by rejecting it.

this would be something like the adoption of the pre christian sacred places and practices accomplished by the early christians. there were no martyrs in the early irish church. there was a peaceful enfolding of the earlier tradition. the new alternative absorbed the older mainstream. if we are to avoid a shallow consumerism among religious options, we have to take this road.
those of us who are confident enough, may have to go back into the mainstream community, back into communal ritual and music, back into our cultural origins to engage with the dark side of god.
in our era of advanced military technology, bio warfare, and cyber attack - the confrontational alternatives are too dangerous. we have to own our own problems and face them. to project them onto our opponents is the high road to the hell of the wasteland.
( we have taken the theology apart. in a second part we will consider the feminine face of god, and try to take a more constructive tack.)


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8:10 PM  

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