Subject: Christianity

Marriage and Christianity

The lecture will discuss the medieval Christian Church and its stance toward marriage, including marriage forms, beliefs about sexuality, abortion and contraception.  Many of the lectures in this series have exposed the diversity of church concepts about the nature of the trinity, the church services, and so on.  It took many church councils and much censoring of so-called heresies to reach fixed dogma on various doctrinal issues. Marriage was no exception to the process. In fact, the question of what constituted a marriage, including its form, was loose and contested for several centuries.  It seems odd that such an important institution as matrimony would not have been provided with rules for the performance of its rites and ceremonies. But for many years, regulations on how marriage ceremonies should be conducted were lacking.  It was also unclear what sort of documentation was needed for a marriage to be considered legal. Marriage

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Christianity’s Condemnation of Homosexuality and Cross-dressing

My lecture is gratefully indebted to Vern L. Bullough, James A. Brundage, Warren Johansson, William A. Percy, and Jacqueline Murray.  References to their fine works may be found below in the bibliography. This lecture will be concerned with the concepts of homosexuality, lesbianism, and cross-dressing during the Middle Ages.  All three topics are controversial subjects, with important scholars differing on the degree to which the Catholic Church prohibited such practices, as well as the degree to which it persecuted and prosecuted them. A well-regarded scholar, John Boswell, wrote an important and controversial book in 1980, titled Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. His well-researched volume claimed that the early Catholic Church was not as intolerant of same sex relations between people as had been previously assumed. I shall be discussing the cogent rebuttals of his position by other prominent scholars. There is no serious question of whether or not the Catholic Church, from

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Christian Sadomasochism

Sadomasochism – Gratification, especially sexual, gained through inflicting or receiving pain; sadism and masochism combined. This lecture will glance at the extreme fasting that was taken up by women saints and mystics in 13th and 14th century Europe. I shall discuss the self-denying life stance of earlier monks called the Desert Fathers, who influenced the women saints. Then I shall turn to the flagellation and self-flagellation practiced by monks, nuns, women saints and some laypeople.  Flagellation, and particularly self-flagellation, was advocated by the monastic reformer, Peter Damian, from about 1035 CE to 1070 CE.  The practice endured in an ever-shrinking group of religious orders, until about the middle of the 20th century.   The lecture will also glance at the Flagellants, religious processions of self-flagellating people who went from city to city during the years of 1348 CE to 1349 CE, and then vanished by about 1400 CE.  I shall describe the practices of

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Jesus’ Imagined History

I would like to begin this lecture with the thought that I had for many years before undertaking this series of lectures on atheism and related topics. I have never believed that Jesus was a divinity, even as a child.  As I grew older and became more interested in the ancient world of Greece and Rome, the more I became aware of Jesus’ resemblance to other dying-and-rising gods, such as Dionysius. (Please see Jesus’ Pagan Roots.) I read such old classics as Frazer’s Golden Bough, written in the early 1900’s, and became convinced that Jesus had become part of the dying-and-rising god mythology.  But earlier in my life, I thought that he had been a historical personage. It was obvious that he had had little historical importance, that he was likely one of many traveling preacher/magicians of that era. But it only dawned on me slowly that he may have never

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Christianity’s Damnation of Sex

I have pondered and read a great deal about the subject of this lecture, Christianity’s damnation of sex in the late classical age of Rome. In the process, I have learned a great deal, which I shall try to share with my listeners. But there are still important questions raised by many scholars that have yet to be sufficiently answered. In the first two centuries of its existence, the nascent Christian religion was disorganized, with many competing sects under its general umbrella term of Nazarenes or Christians, and with competition from other religions popular at that time. Constantine (272-337), the Roman emperor, made Christianity the semi-official Roman religion in the years following his Treaty of Milan in 313 CE, which granted favorable terms to the Christians. At the time of the Treaty of Milan, Christianity had spread to many cities in the Empire; a few towns apparently had Christian majorities

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Myths of Christian Persecution

I am most indebted to Candida Moss and to Paul Koudounaris for their research and insights into the history of the Catholic Church and its martyr/saints.  This lecture would not have been possible without their books. There is a great deal of historical correction taking place in the contemporary Catholic Church.  The official sources of Church history, including The Catholic Encyclopedia, have become quite vague concerning the number of early Christians killed for professing their faith. The executions were carried out by officials of the Roman Empire between 30 CE and 313 CE. In 1944, Ludvig Herling put the number of Christian martyrs at 100,000.  Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776-1789, estimated there were about 2,000 Christians who perished under Roman persecution.  A search around the web reveals various counts of martyrs. Some sites put the number of martyrs at 3000 to 5000 in

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Miracles, Relics, and Other Follies

The following lecture is one that I never thought I would find necessary to undertake.  It is on the concept of miracles, as well the greatest miracle of all–belief in the Shroud of Turin, the alleged burial cloth of Jesus which he left behind when he was resurrected from the dead. I must confess that I had the naïve notion that no one with education in the present day believed the Shroud was authentic.  But my husband recently paid a routine visit to his cardiologist. His doctor noticed that my husband was reading a book on the flaws of Intelligent Design, and they chatted about it for a while.  Just as the visit ended and the doctor was leaving the room, he suddenly told my husband that the Shroud of Turin had been authenticated and found to be the actual shroud of Jesus.  Off the doctor went, leaving my husband

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Christianity’s Pagan Roots

This lecture will discuss the pagan roots of the Christian Church.  We shall discuss how most of the present-day rituals, vestments, holy objects, liturgy, and sermons of the Christian Church were rooted in the pagan cultures of the ancient world.  Most of these customs were developed after the death of the apostles.  I have already visited Jesus’ pagan roots (see The Pagan Roots of Mary and Jesus and the bibliography below) in an earlier lecture, but I believe that it is important for atheists to learn, or to advance their knowledge, about the facts of the specific borrowings the Christian Church made from the pagan culture that it ultimately helped destroy. It is also important to learn some of the reasons for this theft from the earlier pagan culture. I believe that it is necessary to help reveal what contemporary Christianity seeks to hide, just as the earlier Christian Church

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The Pagan Roots of Jesus and Mary

This lecture is concerned with the pagan origins of the Christian Jesus Christ and of his mother, Mary.  Mary has been linked to pagan goddesses, such as the Great Mother, Cybele.  Mary has also been associated with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian goddesses, such as Isis, Athena, Venus and Diana.  We shall see how some of her epithets, as well as her pictorial images, were based on earlier sculptures and depictions of pagan deities.  In the last lecture, we discussed the various manifestations of the Virgin Mary’s image with the changing tenets of the Catholic Church over the centuries.  In this lecture, we shall concentrate on the Virgin’s origins in the mythology of pagan cultures. The relationship of the Jesus myth with much earlier dying-and-rising god worship, has been discussed, disputed and reaffirmed many times during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  The Church Fathers of the 2nd century responded angrily concerning the resemblance

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The Virgin Mary: An Atheist Perspective

I am gratefully indebted to the volume Alone of all Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary, by Marina Warner.  This lecture would not have been possible without Warner’s scholarly research and perspective on the Catholic Church and European History. This lecture will discuss the role of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church. With each changing concern and focus as the original Church grew to power, consolidated hegemony as the Church Triumphant, and defended itself from the Protestant Reformation, the portrayal of Mary changed, too.  We shall be glancing at the very small role Mary had in the Gospels of the New Testament.  Gospel testimony, as we have seen in past lectures, is problematical and unreliable. The subject of whether Jesus, or his mother, were historical persons is a continuing controversy, nearly impossible to resolve. (For a discussion of the controversy surrounding Jesus and his historicity, please

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The Early Christian Church and Its War on Reason

What happened to the history of thought during the first four or five centuries of the Common Era?  From around 60 or 70 C.E., a small cult, secretive and scorned, made up of people from generally marginalized sections of the population of the Roman Empire, began its ascent to become the dominant religion of both the Western and Eastern Empires.  This cult, Christianity, became increasingly powerful, wealthy and intolerant. With the rise of what we call the Church Triumphant, there can be seen a corresponding diminution of the tradition of rational thought established by the Greeks.  What happened to the henotheist and polytheist tradition of perhaps, not tolerance, but indifference to what gods were worshipped by individuals and why? By the way, henotheism is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped, and polytheism is

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The Devil Part 2: The Church and The Reformation

And now, in our history of the rise and fall of the Devil and the rise and fall of the church, we come to the era of the Reformation, when the devil truly came into his own, both visually and theoretically.  Eventually the period of the 16th and 17th centuries would see a full blown period of witch hunting.  Thousands of men and women, but mainly women, were imprisoned, tortured, and/or burned at the stake for allying themselves with the devil, practicing witchcraft and attending Black Masses.  Such egregious practices are a demonstration of what secular people point to when they scoff at the statements of some scholars that religion is functional.  Much of this lecture demonstrates just the opposite. During the Reformation, the established Catholic Church responded to threats from heresy, schisms, and social change in a hysterical manner which did not end until near the Enlightenment of the 18th Century.  Satan

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