Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Prophetic Cryptoquip

My kids and I usually spend at least one evening per week over my mom's house. One evening in particular (just a week ago from this post), I took interest in the daily puzzle section found in our local newspaper. My mom keeps weeks, sometimes months of newspaper back issues laying around. So, I just grabbed an old one out of the pile.

At first, my eyes fixated on the daily sudoku puzzle; The number grid was just begging me to try and solve it.

But then, something else caught my eye: the daily cryptoquip.

I had never tried a cryptoquip before. I never liked puzzles much until sudoku won me over. Besides, the unintelligible word chunks of the cryptoquip always intimidated me. I had wished that I could get the nerve to solve one, but cryptoquips just looked too hard.

But after reading the game description and rules again, I was drawn by the irresistible call from the puzzle.

If you never saw one, a cryptoquip is a substitution cipher where each letter in the words of a meaningful sentence is substituted with a different letter; thus, encrypting the phrase. You see letters, but only as an unreadable mess. You can make out words only by the spaces. In it's unsolved form, the sentence before you makes no sense nor is it readable in any coherent way.

In this particular cryptoquip puzzle, one clue was offered-- a single letter substitution was reveled to help the solver get started.

As for the rest of the clues, you're on your own. No other clues are given except for those subtle clues which the encryption might offer-- little helpful hints like short words or words with an apostrophe.

And much like sudoku, each discovery you make becomes a new and important clue necessary to further your ability at solving the puzzle.

But cryptoquips seem to require a little more trial and error that sudoku. Spelling skills, context clues, and vocabulary skills seem to matter a lot, too.

As I toiled away on the cryptoquip, my mom decided to read aloud a passage from the Bible to my son. She read to him the story of Samson.

For the most part, he listened quietly. Occasionally, he would interject remarks like, "why did he do that?" "how is that possible?" "Why didn't he just . . ."

I haven't really read the Biblical account of Samson in a while. So as I was hearing it this time, the story of Samson's seemed glaringly fictional for the first time in my life. I felt like I was hearing the words of an ancient story teller whose purpose was only to deliver a moral lesson.

Not a history lesson.

See, I once took the story of Samson as literal, historical fact. Now, the story only sounded something of a parable, a fairy tale, or a fable. All of a sudden, Samson's heroics and folly were no longer an authentic piece of history as I once believed. I felt like I was hearing literary devices like repetition, foreshadowing, and a fictional plot moving towards a literary climax.

Samson's silly behavior also seemed like a plot hole. Everything came to him so easily. And Samson knows his adversaries are constantly trying to catch him. Samson toyed with them by misleading them each and every time that he gave one of his riddles or lied about the secret to his strength. He taunted everyone-- even Delilah. Samson had to know that she was out to get him. Every time Samson lied about the source of his strength the Philistines tried to destroy the source. And Samson had to lie to Delilah each time for this to happen.

Ever watch a TV show or read a book and ask "why'd he make that choice?" Or, "why'd she do that?". I call them plot holes. Places in the plot of a story where if the main character had simply made one phone call, or used their powers, or went to the police, the story would be over in five minutes.

So when Samson gives in to Delilah simply because she worried him until he couldn't stand it, he gives in. Why? Because he was weak? Or, because the plot could not continue otherwise?

I didn't say anything. I didn't disturb my mom's reading to my son. I simply listened quietly with one ear while working away on the cryptoquip puzzle in front of me.

Also, I didn't realize the story of Samson was so long. My mother read the whole life of Samson as written in the Bible to him, not simply the popular part about Samson and Delilah.

As my mom finished reading, I found a breakthrough in solving my puzzle. Everything became easy and I solved it just about the same time.

Cracking the cipher reveled:


Was some force prophetically confirming that the story of Samson was simply a "foible"-- no different from the ancient stories of Aesop?

And I was thinking this all along before I even solved the puzzle!

Out of the whole history of the universe, these two moments intersected as though they were meant to be. I solved an encrypted message about ancient stories and fables with characters who have flaws just as my mom finished reading such a story aloud to my son.

But I'll stay true to form. I'll have to answer that this moment was nothing more than coincidence.

But, what a strange coincidence indeed!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Ancient Mindset

Clement of Alexandria was an early Christian who believed the Mystery Religions existed to prepare the world for the Christian faith. As many modern Christians see Judaism as a foreshadowing of Christian faith, Clement of Alexandria had a similar outlook concerning Mystery Religions.

I ran across a statement he made in one of his letters that caught my eye:

For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.

Now, I realize that true ideas can be misrepresented in a false sense.

And as a former Christian, I can understand imploring someone to never agree with Satan, even if he seems to be saying something true.

But this piece here caught my eye even more:

. . . . nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.

If human opinion suggests that HIV could be controlled in Africa by condom use, should the "preferred true truth" still prevail?

That was just an example.

What happens when a valid human opinion does come along that contradicts someone's "preferred true truth"?

Regardless of the ideology-- whether religious or non-religious, I think this is a mindset that hinders the progress of society at large.

And when I consider that the Mystery Religions and Christianity seemed so similar in Clements view, I wonder on what grounds or by what criteria did he judge Christianity to be the "true truth" as opposed to truth that only seems true? I figure that all he had was faith.

I will venture to say that this sort of thinking brings about the harmful aspects of fundamentalism. Not faith. But adhering to a "true truth" that ignores contradictory, verifiable facts. And I will also venture to say that fundamentalism can be found in any ideology-- whether religious or non-religious.

Everyone should endeavor to avoid this mindset, in my opinion.

Yep. that includes me, too.

Eh . . . I'm working on it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Ancient Mysteries

In my last post, I wrote about how some members in Hellenistic society started to become skeptical of Zeus because of changes in their society and way of life. Then, I attempted to draw a parallel between the atheos of antiquity and the atheist of today.

Since then, a commenter pointed out that perhaps I stretched the usage and interpretation of the word atheos. Perhaps my comparison of the atheos of antiquity and the atheist of modern times was not appropriate. I will leave that for everyone to ponder. Personally, I'm still chewing on this idea. I have not made up my mind. Yet, that point is worth mentioning and reviewing. I don't want to spread continue to spread a false notion.

Regardless of whether I misused the word atheos in my previous post, members of Hellenistic society started to have new ideas about the gods as their society changed. I'd like to mention one particular result that came about due to these changes in their society. A group of obscure cults known as the Mystery Religions or the Ancient Mysteries grew in popularity. For me, leaning about the cults eventually disturbed my religious faith.

Mystery Religions usually (not always) focused on one deity. Often, the divine nature of a Mystery Religion deity was a human or animal incarnated. (Hey, was that redundant? Human or animal incarnated? Aren't humans animals?)

Sometimes the deity was incarnated as human and animal both at the same time-- like a human and a bull, in the Mithras cult.

The deities were also closely tied to the cycle of life and death. Often, these deities metaphorically died and rose again in accordance with the harvesting of crops. The death of such deities brought about newness of life on some level. Sometimes this new life only came in the growing of crops from season to season. But sometimes this new life came in the form of rebirth for the followers.

Usually the initiates of Mystery Religions engaged in some sort of ceremony or religious rites to become a follower. Activities like baptism, sacred meals, sporadic moments of euphoric prophesy and / or ecstatic speech (like tongue speaking) often happened during initiation. This could also be part of normal worship practices, too.

Initiates identified with their deity by having some symbolic or even literal eating of the incarnated flesh and drinking of blood from their deity. This symbolic or literal eating the flesh of their deity allowed the initiates to become partakers of the life-death-rebirth experience. Symbolic, sacred meals often utilized bread to represent the flesh of their deity; water or wine (sometimes mixed) would represent the blood. And as I said before, some deities were personified as an animal. Thus, the raw flesh of the animal was eaten to partake of the divine nature. Also, the death of the animal brought the expectation that new life. For example, one cult depicted pictures of a bull with wounds that would spout grain-- life literally growing out of death. The human incarnation of the deity would pierce the animal version of himself, spilling blood that brings life. Spouting grain that represents new life as a result.

When Christianity finally came along, early Christian apologists had to deal with criticisms from the initiates of Mystery Religions concerning the claim that Christianity was unique. Converts between various Mystery Religions and Christianity accused each other of being an imitation of the truth.

Personally, the similarities between Christianity and the Mystery Religions were disturbing to my former faith. Learning about them has forced me to consider that Christianity is a product of the Hellenistic period rather than a divine revelation from God.

Should anyone find a solid way to reverse my outlook on this topic, they could potentially cause me to rethink my deconversion process.

That won't be easy, though. But if you've "got the goods", I'd like to see 'em.

The Ancient Mysteries pre-date Christianity by a few hundred years. That bothers me, too. Were these Mysteries counterfeit versions of Christianity? Was Christianity the true Mystery Religion and the others were only shadows of the truth?

Or was Christianity just one more variant of a string of pagan beliefs?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Ancient Argument

I came across a neat bit of history while reading through the introduction of The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Text. This book contains interesting letter fragments, pagan liturgy, plays, and recorded dialogue from symposium forums and debates from antiquity.

In this source book, I discovered an interesting account about how the Greco-Roman Pantheon fell out of favor with many of their former worshipers. It seems that the theology of the Pantheon was intertwined with the concept of the Polis or city-state going into the Hellenistic period. But as Alexander the Great unified Greece, the general views concerning the Polis changed.

As a result, the general views towards the gods changed, as well. After all, these two concepts were intertwined and influenced each other.

Plays writes, poets and philosophers began to point out the discrepancies between their changing world-view and their changing ideas about the gods.

This scrutiny started to produce questions like:

How could Zeus allow the polis system to fail?
Why does Zeus sometimes seem unfair or cruel?
What if Zeus doesn't even exist?

How could the Pantheon be legitimate if they couldn't seem to protect society from outside forces?

Some critics of Zeus and the Pantheon were punished for their blasphemy. Other critics of the Pantheon escaped punishment, but were given a nice little label of distinction:


Many members of the atheist community of today are asking similar questions like that of their ancient counterparts.

How could God allow evil in the world?
Why do some depictions of God make him seem unfair or cruel?
What if God doesn't even exist?

I wonder if a person who was an atheos in the past would be atheist today.

Also interesting to me is the fact that Zeus is commonly seen as a mythological character nowadays.

Is that just a coincidence?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Follow Your Bliss

I miss writing new posts. And, I'm not getting very far in my money making endeavors-- the very reason for announcing a hiatus on my blog.

Apparently the current economy does not have a market for expired meat. Especially when you try to sell such products from the trunk of your car. I think selling out of my trunk must have left an especially bad impression on any potential clientele.

Oh well.

Joseph Campbell has often encouraged people by saying "follow your bliss". Follow that thing that you are passionate about and doors will open up for you. Others will see your passion manifested as quality. Nearly everyone respects quality. As a result, people will be drawn to your efforts and be glad to work along with you when they share a similar passion.

I have now discovered that I enjoy blogging far better than selling expired meat.

With that being said, I think I will end my hiatus now. I do not expect to post every day. But, I think I will post somewhere between one to three times a week.

And no, I wasn't really trying to sell rotten meat out of my trunk. Just in case you're out of the loop, read the last few comments of my previous post.