Pass the ribs!

Moments ago, a friend sent an innocuous email entitled: “Fwd: Interesting History Info from Cecelia.” I’m still not sure why I opened it; but I’m glad I did.

The email contained a link to a story on the BBC’s website, Genetic ‘Adam Never Met Eve’. If this isn’t a drama, I can’t imagine what is.

As this story unfolds, a group of scientists from eight countries traced mankind’s genetic family tree. They did this by studying the variations in the Y chromosome of more than a thousand men from different communities around the world. (If you’ve been away from a biology class as long as I have, you’ll need to be reminded that men carry the Y chromosome and the X chromosome. Women carry two X chromosomes.)

In earlier studies, fossil evidence revealed that modern humans originated in Africa 150,000 years ago, then slowly spread across the world. These scientists’ research confirmed the decades-old “Out of Africa” hypothesis, which was based on studies of mitochondrial DNA, the segment of genetic material that is inherited exclusively from the mother. These studies determined that our most recent common ancestor was a woman who lived in Africa some 143,000 years ago, the so-called “Mitochondrial Eve”.

Not content that they found “Eve”, the latest group of scientists launched an exhaustive DNA search for “Adam”. Voila! They found him. He was a man who lived in Africa around 59,000 years ago.

Did you do the math? Uh huh: There’s an 84,000 year gap between Adam and Eve.

Pass the ribs, please. Reading this story on Earth Day made me see the entire planet in a new light. It was solely populated with women for 84,000 years? How on earth did they procreate?

Of course, the astute scientists have an explanation for this: They’ve concluded that the human genetic blueprint evolved as a mosaic, with different pieces of modern DNA emerging and spreading throughout the human population at different times. What does that mean: the first humans were male and female, not either/or?

Wait a minute! These scientists didn’t mention a word about mankind being created from dust. And their women-first theory takes a plug out of our all-time favorite story of Adam’s rib.

There’s only one thing to do: We’ll have to give these heretics a time-out; march them into their labs to stare into their Petri dishes until they can emerge with some more palatable answers.

What we really want to hear is that science is in synch with what we already believe: Man was here first. He was made from dust–and he was made from clay. Since the earth is nearly five billion years old and everything was created in a week, they will have to establish human life on the planet five billion years ago. And then we want them to explain how and why mankind regressed intellectually. After all, cavemen didn’t have language, but Adam was able to develop the sophisticated nomenclature for every plant and animal soon after birth.

I might be pushing my luck, and maybe this is outside of the realm of science. But I wonder if the researchers can tell us why we didn’t get a Savior for hundreds of thousands (maybe even billions) of years, since God seemed to be pretty fed up with us quite soon after our arrival on the planet.

One thing for sure, before these wise guys are allowed to release any more scientific evidence about the origin of man, they are absolutely positively going to have to stop locating the Garden of Eden so far south of Europe!

Another Drama of Biblical Proportions

Where’s a ghostbuster when you really need one? Judas Iscariot has come back to haunt us—just in time for Passover. The man who added “the kiss of death” to our vernacular has returned…a hero.

That’s the story told in the recent release of the nearly 2,000-year-old Gospel of Judas—determined by every scientific method available today as an authentic document. By all accounts, this book had all the elements to be the third century’s DaVinci Code. It claims that Judas did not betray Jesus. In fact, it asserts that Jesus asked Judas to point him out to authorities—knowing that he was considered a heretic. In that day, anyone who held religious beliefs that did not conform to the mainstream was inhumanely persecuted.

Judas, according to this gospel, was Jesus’ closest friend; and he claimed that Jesus told him, “You will be cursed by the other generations…. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”What does it mean, exactly, to “sacrifice the man that clothes me”? Rodolphe Kasser, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of Coptic Christianity and a translator the document, explains that Jesus wanted someone to free him from his human body, and he preferred that person to be a friend rather than an enemy.

“Heresy!” screamed religious leaders 2,000 years ago, when they read The Gospel of Judas. They found it abominable to regard Judas as anything other than a traitor. And they refused to include his gospel in the New Testament.

“Heresy!” screamed religious leaders 2,000 years later, when they read The DaVinci Code, a fictional book that unveiled so much factual data about Christian history that it spawned an ill-fated lawsuit from historians who accused him of plagiarism. How dare Dan Brown or any novelist write fiction based on theological research!

One of the nuggets we discovered in Brown’s epic was the contentious process that brought us today’s New Testament. In 300 AD, after Christianity was no longer a Jewish sect, a committee of religious leaders decided which, among the numerous accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, would be read by future generations. The committee favored the often conflicting accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Centuries-old research reveals that none of these writers had a relationship with or even knew Jesus.

The writer of Matthew was not the reviled tax collector who walked with Jesus. Bible scholars aren’t sure exactly who the writer is, but contextual clues date the book of Matthew two or three generations after Jesus’ death.

Mark, the oldest New Testament text, although it appears second, was not written by one of the 12 disciples, either. Biblical scholars date the writing of this book 60 to 70 years after Jesus’ death.

Experts say that the book of Luke, as well as Acts (still believed by many to have been written by the Apostle Paul), were written by a Gentile physician, rather than a Jewish disciple of Jesus. Scholars date Luke’s accounts between 60 and 100 years after Jesus’ death. Both Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ life draw heavily on the Book of Mark, and dispute each other in varying details that do not appear in Mark at all.

The Gospel of John is dated between 90 and 120 years after Jesus’ death; and although scholars argue about the identity of the author, they agree that it was not the Apostle John, as many assume. So, despite no proven connection to Jesus of Nazareth, these men’s accounts of his life were declared the gospel truth. However, Judas’ account was tossed completely.

Fascinating stuff. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that Judas’ gospel claims that Jesus wanted to leave his body. There’s evidence elsewhere in the New Testament, John 6:63 most directly, where Jesus very clearly expresses little regard for the physical body. “The Spirit gives life,” he says, “The body is of no account.”

Oddly enough, those who formed our beliefs about Jesus, his life, and his death, believed that the physical body is everything. To them, the body is who we are; when the body dies, we cease to exist—views that depart sharply from Jesus’.

This might be a heretical thought; but, as one who taught by example, would it have been out of character for Jesus to seize an opportunity to teach us a dramatic lesson about what Life really is and who we really are? What if he publicly left his body, then reappeared to demonstrate that “The Spirit gives life. The body is of no account?”Wow. That would be the kiss of death to many of the beliefs that we hold dear.

Researchers say that you don’t have a prayer. Now what?

One of the ministers at my church is fond of saying, “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.” Now, an exhaustive $2.4 million study on the healing power of prayer may have revealed just that.

The study, conducted at six venerable medical centers, including Harvard University and Mayo Clinic, divided 1,800 patients into three groups. All were recovering from coronary bypass surgery. Strangers—all Christians—prayed for patients in two of the groups. The prayer was simple: a speedy recovery with no complications. One group knew that prayers were being offered for them; one did not. None of the strangers prayed for the third group; and the group was none the wiser.

Did those who received prayer support fare better than their cohorts? Actually, no. In fact, what stunned the medical researchers was that patients who were aware that others were praying for them had more complications than the others—including those who received no prayer support.

For a great many of the faithful, particularly New Thought Christians, this comes as no surprise. It’s not that these Christians don’t believe in prayer. They simply have a different view of what prayer is.

This worldwide non-denominational group that adheres to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth identifies more with spirituality than religion. Consequently, they generally don’t read or teach any version of the Bible in isolation. They typically supplement holy scripture with ancient, theological, or scholarly texts that help them understand the languages and idioms of ancient people, as well as the historical, cultural and political climates in which Biblical scribes lived and wrote.

Like Jesus, New Thought Christians hold a non-theistic view of the Divine. In other words, they don’t view God as a supreme or supernatural Being that resides outside of us and manipulates events externally. To them, God is within us, constantly present through the Holy Spirit.

While that thought is not “new”, and neither is the movement, it’s certainly a more modern view of God than that of early man who struggled to define the Divine. As former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, explains in her most recent book, A Short History of Myth, “Humans have always been mythmakers.”

Unable to explain certain natural phenomena, Armstrong says, early man created myths about gods and goddesses who looked and acted very much like humans. They had a gender, a physical body, personality traits, and they shared the same range of emotion as humans—from absolute calm to vengeful, sadistic rage.

Early man also believed that, like themselves, the unpredictable temperament of the gods and goddesses could be appeased. With the proper set of words, actions, or living sacrifices, man could calm their rage and consequently control or even halt the occurrence of natural disasters.

These beliefs were passed down as oral history for thousands of years. Today, many still believe that, through prayer, they can convince God to scrap His plans, and adopting theirs. Most are not aware that these petitions actually reveal a lack of trust in God to solve problems for the highest good of all concerned.

In this case, the researchers and petitioners assumed that what they desired for these patients was what the patients or the Holy Spirit within them desired. For some of these souls, complications from surgery may have been their “exit strategy” from the body, in perfect accord with their established timetable. Let’s face it; no soul has ever intended to stay here, evidenced by the fact that no soul ever has.

Prayer doesn’t change things. It changes us. Prayer time is an opportunity to consciously connect with the Divine within us, listen, and trust that It already knows our desires and will unfailingly resolve everything for our Highest Good.

If someone were to ask a crowd of people if God had ever granted their prayers, most, if not all of them would say, “Yes.” However, the same people could also cite many prayers that were not granted. This leads us to the ancient and, I believe, erroneous conclusion that God is unpredictable or capricious, rather than absolute and unchanging. Tomorrow they’ll talk to a friend or they’ll read a book that will advise them that they didn’t say or do the right thing to convince God that their desired outcome was the perfect outcome. After all, it’s all about what we want, isn’t it?

Perhaps this is what they spent $2.4 million to determine. Unfortunately, this costly study unwittingly rested on ancient myths that if we behave a certain way, God will say, “Eureka! I hadn’t thought of that solution. Let’s do it your way.”

Does this study prove that God is inconsistent or that prayer doesn’t always work? One could certainly conclude that. Alternatively, one also could conclude that what really doesn’t work is any attempt to control God.

There’s no dispute that prayer always works when it is in alignment with God’s will, rather than our own. A generic prayer such as, “I release this problem to God, knowing that it will be resolved for the Highest Good of all concerned” creates that alignment. It says, “God, I trust You to work this out perfectly. I detach myself from the outcome and allow Thy will to be done.” The outcome might not be what we hoped, but we can be assured that it is the perfect outcome.

Now there’s a new Christian thought: How about creating more productive ways to spend $2.4 million than testing the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever present Holy Spirit?