you are here; Nicodemus at Night (may contain religious content..)

Where do ordinary persons, political persons, or businessmen learn hypocrisy? From religious people.

With declining religion, is hypocrisy on the way out?

Is there more or is there less hypocrisy in a democracy?

The theology of John’s Gospel has fundamental affinities with both the Confucian virtue of filial piety, and with the phenomenon of the guru in Hinduism. Discuss.

Westerners like to emphasize the incarnation as an idea, but of course in John’s preface, the preexistent word becomes flesh… “and we beheld his glory, glory as an only-begotten from the Father.” That is, the author of John is more interested in the topic I might say, the reality of Son + Father, than interested in the topic of Incarnation per se.

There are a few NT verses about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the basis for subsequent Christian doctrine about God as Trinity, as being three persons, this foundation comes from repeated statements in John as given by Jesus: I can do nothing apart from or beyond what the Father asks, I am in constant communion with the Father, etc. This emphasis is constant in John. Is this not filial piety?

The ancient Chinese (or as we will here phrase it..) Confucian virtue–this virtue might cover mother and daughter also, but Chinese under Marxist socialism still begin the new year for a week or more in February by returning home and presumably there, communing with the parents–practicing a sort of natural-religion virtue.

Westerners will wish to emphasize faith as proposition, and faith as such is also prominent in John. But John also describes the church as coming into existence before Jesus’ death. Those who understand are already in communion with Father and Son; the branches are to produce fruit; the disciples will be alone in the world just as Jesus was…, it is better that Jesus return to heaven so that the Spirit can take Jesus’ place among them. As Second John puts it: The one remaining in his (Jesus’) doctrine has both the Father and the Son. Thus the doctrine would be for the sake of having something else, having the Father and the Son.

Confucian filial piety, certainly, is specific. It has to do with one’s physical parents and grandparents. But does it go beyond..?

The filial piety in Christianity, the revelation of a basic filial relation of some sort existing in God, this is not specific, not natural that is, but supernatural. (Luke describes the virgin birth of Jesus; Jesus was born physically only via Mary.) Thus Jesus’ all-important relation is not with his natural or literal family father, Joseph, but with God, a Father in Heaven!

Any connection of John’ intended theology with Hinduism may seem more far fetched, but the contrast again would be with a too propositional (Western-specific) emphasis on doctrine as such. I am the way, light, living water, life, the door of the sheepfold, I am equal even in stature to the One communing with Moses at the the ever-burning bush in the desert… is all of this doctrine? Or something more than doctrine?

The prophet would be the human being who as human being also grasps something about Reality or the Divine will–in order to then communicate that to other persons. The Hindu guru as religious phenomenon (as far as I have read about such…) would be–not a prophet, but someone more enlightened might we state.

Jesus then, throughout John’s gospel, does not exactly teach, but wishes to raise those around him who are already willing to listen–raise these to share in his own larger life and awareness. Even the signs have this intent: making it possible for persons to see or be aware of something. Not Divine power active in the historical moment but Jesus as in communion with a Father and God in heaven, in immediate relation and harmony with the God who is also Creator of the world.v But if Jesus in John’s Gospel does operate in some ways that are similar to the Hindu guru , Jesus in John is also (as Jesus repeatedly says…) the one from heaven, the one who came from above into the universe, the one who will also return (after physical death and literal resurrection) to the Father in heaven. It is in, via, or through his (human) personhood that Jesus repeatedly makes universal claims. Krishna (–as I understand it in Hinduism) is a Divinity who makes an appearance on the human scene. But Jesus (in the Gospel of John) is presented as being both eternal and human as the same time; Preexistent word made flesh.


[This is a page with religious content, only for those who are interested..]

Theological meditations. Christmas week 2020
(I will be assuming that the reader is familiar with Christianity and with NT Scripture, but the issues raised here can be of interest to others…)

About the time of the American Civil War, a certain Hong Xiuquan in south China, unable to move up in the imperial examination system, came across a leaflet advertising Christianity and began to put together a bizarre mixture of beliefs including the idea that he was “younger brother of Jesus.” The Taiping theocratic empire grew to include millions in south China and lasted for ten years, implementing strict moral codes and strange religious practices, a classless society intending to benefit the disadvantaged and uneducated. A Wikipedia article says that its military leaders were primarily from the Hakka and Zhuang minorities rather than the Han majority, but the Qing emperors were also Manchu from beyond the northern wall, a minority that gradually mixed with the Han over the empire’s three hundred years. When the Qing army finally put down the new Kingdom, loss of life may have equalled that of WWI.

Confucianism has an almost religious emphasis on the importance of family-type relations, and this together with miscellaneous Christian doctrines obviously made for, in this case, a potent mixture.

In the West though, the idea of a “younger brother of Jesus” has been a moot phrase and quite carefully avoided. Not a notion that might evoke fascination. But after reading James last month and doing further research… it seems to me quite plausible at least, that Jesus did have younger brothers, and that two of these brothers wrote “books” of the New Testament which we now have as the short letters of James and Jude! Four brothers to Jesus are listed by name in both Mark and Matthew, [look it up if you don’t believe me..] and Luke in Acts will mention that Mary and the brothers of Jesus joined in with the earliest Christian believers. Since Mark and John describe the brothers and family of Jesus as rejecting Jesus and opposing him, this means that these brothers must have undergone a late conversion, after Jesus has taken his departure from the earthly scene…

The apostle Paul mentions that the risen Jesus made an individual appearance to James(!), and this same person, James somehow also becomes a (non-regular) apostle and primary leader in the Jerusalem Christian group. James, the brother of our Lord, is also integral to Paul’s argument in Galatians. That is, Paul explicitly rejects the singular authority of Peter via a described incident in which Paul openly rebukes Peter for being inconsistent about dietary customs, and Paul also rejects the Jerusalem leadership en mass as having any immediate jurisdiction over him in regard to definition or operation or administration of the Christian religion. It would seem that the only authority claim Paul accepts is recognition of regional-historical priority. The Christian blessing originated in Judea and those who subsequently benefit spiritually need to acknowledge this geographical and historical priority and origin via material compensation; money as physical and token return…

But also necessary to Paul’s argument would be James the brother of Jesus, leader, and –apostle! Eleven original apostles including the ambitious or natural leader among the original twelve, Peter, as well as John, then this James, and also one apostle chosen after Jesus has left in order to replace Judas, and then Paul. It should be obvious that this collection provides no easy definitional formula for the word apostle. While Paul might seem an interloper among the apostles since he did in fact persecute the Christian churches, James’ inclusion among the apostles seems strange and almost suspicious, to western sensibilities at least. Is James an apostle now just because he was a younger brother of Jesus? But if James was not in fact a recognized apostle and leader of importance, how can Paul get away with describing him in this way, as both apostle and primary leader within the early church?

What I have just described is what a fair and curious reader of the New Testament might piece together from minor details in various NT texts–about brothers, about James. And my contention would be that if the Christians of the first two hundred years were bothered by such a pastiche of information, well, they would not have allowed all of these texts to become canonical. But because they had no expectation nor requirement of strict and traditional uniformity but rather understood Christianity in point of fact to be quite various, they were not bothered with minor details about brothers of Jesus, about the identity of James…

But within a subsequent two centuries the younger brothers of Jesus question is settled in both Roman and Eastern Christian traditions in the negative. (I am depending on Ropes, ICC commentary on James, 1916.)

The reason of course, for denial of the possibility of younger brothers of Jesus, that is, denial of later children to Joseph and Mary, is the wish to honor Mary. (And one might add, wish perhaps to promote the organizational side of religious practice via honor of Mary.) The East will latch on to (loose) traditions which say that Joseph had four or more previous sons and then became a widower. Jerome, who certainly is very important to a later Latin-Roman Christianity, will thoroughly research the issue and arrive at his “cousin” theory which then becomes standard for all later Latin speaking interpreters. The “brothers of Jesus” are cousins of Jesus. (I do not have time or energy to do the basic language research for myself in Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, but I expect most languages use separate words for these two notions, nouns, and likely also do not strongly tend to confuse the two such words…)

Why is this issue important? Why not just allow it to return to that original almost complete insignificance and obscurity in which the topic existed for me two months ago. Because in recent weeks I have also re-read the book of James, and as a result of that re-reading have come to see the light. If the book of James is actually and theologically important, and if respect for its somewhat unique Christianity is necessary to correctly understanding Paul’s argument in Galatians, then the mere accumulation of human traditions ought not to distort an honest and forthright attempt to decide who this particular James actually was, even though the scriptural information about him is quite limited, perhaps awkward.

Dr. Moo is a lifelong commentator on Pauline writings, and writes a commentary on James in which he makes very honest effort to be fair to James. Can James and Paul be reconciled theologically? James doesn’t quite measure up. James does not really understand Paul, it must be. James cannot be correct when he says that faith alone is inadequate.

I myself would say that Paul and James cannot be subsumed to one framework of ideas, one theology only. These are two “Christianities” as given by Scripture for our edification. There is one Christian faith only, but a “Christianity” would be a connected set or system of practices, emphases, polity which best enable persons to live a life of Christian faith. In Galatians Paul is asserting the independence, validity, and autonomy of his “Christianity,” but also implicitly allowing that other such Christianities do and may exist.

Paul says that he is entrusted with the gospel for the nations while the reputed pillars of the headquarter church in Jerusalem are entrusted with the gospel for the circumcision, for the Jews. This is either inaccurate–because of course Peter, John, are or will soon enough become concerned about circulating the gospel also among the gentiles, or else this is an unseemly and sarcastic jab at the leadership for their reticence to admit the universality of the Christian religion, or else this deliberate phrasing means something else.

My interpretation at this point would be that this is a jab couched in an admission. That is, Paul is making fun of the reticence of the leadership, but is also allowing implicitly only, that his own claims, his own Christianity, may be/is merely one among a few. Since I am arguing for my own among brothers I may also be partisan…

James represents, and his book delineates, a complete and wholistic Christianity (which happens to be in the Jewish mode as must have been congenial to the earliest of the Christian believers who were of course largely Jewish..) Paul thus will refer to James as apostle with authority to determine what is valid for larger Christian practice in order to bolster Paul’s own claim to independence. If you accept James here as leader, as you have done, even though he is not a regularly chosen apostle, how can you deny my claim to independence and similar prerogative?

James, Peter, John, Paul. These all over time do become “Christianities.” Paul in Galatians is not arguing for such diversity but arguing only, as would be appropriate, for the ultimate validity of his own integral Christianity. But in making this argument he implicitly accedes to a recognition of the validity of other such Christianities as may have been present/represented at the get-together in Jerusalem.

I find James’ Christianity strange for its attitude to enterprise in the world (“we plan to go there for a year to do business…”) and for its attitude to money and economics. In Matthew one must give charity, Mark may be ascetic, Luke believes that the fine arts can save from a deadly servitude to the economic, but what exactly is James’ solution here? (Or, for that matter, what is the latest American solution…?)

Lack of interest in doctrine as such is also unusual in James. We may presume that doctrine may be helpful, but everything the teacher does (like myself as blogging teacher) is problematic and potentially harmful to the teacher.

The local James and the cosmopolitan-internationalist Paul have Christianities which are not miscible nor able to be combined into one, but I consider that these two have in common over against the groupism and/or traditionalism of Protestant, Roman Catholic and traditional Orthodox–a prophetic and an individual-leaning foundation. “The one judging his brother speaks against the law and judges the law.”

By what means or mode can Paul claim an original authority for his own apostleship in Galatians. He states that he has this gospel by personal or individual revelation, and claims that he himself individually continues to follow this way of prophetic Christianity, and further it seems, this gospel is not stated doctrine about Jesus–but image only. Historical image-depiction of a crucifixion at which time Jesus was cursed by being denigrated to status of wood, vegetative biology.

Against all of the officious pragmatism of modern-day Protestantism I read Galatians as not an answer to a specific problems within a group but as written, like Romans, Hebrews etc., primarily to raise/solve theoretical issues/principles. Paul’s great error had in fact been his traditionalistic adherence to his religion, and because of this traditionalism he missed what God was doing in the present moment. His conversion is from traditionalism to something better, something prophetic. And James also, actually becomes prophetic of the future by some 1700 years. This is when the Protestant phrase, sola fide, changes from brotherly polemic to bad theology. If the Roman church claims the papacy or an historical apostolicity as essential mark and identifier of the Christian church and of Christianity, then sola fide as well as Justification as the doctrine by which the church is to be defined, this seems an appropriate and more spiritual polemic to insist upon–between brothers. But round about this century of Western history it becomes clear that neither of these two entities regard (theoretically even…) the other side to be brothers. This situation becomes rather (it must be) a stagnant oligopolistic cooperationism along with unhealthy societal accommodationism.

Just as Paul in Romans writes to clarify boundaries and dangers which he sees in a Petrine or Roman influenced Christianity, which guidelines become effective 1500 years later, so James, who we may presume had had person-to-person discussions with the apostle Paul, lays down some lines with regards to how a Pauline Christianity can go wrong. Mere verbal faith is not sufficient. The demons believe and tremble, but does this give them any benefit at all?

The West is known for its principled valuation of Truth, but the attitude with which one holds or claims to hold truth, is this not very much influenced by, taught by religion. Roman Christendom nourished a western respect for logic and truth which was instrumental (perhaps) in modern science and technology coming to birth in the West, but a too narrow Latinate view of religious truth results in would-be religious reformers giving up and eventually becoming rationalistic… Rational is good but rationalistic is not good.

I have recently read through the present pope’s latest encyclical in which he presents an existentialist-universalist Brotherhood emphasis out of respect for the Medieval Francis of Assisi. I cannot give fair treatment to this theological letter in one quick sentence here except to say that it seems somewhat anomalous to someone (myself)–having been raised in Protestantism, to have the titular leader and representative of the world’s largest group/club/church/organization (–as you wish…), The Roman Church, advocate a somewhat vague and definitely universalistic Christian humanistic-brotherhood–without having more adequately addressed that other “brotherhood” matter, the status, the existence of non-Roman Christians, half of the world’s population of Christians. Is this five hundred years of theoretical stonewalling, is this not a contributory cause to the world’s problems, along with the recent rationalistic overemphasis in Protestantism which James correctly predicts?

But Orthodoxy, is it healthy? How can it be when it prefers tradition to prophecy. The Galatian churches may have originated via Paul’s long-term theological school in Ephesus. Galatians is addressed to the North in general. Galatians asks these churches to give primacy to Paul’s original and essential emphasis, rather than come to lean upon, or fall in love with their beloved old traditions; keeping days and months…

But to return a more meditative rather than critical mood, I am it seems, left alone with James, as well as what I believe is the authentic Paul. And with their message that only sanity, democracy, and better and individual religion can help us to navigate among the numerous ideological excesses and over-simplifications of the modern world.

Pkragt, December 2020

What are criteria for distinguishing good from bad religion... or else for distinguishing healthy from unhealthy doctrine?
The sage is always a genuine democrat.

Confucius said he did not quite dare claim that he was a sage.

I notice that in the Chinese New Testament used by the official Chinese Protestant Church, Luke 14:25-26 is paraphrased; modified (though in parenthesis it is mentioned that the original, the Greek text it would be, uses the word hate).

“ If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple. “

To state as Jesus does in this one verse that one must hate one’s mother… or else one cannot in fact be a disciple of Jesus–this will seem extreme to most people, but especially to anyone in traditional, or else Confucian societies which claim to put a high value upon honor to parents/ancestors. What does this one verse mean? Though it is not so easy to say… paraphrase will not help. It is the difficult sayings which can teach the most just because we are predisposed in a different direction. If Confucian societies are already predisposed to place too high a value upon one virtue, upon honor to parents as a sort of natural religion… then this one verse at least would provide some necessary corrective.

But an even more important meaning to be found in this one verse, and a meaning which I belive is regularly missed by Western Christianity (and which will probably be denied as essential meaning by most theologically educated Western believers) would be that this verse demands a very individual (and democratic) kind of religion/discipleship. Not just hate parents, siblings, spouse, children, but hate one’s own soul. What can this mean?

It seems clear–(to me at least)–that one meaning here is that Chrisitanity is an essentially individual and prophetic religion. It is not merely social or institutional. Can anyone deny, after all, that religion ultimately and essentially will be individual, will depend upon individual responsibility, else it is not genuine religion.

That is, and according to Luke, Jesus never directly advises anyone to join any social-group, nor does he seem to provide any organizational framework to his own loose group of regular followers. And thus on this one day, with large crowds following along, he turns to the crowd and give an existential and essential definition: his religion goes beyond all of one’s closest social relations. Beyond parents, siblings, children. Anyone who wishes to be a follower must first be an individual as distinct from these basic and healthy social relations. And then in addition to this notion that one must first be an individual distinct from family realtions, the next and last step is that one must also give up this self-subsisting if also fundamentally healthy individualism. The final requirement is to hate one’s own soul.

My interpretation would be that this verse means that individualism (of a prophetic kind) is essential and healthy in reliigion, but is ultimately also given up…

Here in Luke Jesus will not ask anyone specifically to deny one’s own soul or self. Nor does he ask that higher allegiance be given up to any external religious entity, that is, church or creed. Allegiance to Jesus and to Christianity will have some costs and requirements as described by other verses in this same chapter, but it is a mistake (and a case of false advertising) to say that Christianity is about group-allegiance, is about joining this or that version of organized-religion. It rather must be quite essentially individual…

Pk 2018/November


True/False Question:
By it's theological self-definition, the Roman Catholic Church limits the prophetic gift to the Papacy...

Christmas 2014

My musical setting of a portion of a George Herbert poem: All After Pleasures As I Rid One Day

 The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
    My God, no hymne for thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too: a flock it feeds
    Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace
    Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
    Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
    Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
    Himself the candle hold.

Christmas 2013

My musical setting for voices, of a Thomas Hardy poem:

 The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

What is the difference between Christianity and Churchianity? How do you describe the difference? (Ask your local religious official to explain..)

Is Christianity at large (i.e. its major groupings..) like a dysfunctional family, whose members would each rather not, officially/unofficially, recognize the existence/importance of other members..?

A five page pdf on the subject of Anathema in the Septuagint
A six page pdf on the subject of Anathema in the New Testament
A three page pdf on the word Cheirographon in Colossians