On 11/11/11, Let’s Crank it to 11!

An amplifier dial has volume numbers from 0 to 10 but it goes beyond to 11 (Spinal Tap)You only get one 11/11/11 each century, and today is it.  And if today is all about 11, it must be Spin̈al Tap Day!

The 1984 film This is Spinal Tap, a mocumentary of Britain’s loudest heavy metal band, has a scene where the lead guitarist explains why they’re so loud—the dials on their amplifiers don’t stop at 10 but go up to 11.  When the interviewer asks why they don’t just recalibrate the numbers so that 10 is the loudest, there’s a confused pause, after which Nigel repeats, “These go to 11.”

And isn’t every day Spin̈al Tap Day within Christianity?  Let’s look at a few areas where Christianity stares blankly into space and then repeats, “These go to 11.”

The Catholic Church is a great source of 11-isms.  To see immutable religion changing, look at the position of Jesus’s mother Mary within the Catholic Church.  By 1854 it concluded, without scriptural evidence, that she must have been born of a virgin herself and in 1950 that she couldn’t have died but must have risen to heaven.

Or consider Limbo, the place that’s neither heaven nor hell, where unbaptized babies go when they die.  The idea was discarded by the church in 2007.

The Trinity is always a fun topic.  The Jews in the Old Testament saw the move from polytheism to monotheism as foundational, but then Christianity (Judaism 2.0) invented the Trinity.  They had a have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too problem in that they wanted to keep monotheism except that their “single” deity would be formed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  First off, we have a problem with language—can’t Christianity think of a better name for its god than “God”?

And if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the persons, what do you call the union of these into one god?  That is, Father + Son + Holy Spirit = who?  You need a fourth name.  Do you call it “God”?  But “God” is the one who created everything, and that’s supposed to be the Father.  The Father can’t both be the first person of the Trinity and the overall god at the same time.  You can use “the Trinity” as the umbrella name, but that’s an odd name for a monotheistic god.

There’s another way to see the problem.  Consider this passage:

I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me.  I am the LORD [that is, Jehovah], and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5-6)

There’s nothing confusing here from a Jewish viewpoint, which was the intended audience.  Let’s ignore for now that the Old Testament uses several names, possibly for different gods (Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim), that are conflated when convenient.

The verse says that there is no other besides Jehovah.  If Jehovah is a synonym for “the Father,” this means that he reigns alone and the Trinity is no more.  But if Jehovah is a synonym for the Trinity, then it makes nonsense of the singular pronouns (Me and I) in these verses and confuses passages such as “Then [Jehovah] spoke to Moses” (Ex. 40:1) or “After [Jehovah] had spoken these things to Job” (Job 42:7).  The problem, of course, is demanding a Christian interpretation of a Jewish text.

Here are a few more 11-isms.

  • Why blame Adam and Eve for disobeying God when they didn’t know that that was wrong?  Remember that they hadn’t yet eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • Why does the Bible contain nutty superstitions like the one about how you can change the appearance of animals’ young by changing what they see when mating (Gen. 30:37–9)?
  • Why does God give no new science, even information as simple and life saving as germ theory or the recipe for soap?
  • Why was slavery in Egypt that big a deal when the Israelites promptly enslaved a tribe once they returned to Canaan (Josh. 9)?
  • How can those in heaven enjoy the experience when they know of the suffering of billions in hell?
  • If God deeply wants us to make it into heaven and belief in Jesus is mandatory, why is he so hidden?
  • And why would he get furious because we’re imperfect when that’s precisely how he made us?

I’ve read more sensible things in Alice in Wonderland.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “Sweep away [the priests’] gossamer fabrics of fictitious religion, and they would catch no more flies.”

Let’s end with an 11-ism video.  This one weighs the profound love Jesus has for us against that whole hell thing.

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jim H

    Although I now consider myself agnostic, I was raised Catholic and attended both elementary and high parochial schools and am fairly well read on many issues of Catholic theology.
    I anyone is still reading these comments, and cares, the following isn’t really an accurate depiction of what the Catholic Church teaches on these subjects and the history behind them. However, most practicing Catholics probably wouldn’t know that. My strong interest in understanding my (then) Catholic faith, led me to a committed study, and greater understanding, which eventually led me away from it.
    Here’s the quote:

    “To see immutable religion changing, look at the position of Jesus’s mother Mary within the Catholic Church. By 1854 it concluded, without scriptural evidence, that she must have been born of a virgin herself and in 1950 that she couldn’t have died but must have risen to heaven.”

    The Catholic Church does teach the “immaculate conception” of Mary. However, that refers to her being born without original sin. If you study the history of interest in Mary’s conception, and “sanctification” in her mother’s womb as can find references as early as the eighth century. By that time, feast days celebrating Mary’s conception were widespread in the Eastern Church.
    The Catholic Church does teach the Assumption of Mary. While Mary being taken up body and soul into heaven “having completed the course of her earthly life,” is doctrinally asserted, whether that occurred before or after death is not.

    Eastern Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death and that she was taken up into heaven.
    Although the Catholic Church made the Assumption of Mary Church doctrine in 1950, there were apocryphal (non-canonical) stories about it since the 4th century.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      There’s a difference between a belief, even widespread, of some feature about Mary and that belief being dogmatised by the Catholic Church, which is what I was talking about.

      • Jim H

        I agree that there’s a vast difference between a belief, even widespread, and dogma. When something becomes doctrine/dogma Catholics are absolutely required to believe it.. I personally never understood why such things as Mary’s conception and fate at the end of her life were important enough for a council/pope to speak infallibly on. Limbo, on the other hand, seemed a more important topic, since it concerned unbaptized babies. That is probably why it gained widespread popularity among theologians in the middle ages. But it was never Church doctrine and as you pointed out, has fallen into disrepute.
        I was disagreeing about what the doctrines actually were and that these were not good examples of a immutable religion changing, because they did not represent a change in doctrine, but only making doctrinal something that had been widely believed anyway.
        As one who has been an insider, of sorts, I think one of the Catholic Church’s greatest weaknesses is its inability to change. In defending its beliefs, Church representatives often comment about how far back in Church history they have taught something. In my opinion, the Church can never change its opinions on some things, like contraception, because popes, or councils, have spoken infallibly on the topic. Changing their opinion puts its teaching authority on very shaky grounds.
        My only reason for posting was to attempt to provide some information/insight that only a knowledgeable former Catholic could provide. The average Catholic would probably not know that you got any of it wrong. .

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          they did not represent a change in doctrine, but only making doctrinal something that had been widely believed anyway.

          How are these not equivalent?

        • Jim H

          Wasn’t your point to provide examples of what you described as immutable religion changing? In my opinion, your specifically Catholic examples (Immaculate Conception, Assumption of Mary, and Limbo) are flawed and do not illustrate what you contend they do. If anything, these illustrate the opposite. Declaring something that is a long held belief by the majority of the members of Church is official doctrine does not in any way represent religion changing. As I pointed out, such stories about Mary have been traditions for a long, long time. Limbo was only “theorized” in the Middle Ages, because it didn’t seem fair that souls of unbaptized babies burned in Hell, which prior to that time, was held by most, including Augustine. The Church never made either belief doctrine and actually still hasn’t. The official position on unbaptized babies is that they don’t know what happens (since their scripture is silent on the subject), but hold hope that they get to Heaven, because of God’s mercy.
          That said, since I am Agnostic, not Catholic, I have “no dog in this fight”, other than intellectual. I am not defending the Catholic Church, as I pointed out I am critical of it. I think your examples are very good evidence against the flawed concept of doctrine, but not for the reason you provide.
          Your responses don’t really address what my points were and it appears that you are offended by my input. I believe that when someone who is friendly to what you are doing is offering criticism that points out a weakness in your argument, they are doing you a favor. It seems internet bloggers generally do not see it that way. Perhaps, it is something inherent in the kind of personality that blogs.
          Of course, there must be something inherent in my personality that makes me want to correct other peoples arguments.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          The official doctrine changed. That’s my point.

          If you want to look at it from a lay perspective, there wasn’t a popular clamor for special treats for Mary in the first century, so that evolved as well.

          Yes, I appreciate your input, and you’re welcome here.

  • adam

    “First off, we have a problem with language—can’t Christianity think of a better name for its god than “God”?”

    His real name is Hank apparently:

    http://www.jhuger.com/kissing-hanks-ass