Posts Tagged ‘zoroastrianism’

Secular Talk: Candidate for Trump’s Secretary of State Wants War with Iran

November 19, 2016

Unfortunately, the Neocons demanding war with Iran, along with just about every other opposing, or simply independent country, in the Middle East didn’t die with Killary’s campaign for the presidency.

In this piece from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski talks about how John Bolton, one of the potential candidates for Trump’s secretary of state, has made a speech demanding ‘regime change in Tehran’. Bolton blames the Iranians for destabilising the Middle East. Kulinski points out how ludicrous and hypocritical Bolton’s views are. He begins with the point America and the West are now at war with seven countries in the Middle East, including boots on the ground. Bolton was one of the worst of the warmongers. Unlike many others, he still supports the Iraq invasion. Kulinski states ironically that Bolton never met a war he didn’t like. Kulinski goes on to explain how we, America and the West, have destabilised the Middle East. As for Iran, it’s a Shi’a theocracy, but Kulinski accurately states that it is far more liberal and progressive than Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t like the horrific Islamic theocracy in Iran, but also explains that the majority of the population is much younger, under thirty, and more secular than the dinosaurs that rule over them. Again, true.

Kulinski also explains how the Shi’a are a tiny minority in the Middle East, and are under attack everywhere. They have the Israelis on one side of them, and the Saudis on the other. And what about countering their destabilisation of the region? Israel, for example, invaded Lebanon in order to expand its influence, and continues to build illegal settlements to push out the Palestinians. The Saudis have invaded Yemen to attack the Shi’a there. And Qatar and the other Sunni states are funding al-Qaeda, so that they will overthrow Assad in Syria. But no, according to Bolton, it’s the Iranians, not these, who are primarily responsible for the chaos and carnage in the region.

Kulinski also describes how Bolton has blithely made this demand for war with Iran, without even thinking about whether the American people themselves want another war. Usually governments need to build up a propaganda campaign to prepare the public’s mood for war. But no, not this time. Bolton and his friends simply aren’t bothered about that. They’ll just steal Americans’ money through taxation to fund yet another war that no-one except them wants.

Kulinski concludes by stating that if Bolton is picked by Trump as his secretary of state, or even remains in Trump’s circle of advisors, it means that Trump wasn’t serious about keeping America out of further conflicts. Of course, there’s a chance that Trump may keep him as an advisor, but not listen to him. Similarly, if Trump doesn’t pick him, or anyone like him, to be secretary of state, then perhaps there is a chance for America to avoid going into another war.

This is another stupid, horrendous pronouncement by yet another Republican fossil. Again, it ultimately seems to go back to the Neocon plans under Bush, to overthrow a series of regimes in the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Somalia. The result has been an unmitigated disaster. Iraq is now a warzone. As we saw this week, ISIS is determined to smash as much of the regimes precious heritage as it can. After destroying immeasurably valuable antiquities from the dawn of civilisation in Syria and Iraq, it carried out another assault on the Iraqi people’s ancient civilisation by levelling one of the country’s ziggurats. These barbarians have been funded by Saudi Arabia, in its campaign to spread its extremely repressive, intolerant brand of Islam across the world. The Iraqis weren’t responsible for 9/11: it was Saudi Arabia. But the Neocons and Likud wanted Iraq invaded. The Likudniks despised Saddam Hussein because he supplied the Palestinians with guns, while the Saudis and Neocons just wanted to the loot the country of its oil industry and other potentially valuable state assets.

Now, apparently, they want to do this to Iran. The mullahs are unpleasant. They’re extremely corrupt, intolerant and repressive. But they aren’t as corrupt and intolerant as the Saudis. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the Iranian theocracy does include a democratic element. Every so many years, the Iranian people vote for a president. I got the impression that in many respects, it’s pretty much Hobson’s choice, in that there’s little ideological difference permitted between the candidates. Nevertheless, the Iranian people enjoy a measure of popular sovereignty that is denied the peoples of the Sunni absolute monarchies in the Gulf.

I also need hardly say that Iran is also an ancient land with an immensely rich cultural and artistic heritage. This was demonstrated a few years ago when the British Museum lent the Cyrus cylinder for exhibition in Iran. The cylinder records the conquests of the great Persian emperor, Cyrus, over the Babylonians. It’s valuable because it documents how he freed the Israelites from their exile, and allowed them to return to Israel and Judea. This heritage would also be seriously threatened if the Americans decide to invade, just like the heritage of Iraq.

One of the causes for the present chaos in Iraq is the fact that the country is an artificial creation of the imperial powers, in this case, Britain during the Mandate in the 1920s. It does not have a uniform population, but is composed of different tribal groups and sects, including Kurds, Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Mandaeans, a small Gnostic sect that reveres John the Baptist as the true messiah. Iran similarly is composed of a multitude of different peoples. Just over half – 52 per cent – speak Farsi, the language derived from ancient Persia. There are also a number of other different tribes, speaking languages related to Turkish, Arabs in Khuzistan in the West, and Kurds, Lurs and Bakhtiars in their homelands. Three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians, and there are also Parsees, the followers of the ancient religion of the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism, a monotheist faith centred around the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster. The Kurds have been fighting a war for their independence since the 1970s, just as they have in Iraq and Turkey. Iran was also the birthplace of the Baha’i faith, which claims that Baha’ullah, an Iranian religious of the 1920s, was a prophet. Baha’ullah and his followers were exiled to Haifa, in what is now Israel, when it was still part of the Turkish empire. Because of this, the Baha’i’s are under considerable pressure and suspicion as agents of Israel, intent on destroying Islam and Iran. It’s nonsense, but it has been strongly promoted by the authorities, with the result that there have been terrible pogroms and persecution against them.

There is also a massive underground Christian church in Iran. Although its comparable to the underground Christian churches in China, you’ve probably never heard of it. This is made up of Iranians, who have secretly converted from Islam. They too are under immense persecution as apostates. I’ve heard that the situation has go to the point, where the government is posting guards at the Armenian Christian churches to try and keep the Iranians away. If America invades, it will result in the same ethnic conflict and civil war that has turned neighbouring Iraq into a bloodbath. And just as the Christian populations of the Middle East are being massacred and cleansed from the regions by the Islamists, along with other, non-Muslim religions like the Yezidis and moderate Muslims, who want tolerance and peaceful coexistence, so my fear is that if the West attacks Iran, it will intensify the brutal persecution of Christians there.

Apart from this, Iran is a modern, relatively developed and sophisticated country. It was the most developed economy in the Middle East during the Shah’s reign. He tried to industrialise the country. One of his aims was for Iran to equal France as a producer of cars. The Iranians had their own car, the Payhan, and he very nearly pulled this off. Even now Iran is significantly involved in scientific research. I was surprised looking at some of the videos on YouTube on robotics to find that, alongside Britain, America, Japan and China, the Iranians have also developed a humanoid machine. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Middle East was the homeland of the Banu Musa brothers, who in the 11th century created a hundred or more automata and other ‘ingenious desires’. The country is also far more tolerant artistically than Saudi Arabia. More than a decade and a half ago, about the turn of the century, the Iranian government staged an exhibition of the works of the YBAs, including Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Just as the invasion of Iraq wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people and giving them democracy, this isn’t about bringing peace and freedom to the beleaguered people of Iran. This is just another, cynical excuse for us to grab their oil. We did it before. In the 1950s Mossadeq, the last democratically elected Iranian prime minister, nationalised the country’s oil industry, which had previously been in the hands of foreigners, principally us, the British. BP used to be Anglo-Persian Oil, and was set up to exploit the Iranian oil fields. And we did exploit them and the Iranian workers. They were paid less than British workers, and worked in appalling conditions. After Mossadeq nationalised the oil companies, America organised a coup, which we also backed, to overthrow him. I think Mossadeq was a Baha’i, and this was used to mobilise suspicion against him. His removal from power resulted in the Shah assuming total, autocratic control, complete with a secret police, SAVAK, who were brutal thugs. This in turn created rising discontent, which eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The regime renationalise the oil industry, the date of which is now an official state holiday.

Bush and his fellow Neocons deluded themselves that they would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. They weren’t. Corinne de Souza, one of Lobster’s contributors, whose father was Iraqi, made the point that one of the consequences of the invasion was that there were fewer Iraqis willing to cooperate with the British intelligence services. This was for a simple reason: they were like everyone else, and loved their country. They were prepared to help us, as they believed that we would liberate them from Saddam Hussein. But they did not want to collaborate with an occupying force. I’ve no doubt that the same will be true of the Iranians, if Trump goes ahead and appoints this idiot as head of state.

A few years ago, before Obama’s election, Bush and his circle of mass-murderers were indeed considering invading Iran. Shirin Ebadi’s book, Iran on the Brink, which describes rising discontent in Iran against the mullahs, strongly argued against her country’s invasion. Protest groups were also being formed. There was one organising meetings in Clifton in Bristol, as I recall. For a few years, that threat seemed to pass. Now it is come back.

There are now so many wars being fought by America and its allies in the Middle East, that one of the ghastly monsters from Bush’s cabinet actually lost count when he was asked that very question in an interview on American television. And the disgusting so-and-so even had the gall to laugh it off and chuckle about it, as if the murder of whole nations was some kind of joke.

And this comes just as NATO is moving more troops and missiles into Estonia, just in case Putin invades. Killary looked all set to start a war with Russia by stoking tensions there up to levels where some feared we were at the same point the great powers were just before the First World War. I think that threat receded slightly when Trump became president. Trump is a disgusting monster, but he does seem to be friends with Putin, and I’m sure that has helped defuse some of the tensions.

Now we have this despicable moron demanding more carnage. I do wonder where it will all end. How many countries have to be invaded, how many millions murdered, how many people forced out of their homes, to live in camps as refugees? How many of our brave young men and women have be sacrificed to the greed of the oil companies before this all stops? Is there really no end to these politicos’ lust for others’ blood?

This is a situation that will have to be watched very carefully. And I’ll keep an eye out also for any groups being formed to stop war with Iran.

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Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

ISIS Destruction of Antiquities and Respect for Archaeology in Iran

April 12, 2015

Nimrud Map

Map of Nimrud drawn in 1856 by Felix Jones

The Independent reported today that ISIS had released a video of themselves destroying the ancient Babylonian city of Nimrud. Its destruction was reported back in March, but this is the first time footage has been shown of it. The video shows the terrorists attacking the city and its antiquities with pneumatic drills, anglegrinders and sledgehammers. They then laid explosives, and blew the site up.

Irinia Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, the section of the UN that oversees the world’s cultural heritage, denounced the destruction, saying that the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime”.

I couldn’t agree more.

The Indie’s article can be read at: http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/isis-video-shows-complete-destruction-of-ancient-city-of-nimrud-in-iraq/ar-AAaTuAG?ocid=OIE9HP

I’ve already blogged about ISIS’ destruction of Nimrud, and the other cultural treasures of Mosul, and the Christian and Muslim shrines to the patriarch Seth, revered by Moslems as the prophet Sheth, St. George and others. ISIS have claimed that they are destroying these antiquities because they are somehow blasphemous or un-Islamic. In fact, they are attacking them purely because these monuments don’t conform to their own, extremely narrow religious views. They’re a deliberate, calculated assault on the cultural heritage and identity of Iraq’s people. ISIS fear them because they present an alternative, secular national and religious pluralist identity to the absolute conformity ISIS wish to foist on them.

It’s also been suggested that more worldly, venal motives were involved in Nimrud’s destruction. ISIS may have been looting the site to raise money to buy more arms by selling the antiquities illegally. They levelled the city to disguise what they’d done. So their claim that they were destroying the city for religious reasons may have been just a load of lies to disguise what they really are: a bunch of thieves and grave robbers.

Archaeology in Iran

ISIS’ contempt for the region’s heritage contrasts with Iran, where, with some qualifications, archaeology is still valued. John Simpson in one of his books described the way an angry mob was ready to destroy the depictions of the Persian shahs at Naqsh-i-Rustem in the 1979 revolution, but were prevented from doing so by the carvings’ guard. He stopped them by telling them that they were instead depictions of Hassan and Hussein, the two sons of the Imam Ali, the founder of Shi’ism.

In the 1990s there was a minimal Western archaeological presence in Iran, though I believe it has been expanded since then. I once bumped into one of the lecturers in the archaeological department at Uni nearly ten years ago, who had just returned from excavating an early Islamic city in Iran.

And a few years ago the British Museum loaned the Cyrus Cylinder, shown below, to the Islamic Republic.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder records the conquest of Babylonia by the great Persian king Cyrus, or Kourash, as he is known in Persian. After the conquest, he issued an edict permitting the peoples exiled in Babylon to return to their homelands, returned their gods, and assisted in the reconstruction of their temples. These included the Jews, who returned to Israel, for which the Persians are praised in the Bible.

I was taught at College that Islam similarly regarded Zoroastrians as ‘Peoples of the Book’, who, like Jews and Christians, worshipped the one God, and whose worship was therefore protected.

British Museum’s loan of the Cylinder to Iran was of major diplomatic and cultural significance. Firstly, it was party of a general thaw in relations between Britain and the Islamic Republic. Secondly, it also showed the confidence that the Museum in the Cylinder’s safety. The repatriation of cultural artefacts looted by Western scholars from the other cultures around the world is a major issue in archaeology and the heritage sector. Many nations and ethnic groups are rightly angered at the appropriation of valuable or important religious items from their cultures, including human remains. A few years ago, for example, BBC 2 screened a series looking behind the scenes at the British Museum. Amongst the Museum’s other work, it showed the delicate negotiations surrounding the repatriation of the remains of Aboriginal Tasmanians to their descendants.

Other items remain, and their retention is immensely controversial. The Elgin Marbles is a case in point.

The Museum has, however, a policy of not returning antiquities to countries where their safety can’t be guaranteed. The looting and destruction of ancient monuments and archaeological finds is a real problem, particularly in the developing world. And it isn’t unknown here either. There have been digs in Britain, that have been wrecked and the finds looted by Nighthawks. There have also been a number of curators and museum directors, who have been caught illegally selling off objects from the very collections they were supposed to be maintaining.

The loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, by contrast, showed that the British authorities had every confidence that their fellows in Iran would respect and value it, and that Britain and Iran could have good relations in the exploration of that nation’s ancient past and its treasures.

This is another excellent reason why the Repugs are stupid to want another war with Iran. Apart from destabilising yet another nation and brutalising its people, purely for the profit of the oil and arms industries, it could result in the same destruction of antiquities as in Iraq.

And as in Iraq, the world would again be much the poorer.

Netanyahu Scaremongers again about Iran Nuclear Threat

March 3, 2015

Netanyahu has been at it again today. According to the I, he criticised Obama’s attempts to make an agreement with Iran over the country’s nuclear programme. He told a meeting of AIPAC – the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee – yesterday (2nd March) that Iran’s nuclear project threatens Israel’s very existence. He accused Iran of ‘threatening to destroy Israel’ and that it was ‘devouring country after country in the Middle East, that is exporting terror throughout the world and is developing as we speak the capacity to make nuclear weapons.’

This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has raised fears of a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran. Three years ago in 2012 he told the UN that the Iranians were only a year away from developing an atomic bomb, that would be used against Israel. He came complete with a diagram showing Iran’s growing nuclear capability, shaped like the stereotypical bomb from thousands of old cartoons.

He was lying. About a fortnight ago, the Guardian revealed that, according to leaked documents from Israel’s spy service, Mossad, and their internal security agency, Shin Bet, no such threat existed. The head of the Iraeli army, in much more guarded language, actually cautioned Netanyahu against taking any military action against Iran. The Young Turks discuss these revelations in the video below.

Iran’s Nuclear Power for Generating Electricity Only

Others have come to the same conclusion. Shirin Ebadi, a left-wing critic of the Iranian regime, who has its oppression of women and its exploitation country’s ordinary, working people, made the same point. In her book Iran on the Brink, she argues against an invasion of Iran. According to her, the mullahs governing the country aren’t interested in developing atomic weapons. Their claims that they want to develop it simply as a domestic power source are true. The country is indeed an oil producer, but they use it primarily for export. They intend to build nuclear power plants so that less oil is consumed by the country itself. The oil saved can then be exported, boosting the country’s economy and their own profits.

Netanyahu’s Claims of Iranian Terrorist Threat Exaggerated

Now let’s examine Netanyahu’s claims about Iran exporting terrorism, and ‘devouring country after country’. It’s true that Iran has exported terror around the world. In the 1990s the Iranian secret services were responsible for a massacre of Kurdish separatists meeting in a German restaurant. As for militaristic expansionism, it has been suggested that the Iranians are, or have, given military support to the Shi’ah minority in Iraq. The majority of Iranian Muslims are Shi’ah, and so they wish to support and bolster the power of their co-religionists in Iraq. There have also been claims that they would like to take control of the country. I can also remember reading articles in Private Eye speculating that British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan have also come into contact with Iranian troops there.

Iran has not, however, taken control of Iraq and has absolutely no links to the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In fact liberal Iranians went to the polls in 2008 to vote out Ahmedinejad as a religious hard-liner who, they feared, would turn their country into a ‘Taliban state’. Afghanistan is a Sunni Muslim nation, a different form of Islam to Shi’ism. As for al-Qaeda and ISIS, they are militant Sunni, and so hostile to Iran and its political ambitions. Given the brutal intolerance of ISIS, the Iranians probably have good reason to fear them.

The mullahs in Iran are deeply hostile to Israel, and much of their rhetoric is poisonously genocidal. However, they aren’t the danger that Netanyahu is presenting them as.

Western Invasion of Iraq Responsible for Increased Persecution of Religious Minorities

If anything, Netanyahu’s rhetoric is also extremely dangerous, and likely to make the tense situation in the Middle East much worse, especially for its ethnic and religious minorities. Twenty years ago the Likud party with the Republicans in America drew up plans for the invasion of Iraq. Likud wished to see Saddam Hussein overthrown as he was supplying arms to the Palestinians. The invasion instead destabilised the region, and made possible ISIS’ emergence. About ten years ago, Dan Cruikshank journeyed to Iraq as part of a BBC TV series looking at the world’s great architectural heritage. He spoke to the patriarch of one of the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. The interview was strained, with ominous silences where none of them spoke. The patriarch said that previously, relations with Muslim Iraqis had been quite harmonious. They had since become much worse, largely because of the invasion. The Islamic state has butchered the Christian population in the areas they’ve overrun. Iraq’s ancient Christian people, who speak Syriac, a Semitic language descended from Aramaic, have been forced out of their ancient homelands, like Mosul.

And they haven’t been the only people ISIS have persecuted. They’ve also attacked the Yezidis, a faith which contains elements of Sufi Islam and Zoroastrianism.

Iran also has its non-Muslim religious minorities. About 3 per cent of the population are Armenian Christians. Like the Syriac-speaking churches, these are one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith. There is also an Anglican church in Tehran. These churches have also suffered persecution at the hands of extremists and bigots. Iran was also the ancient home of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the Persian Empire. Zoroaster was the prophet, who reformed the Iranian religion and instituted the worship of the god Ahura Mazda, the good deity responsible for the creation of the world and its good creatures. I think there are even one or two Jews left in Iran, for all that most of them emigrated when the Ayatollah Khomeini declared they were free to leave after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Netanyahu’s belligerent rhetoric threatens to make the situation worse in Iran for all its religious minorities, and for liberal Muslims wishing to create a more open, tolerant and modern country. It stands to provoke even further suspicion and resentment. And by making such claims, Netanyahu also makes the situation worse for Israel by increasing international tension and the possibility of further violence.

Conclusion: Netanyahu’s Rhetoric Cynical Electioneering

But as The Young Turks point out, Netanyahu really isn’t interested in promoting peace or securing Israel’s safety. He wants to stoke fears of an Iranian nuclear threat in the hope of gaining further domestic votes. It’s a cynical attitude that threatens the safety of everyone in the region. Especially as the leaked documents to the Guardian have shown, it’s based on lies.

Obama reassured AIPAC that he had no intention of allowing the Iranians to build nuclear bombs. He should be believed, as should the Iranians, when they say that it really is all about generating electricity. The real liar is Netanyahu, and his lies threaten everyone.

Mithras Myths

November 5, 2007

Okay, it’s November, and with Christmas fast approaching I thought I’d better turn my attention to the ancient god Mithras. Since the 19th century antichristians have been claiming that Christianity is based, to a greater or lesser extent, on the ancient Roman cult of Mithras. This claim has been repeated and elaborated by contemporary atheist polemicists and propagandists like Acharya S and the Rational Response Squad to support their belief that Jesus Himself did not exist, but was merely copied and invented by the early Christians from existing pagan deities. In support of this position, it has been claimed that Mithras was born of a virgin, had 12 disciples, was crucified, ascended into heaven, and that his followers shared a ritual meal of bread and wine which served as the basis for Christian holy communion. However, these supposed parallels with Christianity either don’t exist at all, or are common to a number of religions.

Furthermore, although some of the speculation that Mithraism had a profound impact on Christianity was based on the sincere, though mistaken, speculations of respected and entirely respectable scholars such as the great Belgian classical scholar, Franz Cumont, there is a very sinister aspect to late 19th and early 20th century European fringe religious fascination with Mithras. To the volkisch neo-pagans in central Europe, Mithras was an indigenous monotheistic saviour god whom the ancient Aryans had worshipped, and whose replacement by the Semitic religion of Christianity had damaged the Aryans peoples of Europe intellectually and spiritually. The promotion of Mithraism as the true religion of the Indo-European peoples and the pattern on which Christianity was modelled was part of the wider, racial-nationalistic campaigns against Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage, a campaign that reached its worst excesses in the Nazi party.

Now let’s examine the historical cult of Mithras, and see if it matches the claims of Christ-mythers.

Firstly, it should be noted that Mithras is a genuinely ancient god. One of the most ancient documents recording his cult is a treaty from the 14th century BC between the Hittites and the Mitanni carved into the rock at Boghaz Koi, in which he is invoked as a witness. As one of the Spentas – the hypostases of the good god and creator, Ahura Mazda, Mithras was worshipped by the Achaemenid kings of Iran, and by Zoroastrians around the world today. However, there is a profound difference between the ancient Persian and Zoroastrian cults of Mithras and his Roman cult. Scholars of the Roman cult of Mithras consider that it ‘is originally and substantially a Greek religion with only a few Iranian elements.’ 1

Such scholars state that ‘no direct continuity, either of a general kind or in specific details, can be demonstrated between the Perso-Hellenistic worship of Mitra and the Roman mysteries of Mithras. The oft-repeated attempts to traces a seamless history of Mithras from the second millennium BC to the fourth century AD simply tell us something quite general about the relative stability, or, as it may be, flexibility, of religious ideas. We cannot account for Roman Mithras in in terms borrowed from Persian Mitra.’ 2

Roman Mithraism similarly evolved separately from and was not a predecessor to Christianity ‘There is another reason too for thinking that it makes little sense to treat the mysteries of Mithras as but one stage in a longer evolution. The mysteries cannot be shown to have developed from Persian religious ideas, nor does it make sense to interpret them as a fore-runner of Christianity. Both views neglect the sheer creativity that gave rise to the mystery-cult. Mithraism was an independent creation with its own unique value within a given historical, specifically Roman, context.’ 3

Now let’s examine some of the specific claims regarding the supposed similarity between Christ and Mithras.

The Virgin Birth

There is actually no parallel or influence here between Roman Mithraism and Christianity. Mithras was not born from a virgin, but from a rock. Indeed, one inscription to Mithras reads ‘To the almighty God Sun invincible, generative god, born from the rock.’ 4 The scene of Mithras’ birth from a rock was a particular favourite of the cult’s devotees, and is found in sculptures and medallions from all over the Roman Empire, from Rayanov Grich in Croatia, St. Alban’s in England, Cologne, Metz, Rome, Resca in Romania, Bingen and Trier. 5 Mithras was not always considered to have been born from a rock, however. A relief at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in England shows the god being born from an egg, which itself becomes a celestial globe. 6 There is a similar scene at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall, which shows Mithras being born from the cosmic egg surrounded by a zodiacal ring. 7 He also sometimes appears being born from a tree, possibly developed from stylised representations of the rock as a pine-cone. 8

So there was no conception of a virgin birth in ancient Mithraism. Zoroastrians do expect the Saoshyant, the Saviour who will eventually defeat the forces of Angra Mainyu, the god of evil, at the end of the world, to be born of a virgin. There is a profound difference between the virgin birth of the Saoshyant and of Christ, however, In Zoroastrianism, the Saoshyant will be born from the physical seed of Zoroaster, which has been taken by the yazad Neryosang and preserved in Lake Kayansih. The Saoshyant’s mother is expected to become pregnant after she bathes in that lake. The Zand, one of the Zoroastrian holy books, describes it thus:

‘Three times Zardusht [the prophet Zoroaster] approached his wife, Hvovi. Each time his see fell to the ground. The yazad Neryosang took all the light and power of that seed, and .. it was consigned to Lake Kayansih, in the care of the Waters …. It is said that even now three lamps are seen shining at night in the depth of the lake. And for each, when his own time comes, it will be thus: a virgin will go to Lake Kayansih to bathe; and the Glory (of Zardusht) will enter her body, and she will become with child. And so, one by one the (three) will be born thus, each at his own time.’ 9

Thus for Zoroastrians, the Saoshyant will be born from the spiritually transformed physical semen of a human being. It is not like Jesus, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and whose father is truly God Himself, rather than Joseph, who made no contribution to the process of physical conception.

Even those scholars in the 19th century who claimed that the Christian doctrine of the Virgin birth, the adoration of the Magi and the visit of the shepherds admitted they had no evidence for this. 10 Thus the claim that Christ’s virgin birth must have been taken from Zoroastrianism or Mithraism simply doesn’t stand up, and must be rejected.

Crucifixion

This simply doesn’t occur at all in the Roman cult of Mithras. The events in the god’s life, at least as reconstructed from existing iconography, are the birth of Mithras from a rock or tree, his shooting at a cloud to bring forth rain; his shooting at a rock, which causes a spring to gush forth; cutting the corn; taming and sacrificing the holy bull; his contract with the sun god; a holy meal, and final ascent to heaven on the chariot of the sun god. 11 It is true that the bread broken in the communal meal held by the initiates of the cult of Mithras was marked with a cross, but this was for ease of breaking the bread and does not represent any event in the god’s life. 12

The Twelve Disciples

These simply don’t appear in Roman Mithraism either. There are a number of animals shown present at Mithras’ birth, including the Greek god Chronos, a raven, dog, serpent and scorpion, as well as two figures, Cautes and Cautopates, bearing torches. These torch-bearers sometimes appear to be helping Mithras out of the rock, but there is no connection with the Christian birth narrative and they cannot be called ‘shepherds’. 13 They may instead represent the gods Sol and Luna, or the rising and setting sun, or alternatives Cautopates may represent death, while Cautes joy, fertility and new life. 14 It’s possible that the idea of 12 disciples for Mithras arose through confusion with astrological imagery found in the cult motifs, such as the birth of the god from the rock and the slaying of the bull. However, these are very definitely signs of the zodiac, not 12 earthly humans. So again, there isn’t a parallel with Christianity.

The Ritual Meal

The initiates of the cult of Mithras did, however, share a meal of bread and wine that was seen by the Christian apologists Justin Martyr and Tertullian as pagan distortions and parodies of the Christian eucharist. It’s considered that the ritual meals held in the Mithraic temples were a symbolic re-enactment of the celebratory meal Mithras and the god Sol held after Mithras’ slaying of the bull, which produced the universe. 15 Scholars of the cult of Mithras state very clearly that neither Christianity nor Mithraism borrowed anything from the other regarding this, as the sharing of a communal meal is a common element in many religions all over the world.

‘In the case of these analogies, there can be no question of imitation in either direction. The offering of bread and wine is known in virtually all ancient cultures, and the meal as a way of binding the faithful together and uniting them to the deity was a feature common to many religions. It represented one of the oldest means of manifesting unification with the spiritual, and the appropriation of spiritual qualities.’ 16

The Mithraic ritual meal may not have been an exact parallel to the Christian eucharist either. It’s assumed that both Christian eucharist and the Mithraic ritual meal consisted of bread and wine, but the Mithraic ritual meal may also have included cake and meat – bull, cock, ram or pig, grapes, and less, frequently, fish. The krater containing the blood from the sacrifice of a bull, in re-enactment of Mithras’ slaying of the primeval bull, may have held water as well as wine a substitute. 17 Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the Mithraic liturgy, suggesting that it consisted of a sacrifice of an animal or bird in commemoration of the bull-slaying by the cult’s Pater as representative of Mithras, the coronation of the Heliodromus, the Courier of the Sun, the member of the grade representing the sun, by the Pater, representing Mithras, a pact, perhaps made by offering part of the sacrifice on the small alter by the Pater and Heliodromus, followed by the cult meal with the Pater and Heliodromus as chief officials, which represented the future ascent of the participants’ souls to Mithras and Sol. 18 If this reconstruction is correct, then the supposed parallel to Christian holy communion is much weaker, as animal sacrifice was firmly rejected by the early Church, which ridiculed its persistence in paganism.

Regarding the Christian eucharist, the evidence of the two eucharistic prayers in chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache seem to be based on the Birkat ha-Mazon, the Jewish table prayer. 19 Here the origin is both the commemoration of the Last Supper, and also an expectation of the Messianic banquet, which in Jewish belief will be held for the followers of the Messiah at the end of time.

The Ascent into Heaven

After the sacrifice, Mithras appears to have ascended into heaven on the chariot of the sun god, Sol, with whom he had made a pact. It is thus strikingly different from Christ’s ascent into heaven, alone and unaided. The only common element between the two is that heaven – the abode of God – is located in the sky, a view that is found in all religions.

The Water Miracle

One of the events in the Mithraic narrative which appears to have the closest resemblance to Christianity is Mithras’ bringing forth of water from a rock. In a number of sculptures and reliefs, chiefly from the regions of the Rhine and Danube, Mithras is shown sitting on a stone aiming a bow at a rock. One figure either stands behind him or clasps Mithras’ knees in supplication, while another figure kneels in front of the rock. A votive altar from Poetovio proclaims Mithras to be the fons perennialis, the ever flowing spring. 20 This is similar to the scenes on Christian sarcophagi showing Moses striking the rock in the desert to produce water as an illustration of the New Testament’s view of Christ as a water-bearing rock, such as in1 Corinthians 10: 4 ‘And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ’.

However, there is again, no question of influence from either religion on the other. Water played an important part in the mysteries of Mithras, and Mithraic temples could include water pipes, basins and cisterns, and were often located near holy springs, such as at Mackwiller, the Morava valley in Serbia and Bijelo Polje in Bosnia. 21 Thus the cult of Mithras was part of a widespread veneration of holy springs common in pagan Europe and the Near East. The importance of water, and the symbolism of water for life or immortality also derive from both religions’ origins in the arid conditions of the Near East, where drought was a perennial problem and real threat. ‘The thinking that underlies these features of each cult is naturally rooted in the same traditions. The water-miracle is one of the wide-spread myths that originate from regions plagued by drought and where the prosperity of humans and nature depends upon rain.’ 22 The symbolism of Christ as offering living water is based very solidly on Old Testament imagery for God. Jeremiah 17:13 describes God as ‘the Lord, the fountain of living waters’. The image of Christ as the rock that gives water to His followers, as expressed in 1 Corinthians 10: 4, comes from the incident in Exodus 17:1-7, where, finding themselves without water at Rephidim, the Israelites complained to Moses who struck a rock with his rod so that water came out of it. Its depiction on Christian sarcophagi was a way of representing Christ’s own words to the woman of Samaria, as recorded in John 4:14 ‘But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a w ell of water springing up into everlasting life’. If Mithraism did influence Christianity here, it was through the depiction of the water miracles of Christ and Mithras, with the water-miracles of Mithras forming the model for the depiction of Moses striking the rock at Horeb. 23 However, the underlying Christian symbolism is authentic to Christianity and Judaism and the witness of the Old and New Testaments.

Thus, Mithraism and Christianity actually aren’t that similar, and where similarities do occur it’s through their common origins in the Middle East, rather than through direct borrowing. Also, some contemporary scholars consider that where Mithraism did appear to be disconcertingly similar to Christianity, it was an illusion created by the scholars themselves, who viewed Mithraism through a model of religious development based on Christianity.

‘Clearly, Christianity was the paradigm. The Cumontian model was cloned from the then dominant model of Christianity, not deliberately but simply because that was the way the late nineteenth-century Western mind confronted religion.’ 24

Thus modern Christ-mythicists who see Christianity as modelled on the religion of Mithras do so because the intellectual model of Mithraism on which they base their theories is actually modelled on Christianity. Their image of the cult of Mithras is really Christianity, as seen through a distorting mirror of classical scholarship and pseudo-scholarship, rather than a true image of the ancient religion itself.

There is also a sinister, racist aspect to the elevation of Mithraism as a rival to and original prototype of Christianity. The 19th century volkisch neopagans of Central Europe embraced Mithraism as a particularly Aryan religion, a direct survival of the Ur-religion from the ancient homeland of the Aryan peoples. Following the attempts of the great anthropologist and scholar of comparative religion, Frederick Muller, to trace the origins of Aryan religion in a primeval solar cult, the 19th century Germanic neo-pagan milieu saw this original Aryan religion as a cult of the sun, and Mithras, as Sol Invictus, was seen as the true Aryan saviour cult, in contrast to the alien religion of Christianity with its roots in Judaism. This view of Mithras and Mithraism was taken up and expanded by Jung, who viewed Mithraism as religion of nature in contrast to the stifling forces of civilisation created by Christianity. ‘Two thousand years of Christianity makes us strangers to ourselves. In the individual, the internalisation of bourgeois-Christian civilization is a mask that covers the true Aryan god within, a natural god, a sun god, perhaps even Mithras himself.’ 25 While Jung most definitely was not a Nazi or even a proto-Nazi, he did share some of the racist views that there was a real cognitive difference between Jews and Aryans at certain points in his career. Jung’s book, Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido, which explored solar mysticism and Mithraism, was shaped by 19th century conceptions of Christianity as fundamentally alien to Aryans through its roots in Judaism.

‘Hence, for the educated volkisch neopagan circa 1911 or 1912 who may have stumbled across this work, it would seem that Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido was the scientific confirmation of everything that one would believe about the necessity for the repudiation of Christianity and the practice of sun worship.Jung’s volume is indeed the “volkisch liturgy”.’ 26

Thus the atheist conception of Mithraism is an ancient rival to and prototype of Christianity is not born out by the actual features of the religion itself, and the similarities to Christianity which some have seen in the cult are the product of the two religion’s common origins in the ancient Near East, and the distorted view of Mithraism by 19th century scholars who examined it through the concepts and model of Christianity, and so made it resemble Christianity more than it really did. Lastly, the continued persistence of the claim of Mithraism as the model from which Christianity was copied has been informed by 19th century Neopagan attempts to re-establish a rival Aryan religion to Semitic Christianity. The Christ-mythers who continue to promote Mithraism as the true origin of Christianity are very much following the intellectual programme of these Neo-pagans, though without adhering to their racism.

Notes

  1. M.P. Speidel, Mithras-Orion: Greek Hero and Roman Army God (Leiden, E.J. Brill 1980), p. 2.
  2. Manfred Clauss: The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries, R. Gordon trans., (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press 2000), p. 7.
  3. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 7.
  4. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 62.
  5. Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68.
  6. ‘Mithras’, in Encyclopedia of World Mythology (London, Peerage Books 1975), p. 162.
  7. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 70.
  8. ‘Mithras’, in World Mythology, p. 162; Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 70-1.
  9. ‘On the Three World Saviours, From the Zand’ in Mary Boyce, ed. and trans. Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1984), p. 91.
  10. F. Cumont, T.J. McCormack, trans., The Mysteries of Mithras, 2nd Edition (Chicago, the Open Court Publishing Company 1910), p. 195.
  11. ‘Mithras’, World Mythology, p. 162, ‘Chapter 8: the Sacred Narrative’ in Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 62-101.
  12. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 110.
  13. Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 68-9.
  14. Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 95-98.
  15. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 110l; R. Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire (Oxford, OUP 2006), p. 22.
  16. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 109.
  17. J. Stewardson and E. Saunders, ‘Reflections on the Mithraic Liturgy’ in S. Laeuchli, ed., Mithraism in Ostia: Mytery, Religion and Christianity in the Ancient Port of Rome (Garrett Theological Seminary/ Northwestern University Press 1967), p. 72.
  18. Stewardson and Saunder ‘Mithraic Liturgy’, in Laeuchli, Mithraism in Ostia, p. 71.
  19. M. Staniforth and A. Louth, eds. and trans., Early Christian Writings (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1987), p. 188; J.F. White, A Brief History of Christian Worship (Nashville, Abingdon Press 1993), p. 26.
  20. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 72.
  21. Clauss, Roman Mithras, pp. 73-4.
  22. Clauss, Roman Mithras, p. 72.
  23. F. Cumont, Mysteries of Mithra, pp. 196-7.
  24. Beck, Mithras Cult, p. 54.
  25. R. Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (London, FontanaPress 1996), p. 128.
  26. Noll, Jung Cult, p. 130.

Mithras and the Rational Response Squad

As avowed supporters of the view that Jesus is an entirely mythological figure, it’s not surprising that the vehement atheists of the Rational Response Squad should cite Mithras as one of the ancient religions from which Christianity was copied. The complete absence of any real support for their position can be seen in this debate http://rationalresponders.blogspot.com/2007/11/kabane52-forces-rook-hawkins-to-face.html at Frank Walton’s Rational Response Squad blog between Kabane52 and the Rational Response Squad’s Rook Hawkins.