Wednesday, August 29, 2018

September and October Lectures

Topics for the lectures this September in our Tuesday History, Theology, and Philosophy Meetup.


The centuries following the renewed 1492 contact between the world's eastern and western hemispheres were devastating for the indigenous peoples of the Americas whose population was continually decimated by imported diseases for which they lacked immunity.  By the early 19th century, so few indigenous people remained that European Americans doubted they could have ever built the massive number of earthworks that covered the North American landscape. Instead they created a myth that the mounds must have been built by a lost civilized race that was ultimately exterminated by the American Indians.  The most successful telling of this myth is found in Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.  We will look at how the myth of the moundbuilders evolved and its continuing consequences.



The art of the theater died out in the West with the fall of the Roman Empire.  But in the unlikely setting of Germany in the 10th century, a remarkable woman revived both comedy and drama.  Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim was a secular canoness (a member of a religious community living a monastic life) who read the ancient Roman playwrights Plautus and Terrance and used them as models for her own plays. Produced for the edification and entertainment of her fellow sisters, Hrotsvitha's comedies featured the exploits of saintly heroines humiliating their lecherous pagan captors.  We'll read from Hrotsvitha's work (some of the humor is still funny today!) and look at her context and legacy.



Is pleasure good?  Shouldn't pain be avoided?  We'll explore the ancient Greek philosophy of Epicurus, caricatured in antiquity and today as “eat, drink, and be merry.”  Following up on our lectures on the Greco-Roman moral philosophy — Platonism, Stoicism, Cynicism — we'll consider the great rival of these more accepted schools: Epicureanism.  Epicureans were connected with atomist theory and atheism, both of which were reviled in antiquity but have been revived and reconsidered in modern times. We'll sweep past some modern misconceptions and take a deeper look at the teachings of Epicurus and his successors.



"Truth isn't truth!" Rudy Giuliani recently asserted in defense of his client Donald Trump.  In an era when so many people are insisting the anything they believe or say is just as valid as anything anyone else might say, society sometimes seems to have lost track of basic rules of logic. Our presentation tonight will offer a refresher course, mapping out common logical errors from the law of non-contradiction (which Giuliani lost track of) to old favorites like “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” 



Jesus of Nazareth famously advised "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" and taught his followers to "love your enemies."  In the first centuries AD, Christians frequently questioned whether the role of soldier was compatible with their faith.  Although the Emperor Constantine converted after winning a battle under the symbol of the cross, he delayed his baptism until his deathbed to wipe away the sins incurred as head of the Roman army. By the Middle Ages, however, Popes called upon Christian knights to attack the enemies of the faith: Muslims, pagans, Cathars, and Christian heretics alike. In the modern era European Empires brutally conquered and colonized much of the world hand-in-hand with Christian missionaries.  How did Christianity get from point A to B and C and where do we find ourselves today?



"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" is a hilarious Monty Python sketch that proves the adage that comedy = tragedy + time. In its time in early modern Spain, the Inquisition was infamous for its activities against Spanish Jews, Muslims, Christian converts from both groups, as well as heretics, Protestants, and other perceived enemies of the Spanish crown.  There is no doubt the the persecution, expulsions, torture, trial and execution of members of these groups resulted in horrific tragedy and suffering.  But we will also look at the extent to which some of the reported atrocities of the Inquisition may have been exaggerated by Protestants as part of a program of anti-Catholic polemics. 



Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and Norse paganism was deeply rooted in European customs, including holiday festivals. In honor of Halloween we'll consider how our present-day customs echo practices in the Medieval Celtic holiday of Samhain. We'll also look at other pagan legacies that were Christianized and ultimately secularized to form our contemporary calendar of holidays in Canada. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beyond the Walls (2nd Half of 2018)

We will stream monthly our Beyond the Walls inclusive church service on Thursday nights at 9:00 pm Eastern time with the following themes and dates.







Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lecture Schedule for Later Summer

July 24, Tues (7:30 pm): Satirizing Socrates: Ancient Comedy's Take on Philosophy. We will look at the portrait of Socrates and the critical stereotype of ancient philosophers presented in Aristophanes' comic masterpiece, The Clouds.  First staged in 423 bc in Socrates' own lifetime, the play is regarded as the first extent "comedy of ideas."  It's critique of philosophers is scathing and best of all, the play remains funny today.



July 31, Tues (7:30 pm): The Overflowing Cup: Islamic Mysticism and the Poetry of Rūmī. In a follow up to our April 17 presentation on the mysticism of the Sufis, Shaheen Bagha will continue our exploration of Islamic mysticism with a focus on the works of poet, theologian, scholar and theologian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.



August 7, Tues (7:30 pm): Pope Joan: Real and Imagined Scandals of the Medieval Papacy. According to a popular tale, a clever woman once secretly ascended St. Peter's throne and ruled as "Pope Joan."  While this tale is a myth, the Medieval papacy devolved into even more interesting scandals which set the stage for the Gregorian Reform movement.  We will look at the low point of Europe's oldest monarchy and its amazing rebound in the later Middle Ages.


August 14, Tues (7:30 pm): Akhenaten and Egyptian Monotheism. Fourteen hundred years before Christ, the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV rejected the old gods of Egypt and introduced the worship of one God above all: Atun. Although he was able to promulgate a new henotheist (possibly even monotheist) religion during his lifetime, after his death the traditionalists won out, reversed his reforms, and deleted his name from the king lists.  We'll look at this remarkably early innovation and its echoes in later monotheistic religion.

August 21, Tues (7:30 pm): The Wall of Jericho: From Rubble to Epic. We'll look at the violent conquest of Canaan described in the Bible not as a historical account but as Ancient Israel's national epic. Combining different traditions, this story gave meaning to the difficult circumstances Israel faced from the last decades before the exile to Babylon to the resettling of the Holy Land under Persian rule. We'll compare this narrative with contradicting accounts found in the Bible and other historical, archaeological, and mythological sources.




August 28, Tues (7:30 pm): The Crusades Seen from the Muslim Perspective. We will recount the history of Medieval holy wars in the Middle East and Mediterranean using Muslim sources in order to reconstruct an alternate picture of the era.  Can we draw lessons from these past conflicts for the 21st century world?



September 4, Tues (7:30 pm): The Myth of the Mound Builders. The centuries following the renewed 1492 contact between the world's eastern and western hemispheres were devastating for the indigenous peoples of the Americas whose population was continually decimated by imported diseases for which they lacked immunity.  By the early 19th century, so few indigenous people remained that European Americans doubted they could have ever built the massive number of earthworks that covered the North American landscape. Instead they created a myth that the mounds must have been built by a lost civilized race that was ultimately exterminated by the American Indians.  The most successful telling of this myth is found in Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.  We will look at how the myth of the moundbuilders evolved and its continuing consequences.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Summer 2018 Lecture Topics

May 1, Tues (7:30 pm):  Philosophy Before Socrates. Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student Aristotle are often credited with founding Western philosophy. Nevertheless, even great thinkers do not emerge ex nihilo, but rather are born into an existing context and paradigm that the build from, respond to, and react against.  We'll look at the Pre-Socratic philosophers and how their ideas created the ground from which Socrates' own thought emerged.

May 8, Tues (7:30 pm):  Paganism in the Bible. We will look at indications in the Old Testament that the dominant religion of the elites and commoners was predominantly pagan during the First Temple Period.

May 15, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "Defending Your Life". Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks star in a philosophical comedy about the meaning of life.  We'll watch the movie together and share thoughts on this topic.



May 22, Tues (7:30 pm): Reanimating Soul:  Discovering Aristotle's Brain. Aristotle is the most influential philosopher in the Western intellectual tradition. Our guest lecturer, Dr. Michael Adam Ferguson of Harvard Medical School unfolds the prescience of Aristotle's genius as illuminated by contemporary neural imaging. Attendees are invited to consider seriously the reanimation of soul by science.


May 29, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Great Schism: Greek East vs. Latin West. We'll look at the breakdown in the relationship between the churches of Rome and Constantinople, which included petty personality conflicts, diverging political interests, and a few fundamental disagreements.  We'll also look at how and why the rift has never been healed despite repeated attempts for the past 1,000 years.  

June 12, Tues (7:30 pm):  Ptolemaic Cosmology. For 2,000 years prior to Copernicus, astronomers believed that the Earth was at the center of a cosmos, surrounded by a series of celestial spheres.  We'll consider how the Ptolemaic system worked (and didn't work), why it proved so durable, and why the Catholic Church remained invested in the system even after scientists like Galileo began to argue in favor of heliocentrism. 


June 19, Tues (7:30 pm):  Homosexuality and the Bible. In honor of Toronto Pride, we will take a look of what the Bible does and doesn't have to say about homosexuality.  In contrast to the claims of many Evangelical Christians, the component texts of the Bible do not condemn same-sex orientation.  We'll look at how verses from Sodom and Gomorrah to Leviticus to Paul are routinely misread.


June 26, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Avesta and Zarathustra. Zoroastrianism is often cited as the first world religion, whose ideas heavily influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  We'll take a close look at Zoroastrianism's earliest book of scripture, the Gathas — 17 hymns in the Avesta attributed to Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster).  We'll consider how the Gathas differed from the earlier Persian paganism and how they influenced the Bible.

July 3, Tues (7:30 pm):  Was Machiavelli Machiavellian?  Humanist politician and philosopher Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli has been called the first modern man and the father of political science.  His book The Prince, is among the most influential books in the Western canon and has given rise to our adjective "Machiavellian" to describe unscrupulous politicians. We'll look closely at The Prince and Machiavelli's other writings to consider his political philosophy and to ask whether the author himself was "Machiavellian". 

July 17, Tues (7:30 pm):  Revisiting the Apocrypha. During the Reformation, Martin Luther and Protestant Christians argued that everyone should be able to read the Bible in his or her own language, instead of keeping the texts the responsibility of clergy trained in Latin.  When they went back to the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, they realized that the Latin Christian Bible included a number of books that Jews did not consider scripture.  The Reformers stripped these books from the canon, calling them the "Apocrypha" or hidden books.  We'll take a look at these books that the Reformers hid away and consider why they made it into the early Christian canon and not the Jewish canon.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter and Spring 2018 Lecture Topics

Our History, Philosophy, & Theology Group will meet every Tuesday evening in January, February, and March.

January 2, Tues (7:30 pm):History of the CalendarFor New Year’s we’ll look at our eclectic calendar: divided into base-sixty minutes and seconds, 24-hour days (with AM and PM halves), weeks of 7 days (named for Anglo-Saxon and Roman gods), 12 months “moonths” (named for Roman gods or numerals) that don’t correspond with the actual lunar cycle. We’ll recount the history of our calendar and compare it to other historic and current calendars.

January 9, Tues (7:30 pm): A Brief Biography of the DevilAlthough Christians have always read the Devil into the Garden of Eden's serpent, and John Milton wrote the character's role back further into the pre-existent heavens in "Paradise Lost," the Devil as he is now conceived did not exist in Israelite religion of the First Temple Period. We will look at the origin and evolution of our modern ideas about this character.

January 16, Tues (7:30 pm): Greco-Roman Stoicism. Stoicism was perhaps the most popular school of Greek philosophy in the Roman Empire, as exemplified by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who lived his life as an actual Stoic philosopher-king. We'll look at the ethics and world-view of the Stoics and consider Stoicisms' value for individuals and its possible impact on later Roman society, as well as the degree to which Stoic virtues continue to be admired today.

January 23, Tues (7:30 pm): Evangelicalism: The First Modern Religion. Evangelical Christianity emerged in the West in tandem with the rise of the liberal, secular state.  As a result, although seemingly challenged by modernity, this influential movement within Christianity has been well adapted to thrive as a reaction against modernity.  Our guest lecturer, Brian Carwana, Director of the Encounter World Religions Centre, has made the study of Evangalicalism the topic of religious studies dissertation. 

January 30, Tues (7:30 pm): Three Popes, One Church (1378–1417). During the later 14th Century, Western Christianity was divided on the question of who was the legitimate successor to St. Peter: the Pope in Rome or the Pope in Avignon?  An ecumenical council was called in Pisa to settle the question, which deposed both rivals and appointed a new Pope.  However, neither pope recognized the council's authority and thus from 1378 onward, Western Christianity had three Popes: one in Rome, one in Avignon, and one in Pisa.  We'll look at this interesting history but also talk about the background ideas of authority, divine monarchy vs. representative councils, and the division of church and state.

February 6, Tues (7:30 pm): The Ethiopic Book of Enoch. The Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes a number of books not found in the Catholic or Protestant canons.  The Book of Enoch was considered scripture to many early Christians and Jews, including the author of the New Testament Book of Jude.  We'll look at this interesting apocalypse with its vision of angels and devils and consider its context within the apocalyptic tradition.

February 13, Tues (7:30 pm): Lost Christianities. All modern Christian sects are descended from the early "proto-Orthodox" Christians who successfully defined their doctrines and practices as correct.  We'll look at early Christianities that lost out, including Jewish Christians who argued for the continued relevance of Mosaic Law, and Gnostic Christians who rejected the Hebrew Bible altogether.


February 20, Tues (7:30 pm): Constructing Ancient Israelite Identity. How did the "Twelve Tribes" of Israel emerge from their ethnically related Canaanite neighbors?  In a follow-up to his lecture on the emergence of Israelite monotheism from Canaanite polytheism, Leandro Palacios will look at the legendary narratives recorded in the Bible and tease out the underlying pre-history of Israelite identity.


February 27, Tues (7:30 pm): Plato's Cave. The famous Allegory of the Cave is central to understanding Plato's argument that the perfect world of ideas is more real than the mutable physical world of our senses.  We'll dig into the allegory in depth and consider Pre-Socratic philosophical questions that led Plato to propose this radical solution, and also the legacy of Platonism to the present day.

March 6, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "I Heart Huckabees." Text to follow.

March 13, Tues (7:30 pm): The Failure of England's First Reigning Queen. When Henry I's heir, William Adelin, died in the White Ship disaster, the king made all his noble's swear to support his daughter Mathilda as heiress.  But upon Henry's death, most of these same nobles preferred to forget their oaths and recognize Henry's nephew Stephen as king, plunging the realm into civil war.  We'll look at the steep hurdles Queen Mathilda faced attempting to exercise authority over men in the Middle Ages and consider the extent to which these same gender biases continue to the present day.

March 20, Tues (7:30 pm): Joseph Smith's Redefinition of God. When Joseph Smith first described his vision in the grove, it was an orthodox view of Christ's forgiveness of sin. The Book of Mormon likewise described a trinitarian view of God, although modalist in its understanding. By the end of his life, Smith retold the First Vision story with "two distinct personages," and espoused theological propositions that seemed to reject Western monotheism itself.  We'll look at the implications of Smith's late Nauvoo-era theology.

April 3, Tues (7:30 pm): The Passion as Myth. Beyond the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth under the Roman prefecture of Pontius Pilate, how much of the gospel accounts of the "Passion" story are historical?  In honor of Easter, we'll look at the case made by a number of Biblical scholars that the Passion story largely does not reflect historical memory, but instead was composed by early Christians who pieced together verses of the Hebrew Bible to construct the narrative as we have it.

April 10, Tues (7:30 pm): Afterlife for Pagans. Resurrection and eternal life in heaven has often been cited as a reason for Christianity's success against Paganism. To consider this proposition, we need to look in more depth at how different pagan religions envisioned the afterlife.



April 17, Tues (7:30 pm): Mysticism of the Sufis. From the famous whirling dervishes to poets and ascetics, Sufism cuts across Muslim sectarian divides and provides an important, inward dimension for the religion, which receives little notice outside the movement. This presentation will be given by Brian Carwana, director of the Encounter World Religions Centre.  Later in the fall, we will have a followup presentation by Shaheen Bagha.


April 24, Tues (7:30 pm): Who Wrote Genesis?  Genesis contains two creation stories, two entwined versions of the Flood story, two alternate lists of "begats", and three versions of the story of a patriarch and his wife staying with a foreign king during a time of famine.  We'll look at how the "Documentary Hypothesis" seeks to explain clear seams in the Biblical text, and what we can know about the Bible's underlying authors and editors.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Re-Working Lyrics

Community of Christ Sings is an amazing resource that allows us to sing our theology and mission with every hymn.  In part this was facilitated by revising the lyrics of treasured heritage hymns so that they better convey the increased understanding of the church in the 21st century.  As the church moves forward, there is ongoing need to revisit, revise, and renew lyrics so that hymns may continue to convey messages that call us forward.

To that end, I would love to enlist the talents of lyricists and poets across the church to update hymns in Community of Christ Sings so that they better convey the identity, mission, message, and beliefs of the church's path forward.

One that I'd love to have new lyrics for is CCS #350, "We Are a Family of Faith."  This is a very fun song, sort of an anthem of the church and its name, that we've enjoyed singing, especially in intergenerational contexts.  However, its theology seems pretty literal and does not convey the kind of message we'd like to teach children.  I love the line "we have a mission that's clear" --- I'd like to see that immediately pull into a focus on the Mission Initiatives.  Instead, it implies that our clear mission is "to praise our Savior's name," which is something Evangelical Christians might sing.  I would also prefer to avoid the primary definition of the church as being a family "of faith." Faith is an important component of the church, but I'd rather have something else missional up front, if possible.

I'm marking up the lyrics I'd like to see changed, and will appreciate any help creating new lyrics that are more missional.  (Obviously, as many more lyrics as are necessary can be changed, but these are the ones that I'd like to see eliminated.)

We are a family of faith;
we have a Savior who’s kind.
We lift each other up.
We leave no one behind,
and if the least of us should stumble,
we all feel the pain:
Community of Christ is our name.

We are a family of faith;
we have a mission that’s clear:
to praise our Savior’s name.
We help build Zion here.
And we seek peace between the nations,
love between us all;
Community of Christ is our call.

We are a family of faith
and we look forward to the day
we see our Savior’s face, 
he wipes our tears away, 
and all the saints of every nation
rise to die no more: 
Community of Christ evermore!

We are a family of faith;
we have a Savior who’s kind.
We lift each other up.
We leave no one behind,
and if the least of us should stumble,
we all feel the pain:
Community of Christ is our name.

I do like the fact that we have a number of modern songs in the hymnal, but unfortunately, the content of these hymns tends to be pop Evangelical "praise" which, I think, at best can be described as meaningless/contentless, but more realistically borders on idolatry.  An example is #252 "Blessed Be Your Name."  This praise song has an interesting melody, but no content.  It would be wonderful again if the lyrics were replaced with something that had meaning, so that the hymn could actually be used and sung.  I'm marking the lyrics that should be replaced:

Blessed be your name
in the land that is plentiful,
where your streams of abundance flow;
blessed be your name.
Blessed be your name
when I’m found in the desert place.
Though I walk through the wilderness,
blessed be your name.
Every blessing you pour out 
I’ll turn back to praise. 
When the darkness closes in, 
Lord, still I will say, 
“Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your name. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your glorious name.”
Blessed be your name
when the sun’s shining down on me,
when the world’s “all as it should be.”
Blessed be your name.
Blessed be your name
on the road marked with suffering;
though there’s pain in the offering,
blessed be your name.
Every blessing you pour out 
I’ll turn back to praise. 
When the darkness closes in, 
Lord, still I will say, 
“Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your name. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your glorious name.” 

This is something that isn't in my immediate wheelhouse of talents.  If you are a poet or lyricist, your work on improving our hymns will be very appreciated.  We'll use updated hymns in Toronto congregation and create online and other resources crediting lyricists.  We very much appreciate your help!