Saint or Sinner?

"Margaret Starbird is a seeker after truth. She seeks to recover the long-suppressed, and not infrequently emotionally opposed, feminine side of the Christian story. Hers is an exciting narrative probing regions of thought long neglected. Magdalen, the Great Mary, emerges with new power"- John Shelby Spong, Former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ.

The controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus has gained widespread interest after publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, which cites Roman Catholic scholar Margaret Starbird’s works as a significant source. In Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile Starbird examines the many faces of Mary Magdalene, from the historical woman who walked with Jesus to the mythic and symbolic Magdalene who is the archetype of the Sacred Feminine. Starbird offers evidence that Mary was Jesus’ forgotten bride by sifting through the layers of misidentification under which the story of the Lost Bride of Christ has been buried to reveal the "slandered woman" and the "exiled" feminine principle. Starbird provides an interpretation of Mary’s true role based on the Hebrew scriptures and the testimony of the canonical gospels.

In her earlier book, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Starbird had used symbolism, history, medieval art, mythology, psychology, and the Bible to find suggestions of a 'marriage' between Jesus and Mary Magdalen. Her investigation of this suppressed history called for a restoration of the feminine principle to its place in the canon of Christianity. Starbird says that her theological beliefs were profoundly shaken when she first read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a book that suggesested Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and that their descendants carried on his holy bloodline in Western Europe. Shocked by such heresy, she set out to refute it, but instead found evidence that caused her to come to the conclusion that there is indeed a case to be made for the existence of the bride of Jesus--the enigmatic woman who anointed him with precious unguent from her "alabaster jar." Dan Brown wrote: "Margaret Starbird's work is of particular interest because it fuses the diverse fields of symbolism, mythology, art, heraldry, psychology, and gospel history. Her research opens doors for each of us to further explore the rich iconography of our own spiritual history."

In Magdalene's Lost Legacy, Starbird decodes the symbolic numbers embedded in the original Greek phrases of the New Testament--revealing the powerful presence of the feminine divine. The New Testament contains wide use of gematria, a literary device that allows the sums of certain phrases to produce sacred numbers. (Prose or poetry when combined with music produces 'song'; prose or poetry when combined with numbers produces 'gematria'.) Exploring the hidden meanings behind these numbers, Starbird reveals that the union between Jesus and his bride, Mary Magdalene, formed a sacred partnership that was the cornerstone of the earliest Christian community. Magdalene's Lost Legacy demonstrates how the crucial teaching of the sacred marriage that unites masculine and feminine principles is the partnership model for life on our planet and the ultimate blueprint for civilization.

Margaret Starbird holds a master's degree from the University of Maryland and has studied at the Christian Albrechts UniversitÃnt in Kiel, Germany, and at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

What is your understanding of Mary the Magdalene's role?

Posted March, 31, 2007

The Jesus Project

"The Jesus Project may be the single most important commitment that the Center for Inquiry and its affiliated organizations — among them the Council for Secular Humanism — will ever make"
Council for Secular Humanism, March 22, 2007

The Council for Secular Humanism is North America's leading organization for non-religious people. A not-for-profit association, the Council supports a wide range of activities to meet the needs of people who find meaning and value in life without looking to a god.

The Council seems concerned that Christianity appears to be thriving and has decided to devote the next five years to a major investigation into the historical Jesus. Their magazine, Free Inquiry, describes the process and goals of The Jesus Project as follows:

"The Jesus Project will empanel fifty carefully chosen academics from a wide range of disciplines: theologians, archeologists, social historians, classicists, experts in historical linguistics, and others. Their mission will be to apply the most current scholarship and methodologies to the the questions the Jesus Seminar never confronted: Did the historical Jesus even exist? The Jesus Project will meet twice a year and publish its findings annually.

What might result from this initiative? If cutting-edge research should yield incontrovertible proof that the founder of Christianity is a mythic construct, don’t expect the world to change overnight. For one thing, millions of Christians will simply reject its findings. We should not expect The Jesus Project’s conclusions to sound the death knell for Christianity. Through most of the twentieth century, historically sophisticated Christian clergy and theologians made the choice to maintain their faith commitments despite their new understandings that, by and large, their religion’s self-proclaimed founding events never actually occurred. That’s the option many sophisticated liberals exercise."

According to Alister McGrath, (The Twilight of Atheism), atheism is now in its dwindling phase. He states that for the last two hundred years atheism seemed to be on the verge of eliminating religion as an outmoded and dangerous superstition but that the golden age of atheism, which began with the French Revolution, ended with the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall. McGrath examines what went wrong with the atheist dream and explains why religion and faith are destined to play a central role in the twenty-first century.

McGrath, a former atheist, who is now one of Christianity's foremost scholars, argues that the renewal of faith is a natural, inevitable, and necessary response to its failures.

Is McGrath correct?

Is 'The Jesus Project' a sign of panic in the Secular Humanist community?

Posted March 22, 2007

Dawkins Is Not Pleased With God

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential…." - Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins is not an atheist who sits quietly in the pews. Dubbed "Darwin's Rottweiler" he views religion as one of humanity's most pernicious creations. In 'The God Delusion', he attacks arguments for the existence of God; accuses religions of fomenting divisiveness, war, and bigotry and castigates believers in intelligent design. This book parallels themes also expressed by Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris in their books 'Breaking the Spell' and 'The End of Faith'.

In its review of the book Christianity Today stated: "Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism. Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith"

Alister McGrath's book 'Dawkins' God - Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life' is the first book-length response to Dawkins. His book explains and examines Dawkins' scientific ideas and their religious implications. Head-to-head, it takes on some of Dawkins' central assumptions, like the conflict between science and religion, the "selfish gene" theory of evolution, the role of science in explaining the world, and exposes their unsustainability. Moreover, this controversial debate is carried on in a style which can be enjoyed by anyone without a scientific or religious background.

McGrath has called Dawkins "embarrassingly ignorant of Christian theology”. He has asserted that Dawkins has become better known for his rhetoric than for his argument, and that Dawkins' hostility towards religion lacks empirical support. McGrath suggested in the London Times that "the ideological fanaticism of Richard Dawkins’ attack on belief is unreasonable to both religion and science.” When asked for his opinion of McGrath, Dawkins responded: "Alister McGrath has now written two books with my name in the title. The poet W B Yeats, when asked to say something about bad poets who made a living by parasitizing him, wrote the splendid line: 'Was there ever dog that praised his fleas?'" Dawkins and McGrath have debated these topics publicly. Download the podcasts.

Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Provessor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Alister McGrath, born in Belfast, N. Ireland is a world-renowned theologian . Growing up in war-torn Northern Ireland, McGrath witnessed firsthand the bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants. What he saw turned him against religion. When McGrath enrolled in Oxford University in 1971 he was an atheist, a Marxist and a Darwinist. His view was simple -– get rid of religion and the conflict will go with it. He has a First Class Honours degree in Chemistry from Oxford, and a First Class Honours in Theology. He became a Christian while studying at Oxford and is presently Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.

Posted March, 19, 2007


"If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
Mother Teresa.
Paul Slovic writes in the March 2007 issue of Foreign Policy that people don’t ignore mass killings because they lack compassion. Rather, it’s the horrific statistics of genocide and mass murder that may paralyze us into inaction. Those hoping that grim numbers alone will spur us to action in places like Darfur have no hope at all. Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue “the one” whose plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is “one of many” in a much greater problem.

It’s happening right now in regards to Darfur, where over 200,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the past four years and at least another 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

Slovic says: "A recent study I conducted with Deborah Small of the University of Pennsylvania and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University found that donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people’s feelings of compassion toward the young victim. When writer Annie Dillard was struggling to comprehend the mass human tragedies that the world ignores, she asked, “At what number do other individuals blur for me?” In other words, when does “compassion fatigue” set in? Our research suggests that the “blurring” of individuals may begin as early as the number two.

Why aren’t these horrific statistics sparking us to action? Why do good people ignore mass murder and genocide?

Paul Slovic is president of Decision Research and professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. He studies risk and decision-making. Read his article at

Posted March, 15, 2007

The Da Vinci Code

"Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ"
The Gospel of Thomas

Elaine Pagels commented on ‘The Da Vinci Code’: What is compelling about this book is not its falsehoods but what is true – that some views of Christian history were buried for centuries because leaders of the early Church wanted to present one version of Jesus' life: theirs. Some of the alternative views of who Jesus was and what he taught were discovered in 1945 in an ancient jar containing more than 50 ancient writings. These documents include gospels that were banned by early church leaders. The companion of Jesus is Mary Magdalene and Jesus loved her more than all the disciples. What if the version of Jesus' life that Christians are taught isn't the right one?

What we know is that Irenaeus insisted that of the dozens of writings revered by various Christians, only four were genuine - Mark, Luke, and John. Few scholars today would agree with Irenaeus and we cannot verify who wrote any of these accounts. The ‘heretical’ texts suggest that the way to God can be found by anyone who seeks. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus suggests that when we come to know ourselves at the deepest level, we come to know God: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.'' This message – to seek for oneself – was not one that bishops like Irenaeus appreciated. Second, Jesus appears as human, yet one through whom the light of God now shines. So, according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, "I am the light that is before all things; I am all things; all things come forth from me; all things return to me. "Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.'' As Irenaeus read this, it was "an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ.'' Worst of all, perhaps, was that many of these secret texts speak of God not only in masculine images, but also in feminine images. The Secret Book of John tells how the disciple John, grieving after Jesus was crucified, heard Jesus' voice speaking to him: "John, John, why do you weep? Don't you recognize who I am? I am the Father; I am the Mother; and I am the Son.'' After a moment of shock, John realizes that the divine Trinity includes not only Father and Son but also the divine Mother, which John sees as the Holy Spirit, the feminine manifestation of the divine. Those possibilities opened by the "Gnostic'' gospels -- that God could have a feminine side and that Jesus could be human -- are key ideas in The Da Vinci Code.

Do you believe that Christianity and Western civilization would have been different had the "Gnostic'' gospels never been banned? Should we reevaluate today what the "heretics'' were saying, and imagine what might have been?

[Elaine Pagels is the author of The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. She is a professor of religion at Princeton.]

Posted March, 8, 2007

Amazing Grace

"Will you use your beautiful voice to praise the Lord or change the world?" - William Pitt to William Wilberforce.

The movie 'Amazing Grace' has received very favorable reviews. It is the story of William Wilberforce who in 1785 underwent a spiritual encounter which he described as a conversion experience. He was about to leave politics and devote his life to being a Christian clergyman when he was persuaded by the future Prime Minister of Great Britain to remain in politics with the comment: "Will you use your beautiful voice to praise the Lord or change the world?" Another person from whom Wilberforce received advice was John Newton, a leading evangelical Anglican clergyman of the time, and author of the hymn "Amazing Grace" - hence the title of the movie.

Practically single handedly Wilberforce spoke for the abolition of the slave trade and after a struggle of over twenty years was finally successful. Christianity Today commented: What's particularly interesting about Amazing Grace is that the abolition of slavery is the driving force behind it, yet the movie is more about one man's response to injustice. It's an example of how we're called to step out of our comfort zones, even when our words and actions are not easily embraced. It's a well-told cinematic example of a man who used his faith and God-given opportunities to change the world for good.

Wilberforce heard that the bill for the abolition of slavery had passed its third reading in the Commons a few days before he died in July 1833. One month later, the Slavery Abolition Act which gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom was passed. Wilberforce was buried in Westminister Abbey close to William Pitt. Read a complete review of the movie at

What were your reactions to the movie?

Posted March, 5, 2007

On Forgiveness

"There is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgiveable" - Jacques Derrida

Derrida's provocative paradox is the epigraph and starting point for Richard Holloway's book subtitled:

How Can We Forgive the Unforgiveable?

Holloway tackles the complex theme of forgiveness. It is a subject that he explores from both a personal and political perspective but underpinning this examination is his belief that religion has given us many of the best stories and metaphors for understanding how to forgive. He relates forgiveness to such events as 911, the Truth Commission in South Africa, and the ongoing conflicts in Palestine/Israel and Northern Ireland.

On Forgiveness is a discourse on how forgiveness works, where it came from and how the need to embrace it is greater than ever if we are to free ourselves from the binds of the past.

Holloway states: The fundamental insight is that we can and must retain an attitude of disgust towards the offending act, if we are to justify the legitimate claims of human justice; nevertheless, we must find a way of preventing these irreversible offences from locking us permanently into the past; and the remedy for the dilemma is forgiveness of the person, not what the person has done.

Do you agree?

Posted March, 4, 2007