Friday, January 26, 2007

The Case of the Missing Beaumont Children

On January 26, 1966, three children went missing from an Adelaide, Australia beach, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved crimes in Australian history.

The Beaumont Children
From left: Jane, Grant, and Arnna

Adelaide sits on the pristine shores of southern Australia, a beach town that now has a population of over 1 million inhabitants, though, in 1966, its population was about half that.

Modern Adelaide

The Beaumont Children, Jane (age 9), Arnna (age 7), and Grant (age 4), were the children of Jim and Nancy Beaumont. The family lived in a suburb of Adelaide near Glenelg, which was, and is, a well-known seaside suburb in Adelaide.

Glenelg Beach

The children frequently visited the beach near their home, and it was not uncommon for their parents to let them go by themselves. Jane, the eldest, was considered old enough to watch out for her younger siblings. At that time in Australia, such a thing was not out of the ordinary.

The children at the beach a few months before their

January 26th was Australia Day, a national holiday in Australia celebrating the arrival of the first British colonists in the 18th century. A hot summer day that month in 1966, the children decided to visit the beach, as was their custom. They left the house around 10 o’clock in the morning and took a short bus trip to Glenelg. Their mother expected them home around noon. By 3 o’clock, when they still had not returned, Nancy Beaumont called the police.

No trace of the children, or any of their belongings, was ever found.

During the investigation, police determined that several witnesses had seen the children at the beach that morning in the company of a blonde man in his mid-30’s. Being regulars at the beach, the children were very familiar to many of the other beach-goers and employees. Jane, Arnna, and Grant were seen playing with this blonde stranger in a relaxed and easy manner, suggesting he was not a stranger to them.

Around 11 o’clock, the man and the children were seen walking away from the beach. A short time after that, a local shopkeeper, who knew the children as regular patrons, reported selling Jane Beaumont cakes and a meat pie. She paid with a £1 note. This was noteworthy because their mother had sent them to the beach with only enough coins for food and bus fare, but no cash. Additionally, the children commonly bought cakes, but never meat pie. These facts provided further evidence that the children had been with someone else who had given them money to buy food.

The last confirmed sighting of the children was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, about the same time their mother first contacted police. A postman who was considered a reliable witness, and who knew the children personally, saw them walking alone along Jetty Road, away from the beach. They stopped to say hello to him, and he reported that they seemed cheerful and under no distress. This report was perplexing, as the children would have been quite late by that time, and, by all accounts, should have been in a hurry to get home, fearing their mother’s wrath.

The case quickly drew the attention of the national media, and hundreds of tips, leads, and alleged sightings poured into the police department. One was from a woman claiming that she had seen two girls and a boy, along with a blonde man, enter a neighboring house on the night of the kidnapping. She claimed that she had later seen the boy moving alone down the street, but he was pursued and caught by the man, who treated him roughly.

In the ensuing years, searches for the bodies or belongings of the children turned up nothing. Police determined that the children had been carrying, between them, 17 different items, yet none of these things (among them towels, clothes, and bags) was ever found.

A psychic investigation suggested that the children had been buried underneath a building that had been under construction at the time of the kidnapping. After much pressure from investigators and popular opinion, the building’s owners agreed to dig into the foundation, but no trace of the children’s remains were found. In the mid-1990’s, when the same building was undergoing demolition, the owners allowed another, more in-depth, search of the site. Again, the search proved futile.

Several years after the disappearance, Jim and Nancy Beaumont received a succession of two letters. In the first, purportedly written by Jane, she claimed that they were being treated well and had a pleasant existence with “the Man” who was keeping them. This letter was believed to be authentic, as forensic comparisons to other letters written by Jane seemed to support its authenticity. A second letter arrived, this from the kidnapper himself. In the letter, he stated that he had named himself the children’s “guardian” and that he was taking good care of them, but that he was willing to return them. He named a time and place.

The Beaumonts went, along with a detective following in disguise, to the place specified in the letter, but no one showed up. Afterward, a second letter from Jane arrived, claiming that “the Man” had changed his mind because the Beaumonts had brought a detective with them, betraying his trust. No other letters came.

In the 1990’s, the letters were proven to have been a hoax. Forensic technology connected the letter to a man who had been a teenager at the time, and had written the letters as a cruel joke. Due to the statute of limitations, the man was not charged with any crimes.

Though no trace of the children has ever been found, and no one has ever been charged with their abduction, police have named several suspects over the years, the primary among them an unassuming accountant named Bevan Spencer von Einem.

Bevan Spencer von Einem

In the early 1970’s and 1980’s, a string of kidnappings and ritualistic murders took place around Adelaide, involving children and young teenagers. Investigations suggested that a syndicate of white-collar businessmen was preying on boys and young men, using them for sexual acts and bizarre experiments. Von Einem was connected to this alleged syndicate, and was arrested for the kidnapping and brutal murder of a 15-year old boy named Richard Kelvin – who was the son of a well-known Adelaide news anchor. In addition to being murdered, Kelvin’s abdomen had been split open and part of his bowels removed. Several other teenage boys had been murdered and mutilated in this same fashion, and it is believed von Einem committed these murders too, but strong enough evidence could only be gathered to charge him with Kelvin’s murder. He was convicted and is currently serving a life sentence in Australia.

The connection to the disappearance of the Beaumont Children comes from the source who testified against von Einem in the Kelvin case. This source had been an associate of von Einem’s, and had been involved in the kidnapping and molestation of several children along with von Einem. His testimony to police is largely what sealed the case against von Einem for the murder of Kelvin. In addition to testifying about the teenage boys von Einem had killed, this source also testified that von Einem had “boasted” to him of having kidnapped 3 children from a beach several years earlier and conducted “experiments” on them. One of them died during the experimentation, so he killed the other two and dumped the bodies in the bush outside Adelaide. In addition to this testimony, von Einem was also known to have been a regular patron of Glenelg beach.

Von Einem has never been charged with the kidnapping of the Beaumont Children, and has refused to cooperate with investigators on the case.

Another prime suspect, Arthur Stanley Brown, was charged in 1998 in connection with the kidnapping and murder of two young girls in 1970. He was 86 at the time, and in ill health, and his trial was never completed. He died in 2002. Although no direct evidence links Brown to the missing Beaumont Children, he is a prime suspect due to the similarities between the 1970 crime and the case of the missing Beaumonts, and his physical similarity to the description of the “blonde man” last seen with the children.

Jim and Nancy Beaumont, despite living in the same house for years after the kidnapping (in the hopes that the children, if they ever escaped, might return to the place they knew), eventually divorced and sold the property where they had lived with their children.

They now live separately and out of the public eye.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tithing: Moral Responsibility or Spiritual Mandate?

“I would rather give $20 willingly than give $100 grudgingly, or out of necessity. The money is really not the issue, but the attitude is.”

So said a Christian acquaintance of mine on an Internet message board I frequent.

It got me wondering. (Actually, it got me fighting mad.) What is the Christian motivation for tithing and/or giving? Is an offering to be given in order to garner favor with God, or is an offering to be given in order to fulfill a basic moral and social responsibility? When someone gives an offering, is the giver the central character, or the receiver?

The concept of tithing is as old as Judaism itself. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, it says the following:

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your the presence of the the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name...But if that place is too distant and you...cannot carry your tithe...then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink...Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD...At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that...the aliens, the fatherless and the widows...may come and eat and be satisfied.

In setting out the concept of tithing, God instructs the Jews to gather one-tenth of all the produce of their fields, and set it aside for a ritual feast each year at the temple. If the temple was too far away to reasonably transport all that food (this, of course, would have included cattle), then the Jews were to exchange the tithe for money, which they could later use, upon arrival at the temple, to buy food for the ritual feast. Every third year, the Jews were to forego the ritual feast, and give their tithe, instead, to charity, so that the needy would have a storehouse of produce throughout the year from which they could eat.

Depending on how you look at it, this is an early form of socialism.

Regardless, the Jewish concept of tithing one-tenth of all you owned grew from this Mosaic tradition. Each year, Jewish families and tribes would take their tithe to the temple where they would feast in honor and supplication with God. If they lived too far away to make the trip with their animals and harvested crops in tow, they’d sell it and use the money to buy food and wine once they arrived at the temple. The tithe they donated every three years to the poor helped create an ever-growing store of food and cattle, which were dispersed among the poor and needy. One can almost see the Levites tending to the donated cattle, breeding them, and dispersing meat and grain to the poor who came to beg. If the stores began to run low, they could always count on the donation of tithes every third year to refill the warehouses and cattle fields.

Tithing became an integral part of the Jewish tradition.

Things began to fall apart in the 6th century B.C.E. Around 586 B.C.E., Israel was invaded by Babylon. The Israelites were dispersed, many taken into captivity or fleeing to other nations. For several generations, the only thing that kept the Jews unified as a culture was their religion. However, because their temple was destroyed, and they were unable to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the tradition of tithing began to die off. Even after Israel was restored, the tithing tradition did not immediately return.

It was around this same time – during and after the so-called Babylonian Captivity – that many of the Old Testament prophets began writing about their visions from God about the restoration of Israel and the reasons for Israel’s many troubles.

One of those prophets was Malachi. In Chapter 3 of his book, he writes the following, speaking in the voice of God:

“Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “...Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings...Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty.

God is chastising the Jews for turning away from the tradition of tithing. He encourages them to begin tithing again. And he promises to “open the floodgates of heaven” and “prevent pests from devouring” the crops. God was promising to bring plenty of rain, thus allowing the fields to prosper, and to keep away nuisance crop-eating insects, making Israel rich and envied among the nations.

This passage in Malachi is often quoted by Christians as a biblical mandate from God to tithe one-tenth of their paychecks to their church, in exchange for blessings of economic and financial security.

Based on the history behind the Jewish concept of tithing, you can probably see why, even on the surface, this is a perplexing and convoluted belief.

The Jewish tradition never had anything to do with giving money to the temple. Tithing was basically a ritual feast – a way for ancient Jews to celebrate the abundance given them by God. It was also a way for them to provide food and sustenance for the needy and poor in their society.

I would wager that most modern Christians do not understand the origins of the tithing tradition. Most Christians believe God has told them to give one-tenth of their income to the church, so they simply comply (well, some of them comply – I doubt most people actually give the full 10%). But is there really any Godly mandate behind tithing, relevant to Christianity? After all, tithing was a Jewish tradition that did not involve the giving of money. Why have we continued the tithing tradition, when so many other Jewish rituals have been disregarded or outright rejected?

Well, primarily, the church needs the money. What better way to encourage members to give money than to draw from the tithing tradition in the Old Testament and tell your members that God has instructed them to give 10% of their paychecks?

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with giving money to your church. The church has to pay bills, after all, as well as salaries, and a good church would use the rest for noble charitable causes. But should we really call this “tithing,” as though it has any relationship to the ancient Jewish tradition of a yearly ritual feast in the presence of God?

And what about that quote that started it all? Is it really better to give $20 cheerfully than $100 grudgingly? What is giving about, after all, if not the benefit of the receiver? I doubt the receiver cares much whether your money is given cheerfully or grudgingly. All the receiver cares about is that the money is given. If you have $100 to give, why would you give less than that, unless you were only giving for the purpose of pleasing God, figuring God would be happier with the “cheerful” gift of $20 (“cheerful” because it doesn’t hurt your wallet so much) than the “grudging” gift of $100.

Such an idea is abominable to me.

Christians should give to their churches, and their communities, because it is the morally and socially responsible thing to do. Not because Moses told his followers 3,000 years ago that God wanted them to have a ritual feast every year in God’s honor. And certainly not because God promises to “bless” you if you do. We don’t give for blessings. We give because we love others and because it is our moral responsibility to help our fellow human beings.

Any other motivation for giving is, in my opinion, self-serving and contemptible.

Give that some thought the next time your pastor reminds you that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Unless you are giving for the express purpose of pleasing God and thereby securing some extra “blessings” for yourself, your attitude as you give should have no relevance whatsoever on how much you give.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Ghostly Testimony

On January 23, 1897, a young woman named Zona Heaster Shue was found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

Zona Heaster Shue

Zona had married a man named Edward Shue several months earlier. Shue had been a drifter who had settled in Greenbrier County to work as a blacksmith. Despite her mother’s disapproval, Zona and Edward had gotten married late in 1896, not long after meeting.

They lived together in a small house in the county.

It was in this same house that Zona was found dead by an errand boy. The boy found her lying at the foot of the stairs.

The coroner, Dr. Knapp, was called to come investigate, but did not arrive for several hours. When he got there, Shue had already arrived home and had taken his wife’s body upstairs and dressed it for burial - which was abnormal, to say the least. He stayed by his wife’s side, sobbing, while Dr. Knapp completed a short inspection. Dr. Knapp cut the inspection short due to Shue’s distress, and due to the fact that when he attempted to inspect some bruising on Zona’s neck, Shue reacted violently and refused to let him inspect it.

Dr. Knapp ultimately determined the cause of death to have been "childbirth," because he had been treating her for "female problems" for several weeks prior to her death. This was absurd, however, as Zona had not been giving birth at the time of her death, and, in fact, was not, as far as anyone knew, pregnant.

Zona was buried the following day, and Shue, claiming that it would help her to rest easier in her coffin, placed a rolled blanket on one side of her head and a pillow on the other. He also placed her favorite scarf around her neck. He stayed by the coffin throughout the entire viewing and burial.

Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, believed from the start that Shue had killed Zona.

Mary Jane Heaster

Convinced that Shue had murdered her daughter, Mary Jane began keeping all night prayer vigils, praying that her daughter would appear to her and tell her the truth of what had happened.

Four weeks later, Mary Jane's prayers were answered.

Appearing first as a bright light, then materializing into an apparition, Zona's ghost appeared and told her mother that Shue had abused her on a number of occasions. She also told her that, on the day of the murder, Shue came home to find that she had not cooked any meat for dinner. In a fit of rage, he choked her to death, breaking her neck. To prove her neck was broken, Zona’s ghost turned her head around in a 360-degree arc.

After several more ghostly visits, Mary Jane visited the office of the local prosecutor, begging for him to look into the case, based on the ghostly visits from her daughter. The prosecutor, John Preston, was intrigued enough that he began interviewing several witnesses. Upon hearing of Shue’s strange behavior, as well as the incomplete examination of Dr. Knapp, Preston arranged for a court-ordered exhumation and autopsy.

The body was exhumed on February 22nd, a month after Zona’s death and burial. The autopsy easily confirmed that Zona’s neck had, indeed, been broken. The coroner’s report stated that not only was the neck broken, but finger marks existed along the neck, and the windpipe was crushed. It was clear Zona’s neck had not been broken from a fall down the stairs, nor had she died from anything related to a pregnancy.

Based upon the evidence of Mary Jane’s ghostly visits from her daughter, the confirmation of the autopsy, and his strange behavior before and during the burial, Edward Shue was arrested for the murder of his wife.

At the trial, Mary Jane testified about her daughter’s ghostly visits, and it was partly on the strength of this testimony that Shue was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

A lynch mob attempted to hang Shue after the trial, but was turned back. Shue died of natural causes in prison three years later.

Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, never recanted her ghost story, and the case stands to this day as the only known criminal case in U.S. history where the testimony of a ghost helped to convict a murderer.

Modern sign in Greenbrier County

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Battle of Mill Springs, and Other Interesting Tidbits

On January 19th, 1862, the Confederacy suffered its first significant loss of the Civil War.

In 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer – a former Tennessee Congressman who had initially been opposed to secession, but whose loyalties to his home state had led him to volunteer for military service – had been given the responsibility of guarding the Cumberland Gap, which sits in the Appalachians at the junction of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Around November of that same year, he decided to move ahead into neutral Kentucky, to the area around Somerset, in south-central Kentucky. Finding a good defensive position at Mill Springs, he fortified his army there on the banks of the Cumberland River, intending to use it as his winter quarters.

The Union didn’t take too kindly to this movement, so Union Brigadier General George Thomas was given orders to drive the Confederates back across the Cumberland River.

By this time, command of Zollicoffer’s army had been taken over by Major General George Crittenden, of Russellville, Kentucky, who had arrived at Mill Springs sometime earlier. Knowing Thomas’s Union troops were in the area, Crittenden decided to attack first, figuring it was the last thing Thomas expected. What Crittenden did not know was that Thomas’s troops had been reinforced with another Union army under the command of Brigadier General Albin Schoepf.

The two armies met near Nancy, Kentucky in Pulaski County, on the morning of Sunday, January 19th. The initial Confederate attack repulsed the Union army, but a swift counterattack by the Union troops cut deep into the Confederate line. Fighting became disorganized toward the end of the day, and General Zollicoffer, attempting to reorganize his troops, approached a Union regiment under the command of Danville, Kentucky native Colonel Speed Fry. Thinking Fry’s troops were his own soldiers, Zollicoffer ordered them to cease firing. At that moment, Zollicoffer’s aid, seeing the mistake, came riding toward the general, and fired a warning shot toward Fry’s troops. At being fired upon, Fry, along with several of his soldiers, fired shots at Zollicoffer. Zollicoffer toppled from his horse, dead from several gunshot wounds.

The Confederate army was forced to retreat all the way back to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the Battle of Mill Springs proved to be the first major Confederate loss of the war, and inversely, the first major Union victory. Along with the Battle of Middle Creek (a minor skirmish a week earlier in Floyd County, Kentucky), The Battle of Mill Springs helped stop the Confederate advance into Kentucky.

General Zollicoffer was the first general killed in the Western Theater of the Civil War, and outrage followed his death. Although Colonel Fry himself never claimed to have fired the fatal shot, many southerners accused him of murder – evidence of the “gentleman’s war” idea that was still such a strong concept in the 19th century.

A tree near where Zollicoffer died became a sort of Confederate shrine, known as Zollie’s Tree. The tree no longer exists, but a nearby Confederate cemetery containing a mass Confederate grave was named in his honor – it is known as Zollicoffer Park to this day. Additionally, the Mill Springs battlefield, where the Union dead were buried, has been designated a national cemetery, and it is the second oldest national cemetery still receiving burials (second only to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.).

Zollicoffer himself is buried in Nashville.

Interestingly, today is also the anniversary of Robert E. Lee's birth. It is also the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe.

Additionally, on this date in 1915, the first German zeppelin air raid on England was carried out, causing the deaths of twenty civilians.

Two years later, on this same date, the German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico, proposing a German-Mexican alliance against the United States, and proposing to restore much of the American southwest to Mexico. The telegram was intercepted by the British and became one of the primary reasons for America's entry into World War I.

Finally, on this date twelve years ago, I awoke in my dorm room inside Anderson Hall to find that the temperatures had plummeted to record lows, near negative 20 degrees, and the school's generator and power was out, thanks to a near two-foot snowfall we had gotten two days earlier. The temperature inside my dorm room that morning was in the 40's.

That week was supposed to have been the first full week of classes, but we ended up being off school all week, more or less trapped at the school, with no power, and record low temperatures. The previous day, we had had a huge snowball fight, and everyone had been excited at the prospect of a few days without classes. But when the temperatures suddenly plummeted, guaranteeing that the snow would not melt, and we had no power, and thus no heat and no hot food, we were all considerably less thrilled. By Friday, full-fledged cabin fever had set in, and I made probably the worst driving decision of my life, and decided to head up to Cincinnati with Melanie for the weekend, where there was less snow, and a warm house with warm food. The interstates had only just been reopened that day, and they were treacherous. I have never been so scared in my life.

Somehow, we made it safely.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Sometimes, I think I should probably be in medical school, not radiography school.

Of course, I say that not because I have any overwhelming urge to be a doctor. I don’t. For one thing, I don’t think my hypochondriac tendencies could handle learning about all those diseases and treating and diagnosing patients who had those diseases. As a radiographer, I might X-ray them, but that’ll be the extent of it. I also don’t have much interest in devoting the time, at this point in my life, to medical school and residency. Finally, my undergraduate GPA, at right around 3.0, is probably not high enough to get me accepted to any reputable programs, particularly without a biology/chemistry degree.

But I feel this way about medical school sometimes because I feel so “out of place” among my peers at Spencerian. It’s not that I don’t like my classmates or feel like I am friends with those people. I certainly do. There are a number of people in my classes who I like really well, and enjoy spending time with in class. But I also feel increasingly isolated because of how far apart my study habits and subsequent test performances seem to be from just about everyone else.

My Wednesday night class is a prime example. This class – Radiography 100 – is widely considered the most difficult and overwhelming class in the program. Prior to starting this class, I had heard numerous “horror stories” about it. Our instructor even admitted, somewhat regretfully, to this fact during the first class session. She said that it is “very, very difficult” to get an A in the class, and that she wishes it wasn’t this way, but it does tend to serve as the “weed out” class for the program. We were all, myself included, fairly intimidated after that first class session.

Indeed, this class does cover a lot of material that your average person (even your average college-educated person) has never studied before. It is a complete introduction to radiography, including all the physics and science behind how the machine produces X-rays, even down to studying the electrical circuits of the machine.

In preparing for the first test, which covered two chapters, I spent about six to eight total hours studying, over the course of two weeks. Not knowing what to expect from the test, I went into it with quite a bit of trepidation. Having gotten a 4.0 during my first quarter, I feel a lot of pressure to maintain that GPA.

The test turned out to be fairly basic. I daresay it was even “easy.” I fairly cruised through it, and felt very relieved that it wasn’t more difficult or obscure. I expected to have a high “A” at the very least; as it turned out, I got a perfect score, 100%.

Most people, however, did not fare so well. The general consensus was that it wasn’t quite as difficult as they had expected, but that it was still pretty bad. Two of the people who I have a lot of classes with, and who are both generally A/B students, got C’s on the test. I don’t know for sure, but I have a sneaking feeling that my 100% was the only A in the class.

After that test, we had a second test. This second test was a math test. As part of the curriculum for this class, the students have to display a certain proficiency in basic math. Since there is not enough time during the quarter to teach both math and introductory radiography, the math is supplied by an online course called PLATO. However, a student may avoid the very time-consuming process of completing this online course by scoring a 70% or higher on the math test given at the beginning of the quarter. Anyone who scores less than 70% must complete the online course in order to pass the class.

As an avowed “Math Hater” most of my life, and as someone who has always considered math to be my weakest subject, I was naturally quite worried about this test. When I took the GRE a few years back, I scored 600 on the math section, which was higher than the national average. However, that was a multiple choice test, and this test was to be open answer. Furthermore, I had a study guide for the GRE – for this test, I just had to try to brush up on my basic knowledge of fractions, exponents, and decimals.

Like the chapter test, the math test turned out to be fairly basic. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it was absurdly basic. The first four questions, for instance, were simple multiplication. 2145 x 4523, etc. Oh, did I mention we were allowed to use a calculator? As long as you know how to punch buttons on the calculator, and transcribe the result accurately onto a piece of notebook paper, you couldn’t possibly miss the first four questions. After that, the questions became slightly more in depth. These included changing a few fractions to decimal points, and vice versa, finding percentages, and some very basic algebra (solve for “x” when x40 = 72, for instance).

I do not know yet what grade I got on this test, but I am certain it is a 100%. It was so easy, in fact, that I was afraid I was missing something. It was that overwhelming feeling that it couldn’t possibly be this simple.

Some students, apparently, fail this test on a routine basis. There were a number in my class who felt that they probably failed it, and I know some students I talked to last quarter had failed it. Clearly people fail it routinely, otherwise the college wouldn’t have the online PLATO course. (Incidentally, assuming the PLATO course provides instructions and tests on the same level of our classroom test, it is also notable to point out that I had some people tell me last quarter that they were doing the PLATO course and that it was incredibly hard and that I should “start preparing for it now.” It makes one wonder how these people got out of high school.)

What’s the difference? Why am I set so far apart from my peers? There are a lot of reasons, of course. First of all, I am older than most of them. I have more life experiences and more maturity and am thus better prepared for the dedication required to succeed in a scholastic program. I also have already been to college, and graduated, so I have four years of experience in going to class and studying at the collegiate level.

Finally, I have a passion for learning and I enjoy learning. As such, I have spent much of my adulthood reading and learning about things – in other words, I have a lot of practice at this whole “learning” thing. I believe most of my peers probably view this program as a means of getting the certificate they need to have a job where they can make some decent money. I don’t think they are all that interested in actually learning, beyond doing whatever is necessary to pass. That, more than anything else, is probably what sets me apart. Of course, I want a good-paying job too. But I also want to learn as much as I can along the way, for the sake of learning itself. I think most of my peers would think this strange.

But this is why I feel separated from my peers – like I should be in medical school, not radiography school. My study habits, my interest in the material, and my ability to excel are all better suited for something more than just a vocational technical college. I almost feel like people are wondering what I’m doing there, and I feel like maybe people resent me. “We might be able to have a grading curve if it wasn’t for him.” That sort of thing.

I’m also afraid people think I’m arrogant or that I “know it all.” I do my best not to come across that way. Indeed, I don’t think my good grades occur because I’m necessarily so much smarter than everyone else. It’s about dedication, not intelligence. Intelligence helps, of course, but I make A’s on everything I do because I spend hours preparing and studying for the tests. One student remarked, a week or two ago, after hearing me say I had spent about ten hours on the weekend studying: “I don’t have ten hours to spend studying” (or something to that effect). I work full time, forty hours a week, am a full time student with three classes this quarter, and I also have a wife and two young children. So I empathize with anyone who feels like they have “no time.” However, I spend what little free time I do have studying. And I think that’s the difference. It’s not that other people have less time than I do, it’s just that they aren’t willing to spend the majority of their free time studying. I know how precious that free time is – believe me when I say that free time is about as important to me as anything. But I also know that if I intend to excel in this program, I have to devote that free time, right now, to studying.

So I think it’s that dedication level that seems to be what primarily sets me apart. And I intend to continue to be dedicated to the program. I just hope I am not resented or looked down on for it.

One thing I can say for sure – when I get out into the field and am working in this industry, it’s going to irritate me to no end when doctors – with their medical school diplomas slung on their walls – treat me like I’m common gutter trash, assuming I’m a typical underachieving, undereducated technologist. It’s not that I think doctors are all jerks, or that they all look down with derision on the allied health professionals who assist them, but I’m sure there are the types out there who treat techs and assistants like second-class citizens, assuming they’re all stupid and not talented or smart enough to do anything other than push an X-ray button or draw blood.

It almost makes me want to go to medical school, just so people won’t think I’m stupid.

Neurotic, eh? But I guess it comes from having so many jobs over the years where the “bosses” walked around as though they were kings of the hill, and treated everyone else as though they were street trash. I’m so sick of Type-A personality lawyers and corporate execs that I think I could probably scream. Yet, I know when I get into this field, those Type-A lawyers and corporate execs are simply going to be replaced with Type-A doctors.

I guess that should serve as motivation to write harder.*

*(It’s not that I think the writing industry isn’t full of cutthroat Type-A personalities either – it’s just that at least, as a writer, if I was successful enough, those Type-A’s within the publishing industry would be kissing my ass, not the other way around. Of course, I realize that’s incredibly naive, as I’m sure any run-of-the-mill novelist would say that they spend their whole lives compromising their art and kissing people’s asses in order to sell books. But at least I’d be writing and getting paid to do it!)

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Last Resort

She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island, where the Old World shadows hang heavy in the air.

She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee. Just as her father came across the sea.

She heard about a place, people were smiling. They spoke about the Red Man’s way, and how they loved the land.

They came from everywhere to the Great Divide. Seeking a place to stand or a place to hide.

Down in the crowded bars, out for a good time. Can’t wait to tell you all what it’s like up there.

They called it paradise; I don’t know why. Somebody laid the mountains low while the town got high.

Then the chilly winds blew down across the desert. Through the canyons of the coast, to the Malibu.

Where the pretty people play, hungry for power. To light their neon way and give them things to do.

Some rich men came and raped the land. Nobody caught ‘em. Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus, people bought ‘em.

They called it paradise, the place to be. They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea.

You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina.

Just like the missionaries did so many years ago. They even brought a neon sign: “Jesus is coming.”

They brought the white man’s burden down. They brought the white man’s reign.

Who will provide the grand design? What is yours and what is mine? ‘Cause there is no more new frontier. We have got to make it here.

We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds in the name of destiny, and the in the name of God.

And you can see them there on Sunday morning. They stand up and sing about what it’s like up there.

They call it paradise; I don’t know why. You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Catholicism: Less Biblically-Based than Protestantism?

Growing up as a traditional Southern Baptist, I always felt rather suspicious of Catholics. It wasn’t that I necessarily believed, or was taught, that Catholics wouldn’t go to heaven (in fact, I can even remember arguing that such an idea was absurd – a Christian is a Christian, after all), but my Southern Baptist background caused me to view Catholicism, at the very least, as a misguided interpretation of Christianity.

I can remember contemplating how Catholicism could make some of the claims it made. Why did people have to confess sins to their priests? When you did confess, why did you have to say mantras and such to be adequately forgiven? Why couldn’t priests or nuns get married and have children? If the Church is in the business of saving souls, why did the Church sometimes kick people out (excommunication)? How come so many Catholics don’t act like Christians? (For me, “acting like a Christian” would have included not smoking, not drinking, and not gambling – things that I perceived Catholics loved to do!) What’s with the whole Mary-worship thing? Why do we need a Pope?

I didn’t know any practicing Catholics, nor did I have any exposure to first-hand Catholicism at all, so my impressions of Catholicism were twisted utterly by my Southern Baptist view of the world.

My general impression was that Protestantism, despite some faults and some obvious disagreements between denominations, at least stuck primarily to actual biblical teachings. I remember specifically contemplating the tradition of Catholics referring to priests as “Father.” The bible, I knew, specifically taught that no one should call another man “Father,” in a spiritual sense, except for the Heavenly Father (Matthew 23:9). Why then did Catholics practice something that not only wasn’t biblical, but was precisely the opposite of what the bible taught?

Additionally, I looked to other seemingly non-biblical doctrines: the existence of the Church hierarchy, from the Pope down through the Cardinals, etc., and the suggestion that those people are “intermediaries” to God, when, in fact, the bible says that all people are equal and can equally approach God; the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which states that Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, despite no such teaching in the bible; priests and nuns being barred from marriage, despite all the early Christians being married, including Peter, whom the Church claims was the first Pope.

As I have gotten older and begun studying religions more in depth, I have come to view Catholicism differently. More important, I have come to realize that my previous notions that only Catholicism was guilty of twisting the bible were simply misinformed, and the result of being so caught up in what I perceived as the Ultimate Truth of Southern Baptist theology.

I can’t say that I no longer have those “suspicions” about Catholicism. Indeed, I feel that all the issues I raised above are still valid issues regarding Catholicism’s interpretation of scripture. In fact, I probably have more awareness of apparently unbiblical beliefs and actions of some Catholics than I did when I was a kid. One that I recently began to contemplate was the seemingly widespread action of treating crucifixes like they are somehow “holier” than some other manmade item. Praying and/or kneeling before a crucifix, for instance. Or the way crucifixes have been used as a means of exorcism – as if the crucifix itself has some holy power that, say, a plastic set of headphones doesn’t have. There is also the tendency to believe it’s a sin to turn a crucifix upside down, or to destroy a crucifix – again, suggesting that the crucifix is imbued with some special holiness that other inanimate objects don’t have.

The same could be said for holy water. To quote Stan Freeburg, “I mean, the name says it, man.” “Holy” water, presumably, has some special attribute that regular old tap water doesn’t have. Is this not the textbook definition of idolatry? Applying supernatural attributes to an inanimate object?

Of course, there are many Protestants who do similar things with crosses and crucifixes, and even holy water. So this isn’t an issue exclusive to Catholicism. In fact, I believe idolatry, in various forms, is widespread among all classes of Christians.

And that really leads me to my next point: What I have discovered, as I have grown and matured in my spirituality, is that all brands of Christianity are guilty of adding and subtracting to the bible. Southern Baptists, for instance, have long taught that dancing and drinking were sins. I certainly grew up believing this (I was suspicious of the dancing thing, but I definitely believed drinking was a sin). Yet, the bible not only depicts Jesus and everyone else drinking wine (Jesus’s first miracle, for crying out loud, was turning water to wine so that guests at a wedding party had plenty to drink!), but it also implies that dancing can be used as a way to celebrate and worship God (as was so eloquently pointed out by Kevin Bacon’s character in the movie “Footloose”).

I think that many people probably still have the impression that Catholics “make stuff up,” while Protestants don’t. Even atheists, agnostics, and skeptics are sometimes guilty of this. Just today (in fact, it was the inspiration for this post), an atheist on the Rush Message Board made just such a comment – suggesting that, even though he was neither Catholic nor Protestant, he believed at least Protestants went primarily “by the bible,” whereas Catholics didn’t.

I think it’s important to realize, whether you are Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise, that every brand of Christianity is guilty of adding (and subtracting) from the bible, as it benefits its own pre-determined doctrines and dogmas. There is no such thing as a “bias-free” version of Christianity, or a version of Christianity that just “goes straight by the bible.” Many Protestant denominations bill themselves, and truly believe, that they are simply a “bible-based congregation of believers,” following the bible just as it reads, no more, no less.

Unfortunately, no such thing exists, in either the Protestant world or the Catholic world.

So let’s not unfairly market Catholicism as the only brand of Christianity that “makes stuff up.” If we’re going to point fingers, let’s point them fairly at all brands of Christianity.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Just Call Me "Doctor"

The lady at the Chinese restaurant thinks I’m a doctor.

Once a week (usually on Wednesday, for whatever reason), I go to the Happy Dragon Chinese Buffet, which is just a few miles away from where I work downtown. The building it’s in was formerly the New Orleans House, which was an up-scale seafood restaurant, with at least two locations here in Kentucky (although I don’t think either is in business any longer). Keeping in line with what I perceive to be the standard inattention to detail (and, probably more importantly, a low-overhead) apparent in so many American Chinese restaurants, the various rooms inside the Happy Dragon still have brass nameplates on the walls indicating the room names, such as “Bourbon Street Room,” “French Quarter Room” and “Orleans Room," despite the fact that the Happy Dragon has been in the place for about ten years now. (Strangely, there’s no “Ninth Ward Room.” Go figure.)

Anyway, the restaurant is broken up into four sections, which comprise three different rooms (there is a fourth room, but I rarely ever see it used). Each of the four sections has one server, and it’s the same four servers, in the same four sections, every single day. I typically only go at lunch during the week, so I suppose it’s possible these four people simply work the lunch crowd every day, and then go home. But I went on a Saturday night a few weeks ago, and it was the same four servers, in the same four sections. My impression is that these four individuals work seven days a week, lunch and dinner. And considering that at a place like a Chinese buffet, they probably average about 10% on their tips, they must be working a lot of hours, for not much pay.

Only one of the four servers speaks what I would call “conversational” English. The others are either too shy to do much in the way of speaking English to the guests, or they simply aren’t that fluent in the language. It’s probably a combination of both. The last two times I’ve been in there, I’ve had the one server who is not shy about speaking to the guests in English. She always greets me with a smile and asks me how I’m doing, and then says good-bye to me when I leave. On one past occasion, we even had a discussion about her kids (she has three), and she told me my kids were both beautiful (that was on a trip with the whole family).

Today, I brought my Anatomy & Physiology textbook with me, figuring I would use my time at lunch to review for my test on the endocrine system tonight. As I was sitting there eating and reading over the highlighted parts of the chapter, she walked by and said something to me. I couldn’t understand what she said, so I looked up at her and asked her to repeat herself. She said it again, and I still couldn’t tell what she was saying. However, it was apparent, from her voice inflection, that whatever she was asking me was a casual question to which she expected to have an affirmative response (sort of like when you see someone reading, and you walk up casually and say, “Hey, you doin' some reading?”) So I went ahead and just nodded and said yes. She smiled and nodded back and I turned back to my textbook.

No harm, no foul, right?

Well, as I started back into my notes, it dawned on me what she had said. She hadn’t used the right grammar, and she had said it with a heavy accent, but what she had said was: “Is you doctor?” She was asking me if I was a physician. I guess she could see that my book was a medical textbook of some type, and she either assumed I was a doctor reading up on some important subjects, or maybe she thought I was a medical student. Either way, by me telling her “Yes,” I effectively told her I was a doctor!

I always tip pretty well there anyway, because I know they must work a lot of hours for not much money (as I illustrated above), but now she’s really going to expect a nice tip! Not to mention, considering how friendly and open to conversing she usually is, I’m afraid now she might start asking me for medical advice!!

Although, as I said earlier, she speaks what I would call “conversational” English, she is by no means fluent or free of heavy accent when she speaks. So I’m not about to attempt to explain to her that I’m studying radiography, and not medicine.

Oh well. I’ll just start signing my receipts with an “M.D.” at the end.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Reading List for 2006

Here is my reading list for 2006. I read 45 books this year, which is 3 fewer than in 2005. That's primarily due to my school and work schedule, which began in late September. You can see a distinct drop off after that time. It'll be much the same this year, with me in school all year. I'll probably be lucky to finish 25 books this year. Oh well.

Anyway, here's the list. I've put a few relevant comments next to some of them.

Shock Wave – Clive Cussler…1/22

The Closing of the Western Mind – Charles Freeman…1/23 -- This was an excellent book discussing how the rise of Christianity destroyed the Greek intellectual tradition and sent the western world into a 1000-year dark age. Despite the name and the subject matter, the book is very neutral and's a historical and factual look at how Christianity impacted the ancient world, rather than a condemnation of Christianity as a religion.

A Game For Heroes – Jack Higgins…1/28

A Million Little Pieces – James Frey…2/5 -- This is the now infamous autobiography by James Frey, a former hardcore drug and alchol addict, recounting his 6 weeks in rehab, for which he later admitted he had made some of the "facts" up. It was the book that had Oprah up in arms because she had picked it for her bookclub, without realizing he had made some stuff up. Regardless, the book was still a moving and disturbing account of the realities of addiction.

A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle…2/6

Archangel – Robert Harris…2/19

The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel…2/25 -- Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the first book I ever read that I seriously considered throwing across the room and/or destroying. The Case for Christ was the second.

Stonehenge – Bernard Cornwell…3/4

The Sign of Four – Arthur Conan Doyle…3/7

A Season in Hell – Jack Higgins…3/11

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time – Marcus Borg…3/11 -- Highly recommended to anyone who grew up as a Christian and later grew disillusioned with some of the beliefs of their younger years.

Flood Tide – Clive Cussler…3/18

Flight of Eagles – Jack Higgins…3/21

Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell…3/24 -- A pretty good Chrsitian apologetic by a progressive non-denominational mega-church pastor in Michigan. A nice change of pace from the typical shallow, cheesy crap put out by most mega-church pastors.

The Last Templar – Raymond Khoury…4/2

No Death, No Fear – Thich Nhat Hanh…4/8

It Can't Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis…4/14

This Hebrew Lord – John Shelby Spong…4/20

Atlantis Found – Clive Cussler…4/30

The Eagle Has Flown – Jack Higgins…5/4

God is a Verb – David Cooper…5/13 -- This is a book covering the Jewish mystical tradition, including Kabbalah. Very enlightening and eye-opening, but also a bit hard to stay with in places.

Christ the Lord – Anne Rice…5/21 -- The first book I ever attempted to read by Anne Rice was Interview with the Vampire. I quit after about 50 pages because it was so overtly graphic, bloody, and disturbing. Thus, it was odd for me to read a fictionalized account, by her, of the childhood of Jesus, written from a strict Catholic dogmatic perspective. She's apparently returned to faith after years of atheism, and while she hasn't overtly "recanted" all her earlier works, she apparently doesn't intend to be the "Queen of Horror" anymore. While she may view her previous work as the brainchild of her evil atheist days, she sure isn't rejecting the royalty checks, I'm sure!

Valhalla Rising – Clive Cussler…6/7

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle…6/8

Traveling Music – Neil Peart…6/14

Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence…7/9 -- I like D.H. Lawrence, and Sons and Lovers is the third book I've read by him (the previous two being Lady Chatterly's Lover and a book of short stories). I wish, after having read this book, that I could say I understand why it is consistently included on lists of the best novels of the 20th century. Sadly, I can't. It was certainly vintage D.H. Lawrence, but it dragged something awful.

The Book of the Dead – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child…7/22

Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller…7/23 -- Another good Christian apologetic. However, Miller's theology and view of the world is one of the most unusual, perplexing, and enigmatic that I have ever encountered in the realm of Christianity. He is a raging left-wing liberal. In the book, he uses curse words and other off color language (from time to time), and recounts stories of attending anti-Bush rallies and anti-war rallies. He talks about smoking pot and drinking, and doesn't condemn those things. Yet, his theology is basically in line with traditional evangelical theology. God is a supernatural being, up in heaven, invading history to control events, responding to specific individual prayers, and taking an active role in the lives of human beings. Jesus was God in the flesh, born of a virgin, rose physically from the dead, and ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit is a living, active, life-changing force in the world. I don't think I've ever encountered an individual with such seemingly contradictory ideas about theology vs. culture/society/politics.

Night of the Fox – Jack Higgins…8/4

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas – Elaine Pagels…8/6

The Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett…8/16

Beyond the Influence – Katherine Ketcham, et al…8/26

Black Order – James Rollins…8/27

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell…9/10 -- This was my third time reading this great early Orwell novel. I suppose this is the only Orwell novel that has a happy ending.

Congo – Michael Crichton…9/17 -- This was another re-read. Oh for Michael Crichton to still write relevant, engaging, techno-thrillers like Congo, Sphere, and Jurassic Park, instead of the neo-con drivel he passes off as fiction these days.

The Templar Legacy – Steve Berry…10/8

Walking the Bible – Bruce Feiler…10/15

River God – Wilbur Smith…11/3 -- Another re-read. One of my all time favorite novels. Set in ancient Egypt.

The Tao of Sobriety – David Gregson & Jay S. Efran…11/21

Warlock – Wilbur Smith…11/24 -- Another re-read, also set in ancient Egypt.

The Bormann Testament – Jack Higgins…11/25

The Seventh Scroll – Wilbur Smith…12/12 -- Another re-read. This is the book that is in between River God and Warlock, but unlike those two, this book takes place in the modern day, and is about the archaeological search for the tomb of the pharaoh who was buried in River God. This may be my favorite thriller novel.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens…12/14 -- After years of seeing the various movies and stage reproductions, this was my first time reading this book, and also my first time reading Dickens. It was absolutely sublime. No movie or play quite captures the spirit of the book itself (although Scrooge with Albert Finny comes damn close!).

The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell…12/25

Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut…12/27

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Romulus & Remus: A Lesson for Christianity

The founders of Rome are said to be twin brothers named Romulus and Remus. Born in 771 B.C.E., they were the sons of Mars, the god of war, and the priestess daughter of another god-king, Numitor.

Mars, God of War

Numitor was ruler of the city of Alba Longa, about 20 miles south of present-day Rome.

The Alban Hills, outside Rome

Their mother, Rhea Silvia, had been forced to become a Vestal Virgin by her uncle, Amulius (Numitor’s brother, who overthrew Numitor), because Amulius had been warned that Rhea Silvia would produce sons who might overthrow him. Rhea Silvia, however, became pregnant when she was raped by Mars.

Enraged, Amulius ordered that Rhea Silvia be buried alive – the standard execution for a Vestal Virgin who broke her vow of celibacy. He also ordered that the twins be executed. However, the slave who was to perform the execution placed the boys in a basket upon the Tiber River, and sent them floating away to safety downstream.

The river god Tiberinus rescued the twins, and took them to the Palatine Hill, along the banks of the river, to be nursed by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker.

Romulus and Remus feeding

The twins grew up as shepherds, but their strength, stature, and regal bearing soon set them apart from their peers.

In time, Amulius discovered that the twins were still alive, and set out to kill them. However, the twins by now commanded a citizen army, and they defeated and killed Amulius. The citizens offered the dual crown of the Alba Longa to the twins, but they refused to take it, since their grandfather (Numitor) was still alive. Instead, they restored the crown to Numitor, and set out to found their own city on the slopes of the Palatine Hill, where they had been raised.

However, they began to argue once they set out to build their city. They disagreed about where its actual location should be. They decided to have a contest to see who had the true will of the gods on his side. Using augury (which was an ancient form of reading the will of the gods through signs in nature), they each counted the number of vultures they saw in the sky. Romulus saw the most and thus won the contest. Remus was outraged and the two brothers fought. Romulus won the fight by killing his brother.

Thus, he built his city in the location of his choosing, along the Palatine Hill, and named it after himself.

Rome was born. The year was 753 B.C.E.

Romulus became the first king of the city, and the population grew to large numbers under his rule. He created a city council of 100 men, which would eventually become the Senate, and he also created the first Roman legions. He warred with a neighboring tribe called the Sabines, and after defeating them, they were added to the population of Rome, nearly doubling its size.

In the 38th year after the founding of the city, 717 B.C.E., Romulus and a number of local citizens went to the Campus Martius (the Field of Mars), which was a wide, grassy plain to the west of the city, where games, elections, and other municipal events were held.

The Field of Mars as it would have looked centuries later, at the height of the ancient Roman Empire

While they were there, a great storm arose, which darkened the entire city. While this was happening, Romulus sneaked away and went to the Quirinal Hill, where he ascended into heaven to live with the gods. A temple was built on the spot to his honor, and he was worshipped thereafter as a god himself.

As anyone familiar with the bible will note, there are a number of similarities between the mythology of Romulus and Remus, and the stories in the bible. Moses, it was said, was placed inside a basket and set afloat on a river, in order to escape a vengeful king. Jesus is said to have been conceived by the union of God and a virgin. Upon his death, a great storm is said to have overtaken the land, covering it in darkness. Later, Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven to live with God, and to be part of God himself (the Trinity).

The story of Romulus and Remus, of course, predates the events in the New Testament. And while Moses is believed to have lived several hundred years before Romulus and Remus, his story – including his origins in a basket on a river – was not recorded until after the inception of the mythology surrounding the founding of Rome.

We could argue all day about whether there is any theological significance in these similarities. Skeptics would say that this (as well as many other examples) proves that the stories in the bible are simply a retelling of pre-existing mythological themes. Believers would either reject the dating of the various stories, or would take the route of C.S. Lewis and argue that these earlier stories were simply examples of ancient mythology paralleling what was to come – all part of God’s grand plan for humanity (one must wonder, if this Lewis argument is true, if the events described in, for example, the Star Wars saga, will eventually play out in reality, many centuries in the future).

But my purpose with this essay is not to argue these points. Instead, I want to illustrate a parallel between how we interpret secular history as opposed to Christian history.

When traditional Christians read the story of Romulus and Remus, they no doubt read it as a mythological tale (despite the fact that archaeological evidence suggests that Romulus was a real person, and, as illustrated above, the dates of the supposed lives of Romulus and Remus are recorded by ancient historians). At the very least, traditionalists will assume that while Romulus, and possibly his brother Remus, were real people, the events attributed to their lives – such as virgin births, being the sons of a god, raised by wolves and woodpeckers, ascended into heaven without dying – these events would be regarded as mere mythology painted against the lives of otherwise real people. Maybe Romulus really founded Rome after killing his brother, but his mother wasn’t really a virgin, and he didn’t really ascend into heaven without dying. Additionally, he probably was never set upon a river in a basket, and he certainly wasn’t rescued by the River god and raised by suckling a she-wolf.

Perhaps you already see where I’m going with this.

Can we not – indeed, should we not – apply the same rational analysis to the life of Jesus? Why do we reject the mythology surrounding Romulus, but accept as theological truth an identical mythology surrounding Jesus? Why is it absurd, to our 21st century, post-Newtonian mindset, to consider that Romulus was really born of a union between Mars, the god of war, and a virgin, but it’s not absurd to our 21st century, post-Newtonian mindset to consider that Jesus was born of a union between Yaweh (also a warrior god, incidentally) and a virgin? Why do we suspend disbelief for one, but not the other? And more importantly, why don’t we apply the same rational analysis to the biblical story that we apply to all other ancient mythologies?

Of course, in the end, there is no unified answer. As I said above, skeptics will largely agree with me, and traditionalists will simply shrug these questions off, or offer (what I believe to be) those all-too-convenient Sunday School answers.

But for the traditionalists among us, let me at least encourage you to give these ideas some thought. What is your core motivation? Why do you reject one, but not the other? Why do you use reason and logic with one, but not the other?

I suppose what I am arguing is not unlike the old atheist adage that says something like, “Think of all the reasons why you reject Zeus, Odin, Thor, Mars, and Osiris. I reject the Christian god for the same reasons.”

Of course, I don’t personally reject the Christian God. What I reject is the traditional Christian notion of God. I believe that God is far too great, and far too transcendent, to be limited by Christian (or any other religion’s) theology.

So, for the traditionalist reader, please consider the story of Romulus and Remus. I think there is a lesson in there somewhere, for anyone who wants to hear it.