2010 Book Reviews

Impressions on reading portions of Forbidden Religion, Suppressed Heresies of the West, Edited by J. Douglas Kenyon (Bear & Company, 2006)

Remember how dismaying it is to bring your perfect bag of oranges home, turn the bag over, and see the one with the white of decay around it and starting to infect its nearest neighbors? “Should have looked more closely in the store,” is the usual thought I would have had at such times.

I had a similar experience when I used a store gift certificate to buy the book Forbidden Religion, Suppressed Heresies of the West, Edited by J. Douglas Kenyon (Bear & Company, 2006). I thought it might be a light-weight treatise but usually Bear & Company is a purveyor of decent reads in this genre, so ,my expectations were raised.

I bought it and liked the first chapter (by the editor) suggesting there were heresies right at the start of Christianity and it is not certain if today's orthodoxy is the same as what was considered orthodox by the original, Jewish, followers of Christ.

Then came a chapter by Richard Russel Cassaro suggesting that the Osiris myth may have informed Christianity, and it cites Freke and Gandy's  work in this area, authors whom I have reviewed and given grudging respect to although I did not like their attitude then. But now? I am coming closer to their view I believe, as time goes on and I keep reading.

David Lewis' chapter on the roots of “Western Faith” in the east then came along and it was OK, especially when he laid some of the later innovations that became the Christianity we know today squarely at the feet of Paul. But there were portions of this chapter that I thought not soundly supported except by rather loose inference. I am prejudiced. I am prejudiced regarding this idea of eastern philosophical connections with Jesus. I just do not see that it is necessary for those who learn introspectively to gain all their ideas from other sources, other teachers who are, after all, searching and reporting from what they learn based on the same inner sources.

I take to heart the idea of a collective unconscious populated by common human-symbols reflecting common human archetypal symbols that generate associated thoughts. So I am not surprised at revelations from the east matching those in the west. Direct, person to person cross-fertilization of ideas is perhaps a fact, but in this instance it can't be proven, either way. My claim is that it is not a necessary explanation for observed common elements in personal philosophies from persons not seemingly connected personally or through reading materials of others during times and in places where these materials were not known.

Then came two chapters by Cynthia Logan. The first introduced me to a book I had not heard of, The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity,  by Jeffrey J Bütz (Inner Traditions, 2005). The chapter was, essentially, an interview with this author and I was sufficiently intrigued to go ahead and use another gift certificate to get it and read it. I liked it, except for just a few sentences.  It is reviewed separately.

The same author's second chapter then addressed the Divine Feminine [click to see my unrelated page on that topic], largely through an interview with my friend Margaret Starbird. By this time I was getting to quite like this book.

The sixth chapter was by Peter Novak and was a good treatment of the Star of Bethlehem phenomenon, one of the most credible I have come across.

After the first six chapters came some that were not of immediate interest to me, so I began to skip around. Frankly, many of the subsequent chapters are so far-fetched that they are likely to never be of interest to me.

But one of the reasons I ended up buying the book was a chapter (27) that promised to tell me something history had left out of the Joan of Arc saga.

[To see my pages about Joan of Arc, click here for photos of places important to her life story (Domremy, Chinon,Orleans, Reims , St. Denis , Rouen), here for a story meant for younger readers, here for some reflections for older readers, and here for a discussion of her mode of revelation.]

The chapter was written by Jeff Nisbet. This is the chapter that was the proverbial white orange in the bag for me. I could not believe what it was telling me, and here is my very negative, and perhaps very unfair, critique of what it had to say.

Nisbet starts out hinting that the strange effort to convince the public she was a girl, including the exposing of her nude body on the stake prior to reducing it to ashes, was a sham display to convince the public she was a female, suggesting that perhaps she was not? This assertion right at the start of the chapter planted a bad taste in my mouth. Was Nisbet suggesting that her story becomes more credible if we lay these miraculous achievements at the feet of a young boy rather than a young girl?

He does not go that far, but next, after calling into question the date and place of her birth and her parentage, he hints that she may have been royalty and even may have had a twin brother who was easily confused with her. His evidence? The astrology of her date and time of birth, and how it is reflected in Shakespearian plays that use the “twelfth night” (her birthday) and the separation of boy and girl twins, cross-dressing, and gender confusion as props. Nisbet says there was doubt about her gender, “--a doubt put to rest perhaps just a tad too neatly in the historical record.”

Would the story of Joan of Arc be more believable had she been a peasant boy in a female disguise?

Nisbet does not question the court records meticulously kept by scribes, but he does question the “evidence” gathered for her rehabilitation after her death, accusing it of being a mixture of fact and obvious fantasy, which is a charge I immediately also leveled at Nisbet's chapter as I was reading it. Why did Nisbet want to discredit these accounts of her life story? To insert some alternative ideas that could explain a few enigmas in this young person's miracle-filled life.

Nisbet is done with his gender-questioning, and the alternative idea he inserts next is that she may have been of noble birth, secretly moved toward her military career all the while being flanked by a faction that had a very deep hidden agenda playing the French and English off against each other. This faction conspired to place her with the d'Arc peasant family to disguise her as an ignorant peasant and thus help create the illusion of a miracle showing God on the French side in this war, an illusion that allowed the French to win some key battles because they had a sign from God through Joan showing He was on their side. For the exact same reason it dismayed the believers among the English because they saw that God was against them. Hence the strong desire on the part of the English and their Burgundian allies to prove she was a witch, meaning they were on God's side after all!

So even if Joan was a girl, her being of noble birth, though raised as a peasant, makes it more likely she could have pulled off her miracles? Again, as a peasant I find this strikingly stupid and to his credit Nisbet doesn't quite go there but instead lays her miraculous career at the feet of a secret brotherhood that orchestrated it with her as a puppet figure creating the illusion for believers that God's hand was at work through this maid. All the while it was a group of conspiring men at work. Of course.

I found this chapter completely bizarre in suggesting it was logical that powerful male conspirators were orchestrating this miraculous life. What was their motive in wanting to tip the balance in this war that had been on and off for generations? Supposedly it was to assure a continued . . . “adversarial

competition that would become very useful when the time came to divvy up and populate the New World soon to be 'discovered' to the west.”

That is totally absurd. It is credible to me that a simple but highly intelligent peasant girl took on the pain of her people and acted in accordance with her belief system to stop that pain. It is not credible, to me, that this girl made herself a pawn of conspiratorial men, even if they were of the noble class. Conspiratorial men of the noble class, disguised as clerics of rank and secular authorities, were her undoing. I agree with my fellow-non-believer, Mark Twain, that Joan's life is the only miracle in history that has been documented by both her allies and her enemies, making her life story and her accomplishments extremely credible.

Nisbet's chapter, by contrast, is incredible. It is condescending to the female gender and the peasantry. It is baseless in terms of historical fact and folds astrology, fiction and wild conjecture together as if mixing enough incredible ingredients somehow makes a credible argument.

Nisbet's chapter made me think of throwing the rest of the bag of oranges away. But I did not.

I chose several more chapters to read, notable among them chapters 39 and 40 about near-death experiences (NDEs) and reincarnation, respectively.

Chapter 39, by P.M.H. Atwater, calls into question the popular portrayal of the NDE based on his own research. It is very thoughtfully written. I particularly liked his suggestion that in an NDE we see “what we want to see” (page 285), something he calls “the preference factor.” My own view is that we see what we expect to see, which may not always be what we want to see but could be stoked by religious guilt notions that engender fear of the afterlife because of our expectations based on what we think we deserve.

To my delight, Chapter 40 on the case for reincarnation, by Ian Lawton, carries this same idea several steps further by suggesting that psychic insights and past-life regressions are easily influenced by the experiencer's expectations. His last page, 293, which is the last page of the book, focuses on the misinformation gleaned by persons accepting their psychic experiences as factual reflections of reality, when in fact they are reflections of their own expectations based on their beliefs. I could not agree more because in my review of several books by psychics, for example, I noticed that the contradictions between descriptions of the afterlife very likely reflections of expectations based on the psychic's own religious beliefs, and in some cases I suspected were based on careful research of intended-audience religious beliefs. In the latter case there is purposeful deception going on, but is that any less reliable than unintended deception based on unacknowledged projections of personal expectations based on belief?

Did I confess to being an unbeliever yet? Guess I ought to do so.

I am.

Go to Impressions from reading The Brother of Jesus

Go Back to "Book Reviews" listing

Go Back to 2010 Yearbook

Go to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org Home Page.