Good news from the Vatican

The wicked witch is not quite dead, but the present pope has resigned — supposedly because he’s getting old; but really, insiders say, because he can’t control the violent politics in the Vatican except by the ultimate diffusion of renouncing the ring of the fisherman. For the first time in six centuries (when Gregory XII resigned to end a war between clerical factions) that ring will be ceremonially broken while the pontiff still breathes, to make way for his successor; and the arch-conservatives in the Mafia-besmirched Curia must face the uncertainty of what politics the next white smoke will bring.

My thought is that Benedict XVI resigned because he could no longer pretend he believes in the historicity of the founding myth, knowing as a scholar that it had never and could never be proved — especially by the anti-intellectual fundamentalists bent on returning the world’s remaining faithful to the Dark Ages where priests would never marry, women would never be priests, every act of sex must result in Sunday-generous children, and Jesus’ face is actually imprinted on the shroud of Turin as certainly as Boccaccio’s Friar Onion sold feathers from the Archangel Gabriel and breast milk from the Virgin Mary.

The decadence of this pope, who turns in St. Peter’s keys on Feb. 28, is not only obvious from casual googling, but also written on his every photograph — the weary, uninspiring scowl of cynicism also evident in portraits of Renaissance profligates Alexander VI or Leo X. It always amazed me that the sacred college of cardinals couldn’t have found someone to elect who wasn’t a childhood member of Hitler Youth! No wonder his loyal butler, after service in the Vatican under saintly John Paul, leaked secret documents from the Unholy See. Joseph Ratzinger may not have had female mistresses, but he obediently and infallibly excluded women from the altar, protected a molesting priest, inflamed the Muslim world, refused condoms to spouses married to HIV victims, and staunchly continued to sever divorced Catholics from the sacraments.

Don’t get me wrong. I love what the Roman Catholic Church supposedly stands for — the potential for the divine in every human being — though I believe that’s whether he or she is baptized or not. I just no longer believe the divine is institutionally enshrined in an organization that has condoned murder, genocide, “holy wars” and sordid sins of the shepherds against their flock for nearly its entire two millennia — truly as sinful itself as the Roman Empire of which it is, after all, the continuation.

The divine is what I responded to as a kid growing up midst the incense, magical stained glass and haunting Gregorian chant. But I’ve long recognized that I also experience it in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Francesco Goya’s paintings, Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Diane Arbus’ photographs, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

“Great poetry,” said A. E. Housman, “makes your hair stand on end” — and all the finest and best popular arts put us in touch with the transcendent and transformative best of the human spirit.

It’s been a hard lesson growing up to the incontrovertible truth that the all too human hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church does not hold a hegemony on holiness, and that its ancient formula extra Ecclesia nulla salus (“outside the church no salvation”) is the very root of its corruption. Not to mention the sacrament of Confession, which by allowing all sins to be forgiven allows all to be committed. That Jesus said to Simon Peter, “I give thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” had to be the greatest piece of self-serving propaganda ever penned by a second century scribe. Justifying what an Irish-Canadian friend calls “centuries of organized thuggery.”

Isn’t it time that we all grow up, reject the charlatans that collect millions every Saturday or Sunday in the name of one intolerant God or another? Isn’t it time that we embrace the patent reality that evil is our own fault and that it is our human responsibility, each and every one of us, to find, instead, the heaven in our hearts and manifest it in our daily deeds — following the universal Golden Rule that nearly every spiritual doctrine in the world has advocated from time immemorial.

To restate all of the above more optimistically, thank you, Your Holiness, for, wittingly or not, setting an example. Let’s all resign from this wrong-headed church and turn our hearts and minds to the God in whose “image and likeness” Genesis claims we are fashioned.

Dr. Kenneth John Atchity

Why I wrote The Messiah Matrix as a novel

Many readers have wondered why I wrote The Messiah Matrix as a novel rather than as a non-fiction book. I wrote it as a novel because I’ve spent my life looking for good stories, publishing them, producing them—and in a few special cases telling them. In my view stories are what human beings remember in their minds and hearts more than books of nonfiction. The sad fact is that the works of most of the non-fiction authors that I used as reference resources remain relatively unknown in the world. Excellent books such as D.M Murdock’s Who Was Jesus?, The Christ Conspiracy, and Suns of God along with Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries and The Laughing Jesus and Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Jesus all, sadly, gather dust on shelves in the Christian section of book stores, whereas historically-based works of fiction may be read by millions of people.

My primary intention in creating The Messiah Matrix story was to reach the widest audience possible and trigger their curiosity to the point where they would share my lifelong bafflement about the “facts of life” when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. If some of my readers embark on their own quest for truth and, perhaps, begin to question the mainstream belief in a historical, literal, Jesus instead of the essence of the Jesus myth depicted in the gospels—then I will be all the happier. Unquestioning belief has been the cause of so much human suffering, it’s time for us to return to Socrates’ declaration: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Dr Kenneth John Atchity.

Reply to an Anglican Priest

Review extract from ‘Protovicar’ writing on  (Protovicar describes herself as: “Chartered accountant, trainee vicar, aspiring writer, failed physicist.” )

The product description makes much of the fact that Kenneth John Atchity is a classical scholar and his Wikipedia page makes interesting reading. I wonder if this book is intended to be truth disguised in fiction, perhaps a way of introducing the product of his academic research to a wider audience in a palatable and accessible way.

In the interests of fairness I must declare a personal perspective – I am an Anglican priest. I’m quite comfortable with the challenges some of Mr Atchity’s work presents and I’m familiar with many of them. I note that his research cannot have extended to holding – or indeed “hefting” – a ciborium either empty or full of communion wafers, nor does he seem aware that ashes are customarily mixed with oil when imprinted on penitents’ foreheads on Ash Wednesday. But that’s just me being picky. What I do take issue with is his basic misunderstanding of the Christian faith. It is not about people being nice to one another, taking care of animals and recycling, although hopefully most Christians would try to do some or all of these things as a consequence of our faith. But this is meant to be a book review not an apologetics essay…

In summary, I find it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read, it has some entertaining ideas, but it’s not a particularly entertaining story. And I’ll eat my clerical collar should THE MESSIAH MATRIX “prove to be one of the most thought-provoking books ever written” as claimed in the blurb. Finally, the last scene made me laugh out loud – and not in a good way – since St Luke tells that particular story much more convincingly (Ch.2 vv41-51).

PS: What did the Jesuits ever do to you, Mr Atchity?

Dr Atchity responds:

Dear Protovicar,

Thank you for reading The Messiah Matrix and for your comments.

The odd thing is that I have “hefted a ciborium,” many times when I served mass as an adolescent–and there’s nothing inaccurate about my description. The Anglicans may mix oil with ashes, but we Catholics sure didn’t, at least back then. And even if we did it doesn’t change the story one whit.

Regarding your question,  “What did the Jesuits ever do to you?”, to begin with they gave me the finest education imaginable. How else could I have had ten years of Latin by the time I graduated from Georgetown, and eight years of Greek (Homeric, Attic, and Koine). They honed my mind with analysis to the point that it became impossible to accept anything at face value without looking beneath the surface to understand what made its face what it appears to be. I have shown my appreciation to this day by contributing monthly to both my Jesuit high school and college, and by consigning my literary papers to the Georgetown Library for safekeeping in perpetuity.

That said, they also instilled in me a reverence for the truths contained in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Islam. They were not afraid to recognize the universal presence of spiritual values in all cultures. They were not afraid to admit the downfalls of our own Catholic religion in its bloody course through history all the way to the present where it has performed dismally with the sexual errantry of its priesthood. They made it clear that there is a distinction between the divine within us and the human institutions that seek to profess it with rigidity and inhuman conclusions. My father once kicked my favorite uncle out of the house because he’d just gotten divorced and “no one who’s divorced can go to heaven so I don’t want him in my house.” People who ate meat on Friday were consigned to the flames of hell—until the church changed the rule after I’d grown up, without explaining what happened to those miserable souls burning for all eternity because they’d committed a sin that was suddenly no longer a sin.

I could go on, and in fact did go on in THE MESSIAH MATRIX which I thank you heartily for reading even though you dismiss it as sour grapes. I predict that someday you yourself will have some of the doubts Father McKeown expresses in this book and only hope you pursue them with the vigor and honesty he does in the novel.

Dr Ken Atchity

To purchase The Messiah Matrix from click here
To purchase The Messiah Matrix from click here