Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review of "Sacred Origins of Profound Things" by Charles Panati

Charles Panati is a renaissance man.  He's published books on history, the supernatural, science, word origins, and my favourite: his tome about endings, which covers sundry topics ranging from death to disease to extinction.  This book, Sacred Origins of Profound Things: The Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of the World's Religions, is about the divine. 

Though this book is about world religions, Panati's interest seems to be attracted by the Roman Catholic Church and Judaism.  By comparison, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and the Protestant and Orthodox Christians are given only passing mention.  Even so, the scope of this book is massive, covering how humans understood the gods, The God, Satan, the afterlife, religious garments and dogma for thousands of years. 

Panati's tone attempts to be impartial, but it's difficult.  Some of the rationalizations, bizarre interpretations, circular thinking, and blunders made by religions in the past are simply difficult for a modern reader to take seriously.  Also, Panati cannot resist a good digression and will often interrupt his narrative to tell a funny story.

I started reading this book in January of 2012.  Eleven months later, I'm finally finished.  At 500+ big pages, this book is a massive commitment.  It wasn't always an interesting journey, particularly the chapter about Catholic vestments, but I have returned much wiser.  I was unaware, for instance, of the amount of non-biblical story that generations of Catholic thinkers have heaped upon the Biblical Mary, mother of God.

The Bible says a teenager named Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, though she did not "know him".  An angel named Michael appears and tells her she is/will be with God's child.  She then gives birth to Jesus.  Jesus is raised by his mother, amongst brothers and sisters, until he gets killed by Romans.  Mary sees him briefly after he returns to life, and then she vanishes from the pages of the Bible.  Let's assume that "not knowing" Joseph is a correct linguistic interpretation.  She is the Virgin Mary, after all, and it would be cruel to dissect her greatest miracle, carrying the Son of God without having sex

At some point in the early Christian church's history, it started to get more prudish than its Jewish fathers.  Then it got a little more prudish, then ridiculously prudish.  Sex, female anatomy, burst hymen, and birth became abhorrent to Christian thinkers.  They blamed femalekind for original sin, which bore as its wicked fruit, sex.  From this viewpoint, 2000 years-worth of story was interpreted or invented onto the Bible's original text.  Some of this tale is dogma, some of it merely widely believed by those in the know:

Mary's parents didn't enjoy having sex, so therefore Mary was born into the world without original sin.  Jesus didn't have a vaginal birth, rather, he was magically C-sectioned in a ray of light out of her womb, keeping her hymen intact.  Her maidenhead remained intact after Jesus' birth as well, as it turns out all those brothers and sisters were Joseph's from a previous marriage.  When she died, her body laid in the ground for a couple days without decomposing, because bacteria and graveworms don't eat virtuous people.  Then she crawled out of her tomb and ascended.  These days, she ventures out of heaven to tell children to build shrines and convert Russia to Catholicism.

That's interesting.  I did not know that.  If this sort of thing appeals to you, you'll love this book.  Without a doubt, many readers may experience cognitive dissonance, particularly Catholics who may be surprised at the things they are REQUIRED to believe.  As I mentioned before, the book is very long and has boring bits.  Luckily, it's written to easily choose which chapters to read, and you can put it down for long periods if you so wish.  Therefore I rate this book, speaking Infallibly of course:
4 self-inflicted stigmata out of 5

In other news, I put the finishing touches on my fourth screenplay, "The Rising".  Also, Rosie's Knife was finally published in the final issue of Dark Recesses Magazine.  Read it here:  It's been a good month!