By Richard Brandt
"I had to do it. What other choice did you give me?"
These words, spoken by Cho Seung-Hui on a video in between the two sets of killings at Virginia Tech last week, raise more questions than answers. What made him believe that such a tragic act was necessary? Was he a psychopath, a man who killed in cold blood or in anger set off by the slightest provocation? Did he embody what most religions would simply classify as "evil"?
Psychiatrists and neuroscientists are making extraordinary advances in understanding the psychopathic or sociopathic mind, a mind that lacks empathy, compassion, fear, or remorse. In some of the most exciting research, advanced brain-imaging techniques are revealing that certain sections of psychopaths' brains seem to be misfiring.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers in the United States, Germany, and elsewhere have started taking scans of the brains of psychopaths while the patients view horrific images, such as photographs of bloody stabbings, shootings, or evisceration. When normal people view these images, fMRI scans light up to indicate heavy brain activity in sections of the emotion-generating limbic system, primarily the amygdala, which is believed to generate feelings of empathy. But in psychopathic patients, these sections of the amygdala remain dark, showing greatly reduced activity or none at all. This phenomenon, known as limbic underactivation, may indicate that some of these people lack the ability to generate the basic emotions that keep primitive killer instincts in check.
Other researchers see similar deficits from fMRI scans of the frontal cortex, part of the reasoning center of the brain, which helps regulate impulsive and irrational actions. These researchers say that frontal-deficit syndrome creates a psychopathic inability to rein in overly emotional, impulsive, and violent reactions to the slightest provocation.
James Blair, head of the National Institute of Mental Health's Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience, believes that a dysfunctional amygdala affects the frontal cortex. In just-completed studies of psychopathic brains, to be published late this year or early next, Blair's fMRI scans show that a lack of normal activity in the amygdala is mirrored in the frontal cortex. He believes that the amygdala forwards the wrong signals to the frontal cortex.
Still, some scientists say that this focus on the amygdala is too simplistic. "I'm not sure if the amygdala is the core of the problem," says Joshua Greene, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University. Greene says that while the amygdala may be "one of the areas compromised," the affected part of the brain might be different in different patients. Greene has not studied psychopathic patients, but he has used fMRI to look at the brains of people as they make moral decisions. He has found that either an emotional center or a reasoning center may play the dominant role, depending on the kind of moral decision being pondered.
Of course, not everyone demonstrating these brain abnormalities ends up a killer. Some individuals with limbic underactivation end up in heroic professions, becoming firefighters, police officers, or fighter pilots, possibly because of a reduced fear response and a need for strong emotional stimuli. One theory is that other triggers, such as severe childhood abuse or neglect, are needed to turn people with already suppressed emotions into cold-blooded killers.
And of course not all killers are psychopaths. Thomas Lewis, a psychiatrist who has extensively studied the research on psychopathy and who specializes in the neurochemistry of depression at the University of California, San Francisco, describes an extraordinarily rare condition in which a nonpsychopathic person can become a "rampage killer." This individual starts out severely depressed, traumatized, and suicidal, a condition that could be caused by anything from genetics to a brain tumor. Then some perceived crisis causes him or her to snap and go on a killing spree before taking his or her own life. "It's kind of like throwing a temper tantrum--only with automatic weapons," says Lewis.
Using neuroscience to understand seemingly evil acts of violence is still in its very early days. Indeed, diagnosis and prediction of killing behavior are far off into the future, if at all possible. But many brain researchers see enormous potential in the new imaging work. "We've always regarded psychopathy as completely untreatable," says Blair. "This could absolutely change that."
By Shelby Martin
It plays out like your worst nightmare. You’re faced with the fiercest, toothiest, scariest predator imaginable. All this monster wants to do is eat you up. And yet — you can’t turn away. You find yourself inexplicably drawn to this monster, and you go closer, and closer...
Such is the situation with rats infected with a bizarre parasite. Toxoplasma gondii (or “toxo,” as it’s cheekily called) is a protozoan famously found in cat poop. The parasite is dangerous to pregnant women, but, in most humans, it seems to cause no more than flu-like symptoms. But for rats, it’s a different story: the parasite can actually send them to their deaths.
Toxo can only reproduce sexually in cat intestines. (Sexy place, no?) But the parasite can live in almost any warm-blooded host, including the rat. The shortest distance from a rat to a cat is through the cat’s mouth. The problem, for the parasite, is that rats are terrified of cats — even a whiff of cat urine is enough to send them squeaking for cover.
But all that changes once a rat catches toxo. Amazingly, a toxo-infected rat is actually attracted to cat urine.
The Sapolsky lab at Stanford recently studied this phenomenon. They found some toxo, they got some rats and they bought some bobcat urine. (Who knew that was commercially available?) The Sapolsky lab found that toxo-infected rats have damaging cysts on their amygdalas, the part of the brain involved in fear and anxiety. This would make sense — knock out the fear, and the rats won’t run from cats.
So, are the amygdala-damaged rats completely fearless? Actually, no. It turns out the effect of toxo is astonishingly specific. The rats are still afraid of doggy smells; they are afraid of open spaces; they are leery around unknown foods. But when it comes to cat pee, they can’t get enough.
Weird as toxo is, it’s not particularly unique. Parasitic brainwashing happens all over the animal kingdom. The lancet fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, is a protist like toxo. Unlike toxo, it’s not content with only two host animals. The lancet fluke finds its way through three species in its life cycle.
Adult lancet flukes hang out inside cows. They mate in the cow’s liver (another sexy place!) and send eggs off into the animal’s digestive tract. An infected cow leaves fluke-laden cow pies in its wake.
Next in the lancet fluke’s life cycle are snails with the munchies. Snails evidently snack on cow poo, sometimes with a lancet fluke garnish. Once inside the snail, the parasitic larvae attach themselves to the snail’s digestive tract and develop into their juvenile state. The besieged snail immobilizes these invaders by wrapping them in slime. Slime balls full of flukes are excreted onto the grass, where they await their next host.
The ant is the most pitiable creature in the lancet fluke saga. To a thirsty ant, the fluke-filled slime balls are a source of moisture. The ant slurps up the slimy flukes, obliviously signing its death warrant. The lancet flukes head straight for the ant’s brain.
From then on, the insect becomes restless. Instead of bedding down with its fellows at night, the ant heads for the nearest blade of grass. The erstwhile unadventurous insect clambers to the tip of a blade of grass, holds tight with its mandibles and waves in the breeze until morning. At dawn, it rejoins its nestmates on the ground.
But all is not back to normal. The very next night, the infected ant is back on that grass. This goes on until the blade of grass — along with the hapless ant — gets eaten by a cow, and the lancet fluke is back inside its favorite animal.
This is so science fiction-esque I can hardly believe it. But the mind control doesn’t end with parasites. Sometimes the enemy is your boyfriend.
For example, female fruit flies have a special reason to practice safe sex. Their mate’s semen contains mind-controlling compounds called accessory gland proteins. These proteins make a beeline for the female’s brain, where they send her into a fit of domesticity. She refuses other suitors, even kicking them in the head if they come too close. Her days as a party girl are over, and she’s ready to settle down and focus on egg-laying.
All this mind control isn’t confined only to lower life forms. Toxo, the rat’s nightmare, has been implicated in schizophrenia and paranoia in humans. Eighteen studies found that people with schizophrenia had higher levels of human antibodies to toxo than individuals without schizophrenia.
Of course, it is difficult to prove causation. Sadly, many people with schizophrenia are homeless, and a rougher life after the onset of their illness could explain the correlation. Still, given toxo’s track record with rats, an ability to induce mental illness in humans wouldn’t be entirely shocking.
Does this have implications for free will? I’m not sure. It’s something to think about — that is, if the bugs in your brain will let you.
It'a about viral marketing, that is when one friend tells another that friend tells another and on and on.
There is a very VERY cool software program that is being given away and if you have a web site it will SERIOUSLY help spread the word.
It works on the basis of Roberts Cialdini's rule of "Social Influence".
Some people are selling this soft ware for $194 but now they are actually giving it away at no charge.
...so I thought, what would happen if we all started sending out emails with signature files with worlds like, "presidential Assination", "Al-Qaeda", "Terrorism", "Osama bin Laden" ....
It might slow things down a bit.
It faces the conspiracy theorists with good objective journalism and then asks you to make your own decision.
The Secret Rulers of the World
So why can some people succeed where others fail? Whilst luck may play some small part in this, the main difference is “belief”. If you believe in yourself, almost anything is possible.Most problems, but not all, are created in our mind. Take smoking for example, although nicotine is addictive, the majority of the cigarettes smoked are as a result of habit, not need. All you have todo to quit smoking is break the habit and overcome the addictive urge that follows when you stop. Unfortunately, it requires a considerable amount of willpower to do this, and that’s where we need some help. Hypnosis is by far the most effective way of helping our mindsachieve this, and this is done by reprogramming our subconscious. Ourmind is much like a computer, and our “habits” are like old files that are difficult to delete (sometimes hidden from view). Hypnosis can change the information on that file in a way that is more beneficial to you. Instead of it tel ling you to have a cigarette, it can be altered to tell you not to. There is no magic involved, it simply helps you to do what some people can do for themselves.
Although hypnosis can help people in incredible ways, it is still a very much misunderstood form of treatment. When most people think of hypnosis, they think of mind control, picture people on stages making fools of themselves, and even associate it with Black Magic! It may surprise you to learn that hypnosis can not make you do something that you don’t want to do (anything that you consider dangerous or harmful), it does not put you to sleep, and is certainly not some tool of the devil!
Most hypnotic treatment is carried out on the premises of a hypnotherapist, but sometimes receiving such treatment in unfamiliar surroundings (and the fear of being hypnotized itself) can affect the patient, and quite often several visits are needed before any success can be obtained. However, many prefer to use Hypnosis Downloads, as these can be stored on your computer (or placed on a CD), which means you can use it whenever you want, and in the comfort and safety of your own home. The added benefit of course is that you only pay once, and this can save you a small fortune in fees.
Hypnosis is most frequently used to help people to quit smoking, but it has a much wider use than that. It can help you to overcome Phobias and Fears like flying, dental phobia, a fear of heights or spiders.
Getting over a failed relationship or divorce can be made easier with hypnosis, or even give you more confidence when dating. Although hypnosis can not eliminate a physical injury, it can help you to overcome the pain that it creates.
Most men have experienced premature ejaculation at some time in their lives, and hypnosis is ideal for helping with this problem. It can also help with some forms of impotence and avoid the need for expensive drugs that many take unnecessarily.It can help you to lose weight, overcome jealousy, relieve stress and tension, and even make you funnier. And if you don’t have a problem, you can simply use it to relax.
Of course, you can continue trying to achieve your success in more traditional ways, and some of you will succeed, but wouldn’t it be better to get there more quickly and easily using a little scientifichelp?
The label seems to have originated among conspiracy theorists in the United States of a far right political persuasion. The Wall Street Journal first reported the label in print in 1984, where its reporter encountered the word used by the proprietor of an American Opinion bookstore affiliated with the John Birch Society. In this usage, taxpayers were derided for their perceived blind conformity, as opposed to the conspiracy theorists and tax protesters who thought independently. "Sheeple" are people who pay their taxes and accept what the government and the mass media tell them.  A piece of folk poetry circulating among conspiracy theorists puts this usage in a nutshell:
- Oh yes, I am a sheeple, and oh so proud to be.
I am way too smart to believe in a conspiracy.
Acceptance of government intrusion and regulation is another hallmark of the "sheeple" according to those who use the epithet. The Guardian reported that an Alaskan reacted to news of a survey that said that "four out of five Americans . . . would give up some freedoms for greater security" by labelling this majority as "sheeple". In a column entitled A Nation of Sheeple, columnist Walter E. Williams writes that "Americans sheepishly accepted all sorts of Transportation Security Administration nonsense. In the name of security, we've allowed fingernail clippers, eyeglass screwdrivers and toy soldiers to be taken from us prior to boarding a plane."
Common usage also applies the term to devoutly religious people, particularly Christians; however, it is also used to describe devout members of any religious persuasion, and perhaps its particular application to Christianity is a combination of the fact that Christians are the majority religion in the Americas and Europe where the term is commonly used, and the fact that Christians describe themselves as a "flock" and Christ as a "shepherd."
In political usage, it can be used to refer to a member of any political party, and is especially applied to those who take a hard party line stance or who are especially trusting of any politician.
However, the term is also used more broadly to describe any person who the speaker feels is exceedingly conformist, including members of consumer culture and popular culture at large.
The term has also come to be used to describe hoplophobes and other similar persons - people with an illogical fear of weapons, fire, cars, machinery etc, and certain other things such as men in camouflage or ethnic minorities. In this sense it is used particularly amongst gun and knife enthusiasts.
A = Lust
B = Gluttony
C = Greed
D = Sloth
E = Wrath
F = Envy
G = Pride
AB = Edible Undies
AC = Prostitution
AD = Quickies
AE = Domestic Abuse
AF = Adultery
AG = Trophy Wife
BC = Last Donut
BD = Saturday
BE = Bulimia
BF = High Metabolism
BG = Fat men is Speedos
CD = Get Rich Quick Scams
CE = Muggings
CF = Advertising
CG = Status Symbols
DE = Passive Agressive
DF = Welfare
DG = Slackers
EF = Cattiness
EG = Boxing
FG = 2nd Place
It's an interesting question that you can pass around at a party or among friends.
The fact is that you just don't know. In fact everything you are doing could be a response that fits perfectly into another persons plans.
If you take that as a possibility you could simply just give up and yield to the fact that NOTHING is truly within your control but there is a healthier option.
It's quite simple, just ask yourself "Am I acting or am I reacting?"
If you are reacting then you are respond to something outside of your control and trying to gain some control back, a potential sign of some form of mind control.
No one likes to feel powerless and out of control.
The solution? To do something intentional and positive that is NOT a response to the external environment.
I want to emphasize the word "positive" here because an intentional negative/destructive act has to act on or destroy something pre-existing. It would be then something to which you are reacting.
This is much harder that it might seem because it requires four qualities that most "sheeple" find hard to implement. They are:
People don't like to think, in general. That is why we have an unconscious (reactive) mind so it will do most of our actions for us. Most of us rely on it entirely too much or in the wrong way and allow it to dictate our every move by letting our emotions guide us. Advertisers, politicians, spouses and other manipulators know this and often seek to control you by fear, anger, threats and frustration. Thought requires that you determine what would be your best emotional response.
2 ) Creativity.
Creativity can be difficult because it requires taking action that is not linked to some external stimulus. This, of course requires thought, but one can train themselves and their unconscious mind to be very creative. Think of what Salvador Dali was able to do. Nothing he did in the field of art could easily be compared to anything prior to him. The same was true with his life.
Action takes effort. People (sheeple?) tend to not want to act instead they react and conserve their energy. What they don't understand is that by taking creative action in the manner described creates energy. Going back to Salvidor Dali as an example, his life was FULL of energy that he created. When his peers in the high brow field of art tried to control him he would turn his response into a new form of performance art. In so doing he would baffle the people trying to influence him and entertain everyone else.
Why courage? Because when people recognize that they cannot control you through fear and anger they will severely escalate their attempts through threats and maybe even violence.
To free yourself from any form of mind control is no easy task. But nothing so rewarding is easy.
When I wrote the book "Perfected Mind Control - The Unauthorized Black Book of Hypnotic Mind Control" I wanted to appeal to peoples most base desires for control and then turn the whole process into one of creating greater freedom, flexibility and joy. Throughout the book I encourage the reader to do the hypnotic processes on themselves first in order to truly understand the power.
When any smart person would find out is that there is nothing evil and controlling about "Perfected Mind Control - The Unauthorized Black Book of Hypnotic Mind Control" instead it's about personal liberation.
Apr 01, 2007 04:30 AM
by Lynda Hurst
The Toronto Star
For centuries, science regarded the human brain as a machine, with every component in its place, every task assigned. If a part was broken or worn out, that was that.
It couldn't be replaced: its function was permanently lost.
It was a bleak supposition, but one borne out by untold numbers of stroke victims who never fully recovered, mentally limited youngsters who never progressed.
It was also wrong.
"There are certain mistakes that only people with high IQs can make," says Toronto research psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge. "The best and the brightest believed that everything had only one function and one location."
Which meant that people with damaged brains were, if not written off, certainly viewed as damaged for life.
"In the last century," says Doidge, "rehabilitative medicine was the most gloomy, pessimistic area for a doctor to work in because so many people couldn't get better."
In recent years, however, neuroscientists have come to the revolutionary realization that the brain's anatomy is not, in fact, fixed. It is flexible or, in their terminology, "plastic."
Injured or dysfunctional cells and circuits can indeed be regenerated and rewired; the location of a given function can, astonishingly, move from one place to another.
The discovery of neuroplasticity – that the brain can be transformed through mental exercise therapy – so intrigued Doidge that it led him on a four-year investigation of the cutting-edge research, scientists and patients behind it.
The Brain That Changes Itself, a panoramic examination of the profound implications, is the newly published result.
Doidge presents extraordinary case histories of learning disorders being reversed, IQs rising, elderly brains replenishing themselves, blind people learning how to see, autistic children starting to relate to the world, and individuals with crippling depression and anxiety moving off the life-ruining treadmill.
Undoubtedly the best illustration of neuro-flexibility he came across is Michelle, a woman who was born 29 years ago with only half a brain – the left hemisphere was, literally, missing.
"You would think that today she'd be on a respirator in a chronic-care hospital, but she's not," he says. "Michelle works, loves her family, loves jokes, and votes in elections."
How? "Because the existing half of her brain totally reorganized itself, probably in the womb and early childhood. It took over the missing left side's functions" – language, reading, the ability to do math.
Plasticity exists in all areas of the brain: in sensory, motor, and cognitive processing, in the part that regulates instincts (hunger, thirst, sex) and in the part dealing with emotion and anxiety. It even exists in the spinal cord. Through relentless exercise, actor Christopher Reeve was able to retrieve some feeling and mobility after he was paralyzed.
"Neuroplastic therapy can open and redirect pathways to reorganize the brain so that people recover more fully after trauma," Doidge writes.
University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita, whose ground-breaking work is saluted in the book, discovered that if one of our six senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, balance – is damaged, another can take over for it, a process he called "sensory substitution."
"We see with our brains, not our eyes," he told Doidge. "Our eyes only sense changes in light energy."
Bach-y-Rita – whose death last fall was "a great loss, he put plasticity on the map" – did the groundwork for retinal implants that are giving the blind the chance to see again.
Another profiled pioneer is Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. He's developed mental-exercise strategies for autistic and learning-disabled youngsters still in the critical childhood period of intense plasticity, with astounding results. But he's equally committed to rejuvenating the more rigid-seeming brains of the elderly.
The body's lifespan may not have to outpace its mental lifespan, as is so often the case today. In his innovative flexibility therapy, Merzenich has found that "everything that you can see happen in a young brain can happen in an older brain." Deterioration can be reversed by 20 to 30 years.
Indeed, Doidge writes about a 90-year-old doctor he met who had become bothered by momentary lapses in memory, a drop in alertness, weakened handwriting, and a tendency to be less communicative – all classic signs of age-related decline. But within eight weeks of Merzenich's daily, intensive auditory exercises, he had reclaimed the mental flexibility of a man decades younger.
"The exercises rebuilt the auditory cortex of his brain from the ground up," Doidge explains.
Better hearing leads to better concentration, which leads to better memory formation. The brain, he stresses, is a use-it-or-lose-it organ.
It's known that older people who do a lot of intensive mental learning develop less Alzheimer's disease. Seniors can benefit from doing crossword puzzles, but learning something entirely new, another language, say, is infinitely more effective.
At present, the research doesn't quite prove these activities prevent Alzheimer's, says Doidge. It's possible, but it's also possible that older people do less mental activity because they're already sick. "But for age-related cognitive decline – the senior moments that are far more common than Alzheimer's – there's no doubt that brain exercises can reverse it."
As they can the diminished "gross motor control" so prevalent among the elderly; the waning sense of balance, tendency to fall, and lack of mobility: "Old people are more afraid of falling than of being mugged."
The 53-year-old Doidge, a Freudian psychoanalyst (as well as essayist, poet and prize-winning short-story writer), found application for his own work in researching his first book.
The process of psychoanalysis – talking, free-association, dream analysis, and so on – is, in fact, a form of neuroplastic therapy, he says.
Coming to terms with a traumatizing memory, for instance, involves disconnecting and reconnecting groups of neurons in the person's brain.
But speculation about a "mental eraser" that could exploit the brain's plasticity to wipe out memories, phobias and obsessions is another matter altogether.
While the new science offers incredible opportunities to alleviate human suffering, the potential for abuse is chilling, he says.
"A mental eraser that could help someone forget a terrible, terrible trauma could be manipulated by all sorts of people."
How so? Totalitarian states are very interested in changing brains, he says. Pavlovian ideas on conditioning were taken up by Lenin and Stalin to develop propaganda in the Soviet Union.
But generally, the key to neuroplasticity is the motivation of the person himself.
"That's a protective factor. Just because you want to manipulate my brain's flexibility doesn't mean that I couldn't counter-manipulate."
Gospel according to JudasThe recently unearthed Gospel of Judas "contradicts everything we know about Christianity," says religious historian Elaine Pagels.
By Steve Paulson
Apr. 02, 2007 | As almost every child knows, Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus, selling his life for 30 pieces of silver. If there's an arch villain in the story of Jesus, it's Judas Iscariot. Or is it? The newly discovered Gospel of Judas suggests that Judas was, in fact, the favorite disciple, the only one Jesus trusted to carry out his final command to hand him over to the Romans.
Rumors about the gospel have circulated for centuries. Early church fathers called it a "very dangerous, blasphemous, horrendous gospel," according to historian Elaine Pagels. We now know that the manuscript was passed around the shadowy world of antiquities dealers, at one point sitting in a safe deposit box in a small town in New York for 17 years. Pagels herself was once asked by a dealer in Cleveland to examine it, but he only showed her the last few pages, which revealed little more than the title page. She assumed there was nothing of significance. Finally, the manuscript was acquired by the National Geographic Society, which hired Pagels as a consultant to study it.
More than any other scholar, Pagels has brought the lost texts of early Christianity to public attention. A Princeton historian of religion, she wrote the 1979 bestseller "The Gnostic Gospels" -- the book that launched the popular fascination with the Nag Hammadi manuscripts found by Egyptian peasants in 1945. That book, which won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, was later chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century. Pagels went on to write a series of acclaimed books about early Christianity and, along the way, recounted her own personal tragedies -- her young son's death after a long illness and, just a year later, her first husband's death in a hiking accident. It's no surprise that Pagels has felt compelled to wrestle with some of religion's thorniest subjects, like how to make sense of suffering and evil.
For much of her career, Pagels has straddled two worlds -- the academic and the popular. She's often the go-to expert when a magazine needs a comment on the latest theory about Mary Magdalene or some other bit of revisionist Christian history. But her standing among the scholars who study early Christianity is more complicated. Conservative scholars tend to dismiss the Gnostic texts as a footnote in Christian history, hardly worth all the hype that's been generated by "The Da Vinci Code" and other racy stories. Not surprisingly, these scholars have questioned Pagels' interpretations of early Christian texts.
With Harvard historian Karen L. King, Pagels has written a new book, "Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity." The authors argue that this recently discovered gospel offers a new understanding of the death of Jesus. I spoke with Pagels by phone about the bitter quarrels among early Christians, why it's a bad idea to read the Bible literally, and the importance of this new discovery.
When was the Gospel of Judas written?
As far we can tell, probably at the end of the first or early second century.
So it's clearly not written by Judas himself, or even dictated by Judas.
That's right. And most New Testament scholars would say the gospels in the New Testament -- all of them attributed to disciples or followers of disciples -- were probably not written by the people whose names are on them. If you say, "the Gospel according to Matthew," you might not be pretending to be Matthew if you wrote it. You might be saying, this is the gospel the way Matthew taught it, and he was my teacher. So these are certain followers of Jesus who collected and transmitted his teaching.
Does this Gospel of Judas reveal something new about early Christianity?
Yes, the Gospel of Judas really has been a surprise in many ways. For one thing, there's no other text that suggests that Judas Iscariot was an intimate, trusted disciple, one to whom Jesus revealed the secrets of the kingdom, and that conversely, the other disciples were misunderstanding what he meant by the gospel. So that's quite startling.
It's shocking to suggest that Judas wasn't just one of the disciples but was actually the favorite disciple of Jesus.
That's right. And also the idea that he handed over Jesus to be arrested at the orders of Jesus himself. This wasn't a betrayal at all. In fact, it was obedience to a command or request that Jesus had made.
But how do we reconcile this with all the other stories we've ever heard about Judas? He's the symbol of treachery and betrayal.
Well, he has become the symbol of treachery and betrayal. But once you start to look at the gospels one by one, you realize that followers of Jesus were trying to understand what had happened after he was arrested and killed. They knew Judas had handed him over to the people who arrested him. The earliest gospel, Mark, says Judas handed him over, but it doesn't give any motive at all. The people who wrote after Mark -- Matthew's and Luke's gospels -- apparently felt that what was wrong with the Gospel of Mark was that there was no motive. So Matthew adds a motive. Matthew says Judas went to the chief priests who were Jesus' enemies, and said, "What will you give me if I hand him over to you?" And they agree on a certain sum of money. So in Matthew's view, the motive was greed. In Luke's gospel, it's entirely different. It says the power of evil took over Judas. Satan entered into him.
I think Luke is struggling with the question, If Jesus is the son of God, how could he be taken by a mere trick, by a human being? And Luke is trying to show that all evil power was concentrated in Judas. So they are very different stories. However, other gospels, like John's, suggest that Jesus not only anticipated what was going to happen but initiated it. The Gospel of John says that he told Judas to go out and do what he had to do, which Jesus knew was to betray him. So the Gospel of Judas just takes the suggestion one step further. Jesus not only knew what was going to happen but initiated the action.
There's something else that's striking about the Gospel of Judas. The writer is very angry, and he's especially angry at the other disciples.
Yes, that's where we realized that it's not just a story about Jesus and the disciples. It's a story about this follower of Jesus -- the Christian who's writing this story, maybe 60 years after the death of Jesus. Even using the name of Judas is a slap in the face to the tradition. You realize that whoever wrote it was a very angry person. And we were asking, What's going on here? Why is he so angry? And we discovered that it's very dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in the generations after his death. You know, they say his disciple Peter was crucified upside down. And Paul was probably beheaded by the Romans. James was lynched by a crowd, and so were Stephen and other followers. So leaders of this movement were in great danger. And other Christians were also in danger of being arrested and killed because they followed Jesus. The question for many of them was, What do you do if you're arrested?
And to acknowledge that you were a Christian would probably kill you.
Exactly. All you had to do is say no. Or you can try to escape or bribe the people persecuting you. And many did. The only answer that most Christians agreed was right was to say, "Yes, I'm a Christian." You defy them and you go heroically into the lions. So we've always thought of Christianity as a religion that glorifies martyrdom. Now we realize that we've had that impression because the people who weren't in favor of martyrdom had their writings buried and burned and trashed and ridiculed. And they were called cowards and heretics.
So the Gospel of Judas is a kind of protest literature. It's challenging leaders of the church. Here the leaders are personified as disciples who are encouraging people to get killed, to "die for God," as they called martyrdom. This gospel is challenging them and saying, when you encourage young people to die for God, you're really complicit in murder.
Are there also theological issues at stake? This gets at the meaning of suffering, and the nature of evil as well.
It does. This was at a time when all followers of Jesus were struggling with the question, Why did Jesus die? What does it all mean? In the New Testament, the gospels say he died as a sacrifice. Paul says Christ, our Passover lamb, was sacrificed for us. Why? Well, to save us from sin.
But this author is saying, wait a minute. If you think God wants his son to be tortured and killed before he'll forgive people their sins, what kind of God do you have in mind? Is this the God who didn't want animals to be sacrificed in the temple anymore? So this author's asking, isn't God a loving father? Isn't that what Jesus taught? Why are we saying that God requires his son to die for the sins of the world? So it's a challenge to the whole idea of atonement, and the idea that Christians -- when they worship -- eat bread and drink wine as if it were the body and blood of Christ. This person sees that whole thing as a celebration of violence.
You can see why some early Christians would have attacked this gospel. This is very threatening to other Christian accounts of why Jesus died.
It contradicts everything we know about Christianity. But there's a lot we don't know about Christianity. There are different ways of understanding the death of Jesus that have been buried and suppressed. This author suggests that God does not require sacrifice to forgive sin, and that the message of Jesus is that we come from God and we go back to God, that we all live in God. It's not about bloody sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. It suggests that Jesus' death demonstrates that, essentially and spiritually, we're not our bodies. Even when our bodies die, we go to live in God.
Does this raise questions about how we should think about the Resurrection? In orthodox Christian accounts, this is considered a resurrection of the flesh.
That's right. The idea that Jesus rose in the flesh is very important for a lot of Christians. And certainly for the martyrs. When people were going to get themselves killed, some of them were asked, Do you believe that you're going to be raised from the dead in your body? And many of them said yes, of course we do. That's why we're doing this. So those promises of bodily resurrection and heavenly rewards were very important for many Christians.
Some of the things we're talking about would seem to have great resonance in the Islamic world. Do you see any parallels between this Christian history and what we're seeing among Muslim martyrs today?
I do. The author of the Gospel of Judas wasn't against martyrdom, and he didn't ever insult the martyrs. He said it's one thing to die for God if you have to do that. But it's another thing to say that's what God wants, that this is a glorification of God. I think he would have spoken in the way that an imam might today, saying those who encourage young people to go out and supposedly die for God as martyrs are complicit in murder. The question of the uses of violence is very much at the heart of the Gospel of Judas. If you have to die as a martyr, you do because you don't deny Christ. But you don't go around encouraging people to do it as though they would get higher rewards in heaven.
Can you put the Gospel of Judas in perspective, alongside some of the other Gnostic texts that have come to light in recent decades -- the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene? Do these really change our understanding of early Christianity?
Before, we had a puzzle with just a few pieces. Now we have many more pieces. We begin to see that in the early Christian movement, people discussed and struggled with all the issues that we now think of as normative Christianity, like, What does the death of Jesus mean? There wasn't one kind of understanding of Jesus in the early Christian movement. Actually, there were many.
In recent years, there's been a huge debate over what to make of the Gnostic Gospels. And plenty of Christian scholars and theologians say there's good reason they were not admitted into the Christian canon. They say the Bible presents the most reliable story of Jesus based on eyewitness accounts. For instance, Ben Witherington has written, "The four canonical gospels have stood the test of time and other apocryphal gospels and texts have not ... This is because the canonical gospels are our earliest gospels and have actual historical substance, while the later gospels have none."
Well, Witherington has a particular point of view to prove. I would say it's very hard to date these other texts. Some of them are as early as the gospels of the New Testament, like the Gospel of John. But what's different is the emphasis. Let me give you an example. The Gospel of Thomas says that all who recognize that they come from God are also children of God, instead of teaching that Jesus is the only son of God through whom one must be saved. It's a teaching that is akin to what the Quakers and some other Christian groups teach, including some Greek and Russian Orthodox groups. The divine is to be found in everyone, and we can discover, at some level, that we're like Christ. It's not a complete contradiction, but it is somewhat different.
But aren't there crucial doctrinal issues at stake in terms of what it means to be a Christian? For instance, was Jesus the son of God? Was the return of Jesus an actual resurrection of the flesh?
In the fourth century, the Council of Nicaea established certain doctrines about what it means to be orthodox: belief in one God, maker of heaven and earth, and one Jesus Christ, his only son and Lord. So Jesus Christ is the only one who brings salvation to the whole world. There are, of course, Christians who believe in Jesus but also wonder whether people can't find God in other religions -- if they're Jews or Muslims or Buddhists and so forth. There's nothing Jesus himself said that contradicts that, as far as I can see. But fourth-century Christian orthodoxy did set out the doctrines you're talking about.
Some people say the historical study of early Christianity really doesn't matter to a person's faith. Being a Christian means you believe in certain things, like the Resurrection, like the Virgin Birth. These are matters of faith, not of historical research. You can choose not to believe those things, but then you're not part of the Christian creed. How do you respond to that argument?
Well, it's absolutely true that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection can't be verified historically. On the other hand, if you start to look at it historically, you find out that there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians who see those very things differently. There have been Christians from the beginning -- St. Paul is one of them -- who say the Resurrection is not a matter of this kind of body. Paul talks about resurrection as a matter of being transformed. Yes, it's about the body, he said, but it's more like a body of the stars or the moon or the sun -- a body of light. So there are many ways that people have understood themselves to be Christians.
This has huge implications for so many people today, especially those who simply can't accept these kinds of miracles. It does raise the question of whether you can be a Christian if you don't believe any of the Bible's supernatural stories.
I don't think you have to discard all the supernatural stories. The Bible is really about what is beyond the natural. But there are other ways of understanding. For example, the Gospel of Philip, which some people called a heretical text, actually says Jesus had human parents as you and I do. His parents were Mary and Joseph. But when he was born of the spirit, he became the son of the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. In Syriac and Hebrew, the spirit is spoken of in feminine forms, so metaphorically, one could speak of her as a divine mother, just as one speaks of God as a divine father. So there are Christians who didn't reject the Virgin Birth, but said wait a minute, why would you take it literally? Why don't you take it as an image for spiritual reality?
You have spent decades studying early Christian history. Do you consider yourself a Christian?
Yes, I do. And the reason I can is that I understand that there are countless people who've been Christians for 2,000 years, in many different ways. It's not a matter of one version, you must believe this exactly the way I tell it to you. Christian theologians have always said that the truth of God is beyond our understanding. And so we speak in metaphors. Paul said we see through a glass darkly.
I've heard that you didn't grow up in a religious family.
Well, it was a Protestant family, nominally. We went to church, but my father had rejected the Bible for Darwin. He decided the Bible was a bunch of old fables and that evolution was right. So I was brought up to think the Bible was just kind of irrelevant. I grew up and became deeply and passionately interested in it and went to a church and was born again. I was 14 or 15. It was quite wonderful, and I loved what I found there.
Even though your father was a confirmed atheist.
It did shock him, yes. Of course, that's one way adolescents like to shock their parents. I didn't do it for that reason, but it had that effect. The power and the passion of that kind of evangelical Christianity was very real for me. And it was a discovery of something very important -- a spiritual dimension in life that I was not able to ignore. On the other hand, after a year of living in that church, one of my friends in high school was killed in an automobile accident. The people at the church asked, was he born again? And I said, no, he wasn't. And they said, well, then he's in hell. And I thought to myself, I don't believe that. That doesn't match up with what I'd heard about God. So at that point, I decided I had to find out for myself what I could about the early Christian movement, what I believe about it, and what is being said in the name of Jesus that I found not true.
That's fascinating. Basically, it was because you couldn't buy into that fundamentalist version of Christianity that you launched your career as a historian of Christianity.
That's the truth, yes.
Well, this does raise the question of what we mean by God and what we mean by transcendence, and whether there is a transcendent reality out there. Is that discussion of transcendence meaningful to you?
Oh, certainly it is. If we don't understand how important spiritual life is to people, I don't think we're going to understand human beings or the 21st century. There are many people who said religion is essentially over now, and everyone will become rational. They don't understand that the way humans are has a lot to do with religious experience.
Your late husband, the eminent physicist Heinz Pagels, wrote very eloquently about the mysteries of science. Did he influence your thinking about this intersection between science and religion?
Oh yes, he was deeply interested in philosophy and religion and science, and understood how profound and complicated those issues are. When you're dealing with science, for example, you're dealing all the time with metaphors. So to assume that religious language isn't metaphor doesn't make sense to me.
There's a big debate right now over whether religion and science are two totally different domains, as Stephen Jay Gould once said, or whether they overlap. Where do you come down on that?
That's a very tough question. I think religion and science both have a lot to do with understanding and imagination, but they certainly explore the world in very different ways. For example, when the eminent physicist Stephen Weinberg wrote in his book "The First Three Minutes," "the more we know about the universe, the more we know it's pointless and meaningless," my late husband said, "That doesn't make any sense." Einstein thought the more we knew about the universe, the more we knew about the divine intelligence. There are many ways to make inferences from physics. And inferences like that are not scientific at all; they're philosophic.
Of course, there's still a huge debate about whether Einstein was religious or not. The atheists want to claim him for their camp, but religious people say he was actually quite open to religious ideas.
Part of the problem is that Einstein used the language about God as a metaphor. When he said, "God does not play dice with the universe," he meant the universe is not put together in an accidental way. It does show a kind of intelligent process in it. Einstein was speaking about God in the way that physicists would -- aware that language like that is always going to be metaphorical, speaking beyond our understanding. But many people took him literally and said he's a religious man. Scientists said he was just using language carelessly.
Isn't that part of the problem that we get into when we talk about metaphor and the religious imagination? If you don't take scripture literally, how do you take it?
You can take scripture seriously without taking it literally. If you speak about the Resurrection of Christ, all we know historically is that after Jesus died, his followers became convinced that he was alive again. Now, what does that mean? They told many stories. Some of them said, I saw him with my own eyes, I touched him, he actually ate food, he was not a ghost. That's in Luke's gospel. And others said, I saw him for a moment and then he faded -- the way many people say they've seen people they knew who died. What I'm saying is there are many ways that people who believe in the Resurrection speak about Christ being alive after his death without meaning that his body got out of the grave and walked.
It sounds like you're saying that it's perfectly possible to take the Bible very seriously, to be a Christian, and yet not to believe in the supernatural miracles that so many people simply cannot accept.
Well, that may be. I don't dismiss all supernatural miracles, like a healing that can't be explained. Those do happen sometimes.
You've been studying these texts for decades. Has your scholarly work deepened your own faith?
Yes. And the scholarly work is part of the spiritual quest. Opening ourselves to exploring as much as we can about this can be, in fact, an act of faith. At Princeton, there's a course in the study of New Testament that some evangelical students were warned not to take. They called it "Faith Busters 101." And some of them come just to flex their muscles and see if they can sit there and stand it while somebody teaches them about how the gospels were written. But what they usually discover is that learning about those things doesn't change the fundamental questions about faith.
Does faith necessarily involve some leap into mystery, into something that can't be explained?
I think it does. Earlier this year, I was asked to do an interview with somebody who had written a book to demonstrate that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead. And they expected me to say that was impossible. But I can't say it's impossible. From a historical point of view, there's no way you can comment on that. It's just not susceptible to that kind of analysis. So there's a lot that history can't answer and that science can't answer. I mean, there's a lot about all of our lives that we have no rational understanding of. And so faith comes into our relationships with the people we love, and our relationship to our life and our death.
There seems to be a rather vigorous movement among scientists to try to explain the origins of religion. I'm struck by how often these theories come from atheists. And I think the underlying impulse is to demystify the divine. But can religion really be explained from the outside, by people who are not themselves religious?
Probably not. For example, suppose you found the basic brain chemistry that explains religious perceptions. In fact, there are neurologists in New York trying very hard to understand precisely that. And you find that when people who've clinically died say they've had a near-death experience, they've gone into a brilliant light and then they've come back from some place. This is the flashes of light on the brain as it expires. Well, it may be. And it may not be. Is this a trick that our brain plays on us? Or is this intimations of some other kind of reality? I don't think science is going to answer that question.
Isn't there an inherent limitation to any of those brain-imaging studies? Because there's the whole question, Are we just imagining this? Or is there really some contact with the divine?
Exactly. For example, there's a study now at New York University about epilepsy. We know that epileptics often have an experience of seeing an aura. They can have an epileptic convulsion and they have a kind of vision. It was understood in ancient times to be demonic possession. So if people then say, epilepsy has a certain relationship to electrical activity in the brain, and that's what precipitates these experiences, does that mean that they are not real? I don't think that answers the question.
What do you make of the recent claim by the atheist Richard Dawkins that the existence of God is itself a scientific question? If you accept the idea that God intervenes in the physical world, don't there have to be physical mechanisms for that to happen? Therefore, doesn't this become a question for science?
Well, Dawkins loves to play village atheist. He's such a rationalist that the God that he's debunking is not one that most of the people I study would recognize. I mean, is there some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt? Probably not.
Are you saying that part of the problem here is the notion of a personal God? Has that become an old-fashioned view of religion?
I'm not so sure of that. I think the sense of actual contact with God is one that many people have experienced. But I guess it's a question of what kind of God one has in mind.
So when you think about the God that you believe in, how would you describe that God?
Well, I've learned from the texts I work on that there really aren't words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it's certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.
Certainly many people talk about God as an ineffable presence. But if you try to explain what transcendence is, can you put that into words and explain what it means?
People have put it into words, but the words are usually metaphors or poems or hymns. Even the word "God" is a metaphor, or "the son of God," or "Father." They're all simply images for some other order of reality.
There's one aspect of the Bible that's especially troubling. What do you make of the many passages that condone violence? Killing infidels seems to be what God wants.
You mean in the Hebrew Bible?
Yes, I'm particularly thinking about the Hebrew Bible.
Well, yes. When you read the discussion of holy war in the Hebrew Bible, it's violent, definitely. This was a war god, identified with a particular tribe, with particular kinds of religious war. Christians often don't read that now. But when I talk with Jewish leaders, they say, yes, we remember that very well because we remember the Crusades. And the Muslims of course say the same. They say, why are you talking to us about violence? Christians have done violence in the name of Christ for nearly 2,000 years.
So how should we read those passages that are so violent?
That gets us back to the question, Can you read the Bible seriously without reading it literally? There are parts of the New Testament which encourage slaves to remain slaves. Do we take that literally? Those were fighting words during the Civil War when some Christians said slavery was part of God's plan and some people should live and die as slaves. I think few would agree with that now. But it was a position that one could seriously take on the basis of many biblical passages.
You're saying that we have to understand context.
I think we do. You were saying that some people believe faith has nothing to do with history. The fact is, somebody wrote those texts. They wrote them in a world in which slavery was taken for granted. That's a different world. So if we don't understand that, well, it says, Slaves, obey your masters, for this is right.
-- By Steve Paulson