George Neumary joins Dr Taylor Marshall to examine the recent discover that Pope Francis’s “Peter’s Pence” fund was used not to aid the poor, but to fund partly the Rocketman film about Elton John and the recent Men in Black Film. At least the R Renaissance Popes commissioned good art….
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I just returned from the Caribbean. As I listened to the music Bob Marley and the local reggae music, I tuned in with my theological ear. Certain lyrics stood out to me, for example, this line from Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” (1973):
We sick an’ tired of-a your ism-skism game – Dyin’ ‘n’ goin’ to heaven in-a Jesus’ name, Lord. We know when we understand: Almighty God is a living man.
So who is this “living man” who is God? Is it Christ or someone else? Hmm.
Bob Marley depicted as Saint George on his final album “Confrontation”
So I read through the lyrics and read up on Rastafari theology and its appropriation of Christian Messianism. Since most people interface Rastafari beliefs via Bob Marley’s music, I’ll examine Rastafari theology through the lens of Bob Marley. And so to begin, we should recognize that Marley experienced three theological periods during his life:
Roman Catholic – from his birth in 1945 till 1966 when he was 21. His father was a white Jamaican captain derived from England. His mother was a Jamaican girl. He was 59. She was 18. His father died of a heart attack at age 70, when Bob was 10 years old. It seems that his mother was a Catholic.
Rastafari – At age 21, Marley married Rita Anderson, a Rastafarian. Marley wholeheartedly adopted the Rastafarian identity and theology. This period lasts from 1966 (age 21) till about 1979.
Ethiopian Orthodox – Marley became less enthusiastic about the Rastafari movement, especially after the death of Haile Selassie in 1975 (more on that below). By 1978 Marley’s music is less political, less militant, and less Rasta. Themes of love begin to dominate the music. Beginning 1979-1980, Marley sought membership within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Haile Selassie. Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptized Bob Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, giving him the name Berhane Selassie, on 4 November 1980. Marley died of cancer seven months later on 11 May 1981 and received an Ethiopian Orthodox funeral.
101 Intro to Rastafari Messianic Theological:
Trinitarian. Rastafari are traditionally Trinitarian and worship God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They tend to depict Jesus as black and reject European depictions of Christ. As we will see below, they also see King Haile Selassie as a reincarnation or avatar of Jesus Christ. Some more advanced Rastafarians hold that God has had four avatars: Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Haile Selassie.
They read the Old and New Testament. They tend to quote the King James Version.
Ethiopia is Politico-Prophetic. Rastafari read the Bible in a way to see the African nation of Ethiopia as playing a prophetic role in religious action and political justice. This is why the Rasta movement is defined by the colors of the Ethiopian flag.
Ethiopic Messianism. They also believe that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had a baby together and that this child established a Davidic-Solomonic Messianic royal dynasty in Ethiopia.
Pan-African. Rastafari theology is a religious Pan-African movement that looked forward to: a) the unification of all African nations; and B) the return of all dispersed Africans back to Africa. Ethiopia will be the instrument of this reunion.
King Haile Selassie as Messiah. Rastafarian name themselves after Ras Tafari Makonnen (Ras means “Duke”), the baptismal name of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Ethiopia. They believe that “Ras Tafari” or “Haile Selassie” is the heir of the Davidic-Solomonic promises and that his celebrated coronation on 2 November 1930 was an apocalyptic and prophetic event signaling redemption for Africa and all dispersed Africans. The movement identified King Haile Selassie as “Messianic” or “the Messiah” or “Jesus reincarnate” or “divine” or “Jah.” King Haile Selassie was named Man of the Year in 1936, thus increasing expectation:
Smoking cannabis was a cultural Jamaican practice. By association it became a defining element of Afro-Caribbean identity and Rastafarian spirituality. Rastafarian identified the “healing leaves” of Revelation 22:2 as cannabis: “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Dreadlocks. The growing of dreadlocks is Biblically inspired by the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6: 5–6: “During the entire period of their Nazarite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over; they must let their hair grow long.”
Concubinage and Polygamy. Rastafarians hold David and Solomon as their spiritual fathers. Following their example, they allow for polygamy and concubinage. The Rastafarian women (like Bob Marley’s wife Rita) allowed their husbands to sleep with other women as they saw fit. Marital monogamy is not binding because it was not binding for David or Solomon.
Origin of Rastafari Theology
Beginning in 1930, Jamaican (Protestant) preachers began to describe the coronation of King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the fulfillment of Revelation (5:2–5; 19:16), Daniel (7:3), and the Book of Psalms (68:31).
Jamaicans began to see themselves as supporting the “black king of Ethiopia” and not the “white king of England.” Supporters of Ras Tafari began to be identified as Rastafarians.
In 1935, Jamaican preacher Leonard Howell published the tract The Promised Key which explained that Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) was the Messiah, that Black people were the chosen people, and they would soon be repatriated to Ethiopia and experience political and economic prosperity. The tract is the founding document of Rastafarian belief and marks the move from seeing Haile Selassie as merely prophetic to “the divine Messiah.”
Leonard Howell taught that there are 6 principles to Rastafari theology: (1) hatred for the White race; (2) the complete superiority of the Black race; (3) revenge on Whites for their wickedness; (4) the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government of Jamaica; (5) preparation to go back to Africa; and (6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people
Haile Selassie visited Jamaica for the first time in August 1966, with crowds of Rastas assembling to meet him at the airport.
The death of Haile Selassie in 1975 lead to alternative conspiracies about a faked death, his resurrection, his second coming, or to his spiritual force being released into the world. However, as no Pan-African change materialized, the Rastafari movement lost momentum. Among black communities, rap replaced Rasta-style reggae as the musical force for revolution and political change. However, Rastafarian imagery and language continues to dominate pro-African movements in the West. The emphasis on Haile Selassie has mostly been exchanged for militant Socialism and the deification of the individual.
Bob Marley as Rastafarian and then as Ethiopian Orthodox:
As stated above, Bob Marley became Rastafarian in 1966 at age 21. Here’s his album cover with the The Wailers from 1965 with no signs of Rastafarian identity, with Bob Marley centered:
With their second album in 1966, they became political and took on a guerrilla revolution identity.
“I Shot the Sheriff” was released in 1973 on their sixth LP Burnin’. The album reached 151 on Billboard 200. The next year in 1974, Eric Clapton covered “I Shot the Sheriff” and it was a number one hit. This lifted Bob Marley and the Wailers into fame as fans desired to buy/listen to the original version. All of Marley’s subsequent albums did well, as he peaked in 1977 with the LP Exodus. By 1980 he was playing Madison Square Garden in NYC.
In 1977, Marley had been diagnosed with a malignant skin cancer on his toe. Doctors suggested full amputation of the toe. Marley kept the toe. On 21 September 1980, he learned that the cancer spread to his brain. He played his last concert on 23 September 1980 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
At this last live concert he sang: “We know when we over-stand: Almighty God is a living man.” It’s not clear if he was merely honoring the original lyrics, or whether he still actually believed that the now-deceased King Haile Sellasie was still God Almighty. Probably the former.
About 40 days after receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis, Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptized Bob Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on 4 November 1980. Afterward he cried for half an hour.
Bob Marley died of brain cancer on 11 May 1981.
Here is a full YouTube video with Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq, the one who baptized Bob Marley into the Orthodox Church. He explicitly states that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is NOT Rastafarian:
2:50 Abuna Yesehaq says that 20,000 Rastafarians were baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but no all remained. From the video, it seems that Abuna Yesehaq did not require the newly baptized to renounced their Rasta beliefs. If so, this is troubling.
3:40 Abuna Yesehaq says that Haile Selassie was a member of Ethiopian Orthodox Church and denied he was divine.
4:20 Haile Selassie sent Abuna Yesehaq to convert Rastas in Jamaica.
5:50 Abuna Yesehaq says dreadlocks are okay
7:05 Abuna Yesehaq says “I baptized Bob Marley”
8:00 Abuna Yesehaq explains three differences with Roman Catholics: papal infallibility, miaphysite nature of Christ, procession of Holy Spirit.
10:40 Abuna Yesehaq explains how Bob Marley wanted to learn and conform to Orthodox practice, especially with regard to concubinage and polygamy.
11:30 Abuna Yesehaq told Bob Marley to be monogamous.
11:46 Abuna Yesehaq explains how Bob Marley cried for half and hour after baptism.
12:30 His wife Rita Marely was baptized with her children in Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1973.
13:15 Bob Marley assented that Jesus crucified not Selassie is Christ.
It remains unclear whether Bob Marley repudiated his belief that Selassie but this interview seems to indicate that he did so and that he died a faithful member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Question: Do you have any questions about Rastafarian beliefs? Or do you have any more information about the beliefs or conversion of Bob Marley? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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Do you remember that epic closing music to The Princess Bride? It’s a ripoff of a song written by Eric Clapton, a ballad written to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
During the lows of Eric Clapton’s alcoholism, he wrote a ballad to the Blessed Virgin Mary called “Holy Mother.” The lyrics are moving and conclude with a “now and at the hour of our death” moment followed by a solo that only Clapton could construct:
When my hands no longer play, My voice is still, I fade away. Holy mother, then I’ll be Lying in, safe within your arms. [guitar solo]
During this time in his life, Clapton had a conversion to Christ which explains like this:
I had found a place to turn to… From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do.
Anyway, he wrote a beautiful ballad called “Holy Mother” and from the first time that I listened to it, I thought to myself, “This sounds like a movie?” And then I realized that it sounded like The Princess Bride theme.
Compare the opening and the melody of Eric Clapton’s “Holy Mother” (1986) to The Princess Bride Theme (1987). I’ve included both from Youtube:
Here is Eric Clapton’s “Holy Mother” from his album August (1986):
And here’s The Princess Bride Theme Song, “Storybook Love” (1987):
It’s a bit odd that these songs came out a year apart. Mark Knoplfer, composer of The Princes Bride theme, was the singer for Dire Straits (“Money for nothing and your chicks for free…”). He was also a friend of Clapton’s and the two have played together over the years. But I’ve got say, it sure does sound like Knopfler cribbed Clapton’s “Holy Mother” for The Princess Bride. Just saying…
I really enjoy Clapton’s “Holy Mother” (brings me to tears) and I especially his version of “Holy Mother” with Pavarotti. Give it to 1:43:
You’ll see that Clapton is wailing on a blue Stratocaster – fitting for a Marian hymn.
I just took my family to see the most philosophically pernicious Disney movie of all time: Into the Woods. As the story warns you: “Careful the tale you tell…Children will listen.” Read on to find out why…
If you have a radio in your car, you have probably heard the popular song “Take Me to Church” by Irish recording artist Hozier. For those who don’t listen to the radio or care about pop music, all you need to know is that this song was nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammy’s.
Recording Artist Hozier
The song is hauntingly beautiful with subtle verses and a soulful chorus. Admittedly, when I first heard it, I thought, “Wow, this is a powerful song. It’s almost hymn-like.” It’s Elton John mixed with an old Southern Spiritual from the American Civil War.
But then I started listening to the lyrics…
“Take Me to Church” by Hozier could only have been written by an Irishmen with Catholic roots. When he sings of “Church,” it is a “sacrifice” at a “shrine” with a “ritual” and includes “I’ll tell you my sins.”
However, Hozier’s religion is not Protestant or Evangelical Christianity. This is Irish Catholicism with a blasphemous twist…
Take Me to Church Lyrics Analyzed
Regrettably, the lyrics to “Take Me to Church” are pretty blasphemous. Here’s my theological analysis with my commentary in the red:
[Verse 1] My lover’s got humour She’s the giggle at a funeral Knows everybody’s disapproval I should’ve worshipped her sooner (So this is the cue. The God throughout the song is a girlfriend.) If the Heavens ever did speak (“If the Heavens ever” = revealed religion is cast into doubt) She’s the last true mouthpiece Every Sunday’s getting more bleak A fresh poison each week “We were born sick”, you heard them say it (“they” [Catholics] teach original sin) My church offers no absolutes (So unlike Catholicism, there are no moral absolutes – only relativism) She tells me “worship in the bedroom” (the liturgy is sex. It’s the place of union between him and the “god”/girlfriend) The only heaven I’ll be sent to Is when I’m alone with you I was born sick, but I love it (acknowledges original sin – but he loves it) Command me to be well (a reference to Christ commanding people to be well in the Gospels)
[Pre-Chorus] Amen, Amen, Amen
[Chorus] (x2) Take me to church (remember, “Church” here is sexual reference in this song) I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife (confession reference) Offer me my deathless death Good God, let me give you my life (he hands over his life to her the “god”)
[Verse 2] If I’m a pagan of the good times My lover’s the sunlight To keep the Goddess on my side (the god/girlfriend is also a goddess) She demands a sacrifice (here’s where the song gets “Eucharistic” with reference to sacrificial meal and hunger…) Drain the whole sea Get something shiny Something meaty for the main course That’s a fine looking high horse What you got in the stable? (reference to the Christ Child “in the stable”) We’ve a lot of starving faithful That looks tasty That looks plenty This is hungry work
[Bridge] No masters or kings when the ritual begins (egalitarian ritual – sex) There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin (hey, at least he knows it’s sin – he’s Irish!) In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene (a reference perhaps to leaving earth into the “heavenly bliss” of sexual embrace) Only then I am human Only then I am clean (he ends with a reference the sexual completion as a kind of baptism or absolution)
What’s amazing about his song is that it’s about as offensive as anything produced by Marilyn Manson, Judas Priest, or Slayer – yet hardly anyone recognizes it! It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song.
The music industry is now much smarter than it was in the days of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Slayer. Your daughter is not likely to love Marilyn Manson and erect an idol to Satan in her bedroom. Your son will not likely consecrate his baby to Lucifer and baptize him in goat’s blood.
Overt Satanism is out of style. However, young people are likely to exchange their Christian faith for sexual license. The stats show that young people will likely exchange the sacramental life and liturgy for the liturgy of sexual experimentation.
And that’s exactly why this song has become an American anthem. The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and images.
If God isn’t real – “If the Heavens ever did speak” – then the only goods to be enjoyed in this life are the pleasures of food and sex. That’s all there is left for humans to experience transcendence. Hozier gets it and he sings for us a catchy hymn.
In an interview with New York Magazine in March 2014, the artist Hozier stated:
‘Take Me to Church’ is essentially about sex, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek attack at organizations that would… undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation — that it is sinful, or that it offends God… But it’s not an attack on faith… it’s an assertion of self, reclaiming humanity back for something that is the most natural and worthwhile.
So there you have it from Hozier himself.
I know it’s a catchy song. There’s a part of me that likes it. But seriously, this is probably one of the most sacramental songs every popularized – and it sacramentalizes the wrong values. That’s my two cents. Godspeed, Taylor
Download a pdf Study Guide by Taylor of the Lyrics for “Take Me to Church”: