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Ancient Aliens, Superheroes, and the Decline in Religious Belief

Co-author: Abby Moore (superhero theorist). Are myths of ancient astronauts filling the voids left behind in the exodus from the myths of religion? Perhaps the popularity of the Ancient Aliens television series parallels the decline of traditional religious belief in 21st-century America. After all, twice as many Americans believe in ancient aliens visiting humans on Earth (35%) than believe in the pure evolution of human life on Earth (19%). Maybe TV shows about ancient aliens and Hollywood movies about superheroes provide the big cosmic narratives that once belonged almost solely to theology. Think about it: ancient aliens and superheroes both have superpowers once reserved for Gods, prophets, and miracle makers.

For the record, I am an existentialist without the angst, influenced by Sartre, Sagan, and others. In a vast and ancient universe of two trillion galaxies and three sextillion stars stretching across 100 billion light years, I am not a cosmic narcissist who believes a Creator has a special plan for me or my species on a speck of a planet in a remote part of one galaxy. Yet, the cosmic vastness gives me hope that— to quote the astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) in Planet of the Apes (1968)— there has “to be something better than man. Has to be.” As explained in my most read essay in Medium, these better-than-human extratrerrestrials have never visited Earth (though I wish they would). Instead, we are witnessing the electronic birth of a new religion based in the myths and imaginary legends of extraterrestrial reality-TV stars—the “ancient aliens” who star in every episode, but have yet to appear.

21st Century Non-Belief

Much has been written about the decline of religious belief in 21st-century America, as documented in various surveys by the Pew Research Center. Americans who have no religious belief and/or no religious affiliation rose to 22.8% in 2014, up from 2% in the 1950s. While religious writers blamed the decline on the usual suspects (the breakdown of society, the decay of traditional values, and so on), the atheists and humanists tweeted their cheers of hope, apparently overlooking the possibility that a decline in traditional religious belief does not automatically equate to a rise in reason, science, and enlightenment. Given the increasing paranormalism in America, it could be the opposite. Make no mistake, something will fill the void.

According to the United States Census, the current US population is an estimated 327 million people. If indeed 22.8% of Americans are non-believers, that total equals about 75 million people. Age is definitely a factor in non-belief. Over 33% of millennials claim no religious belief, while GenX non-believers are at 23%, Baby Boomers are 17%, and those born before 1945 are 11%.

TABLE 1. Source: Pew Research Center website (2014); accessed November 11, 2017.

According to Pew, about 50% of the unaffiliated are disenchanted with religion or don’t need religion because of their beliefs in “science” and the lack of evidence for a Creator. Another 20% have a beef against organized religion, while 18% are unsure of their beliefs and 10% are inactive.

What’s most interesting to me is not the increase in atheists and agnostics, but the 15.8% who believe “nothing in particular.” 15.8% equals just over 50 million people. Since I doubt all of these people are nihilists, I wonder what they believe about the origins and destiny of the human species.

Are they merely disinterested in religion? Have they outgrown religion, with no need to replace it with any other worldview or cosmology? Do they believe in evolution or that the observable universe is indeed 13.7 billion years old and contains two trillion galaxies? Do they believe in human-caused climate disruption or the Anthropocene? Do they believe we got here via the advice and interventions of ancient aliens? Or do mobile phones, cool threads, hipster restaurants, and Netflix subscriptions provide the needed daily dope—such that they do not need a cosmology for themselves or for our species?

GRAPH 1. Beginning in the late 1960s, we can see the post-Apollo rise of the nones. Source: Gallup and National Public Radio, 2013.

The Apollo Effect

According to Gallup surveys and National Public Radio, the “nones” stayed below 5% until the Apollo program in the late 1960s. The rise of the nones began with the launch of rockets to the moon and continued long after the Apollo program was shut down. For readers who might not know, Apollo 8 orbited the moon in 1968 and took the famed Earthrise image, with Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969 and Apollo 17 marking the last journey to the moon in 1972.

GRAPH 2. The post-1990 rise of the internet and rise of nones. Source: MIT Technology Review (“How the Internet is Taking Away America’s Religion,” April 4, 2014) and Allen Downey (“ “Religious Affiliation, Education, and Internet Use,” March 21, 2014).

The Internet Effect

According to computer scientist Allen Downey, the rise of the internet correlates with the rise of non-belief from 1990 to 2010. During that period, the increase in non-believers jumped from 8% to 18% of Americans. In a study of four decades of survey data trends regarding demographics, socioeconomics, religious affiliation, and internet usage, Downey concluded that:

• Religious upbringing increases the chance of religious affiliation as an adult. Decreases in religious upbringing between the 1980s and 2000s account for about 25% of the observed decrease in affiliation.

• College education decreases the chance of religious affiliation. Increases in college graduation between the 1980s and 2000s account for about 5% of the observed decrease in affiliation.

• Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation. Increases in Internet use since 1990, from 0 to nearly 80% of the general population, account for about 20% of the observed decrease in affiliation.

Please keep in mind that “correlation” does not equal “causation.” Correlations show patterns that we must connect to other knowledge, evidence, and observations.

What Accounts for the Other 45%?

Given there are 75 million non-believers, what other trends might account for the startling growth in numbers? If we follow Downey’s study and assume upbringing, education, and the internet can account for 55% of the increase, what else accounts for the other 45% (33.7 million people)?

Is it the growth of the scientific outlook? That’s possible, given that only 9% of Americans believed in pure evolution in 1982 and the total has more than doubled to 19% in 2014 (according to Gallup). However, it is likely a good chunk of that 19% is accounted for in the 55% of Downey’s study?

Could the increases be attributed to the various “New Atheist” books published in the past few years? Recent works include: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith (2004), Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004), Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell (2006), Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great (2007), and Victor Stenger’s God: the Failed Hypothesis (2007). These books might have had marginal influence on creating more non-believers, but my guess is that most of the readers of these books were already atheists. Plus, the sales of these books are dwarfed by the audience size of Ancient Aliens.

As dramatized in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the monolith was the indisputable artifact left on Earth by advanced extraterrestrials. Ancient Aliens hijacked this concept and dumbed it down to the lowest possible level, while filling the intellectual void left by the death of philosophy long divorced from cosmology.

The Rise of Ancient Alien Theory: Hijacking the 2001 and Apollo Narratives

Published at the pinnacle of the space age in 1968, Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? hijacked the space narrative from Apollo and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey2001 appeared in 1968, along with Planet of the Apes, Apollo 8 (the first journey to the moon), and Chariots of the Gods?. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 as von Daniken’s book was becoming popular around the world. Chariots of the Gods? did what few other works tried (outside of a few episodes of the original Star Trek): it connected human destiny on Earth to the stars we were beginning to explore with the Apollo program. As I wrote in my previous essay about ancient-alien theory:

“The ancient-astronaut theory draws upon two valid cosmological concepts: 1) the reality of the immensity of space and time; and 2) the possibility of advanced civilizations somewhere in the cosmos. Given that the scale of the observable universe is immense and that NASA’s Kepler telescope suggests there may be billions of planets in the Milky Way, there is almost certainly life elsewhere in the cosmos, perhaps including intelligent civilizations.”

“Given that the observable universe is 13.7 billion years old and it took 4 billion years for intelligent life to emerge on Earth, then it is possible the remaining 9 billion years produced civilizations that may have existed for millions or billions of years. If so, they may have developed space travel technologies that allow them to traverse the great distances with relative ease…Such a possibility is one reason why 2001 offers such a compelling vision of human origins and destinies. After all, it would be an epochal moment to find a black monolith somewhere on Earth or the moon, beaming out a radio signal to an alert and curious species.”

Such a possibility is attractive, at least in theory. If ancient aliens have visited our planet, they would have possessed highly advanced sciences and technologies. They would have been viewed as gods, angels, and miracle makers by premodern humans, who would have looked upon the beings and technologies with awe, wonder, and fear.

A 1970s-style Captain Kirk got in on the ancient alien narrative, too.

Since Chariots of the Gods? was a huge best-seller, it was made into a documentary film, Chariots of the Gods (1970). Creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling even narrated a one-hour TV version called In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973). A copycat version of the film, Mysteries of the Gods, was released in 1976—hosted by none other than William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, looking rather hip in a green turtleneck and black velour blazer, while sporting a 1970s-style toupée. With films and TV shows as publicity, Chariots of the Gods? sold over 40 million copies during the 1970s.

Without a doubt, 2001Planet of the Apes, and von Daniken’s book and films were trying to account for human origins and destiny at the pinnacle of the space age and the Apollo program. When I first encountered Chariots of the Gods? as a boy in the suburbs of Texas in the 1970s, it seemed like a plausible counter-narrative to the self-righteous evangelicals in my school and neighborhood. As explained here, I eventually began to question the validity of the assertions and realized the ancient-alien theory was bogus pseudoscience. To be frank, I was kinda bummed out. But, logic and evidence mattered more to me. Still do.

Of course, there were mainstream media efforts to debunk Chariots of the Gods? These included a 1976 Skeptical Inquirer article, a book entitled The Space Gods Revealed that featured a forward by Carl Sagan, and a BBC-PBS production of Nova (the episode “The Case of the Ancient Astronauts”). Nevertheless, the book’s pseudoscientific ideas continued to circulate around the world in the decades that featured the rise of non-belief in the wake of Apollo. Given that Chariots of the Gods? sold 40 million copies, can we assume it had zero impact on traditional religious beliefs?

In 2009, a two-part episode of Ancient Aliens appeared on the History Channel. So popular was the show that the History Channel programmed the Ancient Alien series, which began in 2010 and is still running every season—134 episodes and counting! As point of comparison for the atheist programs, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 2014 Cosmos reboot only had 13 episodes and seems to appear on TV far less often than Ancient Aliens. I have seen both series listed in Netflix. Why would Ancient Aliens far outstrip Cosmos if the issue was merely a scientific outlook?

The prime-time episodes of Ancient Aliens draw well over one million viewers, plus there are endless repeats during days and evenings. These audiences are far larger than anything on the Science Channel. Who knows how many millions of viewers have seen the various episodes of Ancient AliensAmong the 45% and 33 million non-believers unaccounted for in Downey’s study, how many millions might be fans of Ancient Aliens? I don’t know but it is a question worth considering. I bet the total is far from zero. After all, recent surveys show that 35% of Americans believe aliens have visited Earth in the ancient past (see the Chapman surveys below).

Still going strong almost 50 years after Chariots of the Gods?.

The Ancient Aliens series features fanciful storytelling, with many scenes shot at the various remote sites where “evidence” of ancient aliens supposedly exists. Still, it’s all pseudoscientific nonsense—simply because there are no proven artifacts of extraterrestrial origin. There is no academic conspiracy against the ancient-alien theorists as implied in the narration and comments of the talking heads. What’s needed is proven evidence, as cleverly suggested by the monolith in 2001. But we haven’t discovered a monolith or the “chariots.” I wish we had.

In Chariots of the Gods?Mysteries of the Gods, and Ancient Aliens, virtually all of the so-called evidence and arguments provided by the theorists are myth, superstition, hearsay, anecdotal, or involve an inference or conclusion that is fallacious, implausible, or unknowable. The “evidence” and arguments also contain inaccuracies, mistaken assumptions, unrelated facts, and false similarities. The few remaining pieces of “evidence” — which are a tiny fragment of the absurd claims — are simply mysteries yet to be solved or mysteries that will never be solved. One might say this is also a key point in the cultural emergence of “alternative facts.”

Ancient Aliens: A New Cosmic Religion

But the pseudoscience, endless fallacies, and alternative facts have not prevented the multi-season programming of the television series. Even if the History Channel decided against renewing the series, it would run for decades in syndication and for eternity online, at least until real extraterrestrials arrived or we finishing wrecking the planet.

According to Chapman University, the belief in ancient aliens is growing rapidly: from 20% in 2015 to 35% in 2017.

Chariots of the Gods? and Ancient Aliens have given birth to new cosmic religion narrative, with von Daniken as the great prophet and his followers serving as the scribes—Giorgio Tsoukalos, Graham Hancock, David Childress, and others. Like God and his prophets, the unseen aliens have superpowers and have shaped our past and perhaps our destiny, especially if they return. The ancient alien narrative is like the standard Creator narratives, in that it assumes most everything humans have done follows from pre-ordained grand plans, with mysterious or hidden purposes, effected by an all-powerful force from the sky, a force that has yet to return to prove it exists. Like the Creator narrative, we humans must have been special beneficiaries. After all, the ancient aliens have taken the time to visit our tiny planet, thus caring enough to allegedly build stone structures, design ancient batteries, create cool statuettes, and paint pictographs before cruising to the next galaxy or star system.

Despite (or because of) the pseudoscience, the ancient alien theorists are doing a far better job of connecting humanity to the cosmos than Hollywood filmmakers and contemporary philosophers. The ancient-alien theorists have a fervant audience of followers who feel the theory connects our origins and destinies to the stars. Meanwhile, Hollywood merely sends us into space to wage Star Wars and battle Alien monsters.

All of the above is why I predict the ancient-alien narrative will continue to grow over time, precisely because it is filled with mystical and magical beliefs that mirror religious mythologies. Ancient Aliens makes us feel special—just like Jesus, ETs came to visit us and advise us. After hijacking the 2001narrative, von Daniken and his scribes have built the ancient-astronaut theory into a new religion, a new cosmic narrative filling the void left by contemporary philosophy as it shrinks before a massive and expanding universe. Meanwhile, secular society provides us with mobile phones and IMAX movies, and says we and our tribes are special—so super-special that superheroes will save us in case the aliens don’t make it back in time.

Superheroes: Our Secular Gods

Born of Nietzsche’s 19th century “Ubermensch,” the superhero emerged to counter horiffic “supermen” of the 20th century — the Marxist New Man and the Nazi Aryan man. By the early 20th century, the Soviet Union promised to create the Marxist New Man, the new human supposedly liberated from capitalism and united via communism and “scientific” materialism, supposedly destined to operate on an international scale. Countering the Marxist New Man, Nazi Germany concocted a racist Aryan Man, a mythical superman from the past supposedly destined to rule Europe and much of the world. Of course, both of these visions of a “new man” resulted in genocide and mass slaughter in totalitarian societies, culminating in World War II and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people before, during, and after the war.

In America’s land of a mythic “Democratic Man,” the only “superman” would be Superman, Batman, and subsequent legions of superheroes to save us in comics and movies. Though superheroes are fictional, their stories draw on real world events, such as nuclear weapons and environmental destruction. Superheroes function like secular gods providing stories about humanity’s survival and redemption in the face of apocalypse. In the end credits for The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), we see a giant sculpture of the Avenger superheroes, as if they are a pantheon of gods from Ancient Greece or Rome.

Pantheon of Secular Gods. Above: Statue of The Avengers from The Age of Ultron. Below: Justice League Superheroes

Superhero films have proven especially popular in the 21st century, with a trendline that mirrors the rise of non-belief in America.

Well into the 21st century, the superhero films just keep coming from Hollywood. Be it Superman, Batman, X-Men, Wonder Woman, or The Avengers, it seems almost all superhero films feature superheroes confronting a doomsday scenario for humanity. The superheroes must “save the world” because we can’t do it. Just as ancient-aliens fills the void left by philosophy divorced from science, superheroes fill the void left because industrial society has become divorced from nature, yet it is utterly reliant on the resources we are depleting. Oceans are acidifying, sea levels are rising, and nuclear war is still a possibility, while terrorism, exploitation, and endless tribal warfare plague secular society. Superheroes are needed to save us from ourselves because we know we have no answers, no real solutions for our problems, no leaders or institutions left to trust. It’s the same thing, over and over again, as illustrated in presidential elections.

In the 21st century, Americans expect their presidents to be superheroes battling the doomsday scenarios of the other party—thus we give the presidents ever-expanded political and legal powers, as if we are trying to give them superpowers and make them into superheroes with super solutions. Both major parties do it. Don’t deny it. When the dictator arrives in America, it will be in the guise of a presidential superhero with political superpowers. As Trump has shown, the superhero prez won’t even need to be rational or coherent or even sane. They just need to be superheroes who zap the bad guys. This is what happens when religion and nationalism merge with Hollywood and the 24/7 media spectacle.

In superhero movies and sequels, the superheroes must return to save us, again and again. Ancient-alien theorists claim extraterrestrial visitors shaped our past, present, and perhaps our future when they return. The return of aliens and superheroes echoes the promised return of Jesus and Nietzsche’s cycle of the eternal return, the superhero feedback loop. Ancient aliens and superheroes have superpowers beyond anything humans have, not unlike the Gods and prophets in religions. In the end, superheroes are our secular Gods and fulfill functions formerly reserved for religion, while ancient-alien theory claims to offer a secular narrative that connects us to the stars, yet ends up as another religion—a merger of the space age and new age.

Superhero stories and ancient-alien theory now stand in for contemporary philosophy, divorced from 21st century cosmology and declared “dead” by Stephen Hawking. In the absence of a science-based popular philosophy that offers us hope, meaning, and purpose (beyond tribalism, consumerism, and strip-mining other planets) amid the cosmic vastness, the ancient-alien theory provides hope and meaning by connecting our origins and destiny to a story that begins in the stars—even it is in a universe of alternative facts.

How much of the decline of traditional religious belief can be attributed to the rise of ancient alien theory? I don’t know, but given this analysis, I bet it is far from zero. This possibility is why the traditional religions will try to colonize the ancient-alien theory. Already, one prominent religious leader suggests we baptize extraterrestrials upon meeting them. If the ancient aliens do show up and don’t believe in a Creator, we might well need the superheroes to save us from a religious war in space!

_____________

Barry Vacker is author of the new book, Specter of the Monolith (2017), which explores the meaning of Apollo and films like 2001 and Interstellar, while outlining a new and entirely original space philosophy for the human species. The book is available in Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble (here), and Amazon (here).

Source medium.com

 

 

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Spirituality

Taj Mahal – An Amazing Love Story

The construction of the Taj Mahal (literally translated from the Persian language as “Crown of the Mughals”) was associated with the name of the beautiful woman – Arjumand Bano Begum, or Mumtaz – “Queen of the Soul”.

At 200 kilometers from the capital of India, Delhi, on the high bank of the Ganges tributary – the Jamna – is the five-domed Taj Mahal mausoleum. The white-stone structure surprises and delights with its perfect proportions, an elegant mosaic of colored precious and semiprecious stones, and skillful carving.

The Taj Mahal is a whole complex of buildings. Taj – white, and around the fortress and minarets of red sandstone. The mausoleum has absolute proportions: on the base and height – an exact square, each side of which is 75 meters. Several paths stretch to the Taj Mahal, between them there is water in the pools, first the entire mausoleum is reflected in it, and as it approaches, its individual details.

Local architects worked together with artists from Damascus, gardeners from Constantinople and Samarkand to create the Indian pearl. When creating the interior, interior decoration of the mausoleum, the craftsmen used the best varieties of white, occasionally yellow and black marble, mother of pearl, jasper, agate, emeralds, aquamarines, pearls and hundreds of other stones.

QUEEN OF THE SOUL

Arjumand Bano Begum was only 19 years old when she became the second wife of Prince Guram (future Shah-Jahan). And although the prince had several more wives and many concubines, Mumtaz won the heart of her husband and undividedly owned him until the end of his days. It was an unusually romantic and poetic love. Mumtaz was not only his most beloved wife, but his most faithful companion since the turbulent times when Prince Guram wandered around the world, pursued by his father Jahangir, when he obtained his throne in a fierce struggle with his brothers. In 1627, Guram, having gained a final victory over them and seized his father’s throne, assumed the title of emperor, Shah-Jahan – “ruler of the world”. Mumtaz finally became the queen of India.

Shah Jahan adored his wife and each time he honored her, held lavish receptions and grandiose celebrations in her honor, without her any important ceremony would begin, and not a single state act would be adopted. Mumtaz was present at the meetings of the State Council; her opinion was almost never disputed by anyone.

The portrait of the queen, painted by her contemporary, has been preserved. Violating one of the strictest prohibitions of Islam – to draw portraits of animals and people, an unknown artist skillfully conveyed the beauty of Mumtaz, a white-faced Persian, a pearl of the East.

A happy life together ended abruptly. In the spring of 1636, Mumtaz suddenly fell ill: before dying, she turned to her husband with a request to take care of their eldest daughter, Jahanara Begum, and took an oath from him – to build a tomb worthy of their love, their joint nineteen-year-old married life. Mumtaz’s death shocked Jahan.

WHITE AND BLACK PALACES

Widowed, he commanded the construction of an unprecedentedly beautiful mausoleum. Shah was presented with many different projects, the authors of which were the best of the best architects of the East. Of these, he chose a project created by Indian architect Ystad Khan Effendi. Following this, a twenty-thousand army of builders was driven into Agra: masons, marble cutters, jewelers and handymen. Marble was brought from Makran near Jaipur, sandstone from Sikri, gems from India, Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia.

The entire complex of the mausoleum was created over twenty two years. Having fulfilled the mandate of “the queen of her soul”, Jahan proceeded to a new, no less grandiose construction – exactly the same mausoleum, but only of black marble, for himself – on the other (left) bank of the Jamna River. According to the Shah’s plan, both mausoleums, like marital chambers, were to be connected by a high lace bridge of black and white marble. Preparatory work has already begun, but this plan, unfortunately, was not destined to come true.

While Shah Jahan was building a new tomb, his sons fought among themselves. Having defeated the brothers, one of them – Aurangzeb – seized power in 1658, killed the brothers, arrested his father and imprisoned him in the Red Fort under reliable guard along with his beloved daughter Jahanara Begum. Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life in the marble palace that he had once built for Mumtaz, from where he could constantly see the Taj Mahal. Here he died on January 23, 1666. Fulfilling the last will of his father, Aurangzeb the next day ordered his body to be transported to the Taj Mahal and to be buried next to Mumtaz without any ceremony or honor.

UNSOLVED SECRET

The Taj Mahal mausoleum stands alone in its inexpressible beauty on the banks of the blue Jamna, reflecting its clean, proud appearance. He appears as a vision from another, better, cleaner world. “The Taj Mahal has a secret that everyone feels, but no one can interpret.”

“The Taj Mahal attracts you like a magnet. You can stand for hours and all look and look at this marvel, at this fabulous ghost, ascending into a bottomless azure sky. The illumination of the Taj Mahal changes like a mirage. It glows from the inside, changing hues depending on the position of the sun: it suddenly turns light pink, then bluish, then pale orange. At night, under the moon, against a black sky, it looks dazzling white. Just coming very close, you notice that he is covered in the finest patterns woven over white marble, the marble blocks are encrusted with gems and seem to shine through, emitting a flickering light.”

The dazzling white walls of the mausoleum are covered with mosaics – garlands of flowers made of precious stones. Branches of white jasmine from mother-of-pearl shimmer with red pomegranate flower from carnelian and delicate tendrils of grapevine and honeysuckle, and delicate oleanders peek out from the lush green foliage. Each leaf, each petal is a separate emerald, yacht, pearl or topaz; sometimes there are up to one hundred of such stones for one branch of flowers, and there are hundreds of similar ones on the panels and grids of the Taj Mahal!

DEATH NOT SHARED

In the central hall of the mausoleum are two sarcophagi sculpted from white-pink rocks of marble, decorated with floral ornaments. These are the cenotaphs of the dead, symbolic projections of those who are in the lowest part of the mausoleum. There, in the underground vaulted room, dusk reigns. Both tombs with the remains of the royal spouses, Mumtaz and Jahan, like a screen, are surrounded by a white marble carved fence about two meters high, decorated with fabulous flowers – red, yellow, blue, along with green garlands, interlacing of marble leaves and flowers.

What is the power of the impression made by the Taj Mahal? Where does the insurmountable impact on everyone who sees it come from?

“Neither marble lace, nor the thin carving covering its walls, nor mosaic flowers, nor the fate of the beautiful queen — none of this alone could make such an impression. There must be a reason for something else. However, something in the Taj Mahal fascinated me and thrilled me. … It seemed to me that the mystery of the Taj Mahal is connected with the secret of death, i.e. with that secret, regarding which, in the words of one of the Upanishads, “even the gods were at first in doubt.” Above the tomb, where the queen’s body lies, a light burns. I felt that this is where the beginning of the clue lies. For the light shimmering over the tomb, where its dust lies, this light … is a small transient earthly life. And the Taj Mahal is a future eternal life.”

PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE

The creation of the Taj Mahal dates back to the time of the conquest of India by Muslims. The grandson of padishah Akbar Jahan was one of those conquerors who changed the face of a vast country. A warrior and statesman, Jahan was at the same time a fine connoisseur of art and philosophy; his courtyard in Agra attracted the most prominent scientists and artists of Persia, which at that time was the center of culture throughout West Asia.

The son of Jahan Aurangzeb (“the beauty of the throne,” 1665-1706) was nothing like his father. He was a stern, withdrawn and ascetic-religious monarch. While still a prince, he disapproved of the useless and devastating, as he believed, activities of his father. Aurangzeb spent his entire long and hectic life in military campaigns aimed at maintaining power over the empire.

Aurangzeb raised a rebellion against his father, accusing him of spending all the state revenue on the mausoleum. He imprisoned the former lord in an underground mosque in one of the inner palaces of the Agra fortress. Shah Jahan lived in this underground mosque for seven years; sensing the approach of death, he asked him to be transferred to the so-called Jasmine pavilion in the fortress wall, to the tower of lace marble, where was the favorite room of Queen Arjumand Bano. There, on the balcony of the Jasmine Pavilion overlooking the Jamna, from where the Taj Mahal was visible at a distance, Shah Jahan died.

This is the brief history of the Taj Mahal. Since then, the mausoleum of Queen Mumtaz has gone through many vicissitudes. During the wars that continued in India in the 17th and 18th centuries, Agra repeatedly passed from hand to hand and was often plundered. The conquerors removed the large silver doors from the Taj Mahal, carried out precious lamps and candlesticks, and tore ornaments from precious stones from the walls. However, the building itself and most of the decoration remained intact. The Taj Mahal is now restored and carefully guarded.

But today, the Taj Mahal is partially dressed in scaffolding due to the fact that cracks appeared on the walls. The marble Taj Mahal weighs many hundreds of thousands of tons. A huge mass presses on the soil, and it gradually settles. Over the past centuries, as a result of soil displacement, the mausoleum leaned toward the river, although it is invisible with a simple eye. Once the high-water Jamna came close to the building, but then the river became shallow and receded. This last circumstance changed the structure of the soil and also affected the stability of the mausoleum. Now it is decided to plant trees on the banks of the Jamna in order to stop soil erosion.

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Spirituality

Image of the Antichrist on a 14th-century fresco – who painted it and why?

The Antichrist, unlike Christ, the Son of God, is not the son of Satan, but a simple man. In Christian ideology, the Antichrist will appear shortly before the end of the world. Antichrist will be descended from Dan. This is one of the so-called 12 Tribes of Israel – the descendants of the sons of Jacob, who formed the Israeli people.

Antichrist will become an authoritative ruler of people, will arrange persecution of the righteous. This period in the Revelation of John the Theologian is called the Great Tribulation.

There was no specifics in the Bible about the Antichrist, so all further assumptions are futurism based on treatises of symbols and various interpretations. In particular, Calvinist Anthony Hoekema in his book “The Bible and the Future” believes that up to 75% of people will die during the Great Tribulation and this period will last for seven years.

And then, all Christians are united in this, there will be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the Last Judgment. When all sinners – both living and dead – will get what they deserve, the righteous will receive eternal paradise.

Christians were afraid of the Antichrist, so he was like Voldemort in Harry Potter – the one whose name cannot be called. Well, to portray him was generally forbidden.

The first image of the Antichrist appeared already in the XIV century. And its bold author – Vitale da Bologna – lived a transitional period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It was during this period that it became possible to show freedom of creativity.

In northern Italy there is the Pomposa Monastery, which in the 9th century was founded by Benedictine monks. Over time, the monastery turned into a party place for people of art. The walls in the cathedral of this monastery were painted by Vitale da Bologna.


Even closer to the wall … Look at the bottom right … Take a closer look.


Here is the image of the Antichrist on the wall from an old Italian mural of the 14th century. 


Frescoes in the Cathedral of Pomposa, the image of the Antichrist is highlighted in red

Here lived the famous medieval musician Guido d’Arezzo. He reformed musical notation, prescribed a new scheme for the designation of keys and intervals. It’s d’Arezzo that we owe modern letter designations in music, for example C sharp major.

The famous Petr Damiani, a poet, philosopher and theologian, worked a lot in the monastery. Despite the fact that all art was saturated with Christianity (the culture of scholasticism of the Middle Ages!), creativity found its way. People tried to realize bold ideas for their time.

As often happens, where there is art and creativity, freedom of morals arises there. After all, art must be true. Art must find paradoxes in our reality, notice inconsistencies and vividly declare them! But art in the service of the state, in the strict framework of those in power, is already PR propaganda.

But back to our hero. He really wanted to add brightness to his religious canvases and he was drawn to ominous plots. After all, there you can truly imagine the whole storm of emotions!

The monks ordered the painting “The Last Judgment” from him. And Vitale da Bologna painted the walls of the cathedral at the request of the customer, and on the pretext of realism added the Antichrist there. And so this first image of the chief man who was in the service of Satan appeared.

However, customers demanded to depict it as disgusting as possible. The image of the Antichrist turned out to be some kind of fictional, phantasmagoric – more reminiscent of the devil from fairy tales. But the antichrist, as we recall, is a man!

Attempts to portray the Antichrist were made in the future, but these were more episodes. So, for example, the Antichrist was seen by another Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli.

Luca Signorelli. Fragment of the painting “The Sermon and Works of the Antichrist”, 1500

Here, the Antichrist looks like Christ, only with an ominous expression. And Satan whispers his thoughts, who looks like an ordinary petty demon.

And it is this picture of Signorelli, in our opinion, which better illustrates the real image of the Antichrist. He is an ordinary person. Which, most likely, will consider that it is doing the right thing and for the good of mankind. After all, logic is a double-edged weapon, it is always ready to justify any crime with great reasonable goals.

14th century fresco called “The Funeral of Satan”

In the Middle Ages, striped clothing was treated extremely negatively, there was even a case when a shoemaker was sentenced to death for wearing striped clothing. It happened in 1310 in the French city of Rouen. In those days, striped clothing was considered devilish.

Among the many excellent medieval frescoes in the Verona Cathedral, there is one especially curious. It is called “The Funeral of Satan” and depicts an enemy of the human race lying under a striped veil on his deathbed. Actually, it is the color of the veil and the appearance of Satan that attracts attention.

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Spirituality

A yogi who has lived for more than 70 years without food and water has passed away in India

In the Indian state of Gujarat, the yogi Prahlad Jani died at the age of 90, claiming to have discovered the “elixir of life,” which allows him not to eat food and water for at least 76 years, reports NDTV.

According to the assurances of the followers, and there was plenty of them at the holy hermit, Prahlad Jani died on May 26 in his native village of Charada, where he was brought at his personal request a few days ago. For two days, his body will be in the ashram so that followers can say goodbye to the mentor.

Prahlad Jani was known for statements that he has not eaten and has not drunk since childhood – according to some sources, from 8-9 years old, according to others, from 14. Doctors twice, in 2003 and 2010, conducted a comprehensive examination of Chunrival Mataji, as they called a yogi, and the second time he was two weeks under the supervision of employees of the Defense Institute of Physiology and Related Sciences of India. During this time, he did not eat a crumb, did not drink a drop, did not meet his natural needs, while his bladder was filled with a small amount of urine, but then it was absorbed into the walls.

“We still do not know how he survives,” said neurologist Sudhir Shah from a recent examination.

Jani himself assured that in childhood he was blessed by a goddess, after which he left his native home and refused food and water.

A number of foreign researchers questioned the findings of Indian colleagues, pointing to the imperfection of control systems.

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