Monthly Archives: March 2017

Brutal Christianity: Alfred the Great

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP

In the second episode of the BBC’s The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling Saxon Stories book series, Alfred the Great turns to his priest, Beocca, and asks whether they ought to spread God’s love to the pagans or kill them. Beocca pauses, considers, and says he believes the pagans must first feel “God’s might” (though violence) before embracing “his love.” Continue reading

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Silence by Shusaku Endo

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY SHANNON H.

Those who subscribe to Christianity (or any worldview) have endured “trials and tribulations” in life, events that cause one to doubt or question one’s faith in God or any other deity. A death of a loved one, a loss of a job, even a natural disaster can cause someone to reexamine their beliefs. Sometimes suffering can increase faith in God or another divine being, giving one hope there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence is an example of observing and experiencing harsh conditions and wondering if God exists.

In 17th Century Europe, Father Sebastien Rodrigues and Father Garrpe, two Portuguese Catholic priests, receive word their mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira, a missionary, has lost his faith and married a Japanese woman. They travel to Japan to find him and see if his apostasy is true. In the mid to 16th Century, Japan permitted Europeans to spread the Catholic faith, however, later in the 16th Century and well into the 17th Century, Japan started and increased persecution of Christians, forcing believers to practice in secret. They executed those caught or forced them to step on a small carving of Christ (a “fumie”) to save their lives (considered blasphemous).

Once reaching the country, the two priests meet a shady man named Kichijiro, who assists in guiding them in their surroundings. Fr. Rodrigues is suspicious of Kichijiro, as he claims to not be a believer in Christ but mutters prayers in Latin. Both men witness brutal Christian persecution as the Japanese crucify believers along the sea, leaving them to submerge once the tide comes in, suspend men in pits, drop them into the sea to drown, and engage in other brutalities. Kichijiro, the “on again, off again” Christian, avoids death by putting his foot on the “fumie,” which confuses Fr. Rodrigues, thinking he may either trying to save himself or is a non-Christian hoping to betray him and Fr. Garrpe for money (100 pieces of silver for a Christian, 300 for a priest). Fr. Rodrigues’ shock and horror at the Japanese’s treatment of Christians causes him to pray to God fervently and question His existence as his prayers go unanswered, leaving him to think God is silent while many of His flock endure torture and die for their faith. To paraphrase Fr. Rodrigues, if there’s no God, his trip to Japan was all for naught.

To avoid authorities capturing them, Frs. Rodrigues and Garrpe split up, and subsequent events put Rodrigues’ faith to the ultimate test.

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Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo is a prolific writer, telling a story not just about theology but faith, God, prayer, and perseverance. It’s religiously neutral, not promoting Christianity over Buddhism or vice versa. Biblical allusions abound; Kichijiro is the story’s “Judas,” a man claiming to be or not be Christian when it suits him. Faith and prayer allude to the novel’s title; Fr. Rodrigues prays for fellow believers and receives no response from God, sensing His silence on the matter. He finds himself in an Eastern-Western culture clash over the Christian faith; one authority compares Japan to a “mud swamp” and Christianity has a hard time trying to take root in it (Japan is religiously and culturally Buddhist). Raising issues of perseverance and self-preservation, Silence presents the notion that, if feeling persecuted for one’s faith, one can “renounce” faith in front of authorities without leaving the faith in the name of personal survival. Fr. Rodrigues debates this notion in his head several times, especially when watching others die for their beliefs.

Silence opened my mind to what martyrdom is and the lengths people go to keep their faith and/or preserve themselves. We cannot judge those who “apostate” under extreme duress and assume they no longer keep the faith, whether the setting is Medieval Japan, Ancient Rome, Soviet Russia, the Middle East, or anywhere else. Everyone, Christian or otherwise, should read this brilliant novel, and every seminary, Bible college, etc. should teach it, to get believers to think critically about faith and answer the questions the novel presents to the reader (it’s also a great idea for Bible study). The novel strengthened my faith in God and Christ. I couldn’t help feeling for the novel’s protagonists as they navigate a foreign land hostile to Christianity, while trying to keep faith at the same time.

I wanted to slap Kichijiro, not for his treachery but for being annoying (the way he pops up now and then gets on my nerves). Even though it’s just over 200 pages, Silence reads like a Lord of the Rings style epic, the visual storytelling giving the reader an image of what Medieval Japan was like, right down to the huts that the peasants lived in (Shusaku Endo did his research). Above all, it is a fantastic, but heavy, read.

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About the Author: Shannon H. lives in Southern California where she spends her time reading, listening to music, attending comic conventions, and coming up with ideas for a few novels. Follow her on Instagram at Writer4God.

Bethany Hamilton: Woman of Faith

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY JESSICA SANTULLI

On October 31, 2003, a horrific event happened off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. No, it wasn’t a Halloween prank gone wrong; the occurrence had nothing to do with the ghost- and goblin-filled holiday. Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton, an up-and-coming professional surfer, was waiting for the next wave with her friend Alana, and Alana’s brother and dad. Suddenly, out of the murky blue water, a shark surface and attacked her. It bit her surfboard, and ripped off Bethany’s right arm. This young, forceful, athletic competitor was now fighting for her life.

You may know the story of Bethany Hamilton. She recovered, and almost every national and local news source covered her unbelievable comeback and success in the professional surfing world. She wrote a memoir in 2004 entitled Soul Surfer and a biopic of the same name hit theaters in 2011. This film has inspired millions of people to never give up and overcome obstacles. However, the driving force behind Bethany’s willingness to share her story is her faith in Jesus Christ.

Bethany’s parents raised her in the Christian faith, and she gave her life to Jesus Christ as a young child. She became more serious about her commitment to serve God in the years before her attack. Just two weeks before that fateful Halloween, Bethany prayed fervently every day with her mom: Lord, use me. She assumed God would use her to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the often dark world of the surfing community. She was ready to serve God with her whole heart.

After her attack, Bethany realized God wanted to use her not just to impact the surfing world, but the entire world. Before she got back on the board, she journeyed to Thailand for a missions trip after a devastating tsunami, helping children overcome their fear of the ocean. This trip took immense faith; Bethany didn’t know if she’d ever surf again. But God was in control. Bethany got back on the board three weeks after the attack, and went on to win surfing competitions, speak around the country, and make sure Jesus Christ received the glory for it all.

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Bethany’s story has turned people towards Christianity, myself included. I saw the film Soul Surfer when I was fourteen years old. I wasn’t serious about my Christian faith. I attended church, going through the motions, but wasn’t living out the teachings of Christ. Watching Bethany’s story on-screen changed my life. I needed to find out more about this incredible girl. Her faith in God prompted me to seek His face. If God can help an amputee thrive at surfing, he is surely King of the Universe. He spared Bethany to tell the world about His love, and I want to do the same, I resolved. To this day, I credit Bethany as the number one influence behind my strong faith (except for God himself, of course).

By all worldly standards, Bethany beat the odds and lives a life of success. She became a professional surfer, married a godly man, and has a beautiful, healthy son, but the main reason I admire her is because of her unwavering faith. Bethany had more faith in God’s ultimate plan for good than she did in her own plan for her life. Bethany still got to achieve her dreams; she just did so on God’s timing. Often in the midst of a setback, I convince myself I have missed an opportunity and my plans are ruined. However, during these times, I think of Bethany’s story, and how God brought hope to millions out of a seemingly hopeless scenario.

I’ll leave you with a Bible verse. Maybe you have heard it, maybe not. I believe it’s the truth, and so does Bethany.

Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Santulli is a graduate of Ramapo College with a passion for storytelling in all forms. She works in a library where she is surrounded by her favorite things: books, films, music, and people. On her free time she loves to run, hike, or just contemplate in nature. She credits God for any talents or abilities she possesses and hopes He is glorified through her life. Connect with her on her book blog, Librelephant.

Moving the Earth: The Legacy of Galileo

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY RACHEL SEXTON

Often, it can feel like science and religion are mutually exclusive and always at opposition with each other. Religion depends on interpretation of texts like the Bible that advances in science can sometimes prove wrong. The Renaissance was a period of tremendous progress in multiple areas of human endeavor, and science was one of them. Religion was an institution central to society, so it’s no surprise that one of the most well-known examples of a situation with science and religion at odds occurred during this era: the trial of Galileo Galilei. Galileo’s experience with the Catholic Church remains a relevant topic in the broader discussion of religion versus science.

Galileo was born on February 15, 1564 in Pisa, Italy. He studied medicine at the University of Pisa but soon convinced his father to allow him to follow his interest in mathematics. Galileo attracted notice among scholars when he invented a hydrostatic balance. He studied other scientific disciplines and art, and later taught mathematics and astronomy. One of the many contributions he made was pioneering the telescope. In his personal life, Galileo had three children, Virginia, Livia, and Vincenzo, with his mistress, and his patron was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de Medici (yes, of the Medicis).

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The dramatic interaction between Galileo and the Catholic Church is called the “Galileo Affair.” In 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius (or Starry Messenger), a work that revealed observations he had made with the new telescope. These included the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter. This work supported the theory put forth by Nicolaus Copernicus called heliocentrism that placed the Sun at the center of the universe with the planets orbiting around it. The Church vehemently opposed the idea, because it contradicts certain Biblical passages, if you take them literally. The Roman Inquisition realized this work by 1615, and in February 1616, ordered Galileo not to “hold, teach, or defend” heliocentrism in any way.

For the next decade, Galileo avoided the controversy, but in 1632, he published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and this work again ignited the ire of the Church. Pope Urban VIII had asked Galileo to include his own views on the order of the universe in the book but Galileo made his allegiances clear by putting the arguments against heliocentrism into the mouth of a character called Simplicio. The Church banned Dialogue, put Galileo on trial for heresy in 1633, found him guilty, and ordered him to renounce heliocentrism and face imprisonment, but commuted it to house arrest the next day. He stayed in that punishment until his death in 1642.

The interaction between religion and science exemplified in the experience of Galileo Galilei has an antagonistic tone but is an important point of discussion. Even though we now know Galileo was correct, the situation wasn’t so cut and dry as to claim Galileo was completely good and the Church completely bad. Galileo was a pious Roman Catholic, and you could say that at the time science was faith. When a scientist like Galileo saw something no one had ever seen before and their intelligence and instinct led them to a conclusion, they were taking a chance, believing in something without wide acceptance of it as fact. The first followers of a religion can probably relate.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton is from Ohio. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. She has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life. Her hobby is editing fan videos.

 Vestal Virgins

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY SCARLETT GRANT

In a world of strict patriarchy, very few women had the chance to be independent or have their voices heard within Roman society. The only way a woman received equal treatment and respect was as a Vestal Virgin, a priestess of the goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Their primary task was to attend to the sacred fire of Rome. Anyone needing household fire could use this flame, and in a religious sense, they were the surrogate housekeepers for all of Rome. It was paramount to ensure it would never die out.

These priestesses could property, make a will, and vote. Due to their holy position in Roman society, they had reserved seats at public games and a person received death if they injured a Vestal. Guards accompanied them wherever they went. They also had the power to free slaves and condemned prisoners by touching them.

Livy, Plutarch, and Aulus Gellitus attribute creating the Vestals to the legendary second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius (who supposedly reigned between 717 – 673 BC). This is strange considering in the Rome foundation myth, the mother of Romulus and Remus, Rhea Silvia, was a Vestal. It’s also suggested the Temple of Vesta had its origins at Alba Longa, where Rhea Silvia was from. The first Vestals, according to Varro, were Canuleia; Gegania; Tarpeia and Veneneia. Tarpeia appears again in Roman myth, she betrayed Rome to the Sabines during the rape and capture of their women. As a result, they crushed her to death and threw her body off a cliff.

A commitment to the college of Vestals lasted 30 years, the girls chosen before puberty between the ages of 6-10, and free of mental and physical problems. Although it was open to only patrician girls, the lack of applicants (many families did not want to commit their daughters to the 30 years), resulted in applications open to plebeians and the daughters of freed slaves. The Vestals divided their 30 years of service into three sections lasting 10 years each; first they were students, then servants, and finally teachers. While tending Rome’s sacred hearth, the Vestals collected sacred water, prepared food used in rituals and cared for sacred objects. Due to the incorruptible nature of the Vestals, Rome trusted them with safekeeping the wills of prominent Romans such as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. After their 30 years were up, they retired, replaced by a new inductee. A Vestal retirement was a comfortable one as they received a pension by the state and could now marry. The Pontifex Maximus (head of the Roman Priestly colleges) would often arrange her marriage with a Roman nobleman, who received honor from her former role, and benefited from her pension.

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Despite their important and fundamental position in Roman society, history records few named Vestals, but notes quite a few for violating their vows (whom the temple punished accordingly). It names several others due to advantageous marriages. It’s said a formal vestal named Rubria married to Emperor Nero, and another was Aquilia Severa who married Emperor Elagabalus. The marriage caused a major scandal because Aquilia was still in active service when she married. Even after Elagabalus divorced her and married a far more suitable bride, he still kept in contact with Aquilia. It’s interesting that the vast majority of recorded Vestals are due to the violations of their faith.

The power of the Vestals waned during the 4th Century. Constantine I (272 – 337 AD) converted and repelled bans against Christianity, which increased the spread and power of this new religion. It took until the reign of Emperor Theodosius I (347 – 395 AD), who made Christianity the official state religion of Rome, for the order to cease. The last known head of the Vestals was Coelia Concordia, who stepped down from her post in 394 AD and converted to Christianity later in life.

Since many believed the Vestals protected Rome, contemporary writers pondered whether the disbandment of the Vestals led to Rome’s demise. Zosimus (490s – 510s) recounts a story about a niece of Emperor Theodosius I, Serena. As Theodosius shut down the temple, Serena took a necklace from a statue. A Vestal chastised her and called punishment upon her. Horrific dreams predicting her death tormented Serena. Recounts of stories like this and other murmurings were so numerous that St. Augustine had to write The City of God in response.

It shows that even after abandoning the old Roman pagan pantheon, the citizens of Rome still regarded the influence of the Vestals as high, proving how important their position was in not only faith but in the strength of Roman society.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scarlett Grant is a young graduate trying to step into the real world. When she’s not writing for Femnista, she’s focusing on her own blog: Thoughts in 500 Words. She is also an amateur history buff, with other interests in art, film, languages, music and writing.

Femnista March / April 2017: Beliefs

Everyone has a worldview, something they believe in. It may be science, God, or themselves, but this shapes their approach to life, influences their decisions, and shifts them toward their future self. History has seen many people of profound beliefs, some who made the world a better place and others who sought to destroy, rather than restore.

This issue focuses on films, novels, and people whose beliefs were beyond their time, that shaped the world, or that have left a profound impression on us.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Vestal Virgins, by Scarlett Grant

Bethany Hamilton: Woman of Faith, by Jessica Santulli

Moving the Earth: The Legacy of Galileo, by Rachel Sexton

Silence, by Shusaku Endo, by Shannon H.

Brutal Christianity: Alfred the Great, by Charity Bishop

Caroline Herschel, by Lila Donovan

The Secret of Kells, by Scarlett Grant

The Young Messiah, by Charity Bishop

Blessed Are They Who Have Not Seen, by Jessica Prescott

William Wilberforce, by Veronica Leigh

He Didn’t Expect to Change the World, by Rachel Kovaciny