Silent Night (2002)

Silent Night is a movie about another Christmas truce in WWII involving three Germans and three Americans trapped in a woman’s cabin in the Ardennes forest. She and her son Image result for silent night 2002went to the remote cabin to shelter the little boy from bombings in the city. Three American soldiers stumbled upon her cabin, separated from their unit. One of the three is injured, so they stay in a tense standoff with her since she is German, the enemy. Later, three German soldiers come across the cabin too. The Americans try to make them surrender, one using a fake gun and the other inside shouting, pretending there are more men than there are. The Germans fall for the ruse and surrender and go inside. However, the woman makes all of them leave their guns outside, saying she does not tolerate weapons in her home. Inside, they introduce themselves. One is an American private and Related imagesergeant. The Germans have a lieutenant and two men, one only 15 years old. The woman and her son both speak fluent English, so they agree to speak English to avoid confusion. Only the young German private cannot speak any English. They all agree to a tense truce, until the next morning. Things get edgy between the American and the German lieutenant. The German lieutenant also questions the woman, now known as Elizabeth as to her loyalties. She replies that she felt morally obliged to help the American soldiers too. That evening, she convinces each side to sit down for a Christmas eve meal and they all contribute to the feast. They all soften up a bit towards one another and start to open up.

However, the mood once again switches back to tense when the German lieutenant talks about his family’s military legacy, and the honor of war. Elizabeth angrily confides why she hates war and weapons so much. Her own father, in WWI came back from the war with his face badly disfigured. He turned to drink and later killed himself when she was only 12, her son’s age. She also lost her eldest son at Stalingrad. The American solider tries to Related imagelighten the mood again with dessert, but both Elizabeth and the lieutenant are on edge. Later when they clear the table, the Lieutenant threatens Elizabeth by alluding to the fact that her son is not in the Hitler youth and didn’t have call up papers. She replies that she would not lose yet another son, and her husband is also missing. The American soldier hands out gifts and everyone decorates a small tree for Christmas. While he is handing out the presents, the German lieutenant notices he took an iron cross and is enraged. He shouts that one should only take things like cigarettes from fallen soldiers, but never their medals as it is highly dishonorable. He and the American come to blows over it and the injured American comes out of his room with a gun, not knowing about the truce. The other american shove him to the ground, but then the German picks it up and aims it at the American. Elizabeth however bravely intervenes and convinces him to honor the truce. He goes off to the corner and tearfully tells the American that his father was a soldier and his body was thrown down and stripped of all his medals. the issue is extremely personal to him. The American, now realizing how hurtful it was, gives him back the medal. All seems to be forgiven and they all go to bed.

The next morning, an American MP discovers the cabin, and believes the Americans captured the Germans. The American explains the truce and the MP is incredulous. In a
Related imagetwist, however, the american MP speaks German and tells the Germans to lower their hands and grab their weapons. He was actually a German infiltrator from the SS! He orders the Americans to be shot, and when Elizabeth intervenes, he knocks her down and is ready to shoot her. The German lieutenant saves her though, but knocking the SS man unconscious. The film ends with all of them leaving, to return to war. The Americans have the SS man as a prisoner, and the German lieutenant tells the young German private to go with the Americans, as both sides feel he’s too young to fight any longer. They try to get the lieutenant to join too, but he feels honor bound to fight for his side. However, they all part friends. Image result for silent night 2002

I loved the film because it showed the human side of all of the soldiers. The Americans were not brutal and cruel to their German hosts, and the Germans were not portrayed so much as “Nazis” than fellow soldiers. I think the historical feel was right, and I like how the situation was handled. Not too much buddy-buddy to be unrealistic, but also each side got to show their humanity. I also liked the back stories on a lot of the characters, to also let you make that human connection, and see the reasons behind their actions. Also, the plot development was good and did not become monotonous, like many other war films I’ve seen, which were mostly fighting, resting and fighting in an endless cycle. I also liked that they toned down the violence a ton compared to other war movies involving blood and guts all the time. No gory scenes. There was some violence, but only for tense moments, but no one gets shot or injured at all. Due to those scenes alone, and some of the sad backstories, I’d say the movie is best for older kids and teens. I wouldn’t say the movie was anti- war, but pro- peace.

I think Elizabeth’s character was profound in that she reminded everyone that they were all human and deserved a peaceful world. Her backstory about her experience with her own father’s war experience I believe was the reason why she was so anti-war. Also, losing Image result for silent night 2002her eldest son and husband only further embittered her to war. I think she felt that the young German private reminded her of her son who she lost. I think she showed a true strength of character by standing up to both sides, when they could have shot or overpowered her. Especially interacting with the German lieutenant, she did not give in to his threats and implications that she was a traitor. She even got directly in his line of fire to defend the Americans, and when he was ordered to shoot the Americans, she spoke up for him, urging him not to do it, getting herself in harm’s way yet again. She is just as brave as the soldiers were, only in her immense moral courage. The German lieutenant Image result for silent night 2002 elizabethacts as a sort of foil for her, clashing with her the most. At first, he seems like he would be the bad guy, all staunch and militant. He rubbed the Americans the wrong way and didn’t settle in like the rest. He threatened Elizabeth and even her son felt uncomfortable around him. This seemed confirmed when he flew into a rage over the medal, but it also produced a change of heart. Of all the characters, he was the only one to cry. I thought it would be Elizabeth or her son, but no, it was him. This is significant because he seems like the last of all of them to get emotional. The incident revealed even he was human, and had deep personal reasons for acting as he did. It showed how deeply he feels about honor in war. His choice to also go back to war instead of taking the easy way out by being the American’s prisoner also showed his sense of true honor. He was not the Nazi criminal, but a soldier concerned with honor and bravery despite his Nazi leanings. He was not the emotionless robot that Nazi bad-guys are portrayed as, but human. This was finally proven when he saved Elizabeth’s life.

Overall, I loved the character development and plot. The movie really drove home the message of shared humanity in war and the yearning for peace. Overarching themes seem to be about honor in war and moral courage too. The German lieutenant always stressed about what was the honorable thing to do. Also, moral courage played a huge roll with Elizabeth as she defied everyone by helping both sides. She was also the first to see their humanity. In the end, they all saw each other as fellow soldiers, albeit being on different sides. Both sides went on to fight with honor, and humanity. It was truly a touching movie about humanity in times of war. I also liked the implied distinction between the Wehrmacht soldiers portrayed in there, and the SS man being the real bad guy. Overall, great movie with poignant messages!

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(Not) Guilty by Association: The Wehrmacht

Unlike World War I, which is now seen as more of a pointless political folly, World War II is often thought of as a war against evil and hatred. Most infamously, the Nazi party is seen as the pinnacle of evil in the western world. Indeed, Hitler’s extermination of 11 million or so people in his genocidal campaigns, war crimes and hateful ideologies has helped earn him and the Nazi party a continuing legacy of hurt to this day. In accordance with that, many think it reasonable that anyone who stood by and turned a blind eye to such evil is just as guilty for not stopping it. Now, many people go so far as to assume everyone in Germany between 1939-1945 collaborated with evil. One of the more easy targets to turn one’s outrage towards: the soldiers.

What could they have done? That is the million dollar question in this whole controversy

Image result for german soldiers stalingrad

What could these men have done at the front? Just lay down their arms and go home? They wish!

over the German army’s responsibility for the evils that took place under Hitler. Many argue that the German army could have done something to stop the war crimes taking place or save all of the people in the camps, but what? Many soldiers were fighting on different fronts, and were doing the same things their opponents were doing day to day, like fight  and survive. Those people didn’t have much time to go hunting down people Hitler didn’t like. Morally, they were simply being soldiers during a war.  Were there war crimes that many could have not committed? Sure. The German army wasn’t perfectly “clean”. There were war crimes, killings of innocent civilians, treating POWs cruelly,  but it would be an equal lie to say that other nation’s armies including our own did not do all of the above too. That doesn’t justify the wrongs that were committed, but downplaying our own “dirty secrets” yet painting the entire Wehrmacht with that brush is hypocritical.

And the defense of “we were just following orders”, if you look at military culture, it makes sense. These soldiers were brought up to obey any order without question as impressionable young men. The risk of disobeying was too great, and often the cards were stacked against them even if they were right not to obey. The consequences were immediate and swift, no time to bring it before a tribunal after the war ends. Imagine you are a young man, barely out of your teens, and a much older officer tells you to do something wrong, like kill civilians. Now, you might have plenty of qualms and moral objections about doing so, but considering your situation, what do you do? Defy your officer and probably get shot too, or do it and survive yourself? One’s actions in the heat of the moment may surprise them… The responsibility of these war crimes should be on the people giving the orders, not the men under them. Men who were taught never to question an order and do it on pain of severe punishment or death I would argue to be just as responsible as someone who drove away from a crime at gunpoint. Independent thought is not often historically emphasized in the military.

Also, most controversially, in my historical opinion, rescuing all of the concentration camp victims wasn’t feasible in the middle of a major war. The German army wouldn’t have had the time to revolt and overthrow Hitler and the SS and liberate everyone who has been wronged and also keep up the fight in Europe if they had wanted too. Courageously, Staffenburg and his officers tried, but failed. Hitler’s genocidal campaigns sapped many

Image result for german pows stalingrad

Ooh, big scary Nazis! They don’t look disillusioned at all…

resources from Germany’s war, perhaps they would have won otherwise. Even without a Wehrmacht overthrow, Germany still lost the war. Would it be the right thing to stop the suffering going on? Yes, but in war, one must make hard choices. Saving the country altogether, or saving these unfortunate victims. While it seems incredibly harsh and callous, in the midst of an increasingly lost war, their country came first, and yet, even directing resources to the front, they still lost. Still think this is a flimsy excuse morally? Think about all of the groups pleading us to save them, and how many we can support in our country today… How much should we be obligated to stop suffering not directly affecting our country?

Lastly, but an important note too is that even Hitler and the SS did not fully trust the Wehrmacht. Hitler was suspicious of them, especially after several plots on his life by Wehrmacht officers, such as Col. Staffenburg and his men. The Wehrmacht also wanted to keep the traditional Germany army symbols, such as the iron cross, and their own salute, not Hitler’s as their official salute.  Only after Staffenburg’s plot did Hitler enforce it for the German army too in addition to civilians. While some were members of the Nazi party, the army as a whole kept many pre-Nazi traditions as many had military careers before the Nazis came into power. Going even further, at the end of the war, people were involuntarily conscripted into the SS as well.

Overall, it would be nice to think that the German army could have done more to not collaborate with Hitler’s evils, but in the midst of World War II, it just wasn’t feasible. The people who fought for Germany between 1939 and 1945 had the same motives for doing so as any other soldier, and the majority fought the war, the same as all the other soldiers. Yes, lines were blurred and things did happen in the German army, but it also happened in the allied forces too. It would be nice to think that the German army could just “go on strike” until Hitler left, but it’s just not realistic. Is it possible to fight for one’s country, but not necessarily for one’s leader? Could they have fought more for Germany than for Hitler? Perhaps they fought in the midst of evil, surrounded by evil, by an evil dictator, but I believe it unfair to say they fought for evil. In many ways, they were one of Hitler’s many victims too. Underneath the uniform, they were as human as you and I, and if you ever get the chance to meet one today, learn their story before you judge.

Image result for Hans-Georg Henke

If they’re still alive, they’ll be these guys…

Posted in Military, Modern History, Opinion Piece | 1 Comment

Art and History Part II: Sculpting The Insane

In addition to drawing illustrations of various scenes, I also was inspired to make figurines of some of the mental patients!

This one is a madwoman being restrained by an attendant. I gave her an angry expression to show she didn’t like being restrained. I named this piece “The Dance of Insanity” since they looked like they were dancing!

This is another mental patient I made. She is lifting up her dress and twirling about. I tried to make it so she looks like she’s moving a lot. Perhaps she’s overstimulated and needs a trip to the quiet room!

Lastly, this one is acting really crazy! I added the white sweater because in pictures I have seen, at one institution, all of the women wore the same white sweater over their dresses! I assume it was the institution uniform.


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Art and History: The Golden Age of Psychology

Often artwork from the period being studied makes the topic all the more fascinating. For the turn of the century, I love those lithographic line drawings they used to make. It’s a huge shame they don’t still make them anymore for modern art. Often, they were used in newspapers and literature. In studying about insane asylums and mental diseases, many have made line drawings of the patients and their conditions, in addition to photographs, which were very recent at the time. Many are quite detailed!

Image result for salpetriere hysteria patients  Image result for hysteria patient

I got inspired to try to make some of my own artwork that looks like theirs too! I read more sources on doctors describing many asylums and how to care for the patients, and came across some amusing stories. Unfortunately, they did not come with illustrations, so I used my imagination and drew some of the scenes! These were inspired by some passages in a book called “A Treatise on the Nature, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Insanity” by William Charles Ellis, an alienist from the early to mid 1800’s. He and his wife ran an asylum called the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in England. In the book, he describes some interesting stories involving patients. Here are two of them with my illustrations:

Many years ago, when the workmen were fitting up the asylum at Wakefield with gas-pipes, one of them carelessly left, in one of the wards, an iron chisel more than three feet long. A very powerful and violent patient seized it, and threatened to kill any one that should go near him. Keepers and patients all got out of his way, and he alone was soon in possession of the gallery, no one daring- to go near him. After waiting a little time, until he was at the further end of it, I went towards him quite alone. I opened the door, and balancing the key of the ward on the back of my hand, walked very slowly towards him, looking intently upon it. His attention was immediately attracted ; he came towards me, and inquired what I was doing. I told him I was trying to balance the key, and said at the same time that he could not balance the chisel in the same way, on the back of his hand. He immediately placed it there ; and extending his hand with the chisel upon it, I took it off very quietly, and without making any comment. Though he seemed a little chagrined at having lost his weapon, he made no attempt to regain it, and in a short time the irritation passed away… (P. 222)


“I opened the door, and balancing the key on the back of my hand, walked very slowly towards him, looking intently upon it.”

H. R., a female about forty years of age, had been insane for some years when admitted. She was a very robust woman, and being usually in a state of excitement, was the terror of all the patients in the ward, when not in confinement… The advantage of presence of mind and apparent confidence in the patients, when from circumstances placed in their power, during a paroxysm, was strikingly exemplified in the conduct of my wife towards this patient. In one of her most furious ebullitions of passion she contrived to seize her, and to twist her hand in her hair at the back of her head, and she looked at her with a countenance expressive of the utmost rage, and told her, that she could “twist her head round;” which, from her great strength, was almost literally the truth : when my wife answered, with perfect calmness, “Yes, you could; but I know you would not hurt a single hair.” This confident appeal pacified her, and she immediately quitted her hold. (P. 223-224)


“Yes you could, but I know you would not hurt a single hair.”

Lastly, I incorporated a scene from another book, “A Visit to Thirteen Asylums for the Insane in Europe” by another alienist, Pliny Earle. I heard about William Charles Ellis, through Earle’s book, as Earle held Ellis in high regard and quoted the story about the clever trick to get the chisel away from the agitated patient as testimony to his skill in handling the insane. Earle toured many asylums in Europe and in America and wrote about them in his book. This story comes from his visit to the asylum at Bicêtre, a bit south from Paris.

In one of the wards which we first entered, a merry patient, seeing us approach, took his violin for the purpose of giving his physician a musical entertainment. He followed us through the ward, playing several lively airs, and when we were about to leave, insisted upon accompanying us. The doctor permitted him so to do, and he followed us, constantly playing upon his fiddle, through most of the remaining wards. (P. 35)


“The doctor permitted him to do so, and he followed us, constantly playing upon his fiddle, through most of the remaining wards.”

As a bonus, I also drew a clinical example of a hysteric fit, as often times, the doctors showed off their patients at clinical lectures, and purposely induced their fits for all to see. I was inspired by the famous painting of Jean Martin Charcot, a prominent neurologist who studied hysteria with a patient in a hysterical fit as other doctors looked on. A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière



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“Check Your Privilege” What NOT to Wear This Saturnalia

Dear Romans:

Saturnalia is just around the corner, and here’s a yearly reminder of what NOT to wear for your costume:

A Barbarian warrior

Image result for barbarian warriors vs romans

Rome has systematically oppressed many a “Barbarian”. From calling their language primitive gibberish, to enslaving them, it’s fair to say they’re an oppressed minority. When you put on those trousers, you’re appropriating their culture since you can dabble in their “exotic” styles, without facing their adversity in Roman society. Everyday, barbarians are underrepresented in the roman army, often as auxiliaries only getting 1/3rd pay as a legionary, are subject to punishments that Romans are immune from, and cannot vote or hold an office. Unlike them, once you take the warpaint and trousers off, you’re back to being a Roman citizen and the rights it entails. You get to be a “barbarian” for one day, they’re stuck with it for life! It is due to your Roman privilege that these microaggressions can go on.

A Hebrew or Christian

Image result for early christians

From taking the Hebrew’s land, yet not allowing them full citizenship rights, they too are a minority. Please leave the pharisee costume at home! I mean, after burning their temple, it’s the least you can do. Also, no Christian things either, their religion is underrepresented and treated with hate and suspicion. Many Christians are peaceful, law abiding citizens, not subversive insurgents trying to undermine the state. Let’s not forget all of the run-ins with the law they had for being unfairly profiled! This Christophobia is unfounded and hurtful. Christian lives matter!


Image result for gladiators

Many gladiators are slaves that are hurt and die for our entertainment. They have seen their homes destroyed and families split apart before they were forced to perform in the arena. That gladiator outfit may make you look fierce and cool, but at least you get to take it off after and walk away free, unlike them. It’s highly insensitive to the gladiator’s plight to wear their gear as your costume. They face macroaggressions in the arena, please don’t create microaggressions they must fight against too.

Grecian theater masks

Image result for ancient greek theater masks

Yes, I get you’re obsessed with all things Greek, but really? You appropriate Greek culture enough already! It’s okay to enslave the best and brightest of them, despite admiring their culture. Romans, stop copying the Greeks and get your own ideas! Quit Romanizing ancient Greek stories and “Rome-washing” all of the Greek characters and making their names Roman! They were around centuries before Rome ever was! It’s insensitive to Greeks everywhere, so stop.

If you wonder whether or not your costume is offensive ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it copying another culture and feeding into stereotypes?
  • Is it meant to portray someone in a negative or satirical light?
  • Does it portray someone as “exotic” or “different”?
  • Was it done at someone’s expense?

Romans, check your privilege! Don’t help oppress others this or any Saturnalia…

Image result for roman senator in toga

Ecce! Privilegium Romanum! (Behold! Roman Privilege!)

Posted in Ancient History, Humor, Satire | 1 Comment

The Age of The Asylum: Psychology’s Golden Age Part II

My renewed interest in turn of the century psychology has brought some more fascinating primary sources from that era as well as modern insights into the period. Here are some other interesting reads!

Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease

This book, by Konrad Maurer is a biography of Alois Alzheimer, the psychologist who discovered Alzheimer’s disease, also mentioned in the previous post. The book goes into much more detail than one usually finds online about him, and outlines his youth in medical school, to his appointment in an asylum called the “Irrenschloss” in Frankfurt where Auguste Deter was, to his further career in Munich and Breslau. My favorite parts are when the author talks about the relationship between Alzheimer and his boss Emil Sioli in the asylum at Frankfurt, as the two had a deep professional respect for one another, and when it was mentioned Alzheimer lived within hearing distance of an asylum near Munich! Here’s a cool excerpt from the book on Alzheimer’s remembrance of the “Irrenschloss”

The institution accommodated only the most severely mentally ill. One had to carry out one’s rounds with powerful orderlies covering one’s back, and it was sometimes necessary to fend off the attacks of irritated patients oneself. Everywhere, cursing, spitting patients sat around in the corners, repulsive in their manner, peculiar in their dress, and completely inaccessible to the doctor. The most unclean habits were quite common. Some patients appeared with pockets filled with all sorts of waste, others had masses of paper and writing materials hidden all over the place in big packets under their arms. When one had to finally follow the rules of hygiene and do something to get rid of the filth, one could not proceed without resistance and loud cries. (Page 55)

10 Days in a Madhouse

10 Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly, was written in 1887 and detailed many of the abuses in insane asylums of the time. Nellie Bly was an undercover journalist, and was assigned to go undercover to do an exposé on the Blackwell’s Island Asylum in New York.  To do that, she feigned madness at a home for working women, so they would get her committed. However, once she was inside, she would drop her role as a madwoman, and act normally as in everyday life. She wanted to see if they would find out if she was sane. Ultimately, she found out how the asylum had cruel nurses and not enough food and clothes, as well as barbaric treatments. When she was finally released, her article on the asylum prompted a formal investigation into the allegations she made, and made a change for the better as the committee approved more funds to improve the asylum. The experiment also shed light on the accuracy of many of the doctor’s judgments as to who is sane and who isn’t, as she was clearly sane, but no one believed her. In the book, there are many amusing illustrations! Here are some of my favorites!

Image result for 10 days in a madhouse illustrations  Related image

(I just love the captions!)

How to Care for The Insane

How to Care for The Insane was written by Dr. William Granger in 1886 as a manual for attendants in asylums. What is so remarkable about this book, other than it is a primary source, is its astonishingly modern attitude towards patient care! Dr. Granger emphasizes the need for humane care and using the least restrictive options. He says that an attendant must be patient and endure things like being insulted and spit at with patience and professionalism, not giving into one’s temper. Even with violent patients, he stresses the need, while taking precautions, to use the least force necessary to control the situation.

In using force in the care of violent patients, it should always be done as gently as possible, and struggling should be avoided; he should never be choked or kicked, receive a blow, or be knocked down; the arms should never be twisted, nor a towel held over the mouth, but if the patient persists in spitting it may be held in front of the face.Care must always be used not to injure a patient while exercising necessary control. In the violence of a patient innocent injuries are sometimes received. The attendant is excusable if he can show that he used necessary force only, without malice. (Page 47-48)

This other passage shows the strikingly modern views that Dr. Granger had in running an asylum:

Attendants must first learn that patients are not to be treated merely as a ward full of people to be kept in order, to be clothed, fed, and put to bed, but that the peculiarities of each patient are to be studied, and that it is their duty to know thoroughly the wants, and condition of each case, and how best to care for and control it. The better knowledge an attendant has of the individual, the better he can care for a ward full of individuals. The persons who are under our care are always to be considered as patients, and it must be remembered that these sick people are sent away from their homes and given over to us, though strangers, because it is supposed that we can do better by them than their friends are able to do. Their position is one of helplessness and dependence upon those who are placed in charge, and we are properly held responsible by the friends and the public, for a judicious exercise of the power and influence we possess over them. (Page 30)

I think this passage really reflects a kind, compassionate doctor who wouldn’t be out of place in a modern hospital today! While many institutions were rife with abuse and corruption, this goes to show that there were people with a warm compassion who truly cared for their patients too. It astonishes me that such a book was written all the way back in 1886! This wouldn’t be out of place in a 21st century book on the subject! It is common to think of that era in psychology as cold and unfeeling, but many people did have a genuine passion for the welfare of the insane and feeble minded, even if some of their methods and philosophies didn’t line up with ours. Who knows 100 years from now if our views will change yet again too? Also, the section on emergencies was amusing, covering things from a slit throat, to eating glass, suicide attempts to even setting things on fire! I can only assume the author had some personal experience in that department!

(Bonus Source) Restoring Perspective: Life and Treatment at The London Asylum

This website is about an asylum in Canada, not England! It details much of asylum life and details about the staff who worked there. The asylum ran up into the 1950’s! One of the most interesting tidbits was how intertwined the employee’s personal and professional lives were, since they mostly lived onsite! Many described it as being like a big family. Indeed, one of the superintendent’s daughters got married on the asylum grounds! This is a very cool website to check out!

Overall, many criticize this “era of asylums” as being the stone ages of psychology, with offensive language and barbaric treatment, but it is much more complex than that simplistic picture. sure, there was much abuse in the system, but as many sources reveal, there were passionate people dedicated to fighting the abuse and making a more humane and compassionate system. Before, conditions were much much worse, and asylums were a new more humane way to deal with the mentally ill. Much of the terminology such as “idiot”, “imbecile”, “lunatic”, “moron”, etc. are now offensive today, but back then, those were the proper medical terminology and not considered offensive. Even more recently, one must keep up with the ever changing terms for “mentally ill”! Many theories and diseases are outdated too (think dementia praecox), however, they were also cutting edge research. We often think that we are in a new glorious age of enlightenment, while forgetting the impact of the contributions of those who came before us. Our progress rests on their shoulders. While we’re quick to judge their past attitudes and actions, many did it our of the same motive as we have, to understand and cure mental illness. That bygone era was truly a golden age of discoveries and breakthroughs in mental health care.

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Lost Sects of Christianity

Christianity today has thousands of different denominations today, all with minor and some major differences, but today’s variations of Christianity pale in comparison to the differences in beliefs of earlier Christians! From whether or not Jesus was actually divine, to arguments over how many gods there actually were, these now extinct sects provide some unique insights into the development of Christianity!

1. Ebionite Christians (1st-4th Century)

 The Ebionites were Christians that believed that Christians still had to follow all of the Jewish laws, such as circumcision and the Jewish Sabbath. They opposed Paul since he taught that Christians did not have to obey Jewish laws. They however, believed Jesus to be the messiah. They had conflicts with more Pauline Christians, over whether or not to follow Jewish laws. They were the closest to the very early “Jewish Christians”.

Image result for ebionites

2. Gnosticism (1st-7th Century)

Gnostic Christians are also a well known sect that is extinct now. They believed that an inferior god created Earth, and hindered everyone’s spiritual development, and the Hebrew texts were a product of this inferior god! The superior god tricked the inferior god by sending a savior and the sacrifice of this savior undermined the inferior god’s power. Research has been done that suggests that early Christianity was more Gnostic in nature, and that the trinity today is derived from the older more Gnostic-like beliefs.

Image result for gnostic christianity

3. Docetism (1st-7th Century)

Docetists believed that Jesus was not physically present, but more of a spiritual being, since the physical world was imperfect and separate from God, and Jesus could not have been imperfect and corrupted in order to be the spiritual savior. Their explanation for why Jesus did not write anything down or leave a record was that he could not as he wasn’t a physical being.

Image result for docetism

4. Arian Christians (2nd-8th Century)

Arian Christianity was named after Arius, a prominent theologian. Arianism states that Jesus, being the son of God is holy, but inferior to God, thus opposing the trinity. Their concept of Jesus was that he was special, in that God could have created him before other things, but he was not an immortal man, or a god either. This was opposed by the predecessors to modern day Christianity who believed in the divinity of Jesus and the trinity. The Council of Nicea met to refute Arian beliefs and created the Nicene Creed in opposition to Arian Christians.

Image result for arian christianity

5. Marcionite Christians (2nd-5th Century)

These Christians, in my mind are the most fascinating of the ones mentioned. They believed that the god in the Old Testament and the god in the New Testament were separate gods! The reason for that was the inconsistency between the old God being more wrathful and harsh and the new God being more merciful and forgiving. They thought that they could not possibly be one god with wild mood swings! Therefore, there must have been two! They knew the Christian texts very well, and their compilation of those texts would later develop into the Bible today. Pauline Christians heavily opposed them and one writer published five volumes refuting Marcionism!

Image result for god of the old testament and god of the new testament

(Compare, angry God vs. forgiving God)

6. Roman/Pauline Christianity (4th century-present)

Lastly, Pauline Christians are most like contemporary Christianity, with beliefs in the trinity and divinity of Jesus. Their creed, is still recited in Churches today:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

It is amazing to think there was such variation within Christianity. Many beliefs today, would discount many sects from being considered Christian at all! I find it interesting that many would be considered polytheistic, with two, 30, or even 365 gods! while others were more strictly monotheistic, and non trinitarian. These older sects were heavily suppressed, and often written about from the perspective of their opponents, however, the most interesting tidbits found their way back. These and many other sects go to show, how varied and diverse the history of something which seems more unified and monolithic can be. This website goes into these, and much more within the topic of Early Christianity in much detail!

Types of Early Christianity in History

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