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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    It is not the root of evil, as such. I am not sure what the "root of evil" would be (not "love of money", not in an existential or philospohical sense).
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I forgot to mention that Lactantius thought that originally Satan was equal to Christ: they were both generated from the Father, forming a sort of Trinity. But Satan rebelled while Christ did not. I don't know why Lactantius didn't get particularly criticised for this, since even though he was writing before orthodox doctrine had been settled, that was still pretty unusual even for the time.

    I'm afraid I would tend to agree with the Mormon Satan. I think that a world of agents who are predetermined to choose what is right would be preferable to a world of agents where they are not predetermined and many choose what is wrong (Augustine thought something like this too: freedom from sin, ie the ability to sin, is preferable to the freedom to sin). That's because I don't place any value on contra-causal free will. But we have had arguments about this several times in this thread and its predecessor already, I'm sure.
     
  3. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  4. Camikaze

    Camikaze Administrator Administrator

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    How are reality and the universe seen, or related to, Process Theology?
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Do you mean - How do process theologians view the universe? The same way that process philosophers did - as a network of events and processes rather than of substances. Process theology just adds the idea that God is one of these processes, so instead of being a perfect Anselmian substance beyond the universe he is one of many processes within it. But I don't really know much about process philosophy (it was a pretty minor metaphysical movement on the whole) so I can't tell you much more than that.
     
  6. Camikaze

    Camikaze Administrator Administrator

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    So they view the universe as not made up of physical objects but of metaphysical actions or operations, of which God is one?
     
  7. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Where would be a good place to look up the most current versions of the theories of Tanakh authorship? (Or, if you feel like it, you could talk about those yourself...:p)
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Yes, something like that. God is the greatest of these series of actions or processes, but his action is persuasive rather than determinative. That is, he influences everything that happens, but this influence does not necessarily determine what happens.

    That's not really my field, but I think you could do a lot worse than start with this site.
     
  9. Mowque

    Mowque Hypermodernist

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    What would mainstream Christian (or Catholic if your in the mood) thought think of this quote?

    "If faith does not continually expose itself to the possibility of unfaith, it is not faith but a convenience." (No idea if this is famous or not, so sorry if it is!)
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That question is too vague to mean very much. What does "faith" mean in that quote - or for that matter "possibility" and "unfaith"? If it's supposed to mean that religious beliefs must be rationally defensible, then that is precisely Catholic teaching. If it's supposed to mean that you should try to encourage doubts, then that would probably not be so commensurate with Catholic teaching because it would be deliberately exposing yourself to temptation. If, on the other hand, it means that doubt can strengthen faith, then that's the whole point of John of the Cross's teaching.
     
  11. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Do you think that Paul and Peter really existed? Did they really know Jesus personally, and did they die crucified in Rome?

    What do you think about miracles in New Testament? If Peter and Paul for example told about them, were they just lying? Or are they additions of those who wrote down gospels? Or do you believe people really saw these miracles (even if they weren't true or real miracles)?

    When cross as a symbol lost it's infamy?
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There's no doubt whatsoever that Peter and Paul existed, especially Paul, who is virtually by definition the author of the letter to the Romans. You seem a bit confused between them though, because Paul never knew Jesus personally and never claimed to, and he is supposed to have been beheaded in Rome, not crucified. There's no reason to suppose that Peter didn't know Jesus personally. It is uncertain what happened to both of them, but it seems most likely that they died in the 60s in Rome, as tradition records. Whether that was in Nero's persecution, or whether Paul (in particular) died in prison, is uncertain. The tradition that Peter was crucified upside down, at his own request because he didn't want to die precisely as Jesus had, is a legend.

    If you are talking about the miracles attributed to Jesus, Paul is again irrelevant because he didn't know Jesus. There seems little doubt that Jesus had a reputation for miracle-working even during his lifetime, as was also the case with many other famous Jewish miracle workers of the time. The miracle stories are certainly not the invention of the Gospel authors, because form criticism has shown how the miracle stories had already been told and retold, and shaped by the oral tradition, long before the Gospel writers wrote them down. As for whether the miracles really happened or not, it is hard to say what the original events were - if any - but that is not a problem peculiar to miracle stories. The same is true of most of the stories about Jesus.

    If you're talking about the miracles in the book of Acts, I know less about that. But this is part and parcel of the problem of the historicity of Acts, which is hotly debated anyway, never mind the question of the supernatural events it describes.

    I don't know if it was ever infamous, exactly. Crosses were first used in Christian art in the fourth century, at roughly the time when the relics of the "True Cross" were discovered in Palestine, encouraging a new cult of veneration of objects associated with Christ (alongside the cult of veneration of the relics of martyrs, which had been around for at least two centuries). However, early Christian images of crosses do not depict Christ dead on the cross, and are not even necessarily meant to be representations of the cross on which he died. The earliest known image of a crucifix comes from an early manuscript of the Hodegos, an anti-Monophysite treatise by the seventh-century writer Anastasius of Sinai.
     
  13. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I always though Constantine had a big part in the cross as symbol of Christianity - what with the sign in the heavens. Did he?
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't think there's any particular evidence for that. First, if that event had been a big influence in the cross coming to be an important symbol, it would be Eusebius of Caesarea who was responsible for it, not Constantine, since it was Eusebius who wrote the story. Lactantius, who also wrote an account of the same moment, made no mention of any vision at all, let alone one of the cross. In fact Eusebius' story is pretty suspect on a number of counts, not least the fact that Constantine seems to have had a vision of crosses in the sky a couple of years before Milvian Bridge, at a temple of Apollo. So Eusebius has probably just transferred that event to Milvian Bridge, Christianised it, and made it more dramatic to link the moment of conversion to the defeat of Maxentius (interpreted as a tyrannical persecutor of Christians, which he was not).

    Second, I don't know of any evidence that increased use of the symbol of the cross was linked to Eusebius' description of the vision that Constantine supposedly had. As I said, there is more reason to link it to the discovery of the "True Cross", which seems to have happened a couple of decades later (and which was later attributed to Constantine's mother, Helena). But I might be wrong.

    However, the cross was certainly being used as a Christian symbol in some sense even before Eusebius. The habits which the monks in Pachomius' monasteries wore in the 320s or 30s had a purple cross on them. I suppose that these were the first ever Christian "uniforms".
     
  15. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Yes, I somehow managed to forget that... So Paul can be thought as "the person who wrote Paul's letters", but why isn't there doubt of Peter's existence? How much is christianity (Roman and modern) Paul's creation? Or more reasonably put: how much of it can be Paul's creation?

    Well I'd guess it was for Romans, like noose or electric chair would be for us. I've also understood that it was one reason why Romans hated christians so much: because they worshipped something that the Romans held as shameful and filthy. Is that just some common misunderstanding?
     
  16. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Ironically there's more doubt about the historical Jesus in philosophical circles than of Peter or James or Mary and so on. Some say he never really existed even, at least not in anything like the form in the gospels. Me I sit on the fence, I don't think anyone really knows who Jesus was.
     
  17. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    So Mr. Plot, why did the church put up with the planets being named after Roman gods?

    Did it ever try to rename them or anything?
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't think I've ever heard of anyone doubting it, so I'm not entirely sure how to answer that. Peter was one of the major leaders of the church for thirty years after Jesus' death. He is mentioned in Paul's letters, especially Galatians. So I suppose that if you were to doubt Peter's existence, you'd have to doubt the existence of early Christianity itself, and assume that Christianity came into existence in the second century, perhaps, and that all the New Testament was forged to create a sort of fictional backstory for it. But that's getting into loony conspiracy theory territory. Once you start speculating like that, anything goes.

    This is a contentious issue on which, as far as I know, there's no great consensus. There was a time when some scholars thought that Paul basically re-invented Christianity, and that Christianity as we know it was a matter of Paul's version wiping out its rivals to become the only form that survived. I don't think many scholars today would defend such a view, although it's one you hear all the time at the popular (ie, ignorant) level. It's important to remember that Paul was just one missionary among many in his lifetime, and arguably not the most important one. It's only because his letters were preserved that he came to be so enormously influential. It's also important to remember that there are plenty of New Testament texts that have got nothing to do with Paul, primarily the Gospels, including John, not to mention others such as the letter to the Hebrews. These not only testify to non-pauline Christianity in the first century but have been enormously influential themselves. So I would say that there are many key points on which Paul's influence is immense, but the notion that Christianity as we know it was basically his invention is taking things much too far.

    That's true to some degree, but don't contrast "Romans" to "Christians" like that - most Christians were Romans. You mean pagans and Christians. I don't think that the veneration of the cross or worship of a crucified person was a reason for most people to "hate" the Christians, and I doubt that most people did have such a strong view about them anyway. They would certainly have been viewed with contempt for this, but to the degree that they were hated, that was probably more because they refused to show proper veneration to the traditional gods, which was an essential element of pietas.

    I don't know why you mention "philosophical circles" - why would philosophers have any particular expertise in this? In my experience, the only thing more embarrassing than philosophers trying to do theology is theologians trying to do philosophy. In fact, as I've said before, there's plenty of evidence for Jesus' existence.

    I've noticed that when people discuss this subject on teh internetzz they always seem to say something like "Jesus never existed" and then qualify it by adding "at least not like Christians believe". What an odd way of putting it. If you thought that Napoleon was actually a peaceful, retiring sort of soul who just had an amazingly good PR person who somehow convinced everyone he was a military genius, you wouldn't say "Napoleon never existed (at least not how people think)" would you? You'd say "The real Napoleon was nothing like how people think he was." So why do people use this odd form of words to claim that Jesus was different from how he is represented in the Gospels? I suppose they're just trying to be provocative.

    At any rate, there's perfectly good evidence to show, at least roughly, what Jesus was like. There are few incidents in the Gospels that we can point to and say that that definitely happened, but there is enough material for us to have a fair degree of confidence that things of that kind probably happened. The real uncertainty among scholars is over (a) to what degree the various kinds of stories represent the sort of things that Jesus said or did, (b) what Jesus meant by them, and (c) what conclusions one can draw - eg was Jesus basically an eschatological prophet, or basically a moralising preacher, or what? So there's masses of disagreement over how to interpret the evidence. But that doesn't mean that no-one has a clue.

    Not that I've ever heard of!
     
  19. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    It isn't me that's arguing, but if you feel that strongly join a philosophy forum and put them in their place. There are a great deal of non professional scholars who are highly educated if not formally about the subject. I have never bought this nonsense that only theologians have any right to the text any more than a historian has the right to determine the accuracy of Herodotus more than a history buff who's spent his life researching the subject. This smacks of closing ranks to me. You do know as well that theologians and theological scholars frequent philosophy forums, at least the larger ones. Some are like you agnostic or atheist as well believe it or not.

    As for there being good evidence of much, I'm not that sure, I don't doubt he existed but what legitimate evidence there is outside of the Gospels (which lets face it are a bit rich) are few and far between and often come long, long after the fact. If you think the Gospels are gospel - which I seriously doubt - perhaps you should seek better sources for corroboration than The Gospels?

    After all the Gospel of Thomas (not the Acts of Thomas I hasten to add, which are Eastern and ME mythology with a touch of pseudohistory) could have been written much closer to Jesus life and that contains none of the mythology of the latter stuff which goes from perhaps 80AD to 200AD +, and is thus removed by some margin from the actual life of Jesus.
     
  20. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Well, yes I meant prechristian Romans, but pagan is probably as good (Romans because I thought cross had a special symbolic meaning for them)

    Ok. I'm embarassed to admit that I don't know the Bible very well. I once begun to read it, but got bored pretty quickly. Hence another question: What parts of the Bible would you recommendd for people to gain general knowledge of it? (Considering that the reader knows something about it, but isn't interested to read the most boring or irrelevant passages).

    Monotheism of christianity might have slowed that project down.
     
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