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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    I only meant to answer the first bit, sorry should of edited it better. It should answer that part at least.
     
  2. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    From a purely historical viewpoint, I'd say blame Emperor Constantine.

    Christianity existed as a religion or faith from a very early point in time, as the epistles and gospels show. As a rough system it existed from the time of Jesus, as he preached his central message of the Kingdom of Heaven... the basic temporal element of which was look after the disadvantaged and stop being so selfish with what you've got.

    After Jesus' death, the precise doctrinal form of that religion was initially quite open. Over the next centuries, there were numerous ways that various groups attempted to interpret Christ, and who and what he meant ranging from Christ's non-divinity through to his absolute divinity (see this randomly google-searched but helpful blog for more on the range http://www.apostate.com/introduction-early-christian-heresies). If we are ruling out the possibility of his divinity, then lets say those at the extreme divinity end of the scale were people operating in a pre-modern world who's optimism and hope allowed them to believe they were encountering something divine in a man that seemed extraordinarily inspired.

    One side tended to work out stronger, and in the end managed to get all the others labelled heretical.

    On a broader scale, Christianity itself was of course considered athiestic under Roman law and religion for its denial of multiple Gods. This led to its initial persecution. Despite that, it tended to grow among the Roman masses (perhaps because of its ethic of favouring the poor), and had grown to a sizeable number by the time of Constantine.

    By the time of Constantine the dominant belief of Christianity was close to what we'd call the orthodox view today - the godhood of Christ, the one who defeated sin.

    Constantine, who was fighting a few rivals for full control of the Empire, siezed on this concept and used the 'God-son' as his emblem and totom as he marched across Europe. Jesus as the Son of God also fit well with a devotion to the 'Sun as God'... Constantine seemed to mesh the two together.

    He declared Christianity legal, was Baptised on his deathbed, and opened up a way for it to be declared a state religion.

    Once Christianity was the state religion, it became fashionable. Its forms, places of worship, and rituals were probably adapted to resemble Roman pagan celebrations (consider even the holidays... Christmas falling on the Sun's birthday, Easter on pagan spring celebrations).

    Becoming the state religion, conformity to Orthodoxy was established, and persecuted when it was not followed. That set the tone for the next several hundred years. Even now, churches that vary too far from that Orthodoxy especially on the nature of Christ (ie, Mormon and Jehovah's Witnesses) are viewed with some heistancy.

    And who's right in the end? God only knows, I think... but its the theologian's task to work at it, even if the answer is unclear :)
     
  3. demokratickid

    demokratickid Chieftain

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    Paulianity, linky link link.
     
  4. Berzerker

    Berzerker Warlord

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    I read that link and it makes a decent case for the gospels (3 anyway) already in written form before Paul's influence would have made it harder for them to enter the religion, the 50s ce...
     
  5. LightFang

    LightFang "I'm the hero!"

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    Hi! I'm posting in a great thread! I'll try not to mess it up.

    What do you think of moral knowledge? For example, I know a lot of Christians like to believe that without morals as dictated by God then life is essentially amoral. Do you buy that? I'm not sure if this is theology or more of a philosophy sort of thing so I'll just vaguely say "Moral Knowledge" and exit.
     
  6. Pessimus Dux

    Pessimus Dux Seeker

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    PLOTINUS: (from Ask a Theologian I, sorry for bumping up but I've just red it):
    Can a rationalization go in this way: God DO NOT want committing sins by default, but if someone already did, He might turn it into something good. So basically, the system works similar to the IF-THEN orders, IF A) man does not commit a sin, THEN God continues with His plan (whatever it is)
    and IF B) man commit a sin, THEN God is adjusting the plan to move the current situation up to good.

    scy12: (not properly quoted, sorry):
    "I would say that Christian morality is damn near any human morality regarding good and evil. Wait , it condemns Gays , adultery and so on. Well , Christianity is a byproduct of it's time and place. And still while some of these things we may not find evil , Christian morality find them corrupting and immoral and explain them as evil."

    Well, some of this things (especially the "homosexual people" issue) leaves lots of believers into confusion. However, the Jesus himself explains that man should not hate another man (no matter what the other man is doing). Christianity condemns sin, but sin is not the same thing as man who did it. In another words, Christians may disagree with the homosexuals' way of life, but they are strongly encouraged to threat them equally, and with respect. Again, homosexuals themselves, not their way of life.

    As for this "morality" thing, that's completely another question. Different cultures, different beliefs and different people often see different things as good or evil. My humble opinion would be that there is no evil if the intension is good, in general.
     
  7. Pessimus Dux

    Pessimus Dux Seeker

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    First of all, hi.:) I'm also a newbie on this thread. :D
    Well, the answer on your question could be: not necessarily. What I mean is, every man has SOME moral borders, no matter how weird can those sometimes be. A man without ANY morality is in 99% of cases viewed as a deviation in ALL cultures. What I'm trying to say is that there is obvious something REALLY deep in a man (or at least in majority of them) what is telling them what is moral and what is not. The very essence of them, soul? Genetics? Whatever the answer is, Christians will likely to find the God as the root of this morality, because "all things are parts of the God" (except this "immorality" or evil).
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't have a profession right now, since I'm just finishing a PhD in philosophy. I write books about theology and church history - right now I'm writing one about the early church - so it's my profession to that degree. I think I've answered the question about why and how I got into it here.

    I'm not sure what the answer is to that. I think if everyone were a Christian, in the sense of being really committed to Christian values, then the world would probably be a better place, but history shows that being a Christian or at least thinking you're one is quite compatible with being not very nice. Also I don't think Christianity is true so I wouldn't want everyone to believe something that I think false. I do think that on the whole Christianity has had a positive effect on the world. And actually studying anything and knowing more about it can only be a good thing.

    I never played Civ II so I don't have an opinion on it... I don't remember Theology being in Civ I, and it's quite an important tech in Civ III, so that's fine by me!

    I earn very little from theology, so it's definitely not very sustainable.

    The Euthyphro dilemma, for those who don't know, is the question which of the following is true:

    (1) God forbids murder, and commands love, because murder is wrong and love is right.
    (2) Murder is wrong and love is right, because God forbids murder and commands love.

    If (1) is true, then actions are right or wrong independent of God's decrees, so talking about God doesn't explain why they are right or wrong. If (2) is true, then actions are right or wrong simply because God says so; but why does God say that this is right/wrong rather than that? He must have some reason, or the whole thing is just arbitrary. But if he has a reason other than his desire, it takes us back to (1).

    It's called the Euthypthro dilemma because it was first posed in Plato's Euthyphro, in which Socrates takes position (1) and says that you can't appeal to the gods to explain why certain actions are right and others are wrong.

    I don't think the church has ever officially addressed this in much detail. One reason for this is that the Catholic Church adopted a form of virtue ethics, which rather avoids the whole problem. In virtue ethics, as least the kind set out by Aquinas, the "right" action is the one that leads to human flourishing. So it is "right" because it is expedient. Now why does this particular action lead to flourishing and this other one not? Because God has created us in such a way. So on this view, the fact that love is good for us and murder is bad for us is down to God in the end, but it's not like he's arbitrarily decreed that the former is "right" and the latter is "wrong". Rather, he has made us in such a way that it is natural that the former is "right" and the latter is "wrong". Now that may then lead to the question why he has made us in this way rather than that way, but that's not a moral question. If you look through that amazingly cheap edition of Aquinas you got you'll see that not only does he not address the Euthypthro problem, there isn't really a part of the work where you might naturally expect it.

    I'd agree with Margim and say definitely B. A was a common charge by opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus and Porphyry, in its early centuries, but it's really not very likely for the reasons Margim gave. The only point I'd disagree with him is that I don't think it was Jesus' ethical teaching that led to his execution; I think the simpler explanation (he was a potential trouble maker during the Passover, and neither the high priest nor Pilate was prepared to tolerate that) is preferable.

    Thank you - you've made some great contributions already so it's good to have you helping out here.

    I can't think of anything quite like what you're describing. I suppose that some occult groups, such as kabbalists, the OTO, the Golden Dawn, and so on have usually shared a lot of metaphysical views with Christianity. For example, they normally seem to accept that the Bible is a divine revelation. But of course they also have lots of other metaphysical stuff, and usually seem to draw more upon Judaism directly than upon Christianity itself. I think real full-blown Satanism has always been a really tiny phenomenon even when it has existed at all.

    I think that a question like that is really impossible to answer; you might as well ask why France exists today. A religion like Christianity is a very complex phenomenon; there are vast numbers of reasons for every aspect of it.

    I'd say that Margim's explanation about Constantine is probably about as good as you'd get, although personally I would be wary of attributing too much explanatory power to Constantine. Remember that in the fourth century Christianity had already spread well beyond the Roman empire; it was widespread throughout Persia and elsewhere in the Middle East, and was beginning to spread to the European barbarians. I think that without Constantine and co Christianity would certainly have survived and perhaps have flourished, although its history would have been very different.

    I don't think it really says a great deal.

    The names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were identified in the mid-second century as the authors of the Gospels. If they didn't actually write them I'm not sure what reason there might be for supposing that they served as oral sources for whoever did write them. Mark, in particular, was thought to have written his Gospel with Peter as an oral source, so making Mark himself an oral source for someone else would be a bit odd.

    If the author of Matthew used Mark as a source, that only indicates that the author of Matthew thought that Mark was reliable, or at least offered material that Matthew wanted to use. It doesn't mean he thought that the author of Mark or his sources was an eyewitness. Most of the material in Mark's Gospel has clearly been through a long process of oral telling and retelling. Form criticism is an analytical tool that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century for examining the individual stories (known as pericopae) in the Gospels, and it showed that they had been shaped by the oral tradition into a number of genres: miracle stories, healing stories, and so on. What the author of Mark did was to take a number of these stories that Christians had been telling each other and write them down. Perhaps some of them had already been written and he used written sources (his Passion narrative has more cohesion than the rest of the Gospel, so it may have been in written form already) or perhaps he was the first to write any of this material. Either way, most of it seems to have been traditional material when he was writing - he didn't just sit down and write it out of his own head, either from his personal memories or from his imagination.

    The authors of both Matthew and Luke certainly had written sources, because one of them was Mark's Gospel. They both very probably also used a now-lost document known as Q, which seems to have contained mostly sayings of Jesus rather than a narrative of his actions. They also each had access to other material, perhaps written or perhaps oral like the material Mark used.

    John is very difficult to analyse. The Fourth Gospel evidently went through a number of editions and versions before reaching the form in which we know it. Whether all or some of these editions were by the same author is uncertain. It is also uncertain to what degree he used pre-existing written material. For example, it is often thought that much of the Gospel comes from an earlier source known as the Signs Gospel, but it's unclear whether we should think of that as a completely different document which the author of John used as a source, or simply as an earlier version of the Fourth Gospel before the author had added some of his other material. It's not even known whether the author of John had read any of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

    Nothing is "precluded", but one has to weigh up the evidence and judge how likely it is. Certainly eyewitnesses might have written the Gospels, but if they did then you need to explain why they seem to have done so by collecting and editing pre-existing material from the folk tradition rather than by relying upon their own memories. And if they did do that, then it becomes quite irrelevant whether they were eyewitnesses or not. Given that, and the fact that the traditional attributions are so late and don't seem to have any good basis, it seems to me very unlikely that the Gospels were the work of any eyewitnesses.

    I'm not at all convinced by that sort of thing. For one thing it's ridiculous to my mind to call Paul "sinister", "evil" and so on - all he did was travel about trying to convert people to his religion and writing letters to the people he left behind. We might not sympathise with that but it's hardly evil. More fundamentally, I think it's a wild exaggeration to make out that Paul represented a completely different religion from that of the Jerusalem church. There certainly wasn't happy unity between them, and there were indeed differences and conflicts, but that author reads too much into them. His analysis of Paul's theology seems quite flawed in key respects and I don't think there's such a difference from Jesus' teaching as he suggests. It's important to remember that Paul was probably not that important a figure in his lifetime. It was only later, with the collection and publication of his letters, that he became a really important influence upon the church as a whole. So I think the notion that Paul created a new religion and somehow singlehandedly perverted Christianity from the original message of Jesus is too extreme.

    I don't think his argument is really very good. It basically relies upon his argument that Paul's version of Christianity was, by the 60s and 70s, smothering the Jerusalem version of Christianity, with which it was in fundamental disagreement; and that the Gospels represent the Jerusalem version; so they couldn't have been written that late or they would have been suppressed. I don't think that his basic case about Paul and the Jerusalem church really holds water, so I would reject his main premise here. Moreover, I'd say that the fact that most scholars date the Gospels to some decades after Paul's writings indicates that something must be wrong with that author's basic thesis. In other words, he argues like this:

    (1) If Paul and Jerusalem were in fundamental disagreement and "Paulianity" was smothering "real" Christianity in the 60s and 70s, then the Gospels couldn't have been written so late.
    (2) But Paul and Jerusalem were in fundamental disagreement and "Paulianity" was smothering "real" Christianity in the 60s and 70s.
    (3) Therefore the Gospels were not written so late.

    But one could just as well argue like this:

    (1') If Paul and Jerusalem were in fundamental disagreement and "Paulianity" was smothering "real" Christianity in the 60s and 70s, then the Gospels couldn't have been written so late.
    (2') But the Gospels were written so late.
    (3') Therefore, Paul and Jerusalem were not in fundamental disagreement and "Paulianity" was not smothering "real" Christianity in the 60s and 70s.

    The question whether morality is a matter of knowledge at all is disputed by philosophers. But whether it is or not, I would definitely reject the claim that without God life must be amoral - among other reasons, because of the Euthyphro problem mentioned above. If things are right/wrong solely because God commands them, then the distinction is arbitrary; but if God commands these things and not those things for a reason, then we can explain morality without needing to bring God into it, because the reason is something distinct from God.
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    If we're talking about a context in which predestination is true, or at least is believed to be true, then it wouldn't make much sense to think of God adjusting his plan in accordance with people's decisions, because those decisions are part of his plan to start with. If I believe in predestination then I believe that whatever I do - whether sinful or not - is what God has predetermined me to do.

    But if we forget about predestination then the model you suggest would make a lot of sense, and I think it's how a lot of people - at least Protestants - would probably think of things. But still, to say that God adjusts his plan to take account of our sinful actions wouldn't be much of a justification for committing them. On the contrary, even though God might bring good out of our evil, he presumably would not bring as much good as there would have been if we hadn't sinned and if his original plan had been followed. Otherwise, that wouldn't have been his original plan, on the assumption that God always plans for the most amount of good. Any variation upon God's plan will reduce the overall good, so even though God will bring about the best consequences he can from our sin, it would still have been better not to have had it in the first place. That's what I'd think anyway.
     
  10. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Cool, thanks! Is the "human flourishing" as defined by Aquinas the same as Aristotle's eudaimonia, or does Aquinas see human flourishing in a more "god-related" way?

    I like Virtue Ethics a lot. Right now I'm reading one of the foundational books in the recent virtue epistemology movement, its very cool!

    Also: Just how bad (historically inaccurate and philosophically uncharitable/prejudiced) is Russell's discussion of Catholic Philosophy in his History of Western Philosophy?
     
  11. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    I've really enjoyed trying to parse societal ethics into "rational arrangements" and "the expression of instinctive urges". Most of the time we can slot them easily into one or the other, but there are times when it's tough to avoid making a 'just so' argument.
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Both, really. The short answer is that Aquinas agrees with Aristotle about the kind of flourishing that human beings can attain, but he thinks there's a higher kind of happiness available too, which involves God. Remember that Aristotle thinks there are two kinds of happiness, one which is practically-based (good for the common masses) and another which is theoretically-based (good for aristocratic philosophers), as described in the tenth book of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aquinas effectively agrees with this distinction, but makes the theoria kind of happiness more explicitly God-centred. Here's an extract from something I wrote a while back on this sort of thing, which is just an introduction really, but you might find it useful. There's some stuff in here about other Christian views too, especially Augustine and Gregory Palamas, which might be handy to compare and contrast to Aquinas.

    It's a long time since I read it properly. But a skim through now suggests to me that the material on the early church and the early Middle Ages is pretty good as far as it goes (it's really a lightning survey that omits a lot of important stuff, but there's not much one can do about that). I think he's too brief and harsh on Jerome and Augustine, and especially Cyril. The historical parts of the material on the Middle Ages seem pretty good although I'm not well qualified to judge. I think again that his summaries of people's thought tend to be over-brief and rather one-sided. As usual he caricatures: for example we're told "Innocent III was the first great Pope in whom there was no element of sanctity" (p. 435), which is a nice epigram but surely too extreme - after all, it was Innocent III who authorised Francis of Assisi to found the Order of Friars Minor, which a sympathetic commentator might think indicated at least some element of sanctity. He also spends far too little time on Scotus (who ought to get greater billing than Roger Bacon). It's odd to feature Matthew of Aquasparta and completely omit Henry of Ghent or Alan of Lille. In general the flaws of all this are the same as the flaws in the rest of the work, namely too much caricature. It's also important to bear in mind that it's sixty years old and both popular views of the periods in question and serious scholarship have moved on enormously. Thus, Russell spends more time on Bacon than on Scotus because in the 1940s Bacon was popularly regarded as one of the greatest of the scholastics. And also much of what he says is effectively obsolete because of the advance of scholarship since then. In general you wouldn't consult a sixty-year-old journal article on any subject unless it was something so obscure that nothing had been written since, and the same goes here. It's a good introduction in that it gives you an overview and the basic themes, but it's outdated, so you must read it with the awareness that pretty much any statement of what these figures believed may have been drastically revised since.
     
  13. Defiant47

    Defiant47 Peace Sentinel

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    Thanks for the answers :goodjob: . So that part in Da Vinci's code (a book by Dan Brown) where they talk about the emperor deciding on Jesus's divinity has some semblance of history.
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, because (a) the emperor Constantine played no role in the theological discussions at the council of Nicaea; (b) the council may have issued an authoritative judgement on the matter, but given that only two bishops out of all those gathered there disagreed with it, it was clearly already a majority view even before the council; and (c) the question at hand was not the divinity of Jesus, it was the relation between the Logos and the Father - the question of the precise relation between Jesus and the Logos was a fifth-century debate, not a fourth-century one.

    I think the point Margim was making about Constantine was about his endorsing Christianity and bringing it into the centre of Roman culture, rather than about any notion of Constantine actually tinkering about with what Christians believed.
     
  15. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    Yep. Thanks for clarifying for me.
     
  16. Pessimus Dux

    Pessimus Dux Seeker

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    Uh, a nice one. Let me try to elaborate this "no predestination" part, as well as the "adjust" word. Well, I'm not suggesting that God must "adjust" or "adopt" to the situation when sin is committed. What I'm trying to say is this: categories like "time" don't have much sense when speaking from the God's point of view; He knows what will happen at the "end of the time" in advance. My point is that He don't need to adjust the plan from HIS point of view, the beginning of the whole universe and the end is just "a moment" (again, meaningless word for Him). Only from OUR point of view it seems that He's adjusting the plan.

    And another thing... Whatever His plan is, it definitely must be an extremely flexible (again, from OUR point of view) because of free will. And again, from HIS point of view it can be "set in stone", cause He already knows the final result.
     
  17. Pessimus Dux

    Pessimus Dux Seeker

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    In addition to the answer from Plotinus, I suggest you to read the "Breaking the Da Vinci's code" book from James L. Garlow and Peter Jones (the last one is a theologian). it explains a lot of the "facts" from the "Da Vinci's code" book.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Right, but that of course would assume that (a) we have free will, and (b) our free will is such that God does not know what our actions will be before creating us. Obviously these views would be incompatible with any kind of doctrine of predestination, according to which whatever kind of free will we have (if any) is not incompatible with God knowing, and even determining, precisely what we're going to do; on that view our actions are part of God's plan right from the outset, so there is no flexibility about God's plan at all. As I've said before, the difficulty with the traditional view - which is still the orthodox Catholic view - is that it claims both that we have free will and that everything we do is part of God's plan from the outset.
     
  19. Truronian

    Truronian Quite unfamiliar Retired Moderator

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    How popular are your books? I ask because I live with two theology students and wondered if they'd be likely to have copies...
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Ha, I don't have the sales figures to hand! They're popular enough for my publisher to keep asking me to write new ones, at least, and I've seen them in bookshops all over the place. Last autumn one of them finally earned out its advance, which was a momentous occasion because most books never do that. However, since they're mostly aimed at a general readership type audience, I don't know how many students will have them. Although I have heard that at least a couple of them have been prescribed reading for courses of one kind or another, so you never know.
     
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