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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    Thanks Plotinus, as always a very interesting post.

    I hesitate to continue an argument with you, but I am not convinced by your contention on this point.

    There are two different logical/philosophical challenges here:
    - first, if there are a large variety of inconsistent answers offered to a question, does that allow us to conclude that the answer is unknowable?

    If I read you right above, you don't think any such conclusion can be drawn. I agree completely with this point of view - 50 inconsistent and mutually exclusive answers do not prove that any specific answer is wrong, or that no answer exists.

    However this was not the point I was making, which is this:
    - second, if there are a large number of inconsistent answers to a question, can we conclude anything about the ability of the individuals within the group to answer the question, or the nature of the question being asked?

    To this you, implicitly at least appear to be saying 'No, no conclusion can be drawn'.

    I disagree; at a minimum we can conclude that 49 out of 50 answers have beeen made incorrectly, implying that the responders either failed to understand the question or reached an inaccurate conclusion. And we can conclude this - crucially - without knowing the answer, or even if there is one.

    From this we can go on to consider the motivation of those offering an answer - if so many people offer incorrect answers, what is their motivation for doing so? Why is it important for this group to offer an answer, even if it is likely to be wrong, rather than admitting ignorance? Do they genuinely believe they have an answer, or is there a reward to pretending to a certainty that they do not actually have?

    While we may not be able to answer these questions without significant research, and may never answer them satisfactorily or completely, there is no doubt that there is some motivation that impels people to answer the question when they are clearly wrong. We know this to be true because at least 49 out of 50 respondents are actually incorrect in their answer, even if we do not know which the right answer is, or even if there is an answer.

    Failing to recognise these questions as valid restricts us from a key line of research and an equally important moral question:

    1) Why to people feel impelled to religious belief? This is a vital area of research which may address problems asssociated with all forms of tribalism - political, ethnic and religious - that afflict the world.

    2) Is it moral to allow the indoctrinationation of children in their parents beliefs? This is almost the last taboo - we find it hard to prevent parents doing things to their children on the grounds of religion which we would stop in an instant were there any other motivating force: genital mutilation, withholding medical treatment, indoctrination to violence or hate are all examples of such behaviour.

    So my conclusion is that we must confront the reality that each individual set of religious beliefs is not an equally valid construct with a 50/50 chance of being right, but a small sub-set of the possible solution set to a question to which we have no demonstrable answer.

    Only by doing so can we legitimise asking these other, very important questions.

    All the best
    BFR
     
  2. Mowque

    Mowque Hypermodernist

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    Did Jesus have any brothers/sisters?
     
  3. pau17

    pau17 Chieftain

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    Oprah: "Does God care about your heart or whether you call his son Jesus?"

    Audience: "Jesus is only coming back once the gospel is spread to the four corners of the Earth." *angry mob ensues*

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwGLNbiw1gk

    Oprah's in-house theologian Dr. Plotinus is then consulted. What do you say?

    (Joking aside, I'm interested in how the above distinction plays out in theology, if you would be so kind as to elaborate a bit more.)
     
  4. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    He sure did.
     
  5. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Chieftain

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    The Catholic Church claims that "brother" means "male relative." Not that I believe that, but I'm just saying there's two sides...
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That isn't true. Certainly many Christians today say that, but that is not what "Christianity professes" - as I've said innumerable times, there is no single belief which is common to all Christians. In fact the claim that religious faith is illogical is a heresy according to the Catholic Church, which teaches that certain religious truths, such as God's existence, can be proven by reason alone, and that others, such as God's Trinitarian nature, can be known only by revelation but that this revelation will never contradict the findings of reason or logic. The notion that faith is fundamentally irrational is known as fideism and, historically speaking, it's a minority view among Christians.

    I don't know how people can say that religion is always illogical if they've ever read, say, Thomas Aquinas or Duns Scotus. I suppose most people base their claims about what religion is like just on the religious people that they've come into contact with, and don't think about other forms that it has taken.

    I don't think it was, really; as I said before, I think that in constructing a theology of the relation between Christianity and Judaism, and between Jesus and his Jewish predecessors, Christians didn't simply claim that Jesus fulfilled certain prophecies - they constructed a discrete set of prophecies for him to have fulfilled, as it were.

    That's not certain. Some scholars have argued that Christianity was predominantly, even almost exclusively, Jewish until after the time of Constantine. Paul complained that the mission to the Jews had failed, but that means only that most Jews weren't Christians, not that most Christians weren't Jews.

    Yes, I find this very difficult too. I am fortunate in that when I do work, I work quickly. This was a skill I was forced to develop when I started writing, since I was working full-time in non-academic jobs, and could only go to the library or work on my days off. The result of this was that I didn't really have any days off, for several years, but it did force me to learn to work quickly in the time that I had. Looking back at that period I don't know how I managed to do so much, including making my first Civ III scenario. I did, however, learn great time-management skills, and how to plan a large project, and break it up into workable chunks. This served me well when I came to do my PhD, since I wrote most of my thesis in a matter of months, while also juggling my various writing commitments and other things at the same time.

    I suppose there are some psychological tricks you can play on yourself. One that I developed when I was an undergraduate was to reason that the work would have to be done sooner or later, so I might as well do it now and then enjoy having time off afterwards. However, when afterwards came around, I did the same thing again, and just did the next bit of work, and so on. This resulted in me being over-prepared for everything, doing stupidly well in my degree, and then completely burning out for some years.

    Another rule that I have is that when I have half a mind to work and half a mind not to, I must work. However, if I really cannot face working, I shouldn't. The worst thing is to try to work and fail, thereby wasting lots of time which is neither productive nor fun. It ought to be at least one of those.

    But some things do have to go, which is why I really don't do any modding these days. Just moderating CFC is time-consuming enough (thankfully much less so now, after the introduction of the new moderators). I don't want to commit to lengthy projects of that kind that aren't going to help my job prospects, unfortunately - working on papers is a better use of my time. Plus of course Mario Kart and Mass Effect require lots of attention!

    I don't really have much to disagree with there, although certainly the questions you pose are much discussed. However, I wasn't saying that one couldn't draw any conclusion from a variety of answers to a certain question, only that one couldn't draw any certain conclusion, which you seemed to be suggesting before.

    Apart from James the Lesser, Jesus' siblings are mentioned in Matthew 13:25.

    I say they're all as stupid and unpleasant as each other. Oprah's rhetorical question "How could there be only one way to heaven?" is nonsensical. Of course there could be only one way - why not? She also contradicts herself. First she says there are many ways to get to heaven, then she seems to suggest that there's only one way, namely having a pure heart and doing good. So she's not as pluralist as she seems. In fact this is a common flaw with pluralism; true pluralism says that it doesn't matter what path you follow, so being a Nazi is just as good a way to salvation as being a Hindu. Most people balk at that, so they say that in fact there are criteria you have to follow - but in saying that, of course, they're no longer pluralists.

    The audience member is even dafter to counter Oprah's example of the virtuous person who hasn't heard of Jesus with her claim that Jesus won't return until the gospel has been preached to every part of the world. That doesn't address Oprah's point, because even if there comes a time when Jesus has been preached to every part of the world, there will still have been people before that time who never heard of Jesus. Saying Jesus won't return until he's been preached to every Amazonian tribe isn't relevant to the problem of the Amazonian tribesman right now who hasn't heard of Jesus.

    This is why I despair every time I see religion discussed in the popular media.

    Anyway, the question of pluralism and exclusivism and so on has been dealt with many times in this thread and its predecessor. See here and here, from just a few days ago.

    Yes, but not all "sides" are equally reasonable. The Catholic view is that words such as delphoi, applied to Jesus' relatives, means either his step-brothers (Joseph's sons from a previous marriage) or "cousins" or something like that. But the only reason for supposing this is the doctrinal one that Mary was perpetually a virgin and never had any other children. So there is no historical or linguistic basis for such an interpretation.
     
  7. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I suspect that when a lot of people say "religion is inherently illogical" they mean "religion makes no sense to me".
     
  8. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    A quick question for the master.

    I got into an argument with a biblical inerrantist one time. I pointed out how Matthew seems to contradict the other Gospels by saying that boulder in front of the tomb was shook loose by an earthquake instead of being rolled away when the women got their, and she rebutted that the earthquake note was a kind of footnote, and the events took place beforehand.

    Does the text suggest that kind of intermission?
     
  9. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Religion is illogical in the sense that it supposes something of which no evidence exists to the ordinary senses. Now, as Plotinus mentions the Catholic Church and others do believe belief in God is by reason and by revelation, but it's hard to put the basis of Christianity on empirical data.

    Of course, for those to whom Christ has revealed himself, the belief is entirely logical. But to outsiders, it's just as easily a hallucination. Much like people being "filled with the spirit," to the person, is entirely rational, but to outsiders, completely illogical.

    And as Hebrews 11:1 suggests, Faith is belief in the unseen...now that may or may not be logical, but it's certainly not based on any actual, verifiable evidence.

    Just because sects of Christianity claim that they are basing their beliefs off of reason does not make it so.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Matthew states that an angel rolled away the stone. That does seem to contradict the other gospels, which all state that the stone was already rolled away when the women got there. I take it that your friend meant that Matthew intends us to understand that when he describes the angel rolling away the stone, that's a description of something that had already happened, thereby making Matthew agree with the other gospels, or at least not contradict them. That doesn't seem to be what the text suggests - the "And suddenly" that begins 28:2 seems to me to indicate clearly that this event occurs after the preceding event, namely the arrival of the women at the tomb.

    It's utterly impossible to reconcile the resurrection stories of the different gospels anyway. They all disagree over who went to the tomb and what they saw there.

    There's plenty of evidence for God. Some phenomenon E is evidence for a given hypothesis H iff E is more probable given H's truth than it would be given H's falsity. Or, to put it more formally, E is evidence for H iff the probability of (E|H) is higher than (E|¬H). But if H is "There exists a God", there are many phenomena E which have this property, such as religious experiences. If there were a God, the probability of people reporting experiences of him would be higher than the probability of people reporting such experiences if there were no God. People do report such experiences; therefore these reports are evidence for God's existence. Of course it doesn't follow from that that God exists! There can be plenty of evidence for a false hypothesis.

    More fundamentally, however, your comment implies, or assumes, that a belief can be rational only if it is evidence-based. That is a very contentious view which is something of a hot topic in philosophy right now, and many prominent philosophers of religion argue that it is false.

    I would agree with what you say here, but doesn't that just support the claim that religious belief can be rational? It may undermine the claim that it is rational for any given individual to believe in Christianity (which I think is the Catholic belief, and also the argument of Romans 1), but it supports the claim that it is rational for some certain individuals to believe in it. I think that it's true that if you have a religious experience which appears to you to be veridical, it is rational to believe that it is is veridical, even though it might not be rational for someone else to believe it. In which case there are circumstances under which one can believe rationally.

    Obviously there can be evidence for the unseen... there's evidence that quarks exist even though no-one can see them. And as I've indicated, it seems pretty clear that there's evidence for God. However, I don't really see why Hebrews 11:1 should be the definition of faith. I think that in a religious context "faith" means something quite different, namely a sort of existential attitude or relation to something. It's not phenomenologically the same thing as belief that (say) Paris is in France, except with less evidence. Christians do themselves a disservice if they claim that it is, because that's just the first step to fideism and the embracing of irrationality.
     
  11. ExtraCrispy

    ExtraCrispy Chieftain

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    1) What did Nietzsche mean by "God is dead"?
    2) What forms of Christianity have set up a certain ruler as the messiah or God? I know there's Rastafarian with the Emperor of Ethiopia as Jesus.
    3) If the Bible claims that Jesus is the only way to salvation, is it fair that people are born in different circumstances? How fair is it that a person born as a Muslim is doomed but the Christian is saved. You don't really choose how you are born.
    4) What is a Jesuit? I see them all kinds of games involving the New World, but I have no clue who they are. Are they Protestant or Catholic?
    5) How did the US end up becoming more religious than Europe? Wasn't Christianity founded in Europe? Wasn't the Pope and Church based in Italy?
    6) Does being a theologian make you a hit with the ladies?
    7) Why are there parallels between various messiahs and deities? For example Jesus, Horus and Dinyounsus (sp?) all had 12 disciples?
    8) Nietzsche claims that Christianity was set up to prevent people from thinking. How much truth is there to this?
    9) Many pirates were religious. Yet their beliefs didn't stop them from murdering and plundering. Why would people ignore "Thou shalt not kill." and still call themselves Christians?
    10) When Christianity spread to the New World, missionaries attempted to convert the natives. The natives combined their old beliefs with Christianity. What is the result of this? What wild forms of Christianity has this lead to?
    11) Do I have too much free time?
     
  12. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Chieftain

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    1. We don't need Him.
    2. Yes. The Taiping Rebellion set up Hung as the brother of Jesus and thus a new Messiah.
    3. ?
    4. They were formed during the Counter-Reformation (they are Catholic)
    5. Well, Europe is much older.
    6. ?
    7. No they don't... Horus and Dionysus were just gods. They had no disciples. They were just one in thousands of gods in polytheistic cults...
    8. None.
    9. They were just stupid I guess, or not really as devout as they put on.
    10. In Central America many Mayans have combined their old polytheistic beliefs with Catholicism, IIRC. It was portrayed in National Geographic about 1 year ago.
    11. Yes.
     
  13. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Since Huayna Capac's explanation was decidedly incomplete, I'll try to make it more clear: Nietzsche was attempting to say that the concept of religion as a moral code (shorthanded "God" by the character "the Madman", no relation to the Marylander on these forums) has become obsolete, because so many people no longer have faith in God. Nietzsche claimed that by giving up a belief in God, one gave up any implicit right to the moral code constructed by that deity (or followers thereof). This was theoretically the point at which an Übermensch would resolve the ensuing nihilistic lack of order and morality by creating a new morality.
     
  14. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    at which point the nazis had no problem to step in and take over this idea.
     
  15. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Yeah, I blame Nietzsche's sister and her proto-Nazi husband for screwing around with the manuscript for Wille zur Macht and some other works. But that is increasingly not a topic for this thread, nor an excuse to hijack Plotinus' fief. ;)
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    What they said.

    Huayna Capac357's example of the Taiping Rebellion is a good one. I can't think of any other examples offhand. But I'm not sure that it's really accurate to call these "forms of Christianity". Surely Rastafarianism is a distinct religion, isn't it?

    As I stated just a few posts ago, we've already done that one to death more times than I want to contemplate.

    The Jesuits are properly called the Society of Jesus. They were founded by Ignatius Loyola in the sixteenth century to be a society of elite Catholic priests, who were all extremely well educated and loyal to the papacy. The Jesuits set up a lot of schools throughout Europe which provided probably the best education available anywhere, and they travelled around the world as missionaries and also collecting scientific data, especially geographical and astronomical. Some of the most important early modern scientists were Jesuits. However, they had a reputation for being too clever and slippery by half, like most clever people, I suppose. The order was suppressed in the eighteenth century but re-founded in the nineteenth century, and some of the most important Catholic theologians of recent times, such as Karl Rahner, have been Jesuits.

    Of course Christianity wasn't founded in Europe. It was founded in the Middle East, and indeed until the late Middle Ages it was more successful in central and southern Asia than it was in Europe (the Church of the East at one time dwarfed the Catholic and Orthodox churches put together).

    I think it's too simplistic to assert that the US is more religious than Europe. Some parts of the US, such as the midwest, seem to be more religious than others, such as New York; and some parts of Europe, such as Italy, seem to be more religious than others, such as Scandinavia. Moreover, "religiousness" is difficult to measure at the best of times. However, even if we grant that the US is more religious, on average, than Europe, the causes for this are poorly understood. What happened, effectively, is that in the 1960s levels of religious commitment dropped sharply throughout the western world. In much of Europe and Canada, they remained low afterwards, and even dropped further. In the US, however, they stopped dropping and even rose again, at least in many places. The reasons for this are not well understood, and even the outline I've just given is controversial - some people think that the decline in religiousness in Europe began long before the 1960s, and others deny that any such significant decline has even occurred at all.

    One reason may be that the US has proportionately more small towns and rural areas than Europe, which tend to be conservative with a small C, and the fact that the more urbanised areas in America are less religious might confirm this. Another reason is the Puritan heritage in the US, which remains an ideal even though the reality is less significant. This is a country that has an annual festival celebrating a group of people who came to America because early seventeenth-century Britain was not religiously extreme enough for them. That's got to have a weird effect on a national psyche.

    You'll have to ask the ladies that.

    No they didn't, and the supposed parallels are tenuous at best and pale in comparison to the differences. We've discussed this at some length just recently.

    None whatsoever.

    That's really a question for a psychologist. The short answer is that everyone who follows a religion picks and chooses bits of it that they like and ignores or rationalises away the bits that they don't like.

    I don't think that many forms of Christianity were produced by combining it with native American beliefs - at least, not many that survived or are known about. The phenomenon you describe is very common and has appeared in other cultural contexts, though. Santeria and Voodoo are perhaps the most well known in America, coming about when Christianity was mixed with West African religious beliefs among slaves. There are many other examples in Africa and especially Asia, and also the Pacific and Australia - in fact, pretty much everywhere where Christianity came to a new culture.

    I think anyone posting here does.
     
  17. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Technically, Thanksgiving is a Civil War Holiday thanking the Lord for helping t hold our nation together. Sure, the Separatists had a feast of thanksgiving after their first harvest, but there is no real connection between this and the modern holiday. Feasts of thanksgiving have long been common in many societies across the world. "The first Thanksgiving" was by no means the first, not even the first celebrated by Englishmen in North America. I've never really understood why the so-called-Pilgrims receive so much attention. I guess it might be because there were a lot of revisionist historians at the end of the 19th century who wanted to create a sense of Americana that largely ignored the South which they still considered treasonous and un-American.
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    1. The full quote is "God is dead, and we killed him" (Gott ist tot, und wir haben ihm getötet.)

    3. The Bible does not claim it, the church does. (According to the Gospels, Jesus was the Messiah, but the disciples were told to keep it a secret - as it would be blasphemy to Judaic orthodoxy. The Aramaic Maschiah translates, somewhat erroneously, to Greek Christos - hence Christ and Christians. Jesus himself however would have been oblivious to the term, as he didn't know Greek, only the language of the Torah - which is all he ever references to, being a devout, though sectarian, Jew.) Also, every world religion virtually claims the exclusive road to salvation.

    4. see below

    5. The original Pilgrim Fathers were very devout, though dissident, Christians; the colonies attracted many such dissenters keen to practice their brand of Christianity undisturbed. (Nowadays ofcourse, the hispanic population is of virtual equal importance, as is the black population which, to some extent, is still very spiritual.)

    7. The number 12 is ofcourse important, numerologically speaking, but it is very doubtful there were 12 disciples (that's just one of the many Christian myths introduced), which would make the number around the Last Supper table thirteen. (Like many numbers in the Bible - as well in Revelations as in the Torah section, which makes up the bulk of the Bible - it is a symbolic - i.e. metaphoric - number, rather than a mathematical one.)

    8. Plenty. Christendom isn't interesting in people thinking, rather in people believing doctrinal truth - which is mutually exclusive in a philosophical sense, as thought requires fundamental doubt and scientific method. Christianity has shown conclusively that it has little use for reason over religion, but typically prefers the latter over the former.

    ad 4: The Society of Jesus is translated from Societas Jesu (church Latin for Societas Iesu, confer classical Latin INRI: Iesus Nazarenae Rexu Iudaeorum, hence the addition S.J. behind a member's name proper) and was established as a religious order following a proposal by Igantio de Loyola to the Holy See. The Jesuits "bound themselves by a vow of poverty and chastity, to "enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct".
    They called themselves the Company of Jesus, and also "Amigos En El Senior" or "Friends in the Lord," because they felt they were placed together by Christ. The name had echoes of the military (as in an infantry "company"), as well as of discipleship (the "companions" of Jesus). The word "company" comes ultimately from Latin, cum + pane = "with bread," or a group that shares meals.
    These initial steps led to the founding of what would be called the Society of Jesus later in 1540. The term societas in Latin is derived from socius, a partner or comrade.
    In 1537, they traveled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests.
    They were ordained at Venice by the bishop of Arbe (June 24). They devoted themselves to preaching and charitable work in Italy, as the renewed Italian War of 1535-1538 between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Venice, the pope and the Ottoman Empire rendered any journey to Jerusalem impossible.



    They presented the project to the Pope. After months of dispute, a congregation of cardinals reported favorably upon the Constitution presented, and Paul III confirmed the order through the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae ("To the Government of the Church Militant"), on September 27, 1540, but limited the number of its members to sixty. This is the founding document of the Jesuits as an official Catholic religious order.
    This limitation was removed through the bull Injunctum nobis (March 14, 1543). Ignatius was chosen as the first superior-general. He sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries.[4]
    Ignatius lays out his original vision for the company in "The Formula of the Institute", which is, in the words of Jesuit historian John O'Malley, "the fundamental charter of the order, of which all subsequent documents were elaborations and to which they had to conform." (O'Malley, John, The First Jesuits. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1993. p5) In the Formula's opening statement, one detects the echo of Ignatius' military background within his spirituality: "Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep the following in mind."


    When developed, Jesuits concentrated on three activities. First, they founded schools throughout Europe. Jesuit teachers were rigorously trained in both classical studies and theology. The Jesuits' second mission was to convert non-Christians to Catholicism, so they developed and sent out missionaries. Their third goal was to stop Protestantism from spreading. The zeal of the Jesuits overcame the drift toward Protestantism in Poland-Lithuania and southern Germany.
    Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1554, which created a tightly centralized organization and stressed absolute abnegation and obedience to Pope and superiors (perinde ac cadaver, "[well-disciplined] like a corpse" as Ignatius put it).
    His main principle became the unofficial Jesuit motto: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam ("For the greater glory of God"). This phrase is designed to reflect the idea that any work that is not evil can be meritorious for the spiritual life if it is performed with this intention, even things considered normally indifferent.

    The vision that Ignatius places at the beginning of the Exercises keeps sight of both the Creator and the creature, the One and the other swept along in the same movement of love. In it, God offers himself to humankind in an absolute way through the Son, and humankind responds in an absolute way by a total self-donation. There is no longer sacred or profane, natural or supernatural, mortification or prayer — because it is one and the same Spirit who brings it about that the Christian will "love God in all things — and all things in God.""


    (Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Jesus.)
     
  19. renohol

    renohol Chieftain

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    In the Bible when those horny little daughters got their father drunk and raped him after their mother was turned to stone for looking back at the city that God destroyed because he loves us, why didn't he go to jail for insestual rape?
     
  20. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    A serious question, Plotinus: what's this about Pietism? I was reading about Frederician Prussia and came across a mention of Pietist Lutheran-run schools, and was wondering about their doctrine, what happened to them, key figures, and so forth.
     
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