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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    It still wasn't quite ideal though... I've just been reading some stuff which is relevant to this problem. As I said before, most of the discussion about Christ's human perfections - modern and medieval - revolves around his knowledge rather than other qualities such as his running ability. But it's still the same basic question - is his (human) quality perfect (for a human)? As I think I said, the traditional Catholic answer is "yes" but modern theologians would be more inclined to say "no". I've just been reading what Richard Swinburne has to say on this. He's one of the most prominent philosophers of religion today, and has an interesting take on such things because he's a rationalist analytic philosopher who converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.

    In his book The Christian God, Swinburne argues that Christ could have had two sets of knowledge - divine knowledge and human knowledge. That matches the scholastic distinction between his "infused knowledge" and his "acquired knowledge". But Swinburne's account differs in two main ways. The first is that he offers an argument to the effect that it is possible to have two sets of knowledge in this way:

    The second major difference is that Swinburne thinks that Christ's "human knowledge" needn't be perfect, even perfect in a human way: Christ could have been ignorant about lots of things or even mistaken.

    So Swinburne can say:

    So on this view, Christ's perfection does not entail that he was the best runner in the world. When the Son chooses to become incarnate, he chooses to take on the effective limitations of normal human existence.

    I don't know if that helps address the problem, but it at least shows the range of opinions that exist. I would certainly recommend reading Swinburne or other modern philosophical theologians if you're interested in this sort of thing, because even if you don't agree with their conclusions they will help you to see how people tackle these sorts of problems, and also point you towards others who have done so.

    Personally I'm inclined to think that it is virtually impossible to articulate a doctrine of the incarnation which is orthodox, coherent, and plausible, but that's one of the things that makes it an interesting challenge. In fact I'm just starting a job which will involve trying to do precisely that for the next year, so perhaps in a year's time I'll have a more authoritative answer...
     
  2. PeteAtoms

    PeteAtoms FormulaRandom

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    I hope this isn't too obvious a question, but...

    1) why is wine considered sacred by Christians and other religions? Why is it the 'nectar of the gods' and 'the blood of christ?' Why did Jesus decide that wine was his blood and not beer or water? wouldn't it make sense for it to be water?

    2) hypothetically, if an advanced alien civilization contacted us (earth), and were atheists or some extra-terrestial religion:
    a)how would the religions of earth take it? would they be viewed as 'demons?' what do you think the pope would say? would we see exta-planetary missionaries?
    b)how would your personal beliefs be affected?
    c)if the aliens were missionaries and converted a sizable population on earth, would this be seen as a problem among earth religions?
     
  3. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I think it just helped that wine was the beverage of choice (as water could not be reliably safe) plus, of course, it affected the mind. Just my opinion.
     
  4. PeteAtoms

    PeteAtoms FormulaRandom

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    I guess that makes sense. Maybe because it just happened to be on the dinner table at the last supper... but wine holds this 'divine' status in other religions too, or maybe it's all for the same reason you mentioned.

    PS: That elfstar/debbie thing in your signature is hilarious.

    Other Questions

    1) I'm a bit confused about the idea of 'original sin.' why would the actions of adam and eve effect the souls of others? isn't that like saying the offspring of deathrow inmates are somehow tainted because of their fathers?

    2) why isn't it a problem for Christians that communion is so similar to symbolic human sacrifice/cannibalism? is this somehow related to older pagan beliefs?

    3) where do christians believe souls come from? are they 'made' at the time of conception? have they been around since the beginning and why wouldn't we remember that? and to tie that into the question on original sin, if souls are 'made' at the time of conception, why would god have "built-in" sin in the soul?

    4) what is the most common religious definition of death? when the heart stops? when the brain dies? Are brain dead patients, that are being kept alive artificially, considered alive or dead by the various religions?

    5) it is common for religious people to say god is 'outside' time and space, but where do they say heaven is? is heaven in the same place as god? if so, where is hell? is hell also 'outside' the universe? How would that work, for two polarized "places" to be "outside" of space? If there is no space, how do you separate them? or "distance" yourself from god without distance/length/space?

    6) If David Blaine went back in time to the time of Jesus, do you think people would see his magic tricks as "miracles?" Why or why not? Were people more gullible or ignorant? And hypothetically, if jesus were to reappear today, and perform some miracles, do you think people would recognize them as "miracles" or just another magician's tricks?
     
  5. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    There is also the fact that red wine is about the same color as blood.
     
  6. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    I would suggest that he was "fully human" and, at the same time, "fully divine". He would have been as limited as any other person in what he knew about the physical world, but simultaneously he would experience the state of "being God". That divinity would have given him "charisma" to influence and lead others, but he would still have to learn how to hammer a nail straight.

    To the Sufis, wine is the metaphor for divine love.

     
  7. Fifty

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

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    That is a popular doctrine, enunciated in the Nicene Creed. There are lots of neato philosophical problems in figuring out exactly what this means... I'll be reading an entire book about it soon for a class!
     
  8. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    Yes, what it means can be confusing and troublesome. The "fully human" part is easily grasped by most. "Fully God" is a bit more difficult since we do not have a framework beyond own own experience to know what that means. The integration of the two just adds to the complexity and our inability to explain what it might mean. A thorough logical approach ultimately becomes just words on a page with little "rich depth" what it really means. A mystical approach tends towards: "Wow! God has manifested in a body. Awesome!
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    For LDS doctrine I don't think "fully divine and fully human" presents any difficulty; to be human in the fullest and most complete sense, to reach the highest potential of a human, IS to be divine.

    Of course, this is where everyone accuses us of blasphemy. ;)
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Christians don't consider wine to be sacred - they just happen to use it in the Eucharist. There's nothing intrinsically special about wine per se. As Eran said, it was just what was drunk at the time. In particular, the Last Supper may have been a Passover meal (the Synoptic Gospels portray it as a Passover, although John's Gospel doesn't). The cup of wine played an important part in the Passover meal. Only the head of the table drank from it, which is why it is especially significant that Jesus is portrayed as saying, "Drink this, all of you".

    I believe that the official Catholic position on aliens (naturally they have one!) is that because they are not part of the human race, they do not share in the sin of Adam (however one conceives of that) and consequently do not need Christ to be saved. In other words, there would be no point trying to convert aliens to Christianity. I should think the Pope would welcome our new alien overlords provided they didn't try to oppose Christianity among human beings. Of course, other Christian groups would no doubt take a different view and think that the aliens needed to convert to Christianity in order to be saved.

    It wouldn't affect my religious beliefs, because really I don't have any.

    I'm sure it would! But I can't think of any reason why they would view this alien religion as more or less problematic than other human religions. I suppose it would entirely depend on what the religion in question was like.

    Well, in antiquity people believed that one's entire genetic material came from the father, with the mother contributing only a sort of convenient incubator. On this view, before his birth, each individual really existed (in seed form) in his father. And he existed in the same way in his father, and so on all the way back to the first man, like a set of Russian dolls. So you and I were, in some sense, present when Adam sinned, and in some sense share in his guilt.

    However, quite apart from this being obviously stupid, you need to be aware that there are many different versions of the notion of original sin. Some theologians have regarded it simply as a bad example. Adam and Eve sinned, and this set a precedent, and that is all that "original sin" really is - there's nothing actually inherited. That was Pelagius' view. Others have viewed it as a sort of tendency to do wrong (known as concupiscence), without intrinsic guilt. That is, Adam's sin actually warped human nature, causing us to tend to sin. However, we are guilty only for the sins that we actually perform ourselves. This was the majority view among Christians before the fifth century AD. Finally, others have believed that everyone actually inherits not simply concupiscence but actual guilt, so that everyone is born guilty before they've even done anything. This was Augustine's view.

    It's not that similar to human sacrifice or cannibalism - after all, no-one dies during it or anything! There's no real evidence that the Eucharist was inspired by pagan practices; it seems to be much more closely related to Judaism, above all the Passover and Jesus' actions at the Last Supper.

    Christians believe, and have believed, all kinds of things about the soul, including that it doesn't exist at all. The orthodox Catholic view is that the soul comes into existence at the same time as the body, so it doesn't exist before the time of conception. In fact the pre-existence of souls is technically a heresy. However, the greatest early theologian, Origen, believed not only in the pre-existence of souls but in reincarnation. The idea of the pre-existence of souls came from Platonism - Plato believed that souls pre-existed but forgot their knowledge when they are born. So when we learn things we are really just remembering. As for original sin, the soul is supposed to derive from the souls of your parents, so whatever it inherits, it inherits from them.

    You can't ask a question like that about "religions" in general - that is just too vague and general. Even restricting it to one religion is pretty vague and general because there is such diversity of views within each religion. In Christianity at least, the traditional definition of death was the definition that most ancient philosophers accepted, which was the separation of body and soul. But even people who believe that might differ over when that point comes. From an Aristotelian point of view, the body has a soul of some kind as long as it's alive in any sense. But whether that is a "soul" in the religious sense is another matter.

    I suppose that heaven and hell aren't places at all, but states of being, just as timelessness itself is a state of being. In Christianity, "heaven" just means being with God, temporarily, as a foretaste of the resurrection life. "Hell" just means being without him, temporarily, as a foretaste of eternal damnation. Of course there are big problems with the notion of timelessness; most religious philosophers consider these in connection to the notion of God rather than of heaven and hell, but they are much the same. Be aware, though, that not all religious people think that God is outside time at all.

    I don't think people in those days were more gullible or ignorant than they are today. Just look at the political processes in supposedly enlightened nations today (satire). In antiquity, educated people tended to rubbish "magic" while uneducated people tended to believe in it - again, much like today, although of course there were exceptions. Those who criticised Christianity often argued that Jesus was a magician or sorceror who took people in; but by this they generally meant that he really did magic, but tricked people into thinking that it was miracles. People distinguished between magic (which is done by manipulating the natural world) and miracles (which are done by the grace of God). So I think that an ancient David Blaine would be regarded as a sorceror, not as a miracle worker, unless he could do things that would be regarded as displaying the power of God rather than simply trickery - that is, if he could heal people, raise the dead, etc. I don't know how Jesus would be regarded if he did miracles today - it would depend upon what he actually did.

    I think you mean the definition of Chalcedon rather than the Nicene Creed - the notion that Jesus had two natures was not generally accepted before Chalcedon and in fact remained very controversial for a long time afterwards (right up to today, really).

    Ah, but many other theologians have had exactly the same view. That was basically what Schleiermacher thought and it became a staple of nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberal theology.
     
  11. Fifty

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

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    Cool! Have you read The Logic of God Incarnate by Morris, by the way? If so, did you like it?
     
  12. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    That's no fair . . . :p

    Pete, if you want the LDS answer to your questions, I would be glad to answer, although not here so as not to get sidetracked.
     
  13. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    This was Aristotle's opinion, and therefore very influential, but it wasn't universally accepted even among philosophers. Lucretius, for one, disagreed, and advanced the rather charming notion that the child would most resemble whichever parent was dominant during the sex act!

    Among common people one suspects that popular observations of the type "she's got her mother's nose" trumped any awareness of biological theory, but of course they've left just about no evidence at all of their views.

    The idea that coming generations existed russian doll style in the sperm of their fathers (or the ova of their mothers, according to another school) would have a renaissance as a scientific theory in the early modern period under the name of "preformationism". Despite its obvious problems with explaining the facts of heredity it remained popular until the coming of cell theory.

    (Yeah, I've been reading on the history of biology lately, in case you couldn't tell.)
     
  14. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    if one's entire genetic material came from one's father, and given they weren't aware of genetic mutation, wouldn't we all be identical to Adam anyways?
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, I haven't, but I'm definitely going to need to do so - I'm just starting a job researching precisely this sort of thing so I'll probably be reading everything relevant.

    [EDIT] Having now finished that job, the updated answer is yes, repeatedly. It is a good book and very thorough, but I disagree with quite a few of the arguments in it, especially those for the coherence of a two-natures abstractist account as opposed to a one-nature abstractist account.

    I don't mind, at least, if you answer these things here too, as it's good to have the different viewpoints.

    Thanks for the clarifications there! I suspect that even people who subscribed to the Aristotelian position would have thought that the "incubator" could affect the way the child turned out, but as part of that child's environment rather than as its originator. I'm just guessing though, as that would seem to me an obvious thing to think.

    Well, I meant "genetic material" in a premodern sort of sense, meaning just whatever one gets from one's parents. For those who held this view, the father's sperm turns into the baby in the womb; there is no material contribution from the mother (ie, no egg). Now that wouldn't entail that we should all be identical twins if you didn't know how genetics works. I mean, it would have been perfectly possible for an ancient biologist to believe that you get all your qualities from your father but that there is some kind of imperfection in the transmission, which is why you look kind of like him but not exactly like him; and again that the mother's womb might influence the development of the embryo so that you look kind of like her too. To put it another way, they didn't know about genetic mutation, but neither were they aware that in the absence of genetic mutation or sexual reproduction you get clones. I'm sure that TLC could shed more light on this though.

    The doctrine of original sin certainly doesn't depend upon this sort of biology; if it did no-one would hold it today. I just cited this as a context in which that doctrine might have appeared more reasonable when it originally developed. Of course there are severe problems with it even granted that context. Pelagius raised very powerful objections in his commentary on Romans which even Augustine didn't really have good answers to.
     
  16. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    As a 18th century preformationist saw it, all individuals who'd ever live were created by God in the beginning; clearly He wasn't obliged to create everyone a copy of Adam. I'm not sure exactly what Aristotle thought about the matter, but he had no concept of genes in our sense. Probably he'd say that the "form" (see below) passed on to the offspring was affected by the father's mental and physical state at the moment of conception.
    This is backwards, actually; Aristotle thought that the material came from the mother, but the "form" from the father. This "form" should be understood as something analoguous to the idea of a finished artefact that a craftsman has in his mind when he sets about to make something. If the child is a ceramic pot, the mother's contribution, according to Aristotle, is the clay, whereas the father contributes the potter's skill and intention to make, specifically, a pot rather than a brick or whatever.
     
  17. Stile

    Stile Chieftain

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    Would you say Augustine's view, the last you listed, is the same as Paul's view based on Romans 5:12-20? (I put a link even though I'm sure you have it memorized. Actually that's another question, have you purposely memorized parts of the Bible or are you only able to recall verses through frequency of use?)
     
  18. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    Agreed. In Judaism, wine is used ceremonially as a symbol, but isn't considered sacred itself.

    One small point: everyone is supposed to drink from the 1st cup of wine. Today, we pour it into smaller cups for each person so we're not swapping spit.:) The head of the table just takes the 1st sip.

    During the Passover seder, there is one cup of wine that nobody is supposed to drink from. It's called the Cup of Elijah & sits in the middle of the table, untouched, throughout the meal. Elijah is kinda our Santa Claus as we tell the kids that he invisibly visits every seder & if they watch the cup closely, they may catch him taking a sip.

    I've thought that, if the Last Supper happened, it's more likely that Jesus was talking about the Cup of Elijah as it would have been much more shocking & memorable to offer that up to everyone present. If not, passing around a cup of wine is standard at every Jewish Sabbath & holiday dinner so it could have been anytime. There's nothing unusual at all about passing a cup of wine at a Jewish meal. What is unusual is the bit about it being Jesus' blood. That's about as close to heretical as you can get in Judaism.

    This is something I've never understood. In Judaism, human sacrifice & cannabalism, even symbolic, are BIG no-nos. The wine & bread are used as symbols to thank G-d for what He has given us. It's my understanding that some Christians believe it actually becomes Jesus' blood & flesh during Communion. That's very far from Judaism. To my mind, that's the point in the Gospels where Jesus & the apostles stepped away from Judaism & Christianity was born. The ideas of baptism, a messiah & uplifting the downtrodden are pretty easy to trace to Judaism, but symbolic cannabalism is a whole new ballgame. The divergence is further illustrated with the notion of Jesus' death removing someone's sins, but that's another topic.
     
  19. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    My impression is that animal sacrifices were common in Judaism, but were repeated and repeated, never atoning for everything. Doing so would require the sacrifice of Jesus specifically, once and for all, not human sacrifice in general.
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Then I stand corrected. I've certainly got the impression that the general view was that the sperm is literally the "stuff" that becomes the embryo, just as the acorn is what grows into the tree, but I can't think of any particular references off the top of my head.

    That passage is certainly the source text for the doctrine of original sin. However, I wouldn't say that in it Paul endorses the interpretation of Augustine in particular or indeed of any of the other people I mentioned. Paul is notoriously difficult to interpret at the best of times and this passage is particularly awkward, especially as it doesn't even make grammatical sense (he obviously changed tack in the middle of a sentence as he was dictating it). Paul says only that "sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned" - he doesn't say that everyone is born guilty because of what Adam did, only that Adam's sin is (in some mysterious and unexplained way) the cause of sin, judgement, and condemnation among later generations. By the way, the NIV translation that you link to isn't very reliable (although it seems OK in this case).

    When I was an undergraduate I memorised not biblical verses but the structure of some biblical books, which meant that if I was given a passage I could identify at least the chapter and probably the verse. That was really helpful for comparing books - for example, I did this with Mark's Gospel, and when I later studied Matthew it was interesting because I could see without checking how it compared. But I only did that with the most important texts that I was studying, and I've probably forgotten most of it now. I don't know the Old Testament at all well and although I'm still fairly familiar with the New Testament I'm certainly not very adept with it. I have never been especially interested in the Bible, although I must admit I've always found Paul quite interesting. I did memorise the structure of other texts later on, such as some patristic writings. I'm not particularly good at memorising word-for-word texts and I don't think it's really a very efficient use of one's time or memory. If I were going to try to memorise texts word-for-word, I don't think I'd start with the Bible.

    John Chrysostom memorised the entire Bible by heart in just two years, although he spent them alone in a cave up a mountain, so he probably didn't have many distractions. If he'd had wireless up there he probably wouldn't have got past Adam and Eve.

    Thanks for the info there. I don't know to what extent the celebration of the Passover in Jesus' day resembled what is done today; it's always worth remembering that Judaism was a much more varied religion at that time than it is now. But it's interesting that you should regard the Eucharist, and the identification of the bread and wine with Christ's body and blood, as the key thing that sets Christianity apart from Judaism. I don't know much about Jewish objections to Christianity in its early centuries but I don't believe I've encountered that in particular. As far as I can tell, the main Jewish objections revolved around the claim that Jesus was the Messiah and the apparent lapse away from monotheism, as well as issues about the Law. For example, if you look just down the list of contents of Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho you can see the sort of topics that Christians addressed when they tried to defend Christianity against Jewish objections.

    However, the subject of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries is incredibly contentious. Some scholars think the two religions had nothing to do with each other from a very early date (ie, within a few years of Jesus' death), while others think that Christianity remained almost exclusively Jewish (in some sense) until as late as the end of the fourth century. So you can see what a wide range of opinions there are.
     
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