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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. Berzerker

    Berzerker Deity

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    the text doesn't say God created the water (or the universe), the text says God revealed the "Earth" by gathering together the waters under the Heaven. And the text says Heaven is "the firmament" placed amidst the waters. Heaven and Earth dont appear in the story before the waters and submerged land. And God didn't create the land from nothing, it was revealed or exposed.

    Where in Genesis does it say God created the waters. Does that mean God created evil?
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The text is complicated and hard to interpret - as usual. This is partly because the very first verse of Genesis is syntactically strange and the meaning is not clear - it is not clear if the "creation" referred to in that verse is a summary of the whole creation described in the rest of the chapter, or to a primordial creation of the chaos referred to in the second verse. If this second interpretation is taken, then the text does indeed teach that God created the universe ex nihilo, not that he fashioned it out of pre-existing anything.

    However, this is apparently rather a strained interpretation and it is more probable that the former is meant, in which case you are right, Genesis does not state that God created the universe out of nothing. It certainly teaches that he created the universe, though. Your initial question assumes that "creation" requires having no pre-existing materials, but that isn't necessarily the case.

    The "waters" which you mention aren't the sea. It's probably not literally meant to be water; the word used refers to primal chaos and it is related to the Babylonian Tiamat, which is a personification of that chaos, although it is not personified in the Genesis account.

    On the subject of creation ex nihilo, that is, the idea that God created the universe out of nothing it is important to recognise that this is distinct from the mere doctrine that God created the universe. It is not a biblical concept. From the point of view of classical thought, creation was thought to involve three elements - which are clearly stated by Plato in the Timaeus. These are:

    (1) Matter, which is shaped.
    (2) Form, which provides the pattern after which matter is shaped.
    (3) The creator, who does the shaping.

    (This can be seen as an ancestor of the Aristotelian four kinds of causes: for Platonists, there were three kinds of causes, and later Platonists systematised them in apparently direct competition with the Aristotelian theory.)

    So on the Platonic view, creation ex nihilo is impossible, because you must have matter to be shaped.

    Christians, at least initially, were unsure about all this. Justin Martyr comments in passing:

    So Justin seems to accept the pre-existence of unformed matter, out of which God created the universe; he doesn't mention the Forms at all, although it is possible that he assimilated the Forms to the Logos (i.e. Christ). That, in fact, was a common strategy among pagan Platonists already, and Christians adopted it without much difficult. So on this view, two of the three causes of the world which Plato identified - his (2) and (3) - are God. God does the shaping, and he shapes after the Forms, which are his own ideas. However, that still leaves matter as an independent principle, existing apparently independently of God, and this became unacceptable to Christians, despite Justin's apparent willingness to go along with it. The question thus became: what did God create the world out of? Is the notion of creating it out of nothing at all even coherent? If not, what did he create it out of?

    There was a controversy about this at the end of the second century, initiated by one Hermogenes - about whom we know nothing other than what can be gleaned from Tertullian's book attacking him. It seems that Hermogenes considered three possibilities concerning creation:

    (1) God made the world out of himself.
    (2) God made the world out of nothing at all.
    (3) God made the world out of something else.

    These are supposed to exhaust all the possibilities. Hermogenes argued that (1) could not be true, because God cannot be divided up. (2) cannot be true, because that is simply impossible. So (3) must be the case. There must exist pre-existent matter, which God did not create, and which is eternal.

    Tertullian argued that if this were so, then matter would be uncreated and eternal, but these are attributes that belong to God alone. So on Hermogenes' view, matter is a sort of rival to God. Origen later argued that on Hermogenes' view, if something as impressive as matter could exist without needing to be created, you might just as well say that the universe itself could exist without needing to be created; Hermogenes' view thus undermines theism itself.

    Theologians such as Tertullian therefore held that Hermogenes' option (2) was in fact the right one, and that Hermogenes was wrong to think it incoherent. Basilides, the gnostic theologian, is sometimes credited with being the first to state that God created the world from nothing, but in fact I don't think it can clearly be found in the fragments of his work. It is first clearly stated by Tatian the Syrian:

    For Tatian, God first generated the Logos (like Justin and Tertullian, he thinks that there was a moment in time when this happened). Next, the Logos created matter out of nothing. Finally, God formed matter into the universe, as described in Genesis.

    So on this view, there was one generative act (the generation of the Logos) and two creative acts: the creation of matter, and then the forming of the universe. Tatian uses different verbs to describe these two creative acts, implying that they are different in kind.

    Irenaeus, a couple of decades after Tatian, stresses that Christian faith rules out the notion of pre-existent matter:

    And he also says:

    And that became the orthodox view.

    So the answer to your question is: Christians have not generally thought that Genesis explicitly teaches that God created the universe out of nothing. However, they have generally thought that God did create the universe out of nothing, for the reason that if that weren't the case, God would not be the sole source of all that exists, and he would not be the sole uncreated, eternal entity in existence - otherwise, monotheism would be threatened. If Genesis is interpreted, anachronistically, as teaching creation ex nihilo, then it is in the light of these considerations.

    It doesn't say that. However, if you mean that the idea that God created everything that exists means that God created evil, then that would follow only if evil is a thing, or stuff or substance, that needed to be created. The Christian view is that evil is not a stuff but an abstract noun referring to the sinful acts of free creatures. So it is not something that was created at all. Of course, God did create creatures with the ability to choose evil, but that is not the same thing as "creating evil", a notion that doesn't really mean anything.
     
  3. Squonk

    Squonk Deity

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    OK. Sorry if this has been done before, but what I never understood is christian stance on Old Testament. On one hand, Jesus says that not a word of the Law should be changed. On another, he explicitely changes the law. Old Testament is superseded by New Testament, yet, christian denominations still use Old Testament. Also, they use some verses from OT, while disregarding the others. Is there some general rule and theological explenation for it (in the major denominations, such as RCC, and the orthodox, oriental orthodox, and luterans and the reformed churches)? How did the attitude towards OT change in time?
     
  4. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Hey, Plotinus, got a question. So the Council of Chalcedon more or less gave us five prelates who, between themselves, administered the churches of the Roman world. But nobody called them Patriarchs until like the 520s or 530s, when Justinian did, as far as I know. So between 451 and the sixth century, what were the actual titles of the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople? Could "Pope" be used for Alexandria, since the Miaphysites kind of split at the Council of Ephesus? What about "Exarch" or "Metropolitan"? Or did they all just go by "Bishop"?

    Thanks! :)
     
  5. spryllino

    spryllino Deity

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    However, you are not making a choice not to fly, because there is no alternative. You could not fly. Equally, if you do not mow the lawn because you do not have the power to mow the lawn because that's not what you're going to do, there is similarly no alternative, and so you never made a choice.

    If we accept that that chain of logic works in the first place "if you do not mow the lawn because you do not have the power to mow the lawn because that's not what you're going to do", which I don't think it does, you also have to accept that, given that our disability to carry out the former does not entail an impediment to our free will, the latter cannot either.

    Well, my ability to do any given thing is not reliant on doing it at any particular moment. I have free will because I can mow the lawn at any time I want, even if I do not have the power to know precisely when I mow the lawn. In essence, given that I am capable of mowing the lawn, I always have the power to mow the lawn and to not mow the lawn (assuming my garden doesn't turn into a cliff or something like that), and so I must have the power both to mow the lawn and to not mow the lawn, at any given moment. Having both these powers, I must have free will in the matter.
     
  6. Ziggy Stardust

    Ziggy Stardust New Englander

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    Hello, sorry to bother you with something which I think has probably come up already.

    Genesis 2.2 and 2.3 talk about a God "resting". While there are also claims the correct translation is "completed work".

    Is this a translation issue, or is it an interpretation issue?
     
  7. civ2

    civ2 Emperor

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    Ziggy and Berzerker
    Double-THREAD-asking? :lol: :lol: :lol:
    NIIICE! :goodjob:
    Well, interestingly enough THIS thread gives some cool answers too. :D
    I'd go for interpretation mostly in these two cases. :crazyeye:
    But there are clear mistranslation cases too.
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, there's nowhere in the New Testament where Jesus changes the Law. You might be thinking of the "antitheses" of Matthew 5:21-48, but these do not change the Law - they extend its application.

    The only time in the Gospels where Jesus goes against the Law is Mark 2:23-28, where his disciples (not Jesus himself) pick and eat grain on the Sabbath, which was against the Mosaic Law.

    The usual Christian view is that although the covenant that God makes with the world through Jesus supersedes the one he made with the Jews through Abraham, it was still the same God doing it, and they formed parts of the same plan and history of salvation. That is, the Old Testament records God's actions before the coming of Christ, and shows how he prepared the way for Christ. The Old and New Testaments tell the one story of salvation. The Mosaic Law which represents part of the Old Testament is no longer binding, but that does not mean that it wasn't important.

    Christians who do that tend to distinguish between different kinds of Law in the Old Testament. They may say, for example, that the Law is made up of moral law and ritual law; and that ritual law has been superseded by Christ, but moral law remains in effect. However, this distinction is unbiblical and effectively contradicts what Paul says in Galatians 5:2-6, to the effect that you have to take the Law as an entirety.

    Basically, the church has always regarded the Old Testament as inspired and revelatory of God's purposes. In the second century CE, a theologian named Marcion thought that the Old Testament was too different from the New Testament - and in particular its God was not as nice as the New Testament one - and concluded that the Old Testament God was evil and that Christians should have nothing to do with it. So he rejected the Old Testament and edited the New Testament to remove all references to it. He was expelled from Rome and from the church, but founded his own church system, the Marcionites, who continued to exist for some centuries before fading away. Many gnostics had a similar attitude to the Old Testament. However, the mainstream church rejected all of these ideas and affirmed the continuity of the history of salvation, meaning that the God of Jesus is the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that the Old Testament is therefore an essential part of Christian revelation.

    This led to Christian theologians reading the Old Testament as if it were straightforwardly a Christian book, which generally meant interpreting it allegorically or typologically. Here is a good example from Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, in which he comments on Exodus 28, a rather tedious description of the priestly vestments that Moses was instructed to make for his brother:

    And so on and on, at great length. Any little detail in the Old Testament could be interpreted as teaching some element of Christian belief or ethics, on the assumption that the same God was behind it all.

    This kind of use of the Old Testament was also very common in the Middle Ages. Later, it became much less common, and it would be rare today, especially among Protestants. But the vast majority of Christians would still see the Old Testament as containing divine revelation in the same was as the New Testament (whatever way that might be).

    I think that they would all go by "bishop". It seems that during the period you mention, the term "patriarch" was a basically unofficial one that could be applied to someone venerable as a mark of respect, but it didn't go with particular jobs. It seems that the title "patriarch" was first used by the emperor Theodosius II in a letter, referring to Pope Leo I, but it took a long time to become a standard title.

    Right.

    But our inability to carry out the former does entail an impediment to our freedom. Freedom isn't absolute. It isn't the case that we either have free will (absolutely) or we don't (absolutely). Rather, we are free with respect to certain actions, and unfree with respect to others. This is so whatever definition of "free will" you adopt (assuming you think that at least some of our acts are free). On the reasoning you give, my inability to fly means that my action of walking (rather than flying) isn't a free action. I can't choose to fly, so if I don't fly, my not flying is not free. Whereas I can choose whether to sit or stand, so my sitting is free. The one action is in the class of unfree actions, and the other action is in the class of free actions.

    Now the point of the argument relating to divine foreknowledge is that it places all our actions in the category of unfree actions. It says that the criteria that we think apply to those of our actions that are unfree, and which distinguish these actions from those that are free, actually apply to all our actions. In other words, all our actions are unfree, and we have no free actions at all. In which case, if that reasoning is correct, it does turn out that we don't have free will at all, because none of our actions is free.

    No, surely freedom is time- or context-specific. E.g. right now I have the power to mow the lawn because I have a lawn, access to a mower, and the ability to mow. If next week I have an accident and am confined to hospital, then I will not have the power to mow the lawn. So I have the power now, and therefore (on this understanding of free will) if I choose not to mow the lawn now, then my not mowing is free. But if I won't have the power next week, then if I don't mow the lawn next week, my not mowing then is not free.

    So if I have the power to mow or not mow today, that doesn't require or entail that I always have the power to mow. And if I lack the power today, that doesn't require or entail that I never have the power. My ability to do something may come and go, and my ability to do something freely may also come and go.
     
  9. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

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    What do you think are the characteristics of a "healthy religion"? What religions can you think of that would fit your criteria?
     
  10. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Thanks. :) When did "Pope" first become used for the leader of the Coptic church?
     
  11. spryllino

    spryllino Deity

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    Whatever we do, in my opinion, we had the freedom to do it when we did it, whether or not we can do the opposite. Therefore, as we cannot carry out actions that we do not have the freedom to carry out, all our actions are free. This argument, to me, is quite as valid as the argument that divine foreknowledge means all our actions are unfree; divine foreknowledge, as I have tried to reason, could instead entail that all our actions are free, if we are willing to concede the first sentence of this post. This is a vastly preferable conclusion, because it coincides with human observation of free will. Free will is apparently existent, and so, given two arguments, one of which insists on declaring free will an illusion, and the other of which does not, I prefer the latter, which is more in line with my own observations.

    On the other hand, the more normal approach seems to be to take the other line of reasoning about the logical consequences of divine foreknowledge. Why follow that line of logic and that understanding which merely turns free will into a paradox?

    But the context around you might logically not change. You might still have a mower and a lawn and the ability to mow in a week's time, in which case it would follow that it was equally possible for you to mow. If you did not mow the first time and therefore did not have the power to mow, then it follows that you could not mow on the later occasion either, which is false.
     
  12. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

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    Plotinus, I apologize for not responding sir. I had personal issues and do not have the time.

    Enjoyed speaking with you and hope we can take this up at another time as your posts require a good amount of time to respond to. Appreciate your study.
     
  13. Frank Drebin

    Frank Drebin Police Squad!

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    hello, great thread.

    as it came up in the jesus thread, i want to ask you:

    what exactly does christian heaven look like? are there different positions/bonuses attainable determined by how good you did on earth?
     
  14. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

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    Out of curiousity, did Jesus (or any of the apostles, really) ever directly or indirectly endorse a system similar to capitalism even when taking into account Matthey 6:24 (you cannot love both God and wealth)?
    If they did, is there more evidence supporting capitalism or communalism?

    EDIT: Also, can the quote in Mark about the camel and the eye of a needle be interpreted to endorse the belief that the rich man can still get to heaven, it will just be very hard?

    I really sort of wish we had a Plotinius robot to answer all of our questions for us. An entire forum of Plotinius clones debating would be awsome to watch.
     
  15. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

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    I read an article a while back (I'll see if I can dig it up) about an Antiochian Orthodox priest who transfered to Coptic jurisdiction with the approval of his bishop. What obstacles, if any, exist between unity between unity between Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches? In a broader sense, what's your general opinion of the ecumenical movement?
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not competent to answer that. However, I can't see how "completed work" would make any sense in the context, so my suspicion is that this claim is simply made by people who want the text to be true and who don't like the idea of God literally resting. But that's just a guess.

    In fact the title was originally applied to all priests, at least in the east, and it was applied to many bishops in the west. It wasn't until the time of Gregory VII that the title was formally restricted, in the west, to the bishop of Rome. The earliest record of an Alexandrian bishop being referred to by this title is the third-century Heraclas (a former student of Origen's), in a letter by Dionysius of Rome. Of course Heraclas wasn't leader of the Coptic church, because there was no such thing at the time. When the Coptic church split off from the Orthodox Church in the fifth century after the council of Chalcedon, the bishop of Alexandria became its leader and continued to use the titles that had already become associated with that post (as well as a few more).

    How do you know this? If you don't know it, but it's merely your "opinion", can you legitimately use it as the premise of an argument?

    Certainly it's valid. The problem is that it rests upon a premise that states that all our actions are free. But what use is that, if that's the conclusion you're trying to demonstrate? An argument that has one of its premises as its conclusion may be valid but it's useless, because it won't convince anyone who doesn't already believe its conclusion.

    On your argument, it's not divine foreknowledge that entails that all our actions are free - rather, it's your assumption that our actions are free that entails it. But as I just said, that's not a very helpful argument, because you're just using the conclusion as a premise. As you say yourself, we have to be willing to concede the first sentence of your post - but why would anyone do so?

    What observation? Do we observe free will? What observations do we have that we wouldn't have if there were no free will?

    Maybe so, but one should follow where the argument leads, if the argument seems good. Could your observations be misleading you?

    The point of the argument from omniscience is that it purports to show that if there is an omniscient being, none of our actions are free. If that argument is good, then one cannot consistently believe in both an omniscient being and free will. One has to choose which one to give up. You can't just ignore the conclusion on the grounds that it doesn't match what you'd like to believe.

    Because that line of logic is based upon premises which most people would accept, at least, most people who believe in God. Your line of logic is based upon a contentious premise (namely, that all our actions are free). A good argument is one that (a) has premises that we accept or which appear to be very plausible, and (b) draws a conclusion from those premises in a valid way. The argument which purports to show that the existence of an omniscient being is incompatible with free will is, or at least seems to be, a good argument because it meets, or appears to meet, both of these conditions. The problem with your argument is that while it may meet (b) it doesn't meet (a).

    If the context doesn't change, then neither does my degree of freedom. If I choose not to mow today when I could have mown, then I make that choice freely. Next week, if I could still mow and I still choose not to do so, then I make that choice freely too; conversely, if at that point I have for some reason lost the ability to mow, then my choice not to do so is not free. Do you disagree with that?

    No problem.

    I don't know what the "Jesus thread" is - it sounds ghastly. It depends on what you mean by "heaven". In Christianity heaven is not one's final destination, but a temporary place or state where the soul goes after death to await the final resurrection. After that, it is reunited with the body and the person lives for ever in a bodily form which is a bit mysterious. In popular piety, however, this distinction between the interim state and the final resurrection tends to be blurred (in fact many people, even Christians, don't realise that Christianity teaches that everyone will be bodily resurrected in the future, although it's in the Nicene Creed which they all recite in church regularly).

    Catholicism holds that heaven consists of the beatific vision - that is, the blessed perceive God directly, and it is in this that their happiness consists. It also consists in the fact that they do not have the power to sin. The Catholic Church also teaches that there are degrees of happiness in heaven depending on how one did in life. This teaching goes back at least to the condemnation of Jovinian at the end of the fourth century - he taught that everyone is equal in heaven and that being chaste doesn't get you any better a reward than being married. When the church developed the doctrine of the beatific vision later on, it also developed the idea that this beatific vision itself can vary, being clearer (and thus better) for some people than for others. So that is what the different degrees of happiness consists of.

    Of course, under Catholicism, most Christians do not go straight to heaven anyway - they have to pass through purgatory first, to purify them sufficiently. Only saints go straight to heaven. And how long you spend in purgatory depends on how much purifying you need to do.

    The Orthodox churches generally don't stress the notion of the beatific vision so much - for them, salvation involves theosis or deification. On this view, post-mortem happiness is not a matter of perceiving God, it's a matter of becoming God, through union with him. There are different degrees of theosis, but these are not different kinds of rewards for living a better or worse life - they are simply stages along the way. One person might move more quickly along the stages than another, and some very holy people might even manifest it during their lifetimes, but everyone ends up at the same point eventually.

    I think Protestants have generally rejected the idea of degrees of reward in heaven, on the basis that grace is given to all equally, and that the notion of degrees of reward implies that God doles out rewards on the basis of people's efforts rather than on the basis of grace. Matthew 20:1-16 implies that everyone gets the same no matter what they did. This is the official position of the Lutheran church, for example.

    I think it is anachronistic to look for modern economic systems in the Bible, let alone find endorsements or condemnations of those systems. They didn't exist in biblical times. Certainly the Gospels have lots of teachings about wealth and money - especially Matthew - but you can't take those to be pronouncements about capitalism per se, since neither Jesus nor Matthew was familiar with capitalism. Of course, one may think that capitalism rests upon attitudes which are condemned there, in which case one may think that the Gospels indirectly condemn capitalism, but that's another matter.

    As for communism, there are of course the well known passages in Acts which describe what appears to be something like a communist system in operation in the primitive church (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). Not only that, but it suggests that complete sharing of property was compulsory, and those who held anything back were severely punished (Acts 5:1-11). However, it's unclear how accurate these passages really are, or to what degree they're a romanticising of conditions that held fifty years earlier. There are also passages that suggest that some Christians did have their own property (Acts 12:12). Moreover, one can't really equate a lifestyle system in place in a small religious community with a full-blown economic or political system, so again it would be anachronistic to see this as an endorsement of communism as such.

    However one interprets it, it's clearly an exaggeration for comic effect. The context of the saying as it appears in Mark suggests that it's all about attitude, and Jesus criticises his questioner not for his wealth so much as for his wish to hang on to it. That is a reasonable interpretation but of course the problem is whether this was the saying's original context or not. To my non-expert eyes this whole pericope (Mark 10:17-31) seems like it contains a number of possibly authentic sayings, probably ultimately from different sources, rammed together. Remember that with most of Jesus' sayings, even though the saying itself may be authentic, the setting is probably not. So the simple answer to your question is: no-one knows.

    No, we'd all just agree with each other. It would be incredibly edifying.

    The initial obstacle to unity between these churches is that they all regard each other as heretics. The Eastern Orthodox churches are Chalcedonian, holding that Christ has one hypostasis and two physeis; the Copts and Ethiopians are Monophysite, holding that Christ has one hypostasis and one physis; and the Church of the East are Nestorian (using that term advisedly), holding that Christ has two hypostaseis and two physeis. Of course it's all rather more complex than that, especially since they all speak different languages anyway and don't necessarily mean the same things by these terms to start with. Now as I understand it, there has been some rapprochement between some of these churches. In the past few years, representatives of some of these churches and the Catholic Church have met and agreed that they are in substantial, if not verbal, agreement on christological matters. In 1994 Pope John Paul II signed a "common christological declaration" with the Catholicos of the Church of the East. These developments suggest that the doctrinal disagreements which led to these churches becoming distinct in the first place are now either non-existent or at least surmountable. But of course, it's not as simple as that. Once you have separate churches, it's very hard to join them back together even when there is no real reason for them to be apart, because of simple inertia. If they're used to be separate organisations, they will tend to remain so. An example is the Church of England and the Methodist church; they both agree that there's no reason whatsoever for them to continue to be distinct churches, but although there have been moves for this to happen, it's never actually come to anything because it's so difficult to overcome the inertia of separation. On the other hand, it can be done; there are striking examples in Canada and India of distinct churches uniting.

    As for the ecumenical movement in general, I find it possibly the least interesting aspect of contemporary church history, although of course very worthy and commendable. I have no particular reason for that.
     
  17. caketastydelish

    caketastydelish By any means necessary

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    If someone already asked this question please forgive me: Who is your favorite Atheist? Can be living or dead. As for me? Douglas Adams. :)
     
  18. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

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    Which group bothers you more? Pushy religious fundamentalists or pushy non-religious people.
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I suppose a religion that encourages a balanced mental, emotional, and psychological attitude would be a healthy one, and one that doesn't would not. For example, it seems to me that a lot of Catholics are brought up being taught all kinds of stuff that is not part of official Catholic teaching, such as the idea that God is constantly watching and judging them and they have to strive constantly to live a good life in order to merit salvation. Quite apart from being outright Pelagianism, this is not conducive to a balanced psychological state, so that is not healthy religion. However, I think that most of the major religions are more or less healthy, or at least have mainstream healthy forms, since otherwise they wouldn't have prospered.

    I don't think I have one. I don't think I categorise people to that extent. But I think Douglas Adams is a pretty good choice.

    Neither per se - what bothers me more than anything is irrationality. Both of the groups you mention have their fair share of that - I'm not sure which has more. So it would be a matter of individuals rather than groups.
     
  20. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I think the two groups are far more alike than either one would ever want to admit.
     
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