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Ask a Theologian III

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

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  1. Cheetah

    Cheetah Chieftain

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    It has been my understanding that the concept of the Devil was mostly fleshed out after the Jews camped out in Babylon.
    When they were later released by the Persians they came in contact with Zoroastrianism and its concept of duality.
    When the Jews adopted some of this dualism they needed a more developed evil personae to God's good, and so Lucifer was evolved into a more powerful being, who wished to rival God.

    Is this understanding correct? Some parts of it? None?
     
  2. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    That may be a slight misreading. In my understanding, most forms of Wicca are basically pantheistic or panentheistic, and so hold that all living things are a facet of a universal divine. It is not that individual humans are divine entities, per se, but that we are all components or expressions of a greater divine essence.
    That said, Wicca is quite an eclectic, somewhat cobbled-together from of belief, even by neopagan standards, so it's quite possible that some Wiccans express such a view; they're not a group prone to consensus.
     
  3. Cynovolans

    Cynovolans Not in my dimension.

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    Does the Bible state that the antediluvian world was a dark, horrible place with demons, giants, and that people could live to be several centuries old? Or is it some sort of metaphor which I've heard a teacher say once?
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, that's back into "ancient Judaism which I don't know about" sort of territory. My understanding, such as it is, is that it's plausible to think that there is Zoroastrian influence upon Judaism and perhaps some forms of Christianity, but there is no good evidence for direct influence other than just guesswork. Certainly the whole Lucifer/Satan thing is complex and evolved a lot in OT times, but I don't know what the details are or whether there is good reason to think there was Zoroastrian influence.

    This is the sort of thing I could look up if I had access to the library at the moment, but unfortunately I don't, so I can't say much more!

    That's certainly true. Still, I think that despite the pantheistic tendencies of Wicca there is an idea that human beings are divine in some special sense. This comes across in the idea that men are specifically the God and women are specifically the Goddess, indicating that their divinity is a matter of their personal characteristics (e.g. as male or female) rather than simply part of mere existence. I do find it a bit hard to pin down precisely what all this means though.

    Well, "the Bible" doesn't "state" anything. If you approach this sort of issue in that sort of terminology then you're wrong-footing it to start with. The Bible is not some kind of textbook or set of statements. It's not even a single thing. It's a collection of books of all kinds, which themselves are put together of older materials, often truncated or otherwise edited. In the case of the Old Testament and particularly the Pentateuch, which is the part you're talking about, the material is narrative and mythological. The authors don't "state" anything as baldly as you imply - one must reconstruct their worldview on the basis of the stories they tell, as far as possible. And one must bear in mind that different stories were originally independent of each other, and may reflect different worldviews. There is no single voice even within the pages of a single book such as Genesis. The closest one can come to that is the viewpoint of the author of Genesis itself, the person who compiled all that older stuff into a single narrative and gave it his own spin. But he isn't "the Bible" any more than the other authors are.

    I don't think Genesis offers any general account of the antediluvian world anyway. I take it you're referring to Gen. 6:1-7, which precedes the Flood narrative and talks about the Nephilim. This section is a heavily truncated version of the myth of the Watchers, which appears in much fuller form in the Enochian literature and is basically an early story about the origins of evil. The Watchers, according to the story, were heavenly beings who watched over mankind; but some of them fell in love with human women and had children with them. These children were the Nephilim, who were giants, and who were wicked for some reason (no doubt a result of their problematic upbringing in broken homes). And wickedness spread across the world as a result of the influence of the Nephilim. The Genesis account retains the key points of this story but without explaining how they relate to each other, which is why it has always been such a puzzling passage for readers of the Bible who didn't know the background. You can see why it is truncated, though, when you see that the author of Genesis has used the story of Adam and Eve as his "explanation" for the origin of evil. The Eden story itself has a very complicated pre-biblical history, as we've discussed on this thread already; it seems unlikely that it was originally intended to be about the origins of evil, but that is what it has become by the time it appears in Genesis. Understandably, then, the author of Genesis or his source correspondingly de-emphasises the Watchers story, reducing it to the point of unintelligibility. Presumably it is retained only because, in his source, it was the pre-amble to the Flood story. That is, originally the story of the Watchers explained the origin of evil, and the Flood story described God's response; the author of Genesis wishes to include the Flood story, so he retains the Watchers story as its pre-amble, but cuts it down massively.

    I don't see any reason to suppose that either the Watchers story or anything else in Genesis is intended "metaphorically". These stories are myths, which are a different genre altogether; they are supposed to explain things about the world or human nature, and are supposed to take place in some time of legendary antiquity or even a sort of mythic "other" time. It is difficult for modern people to understand or appreciate the literary genre of myth - we expect things to be either clearly literal or clearly non-literal - but ancient people didn't think like that, so trying to shoe-horn their stories into modern categories is generally a bad idea.
     
  5. Methos

    Methos HoF Quattromaster Super Moderator Hall of Fame Staff

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    Regarding the above, I'm curious as to what your [Plotinus's] thoughts are in regards to the argument of the translation error regarding naming the devil Lucifer. It's my understanding that there was an error when translating into the KJ version. Originally, it referred to the Babylonian king and not Satan.

    I realize this is probably a very simple question to you. I've been meaning to look into it for several weeks now, but haven't had the time. :blush:
     
  6. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  7. Methos

    Methos HoF Quattromaster Super Moderator Hall of Fame Staff

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    A quick search returned this:

    Edit: Link for the above quote
     
  8. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Lucifer is simply Latin for Light-bearer. (Which is also what they called the Morning Star, or the Planet Venus.) It is used in reference to Nebuchadnezzar in a verse that many choose to think refers to Satan, but I don't recall it ever refering to him explicitly.


    It is however explicitly used as a title of Christ in one place, iirc.
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Again I feel very inadequate with this one! Despite having a vicar's library to hand. Unfortunately I already raided it for all the decent books many years ago and it seems my father has negligently not replaced them with better ones since.

    Yes, "Lucifer" means "light bearer" in Latin (from lux, "light", and fero, "I carry"). Interestingly, the Greek equivalent is phosphoros, which doesn't have quite the same connotations. It appears in 2 Peter 1:19, where it is not a reference to the devil:

    Obviously it is a reference to Venus, but it's not clear what it is supposed to symbolise - whether Christ or just general understanding - but at any rate it's obviously not got negative connotations.

    The idea of Satan or the devil having been a glorious being who subsequently fell is pre-Christian - I believe it can be found in the Enochian literature (most things can, really) - but I don't know any more than that. We find similar ideas in the book of Revelation, a text full of Jewish imagery, where Satan is "cast down" from heaven, and also Luke 10:18 (a rather puzzling verse). The name "Lucifer" isn't used in this connection and neither is the Greek equivalent. It seems the Latin name was coined by Jerome when he translated Isaiah into Latin in the fourth century. The passage in question was about Nebuchadnezzar, so the later assumption that "Lucifer" in this passage was a reference to the devil, and even his actual name, was wrong - but obviously it fitted so well with the narrative about Satan being cast down from heaven that it was almost inevitable it would be re-interpreted in this way.

    Interestingly, "Lucifer" evidently didn't have evil connotations for Christians for quite a while - or at least not necessarily. There was a famous theologian in the fourth century called Lucifer of Cagliari. In his case the name was not entirely inappropriate since he was a bit of a nutcase even by fourth century standards - he wrote a series of very inflammatory pamphlets attacking the emperor Constantius II repeatedly for his pro-Homoian policies, which Constantius uncharacteristically ignored.
     
  10. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    That's probably true for a lot of "traditions", as their adherents like to call them, although exactly how much of that sort of thing is symbolic and how much is literal seems to vary. Honestly, trying to dissect Wicca beyond the very basic just gives me a bit of a headache; there are so many inconsistencies between traditions, and so little serious thought lent to the core beliefs as compared to the frills, that I just end up floundering.
    It probably helps that, in practice, Wicca is so often an exercise in self-empowerment draped in vaguely mystic symbolism, rather than a "religion" as such. Certainly, the seeming obsession with gender polarisation is a particularly Wiccan quirk; it's rather less prominent in most "pagan" traditions (however you chose to define that).
     
  11. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    As you have mentioned Enochian literature and in particular the Book of Watchers, can I ask whether anyone has noticed that Tolkein's cosmology (in LOTR and particularly the Silmarillion) seems much closer to that in Watchers than to the canonical version in Genesis, despite Tolkein being a good Catholic? I'm particularly referring to good and and angels coming down to earth, tempting man, provoking the Fall, and the Flood. Maybe this is deliberate, Tolkein wanting to stay within Judaeo-Christian tradition for an explicitly religious part of his myth, but not wanting the familiarity of the Genesis story (obviously elsewhere he uses more north European mythology).
     
  12. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Continuing the "afterlife and the morality of killing" theme.

    We had come to the conclusion that, if the existence of Heaven and Hell in their more fundamentalist tradition is to be accepted as true, then the act of murder is very wrong, since it forever dooms a sinner to Hell and forever takes away the opportunity for a virtuous person to spread the good news more.

    But as it seems to follow, it's the most liberal interpretations, who make murder more morally acceptable. Since Hell doesn't exist and repentance is possible in the afterlife too, murder becomes not such a bad thing. It's still wrong, because the murdered's relatives will miss him, etc., but it's not that wrong now.

    It seems that a severe, but a temporary Hell is the variant of Hell which is the most consistent with a layman's morality. Thoughts?

    Oh, and when speaking about the "Problem of evil" you mentioned the "free will defence". What do those who use this defence have to say about the free will in Heaven? (After all, Satan is often considered a former inhabitant of Heaven who fell, so...)
     
  13. Fifty

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

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    Are there any cool writings by medieval ascetic Christians on the tenants behind the monastic life? If so, what are they?
     
  14. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

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    I have two ideas on this:

    There's no certainty that following the great Judgement you'd be forgiven and leave the "temporary Hell".

    Also, killing someone stops his natural path of life and the possibility to get "full" life experience" and fulfil his destiny as designed by God.

    The only act of murder that is acceptable is in self-defense, as it permits you to continue your life as opposed to the person who violated the will of God continues that life. Wars are included.
     
  15. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    That's the "fundy" option we've discussed - in it, indeed, the existence of a permanent Hell makes killing a very grievous offense indeed.

    Compared to eternity, "life experience" is a small moment. And he can as well "fulfill his destiny" in Heaven, unless that destiny involves converting sinners (since they aren't found in Heaven). But if everyone goes to Heaven in the end (that's the possibility we are discussing, since, like I've said, permanent Hell makes killing consistent with the layman morality), converting sinners doesn't sound that important a task.
     
  16. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

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    I wasn't following, sorry.

    Yeah, however, according to some religions, the state of your soul is defined for eternity during your life experience and thus cannot be altererd.
     
  17. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    I agree that in these religious views, life is indeed something to be treasured. I was talking about more "liberal" ones, however.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    All this is true of most religions, of course - or at least of some forms of most religions. I do think it would be unfair to say that Wicca or Neo-paganism in general lacks any serious thought given to the basics - in every religion there are always at least some people who do this - but I would agree that there are probably fewer people, proportionally speaking, doing that.

    With Wicca it's also important to remember that there are very different forms of the religion, some of which very much look down on others - for example, many group-based Wiccans have a pretty low opinion of solitary Wicca. Also, of course, a lot of the more structured stuff in group-based Wicca, in which it most resembles traditional "religion" as opposed to personal spiritual development, is secret and not discussed with non-members. So that makes it a bit tricky to evaluate.

    Well, that I don't know - you'd have to ask the Tolkien scholars about that. I always assumed that Tolkien, like Lewis, modelled much of his mythology upon classical paganism - he has the same idea that Lewis does in both the Narnia books and his science fiction of what are effectively pagan gods who are subordinate to the Christian God. That was Lewis' way of reconciling the pagan mythology that he loved with his Christianity, by keeping the pagan gods but basically turning them into angels. Tolkien's mythology seems similar to me, although less explicitly monotheist (does his God ever really do anything? Everything seems to be left to the Valar, and they don't do very much). It has struck me how little role religion, as such, seems to play in Tolkien; no-one in The lord of the rings ever prays, there are no temples or churches, or anything like that. I find that Denethor says at one point: "No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West." That very much stands out because as far as I remember there's no indication anywhere else in the whole book that the kings of old were "heathen" or what that means, or what religion everyone follows now. Of course the book still features a lot of Christian imagery, but it is mostly more subtle.

    There are two things that occur to me about that. The first is that, on this reasoning, murder always has roughly the same moral weight on the liberal view but varies greatly on the fundamentalist view. That is because, according to the liberal view, everyone's post-mortem fate is the same, or at least has the potential to be the same. So by killing someone you are not sending them to hell. On the fundamentalist view, however, some people will go to bliss when they die and some to damnation. It would seem, then, that killing one of the elect would be a good thing (sending him to his eternal reward) while killing one of the reprobate would be a bad thing (sending him to his eternal punishment). But surely that is very much out of kilter with lay morality, which would hold that murder is always equally wrong; or, if it is not always equally wrong, that has nothing to do with the sanctification or otherwise of the victim's soul.

    It's like in Hamlet where Hamlet is about to kill Claudius while the latter is praying, but stops because it occurs to him that if he does that Claudius will go to heaven. The implication is that killing him at such a time, with such a consequence, would be too merciful.

    The second and perhaps more fundamental point is that you're assuming a consequentialist ethic, according to which the rightness or wrongness of an act is a matter of its consequences (in some way). So a killing that results in the victim enjoying eternal happiness is less wrong than a killing that results in the victim suffering eternal punishment, because its consequences are less bad. But a deontologist, who holds that the rightness or wrongness of an act has nothing to do with its consequences, could just deny this and say that murder is very wrong no matter what the consequences. This is where the attempt to map philosophical ethics onto lay morality starts to break apart, because I think most people are sometimes a bit deontologist and sometimes a bit consequentialist, without necessarily having a consistent theory at all. I've written about this in more depth elsewhere.

    The traditional view is that the blessed are impeccable, i.e., unable to sin. Augustine held that, before the Fall, human beings had free will in the sense of the ability to do either right or wrong. After the Fall they largely lost the ability to do right. After the resurrection they will have only the ability to do right, and not the ability to do wrong, and this is the greatest freedom of all. I suppose on that view Satan would have had libertarian free will before he sinned but lost it once he sinned, on the assumption that Satan is even more depraved than sinful human beings.

    Yes! Although it depends on what you mean by "tenets". The foundational documents for medieval monasticism are the writings of the church fathers on the subject, especially those of Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius's Life of Antony, and of course Augustine (skip past the "doctrinal" ones here to the "moral" ones). In the Middle Ages proper the most important text is the Rule of Benedict of Nursia. There are supplementary texts written for the use of monks, such as Aelred of Rievaulx's writings on love and friendship (which I can't find online). There is also the Ancrene Wisse, for nuns, and also treatises on the holy life that aren't aimed at monks or nuns, such as Walter Hilton's Treatise to a devout man. I'm sure there are lots more like these that don't come to mind so quickly.
     
  19. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    According to the theory of predestination of the elect and the damned, yes. But if we give humans more control over their behaviour, a good person could redeem others though his goodness and convert them to One True Faith, while he was living. After the murder, people who are on their road to hell are lacking one more potential saver.

    What if I kill someone with the purpose of that someone entering into Heaven?
     
  20. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

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    I can't read 8 pages in my spare time, what are the views you are talking about? What Churches?
     
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