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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. Neonanocyborgasm

    Neonanocyborgasm Chieftain

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    I take it you've never heard of fundamentalism.

    Same thing, as far as I'm concerned.

    Doesn't matter to me who's doing the arguing. If the premise is based on unfounded notions, it's still irrational.

    No it doesn't for 2 reasons:

    1) People will usually just say what they think is expected of them, for social reasons, and this is not necessarily the truth. Actions speak louder than words. I have found that people will do surprising things in the right circumstances.

    2) The scenarios presented are so outlandish that they never happen in real life, so they don't actually simulate anything.

    This has nothing to do with theology.

    What I mean is that it's pointless to argue stupidity with an idiot. As far as the archbishop is concerned, I really have no idea whether he's religious or not. As I said, people will often lie.
     
  2. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    How can you be a theologian of Christianity without studying the Bible?
     
  3. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    I think it is plausible that a theologian with a limited knowledge of the bible can indeed be a theologian.Is there a rule saying that inorder to be a theologian that you must read and recite the bible fully?
     
  4. Duke of Marlbrough

    Duke of Marlbrough The Quiet Moderator Retired Moderator

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    Moderator Action: These threads are not meant to 'argue with' or 'attack' the person who is offering to answer questions. They are meant to be able to ask questions to try and gather more of an understanding of the viewpoint of someone else that may not otherwise be readily available.
     
  5. GenMarshall

    GenMarshall Ghost Agent

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    To side step in a different direction.

    What got you into theology?
     
  6. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    You shouldn't have to memorize it, no. But if you expect to understand Christianity or it's traditions or theologians, you should be at least familiar with the Bible.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    It still seems to me that you're confusing the two senses of "theologian" that I gave in the OP. On the assumption that there is no God, which I suppose is your assumption, then of course theology in the first sense is pointless or at least misguided. But that doesn't apply to theology in the second sense, which is simply the study of what theologians in the first sense have said, and (more widely) the study of church history in general. I don't see why the history of the church and the ideas of its thinkers should be any more pointless than studying any other kind of history.

    But who would deny any of this? All you're doing here is describing part of the history of theology. To do that, of course, you have to know some theology in a broad sense. In other words, in these paragraphs you're doing precisely what you said is pointless.

    So you're saying that hermeneutics is impossible? That there is no way we can hope to understand a text from long ago, and that even to attempt it is a waste of time? If that is so, why would it apply only to theological texts? If you can't hope to understand a medieval theologian there's no way you could understand an ancient philosopher. To put it another way, is there anything you say against the study of theology that wouldn't also apply to the study of classics?

    Also, the only "greats" you mention are medieval. Do you think it is equally impossible to comprehend Schleiermacher, Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, or Moltmann?

    I think you need to give some examples of this sort of thing to show exactly what you mean, otherwise it's just vague generalisation.

    Again, I don't think this is particularly true. Of course some medieval theologians were rather suspicious of the use of philosophical techniques; for example, people such as Rupert of Deutz or, more famously, Bernard of Clairvaux when faced with Abelard. But I would dispute that this was true of "most cases". The idea that deductive reasoning would contrast with the truths resting on revelation would have been an extreme one, associated with Averroism.

    Again, I'm not really clear on what you're arguing for here. Are you simply saying that theology is always done in a historical context, which influences it? If so, then what's so world-shattering about that? No-one would deny it.

    You're taking far too narrow a view of what theology is. It's no more just metaphysics than philosophy is. Theology also deals with ethics, history, liturgy, practice, all kinds of things. And there are many theologians today who think that theology needs to be purged of all metaphysics if it's going to make sense. But even if we are talking only about metaphysical theology, I still don't understand what your criticism is. You call it a "bastardisation" of Christian doctrine and deductive reasoning. But what on earth is wrong with that? Why shouldn't people apply deductive reasoning to Christian doctrine? Do the ancient Greek pagans have some kind of intellectual property rights over philosophical methods? Would you prefer the Christians not to have tried to think critically about what they believed?

    Of course I've heard of fundamentalism. But you didn't simply refer to irrational religious people - you claimed that the more religious people are, the more irrational they are. In other words, fundamentalists are the most religious people in existence. That is not evident at all, and in my opinion is in fact false. I'd say that Rowan Williams is far more authentically Christian than the average fundamentalist. If you think otherwise you must provide a definition of "being religious" and show why fundamentalists fit it better than anyone else.

    Well, they are not the same thing, no matter what you think. To study X is obviously not the same thing as to study someone who studies X.

    This is a very extreme thing to say and one that would undermine pretty much all thought and action. If by "unfounded notions" you mean beliefs that are not themselves rationally justified on the basis of other beliefs, then everyone must have some of them if they are to have beliefs at all. We rely upon "unfounded notions" all the time - for example, the belief that our senses are mostly reliable, or the belief that other people have minds like our own. These beliefs cannot be rationally justified. By your argument, that would make any activity which assumes them simply irrational. But then "irrational" would apply to absolutely everything and become meaningless. You certainly couldn't single out theologians for special finger-pointing on that score.


    In rational debate, where people are genuinely interested in establishing their views, they will say what they think.

    As I tried to explain at some length, whether they could happen in real life or not is neither here nor there. They are supposed to be extreme cases because they test your views without distracting or qualifying factors. That then sheds light on what your views are in normal cases too.

    No, but you brought up thought experiments and I was trying to explain what the point of them is.

    If you have no idea how religious the archbishop is, then how can you claim that the more religious someone is, the more irrational they are? Wouldn't you have to conduct quite an extensive study of religious people (or irrational people) to be able to conclude that? And if you don't trust what people say in the first place, how could you conclude it even then? In which case, how can you be justified in making the assertion in the first place?

    The Bible is only one element of theology. As I said, I specialised first in the church fathers and later in the seventeenth century. Now of course theologians in both periods talked about the Bible a bit, or at least quoted from it an awful lot, but you don't have to be an expert in the Bible to cope with that. Of course you would have to have a fairly basic working knowledge of it, but I think I do.

    It puzzles me when people think that Christianity is just about the Bible. That's like saying that England is the Magna Carta.

    When I was doing my A Levels I wanted to study philosophy at university, since I was sick of the subjects I was doing (it is unusual to study philosophy at school in Britain). You can't do philosophy by itself at Oxford and I wanted to apply there. So I thought that philosophy & theology was the most interesting combination, and that's what I eventually did. In the event I was better at philosophy than theology, but I still liked theology, and I haven't been able to make my mind up which one to do ever since, which will make it very hard for me to get a university post!
     
  8. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    Can you explain the kind of determinism that the Stoics proclaimed, and maybe compare/contrast to the kind of determinism associated with Newtonian physics? Also, how did the Stoics' determinism imply the impossibility of not doing a specific action?
     
  9. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    Didn't read it.

    It is not my assumption since i've never even assumed that there is no God....:confused:but you are right,that it is your assumption and not mine ,of course you are not shy of telling me from the assumption that you just supposed that i was assuming.;)

    I find it in all narrative writing on the subject of history just plainly as what it is-a narrative of the author who have constructed it.

    Well,you are right.If one conduct on the investigation of the history of theology and write it down,prepare to write for alongg timmme.Of course it was incomplete.:)



    I was in short,writing a brief overview on the conventional meaning of theology in a particular way.

    Well,the whole purpose is to put the meaning of theology in multi-array of points and then in turn later in convert its meaning into Christian metaphysics;which in fact i did a few paragraph later.Sorry that i was misleading you.I should of made my intention more fully transparent for you but i didnt foresee you taking it out of context.:sad:

    I wouldn't say hermeneutics due to the fact that concept is not attractive to me but i have to concede your point that you brilliantly executed.-that is,yes,i believe that any attempt to understand authors (the medieval man)from a completely alien culture that is substantially different than ours is not possible.

    I was only using the example of my limited knowledge of authors before the Italian renaissance.Probably later(hopefully maybe from your enlighten endorsement) I will find the inspiration to learn these said authors that you mentioned.:)

    Ok.How about i introduce you a particular essay from Thomas Nagel "What is it like to be a bat" to demostrate in more better and sophisticated manner that i am trying to make:
    So in conclusion of what Mr.Nagel is saying and what i am try to provide is a method on how we can know what a medieval man really is?-What is it like for a medieval man to be a medieval man,not what me or you to be what these authors are in days that are long forgotten?

    link:http://members.aol.com/NeoNoetics/Nagel_Bat.html

    If i can image of myself being placed in the medieval world and happen to be fortunate to be a scholars amongst these great thinkers,i can imagine how attractive Avveroism can be to me.-of course i am only "imagining.":rolleyes:

    I was just suggesting what i think of the role of institutions can do to individuals who inhabit in it(that of the medieval man all the way to our time).I guess it is sensible to you but sometimes i get the impression that most people in this very thread are blind to this.Good thing you got it or somewhat.

    I beg to differ.It is metaphysical,it is just that the language of its form that have been modified but it is still the same.

    Interesting.Care to share on some of their points on how to do that?:scan:

    That it is silly to me.I can't help thinking of that.It is just what i instinctively feel that it is wrong all-together.

    They did started the practice,or do you beg to differ?

    I can't expand on that supposition due to the fact that they already did it.
     
  10. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    ALWAYS READ THE OP!

    (Plot, I have not forgotten our debate, at some point I will make a more suitable venue where we can delve into this interesting mess)

    Wild question:

    Did any Islamic religious ideas ever diffuse into Christianity?
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't know much about the Stoic understanding of determinism. As far as I know, it was not so different from the post-Newtonian one. That version was given its definitive version by Laplace, who said that if there were a being capable of knowing, in every detail, the state of the universe at a given time, then that being would be able to predict its state at every subsequent time. In other words, the state of the universe is always simply a function of its previous state (and the laws that determine how it moves from one to the other).

    Now as far as I know the Stoics didn't produce a definition quite like that; but they did think that the future is "fixed", as it were, by the present and the past. Human actions are simply part of the causal network of the universe and cannot act upon it from outside, as it were. So we are fated to do what we do and we couldn't do otherwise. Someone used the image of a dog tied to a cart that is rolling downhill; the dog can run alongside the cart willingly, or it can try to resist and be dragged down; but that dog is going down the hill no matter what it does. So the lesson is to embrace your destiny and learn to be happy with what you've got, not try to change things. Of course, your own efforts are part of the system of causes that bring about the future. The idea isn't that you can just sit back and do nothing and let fate do its thang. That's the "lazy reason" which some people deduced from Stoicism. But in fact the idea isn't that fate is some kind of determining thing distinct from your own actions; rather, your actions are an important cause of what will happen to you in the future, but your actions are themselves determined just like everything else.

    Now the Platonists argued that this destroyed morality, on the assumption that, for an act to be morally significant, you must have had the ability not to do it. I don't think they ever really argued for that assumption. And even if we grant it, I'm not sure that it really works. Because a Stoic could reply that, whatever you do, you always have the ability not to do it; it's just that you are predetermined not to exercise that ability.

    Well, as Perfection says, you should always read the OP. It's rather rude to say disparaging things about the subject of a thread without even bothering to see what the opener of the thread actually says!

    It's not just that though. To say that the writing of history is nothing other than the writing of the author's prejudices is as extreme as to say that no historical writing ever involves the author's prejudices. It's an engagement between the author and whatever events they purport to describe. No historian can ignore reality any more than they can fully escape their own prejudices. If you don't see that then you have no means of distinguishing between the writing of history and the writing of novels. And it seems from what you've already said that you don't really believe that all history is nothing but the prejudices of its author. You talked about the Carolingian renaissance, reformation of the monasteries, etc. Presumably you got your knowledge of these events from reading historical accounts that you consider to contain some sort of historical truth, otherwise you would dismiss them as pure fiction.

    If you really think that the writings of Homer, Plato, Cicero, Caesar, Augustine, Dante, and all the rest are really completely incomprehensible, and that we have no chance whatsoever of understanding or appreciating a single thing that any of them ever said, then I'm not sure how to respond to that except that it seems to be blatently false. There is, for example, a massive quantity of scholarly literature today devoted to understanding and explainig Aristotle. Are all those scholars completely wasting their time simply because you've ruled, as a sort of inviolable principle, that ancient authors cannot be understood at all?

    This is quite apart from the fact that hermeneutics is a perfectly respectable discipline in its own right. I think that just ruling it impossible as a matter of principle is demonstrably wrong, given that there are plenty of people who do it.

    Of course ancient or medieval culture is different and we have to understand that culture in order to sympathise with their outlook to the extent necessary to understand them on their own terms. But that's not impossible, even though sometimes it may be hard. You talk of a "completely alien" culture, but neither ancient nor medieval culture was completely alien. They were still human beings and the fundamental similarities between them and us remain even when the cultures are very different.

    To put the point a different way, do you think that people from different cultures today are capable of understanding each other? Modern Japanese culture is no less different from modern European culture than medieval European culture is. Does that mean that I don't have the slightest chance of understanding any Japanese book or film, or that I can never talk to a Japanese person without complete incomprehension?

    No doubt, but that doesn't really answer the point, which is that even historical theology isn't devoted solely to the work of people from many centuries ago.

    Now if you'd read the OP then you'd know I'm doing a PhD in philosophy, so it's just a tad insulting to suggest that you're "introducing" me to one of the most famous papers in modern philosophy... But Nagel's musings on bathood are meant to illuminate the mind-body problem, and are based on the fact that bats are fundamentally alien creatures with a totally different way of sensing and interacting with the world. That is not true of ancient or medieval human beings, who are biologically identical to us. The only differences between us and them are cultural. Thus, what Nagel says about bats is totally irrelevant to the point at issue.

    I'm afraid you're just wrong. Theology is not just about doctrine.

    Probably the most well-known figure to attempt this is Don Cupitt. Here's something I wrote on Cupitt and the background to his views recently:

    So you're saying that it wrong for people from one intellectual or cultural tradition to adopt ideas or methods from another? Why? Doesn't this happen all the time?

    I think the Chinese and the Indians would certainly beg to differ. However, this is completely irrelevant. So what if the philosophical method was first devised by pagan Greeks? It doesn't follow that pagan Greeks are the only people allowed to use it. English was invented by the English but I see plenty of non-English people writing in it on this very forum, and I don't mind.

    That's good - give me the link when you do so I don't miss it.

    It's very hard to tell. There was certainly some diffusion the other way, though the details are not clear. Muhammad himself seems to have been influenced, to at least some degree, by Monophysite Christianity, which was the dominant form of Christianity among the Arabs in the seventh century. There are other intriguing similarities: for example, the title "Seal of the prophets", applied by Muslims to Muhammad, was first used by the Christian theologian Tertullian to refer to Christ.

    There are only two major possible influences of doctrine from Islam to Christianity that I can think of. The first is iconoclasm. The caliph Iezid II, who reigned from 720-724, ordered the destruction of all Christian images in his domains – not because they were Christian, but because they broke the Koran's prohibition of all representational art. This was immediately before the beginning of the iconoclasm controversy in Byzantium, which began in 724, when two Anatolian bishops complained to the patriarch of Constantinople that icons were idolatrous; in 725, the emperor Leo III proclaimed himself in favour of this view (for unknown reasons) and proceed to have icons throughout the empire destroyed. Now it's not known if Christian iconoclasm was influenced by the Muslim attitude towards images in general, but certainly the dates are suspiciously close together.

    The other possible influence, which I actually think is a lot less likely, is the fundamentalist attitude to the Bible. Muslims, as we know, are "people of the Book" and regard the Koran as quite literally divinely written, to such an extent that even the language in which it is written is believed to be holy in virtue of that fact. For most of their history, Christians have not had such an attitude to the Bible. But in the last two hundred years, Christian fundamentalism has developed a view of the Bible not unlike that of Muslims to the Koran. Thus we find, for example, west African Muslims and west African Christians saying exactly the same things about their respective holy books. However, I don't think this is really a matter of influence. I think that the development of fundamentalist biblicism can be understood wholly as the result of factors within evangelical Christianity and developments in western culture to which some evangelicals reacted. But I suspect that the increasing contact between Christians and Muslims, especially in areas like west Africa over the past century, has reinforced this development.
     
  12. GenMarshall

    GenMarshall Ghost Agent

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    What in the world can you do with a degree with Theology? The only use that I can think of is if you're going to be a Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican Priest or a Protestant Minister.
     
  13. Neonanocyborgasm

    Neonanocyborgasm Chieftain

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    The most religious people are irrational, because they are fundamentalists who believe that the word of their religious text(s) is without error and not subject to doubt or judgement. Fundamentalists believe they are following their religion in the full strict sense of what it is, and that they are therefore the most religious. You may not believe that, but that's what they believe. Since there is no test of "correct" theology, there is nothing you can say or do to disprove the fundamentalist notion that they are the most religious. Your notion that the archbishop of Canterbury is "more authentically Christian" is therefore ridiculous because there can never be such a test of authenticity. He may not be the "most religious" in the sense of most fundamentalist, and he may not be therefore irrational.


    It's a lot easier to prove the existence of eyes and ears than God.

    Naive.

    As I said, there will never be such a study because there is no such thing as a test of "right" religious belief. Otherwise, it would be easy to prove which religion was "correct" out of the myriad that exist.
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Of course fundamentalists think they are more religious than other religious people. But other religious people would disagree. How do you know that the fundamentalists are right? You say that I have no reasonable basis for saying that Rowan Williams is more religious than a fundamentalist. But what is your basis for saying the reverse? Isn't that just as arbitrary?

    We weren't talking about proof, we were talking about rationality. You claimed that any belief that is based on beliefs that are not themselves justified rationally is itself irrational. You haven't said anything to back that up or to address the obvious counterargument that all our beliefs are, ultimately, based on beliefs that cannot be justified rationally.

    Besides, I don't think that you can prove the existence of either God or eyes and ears. It may be more rational to believe in eyes and ears than in God, or at any rate harder not to. But that's not the same thing.

    Not at all. An enormous amount of contemporary philosophical literature is based upon this sort of reasoning, and it works because people try to express themselves honestly. We've already had a link to Nagel's famous bat paper. It's not naive to expect professional philosophers to attempt to express themselves honestly. Perhaps it would be naive to expect (say) every poster on CFC OT to do the same thing, but who would ever expect that?

    I think if you take the time to read and try to understand a good selection of contemporary philosophy you'll change your mind about the value of thought experiments.

    I'm puzzled by this. We were talking about how one can judge whether one person is "more religious" than another. Now you're talking about judging whether one person's religious beliefs are more "right" than another. Clearly this is a completely different matter. Person X and person Y could belong to completely different religions, and person X could be far more religious than person Y; it wouldn't follow that person X's religion was right and that person Y's religion was wrong, or vice versa, or that they are both right, or that they are both wrong. Depth of commitment to a religion is a totally different matter from being right about that religion.
     
  15. Neonanocyborgasm

    Neonanocyborgasm Chieftain

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    Fundamentalists follow the tenets of their religion strictly, without hesitation, so that is my basis for making them the most religious. Since fundamentalism implies a lack of judgement of the validity of the religious beliefs that it entails, it is irrational. All other forms of religious belief, whether you like it or not, are less religious than that. You may argue that fundamentalism is itself a religious fallacy, but you can never prove this, because there is no test of religious validity. You see, so much of religion is about interpretation, and there is so much tradition to interpret, that any position could be right, but there is no way to prove it, or even come close, as it's little more than another opinion.

    Maybe not if you take such a solipsist approach, but you must admit it's a lot easier to believe in eyes and ears than god. At least I can see eyes and ears.

    Maybe, but that's a far cry from theology.

    And of course, there is no way to prove who's right and wrong, as there is no such test. Once again, when I say "more religious" I mean more devoted to the teachings of that religion. You may argue about the veracity of such a position, but not about its adherence.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Or an RE teacher. Those are really the only things for which a degree in Theology is directly relevant. Of course it is indirectly relevant to many other things; since it combines a study of history, hermeneutics, philosophy, and so on it's a pretty general humanities subject which would put you in a good position to go into law or something like that. I said earlier that the study of theology is in some ways quite like the study of law (and indeed the study of canon law would be a cross between the two). But then all this is true of pretty much all humanities subjects, or any that are not directly vocational. As they say, "What Can You Do With A BA In English?"

    But that is not at all what "fundamentalist" means. In fact this word has rather a large range of meanings, but they are normally connected to what the person believes; that is, to be a "fundamentalist" you have to have certain beliefs. It's got nothing to do with how closely you follow the tenets of your religion. In a Christian context, "fundamentalist" normally means someone who believes the Bible to be infallibly, inerrantly true, and regards the Bible as the sole source of authority, agreeing with it where it disagrees with other authorities such as the church or science. It also is often taken to mean someone who not only has this belief, but regards Christians who do not share it as proper Christians. The real hard-core fundamentalists think that even other fundamentalists who nevertheless are friendly with non-fundamentalists aren't proper Christians: thus there are groups in America who think that Billy Graham isn't a real Christian, not because of anything he believes, but because he is prepared to be friendly with liberal Christians. Now that's taking it to extremes. But none of this has got anything to do with "following the tenets of the religion strictly". It's more about having weird, extra tenets of their own - and, perhaps, neglecting other tenets that people from different traditions would uphold. For example, most Christian fundamentalists have completely dropped any notion that Christians are called to embrace poverty (typically, Christian fundamentalists are from well-to-do backgrounds). But a Franciscan friar would regard this as a very slack approach to Christian faith. Similarly, many Christian fundamentalists do not engage in any charity work, because they think that material things are unimportant and one should only try to save people's souls (I once talked to a homeless person outside Holy Trinity Brompton - a big fundamentalist church in London - about this, and about how the ministers told the parishioners not to give money to the poor, but to preach to them instead). Many Christians from other traditions, such as the Social Gospel tradition, would regard this as a complete betrayal of what Christianity should be all about.

    So you are on very shaky ground if you insist that fundamentalists adhere to the tenets of their faith more than their co-religionists do. That's certainly not how non-fundamentalist religious people would see it, and I would agree with them.

    I'm not sure that that follows, really. Someone could hold fundamentalist doctrines because they have carefully investigated them and concluded that they are probably true. Simply being a fundamentalist doesn't necessarily mean you haven't thought about your beliefs; on the contrary, there are fundamentalist theologians, hard though that is to believe.

    That's still just an assertion. You're still assuming that "fundamentalists" are people who hold religious beliefs more strongly than other religious people, whereas in fact they are people who hold certain religious beliefs, never mind how strongly they do so (it's perfectly possible to be a doubting fundamentalist - in fact the intellectual shortcomings of Christian fundamentalist mean that although enormous numbers of people become fundamentalists all the time, enormous numbers of other people stop being fundamentalists at the same time, most of whom spend considerable time doubting fundamentalist doctrines before making the break).

    Of course, but what's ease of belief got to do with anything? We were talking about rationality and what makes a belief rational. I hope you don't think that things which are easy to believe are, because of that, rational.

    Well, why did you bring it up, then?

    That may be a reasonable definition of "more religious", although I would say that it focuses too much on belief and not enough on action. Nevertheless, as I've argued, it does not at all coincide with any definition of "fundamentalist".
     
  17. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    What's the oddest philosophy/theology you ever did see?
     
  18. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I would have to say that "odd" rather depends on the perspective of the individual. I mean, having grown up LDS I am used to our doctrines, but they have to be really bizarre to outsiders.
     
  19. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Why is sexuality such a hugely restricted taboo laden area in large parts of christianity? In particular, I'm interested in where (and why) the whole sexual taboo began - the Abrahamic religions are full of it.
     
  20. Leifmk

    Leifmk Chieftain

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    I'm kind of enamoured of that group of Pacific Islanders who worship Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh, husband to the Queen, etc.) as a divine being. I'm sure it makes perfect sense to themselves.
     
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