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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Yes it does! However, for the purpose of just wanting to hear Plotinus talk about weird ideas it works perfectly.
     
  2. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Holy underwear, Mormon!
     
  3. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Heck, that is relatively normal compared to some of the stuff we believe . . .

    I mean, at least an outsider can see where cargo cults, for instance, are coming from.
     
  4. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    This dog and cart thing, one of the Stoics wrote that? Because if the Stoics conflated determinism and fatalism into one package, it's no wonder that the Platonists got upset about it. But the "lesson" that one should "not try to change things" only follows from the fatalistic part of the package, and if you take that back with your very next sentence, then you immediately undermine the "lesson". (I'm not criticizing you, here, I'm criticizing the Stoics, on the assumption that what you wrote above is a reasonable approximation to their views.)

    Well, that's a royal mess! Obviously, if I want to understand this bit of intellectual history, I'm going to have to read some Stoic writings. Thanks for the intro.

    That's pretty much how I defend compatibilism in the "free will" thread. Only there I'm talking about Newtonian-style determinism, which seems to come with a bit less baggage than the Stoics' version.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I could write so much in response to that, but I'll limit myself to the ones that leap immediately to mind.

    Valentinianism has to be a highly-placed candidate in anyone's list. This was the most popular form of Gnosticism in the second century AD, and revolved around a system of Aeons - divine entities within the Pleroma (fullness), a sort of pantheon which was itself the totality of God. Here's a quick summary of Valentinus' views that I wrote a while back:

    Next up we have the Donatists, who always struck me as very peculiar. The Donatist church was a splinter group that broke away from the Catholic Church in the fourth century in part because they had very high standards of the priesthood, and they thought that the Catholic priests weren't good enough because they associated with people who had betrayed the faith during persecutions but then repented. The Donatist church was actually more popular throughout North Africa during the fourth century than the mainstream church was (Augustine's sermons were sometimes drowned out by the sound of singing from the Donatist church down the road). Now that's not so wacky, but the Donatists quickly developed a serious martyr complex because they were persecuted by the newly Christianised Roman state (Constantine's first forays into meddling with ecclesiastical matters were concerned with the Donatist schism, not Arianism as you might think). And of course the Catholics weren't getting martyred any more, so the Donatists took martyrdom to be a sure sign of the true faith. The upshot of this was that the more extreme ones actively tried to get martyred. This wasn't entirely new. A century and a half earlier, Origen had been only 17 when his own father was martyred and he decided he wanted to join him; his mother prevented him from turning himself in to the authorities by hiding his clothes while he was asleep, and Origen suffered from enough teenage coyness to be unwilling to go to the authorities in the nude. However, the Donatists went even further by declaring that if you weren't getting martyred then suicide was an acceptable alternative. Some used to throw themselves off cliffs. The strangest were the Circumcelliones, thugs who marauded around the countryside making a nuisance of themselves and attacking Catholics. They would capture unwary passers by, and then ask their surprised victims to kill them. There is a story of one such person who promised to kill the Circumcelliones as they asked, and tied them up first, saying this would make the task easier. Once they were secure he beat them up but left them alive before stealing all their stuff and going on his merry way.

    The Cathars also exalted suicide; many of them would starve themselves to death. The Cathars also thought that children are intrinsically demonic and have to have the diabolical side of them purged through suffering. Actually, they may have had a point there.

    The Messalians were good for a laugh. These were a group of mystics based around Syria in the fourth and fifth centuries. Like most Syrian Christians, they rejected the rather Platonic approach to anthropology which had been adopted by Greek-speaking Christians, together with its rigid distinction between the soul and the body. They argued instead for a more integrated, holistic understanding of the human person. Now this was all very sensible and to be applauded, but it seems the Messalians took it a bit further and claimed that sin is something physical that exists in your physical body. Similarly, when God gives you the Holy Spirit, this is something physical inside you too. You can actually feel the difference (and if you can't, you are not really saved). Apparently some of them took this to extremes and claimed that you can literally expel the devil from yourself by going to the toilet. Now you have to admit that that's a fun religion.

    Those are just the ones that come to mind immediately. Of course you should be aware that most groups later labelled heretical, especially those from antiquity and the Middle Ages, are known only or primarily through the writings of their opponents. So our understanding of them is probably very distorted.

    It depends on what you mean by "sexual taboo". Now I don't know about the other Abrahamic religions, but in Christianity it's varied very greatly from place to place and over time. As far as I can tell, Christians in antiquity had much the same attitude towards sex that Jews and high-minded pagans did; they didn't much approve of it as a rule, but they didn't have a great deal to say on the matter. The only ancient Christian writer I know of before Jerome who had much to say on it was Clement of Alexandria, who laid down various rules in his "The Teacher", a compendium of rules for how to behave in society which are fantastically interesting (there's a chapter on shoes, for example, and another on etiquette when in the bath). Clement says that you should have sex only with your spouse, and only in the evenings, never before dinner. He has harsh words for those who go at it in the morning like cockerals. Like most of Clement's social rules, it seems that these reflect the way that high-minded, educated people in early third-century Alexandria thought everyone should behave; there's nothing particularly Christian about them.

    Now with Jerome, and then Augustine, things changed somewhat. Jerome was rather obsessed with sex and tried to discourage it wherever possible. His famous 22nd letter, written to a young female admirer, proved highly controversial at the time since he seemed to be saying that you practically had to be a virgin to be saved. Many Christians in Rome, where Jerome was living, decided he was an unhealthy influence, and this is one reason why he ended up living in a cave in the Holy Land instead. One man, Jovinian, was particularly scathing in his attacks. Jovinian argued that in fact it makes no difference whether you are a virgin or not; he said that married people are living the Christian life just as well as single people.

    Now the interesting thing is that the church condemned Jovinian, not Jerome. Jerome's more extreme outbursts were considered unacceptable, but so too was the notion that it makes no difference whether you are married or not. A middle way was found between the two: you can certainly be a good Christian if you are married, but it is better not to be - just as Jesus said that Mary had chosen the "better part" than Martha, but he still loved them both.

    Now all this was about sex in general. There was no notion that sex within marriage was absolutely fine but sex outside marriage was not. Clement is the only ancient Christian writer I know of who distinguishes between the two. Jerome and, after him, Augustine disapproved of sex in general, no matter what the circumstances. Indeed, it seems that many Christians during this period and earlier lived chastely even if they were married: we hear of married couples converting to Christianity and then continuing to live together with separate beds, or, later, separating to live in monasteries or nunneries.

    In the Middle Ages, as far as I can tell, most people who wrote about sex were concerned about monks, not the laity. For example, there is only one medieval book on homosexuality - the famous "Book of Gomorrah" by Peter Damien. But in that book, Peter is concerned to try to stamp out homosexuality in monasteries, which, if his descriptions are to believed, were all like Old Compton Street. There's little indication that homosexuality is A Bad Thing in itself, simply that it's not what monks ought to be getting up to. The same thing seems to be the case with treatments of other sexual matters during this general period. In fact, for many parts of society, there were fairly liberal attitudes to this sort of thing. For example, peasants would rarely get married; they'd just move in together and call each other husband and wife.

    Now we all know about the very "earthy" attitude to sex that seems to have prevailed in Europe from the Renaissance right up to the eighteenth century; no-one could read Chaucer or Shakespeare and think that they were writing about sexually uptight societies. On the contrary, there's more general shagging in their works than in most modern ones. Just read the Miller's Tale, for example. Of course these aren't documentaries; but then think, too, of characters like Chaucer's Monk, terribly worldly and lustful. Fast forward a bit and think of Boswell's journal, which seems to consist mostly of cheerfully detailed accounts of his various liaisons with a broad cross-section of London's prostitutes. As far as I can tell, most people saw no inconsistency at all between such promiscuity and a perfectly sincere Christian faith. Of course Boswell was perhaps a bit extreme. A really debauched character would be denounced as an "atheist", as the Earl of Rochester was, and even a more restrained one might come in for some criticism. Descartes had a daughter out of wedlock (she died, to his great grief); when he was engaged in intellectual controversy with academics in the Netherlands, one of his opponents claimed that the reason the philosopher kept moving from country to country was to avoid all the paternity suits.

    But it was during this period that Puritanism developed, and that's really the source of later Christian weirdness about sex. The Puritans - or at least many of them - had highly ascetic attitudes to such things; I don't know precisely why this was. Of course there had been many ascetic groups in Christianity throughout its entire history. And Puritanism was quite a minor movement in the grand scheme of things. However, it proved important for two reasons: first, it was a major influence on the development of evangelicalism in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; and, second, it was enormously influential on the development of American society as a whole (not just in religious matters) in the seventeenth and eighteenth. The rather strange attitude to sex found in much of the modern US really goes right back to its Puritan roots (and remember that that country actually celebrates those roots every November). Meanwhile, in Britain, evangelicalism developed from being a minority movement in the eighteenth century to being one of the major elements of Christianity by the end of the nineteenth. And that is where "Victorian" values, particularly about sex, came from.

    Today, of course, the churches in the English-speaking world are having to struggle with this heritage: the Puritan-based strand remains extremely strong, while there are also those Christians who either were never influenced by it or who have since rejected it. This is one of the reasons why there are such bitter divisions over homosexuality. The Protestant churches in the non-English-speaking world, meanwhile, don't have all this baggage - or at any rate they have a lot less of it - and you don't usually find such hang-ups about sex among them. Which means that if you want to sleep with a random Protestant, you should go to Germany.

    That's Protestants, though. Of course it's Catholics who are supposed to have all the guilt. I know less about that. I think that a hardening (if I can say that in this context) of the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual matters came about in the nineteenth century, in response to what was perceived as backsliding and general immorality throughout Europe; this was the same period that gave the world the Syllabus of Errors and Vatican I. However, the church had always officially frowned upon loose sexual behaviour and the like; it just hadn't been much of an obsession.

    However, in addition to all that, I would say that sexuality just does tend to be a taboo subject in human society in general, or at least one where basically irrational prejudices or odd prohibitions crop up. Of course we can point to all kinds of exceptions (such as the aforementioned Old Compton Street) but that's a general trend in society in general. Naturally religion often gets involved, but I suspect that this is often because people invoke religion in defence of more basic prejudices, not because those prejudices spring from religion. Of course, once they get linked together, they reinforce each other and it becomes highly complex. But you don't have to be religious to have weird views on sex. A friend of mine got into trouble with her parents when they saw a picture of her hugging her boyfriend; they believed that it was wrong to hug outside marriage (and her aunt said that she didn't even dare hold hands with her husband before their wedding day - what a barrel of fireworks that relationship must have been). And they're Chinese atheists. No doubt if they'd happened to be Christians they would have insisted that these views were those taught by Christianity. So I would be very wary of blaming Christianity for this sort of thing; I think that it's just one of those things that you get in society anyway, and it inevitably gets hooked up to whatever religion is going. Patriotism is a similar case in point. Most societies have an element of patriotism, and it invariably gets linked to whatever the main religion is. Look at Shinto in Japan and the cult of the emperor before WWII, for example. Again, look at how Christianity was basically hijacked during WWI by every combative power. And look at how both the Union and the Confederacy told their soldiers that they were fighting for the true Christian religion - something that caused many soldiers big problems when they got captured and were amazed to see their enemies reading Bibles. But can we blame Christianity for fostering patriotism? Of course not, no more than any other religion that gets twisted for such purposes. At the end of the day, these things come from people.

    What! You're saying he's not? You heretic!

    Really, though, is it so peculiar? It's been a common thing throughout history for people to believe their national leader to be divine. You still get it today; in Japan, for example, it's still rather controversial to say in public that the emperor is not divine, even though perhaps most people don't really believe that he literally is. It's not really any odder for people to think that a minor royal from another country is divine. The fact that it is so obviously daffy just shows how equally daft the more common version of this belief is.

    Which reminds me, I've always thought that Rastafarianism is a pretty dippy religion, so add that to the list I gave in response to Perfection's question. Clearly an enormously enjoyable religion, of course, but bewilderingly strange in doctrine!

    I don't remember who said the dog and cart thing, which is why I was a bit vague about it! One problem with the Stoics is that most of the works of the Greek Stoics are lost, so they have to be reconstructed on the basis of later Latin authors reporting their ideas. The most important is Cicero, and he is probably the man to read if you want it first-hand, or as good as you can get, since he's so readable and seems pretty reliable. I'm afraid I don't really know much about Stoicism so I'm not the person to ask about this - no doubt there are good resources somewhere online. However, I do think that some Stoics, at least, confused fatalism with determinism - or, perhaps, some people who were merely influenced by Stoicism but who didn't really understand it. Certainly true Stoic teaching, such as that of Chrysippus or indeed Cicero, did not make such a conflation.

    However, the Platonists thought that even determinism, never mind fatalism, undermined morality, since they thought that contra-causal freedom is essential to morality and determinism is (by definition) a denial of the existence of contra-causal freedom. Now I would agree that in fact it is very hard to show convincingly why you need contra-causal freedom for morality, although it does seem to be a basic belief of very many people that you do.
     
  6. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Thank you for the insights Plotinus! With sexual taboos I was thinking of the myriad of restrictions on sex in these religions that get linked to 'sin'. Whenever it's justified in Abrahamic religions it always seems to link back to the pentateuch directly or indirectly. Perhaps as you say it's common for large organized societies to acquire sexual taboos, as in the case of China. I'm also puzzled with the shift in India, sex is a huge taboo now despite it being the culture originating the Kama Sutra..

    It would seem to me that such repressive rules on sexuality would quickly make a belief system obsolete when freer choices were available, but that doesn't really seem to be the case.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, you should never underestimate the attraction of restrictive moral codes. It's easy to assume that they are intrinsically unpopular, but that's not necessarily the case, at least for many people. If that weren't so, there wouldn't be so many around the world... Hard to believe, but not everyone wants to be a libertine!
     
  8. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    But what is the motivation behind it? The fear of losing one's partner? The fear of losing control of one's children or their general misfortune?
     
  9. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    Ok.Ok.I have read your OP but since you say that i was somewhat boorish of not reading it,I therefore have to say that it have nothing to do with my own OP.

    My intention and motives since joining your precious thread is not to lower you in esteem of being a so-called theologian or something in value as by implying theology has less worth from the very person such as you who attribute some great important to the subject but to polemicize by way of ascribing theology to the least possible value.

    I have looked at a list of threads one day and found one that strikes my eye "Ask a Theologian" and contemplated and predicted that this thread will probably be a place where many trite questions will be raised and the person who does the answering will not be shy of such flatteries because it is easy to answer to these novelty questions by the disciples in-waiting such as the likes of Billyboy3000bc and imperfection.

    Moderator Action: TRolling / flaming - warned.
    Please read the forum rules: http://forums.civfanatics.com/showthread.php?t=422889

    First after i've read this particular piece i had thought you were writing in a tautological manner and then i come to the realization that you somewhat employed the word 'extreme' as some form of a conjunction(of course not a uninflective word) as a union of two opposites.What does this tells me?-nothing.

    What does this have to do of what i have said and why are you stressing the proposition that i am affirming that "writing of history is nothing other than writing of the author's prejudices?"

    It is as you are adding another king on the chess-board in your favor and subtracting my king on my side of the board.:lol:

    I am saying that we can't understand these above listed authors fully but it is fathomableto get an imagined idea of who they are based on the limited knowledge of their culture and the institutions that they have inhabited.

    We can have some limited available resources of proving some fact from the information that we recieved from some texts of these antiquadated authors as long as things mentioned in the text can be in principle be reduced to an empirically verifiable physical statement.Mainly from the exavations of archeologists.

    Of course in consequeces,we can't excavate ideas,methods,dreams,theories and other abstract speculations that are immaterial.

    Goood for them and let them subvert the meaning(not prejudge as you would like to say on the basis of biasness)of Aristotle and superimpose on others who are dazzled by the "imagined ideal."

    Yes and for the good reason not as inviolable principle but for precautionary one to seperate fact from sophistry.

    That is great that you feel comfort that there are plenty of people who support this discipline based on the grounds of its own endorsement by the premise of the people whose views on hermeneutics is held in general respect.:lol:

    Long Live the Hermeneutical Creed!!! Horrah! Horrah! and Bravo!:rolleyes:

    Sympathizing their outlook is not enough and incomplete.I do on the other hand have to agree with your point on trying to understand the culture of the ancient and medieval authors but i have to say that it is impossible to understand their sense of what their culture is on their own terms.

    Do not confuse of what our understandings and their understandings as one or the same.


    They are alien to ours.You say "fundamental similarities" and i say "true in some contingent manner."


    Yes and it is because we are alive not dead.:crazyeye:

    Not true.

    How about this question:Can you talk to a dead medieval European or a Modern Japanese who happen to be alive?

    Sorry,i didn't intend to insult you.:(

    Quite true but you have failed to see that my musings on Nagel's bathood to illuminate not the mind-body problem but to incorporate by extirpating Nagel's mind-body out of context into medieval man-modern man context of my own.;)

    Since you are writing about Don Cupitt in your words and failed to understand my on some points,why should i take your word for it and also does Don Cupitt agree on what you say about him?

    No and once again it is not that it because we can't "adopt" their ideas or methods but simply that we subvert it.

    Another way of saying it is that we can assert that we can know of their ideas and methods into words that in turn change its own meanings into something different of our own.

    I am aware of some argument from their camps but that still does not persuade me substantially to be true entirely.

    Well this is another totally different subject that is important in its own right and i am still in elementary on this matter.Hopefully someone can dispell my skepticism of this or relieve me of my doubt that it is true.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    [CartesianFart] I'm honestly having a lot of trouble understanding what you're trying to say and why you're saying it. I don't see a single argument in anything you've written, only assertions repeated over and over again.

    I thought that was precisely what you had said before - here are your exact words:

    Now if I misunderstood what you said, you should respond by explaining in better detail what you meant, not by simply rejecting my rephrasing.

    Again, I honestly don't understand this. You say that we can't understand these people "fully", implying that we can understand them to a limited extent. But then you specify only that we can get "an imagined idea" of their meaning, implying that any supposed understanding is actually just the product of our own imaginations and not accurate even at all. So which is it?

    Now it seems you've completely changed your mind. Before, you said that we can't understand ancient authors because we don't share their mindset. Now you're saying that we can understand them, but we can't be sure that anything they wrote was true unless this is supported by material evidence. Clearly these two claims are quite incompatible with each other. For example, suppose that Tacitus tells us something about what weapons the Germans used, and then in Germany we dig up weapons that match his description; it would then seem that Tacitus was telling the truth. But for us to be able to make that judgement we must be able to understand Tacitus' statement about the weapons in the first place, before we dug any up. And if that's the case, then we must be able to understand ancient authors.

    As I said, I don't see a single argument or even example in anything you've said here; all you've done is just deny all the things I said but without providing any reasons for supposing that you're right to do so. You just assert that people from foreign but contemporary cultures can understand each other while people from different time periods cannot, on the basis that people who are still alive can talk to each other - but what kind of argument is that? I can read the books that Aristotle wrote. You haven't explained why verbal communication has some magical ability to overcome the supposedly insuperable barriers between cultures but the written word cannot. Just laughing at the practitioners of hermeneutics isn't going to convince anyone. You need to talk about Schleiermacher, who founded the discipline, and explain why he was wrong. Again, I see perfectly well that you're using Nagel to support a completely different claim from Nagel's own, but simply asserting that isn't going to make Nagel support you, because, as I said, he was not talking about different cultures of the same species but about species with completely different mental and physiological equipment. You can't just ignore that point and hope it will go away.

    I agree with you on one thing: when someone from one tradition "adopts" ideas from another tradition, this is never a case of straightforward adoption - the ideas in question change as they are put to a different use. But I disagree with your characterisation of this as (necessarily) "subversion" and I fail to see what is wrong with it. You seem to think that if you point out that Christian theologians used ideas first developed by pagan philosophers, that is enough to destroy the entire legitimacy of all theology. You haven't actually given any reason for supposing this; all you've done is insist that Christian theologians did use such ideas, and assume that the conclusion follows.

    I think it's all getting rather off-topic anyway. We're meant to be discussing theology. Now your argument against the validity of theology as an academic discipline is really an argument against the validity of any form of historical inquiry, as you admit yourself; you don't believe that it's possible to study any writings of the past, whether theological or not, and you reject all classical studies, the study of the history of philosophy, and so on. That's a dramatically strong claim, for which you need to provide some evidence and some arguments, but I don't think this thread is really the place to do it.
     
  11. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    Another charming Cathar belief was that breastfeeding is evil.

    Maybe those brits who objected to the EU video with the breastfeeding mother should take up Catharism ... :D
     
  12. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    1st I must say thanks, Plotinius, for such an interesting thread. I spent the last couple of days reading it.

    I've always been confused about the term, Judeo-Christian. The term seems to be used to describe Western philosophy or theology depending on who's using it & why. What I don't understand is the term itself. Judaism & Christianity, though one was born of another, are extremely different. What's your take on the term, Judeo-Christian?
     
  13. Gogf

    Gogf Indescribable

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    That's a pretty good job at sounding like an 18th century intellectual, but I don't actually have any idea what it means :p. Could you please clarify?
     
  14. aneeshm

    aneeshm Chieftain

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    In the old days (just a few centuries back), the upper part of a woman's body was not a sexual taboo in India. Only the Muslims and Christians had hang-ups about it. Hindus didn't have any trouble with a topless woman. Neither did they have a problem with sexuality in general.

    The sexual taboos that have made their way into Indian society are the result of Muslim (Sultanate and Mughal) and Victorian Christian (British) influence. The British went to atrocious lengths to deride and ridicule the sexual openness of Indians in general and Hindus in particular. They called us dirty, filthy, and animals. They called us immoral, hopeless, religionless, and corrupted. They called us perverts. And the Westernised elite actually took this rubbish seriously.

    Now, however, the old equilibrium is being restored, and Indian society is becoming more liberated WRT sexuality, thank God! You can see a huge change in the perception of all things sexual in the last five to ten years. I've seen it myself.
     
  15. Fifty

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

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    Plotinus:

    Do you find any glaring methodological differences or conflicts in the respective treatment of religion and religious history by philosophers, theologians/religious studies faculties, and historians?
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Thanks for the comments, Maimonides. Here's a possible guide to your perplexion: I think the term refers to things that are shared by Judaism and Christianity, particularly those things that Christianity inherited from Judaism. So, for example, the notion of a single, all-powerful, personal God who intervenes in history on a regular basis. Actually, I'd say that the term might apply above all to ethics. Many of the distinctive elements of Christian morality were inherited from Judaism, partly because the original Christian moralists - Jesus and Paul - were Jews. For example, Judaism had a strong notion of care for the poor, which classical society largely lacked; the Christians took this over enthusiastically, which is why in the fourth century all those energetic bishops started building hostels for the poor and haranguing the wealthy to donate to those in need.

    I'm pleased to hear it. As you can no doubt tell, I think sexual liberation is all to the good. I could only appreciate Bollywood films after it occurred to me how to interpret them: every time that, in a western film, you would have a sex scene, in a Bollywood film you have a song and dance number where everyone is inexplicably in Vienna. Then it all makes sense.

    Definitely. Historians who aren't specifically historians of thought tend to over-simplify and not appreciate all the nuances of theological positions and debates. A sort-of example: I was reading a story by Isaac Asimov earlier today in which a character gave a potted history of western society, and mentioned how the Christians gained power in Rome and their theologians had everyone believing in Original Sin and the fall of Adam. Now of course that's not really a good example since Asimov isn't exactly a historian, but that is the sort of thing you might see in a narrative written by a historian who's not up on the nuances of it. Because, of course, "the Christians" did not agree on the existence or nature of Original Sin, either then or later, and indeed they still don't.

    With philosophers, there tend to be two problems. The first is that they insist on evaluating theologians as if they were philosophers; inevitably, they conclude that they are bad philosophers. We've already seen Russell's judgement on Aquinas in that respect. The second problem is that they just don't know very much about theology. This happens even with philosophers who you'd think would know better. Take Alvin Plantinga, for example, who is probably the most famous philosopher of religion alive today (and a Reformed Christian, too). Now I read a book by him recently in which he discusses various possible "defeaters" for Christian faith, that is, considerations which might seem to make such faith irrational. One of the ones he discussed was higher biblical criticism, which may appear to undermine many traditional articles of faith. Plantinga's response? Historians who have tried to establish what can definitely be known about the historical Jesus do not agree on very much; and the things they do agree on don't contradict the things that Christians have traditionally believed about Jesus. So there's no problem from that quarter.

    Now this is staggeringly wrong for so many reasons it's hard to know where to start. First, most New Testament scholars do in fact agree on certain things about Jesus that contradict what is traditionally believed about him - for example, they would mostly reject the belief that he was really born in Bethlehem. Second, Plantinga seems to think that higher biblical criticism consists entirely of the search for the historical Jesus, and he completely ignores all critical treatment of the rest of the Bible, which is quite a big thing to overlook. Third, that field has indeed produced many results, largely uncontested by the vast majority of scholars, which contradict traditional Christian beliefs. For example, virtually no serious scholar would today claim that Paul really wrote the Pastoral Epistles, or Ephesians; but Christians traditionally believe that he did. Furthermore, those books claim to be the work of Paul; if the scholars are right, therefore, there are claims in the Bible that are not true, another problem for traditional faith, at least under some interpretations of it. And furthermore again, most scholars accept a reading of Old Testament history that is completely at variance with the history that the Old Testament itself teaches. If the narrative of the Old Testament is taken at face value, for example, it appears that God gave Israel the Law (just after the Exodus) and Israel then spent centuries either following it or ignoring it, which is why God sent various prophets to try to remind them about it. But ever since the mid-nineteenth century, at least, scholars have recognised that this version of history is really a reconstruction created during the exilic period or immediately after. What probably really happened is that the prophets came first, and partly in response to their teaching, the Law developed; it was then projected back to a mythical past and people came to believe it was actually much more ancient than the prophets. And if you accept all that, as I believe most Old Testament scholars do fairly non-controversially, then you have to revise the traditional conception of the course of salvation history.

    So in other words, Plantinga's treatment of higher biblical criticism is amazingly inept, especially coming from someone who you'd think might know something about it. But that's what happens when philosophers tackle theology - they don't know any more about it than anyone else does. I don't know if it's worse than what happens when theologians try to do philosophy (they tend to become mesmerised by Wittgenstein, or Nietzsche, or people like that, in a distressingly non-critical way). It's not as bad as what happens when scientists try to do philosophy, or (even worse) theology, but we all know about that.
     
  17. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    That's good news! How far back do you think the pendulum will swing? And why do you think that India has lagged so far behind with this? Why was there no sexual counter revolution after the Brits left?
     
  18. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    It's debatable whether or not Christianity is a form of monotheism. In fact one of it's greatest departures from Judaism is the concept of the Trinity. Judaism believes in the concept of a messiah, but doesn't deify the messiah nearly as much as Chistianity & doesn't deify the messiah's mother at all. Of course, there are lots of different forms of Chistianity so it's difficult to think of Christianity in broad terms. You mention the notion of a "personal G-d," yet this was a large catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. I guess it just depends on which form of Christianity one it referring too...another reason I think the term, Judeo-Christian is hard to validate.

    Right after I posted, I remembered that the term is often used to describe ethics. Thanks for your example of charity. Good example. Even in terms of ethics, I have a hard time finding similarities between Judaism & Christianity, particularly modern Christianity as opposed to early Christianity. Christianity has changed immensely since it's birth. Used today, the term, Judeo-Christian must be understood to refer to modern Christianity rather than the early versions...another reason I have a problem with the term. Any other examples of similarities between the two religions that could validate this term would be appreciated.

    For reasons explained above, the term, Judeo-Christian gets under my skin. Maybe I'm just asking your opinion of whether you think that the term is valid & why.

    My university education focused on history, but I did study some philosophy as part of the curriculum. I can't say that I've studied theology, but I have engaged in lots of religious study; just not focused on Christianity. I have read the New Testament several times, but I have no idea what versions they were. That wasn't important to me because I don't think a written work can be properly understood after it's been translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English. I've also read the Torah, Talmud & Koran, but very little Hindu or Budhist writings. History, culture & philosophy has always greatly interested me. Your perspective as a nonreligious theologian is rare, interesting & refreshing.

    I love Asimov!
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm puzzled by this - what do you think the Trinity is? Jesus' mother has got nothing to do with it.

    In fact the roots of Christian Trinitarianism do lie, to a considerable extent, in intertestamental Judaism. During that period, Jewish monotheism itself underwent some serious modifications. This happened in two ways. The first was that aspects of God became hypostasised. For example, people could talk of God's Wisdom, or his Glory, as if they are semi-independent beings in their own right. In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, such as Proverbs or Wisdom itself, the divine Wisdom speaks as a character. Later, Christians identified Wisdom with the Stoic Logos and with Christ. This is why Proverbs 8:22 caused problems in the fourth century, because there, Wisdom speaks of itself as created; which would mean that Christ is created, not divine.

    The other way of modifying monotheism was to develop a complex angelology. This was when all those seraphs, cherubs, and the rest first came into being. We hear of figures such as Metatron, the voice of God, who is an angel so exalted that he is practically divine himself. What's more, these angels provide a link between God and man. In the Enochian literature, Metatron actually is Enoch - a human being who gets taken up to heaven and transformed into a quasi-divine being. There are obvious parallels there with Christianity.

    So I don't think it's very fair to regard the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as a betrayal of Jewish monotheism; on the contrary, Jewish theologians were doing that long before the Christians turned up. Philo of Alexandria could talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And that's even assuming that the doctrine of the Trinity is itself incompatible with monotheism, but I don't really see why it is. Anyone who denies that there is only one God is not holding the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

    Well, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, not Aramaic, and it ought to be translated directly into English, not via Latin, so there's only one step of translation, not three as you suggest. It does make a difference which version you read because, although you are right to say that no translation is perfect, some are certainly more imperfect than others. I already pointed out that whatever version Quasar was quoting from before was wildly inaccurate. I think that most of the time it's possible to get a fairly comprehensible translation, even if it's not precise.
     
  20. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    Pardon me. I've been told by Christians that Mary represents the Holy Spirit or that she is the Holy Spirit. The many denominations of Christianity seem to
    view the Trinity differently which furthers the confusion of this outsider looking in. Many place images of her in their homes & cars which reinforces my notion that she is deified by many Christians.

    I think you misunderstand me. I wouldn't use the term, betrayal to describe Christianity at all.

    It just seems to me that some denominations of Christianity are monotheistic & other aren't. For a long time, I thought that saint worship was further proof of Christian polytheism. Then it was explained to me that people are lighting candles for & praying to saints asking them to pray to G-d on their behalf.

    Another good example. Thanks. I've never seen the Jewish or Christian concepts of angels as deviating from monotheism. In both religions, angels seem to be agents of G-d, not deities to be worshiped.
     
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