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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Heretic_Cata

    Heretic_Cata We're gonna live forever

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    Earlier in the thread (before i lost track of it). You said that atheism is not a "new thing" as in, not a modern new thing. Could you elaborate a bit on that ?

    (if this has already been asked then sorry, i didn't follow the whole thread)
     
  2. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    I agree they're not the same, and I agree that if you want to go about it very objectively it's very difficult to create a bullet proof moral rule in so few words. That is why I said that the spirit of the rule is clear, even though it's easy to attack it if one so desires. That doesn't change the fact that I think most people are quite capable of understanding the essence of it. And that's all I care about, because in the end that's what really matters in human interaction.

    The reason I put the consequence of the golden rule as 'do not do anything to others that would violate them' is that it's an obvious consequence. Do not do to others what you don't want them to do to you - people don't want to be violated. Now, it's true that they have different ideas of what it means to be violated, that is why I specifically note that people have different needs. But when people realize that they have different needs from others they also understand that if they can appreciate their neighbour's need then they understand what would entail a violation, and can thus act accordingly to avoid it.

    Therefore, people are in fact able to do to others as they would want done to themselves (or the negative parallel - don't do, etc).

    Now, of course there will be misunderstandings since we're not perfect. Like in your example with the Dominicans. But that's a misunderstanding, not a fault of the rule. That's where communication comes in. I'm sure if the Dominicans were similarly interested in reaching out they could explain their needs to the wealthy local and work out a solution that would satisfy them all and thereby be a perfect example of the golden rule in action. Using misunderstandings between humans as an example of a flawed rule is really going about it the wrong way. Humans will always misunderstand each other no matter how good the rules, but if they do their utmost to understand each other that is the best they can do. And that's all the golden rule really says.

    I think you misunderstand the point El Mac is making. He's not saying he will become a little girl or a chimp. He is saying that if his mental capabilities at some point will be similar to either of those he still wants to be treated respectfully and caringly. He is still worth something. If, however, his brain is completely destroyed (braindead) he is no longer worth anything and should therefore no longer be treated as a human being, but rather as a lump of (potentially useful) organs.

    The reason he makes this destinction is simply to specify the scope of what the golden rule should cover (children and chimps should be included, bacteria should not).

    If I've misunderstood you please correct me El Mac.
     
  3. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Yeah, thanks
     
  4. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Do you think that to be the best and most objective theologian it's better to be agnostic or areligious?
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, I think you've made a big logical error here. Consider the following two claims:

    (1) If you hold ethical claim X, you believe that X applies to everybody.

    (2) Everybody holds (some form of) ethical claim X.

    I think it's clear that these are very different claims. We can imagine Xs for which (1) holds, but not (2), and for which (2) holds, but not (1). For example, I can define "whistlism" as the ethical claim that everybody should whistle all the time. (1) is true of whistlism, but (2) is not true of whistlism.

    Now you call the "Golden Rule" a "universal" rule. But that is ambigious. Do you mean (1) or (2)? Küng thinks it is universal in the sense of (2). That is, he thinks that every (major) religious tradition holds some form of it. Because of this, he thinks that this rule should be part of the "Global Ethics" that he wants to develop.

    But you are claiming that if Küng is committed to (2) about the "Golden Rule", then he must also be committed to (1). Furthermore, you point out that (1) is, in fact, false, because the Muslim version of the "Golden Rule" does not meet it. Therefore, Küng is wrong about (2) as well.

    But of course, as I hope the distinction between (1) and (2) makes clear, you're not justified in assuming that. Why should Küng be committed to claim (1) about the "Golden Rule", or indeed about any other principle which he wants to include in his "Global Ethic"? The only criterion, accoding to him, on which to choose such principles is (2). I don't see why he should be committed to (1) at all. And you haven't given any good reason to doubt (2). You have pointed out that the Muslim version of the "Golden Rule" is not universal in scope. It does not follow from that that the "Golden Rule" itself is not universally represented among the major religious traditions. But that is all that Küng is claiming for it. Thus, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that all the "Great" religions must adopt the same form of the "Golden Rule" for Küng to be justified in including it in his Global Ethic; all that is required is that they all adopt something recognisable as some form of the same principle.

    What is the argument for this? What is the difference between a moral imperative and a moral axiom, and why must the latter be absolute? I can easily imagine someone who acts on the basis of variable - even capricious - moral axioms, like a D&D Chaotic character. Maybe we would be inclined to think that a defective morality, but it would certainly be possible.

    Here again I think you're confusing (1) and (2). Küng claims only that the "Golden Rule", or variants thereon, is found in all the major religious traditions; he doesn't need to claim that the same version of the rule is found in them all; he certainly doesn't need to claim that each tradition believes the rule to be universal in scope.

    Ah, but you've not demonstrated it! And surely the fact that one can easily alter the scope of moral imperatives and axioms alike, as one sees fit, is evidence that in fact you're wrong there. I can formulate any moral principle that I want. Of course I might not find it easy to persuade other people to follow it, but that's a different matter. Moreover, throughout history people have indeed altered these principles and axioms (perhaps unconsciously) to fit their other ideas about how things should be. For example, you say that the "Golden Rule", at least in Christianity, should be applied universally; yet the Christian apologists for slavery in the eighteenth century evidently didn't think so. They modified the scope of the rule to apply only to white people.

    You may well be right there, but I don't really see a problem. Of course anyone who modifies an existing moral principle will be changing it, or at least creating a new version; and anyone who succeeds in imposing his new version on the whole religion will have changed that religion. But I wouldn't say anything contrary to that and I don't see that Küng would either. Certainly, in the speech in question, he is calling for religions to change: he wants their moral teachings to be more universal in scope, dropping the parochialism that he sees (surely rightly) as a hindrance to the development of really good moral teachings.

    The claim that this sort of approach is rather patronising (telling people what they believe) has often been made, and it may well be a fair point. But of course it doesn't mean that the approach in question is actually wrong.

    Maybe, but I really think you've misunderstood not only what Küng is trying to say but also the other views that he is committed to. But I must also ask - why do you seem to be on first-name terms with him?

    I don't remember saying that (and I don't want to search all those pages to find it). Atheism, or at least thoroughgoing agnosticism, is part of Theravada Buddhism, so that has obviously been around for a long time. We can also see atheistic tendencies among the Epicureans, among others, in western antiquity. But I think that atheism as we know it only really developed in the seventeenth and (especially) the eighteenth centuries. It was only in the eighteenth - and perhaps even the nineteenth - century that the word "atheism" acquired its modern meaning. Here's a short bit I wrote ages ago on this:


    I think that, other things being equal, it really doesn't make much difference. It could be argued that a religious person is more likely to have empathy for religious views, which would be important in understanding them properly. But similarly, it could be argued that a non-religious person is more likely to approach those views more objectively. Of course, an atheist is no more likely to be objective than a theist; both will bring their own views on the matter; an agnostic may lack that baggage. But then again, an agnostic may have particular reasons for being an agnostic: they may believe it impossible in principle to know whether God exists or not. But that view would have been practically unintelligible to most ancient and medieval theologians, so here again the modern theologian is bringing his or her own conceptions to the table.

    Really, though, I don't think it makes much difference; any historian of ideas needs to be able to engage both sympathetically and critically with the people under consideration, irrespective of their own views. Of course the historian of ideas can then go on to criticise the person studied on the basis of his or her own views, but that is a different enterprise.
     
  6. aneeshm

    aneeshm Chieftain

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    India has had a tradition of classical atheism since the very beginning (it died out later, but it would have survived if India had been under its own rule). It's called the Charvaka philosophy.

    Some of the questions they posed to the ritualists were: If the horse which is sacrificed in the Ashwamedha Yagna (Horse-Sacrifice) goes to heaven, why does not the priest offer his own father upon the altar? If the food which is offered to the ancestors during their worship reaches them, then why does anyone need to pack provisions for a long journey - why doesn't his family simply make food offerings while worshipping him while he is travelling? :lol:
     
  7. Heretic_Cata

    Heretic_Cata We're gonna live forever

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    I don't remember if it was even this thread where you said that Plotinus. :crazyeye: Anyway, thank you for your answer. :goodjob:

    @aneeshm: :lol: I actually stumbled across the Charvaka a few days ago while looking for smthing in wiki. :) Funny questions they had. :lol:
     
  8. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Good questions, indeed - I think that hard questions like that are essential to any set of beliefs, as long as no one gets too smug . . .
     
  9. Gangor

    Gangor Chieftain

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    What do you know about the cult of Mithras, and what are it's similarities to Christianity?
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    [Gangor] Contrary to what you read on most websites that deal with it, including certain threads I've seen on this site before, very, very little is known about Mithraism, and from what is known, it wasn't much like Christianity. There was a thread some time ago on Mithraism here. Note the enormous misconceptions about Mithraism repeated there even by posters who are pretty well informed on other historical topics! I tried to put them right on a few things.

    There's debate about how much similarity there really was between Mithraism proper - the Roman religion - and the cult of Mithra in Persia itself. In the past, many people assumed that the Roman cult was simply the same religion in a different place, but now it is more usual to distinguish between them. In which case, Mithraism proper first appeared at roughly the end of the first century AD.

    The religion is known almost entirely from archaological remains. There's little account of it in written sources. It was basically a sort of secret society that worshipped Mithras, who was invariably represented as killing a bull (the famous "Tauroctony"), but no-one really knows what this actually meant. Mithras was associated in some way with the sun, but contrary to later reports, he was probably not actually a sun god. The cult was very popular among soldiers, and women were forbidden from joining. They met in underground temples, presumably partly because Mithras was supposed to have been miraculously generated in a cave or rock; but no-one knows what they got up to in there.

    The best site I know of to explain what is really known about Mithraism is this one. IT focuses on the archaeological evidence. Another useful site is this one, which gives all the literary references to Mithraism from antiquity. As you can see, we really don't know much about it.

    Please don't go anywhere near the Wikipedia page on the subject, which like all of Wikipedia's entries on religious matters (and particularly those where there is great popular misunderstanding, such as this one) is wildly inaccurate.
     
  11. Fifty

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

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    Wiki sucks in philosophy too. Too much of an influence from those with little knowledge of the discipline and want to tie everything to philosophical frauds like Derrida.

    Have you heard about the fairly recent incident where David Chalmers (one of the world's foremost experts on the philosophy of mind and of psychology for those not familiar) was not allowed to edit the wiki article on consciousness? :lol:
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I didn't hear about that. I'm amazed that someone as eminent as Chalmers should be trying to edit Wikipedia pages, which can only be a good thing for Wikipedia, at least. Why on earth wasn't he allowed to do so?

    Wikipedia is a nice idea, but just too idealistic; the idea that only people who know about a subject will edit the relevant articles is obviously naive. It's a useful resource for non-controversial, strictly factual stuff, such as dates and places - like just now I wanted to know when and how the bass guitar was invented, so I looked on Wikipedia (in this case it told me that it was invented by Paul Tutmarc in the 1930s, although it didn't give many details, and the paragraph was very badly punctuated - the bad spelling and grammar on Wikipedia constantly irritate me). But for anything a bit more esoteric, anything that is hard to understand, or anything where there is popular misconception, and anything controversial, it's a complete waste of time.

    What worries me is the number of people who seem to regard the site as the final word in all matters. Everyone links to it in arguments here. Worse, I've had undergraduate students citing it in their essays!
     
  13. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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  14. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    Plotinus:
    Thought I might ask a question or two (after a short descriptor);

    I guess you'd call me a budding theologian according to the other definition of the word you provided, beginning my Master of Theology this year. I completed undergraduate degrees in Arts(History) and Theology(Honours - Biblical studies) last year, and am for my Masters focusing on practical theology as I explore modern paradigm shifts in faith and religious understanding from 'more conservative' to 'more progressive' viewpoints.

    So my first question is 'Any recommended reading?' :D Seriously, I only took a few church history subjects, and while I've got plenty of contemporary authors lined up to plow through ahead, I was wondering if there's any particularly convincing ancient/medieval folk whose 'pre-modern' concepts of faith might offer an alternative faith model to modernism (in other words, Christians who were happy to sit and rest with ambiguities in their faith, not needing 'all the answers', whose theology/concept of God was committed to evolving, adapting and changing, rather than stagnating.)? In particular, I'm interested in their ideas surrounding faith and the nature of God, rather than their understanding of religious practice or ecclessiology. Feel free to say 'no' - but the name of an individual or sect or two would be handy nonetheless.

    Secondly, not sure if it has been asked, but do you believe in a god/gods/God/Gods/Goddesses or other form of deity yourself? What has/has not influenced your viewpoints?

    Thirdly, as subcategories within theology, would you define yourself as more of theological historian (as opposed to, say, a systematic theologian) or something else?

    Finally, just a note that on reading back through this thread, I think you've done a fine job of representing theology as a discipline... Thanks ;)
     
  15. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    After having skimmed through the rest of the thread, thought this might proove interesting (purely for interest, without argumentative agenda)...

    It demonstrates representations of the golden rule in eight major religions.

    http://www.teachingvalues.com/goldenrule.html
     
  16. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    I'm quite sure that the Golden rule is prehistoric in its origins or at least Stone/early bronze age aged.
     
  17. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    Either that or its multiplicity of representations point to some inherent ethical instinct universally embedded, in some form or other, in the human psyche and thus finds multiple expressions. We have other instincts and senses... why not an ethical one?

    I wonder if similar philosophies existed in mesoamerican religion?
     
  18. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    It's funny you should say that I put up a paper published by a Harvard grad student about ape(Chimpanzee) Behaviour and about how they showed signs of morality, especially in following the golden rule, they would learn to treat others in a certain way in the hope of being treated better in the group, those who did not learn the mutual facilitation rules, would often become less popular. It's quite speculative but it clearly shows that even apes have a basic moral idea of the golden rule :) I'll find the thread it was on.
     
  19. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    I guess the less attractive possibility here being that rather than any sort of enlightenment, it demonstrates a basic instinct for self-preservation (by scratching another's back, my own back will also be scratched...?)
     
  20. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    http://forums.civfanatics.com/showthread.php?t=173531&page=19&highlight=Religion

    http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~husn/BRAIN/vol2/Primate.html

    I think it shows were the roots of the golden rule lie though, before it was codified it was probably understood anyway.
     
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