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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Swedishguy

    Swedishguy Chieftain

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    Have you met anyone named Torgny Henriksson?
     
  2. QuoVadisNation

    QuoVadisNation keeping your angel alive

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    Thanks for answering my questions, Plotinus. :)
     
  3. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    Hiya Plotinus!

    I've got a question for you. After having read your OP, I wonder: how can someone who is atheist have the patience to study a religion? For someone of your beliefs (or lack thereof), is that analagous to studying, say, the works of Tolkien? I find that most atheists have a severe lack of patience for anything religious. What is it that gives you the focus enough to study something you don't believe in, to the point of getting a PhD in that profession?
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    They've never shown the slightest sign of disappearing in the past, so I can't imagine any reason to suppose that they ever will.

    If I have, he didn't tell me his name!

    I didn't say I was an atheist in the OP, only that I'm not religious, which is not the same thing. Although I've said before here that I'm an atheist, though perhaps not a complete dyed-in-the-wool one.

    Most atheists in my experience aren't particularly bothered about religion one way or another. I suspect that your location in the US may colour your experiences, since it seems to me that these things are so polarised there: the fact that religious people actually outnumber everyone else must create something of a siege mentality.

    Sometimes it's a bit Tolkienesque, but I'd say it's more like studying law, with a similar attraction. The law is an incredibly intricate and enormous body of material, all consistent with itself, but ultimately totally arbitrary and made up. There's an intellectual satisfaction to establishing whether (say) a certain lawsuit is likely to succeed, on the basis of the laws involved, precedent, and so on. I think that's quite similar to establishing whether (say) a certain theologian holds a certain heretical belief. Whether you personally think the belief is heretical or not is neither here nor there.

    As I suggested in the OP, it's no different from studying any other belief system. No-one thinks that experts on Plato get annoyed because they are not themselves Platonists. And there can't be many Cartesians around today, but people still study Descartes. What's the difference?

    My PhD is going to be in philosophy, by the way. Maybe I should have stuck with theology, but my Greek isn't good enough!
     
  5. Swedishguy

    Swedishguy Chieftain

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    I see. He's an atheist that has studied theology out of curiosity.
     
  6. CCA

    CCA Chieftain

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    What would you have to take in University to become a Theologian and how much does it pay?
     
  7. Stolen Rutters

    Stolen Rutters Chieftain

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    You don't have to be a theologian to answer that one. You just have to have a basic grasp of mathematics (as relates to demographics).

    Any group of people who glorifies childrearing (Christianity and Islam come to mind) will almost certainly perpetuate compared to those groups that don't place children high on the ultimate priority list.

    I had wondered how Christianity is still considered to hold one out of three people in the world fifty years after the first time this statistic was claimed in books I have read. I couldn't grasp how this was possible when I have witnessed a wholesale exodus away from the Christian faith among people in my generation, and a massive growth of the Islamic faith as a percentage of the total population worldwide... until I read about demographic statistics that noted that birthrates for Christians and Muslims are quite higher than non-christians/non-muslims in the US and certain other places.

    Love your children and have babies, and your beliefs will perpetuate throughout the population in the long term over those worldviews that don't place children as high on the priority list. I mean the looong term, not just a few generations. I was raised catholic and I can't believe I never saw it before. It makes perfect sense to me, at least mathematically.

    Which leads me to the question:
    Theologian, is mathematics used to guide the ability to discern trends in theology or is it mostly philosophical argument stuff?
     
  8. Yeeek

    Yeeek Seizing The Day

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    My question wasn't clear, sorry. I meant, religions disapeared throughout the course of history, people were converted to Christianity, Muslim, Judaism and so forth.

    I don't have any numbers at hand but you will agree that the Greek Gods aren't that much popular by today.

    So could you imagine that certain religion disapear in this millenium?

    Another question, you probably heard about this one. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2218456.stm Poor example though, what are the standards for someone's religion to be officially recognized?
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    What is your speciality, and what have you studied outside of it? For example, is it mostly mainstream Christianity, do you know anything about "fringe" Christian groups, etc.?

    And have you ever seen the show Wonderfalls?
     
  10. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    I don't understand, what's the difference?

    I'd say that's a fair bet, but I also experience this hostility here in OT.

    I see, that's very interesting. Thank you.


    What sort of job can this land you?
     
  11. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Do you think the Bible is consistent? Why are certain books not included?:)
     
  12. Heretic_Cata

    Heretic_Cata We're gonna live forever

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    I've heard the Orthodox Bible has the most "stuff" in it. Is it true ?
     
  13. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    I'm beginning to sense a theme in some of your TV habits.
     
  14. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    I'm going to turn this on its head.

    What is, in your opinion, the least consistent religious sect that you have studied?
     
  15. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    More of a cult but probably Scientology. Sect probably the Shakers.
     
  16. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    I was talking about consistency, not insanity. The two are not necessarily correlated.
     
  17. Sidhe

    Sidhe Chieftain

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    Define insanity, there are plenty of "insane" prophets in the Bible, St John the divine, or mad as he was sometimes known, many people believed him insane? And don't get me started with the saints :)
     
  18. Veritass

    Veritass Chieftain

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    Great work so far, Plotinus!

    As the resident monist and New Thought believer here, I would like to ask:

    Has your study of theology centered mainly in Western thought, such as Christianity, or to what level have you explored Eastern though as well?

    What is your opinion of people like Thomas Troward, Ernest Holmes, or Joseph Campbell, who tried to synthesize Western and Eastern thinking?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Why, you would have to study theology! If you want to study theology at university you generally just need to have done humanities at school. My A Levels were in English, History, and French, but I was tired of those so I decided I wanted to do philosophy at university, and for some reason I thought philosophy and theology sounded more interesting than philosophy alone. To study it at a master's or PhD level you would normally need a language or two, normally Greek. But my Greek is very bad because I'm hopeless at languages.

    Your point is interesting though I don't know if I'm convinced - I don't think Christians typically "glorify" childbearing particularly, at least not more than anyone else. Certainly Catholics tend to have large families but that's because they (in theory) don't use contraception, not because they necessarily think it's better to have large families.

    A much more important factor in the continued dominance of Christianity in the world today, compared to (say) a century ago, is simply the wholescale conversion of large parts of the world. You're right that Christianity has become far less dominant in the west (other than the US) in that time; most of Europe is, to all intents and purposes, completely secular. But during the same period it has made huge strides in Asia and, above all, in Africa. Today there are more Christians in the southern hemisphere than there are in the north. That has meant huge changes - and tensions - for Christianity as a whole, because the African churches tend to be quite theologically different from the European ones - usually much more conservative and supernaturalist. For example, the most powerful figure in the Anglican church today is not the archbishop of Canterbury but the archbishop of Nigeria, because there are more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in England. Right now, the archbishop of Canterbury, like most European and American bishops, is fairly liberal and would like to be more liberal on social matters, particularly homosexuality. But the archbishop of Nigeria thinks that homosexuals are evil. This is causing problems.

    The standards for a religion to be officially recognised would vary from country to country, I suppose. There is this notion right now that having it printed on census forms counts as "recognition", hence this daft movement to write "Jedi" on your census forms to get it recognised. But I don't know what that really amounts to.

    You mention extinct religions and the Greek gods, but you might be surprised. A small group of worshippers of the Greek gods recently held a religious ceremony at the Parthanon (in the face of enormous opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church). I personally know people who worship all kinds of ancient pagan gods. At any rate, these religions are certainly not quite as dominant as they once were, for a whole variety of reasons. No doubt some religions will disappear this millennium and others will emerge. However, it's hard to imagine the major ones - Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc - disappearing. Just think of the massive social changes they have all endured.

    Never seen or heard of "Wonderfalls". When I did my master's, I specialised in the church fathers and wrote my thesis on Gregory of Nyssa. But since then I've gravitated more to the early modern period, hence the current thesis on Leibniz. This is better for me as my French is far better than my Greek. But I've informally studied quite a lot outside those areas. For example, I have a new book coming out TOMORROW which is a pretty comprehensive history of Christianity throughout the world, so that involved a lot of research on subjects that I'd previously never known about.

    The distinction between "mainstream" and "fringe" Christianity is really a matter of popularity! So to know about one you need to know about the other too. So, yes, I know about some "fringe" groups. But before you ask, I don't know much about Mormons. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century stuff isn't really my thing.

    An atheist is someone who believes that God doesn't exist. A non-religious person just doesn't follow a religion. Clearly there's a difference because:

    (a) You can be a religious atheist. Theravada Buddhism is often cited as a religion without God. I have a friend who is a Buddhist monk and he doesn't believe in God.

    (b) You can be non-religious without being an atheist. You might be agnostic (not believe either way).

    Very little. When I finished my master's I became much less employable. In Britain, higher degrees tend to have this effect, because they make you too specialised. I have a hard time explaining this to Singaporeans (where I am right now) because they take the more sensible view that a master's shows you're clever and therefore more employable.

    No, the Bible isn't consistent, but then it's a collection of lots of books, so it would be odd if it were. For example - to name one of the more well-known problems - the Synoptic Gospels have Jesus die on the day of Passover, meaning that the Last Supper, held the previous evening, was the Passover meal (Passover begins in the evening and lasts until the evening of the next day). But John's Gospel has Jesus die on the evening just before Passover, meaning that the Last Supper is not a Passover meal. This makes it hard to date Jesus' death, because if we knew that Passover fell on a Friday that year (as the Synoptics suggest) or on a Saturday (according to John) then clearly it would be easier to pinpont the year.

    There were many books that almost made it into the Bible but didn't. Examples include 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas. And there are others that did make it, but almost didn't. Examples include Hebrews and Revelation. The criterion that the early church generally used was whether the book in question was written by an apostle or close follower of an apostle. So Hebrews was dubious because it is anonymous, while many people doubted that the John who wrote Revelation was really John the apostle. Dionysius of Alexandria, a third-century theologian, devoted some time to analysing Revelation and comparing it to John's Gospel, and concluded on the basis of language and theology that it was by a different author; he therefore excluded it from the canon (this was a century before the canon was determined, which happened officially in the 390s). Modern scholars agree with his analysis. In fact, of course, the early church was misled: most of the books in the New Testament were not actually written by the people they are traditionally ascribed to. Whether you think that really matters or not is another matter.

    As for the Old Testament, the early church usually used the Septuagint, a Greek translation made a couple of centuries BC. That settled the number of books fairly easily. But most Jews - after the first century AD - used a slightly different set of books, and they read them in the original Hebrew. This caused many Christians to argue that the Septuagint was the "real" version, and that the translation was actually inspired when the Hebrew originals weren't! So when, in the fourth century, Jerome set out to translate the Bible into Latin, his decision to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew instead of from the Septuagint Greek was very controversial. Augustine wrote to him arguing that it was a mistake. But this is the reason why there are deuterocanonical books: they are in the Septuagint, but not in the Jewish canon. This is why the Protestants decided to drop them, on the basis that the Jewish canon was earlier and therefore better. In fact that was a mistake too, because the Jewish canon was established at (or around the time of) the council of Jamnia in the late first century AD, a couple of hundred years after the Septuagint was written.

    In fact I think the Ethiopian Orthodox Church accepts the most books as canonical.

    That's a very interesting question and I'm not sure what the answer is. Off the top of my head I'd say modern conservative evangelicalism is wildly inconsistent. However, most sects are actually quite consistent (with themselves), even the nuttier ones. For example, I don't see anything inconsistent in Catharism, Encratitism, or even Valentinianism. They all seem insane, but that's another matter. I shall think about it, though...

    I don't know anything about them. Sorry! It seems I'm spending much of my time saying that, which is a bit embarrassing.

    I haven't studied much eastern thought, although since I'm doing my PhD in Asia I have studied some Chinese philosophy. I also did a bit of mysticism and spirituality in general as part of my BA (that was a tricky paper!).

    Personally I think that western and eastern religious thought are so different that it's very hard to combine them. Of course there are influences both ways and some people have successfully come up with systems of thought that combine them (Schopenhauer comes to mind here) but I think that, in so doing, one would necessarily create a new system of thought rather than a genuine combination. I may be wrong there though.
     
  20. Ansar

    Ansar Détente avec l'été

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    Besides Greek, did you have to study Latin?

    Also, why French?
     
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