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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    In such a case, it would be best to describe Judaism (other than the religious definition) as a set of ethnicities, because Judaism has historically created seperate and unique cultures within a country, often to the point of a seperate genetic population from the rest of the area. Evidence to support this would be the diverse number of differing languages spoken by Jews in the communities, as opposed to the languages of the state they are in.

    Of course, Israel complicates things, as one could argue that ethnogenesis is occuring right now in Israel, making the various jewish ethnicities a thing of the past (But not completely, since not all Jews are in Israel).
     
  2. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    My grandmother was born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland. She spoke Polish on the street, Yiddish at home & Hebrew in the synagogue before emigrating to the U.S. & learning English. I grew up speaking English exclusively & learned some Hebrew, Russian & Spanish in school. My grandparents didn't teach my mother Yiddish because they wanted her to be just like other Americans.

    In some ways that's true, but Ashkenazic, Sephardic & Ethiopian Jews still practice their different traditions in Israel. Modern Hebrew used is Israel is different from ancient, Biblical Hebrew in some ways. There are no words for airplane, automobile, computer, etc. in Biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew is preserved there for religious reasons. Jews have always read the Torah in it's original Hebrew.
     
  3. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    I never heard before that people weren't jewish unless they were circumcised before they were 9 days old. Since people can convert to judaism as adults it doesn't make any sense. If someone is born by a jewish mother and doesn't get circumcised, but then decides to do the ceremony at age 90 then surely that person will be jewish if any other person can convert to judaism. After all, it's just a ritual (if not a very nice one..)
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, it's not a mathematical model. I just meant to say that you can't define anything in terms of itself. There must be some way to define "Jewish" that doesn't involve the word "Jewish" or its cognates, otherwise you haven't defined it - it would be like defining "circle" as "circular thing". Similarly, if you say that to be Jewish involves having a Jewish mother, how do you define "having a Jewish mother"? "Having a mother who has a Jewish mother"? There's no content to the term.

    Not something I've ever felt. I haven't the faintest idea what my family background is and I don't care at all. I am who I am because of my own immediate experience and choices, not because of who my ancestors were. I think that's true of everyone. Of course, you may partially define yourself in the light of who your ancestors were, but it's your own choice to do that, and the result would be exactly the same as if you were actually mistaken about who your ancestors were. That is, I think someone who knows themselves to be descended from group X, and someone who mistakenly believes themselves to be descended from group X, are in the same group if they both choose to define themselves as "descended from group X". Actual biological descent is really neither here nor there (except, of course, for genuinely biological inherited traits, whatever difference they may make). Thus, I've seen it suggested in the past that Hitler, of all people, was part Jewish. Whether he was really part Jewish is not very important historically. Whether he believed himself to be part Jewish, however, could be important historically. Similarly, suppose I had been ritually circumcised as a child (and had a Jewish mother!) but my whole family were killed and I was adopted and brought up by people who didn't even know about my background. Would I be Jewish then? Perhaps in the official eyes of Judaism - supposing they knew about my background - but surely it would be completely meaningless if I didn't even know it myself. If I then found out in adulthood, but wasn't remotely bothered and didn't want to start doing anything Jewish, then would I be Jewish? Surely not in any significant way. Being Jewish - like belonging to any other culture - isn't some kind of gene that you can carry, hidden, irrespective of whether it is expressed or not.

    Similarly, the Catholic Church would regard anyone who has been baptised as a member of the church, but not necessarily as a Christian. On this view, being a member of the church may be necessary to salvation (normally, at least, though the church is quite willing to consider that there may be many exceptions) but it is certainly not sufficient.

    I'm not sure, but damn, I'm not going to try it! Of course this was just one of the three catastrophes that happened to Tristram Shandy in childhood. The first was having his nose squashed by the forceps of Dr Slop, the man midwife, while he was being delivered; and the second was being accidentally baptised Tristram because the priest hadn't heard of the name Trismegistus, which he was supposed to have. Tristram's father believed that one's destiny was shaped by one's foreskin, the size of one's nose, and the auspiciousness of one's name, but he failed to secure any of them for his own son...

    Now returning you to topic. Funny, but I had cause to mention Lawrence Sterne on another thread today. Strange how things come up like that.
     
  5. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    Read it again. I said after 8 days old. It can be done any time after 8 days old.

    The Bris is also the time the parents announce the baby's name to friends & family.
     
  6. Masquerouge

    Masquerouge Chieftain

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    Maybe this comes a bit late in the thread, but hey here I go.
    So I read about the Gnostics. I read about Marcion, I read about the early heresies because I find it fascinating.
    It seems to me that all of them had very good arguments, and certainly as good as the Christian branch that became the Catholic church. So I'm under the impression that the catholic ideology prevailed not because it was the right one, but mostly through luck, influence, charismatic leaders and contingencies. In other words, Marcionism could very well have triumphed and we would now speak of the catholics as early-day heretics whose writings have been mostly lost.
    (note that by early-day I mean mostly pre-500AD).
    Am I right in that interpretation, or is there something fundamental that, should we play history over and over again, would make the Catholic church as we know it comes out on top every time?
     
  7. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    That question cannot be answered . . .

    ie those who actually believe in the form of Christianity that prevailed will think it was God's will that the "correct" form is what exists, while those who don't will say it didn't matter. I would have to agree that from a historical perspective, Christianity in the form it took was not inevitable.
     
  8. Masquerouge

    Masquerouge Chieftain

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    I conmpletely understand that. Interesting thing is, did Islam went through the same amount of heresies? I'm under the impression that it did not save for the shiites/sunnis split, but I could very well be wrong.


    But you say that because you're... AN HERETIC! ;)

    More seriously I'm a bit bothered by the contingency of the whole thing. Basically a specific branch gets more followers and political clout than the others and thus becomes the reference through which other branches will be declared heretical... a bit circular.
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I agree with you partly, though not completely. I should say at the start, though, that you should distinguish more carefully between groups with different doctrines and those with different organisations (or, to use more judgemental language, between heretics and schismatics). Those you mention - Marcionites and Gnostics - were just as Catholic as anyone else; they were simply judged to be heretical. Groups such as the Montanists and Donatists, by contrast, were actually distinct church organisations, so they were not Catholic (though in their view, of course, they were Catholic and everyone else was schismatic).

    Now I think that often, which view "won" was in part a matter of historical accident. The best example is the Arian controversy. In the time of Constans and Constantius, Arianism was endorsed by the emperors, and pro-Nicene bishops were all sent into exile. When Theodosius the Great became emperor, the policy was reversed, and the Nicene party "won".

    However, when you look at it more closely, it seems more complex. When Arianism was officially endorsed, the Nicene supporters didn't go away; they made a very loud noise and caused no end of problems. When the Nicene faith was endorsed, Arianism seems to have melted away within a couple of decades, at least within the empire (it lingered for much longer among the barbarians, who weren't interested in imperial pronouncements anyway). Thus it seems that Arianism was very much a minority position even during the times it was officially endorsed (its heartlands were all in the eastern Roman empire; there were very few Latin-speaking Arians even at the height of its popularity, and none in the Syriac-speaking church). And that in turn implies that it wouldn't have won out within the church as a whole even if history had been different.

    Now I don't think that the Nicene faith was intrinsically preferable to Arianism; each had its strong points and its weak points. But I don't think that's true of the movements you specifically mention, Marcionism and Gnosticism. Very little is actually known of the Marcionites, but had Marcion had his way, the church would have completely severed itself from its own historical roots. His was a fundamentally anti-semitic version of Christianity that essentially denied the Jewishness even of Jesus himself. Surely it wouldn't have been a good thing for that to have prevailed. As for Gnosticism, I find it hard to understand why it is so fashionable in certain circles today. Gnosticism was even more anti-semitic than Marcion was (branding the god of the Old Testament an ignorant and malevolent demon), and it was fundamentally world-denying and elitist. Gnosticism varied greatly, of course, but all Gnostics agreed that the material world is fundamentally evil and that only a few people could be saved. Some even thought that most people didn't have spirits capable of being saved.

    In my view, the patristic church generally made fairly wise decisions when it came to choosing between different views. I think it was right to reject both Marcion and the Gnostics, because the views of those groups were (a) more opposed to the original faith of the church, and (b) intrinsically unsatisfactory anyway. They were also minority views; there was never a time when Gnosticism might have "defeated" non-Gnostic Christianity, for example. The same goes for the rejection of Pelagius, who would have condemned all non-monks to hell, Apollinarius, who imagined Jesus as a sort of flesh-and-blood puppet, and so on. These and other heretics did of course make good points, and there were positive elements to their teaching, or they would never have had any popularity at all. But they were too one-sided or extreme to achieve lasting success. The one point where I think the wrong decision was definitely made was the condemnation of Jovinian (and subsequent canonisation of Jerome), which set the church on the road to its weird attitude to sex. The fact that this decision has been effectively reversed in recent years and most Christians today are, without knowing it, followers of Jovinian shows that that was a mistake!
     
  10. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    It's my understanding that the Vandals converted to Arian Christianity after invading North Africa. Is this correct? They went on to invade Italy & sack Rome which makes me wonder why Arianism didn't survive in the western Mediterranean.
     
  11. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  12. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    IIRC basically that married women were of equal worth to virgins and that sex wasn't inherently sinful.

    The Catholic church held virginity to be a 'higher' state and to lead to a better time in heaven. They based this on parts of Paul's and Timothy's writings I think.

    They also held (and still do hold?) that Mary was perpetually a virgin, even though she was married and gave birth to siblings to Jesus.

    Jovinian used teachings from the gospels to show that Jesus esteemed marriage, and also pointed out the folly of a doctrine that implied that God would require us to go through an inherantly sinful process in order to bring children into the world, a goal He is supposed to desire of us.

    He was excommunicated and exiled I think.

    Paul, and quite a few other of the early Christian leaders come across to me as very misogynistic and patriarchal. This seems all of a piece.

    BFR
     
  13. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    What strikes me as odd about Paul was how he presented many of his teachings related to marriage as his own opinion rather than divinely inspired (as he presented, say, his views on the Resurrection). I haven't really found any analogy in any other theological writings (distinguishing between the Word of God and one's own views) but I'm sure they exist.
     
  14. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Incidentally, the LDS teaching is that to reach the highest levels of salvation, one must be married - so we are like Xtreem Jovinianists . . .
     
  15. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    Well, clearly, ethnicity does not require different languages, but a differing traditional language is often evidence for a seperate ethnicity. What I meant by the language thing was that there were many different [wiki]jewish languages[/wiki], and that's an example of how Judaism can be considered a set of ethnicities bound together by a common religion.

    American assimilation only brings confusion to the process. :p Though it's rather obvious that Jewish Americans form a seperate ethnicity.

    Of course they still practice their different traditions - but will that always happen? Mixture of the various jewish ethnicites is inevitable, and I'd bet that as more Jews immigrate to Israel, the various pre-Israeli languages will die out. I'd bet that the traditions might change over time - as I said, it's an ethnogenesis in progress.

    The Vandals were Arian, yes, but not their subjects. They couldn't convert many to Arianism before their state was destroyed by the Byzantine Empire. The germanic tribes which controlled areas of the former Roman Empire were an elite, and the local populace did not assimilate into the tribes. And while they did sack Rome, they didn't take control over the area - Italy remained independent until it was conquered by the Ostrogoths. (Okay, there was Odoacer, but the state he ran was ultimately the same as the WRE without the title of it.)
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The Vandals didn't convert to Arianism in North Africa; they were already Arian, thanks to the efforts of Ulfilas, who preached to the Germanic tribes in the fourth century and won lots of conversions. Ulfilas was an Arian, so they were, too.

    Arianism just died out in the west, for the most part, because most people living there weren't Arian. The various barbarian kingdoms all converted to Nicene Christianity without too much difficulty fairly quickly; this was partly because it was so difficult to have different religions for the rulers and the ruled. The only real exception to this was the Ostrogoths, who, under Theodoric, maintained a sort of religious freedom where Nicene and Arian Christians were all allowed to worship however they wanted.

    Right, although mainstream theologians also agreed that sex wasn't inherently sinful. The view that it was inherently sinful was associated with some kinds of Gnostics who believed that because matter is intrinsically evil one should have as little as possible to do with bodily things. Jerome was sometimes attacked for seeming to verge too close to the claim that sex is inherently sinful; when challenged, he denied that he taught this.

    As I said before, be careful about statements about "the Catholic Church"; Jovinian was just as much a Catholic as Jerome.

    I'm not sure what you mean by Timothy's writings, as those don't exist; perhaps you mean the letters to Timothy, supposedly by Paul, although in fact they are pseudepigraphal. Actually the text often used to support this view was the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10: Martha busies herself with household tasks, while Mary sits at Jesus' feet doing nothing but gazing at him. To Martha's justifiable annoyance at this, Jesus declares that although Martha is doing what is good, Mary has nonetheless chosen "the better part". Thus, it is better to remove oneself from the world to a certain degree and focus on Jesus.

    The doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity did indeed become widespread at about this time. The argument was that Jesus' siblings were actually cousins, or Joseph's children from some hypothetical earlier marriage. The fourth century also saw the development of the doctrine of Mary's virginity in parturition, according to which Jesus passed miraculously from her womb just as he did from the tomb, leaving her physically unharmed.

    Actually I'm not sure that we know precisely what Jovinian's arguments were, partly because, like most people condemned as heretics, none of his own writings survive (assuming he wrote any in the first place). In addition to his views on marriage, Jovinian taught that fasting is no better than eating; that someone baptised in the Spirit cannot sin; that all sins are equal; and that there are no differentiations between heavenly rewards and punishments. He denied the doctrine of Mary's virginity in parturition, too. So he was generally an anti-ascetic teacher.

    It's not known what happened to Jovinian after his condemnation in 390.

    I think Paul gets a worse press on this score than he really deserves, to be honest. I always get the impression that Paul didn't really like anyone, irrespective of gender or anything else, but perhaps that's rather unfair too!

    I don't think there's any good reason to suppose that Paul regarded anything he said as divinely inspired, except in the sense that, in his view, everything he said was authoritative as a result of his own commissioning as an apostle (2 Cor 10-12). I don't think he would have distinguished between more authoritative and less authoritative parts of that teaching. You're thinking of the bits in 1 Cor 7 (verses 10, 12, 25) where Paul states that some of his teachings come from himself, not the Lord; what he means by this is that the teachings do not come from Jesus (not that they are not divinely inspired). That is, in much of what he says, Paul is simply repeating elements of the oral tradition about Jesus' own teachings. Perhaps strangely, he usually does this without making explicit what he is doing. For example, in Romans 12, Paul gives a whole heap of ethical exhortations, many of which parallel sayings attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Evidently Paul is basically paraphrasing what he has heard of Jesus' teaching there, but he doesn't actually say that this is what he is doing. In 1 Corinthians 7, he lacks any such tradition, which is why he is careful to state this fact. However, he still evidently thinks that even in the absence of authoritative sayings from Jesus, he can still issue authoritative sayings of his own, because God has made him trustworthy (verse 25); there is no indication in this chapter that Paul thinks that the commands that come from himself and not from Jesus are optional.

    Passages such as this indicate that there wasn't really such a big gap between Jesus' teaching and Paul's teaching, as many people would have us believe. Paul's apparent reluctance to credit Jesus as the source of much of what he says gives the impression of a greater difference than there may actually have been; it also makes it very hard to determine how similar they really were.
     
  17. Mott1

    Mott1 Chieftain

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    The distinction between (1) and (2) are clear but what is not clear to me is your method of reasoning. The argument form above does not correctly reflect my proposition. You present claim (1) as a belief that ethic X applies to everybody which validates the logical error you have demonstrated. Again, the Golden Rule (ethical claim X) is the principle on which Global Ethic functions, Global Ethic applies to everybody which means the Golden Rule applies to everybody. The fact that Kung believes that Global Ethic applies to everybody and that everybody holds it is not in question Plotinus, niether is it an ethic he is trying to "develope." Global Ethic is based on the principles that already exist in all the religions, Kung is not trying to cherry pick certain principles from all the religions to create a new universal ethic. His goal is to make people aware that all the religions already share the *same* core principles, principles that apply to everyone. Making everyone aware that all religions contain these same core principles is the project Kung wants to "develope."
    The following makes the disticntion between the concept of Global Ethic and Global Ethic as a project:
    The misunderstanding here is that you see Global Ethic as a project or a new ethical standard Kung is trying to create and not as an already existing ethic. According to Huns Kung, Global Ethic is the minimum common values, standards and basic attitudes which are affirmed by the great religions. This means that Kung believes that this "global ethic" is a self evident truth, it is the absolute found in all religions. If a certain religious ideology does not hold the *same* minimum values, standards and basic attitudes then they cannot be part of this "global ethic." Again it is the commonality of these necessary minimum values that proves their universal application.

    I hope you now undertsand why Kung must be committed to claim (1) about the Golden Rule. It is precisely because Kung believes that X applies to everybody that he must be committed to claim (1), it's his claim not mine. Kung makes it very clear that THE Golden Rule is the absolute which is the basis of Global Ethic. Golden Rule = Global Ethic = Universal = Golden Rule.

    You say that the only requisition for Global Ethic is that they adopt "some recognisable form of the same principle." This does not make sense, what principle? if the Golden Rule is not an absolute as you suggest then to what principle are the various "golden rule forms" recognisable to? If the Golden Rule is subject to interpretation then their exists no singular principle to draw an association. In essence you are maintaining that the Golden Rule is the subjective interpretation of Global Ethic and it is this interpretive principle that the various "golden rule forms" are recognisable to. If this is what you are maintaining then you must see the obvious logical inconsistancy. Regardless, by Kungs own mission statement we know this not to be true, as he stated Global Ethic is not a reinvention but rather a discovery of the principles that already exist in the great religions.

    The following is a clear discription of Global Ethic:
    "The crises of orientation" Kung refers to is human rights and responsibilities which is derived not from "versions" of the Golden Rule, but from THE Golden Rule.
    The argument is not why I believe the Golden Rule as an axiom must be absolute, but rather how Kung understands the Golden Rule. We both maintain different philosophies, however our preception of the Golden Rule bears no relevance to this discussion. I am establishing the argument that Kung believes that the moral standards of the great religions are subject to the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule being the universal yardstick of fairness in all the great religions which the moral imperatives are derived. I understand that you do not accept this idea however the question is whether Kung embraces the Golden Rule as an absolute. It is very appearent to me that he does.
    As for your example of flexable moral axioms, I too can imagine a person whose morals standards may seem whimsical. However even the most mercurial person is capable of acknowledging the set ethical principle. That D&D Chaotic character you mention is either Lawful or Evil, his moral alignment is reflected by his acceptance or rejection of the ethical absolute which is determined by his actions.
    Again I understand you do not believe there exists a moral absolute, or atleast an ethical injuction that can be proven. However the moral absolutes are defined by each of the existing religious doctrines which do not vary in scope. As I have stated, theoretically it is very possible to transform or subvert the doctrine along with its moral absolutes, but this is not Kungs objective. He claims that the necessary minimum of common values, standards and basic attitudes already exists in the doctrines of the great religions. The following is his claim:
    As for your example of the Christian apologists for the advocation or justification of slavery, it is clear that those Christian slavery advocates had personally transformed and subverted the Christian doctrine to justify their actions. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that enslaving black people is a principle of Christianity. You would make a point if the Christian doctrine itself had been edited by the abolitionists to conform with their movement
    Here we agree on the first part which is the central point of my argument, however the latter part that I placed in bold we are in disagreement. I think I have demonstrated adequatley that Kung is not at all calling for the religions to change, he believes that the moral teachings are already universal in scope and that there is no need to change the very fabric of these doctrines. What he is calling for is that these basic minimum common principles be acknowlegded universally "which can be affirmed by all religions despite their undeniable dogmatic or theological differences."
    If this was an academic or scholarly debate I would be more mindful of my spelling, punctuation and grammatical form, however I am no scholar and this is no academic debate. I believe I have already confessed to my poor writing skills so I can only assume you are politely correcting me on my grammatical errors, in that case I thank you for the assistance and have made the necessary correction on this post. Now if you still believe that your understanding of Kungs intention with his project is correct please indicate where I fail to undertsand. I believe we do unltimatley agree that not all the great reiligions share the same ethical standards, however it seems we disagree on Kungs concept of Global Ethic.
    Please don't take me wrong, I have the utmost resepect for Hans Kung. I truly hope he succeeds, the progress of humanity depends on the globalization of a common ethic. Kung correctly states, the universal acceptance and respect of human rights throughout the world can only be achieved by a collective change of consciousness concerning human obligations or responsibilities. Although I disagree with his assessment that all religions share the same core principles, he has basically confirmed what I have understood for some time now:
    While many people here in the west frown or are very resentful at the prospect of boldly confronting "foriegn" religions on their moral framwork, I believe it is absolutely necessary to challenge this polemic without fear of offending sensibilities. Many people hold on to the philosophy that if we ignore or stop "aggrevating" the issue and simply let sleeping dogs lie, then the problem will just go away. "Let sleeping dogs lie" is a proverb that implies that everything is just fine and dandy so their is no need to rock the boat. But the truth is that everything is not fine and dandy, Kung makes that clear and I admire him for that even if his message concerning the real problem is a bit cryptic.
    I was in the middle of moving residence so I apologise for the late response. In any case even though we agree as much as we disagree, I always enjoy our discussions, in fact I enjoy reading your posts even when I don't participate. I find them extremely educational.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Many apologies myself for taking too long to get back to this. I haven't been moving house, thank God, but there's been plenty of other stuff going on - in particular, this took a horribly long time, and you wouldn't believe how long this always takes. And that's without the minor problem of work. Ah well.

    I must admit that either you're still making the same slip, or I'm not understanding your argument. I appreciate the point that Küng insists that a version of the "Golden Rule" (together with other elements of the "Global Ethic") is found everywhere. What I don't see is why it would have to follow from this that every version of the "Golden Rule" should be universal in scope.

    Look at it like this. What actually is the much-vaunted "Golden Rule"? The Biblical version is this:

    We've also had the Muslim version:

    Here's the version attributed to Confucius:

    Here's Homer's version:

    But Isocrates is often credited with the first explicit version of the rule in the west:

    Here's a version in Plato:

    And in Aristotle:

    Now clearly there is structural similarity here, in that each version calls upon the hearer to put himself in the position of the other person. Note that there are variations in who the other person is, and in how the hearer is to deal with them. For example, Jesus talks of "others", and wants us to "do" to them as we would have done to ourselves. The Hadith talks of "brother", and wants us to "wish" for them what we would wish for ourselves. Confucius, like Jesus, talks of "others", but he wants us to "impose" on them only what we would have imposed on ourselves. Calypso (in the Odyssey) is speaking only of how she will behave towards Odysseus, but says she will "be as careful" for him as she would for herself. Isocrates wants his hearers to "judge" in the case as they would for themselves. Plato also talks of "others", and wants us to "treat their property" as we would want them to do for us. Aristotle is a little different, in that his version is descriptive rather than normative - that is, he is describing how people actually behave rather than presenting a standard for how they should behave. In his case, he is talking about "friends", and stating that people "wish" for their friends what they wish for themselves.

    And so on and so on. The point is that in each case we have the idea of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and acting (in some way) towards them as you would want to be acted on yourself. This is clearly the basic principle of the "Golden Rule". But given that basic idea, there is variation - most particularly, in who the other person is, and in what sort of action we are talking about. The other person could be a specific person, or your friends, or your brother, or just non-specific "others". The kind of action contemplated could be judgement, imposition, wishing, or non-specific "action". Clearly, then, you can have lots of different principles which are variations on the "Golden Rule". Equally clearly, you can have such a principle where the other person needn't be "everyone". In fact, none of the versions given above is explicitly universal in application - even Jesus doesn't tell us to treat "everyone" as we would be done by, only the vague "others". The versions given in the Hadith and Aristotle explicitly limit the application to brothers or friends. The others either refer only to particular individuals or aren't specific.

    Now Küng's point, it seems to me, is simply that there are these different versions in all the great traditions. He doesn't dispute that they are different, but he thinks (obviously rightly) that they are recognisably similar in an important way. He further thinks (again, obviously rightly) that we can make the basic principle universal in application, by specifying that the person to whom we should act in the way we would want to be acted upon should be everyone. And the tone of his lecture suggests that he thinks this is the simplest and most basic version of the principle, which has been limited by other factors in the various traditions in which it is found. Thus, aristocratic ancient Athenians were more bothered about their friends than about other people, so Aristotle frames his version of the principle in a way that refers only to friends. Küng would presumably see this as undesirable parochialism; remove the parochialism and you remove the restriction upon the principle.

    I agree that, in the linked lecture, Küng is a bit self-contradictory. Really, he wants it both ways. On the one hand, and as your quotes show, he wants to argue that the "Global Ethic" is (in some way) identical with the various ethical systems of the various "great" religions. But at the same time, he wants to argue that it is not identical with them, because he wants to remove the parochialism that all those systems also carry. I suppose the idea is that there is a distinction between the fundamental principles, which are supposedly the same everywhere, and the ways in which those principles have been modified by history and tradition, which are not the same everywhere; thus they are identical in kernel if not in shell, as it were. Küng wants to remove the shell from each tradition and expose the identical kernels.

    Nevertheless, the important point is that even if removing the encrustations of history and prejudice results in a "Golden Rule" which is both universally accepted and applied universally everywhere that it is accepted, it doesn't follow from that that every instance of the "Golden Rule" currently found, before history and prejudice are removed, will have universal application. You haven't given any reason to suppose that, on Küng's principles, it must be. All he needs is that versions of the "Golden Rule" are found everywhere, not that they are identical versions, and certainly not that all those versions describe how we should act to everyone.

    Hopefully it should be clear now what the single principle is that can underlie different versions of the "Golden Rule". Jeffrey Wattles puts it like this:

    That's in his The Golden Rule (Oxford: OUP 1996), which is a very interesting survey of the different versions of the rule which have cropped up throughout history; he argues that they are actually quite different and function in different ways. He also notes the obvious arguments against it as an ethical system. One point he makes near the start, which I didn't know, is that Tillich regarded it as a very inadequate ethical principle, far inferior to the other major Christian rule, which is simply "Love one another." For Tillich, the "Rule of Love" is the authentically Christian ethic which supercedes the flawed "Golden Rule".

    I got all the above examples from this book and there are masses more in there.

    It's not what I'm maintaining, and to be honest I don't see any logical inconsistency in it even it were what I'm maintaining. I'm not saying there is some single, universal "Golden Rule" which has been interpreted in different ways in different societies. Obviously different societies have all formulated their own ethical codes, some of which have certain similarities to each other. One of those similarities is the repeated occurrence of rules in the form of "Do action X to group Y in the way that you would like X done to you." You don't need to believe in some kind of archaic ur-principle as the common ancestor of all these codes - rather, it is clear that human beings just have a tendency to formulate codes of this sort of form.

    Now I don't know whether Küng would agree with that analysis or not, but I don't see any particular reason why he wouldn't. Obviously he thinks that the Global Ethic is out there to be discovered, rather than constructed. But that belief wouldn't commit him to the stronger belief that, at some point in history, everyone really believed only the Global Ethic in non-degenerate form. Imagine if you had several orchestras, all playing variations on the same piece of music. You could listen to them all and then write out the tune that they all have in common, without any of the elaborations or variations that each group has added. What's more, if you did that, you wouldn't necessarily have to believe that any of those orchestras had originally started by playing the "simple" tune and then elaborated on it. Perhaps no-one had ever written out the "simple" tune at all before you did your comparative survey. But you could still claim that all the orchestras were basically playing that tune, though each in their own way. It seems to me that this is Küng's view of the ethical systems of the different "great" religions and their relation to the "Global Ethic". He need only believe that all actually existing ethical codes are variations on a theme, and then abstract from them all what that common theme is. He needn't suppose that there actually exists any group, either now or in the past, who has only that common theme without any variations. And he can plausibly claim that each of the ethical codes is an authentic expression of that "Global Ethic", even when he also identifies elements of those codes that are undesirable by the terms of that very same ethic. After all, in the orchestra example, it could be the case that each orchestra's version of the simple tune contains wrong notes, or chords that don't really work. The musical researcher, having abstracted and written down the simple tune common to them all, could criticise these inadequate variations on the basis of the score he has written - even though that score is based only on what he has heard from all the orchestras. Thus, even though the Global Ethic exists, as a historical reality, only in variegated form in the various traditions, it can still be abstracted and used as a criticism of other aspects of all those traditions.

    In the absence of any other texts by Küng on the subject I suppose we won't get any further with our analysis, at least for the time being. As I said before I'm not really very familiar with Küng's work, most of which is forbiddingly voluminous, just like with all German theologians (there's the old joke about the German theologian who published a systematic theology in six volumes, with all the verbs in volume six). Of course all authors are going to be less detailed and perhaps less consistent in speeches than in books, and as I say, I don't think Küng is enormously consistent in this speech. The interpretation I've given above is the one that seems to me to make the most sense of the most passages in the speech, but there's probably not much point arguing precisely what he means without some more authoritative texts.

    Thanks. It's always good to debate these sorts of things sensibly, since you'll always learn something - even if it's only what those who disagree with you think, and why. If you're lucky you'll have your mind changed in the course of the debate, which means you've learned something even more substantial than that. Yes, it can even happen in CFC OT...
     
  19. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    I got a question!

    What does "malakoi arsenokoitai" mean? Some claim that the original meaning of the word "arsenokoitai" have been lost - the context here is 1 Corinthians 6:9.

    Is it better to be part of the consensus of most bible translations in this case, and assume it meant homosexual?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Ha! Actually no-one really knows what it means. "Malakoi" literally means "soft ones", while "arsenokoitai" means - well, it's anyone's guess, really, although the first four letters might give you a clue. Paul is actually the first known author to use it. One plausible interpretation is that "malakoi" means - shall we say - the passive partner in homosexual activity while "arsenokoitai" is supposed to mean the active partner. Thus, Paul condemns both partners, in contrast to the prevailing attitude of his day, which was to dismiss the "passive" partners and endorse the "active" ones (Julius Caesar was sometimes ridiculed because he was a man in the senate and a woman in the bedroom, as they put it). However, this is speculation really. It could be that "malakoi" are effeminate people and "arsenokoitai" are something completely different.
     
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