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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    How familiar are you with sexual morality in early 19th Century America, out of curiosity?

    And I didn't say our sexual morality has nothing to do with traditional Christian sexual morality, just that we are not dependant on what previous Christians said on the matter.
     
  2. classical_hero

    classical_hero In whom I trust

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    What is the biblical definition of marriage?
     
  3. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Just general knowledge out of interest. The women's liberation movement in particular is something I find interesting, and knowing what it was born out of.

    Even though mormonism (mormonity?) isn't dependent on any christian tradition it's clear that its ideas were inspired by the society it was created in. What puzzles me is that you haven't moved on. After all, you have living prophets who can change the rules. This makes it much easier to adjust to a changing society than religions that are stuck with old books to interpret.
     
  4. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, the women's liberation movement was about a lot more than sexual morality.

    Except of course, these prophets say they speak for God. And they have basically said that God has reiterated His views on the matter. And God's sexual morality (or what He commands us to do) doesn't change a whole heck of a lot. And as much as you don't want to think so, the idea that God wants us to restrict certain behaviors is quite plausible.
     
  5. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Are you just arguing for the argument? I'm quite aware of this, however you asked me so I explained why. Women being masters of their own bodies is an unbelievably huge deal in the history of mankind.

    Yes I know you think your prophets speak for god. But your god can say to the prophets 'hey, I've changed my mind, let's do things differently now', just like he did with the whole polygamy thing. That was my point.

    I'll let your last comment slide since that's not exactly a debate point, just some cheap shot that's unfounded in reality.
     
  6. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Of course it is. Women, and men, should be masters of their own body, should be the ones to decide what to do with them.

    Actually, and all the revelations are clear on this, we never claimed God changed His mind on polygamy, just that He changed what He commanded us to do. If He wants to tell us something different about premarital sex, he is welcome to. But a liberal sexual morality is no more "modern" than a conservative one.

    No, I meant it. I really don't see why you don't seem to understand that God might possible tell us not to do certain things even though the rest of society wants to do them.

    But this is getting very off topic. The thread is "Ask a Theologian", not "Mormons are incredibly sexually repressed".
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I can't say I'm entirely clear even on what is being debated over the past page or so.

    Anyway, on Catholic marriage, I'm actually not sure what the answer is. I can say, off the top of my head, that marriage was regarded as one of the seven sacraments by the thirteenth century at the latest. Peter Lombard listed it among the sacraments in the twelfth century, and his views became definitive in the thirteenth (after his orthodoxy was vindicated at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and his work subsequently became the standard theological textbook at Oxford and Paris). No doubt the Catholic Church performed marriages long before this time - indeed, one of the reasons the interdict was such a powerful weapon for the papacy was that, when the interdict was imposed upon a country, no-one there could get married - but I don't know the details. I shall look it up.

    As for the biblical definition of marriage, I don't believe there is one. In fact the biblical writers hardly ever define anything, which is one of the reasons Christians have never been able to agree about anything. Not that it would make much difference, perhaps - the writer to the Hebrews gives a definition of "faith", but Christians have never been able to agree even what faith is.
     
  8. amaterasu

    amaterasu the true messiah

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    Thank for the reply ^__^ but then why has there been such a shabbang about gay bishops and priests? Is it just tradition there or what?
     
  9. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    What were marriages like for jews 2000 years ago?
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Because different Christians disagree over whether homosexuality is OK or not. Much of this comes down to cultural differences. For example, the most vehemently anti-gay sentiment has come from the African churches, which are now extremely influential, especially in the Anglican communion, where most of this argument is taking place. The Anglican church of Nigeria is larger than the Church of England, which means that Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria, is effectively more powerful in the Anglican church than the archbishop of Canterbury. And Akinola is an appalling homophobe who likens gay people to animals and criminals. That, I suppose, is partly due to his culture - there is enormous prejudice against homosexuality in much of Africa. In the western churches, that prejudice exists for much the same reason as it does outside the churches, I suppose.

    The dispute is so big in the Anglican church because it is such a broad church. Anglicanism varies from the extremely "high" (Anglo-Catholics who are Roman Catholics in all but name) to the extremely "low" (fundamentalists in neat suits who as Bible-bashing as any Baptist), via the incredibly liberal (theologians who don't believe in anything at all). The American Anglican church (known as the Episcopalian church, because it changed its name for political reasons after the war of independence) is disproportionately liberal. I don't know of the historical reasons for this. So the Episcopalian church tends to be extremely comfortable with homosexuality, to the extent that they are happy to ordain practising homosexuals as priests and bishops, something which is contrary to the official position of the Anglican church (which is something along the lines of - homosexuality isn't exactly OK, but let's try to pretend it doesn't exist and turn a blind eye, except for priests). And of course the African churches and the fundamentalists elsewhere go completely ape over this because they believe that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful. The problem for the archbishop of Canterbury is that he has to find some middle way between all of these people, and it is an insoluble problem because they all have fundamentally different understandings of Christianity to begin with.

    Now that really is outside my area of expertise. I really don't know, except that I suspect there is no simple answer, because Judaism was an extremely varied movement in the time of Jesus (it only became more uniform after the end of the first century AD).
     
  11. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Thank you for all the info Plotinus. If their differences are so great in the Anglican churches, how come they don't split?
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    They may well split, and indeed Akinola has threatened to do so. But you should never underestimate the power of inertia. The Anglican churches have been a single communion for a very long time and are tied together by important historical roots. Moreover, the Anglican church has usually made a virtue out of its disparate nature. The idea is that its different elements give it greater versatility and strength, making it overall more balanced than churches that insist upon greater doctrinal or liturgical uniformity. The downside, of course, is that you get situations such as this. Now the Anglican churches have been divided before - most notably over the issue of women priests - but I think that the issue of homosexuality is a far more fundamental division than that, for a number of reasons, and I don't think there will be a solution that proves satisfactory to everyone. Many individuals did leave the church over women priests (and that was just in the Church of England), although there was no schism. Some parishes still won't accept women priests, and they won't even accept the authority of a bishop who has ordained women priests (such an attitude is formally heretical, akin to the views of the Donatists in the fourth century) but the Church of England got around this problem with wonderful pragmatism: it appointed several "flying bishops", with no diocese, who travel around the country administering those rebel parishes. So they all remain happily within the Church of England. I don't think that any such solution will be found to the issue of homosexuality, so I suspect that eventually there will be schism, though I don't know what form it will take or who will initiate it.
     
  13. DNK

    DNK Member

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    So this recent conversation is somewhat of a good tie-in for my first re-re-re-clarification.

    1. Why is it that all desires of the flesh are considered bad? This goes somewhat hand in hand with my previous argument against apatheia, since I see them as intrinsic to experience, the flesh being nothing more than a complex set of senses. Now, I am defining such desires to include everything, not just those sexual in nature, and perhaps that's where the problem is originating.

    I thought it was fact that Jesus enjoyed physical pleasures, notably eating and good old foot massages. How is this to be reconciled with such a position?

    As to sex, however, I understand the position a bit better, so if that's all it infers, then no need to go into it.

    2. I see, again, the picture I was painting of an orderly progression was a bit simplistic. Constant differences, different schools of thought, etc.

    3. For the gnostics, was spirit almost a simple logical concept and nothing more? What can differentiate it from mind, if mind incorporates subjective experience then? Would there be any way to "know" one had a soul or any difference in experience at all between a souled person and a non-souled one?

    4. Plotinus: so self-reflection creates a division between the experience of being a thing and the concept of that thing, what I would consider the most fundamental dichotomy, of subjective and objective, conceptual and sensual. This reflection, assuming he believes in an eternal God, would be an inherent attribute, and would therefore be similar in essence to the concept of the trinity as previously stated? A sort of dual at one basic level but singular at the most basic level sort of thing?

    5. Wait, so sex wasn't bad for a long time?! My head is spinning... I need to make sure, maybe I've misunderstood?

    6. What exactly is this love of God? Wouldn't it necessarily change depending on the individual's definition of God? If God is the universe, then wouldn't loving life and all the ways to enjoy life be loving God, and therefore sensual experiences could be a way to this, especially since the senses themselves would then be part of God? Perhaps simply being aware of this fact while enjoying them is sufficient? Or is it sitting in a dark room and thinking of a set of abstract concepts? I guess I'm wondering if there's any actual schools of thought as to what this communion with God actually is, as it has always seemed a wishy-washy sort of thing to me, not ever really explained in much detail.
     
  14. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    Probably not much different than today, but, as Plotinus said, there's no simple answer. The day to day lives of people back then were very different from those of people today &, as anyone who is married can tell you, day to day life has a big affect on a marraige.

    -A marriage contract called a ketubah is used to form a Jewish marraige. It is signed by the groom, the rabbi & witnesses immediately before the wedding ceremony. Basically, it lists the groom's responsiblities towards the bride. Today, with gender equality being a big issue, some Reform & Conservative Jews use a revised ketubah that both the groom & the bride sign, but it's original form places all burdens of the marraige on the groom. The original ketubah is written in Aramaic so it probably dates to around 2000 years ago. The one I signed is in Aramaic. The rabbi translated it for me. Sometimes, when my wife asks me to do something I don't want to, I rib her by saying that it's not in the ketubah.:D

    -As far as I know, the Biblical custom of taking a concubine was no longer practiced by 2000 years ago. Not even Herod had a concubine that I know of. When he wanted a new wife, he simply killed the one he had so he could remarry. I'm pretty sure monogamy was the cultural expectation of a Jewish marraige 2000 years ago.

    -Children born to unwed parents (bastards) were the lowest rung of the social ladder. Unmarried women who had children were social outcasts unless they claimed rape.

    -Young Jewish adults were expected to be married as is still the case among Orthodox & Chasidic Jews. "Be fruitful & multiply" is a mitzvah (good deed/Commandment from G-d). This has fueled some of the recent speculation that Jesus was married (Da Vinci Code type stuff).

    -Families were probably large as in many children. There were no easy methods of birth control as we have today. They were largely an agricultural society. Those points & the mitzvah mentioned above provide my reasoning.

    -Today, divorces are granted by a Get, a rabbinical court. I know Gets existed in the Middle Ages, but I'm not sure if they were around while the Temple was standing. While the Temple was standing, the Cohenim (Temple Preisthood) were the religious authority. With no Temple, rabbis are now the religious authority. Cohenim (a hereditary role) have some extra religious obligations, but no religious authority today.

    Your question is very general, but I hope I helped answer it. If you have a specific question, I'll give it a whack.

    Very true. Judaism is pretty varied today, too, but most variances regard levels of observation, not differences of doctrine.

    EDIT: I'm still loving this thread, Plotinus. I look in whenever I see there has been a new post.
     
  15. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Thank you :)

    Are there any records of other jews through history who claimed to be the son of god or fulfilling the laws of god or something similar? It's my impression that at the time of Jesus there were a lot of selph-proclaimed prophets of various kinds with small followings, such as John the baptist..
     
  16. Quasar1011

    Quasar1011 King of Sylvania

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    First Corinthians 7:3-5
    The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

    Sex wasn't bad within the confines of marriage, according to this passage. This would be a Christian response; for a Jewish view, we could go here:

    Song of Solomon 1:16
    How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant.
     
  17. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    I'm not getting this dualism beyond substance dualism. What kind of explination do they suppose for mind-body interaction if not one based on physics, biochemistry et al?
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Certainly the notion that all desires of the flesh are bad would not be an orthodox Christian view, since it smacks of Gnosticism. To the degree that some Christians have said it, though, I think the idea is that you're supposed to be focusing on God, and anything that distracts you is therefore bad - not bad in itself, perhaps, but bad from the point of view of someone wanting to focus upon God. So you find this idea in some of the Desert Fathers, for example, and later monastic writers too. In other words, where it appears in orthodox Christianity, it tends to be a specialised thing, for ascetics, mystics, and other professional God-gazers. I can't think off-hand of any suggestion in orthodox Christianity that no-one should enjoy physical pleasures. It really goes back to Plato, in one form or another, although the ideal of apatheia is Stoic. Note also that spiritual teachers have generally taught that even enjoyment of spiritual things can also be a distraction from God. If you're just gazing upon God because it's pleasant to do so, you won't see him at all.

    I'm not sure how proponents of such a view would reconcile it with Jesus' engagement in physical activities. They could argue that we are never told that Jesus enjoyed eating, foot-rubbing etc, only that he did it. Or perhaps Jesus' perfect union with God meant that such things wouldn't distract him as they can other people. Or something like that. Of course, the Gnostics wouldn't have accepted that Jesus really did those things at all - or that the Jesus who did them was not identical with the true saviour. So you can see how a Gnostic tendency in ethics tends to lead to heretical christology.

    I don't know the answers to these questions. The Gnostics would have distinguished between "soul" and "spirit", though. They thought that soul (psyche) is something that everyone has, and it is rather like very rarified matter. That is, if there is a great distinction between matter on the one hand and spirit on the other, soul is allied to matter, not to spirit. It is not divine, does not come from the Pleroma, and is associated with the Demiurge (himself a psychic being). Psyche is where consciousness and self-awareness are found. Spirit (pneuma), by contrast, is your link to the divine; it is in virtue of having spirit that you transcend the earthly realm.

    "Mind" (nous) would be part of psyche. Remember that Plato divided psyche into three parts - nous, thymos (courage, kind of) and epithymia (base desire).

    Well, that's not really how the Trinity works. According to the orthodox doctrine, both the unity and the distinction in the Godhead are most basic and fundamental. It's not like God appears as three but is really one: he is really three, and the threeness is just as real as the oneness. Of course they operate at different levels (the unity is at the level of ousia and the multiplicity at the level of hypostasis) but neither is more fundamental than the other.

    I'm not sure if Plotinus' explanation of multiplicity is exactly about the objective/subjective distinction, but that's only because I don't know enough about Plotinus to say (it's a very, very long time since I read him). Bear in mind, though, that Plotinus' One is not really like God. The One is not personal and indeed has no attributes at all. Divinity, for Plotinus, exists at the next level below the One, the level of the divine Nous.

    In orthodox Christianity, sex has never been bad per se. The claim that it is intrinsically bad is really a Gnostic claim (or a claim by groups similar to the Gnostics, such as the Cathars).

    Of course the idea that God is identical to the universe is hardly an orthodox Christian belief, although some Christians may have come close to it. However, certainly many Christians have believed that God should be encountered through the world rather than apart from it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be a good example of this. Mt 25:31-46 might be confirmation of this sort of view. At the same time, of course, there is the notion that to focus on God properly you must withdraw from the world to at least some degree. Lk 10:38-42 is the classic text for this view.

    Much has been written on what the experience of the love of God is like. I suppose the two main traditions, within Christianity, are the cataphatic (saying it is like something, typically light) and the apophatic (saying it transcends any description). Here are some passages from one of the major cataphatic mystics:

    Here is a passage from a major apophatic mystic:

    That passage from Albertus is really just a restatement of the teachings of Pseudo-Dionysius, who is the big man when it comes to apophatic mysticism. Here are two important passages from his Mystical theology, arguably the most influential mystical text of all time:

    Pseudo-Dionysius (writing in around AD 500) gets the idea of using Moses as a type of the mystic from Gregory of Nyssa, whose Life of Moses contains much the same ideas. Gregory is really the first Christian apophatic mystic. And he gets this interpretation of Moses from Origen, except that Origen believes that the spiritual journey is one of increasing knowledge, not one of increasing unknowledge. I believe that Origen's use of the text ultimately goes back to Philo.

    Origen also uses the Song of Songs as an allegory of the soul's relationship with God, and this too has been a constant theme in Christian mysticism, with medieval writers such as Bernard of Clairvaux doing the same thing. The Bride in the book is taken to represent the mystic's soul, and the Groom is Christ. So Origen writes in a famous passage:

    Descriptions of the experience of God are always like this, highly metaphorical. Make of that what you will!
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There were indeed many prophets at the time of Jesus, John the Baptist being the most famous. Others included Honi the Circle Drawer (first century BC) and "the Egyptian", who apparently claimed to be a messiah and a new Joshua (later first century AD). There were many messianic prophets and many teachers, and also many miracle-workers (Honi worked miracles but didn't do much else). The unusual thing about Jesus is that he was all of these at the same time.

    Jesus probably never claimed to be "the son of God", which, as I've explained a million times in this thread, would have meant nothing more than someone whom God approves of. The Old Testament states that all Jews are sons of God. As for fulfilling the laws of God, I should think all pious Jews would have hoped they were doing that.

    No-one really knows what Jesus claimed about himself, if indeed he did claim anything at all.

    This is an amazingly complex matter, which I understood very well eighteen months ago when I was studying it in more depth, and which I have now forgotten. Fortunately it's not theology so I'm not obliged to attempt an answer here. You need to bear in mind that the notion of "substance" itself is rather an arcane one in philosophy (it does not mean what scientists usually take it to mean), which complicates things. And the term "physical" is pretty vague too: it seems to me that modern physicists and chemists spend most of their time talking about entities that aren't really "physical" in any normal sense of the word at all. However, philosophers who take a moderately dualist line aren't obliged to provide an explanation for those things which they think are not explained by the physical; their point is simply that there are certain things that cannot be explained solely by the physical. The prime examples are usually qualia, which are supposed to contain information which cannot be reduced to the physical. I'm sure you're familiar with Frank Jackson's famous arguments for this position.

    I don't remember if I said this before, but it's an interesting quirk of modern philosophy that most philosophers reject dualism, yet most of the good arguments are actually for dualism. Those who argue against dualism spend most of their time trying to show what's wrong with the arguments for it, rather than presenting positive arguments for a monist alternative.
     
  20. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    I wanted to see Plotinus' response before replying. I'll add a little.

    It's important to remember that the Jewish world was almost in a state of social chaos at the time of Jesus. Lacking the physical power to change things, many Jews turned to spiritual answers. This created an atmosphere that was ripe for "prohepts" & "messiahs."

    Herod, the Jewish king, was universally hated by his fellow Jews & subjects. He wasn't a Hasmonean, the Jewish royal family at the time. His wife was. He eventually had her & at least two of their sons killed, but she helped prop up his claim to the throne. He was a puppet ruler of Rome. Being ruled by polytheistic idoloters has never been viewed kindly by Jews. The Hasmonean line itself came to power through a Jewish revolt against Greek pagan rule. Revolts against Rome in 70 & 135 C.E. failed.

    Plotinus can correct me, but I've thought that the negative view of Herod in the New Testament reflects the Jewish view of him during the time of Jesus.

    Today, Jews remember him as a good man for rebuilding the Temple, but as a terribly bad man for usurping the Hasmonean throne, colluding with the Romans & ruthlessly killing so many people.

    Concerning John the Baptist, many Christians today may not know that ritual bathing was an old Jewish tradition even at the time of Jesus. What is unusual about the story of John the Baptist is that he was conducting a ritual bath in the Jordan river. Jewish ritual bathing occurs in a mikvah-a bath that uses only rainwater. The thinking is that water that has touched the ground is ritually impure. Archaeologists know they have uncovered a Jewish community when they find a mikvah. Chasidic & many Orthodox Jews still prartice ritual bathing.

    Besides Jesus, the most influential example would have been Sabbetai Tzvi. I'm typing from memory so forgive me being a little vague. Sabbetai Tzvi was a Jew from Palestine who declared himself the messiah & was reported to perfom several miracles. This was the 16th century, IIRC. He was so convincing that rabbis all over Europe & the Middle East preached that the messiah had finally arrived. Jews by the thousands sold their possessions & set out to join the "messiah." Tzvi caused such an uproar that the Ottoman sultan ordered Tzvi to appear before him. The sultan gave him a choice: prove that he was the messiah by being beheaded & resurectiing or convert to Islam. Tzvi converted to Islam...

    It's interesting that, besides spouses owning each other's bodies, this is very similar to the Jewish view.

    The Song of Solomon is a good read, but not really a "Jewish view" of marriage. Jews see it as a beautiful example of ancient, Hebrew poetry. Even ancient romantics used poetry to express themselves (& woo women);) .
     
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