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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. Fifty

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

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    In case you don't feel like waiting for Plotinus to answer, he's state before that he finds The Miracle of Theism by J.L. Mackie to be the best argument for atheism. On the pro-theism side look up Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga. Avoid all things Dawkins (when interested in the theism-atheism debate. He is great for the evolution-ID debate).
     
  2. CurtSibling

    CurtSibling ENEMY ACE™ SLeague Staff

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    I'll give it a try.

    What is the difference theological study from study of mythology?

    I really must question the validity/seriousness of being a Theologian...?
    To my mind, it is akin to being an expert on Klingon opera music.

    Religious history or literature is a subject I can understand, but theological
    study of angels, seraphim and goldy beings really seems based in fantasy.

    If I am missing something, I am willing to be clued in.

    ...
     
  3. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    AS A GOLDY BEING I AM DEEPLY OFFENDED BY YOUR INSINUATION.
     
  4. CurtSibling

    CurtSibling ENEMY ACE™ SLeague Staff

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    Of course you are.

    Shall I send for your medication, Perf?

    ;)
     
  5. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    No, my spleen feels fine.
     
  6. CurtSibling

    CurtSibling ENEMY ACE™ SLeague Staff

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    Spam aside, my question is actually serious.

    I find it difficult to take theological study (angels, etc) seriously.

    ...
     
  7. Verità

    Verità Chieftain

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    I have Plantiga's three volume series on warrant, and they are without a doubt the most difficult books I have ever read. I have spent more time on the latter book Warranted Christian Belief, but it will take me years to finish these books and thoroughly understand them. Although from what I have extracted so far, Plantinga does propose a convincing argument.

    I just scanned through some material on J.L. Mackie and it looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.
     
  8. Margim

    Margim Footy's back.

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    Well, I'm sure the Klingons would appreciate the attention :D.

    To be honest, though, sometimes not a lot. Most textual criticism deals with the way meaning and ideas are conveyed. Much good theology operates without the assumption of historical truth, and instead looks for what truth the stories and records we have are trying to convey.

    That's really not what we spend our time doing.

    Tell you what, when you are ready to leave your preconcieved notions regarding theology aside and ask that question without the dripping sarcasm, I'll be more than willing to explain what we do actually do.

    Most theologians I know are infinitely inquiring and open to the ambiguities of their beliefs being challenged.
     
  9. Fifty

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

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    One book that I haven't read but that has been talked a lot about is Peter van Inwagen's The Problem of Evil. Inwagen, who is a major figure in philosophy, argues that the classic problem of evil against theism (or at least against most kinds of theism) is a philosophical failure. Inwagen has a rather sophisticated view of what it is for something to be a "philosophical failure" though, so suffice to say that The Problem of Evil hasn't been "debunked" or anything by him, by his own admission.
     
  10. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    I have read some of Plotinus' books and have found them very intersting even though I am not a particualrly strong fan of christianity. Like his posts here, he is very good at explaining the hows and why's of Christian thought throughout the last 2000 years.

    Thoughtfullness about such important and influential ideas is often lacking today. I think one of Plotinus' strengths is his ability to make complicated matters clear.

    If for no other reason, understanding your enemy, might encourage you to read one of his books. :)
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think the main reasons I don't believe in God are (a) I don't see any good reason to do so, and (b) I see what seem to me to be fairly good reasons not to. That's the brief version, of course. Although I'd say I'm a bit more open to supernaturalism now that I used to be - perhaps living with a medium has that effect.

    I think that even to talk about "evidence of a 'fine-tuned' universe" is itself to beg the question. I don't see any such evidence and I don't see what form such evidence could possibly take. As far as I can tell, these modern versions of the teleological argument have no evidential force whatsoever; I've never seen a version that impressed me at all. But if anyone wants to try one out here I'll be happy to comment further (or change my mind!).

    [EDIT] This is a post that a friend of mine made on his blog, on this subject, together with various replies, including my own. This might help to bring out some of the issues that are involved in this question as well as my reasons for thinking the way I do.

    As Margim said, what do you think theologians study?

    The object of theological study is what people have believed. It's no different from the study of history or literature, except that rather than studying what happened or what people wrote, you're studying what people believed. That's rather a simplistic account but that's basically what it comes down to. There's really no difference, as far as I can see, between historical theology and historical philosophy. Whether the beliefs in question were true or not is absolutely irrelevant as far as the study of them goes; if they were false that doesn't invalidate the study, because it's still true that people held them. And that's the difference between studying theological beliefs and studying Klingon opera music, because although I hate to break this to you, there aren't any opera-going Klingons...

    Personally I'm not really convinced by Plantinga's argument in those books. I do think he raises very interesting questions about "evidentialism" and so on - which does cast equally interesting doubt over the procedures of both Swinburne and Mackie alike - but I'm not convinced that he does enough to defend theistic belief. Basically, he probably is right that there are some things which we can be said to believe rationally even when we have no good evidence for them, but I don't see that he offers any good reasons to suppose that religious beliefs fall into this category. But still, his argument is a work in progress. Maybe he'll read this very thread and address that in his next book.

    I haven't read van Inwagen on that subject; I remember encountering some of his stuff on metaphysics as an undergraduate and vowing to avoid him ever after!

    Now that's a recommendation!
     
  12. Fifty

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

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    Is there a general thrust of the sort of questions theologians (in the former sense of your OP) analyze during a given historical period, or do theologians ask the same general questions throughout history?

    Take philosophy for example. While the same general questions have been asked for thousands of years, you can identify historical periods where certain problems/areas got much more "air time" than others. I guess a good example would be the strong presence of the philosophy of language in the 20th century versus other centuries. Is it like that in theology too, or do all theologians tend to ask the same sorts of questions about the nature of god and such throughout history?
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's an interesting question. I think I'd say that theology is much like philosophy in that regard. There are trends in both the sorts of questions being asked and in the sorts of answers that are given. For example, in the nineteenth century, issues of hermeneutics and how you handle a text theologically were first really asked for the first time (at least, for the first time in that sort of way). This is partly because theology tends to be influenced by the general intellectual climate of the day. So, for example, twentieth-century theology was enormously influenced by existentialism. But just as with philosophy, the general questions tend to be pretty hardy. If philosophy is all footnotes to Plato then theology is all footnotes to Paul...
     
  14. Fifty

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

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    I've read that Spinoza came up with some theory of Biblical interpretation in a work called (iirc) the Tractatus Thelogicus-Politicus. What (in a nutshell) was it, and was it interesting/important/good/bad/whatever in your opinion?
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's the Tractatus theologico-politicus, not one of the catchiest titles ever conceived. It was basically the first modern attempt at biblical criticism. Spinoza considered the biblical books as purely human products, rather than the result of divine inspiration, and he argued that they didn't actually teach anything particularly profound. So his critical point was made for a polemical purpose, which was to defend philosophical reasoning as opposed to reasoning from authority: his basic point was that the former is a better basis for ethics and spirituality than the latter.

    I haven't read the book so I can't really evaluate it, except to say that to me it sounds pretty much spot-on! Of course, more detailed tools for biblical criticism, such as form and redaction criticism, would not be developed until much later. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, what biblical criticism there was seems always to have been done in a polemical spirit: as "attacks" upon the text held sacred by others. Reimarus is the other big name here. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that secular scholars managed to shrug that big chip off their shoulder and read the biblical texts without getting worked up about how preachers interpreted them. By then, scholarly literature on the Bible is pretty much identical to scholarly literature on any other ancient texts; you wouldn't know from reading it that contemporaries of the authors held these texts to be sacred or divinely inspired. And that's how biblical scholarship has remained since, and a good thing too.

    A more readily available text in which Spinoza deals with this sort of thing is the appendix to part 1 of the Ethics, which is well worth reading.
     
  16. philippe

    philippe FYI, I chase trains.

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    when and how come Manichaeism died out as an religion? I once picked up that it was a very widely spread synthetic "world" religion with a strong structure and all. So how come it died out and where?
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sorry to take a while answering this one. With this, you have to bear in mind that (a) I don't know a great deal about Manichaeism, and (b) no-one knows very much about it at all. This is generally the case for movements that were deemed heretical and persecuted.

    In fact, that's the main reason it died out as a religion. Manichaeism was always strongest in Persia, where it was strongly persecuted since Zoroastrianism was the only officially recognised religion. The same thing happened in the Roman empire after the 380s, when non-Christian religions were proscribed. So it pretty much died out in those regions.

    It did survive elsewhere; apparently Manichaeism was still a going concern in central Asia and China well into the Middle Ages, although it must have been a small minority affair. Also, the ideas of Manichaeism remained influential in the west. Manichaeism itself was related in some ways to earlier gnostic movements, and together with them influenced later ones. The Paulicians, who were around in the Byzantine empire and Middle east between the seventh and ninth centuries, have sometimes been thought to have been rather like the Manichaeans, although virtually nothing is known about them and they might not have been dualists at all. The Bogomils, a small cult in the same area of the tenth and eleventh centuries, certainly were dualists and may have been directly inspired by the Manichaeans. After being suppressed in the Middle East, some of them are sometimes thought to have fled to Europe and influenced the Cathars. So even though Manichaeanism as a movement perished in the west at a fairly early stage, its influence (and the influence of the wider trend towards dualism of which it was a part) continued for many centuries.
     
  18. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Not sure have you answered this one.

    How far in your opinion does the reformation movement or kind of "need for a change" in history date back?

    This is usually dated back start of 1500 century, but I mean weren't there drifts and different views long before the actual reformation inside the church took place?

    How strong do you think these influences were?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There have been reform movements within the church for practically as long as it has existed. For example, you can see movements such as the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, as (partly) calls for ethical reform. The same thing underlay the Donatist movement, which split off from the Catholic Church in the early fourth century and became the dominant form of Christianity in north Africa for a while. Pelagianism, too, was inspired by the supposed laxity and frivolity of the new Christian congregations following the proscription of paganism, and was an attempt to make everyone live like monks.

    All of these movements were condemned as heretical and ultimately failed. There were more successful reform movements in the Middle Ages, partly because there tended to be so many things needing reform in that period! These happened both within the church as a whole and within particular orders, such as the monastic orders; and in each case there tended to be cycles of reform followed by a gradual relaxation of standards, followed by a new period of reform, and so on. Some of the most important reforms in monasticism included the Cluniac movement in the eleventh century and the Cistercians in the twelfth and thirteenth. In the church as a whole, one of the biggest periods of reform was in the eleventh century, under Pope Leo IX and then, even more importantly, Pope Gregory VII. These popes and their advisers devoted huge energy to trying to stamp out corruption, especially among the priesthood and in the monasteries, and practices such as simony and the inheritance of ecclesiastical positions. Peter Damian was an important figure in this movement. In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux was something of a reformer, calling for high moral standards at all levels of the church. And later, Pope Innocent III brought in many reforms too, culminating in the fourth Lateran council. It's not hard to find plenty of contemporary criticism of standards in the church; just read the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury tales. Of course, there are people in every generation who think things are worse than they ever have been, so one shouldn't credit the woeful descriptions one finds throughout church history too much.

    That period also saw reform movements that were condemned. These included Petrobrusianism in the early twelfth century (a movement associated with Peter de Bruis and also, perhaps, Henry of Lausanne) and, arguably, Catharism, which was partly ethically motivated. Later in the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, the Waldenses also called for reform of the church but were suppressed (because they disobeyed the church authorities by preaching without permission). The most important figures like this from the viewpoint of the later Reformation were John Wycliffe and Jan Hus in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. They called not simply for reform of standards but for reform of the ecclesiastical system itself, with Wycliffe going so far as to call cardinals servants of the devil.

    So there had always been attempts at reformation within the church; some had been successful and some had not, for various reasons. When Luther nailed his theses to the church door he was simply joining that tradition. What was different about subsequent events was that the reform movement spilled out of the church and resulted in new churches being set up, which, unlike the earlier Donatists and Hussites, were successful and flourished. That hadn't been Luther's original intention at all. Also, much of the reform movement remained within the Catholic Church, resulting in the council of Trent, the establishment of the Jesuits, and so on. These are traditionally counted as part of the "counter-Reformation", as if they were simply a response to the Reformation, but really it's more accurate to see both the Reformation and the counter-Reformation as parts of a single movement of reform during that period. It's just that some of it resulted in schism, while some of it was contained within the Catholic Church.

    The direct influence of earlier reformers upon Luther and his contemporaries is hard to say (and it's not my period!). Certainly, when the Reformation began and the first Protestants split off from the Catholic Church, remnants of earlier reform movements - notably the Hussites, the Moravians, and the Waldenses - merged with them, so their ideas were influential there. The ideas of Wycliffe and Hus, in particular, were certainly influential on the Reformers. But like all reformers, Luther and the others were primarily reacting to what they believed to be problems of their own day. When Luther called for a debate about the practice and theory of indulgences, he did so simply because he thought it was something worth discussing, not because he wanted to be another Wycliffe.
     
  20. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Thank you for your answer.

    You never expect anyone give such long (still never long winded for sure! => check my long posts for those) answer and still you provide it without hesitation almost every time.

    So do you think the time was just ripe for reformation or do you think there were other factors that contributed to the actual reformation than just theological reasons?

    Meaning that it was more like overall change not only in the church but also when it comes to how power is distributed in the land rather than just being "an end product" of long process of theological drift which then affected everything else at the same time?

    My point being is that how much the reformation was influenced from inside the church rather than from the surroundings and was the change in your opinion fast or do you think it just took long time to catch the breaking point? Was the pressure already upon the church and reformation was just waiting favorable circumstances to become reality rather than being sudden shock movement?
     
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