Class Warfare Blog

March 31, 2021

The Role of Tradition in Culture

Back when I was in college I got my hands on a set of “The Story of Civilization,” then about ten volumes I think, and read them. I then found and read “The Lessons of History” from the same duo. These are brilliant expositions on the “big picture” of human history and, I am sure, full of mistakes and flaws as are all works of history, but glorious nonetheless.

I ran across a quote or summary of a point made in The Lessons of History; here it is:

“It seems arrogant to doubt tradition too much, to think that your supposedly brilliant mind could develop a better solution in 30 or 40 years than humankind has developed over thousands of years of working together. For this reason, it’s quite possible that we discount how useful and powerful religion can be.” (Will and Ariel Durant)

It “seems” arrogant? Hmm. It might if there were tradition minders woven into the scheme of our culture, but traditions happen willy-nilly, especially religiously. (Yes, I am aware of massive convocations held to determine what dogmas and traditions will be in this or that church, but most of these meetings are stage shows for the spectators rather than real working sessions. Most of the decisions of such councils were already made before they convened.)

I often refer to traditions as “the ways we have always done things,” not as a disparagement but as a reminder that traditions are cultural memories. So, that crafts and arts and knowledge not get lost over time, they are made into “traditions,” that is something important to remember. A son learning a traditional craft from his father might be cheeky enough to ask “why” during a training session but was liable to receive a slap for his challenge. A good father reinforced the importance of this knowledge/skill being transmitted and made it “special” in the mind of the son.

So, traditional knowledge was passed from father to son, mother to daughter and from uncles and aunts, too. This was knowledge too important to be left to chance: what plants are poisonous to eat, the hunting grounds for certain animals and the techniques used to hunt them, the techniques used to knap rocks into tools, etc.

Now, these “learnings” were hard to come by and dangerous if lost, but as the pace of change has accelerated, are lost at an ever increasing rate. Why? Because the traditional knowledge became irrelevant. For example, when tools made of metal became commonplace, being able to make cruder versions out of stone became less valuable. The convenience of email and texting has made letter writing a less important skill.

Tradition yields to change over time and that is normal. So, in the phrase “It seems arrogant to doubt tradition too much” the key words are “too much.” So what constitutes “too much?” Discarding useful things has consequences, but sometimes it spurs rediscovery or even invention that betters the whole situation. I suggest that possibly what is being said is that tradition is not something to discard casually.

And that brings me to “it’s quite possible that we discount how useful and powerful religion can be.” I wish they would have said “religion is” because there is a large gap between “can be” and “is.” In any case, religion is the embodiment of tradition. Although these traditions seem to be far much less pragmatic than flintknapping, or basket weaving, or growing the Three Sisters. (Which is why religions horned in on other, more useful, traditions (Blessing the crops, blessing the harvest. marking the changes of season).The Durants (both dead now) were on the whole religious positivists, that is, all in all, religion has been a positive force in human society. I, on the other hand, see religion as a control mechanism to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites, both religious and secular.

In the context of religious tradition, therefore, do we ask: “Has this or that religion become a tradition passed over? Is it time to discard it?” This question is being acted out in American culture right now. The rise of the “Nones,” people who participate in no religion has been accelerating and now the Nones outnumber the most popular religious sect in the U.S. (We’re No. 1!; we’re No. 1!) What few people know is that a majority of the Nones still harbor some sort of belief in a “higher power.” They have not thrown off the shackles of supernatural nonsense, they have just thrown off the shackles of “houses of worship.”

I am one who thinks that superstitious nonsense is not at all helpful as it is all make believe. The comfort religion supplies is based upon being familiar, for example. To get to the place where we can discard the tradition of believing superstitious nonsense, we have to discard religion, a reinforcer of superstition nonsense first, so I guess progress is being made . . . cautiously, as the Durants would advocate. Instead of Shakespeare’s “First, kill all of the lawyers,” we are at the “First, defund all of the priests” stage.

Progress marches on!

September 23, 2020

We Are Oh-So-Kind . . . to Ourselves

I was reading an article about some Native American archaeology and came to this statement “In the 1800’s, European settlers drove ancestral Wichita people from their native lands, leading to the destruction of their villages and communal traditions.”

I have made this point before but am still struck by the terminology.

If someone invaded your community and forcefully ejected you from your homes and farms, killing many of you in the process, would you refer to them as settlers . . . or invaders? Was not this land already “settled?” In this instance they are talking about a “city” of possibly 40,000 Native American inhabitants.

But European “settlers” “drove” the people off. It sounds like they are referring to cattle or buffalo which could be “driven” to another location.

By what right were these things done? Oh, God told them it was okay for the Europeans to make war on the indigenous peoples they encountered, in order to bring Christianity to the natives. Gee, you’d think this was an educational mission instead of a land grab.

At the time, Europe had recovered from the repeated decimation of the population of Europe due to the Black Plague and other plagues and was overpopulated. The “European settlers” were searching for land, land that could be tilled, land that could be mined, land that could make them rich. They came as soldier-farmers. They didn’t work in their fields without their guns nearby, because the people they stole the land from wanted it back.

These were not settlers. They were an army of invaders. And we are descended from them.

And President Trump wants our schools to teach that we did nothing wrong. Sure we took their land, but we gave them the Bible. From Mr. Trump’s perspective, this was a great deal, and American deal, an exceptional deal.

And the winners of the deal get to write and re-write the history any way they want. Mr. Trump’s way is what we will get if he is re-elected.

 

 

August 25, 2020

The Cancel Culture—Real or Imagined?

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:43 am
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On the Vridar web site, Neil Godfrey was reviewing a compilation of essays in honor of biblical scholar Thomas L. Thompson.

He began with “Why a volume of essays in honour of Thomas L. Thompson? The opening paragraph of the Introduction explains (with my highlighting):

Thomas L. Thompson has been, for the past five decades, behind some of the – if not all – major changes in Old Testament historiography, if we consider that his criticism of the patriarchal narratives, the exodus and settlement and the United Monarchy were each at their own time forerunners of what later on would become accepted in the field (Thompson 1974, 1987, 1992, 1999).

See below for those four titles. The first, 1974, was met at the time with such opposition that it left him “unemployed and unemployable for ten years”. The 1992 work precipitated his expulsion from Marquette University.”

Thomas Thompson’s Significant Books (I have read the fourth.)

Historically, the largest exponent of the cancel culture has been organized religion. If your beliefs contradicted theirs, you lost your job, in Thompson’s case multiple times, or had a hard time finding a job, or you lost your freedom by being locked up, or even your life. (Burn, Heretic, burn!)

The telling feature in this case was that Thompson was being punished . . . for being right. His heretical opinions have become “accepted in the field.”

August 9, 2020

The Light Bulb Comes On

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:50 pm
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Note I just responded to a comment on another of my posts on this same topic, so I finished this up and am posting it now. S

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I am reading a rather fantastic book, not that it involves fantasies but rather dispels them. That book is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. The author placed a number of facts in a row to point out the obvious conclusion. I knew all of the facts already but hadn’t gone where they led.

Here is the argument.

The Israeli state story is that the ancient Hebrews, millions of them, fled captivity and slavery in Egypt, then wandered in the desert for 40 years finally being delivered to the Promised Land, only to find out that while it was promised, it was also occupied. So they waged wars of annihilation against the occupants of the land they were given, so they could move in.

That’s the story as laid out in their Bible, they say.

But, we now know that the Hebrews were never in Egypt proper in large numbers and certainly not there as slaves. (Egypt did conquer and rule over the “holy Land” several times and did collect taxes so “being a slave to the Egyptians” is not an unthinkable thought.) The Exodus, however, didn’t happen. The 40 years didn’t happen. If it had their main encampment would have had millions of graves left behind as almost all of the adults leaving Egypt would have died at that camp. Millions of graves? No. Hundreds of thousands of graves? No. Thousands? No. It did not happen.

But in the Bible, Israelites are repeatedly warned away from the beliefs of the pagan cultures that their god had them slaughter and the evil influence of their foreign religions.

What is going on here?

Instead of the Hebrews invading Canaan, they were Canaanites already. They differed hardly at all from the Canaanites that get so lambasted in scripture later.

So why all of the badmouthing of the “foreigners” and their religious practices?” Here is an excerpt from this book that shows why:

“Thus we see ‘the systematic turning of traditional xenophobic rhetoric … against the traditional religion of Israel’ so that in the end Israel’s religion was ‘alienated from itself.’ In this view, biblical authors, in listing the worship of, say, celestial deities among ‘the abominable practices of the nations,’ were just using fear of the foreign to purge the indigenous.”

It wasn’t foreign religions that were being opposed, it was the religion of the indigenous Israelites that was. The indigenous Israelites worshiped a panoply of gods, mostly Canaanite, because they were Canaanites.

This was in the time of King Josiah, who was trying mightily to consolidate his power by reducing the number of gods he had to answer to. (Note Since Josiah took the throne at the age of eight, I assume it was Yahweh’s high priest and Josiah’s advisers, etc. were also involved.) Here’s another quote from the book:

“Josiah had priests take from Yahweh’s temple and burn ‘all the vessels made for Ba’al, for Asherah’ and for ‘all the host of heaven’ (which in this context means deified celestial bodies). He removed horses used in sun worship from the entrance to the temple and ‘burned the chariots of the sun with fire.’ He wiped out shrines built for ‘Astarte the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites’—and, as a kind of exclamation point, covered these sites with human bones. Josiah also banned mediums, sorcerers, household gods, idols, and miscellaneous other ‘abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem.’ As had Hezekiah, King Josiah tore down ‘the high places’—altars across Judah where various gods might be worshiped. But the altars themselves weren’t the only target. According to the Bible, Josiah “deposed” the priests linked to them, emphatically including priests who ‘made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations.’ And beyond Judah, in the former northern kingdom, Josiah went further: he “slaughtered on the altars all the priests of the high places who were there, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.”

Josiah ruled Judah (Israel had been destroyed) from 641/640 BCE to 610/609 BCE so you can see that Judah wasn’t what you might call monotheistic at this point. The Temple in Jerusalem had “vessels made for Ba’al and Asherah and all the host of heaven” in it. (The host of heaven, hmm, were they Yahweh’s offstage audience in the book of Genesis? Seems so.)

The “high places” that were destroyed (along with the priests who officiated there) were outdoor altars on hilltops where gods other than Yahweh were worshiped. (This is all in the books of Kings in the OT (Oneth and Twooth, Doanld.), btw.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, kings preferred monotheism because it increased their leverage over the priests, or priest, they had to relate to (and control).

So, the story of the conquest of Canaan was written as political cover for the effort to make the indigenous religion of the vast majority of Israelites into foreign religions that could be snuffed out in favor of the religion the elites wanted the people to have. (Effing elites!)

The people didn’t want “Yahweh alone,” the people didn’t create the “Yahweh alone movement” and scripture didn’t support it . . . until . . . until Josiah and his gang of Yahweh priests started doing a bit of editing.

You may be aware of Josiah as the king who “found” a lost book of the Torah. The story goes, according to Wikipedia: “While (High Priest) Hilkiah was clearing the treasure room of the Temple he discovered a scroll described in 2 Kings as ‘the book of the Law,’ and in 2 Chronicles as “the book of the Law of the LORD given by Moses.” The phrase sefer ha-torah (ספר התורה) in 2 Kings 22:8 is identical to the phrase used in Joshua 1:8 and 8:34 to describe the sacred writings that Joshua had received from Moses. The book is not identified in the text as the Torah and many scholars believe this was either a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy or a text that became a part of Deuteronomy.”

The book of Deuteronomy stresses the uniqueness of God and the need for drastic centralization of worship . . . surprise, surprise. If Jews could only sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple, then the “high places” altars became less and less of an option.

Ah, as they say, hah.

July 24, 2020

Oh, Wow!

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:17 am
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From time to time I like to check in to see what the other side of the god argument is saying, so I bit on this book: God’s Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground by Steven Colborne.

This chap seems to be taking all of the god claims to heart and looking seriously at the consequences. I believe his viewpoint is: it is all true and you will agree with me if you just follow along.

Here is all of Chapter 4 (This is as far as I have gotten as this is a bit f tough sledding.) I also hope that doesn’t violate fair use regulations but as I am not profiting from this I suspected that it is not.

4
God in Inanimate Objects

It is easy to see how God is active in living creatures, but it is perhaps somewhat more difficult to envisage what ‘God is doing’ in the case of inanimate objects, like tables or books. When I look at a table and investigate its nature, an obvious question arises — is God making the table be, or can the table be without involvement from God?

The table existing without involvement from God would have to mean that there is some part of the cosmos in which God is not present. But this cannot be, as God by His very nature is omnipresent. Therefore, there must be a sense in which the table is ‘in God’, or, put another way, God’s being must permeate the table. It is natural, then, to assume that God is holding the table in existence. The table appears solid and stable, and it is perfectly possible for God to create these qualities in the table. God is, after all, omnipotent, so holding a bunch of atoms in place for a few hundred years does not pose the slightest problem.

Another aspect of God is that He is wholly in the parts as well as the whole. This means that each individual part of the table contains the fullness of God. It should not be hard to imagine, then, that God, in His infinite power, can create subtle change in such objects over time. We are talking, for instance, of objects like the table fading in colour, becoming infested by woodworm, or drying out. If the smallest particle is just as present to God as the whole table, then God can affect change on any level.

One might naturally ask, what would become of the table if God’s involvement were taken away? Could it exist without God? We have already established that God is everywhere, so we would have to conclude that there can be no table without God.

Taking all of this into account, should it not be possible for God to make major unexpected changes in the order of things? For instance, if God wanted my table to vanish before my eyes, is this not possible? Remember, we are saying that God is holding every particle of the table in existence. I would have to conclude that, yes, it is as possible for a table to vanish as it is for a man’s pain to vanish, as I described witnessing in the chapter “How Do I Know God Exists?”. God could remove a table from existence in a flash, if He desired. So why, then, do we not see more instances of this?

Well, it is perfectly possible that God likes order. Perhaps regularity is one of the things that gives God pleasure. This is understandable if we remember that God has all of eternity at His disposal. God might like to make some things appear and disappear (like a flash of lightning), and cause other things to remain for hundreds of years (like a table). Evolution (in objects as well as animals) may well please God, as the unfolding of His will and His plans provide our creator with anticipation and something to look forward to.

Λ Ω

So, if I burn a table on a bonfire, I am burning god? (Throw on a beef steak and burn him at the steak?)

The table is maybe a bit too weird a place to start. How about: “God, in His infinite power, can create subtle change in such objects over time. We are talking, for instance, of objects like the table fading in colour, becoming infested by woodworm, or drying out. If the smallest particle is just as present to God as the whole table, then God can affect change on any level.”

We have to ask, why an omnipotent god would use his powers to stick the atoms of every fricking object in the universe together? This has to be incredibly boring stuff. He is omnipotent and this is what does with his powers . . . hold the atoms of a table together? If he were to get distracted, would the table fall apart?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have such a god create universal rules regarding the stickiness of atoms and use those to hold the atoms of things together. We could call them, I don’t know, chemical bonds, for short. No? I do note that none of the properties of the Christian god is that he is “all-intelligent.” (What would that be in Greekish? Omni-smart? Omni-percipient, Omni-éxypnos?) Maybe he is dull enough that he thinks he has to hold together every damned thing. Why use gravity to hold together stars and planets when . . . you can do it yourself?

As to my question: if he were to get distracted, would those objects fall apart? This is apparently how he makes things disappear or appear out of nothing, as we have all seen happen, like . . . never. Really, this has never been seen in all of human history and you’d think that in one of those “I am the Lord, your God . . .” moments this is a trick that would be really convincing to bystanders, not to say any persons who were disappeared and then reappeared. Imagine the conversations later! “I am telling you Shalom, you disappeared for like a quarter of an hour and then you were brought back. Where did you go? Did you get to see Heaven? (. . . or Hell?)”

Again, it makes sense that all of the sticking together of parts be on automatic and then God can just overrule the rules whenever he wants to make things appear and disappear, no?

Does Occam’s Rule apply to gods?

Amazing, absolutely effing amazing, s    i    g    h   .

July 19, 2020

The “Respect My Beliefs” Campaign

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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Note What you have come to expect on sabbath days, a religious post! Enjoy!

* * *

Well, maybe it is not a campaign, but it is a trope of the modern Christian movement. I have argued that any one demanding that atheists respect their religious beliefs is wrongheaded. You see respect is earned, not demanded. I acknowledge that people have such beliefs. I actually think that many are sincere in those beliefs, but respect them? No, not in the least. I do not respect anyone who elevates the supernatural, the mythological over the real. I just do not and will not.

And should not this be a two-way street? I firmly believe that sciences, especially foundational science like physics, chemistry, and biology are the best sources we have of information about the nature of reality. Are my beliefs respected? Not particularly, I guess they must be the “false beliefs” the religious rail about so often.

I see preachers telling us that the “Blood of Jesus” will save us from the COVID-19 disease (and then contracting it and dying, which should be a sign from god, but apparently . . . is not). I see people wanting to refuse medical treatment, even inoculations because of “religious beliefs.” These particular so-called beliefs actually endanger the rest of us by keeping a population of the disease ridden alive in our communities.

That other people are claiming that, for instance, being required to wear a mask and distance ourselves minimally from others violates our rights under the Constitution is equally ridiculous but doesn’t make the religious claims less ridiculous. And the religious are claiming special privilege for their beliefs.

Basically, I think you can have any cockamamie belief you want, but once you step into the realm of bad behavior, you lose my respect and you can even gain my opposition.

I just got off of Quora and someone summarized this point this way: “I think that any atheist who respects all god-based religions is a fool. Atheists, in being atheists, have no respect for gods, simply because they do not believe in them. So an atheist who respects god-based religions is respecting other people’s worship of the very thing that he or she does not believe exists, which is foolish.”

And . . . I keep coming up with additional points as I type . . . is the respect I should offer like the respect that Christian fundamentalists extend to Catholics? (They are not True Christians™.) or Muslims? Or any sane theists and Scientologists? Most religions don’t respect other religions because, well, they are just wrong, that’s why. So, we are supposed to respect all of them when they don’t respect one another. Talk about setting a high bar, much higher for atheists than for True Believers™.

July 14, 2020

The Gospel of John Begins With . . .

The gospel we call “John” begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

“The Word” has always puzzled me. Jesus was a word? My cartoon mind immediately came up with a scene pasted together from many movies in which a priest with an Irish accent (Pat O’Brien?) says, “Ah, it is a mystery, my son.” I have written recently that should a god want to communicate with us, there should be no mysteries. Such writings should be comprehended perfectly by geniuses and idiots and everyone in between, I mean if the god has no ill intent, in any case. But that was before, for now . . .

The Word . . .? WTF?

As I have mentioned I am reading a book on the roots of Western Civilization (The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas) and a few things were made clear. Here are a couple of quotes, very slightly amended.

“. . . another Presocratic philosopher, the solitary and enigmatic Heraclitus (ca. 540 BCE–c. 480 BCE), introduced a similarly immanent conception of the divine intelligence with his use of the term logos (originally meaning word, speech, or thought) to signify the rational principle governing the cosmos.”

and . . .

“As ancient philosophy progressed, logos and nous were variously employed to signify mind, reason, intellect, organizing principle, thought, word, speech, wisdom, and meaning, in each case relative to both human reason and a universal intelligence. As the means by which human intelligence could attain universal understanding, the Logos was a divine revelatory principle, simultaneously operative within the human mind and the natural world.”

I inserted Heraclitus’s birth and death dates to show that these ideas were being formed many hundreds of years before the writing of the gospel we call “John” (written ca. 120 CE).

Now, what language do you think the Gospel we call “John” was written in, do you think? Most scholars believe that it was originally written in Greek. They think the original (we do not have any copies of the original to study, just copies of copies of copies, etc.) was written in Greek because of the quality of the language, the use of certain terns, the use of the Greek translation of the Old Testament when quoting the OT, etc. So, the Greek word translated by so many as “Word,” was what? If you guessed Logos, you got it in one.

Now, explain to me how someone who writes extremely good Koine Greek would be unaware of the philosophical meaning of the term logos? Any sufficiently educated Greek writer, able to pull off writing the gospel we call “John,” would have to be acquainted with the word logos and its many meanings. A word that stands for “. . . the means by which human intelligence could attain universal understanding, the Logos was a divine revelatory principle, simultaneously operative within the human mind and the natural world,” gets translated in its earliest, simplest, non-philosophical, non-religious meaning: word?

Now that’s a mystery!

Is this just clumsy translation? Is the writer assuming that all of his readers are well-versed in Greek philosophy so they know what logos stands for? It is clear that before Jesus became a character in this story, the Jews were very concerned about the effect Greek culture and philosophy were having upon their youths. So, one could assume that many well-educated Jews would be familiar with the subtle nuances of “logos,” but are we sure that we can assume that audience? And what about the translators? The translators of the Greek texts into Latin were translating for church elites, not the general public. But the educations of ordinary church priests was not deep or wide, so the chances of the wrong concepts being shared with the hoi polloi were quite high, even so. So, again, why deliberately oversimplify a translation? Down through the years, we got translations into native tongues that were intended for lay readers, and logos still ends up being translated as “word.”

Are they deliberately trying to infuse mystery where there is none? John’s implications that the “Word” was there at the beginning led to some minor wars being fought about Jesus being the creator of the universe and co-equal to God (even though he refers to God as his Father over and over and over as do Christians now. (If Jesus and Yahweh were both there at the beginning, how can one be the father of the other? How can this be in a monotheistic religion?)

Ah, it is a mystery, my son. (Thanks, Pat . . . you are dead, you know.)

What if, however, the word logos was shown to convey the meaning of “As the means by which human intelligence could attain universal understanding, the Logos was a divine revelatory principle, simultaneously operative within the human mind and the natural world.” Would we still have large numbers of fundamentalist Christians insisting that their books are more reliable than what one finds in the form of God’s Creation? Would they still insist that the Earth was 6000 years old and not 4.53 billion years old? Would they still insist that the universe was created in six days? These are just a few of those “are you going to believe me or your lying eyes” questions we face today.

I wonder.

July 9, 2020

How to Read the Bible

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:07 pm
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As I have mentioned I am reading the book The Use and Abuse of the Bible (subtitle: A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation) by Henry Wansborough, OSB. Since OSB stands for Order of St. Benedict, that might be a tiny hint as to where the author stands, but I am a supporter of the Law of Unintended Consequences, so I push on.

One of the effects repeated when looking at various Church Fathers is that many of them provided new ways to read the Holy Book, e.g. “The way of reading the Bible in the Western Church was radically altered by Jerome, in several ways” and “He (Origen) evolved techniques (for instance, textual criticism and comparison of the four Gospels) which have continued to serve the understanding of Scripture to the present day.”

Add this to one of the philosophical drivers of the Protestant Revolution, namely that the Bible could be read and understood by ordinary people if provided in a suitable language and that we “didn’t need no stinking priests to tell us what it meant.” This has culminated in the Protestant fundamentalist literalists who insist that everything you read in the Bible is literally true.

Whew!

But my point is this. There is almost total agreement amongst Christians that the Holy Bible was written by men inspired to do so by their god, to the point that the words in their Bibles are the “words of God.” This is not the same “inspiration” that you might get at a party to take out your half-finished novel manuscript and begin working on it again. This is really in-spired, that is “breathed in.” The authors breathed in the Holy Ghost and the words that flowed out were from that source, not from the writer’s own thoughts.

If Christians believe that, I have a question for them: why did your god deliberately make the words so written hard to understand? Why are their “hidden meanings” in scripture: allegories, symbolic meanings, and the like. For example, in “Revelations” there is a reference to a “Seven-headed Beast” which actually stands for Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, which was built upon seven hills. Was John, the author of the work he gave no title to, but we refer to as “Revelations” (and various other titles), such a pussy that he feared that Rome wouldn’t like his writings and would proscribe them and lock him up as well, but his god offered no protection? If so, how are these the words of a god. which is supposed to be all-powerful? Couldn’t John have been teleported to safety, taken up into the heavens and dumped out somewhere else? Couldn’t Yahweh/Jesus have made a few hundred copies of his writings and distributed them around? Where’s the effing magic here?

But I digress.

My point is scriptures were created in order for people to know god’s wishes, primarily that they be saved from Yahweh’s curse of mankind. (Yahweh was apparently incapable of just lifting the curse, with a muttered “My bad,” and be done with it.) But Yahweh/Jesus apparently wrote these things so that they would be hard to understand, thus preventing the people they were written for from understanding, doing the right things, and getting saved. Isn’t this a bit contradictory, more than a bit counterproductive, for the God of Love? (Apparently He loves Himself more than His Creations.)

One could argue that the literacy of the common people in that region, at that time, was somewhat limited. (Some argue that literacy was rather quite widespread, however.) Certainly reproduction technology was at a low ebb at the time (no printing presses, no Internet, no TV, telephones, etc.) so it was necessary for these things to be read out loud to “the people.” But this is not what the priestly classes did. Instead, they interpreted them for the people. Why? Because the priestly divines were convinced that if they were to just read the scriptures to the people, the people wouldn’t understand! Heresy, heresy . . . those priests claimed that the Holy Ghost was a bad writer! (I would rent my cloak except it is hot and I am not wearing much and what is being worn isn’t rentable.)

Basically Yahweh’s/Jesus’ narrative goes like this “Okay, okay I cursed all y’all, you know that. But there is a way out! A way to Heaven and an escape from Hell . . . and it is all here in these here scriptures. Unfortunately I wrote them so that they would be hard to understand. Think of it as a test, a really hard one. Good luck! Yahweh

Just when are people going to look at this storyline and say “This isn’t even good enough to make a B movie from! Script!”

 

June 27, 2020

Commandments or Not?

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:56 am
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The included photo I find very touching and couldn’t possibly disagree and, in fact, probably could not find anyone who does disagree with this statement. But . . .

This is, of course, one of the Ten Commandments, actually one of the 605 commandments to be found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. But I suspect that the person who made that sign was a Christian (odds are in my favor there) and I have to ask: Where in Christianity is this “commandment” endorsed?

Many fundamentalist Christians claim that the New Testament supersedes the OT. So, where in the NT is this commandment?

In the Hebrew Bible, this is a commandment of Yahweh to the Hebrews/Jews. It applies only to Hebrews/Jews, not to any of the other peoples of that time. It wasn’t given to the Romans, the Persians, the Phoenicians, etc. It was for the Hebrews/Jews and applied only to the Hebrews/Jews. And, the implied language is “Thou shalt not murder another Hebrew.”

Some Christians point to the passage in the gospel we call Matthew (5:18) “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” or (5:17) “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.“ Okay, so if the OT is still pertinent, why are not Christians obeying the entire 605 commandments therein? And if not all of those, where in the NT does it point out which are still viable and which are not?

June 22, 2020

Understanding Christian Thinking

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
Tags: , , ,

I am reading a book, The Use and Abuse of the Bible, a Brief History of Biblical Interpretation. Two of the first great Christian thinkers addressed in this book are Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 CE) and Origen (c. 185–c. 253). Both of these gentlemen were praised for coming up with whole new modes of Christian thought, which should have been seen as a warning sign.

A Reasoned Approach to Understanding Christian Thinking
Thinking back to the second and third centuries CE, what kind of economic activity was available to intellectuals? I define an intellectual is someone who makes his/her way through life using his/her mind alone, whereas non-intellectuals use both their minds and bodies in various ratios. Of all of the occupations available at that time, in that place about the only place for intellectuals was as scribes. (They might also have become a physician but only the wealthy could afford the schooling.) Many people think of scribes as being stenographers for the illiterate (I did, too), but while that task might be something a scribe did (taking dictation), there was much, much more to do. Scribes might be employed by the wealthy to keep records and produce written correspondence, but the primary employer of scribes were the various temples.

My point is that intellectuals would be attracted mightily to being a religious scribe as being one of the few forms of occupation in which they got to work as they wished.

So, when scribes were presented with questions about unclear passages of scripture or flat out nonsense in scripture, they being the brilliant intellectual creatives they were, made up stuff. Irenaeus claimed that there should only be four canonical gospels (of the many more in existence) because there were four animals supporting God’s throne in Ezekiel 1. I guess the fact that most chairs had four legs wasn’t enough of a justification for God’s throne. And making a connection between the number of any part of God’s throne and the number of gospels to include in the canon seems not to be present. No surprise there.

So, question after question arises and soon they find the answers harder and harder to come up with. Origen commented on Genesis 18 where “Abraham stood by them under a tree . . .” during a divine visit to Abraham. Origen comments “What does it help me who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race if I hear that Abraham was standing under a tree? Let us rather see what this tree is, under which Abraham stood.” If Freud were alive I suspect he might say “Sometimes a tree is just a tree.”

Origen is probably the major source of the idea of there being “secret” knowledge that has to be winkled out through exegesis. The Jews had already succumbed to this position and Origen was leading Christians into the same position. But, I think the intellectual powers of these people, which allow them to “spin” any nonsense into sense, betrays them wholly at the end.

These worthies both insisted that the scriptures were divinely inspired and without error. So, if there is an error, it must be due to a misunderstanding on our part. Since the words must be right, our interpretation must be wrong, so what is needed is a new interpretation and what do creative intellectuals do? They create.

But by claiming that it is our flawed human understanding which is at fault, they are playing Russian Roulette with the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people have crops and flocks to attend, business to do, families to provide for, any myriad other mundane tasks. They do not have the energy to study and learn to interpret scripture in their nonexistent spare time. So, failing to hear from a gifted intellectual who knows what scripture actually means, they mis-learn it and end up in Hell.

What the claim of “hidden knowledge” in scripture implies is that the inspired writers who composed scriptures are inadequate to their task. Should not the scriptures be easy to read and easy to understand by one and all? Shouldn’t they be clear and precise? Shouldn’t they all make sense, now and forever? Shouldn’t a lack of sense be evidence that a particular scripture was not divinely inspired?

That there is “hidden knowledge” being taught or is somehow embedded in scripture is a sop to the interpreters of meaning. Their arrogance is Trumpian “Only I can solve this problem! You see sometimes a tree is not just a tree.” (Origen felt that the tree was “insight” symbolically.) Symbolic writing is not accessible to one and all and should never appear in scripture. Every time in the NT you see a reference to the disciples not understanding what is right in front of their faces, an appeal to the concept of hidden wisdom or hidden knowledge is being made. If this knowledge were the difference between Heaven and Hell, why would any sane scripture-sponsoring entity hide that knowledge?

“He (Jesus) told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Mark 4:11-12

What kind of great teacher deliberately obfuscates what is to be learned? Wouldn’t God Incarnate be able to speak so clearly as to create understanding and belief? And why would such a god allow prideful intellectuals to spin those scriptures into things they are not? (Note They are still doing it. Look up William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel, as examples.)

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