Monthly Archives: August 2011

Belief in Belief

This is a post from the blog of awesome, Less Wrong:

Depending on how your childhood went, you may remember a time period when you first began to doubt Santa Claus's existence, but you still believed that you were supposed to believe in Santa Claus, so you tried to deny the doubts. As Daniel Dennett observes, where it is difficult to believe a thing, it is often much easier to believe that you ought to believe it. What does it mean to believe that the Ultimate Cosmic Sky is both perfectly blue and perfectly green? The statement is confusing; it's not even clear what it would mean to believe it – what exactly would be believed, if you believed. You can much more easily believe that it is proper, that it is good and virtuous and beneficial, to believe that the Ultimate Cosmic Sky is both perfectly blue and perfectly green. Dennett calls this “belief in belief”.

And here things become complicated, as human minds are wont to do – I think even Dennett oversimplifies how this psychology works in practice. For one thing, if you believe in belief, you cannot admit to yourself that you only believe in belief, because it is virtuous to believe, not to believe in belief, and so if you only believe in belief, instead of believing, you are not virtuous. Nobody will admit to themselves, “I don't believe the Ultimate Cosmic Sky is blue and green, but I believe I ought to believe it” – not unless they are unusually capable of acknowledging their own lack of virtue. People don't believe in belief in belief, they just believe in belief.

I think this might explain a curious sociological phenomenon around the middle of the 4th century; and might be a weapon that the “New Atheists” can use against their antagonists.
I think it was Rodney Stark who did a study on the growth rate of early Christianity. He said something to the effect that at the turn of the 4th century (c. 300 CE) the Roman Empire only had about 15% of its population comprised of Christians. After Constantine converted to Christianity, it became acceptable to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. Afterwards, about 350 CE a staggering 50% of the Roman Empire called themselves Christians.
I think Dennett's belief in belief might have been one of the triggers for this (as well as a bunch of other Roman Empire specific situations).
Since human beings are social animals, it seems as though we are at a similar point in history in regards to atheism and other non-believers. About 15% of the US is made up of atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/etc. While I don't think that having a President or some other national figure openly declaring his or her atheism like Constantine would have a comparable effect, I think a similar thing might happen. If it becomes virtuous to believe in non-belief – and it also becomes a vice to believe in belief (like what 4th century Christians did to their pagan neighbors) – then we might see a drastic increase in non-believers in the next couple of years.
If belief in belief becomes something that – unconsciously – people start rejecting as something to be admired, then rates of god-belief would probably fall drastically. It seems like something like that is already happening anyway.
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in cognitive science


"Christians Will Only Accept Evolution As Long As It’s Not A Threat To Their Christianity"

There's something troubling to me about this statement, though I can't quite put my finger on it.
I admire the ends (getting more people to accept mainstream science) but there's something that seems a bit… I don't know… -“immoral”? – about the means. I have a habit of looking at things from a more methodological (or maybe even “mathematical”) approach: So what happens if we substitute “evolution” for some other sociological impasse? Like “homosexuality” or “women having the right to vote” or “abolition of slavery” or whatever. Does the statement still hold? Was it true that the abolition of slavery only succeeded among Christians because its abolition wasn't a threat to their Christianity?
I've read a couple of news articles over the past couple of months that seem to point towards this conclusion. Like Living the Good Lie: Should therapists help God-fearing gay people stay in the closet? That article basically describes the journey that one therapist took where he concluded that therapists in general should counsel their patients to hide their homosexuality if it conflicts too much with the life of faith that they live. Is this wrong? I don't know. It may not be the totality of the problem, but does the issue with homosexual marriage have something to do with it threatening one's Christianity?
This article also seems to shed light on the idea that the acceptance of homosexuality is only a threat to conservative churches and not liberal ones. Again, liberal Christians are sort of wishy-washy and trying to get a full graps of their beliefs is like trying to get a full grasp of a wet noodle; they have no solid Christianity so they can accomodate any number of beliefs into their paradigm. But conservative churches are more structured and rigid. A more well defined belief system might not be able to assimilate a new belief without doing serious damage to its internal structure.
James McGrath does fine work showing Christians that the Theory of Evolution (ToE) not only is the correct interpretation of our biological inheritance, but that it also doesn't negatively impact Christianity. The same thing applies to the BioLogos website. There is also a somewhat recent article in the Huffington Post: Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution. This deals with the same subject but from a different angle: namely that it's a threat to one's Christianity if they don't accept the ToE.
I guess my problem is where do you draw the line? You have to stop somewhere if your primary goal is to remain a Christian because there are simply so many facts out there that are inherently uncomfortable for or incompatible with Christianity. In C. S. Lewis' “The Screwtape Letters” one of the demons intimates that getting a Christian to unbiasedly look into the historicity of their religion will lead them away from the faith (this is the method a demon is supposed to use on the more intellectual Christians). Is unbiased inquiry demonic? Maybe it is; an unbiased look into the historicity of Christianity and the historical Jesus is one of the reasons why Luke of Common Sense Atheism lost his faith (also my reason too).
There are other examples as well. A while back “Quixie” posted his experience with lay Christians getting a bit of mainstream biblical scholarship in one of their services. He posts that a lot of these Christians were uncomfortable with the scholarship that their pastor presented to them. Was it a threat to their Christianity? I assume that the members of this church are still Christians. Whether they accepted the findings of mainstream Christian scholarship after that incident is something I cannot answer. Maybe they promptly forgot about it as soon as they left church that day.
As far as I'm concerned, I think the ToE is a threat to Christianity. The implications of the ToE are fundamentally incompatible with the implications of Christianity. If you accept the ToE, then invariably you're faced with the Darwinian Problem of Evil. There's no way a “god of love” would create a world where for one living thing to live, another living thing has to die; and most of the time die painfully. And this monstrous scenario has been repeated countless times for millions to billions of years before humans came around. 3 million years ago, some cute fluffy bunny got mauled to death by a pack of jackals: There was no other audience that had the intellect to appreciate or denounce the situation other than god – the situation's creator in a theistic evolutionary framework. A god in that situation cannot be called anything other than a monster.
Another implication of the ToE: Humans are not special, nor are we specially created. If we are the image of a god, then so are chimps to a 2% lesser degree. This would mean that Jesus had 98% chimp DNA; did Jesus' sacrifice also remove 98% of the sin of chimps?  Furthermore, Christianity implicates that human beings are the most important beings in the universe; second only to the creator of the universe himself. This idea might make sense when the “entire universe” was just the Roman empire, but we've since then realized that the world and the universe are much larger than the world the first Christians envisioned. The ToE makes the god of Christianity too small and insignificant in comparison to the history of life on Earth.
Overall, I think every single implication of the ToE is antithetical to the implications of the Christian worldview.
I think I now know what troubles me with the statement in the title of this post. In syllogistic format, it seems to follow this logic:
P1: Christianity is true
P2: XYZ idea/phenomenon/scientific fact does not conflict with Christianity if looked at from a certain angle
C: Therefore, XYZ idea/phenomenon/scientific fact is true
They have to start with the premise that Christianity is true first and then go from there. This is the same exact methodology that Creationists follow:
P1: Christianity is true
P2: XYZ idea/phenomenon/scientific fact conflicts with Christianity if looked at from a certain angle
C: Therefore, XYZ idea/phenomenon/scientific fact is false
But instead of the Creationists looking to exclude certain facts because they conflict with Christianity, the more liberal Christians look for facts that they can include as long as it doesn't conflict with Christianity. In essense, both types of Christians are doing the same exact thing. They start from the premise that Christianity is true. But instead of excluding uncomfortable facts, they are including uncomfortable facts.
Who knows though. Maybe that is a good thing. The more facts that one accepts, the less likely they are to hold on to beliefs just because they feel good even though these beliefs are contrary to all known facts. But this is a bit like giving someone a fish instead of teaching them how to fish. These Christians (the liberal ones or the Creationists) still don't know how to think so that they can have a higher chance of arriving at correct beliefs. So I think the better thing to do would be to start teaching these Christians how to make their beliefs pay rent (haha this is like the third or fourth time I've linked to that post), and try to get them to view all of their biases critically. When one does that, then the question of the ToE's validity will answer itself without having to kowtow to sacred cows.

Posted by on August 25, 2011 in apologetics, economics/sociology, Evolution


The Baptism of Jesus, And The Baptism of Apostles

One of the things that many scholars note is that the evangelists seem to have been embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John. It was such common knowledge when Mark wrote his gospel c. 70 CE, so they say, that Mark's gospel had built in apologetics for it (cf Mk 1.7 “one whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie“) and later evangelists were even more embarrassed by it than Mark (cf Mt 3.14).
What is odd to me about this entire line of reasoning: Who knew that Jesus was baptized? In Mark, Jesus is an absolute nobody until well after his baptism; no one knows who he is when he starts preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1.27-28), and he doesn't call his first disciples until after he spends forty days in alone the desert; forty days after his baptism. And only after John is put in prison does Jesus start preaching at all or call his first disciples. So how did the first disciples know that Jesus was baptized? Where they there at the Jordan? No one in any of the narratives in any of the canonical Synoptic gospels seems to show any awareness of Jesus having been baptized. So in order to claim that Jesus' baptism was so well known, one would have to simply assert such a fact since such knowledge is never expressed in the Synoptic gospels.
At John 3.22 / 4.1 Jesus baptizes but then the author corrects himself by saying that it was the disciples baptizing and not Jesus. But most scholars claim that John's gospel is useless as far as reconstructing early Christian history.
Stranger still, no one in the Synoptic gospels are ever baptized. Was Peter baptized? John and James? Matthew? Levi? It is never stated that Jesus baptized any of his disciples, and the only time that “Jesus” baptizes – or charges his disciples with baptizing new Christians – is in the very last line of the resurrection narrative in Matthew and in the added ending in Mark (which was probably added after John was written). 
It seems like baptism was already something that Christians had been doing as part of their initiation ritual, and Mark wrote a story about Jesus being baptized to function as sort of a typology for all Christians. Jesus began his ministry at his baptism, confessing his sins, this scene represents something that all Christians do at the beginning of their new identity as a Christian. Therefore this baptism of Jesus is not “historical” in the sense that it is something that a historical Jesus actually did. It is a scene invented by Mark as a sort of etiology for Christian baptism.
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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in early Christianity


Evidence for the Authenticity of Secret Mark

Roger Viklund and David Blocker have posted evidence from a Medieval Jewish anti-Christian work called Even Bohan that has a variant of the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that sheds light on the possibility that Secret Mark is authentic. At least, not forged by Morton Smith:

Isn’t it an amazing coincidence that Secret Mark has parallels with the only lengthy passage from the Gospel of Mark that was incorporated into Shem Tob Matthew?

The parallel texts are about Jesus taking the hand of a seemingly dead youth, raising him, and then “coming into a house”.  Furthermore, in each example, the “raising episode” is followed by Jesus offering instruction to his disciple(s) (see Matthew 17:19–21), which further emphasizes the text parallels.

Additionally, where Secret Mark fills in a narrative gap in the received Greek Text of Mark (iv); the interpolation of the Markan text into Shem Tob Matthew fills in a narrative gap in the text of Matthew by adding supplementary details about the raising of the young boy.

Finally, Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew 17, Mark 9:20–28, and Secret Mark‘s raising of the youth, and the Raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John (John 11) have considerable narrative overlap.

All this of course might just be due to a series of coincidences.  However, these coincidences are found in a text where Jesus, while in Bethany at night, is said to have taught the disciples the Kingdom of God.  One cannot help wondering if an otherwise lost tradition has been preserved at least in part in this Hebrew text of Matthew: a tradition that is also found in the Secret Gospel of Mark.

Good stuff. This is just a summary, so reading the whole thing might be more beneficial.

(Courtesy of Tony Burke of Apocryphicity)

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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Secret mark


The Problem With Christian Allegory

As one might have suspected by reading a bit in this blog and my focus on early Christianity, I'm a big fan of Marcion. Marcion had, what I consider, one of the most logical iterations of Christianity. Maybe that is why his brand of Christianity was so popular in the 2nd century.
The thing that led Marcion to reject the various Christianities around him was that they were too allegorical. Maybe he saw this, maybe he didn't – but the problem with allegory is the lack of constraints (obviously related to my previous post). What sort of restrictions in interpretation does one place on oneself when you are doing allegorical exegesis? How do you know when you are doing exegesis and when you are actually doing eisegesis? That is, how do you know when you are extracting the actual meaning of the text and when you are just inserting your own meaning into the text?
Marcion was said to have been “anti-Semitic” but this would be incorrect. Marcion read the Jewish Bible exactly the way that Jews read it, which is why he concluded that Judaism and Christianity were incompatible and that Christianity was an entirely separate religion with a different god. Of course, other Christians read the Tanakh in a manner that pointed towards the truth of their particular brand(s) of Christianity; I can't see how this could be anything other than eisegesis. Christians took it upon themselves to interpret and allegorize the Tanakh all they wanted. The only “constraint” was that whatever allegory they came up with it had to show that Christianity was true and that the Jews were wrong.

Joseph Tyson points out in Marcion and Luke-Acts
It is essential to note that the rejection of Marcion meant that proto-orthodox Christians would rarely be able to make use of literal interpretations of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures. Writing only a few decades after Luke, Justin Martyr illustrates the ways in which Christian writers might interpret these texts. In his Dialogue with Trypho he categorizes the commandments in Torah in three groups. First there are those ethical commands that are universal. Justin says: “God shows every race of man that which is always and in all places just, and every type of man knows that adultery, fornication, murder, and so on are evil. Though they all commit such acts, they cannot escape the knowledge that they sin whenever they do so” (Dialogue 93). Thus for commands in this category Torah may be interpreted literally, but it adds nothing that human beings may not obtain from a variety of other sources. Second are the historical, that is, those commands that are intended only for Jews. Justin admits that circumcision is a practice that is deeply rooted in the Scriptures, but he insists that God intended it for Jews alone in order to mark them for punishment… (Dialogue 9, 16, 92) […] Third there are the prophetic passages, that is, those that typologically refer to Jesus the Christ. Justin says some of these passages have been misunderstood by Jews. He claims that this is the case with the practice of using unleavened bread at Passover. Although Jews understand this commandment in a literal, material fashion, it really refers, says Justin, to a command to repent, “to practice other deeds, not to repeat your old ones” (Dialogue 14). Many prescriptions in the Hebrew Bible have a typological purpose and so were not understood by Jews. The Passover lamb, for example, is a type of the crucified Christ. (Dialogue 40) The flour offering for a cleansed leper is a type of the eucharistic bread (Dialogue 41). Circumcision on the eighth day is a type of resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week (which is both first day and eighth day) (Dialogue 41). The twelve bells on the high priest's robes are types of the twelve apostles. (Dialogue 42)
One can see the reinterpretation to fit preconceived Christian dogma in action here. Of course, Justin Martyr's, and subsequent proto-orthodox's and Catholic's “methodology” continues to this day. The problem with allegory has shown itself in a couple of recent posts in the blog-o-sphere (which I myself wrote about a couple years ago). The more scientifically minded bloggers (as they should be, since they are actual scientists) point out a very real flaw in the whole allegory escape clause: If Christians take one part of the Bible as allegory – like the Adam and Eve tale – yet take another part of the Bible as literal truth – such as the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus – then what methodology are these Christians following to determine one or the other? To be a valid methodology, a random non-Christian Joe-blow off the street should be able to follow this Christian methodology and arrive at the same result that Christians do. Such-and-such part is allegory, and such-and-such part is literal.
Most of us who have dealt with responses from Christians pertaining to this particular problem already know what their “methodology” is. The parts that are allegorical are any narratives or doctrines that are not essential for their particular brand of Christianity to be true; of which there are at least 30,000 different denominations so that does not help. Consequently, any doctrine or narrative that is essential to the “truth” of their particular brand of Christianity has to be read literally. Of course, this methodology would not work on any non-Christian Joe-blow off the street because the methodology assumes what it is trying to prove; Joe-blow off the street does not have this assumption so the method would fail miserably. Moreover, the fact that Christians do not agree which parts are allegorical and which ones are not is evidence enough that the methodology itself is flawed.
Now I'm not saying that there is no any allegory in the Bible. It would seem that the entire gospel of Mark is one big allegory; at least, there are a multitude of pericopae in Mark that were meant to be symbolic or allegorical. Look at Mark 14.3-9: 
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?
5 It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.
8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.
9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Why is this allegory? Because of the name of the town: Bethany (בית עניא :: byt anya). This word literally means “house of mourning/suffering”. So Jesus just so happens to be in a town called House of Mourning, where a woman prepares Jesus for burial. Who is this woman, and why does she know that Jesus is going to die soon? Not only that, but this woman has no name, yet she will supposedly be famous because this story will be told whenever the gospel is preached. So a person with no name is now famous (which, in antiquity, meant that you had a name).
The same sort of allegory happens with Bethphage (בית פגי :: byt phgy), which means House of Unripe Figs. Most atheists are confused as to why Jesus would curse an unripe fig tree for being unripe exactly when it is supposed to be unripe. However, right after Jesus curses this fig tree, he cleanses the Temple. After cleansing the Temple, the fig tree has been withered. Take a look at the sequence of events: 
Mark 11
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage [i.e. House of Unripe Figs] and Bethany [i.e. House of Mourning] at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples…
12 The next day as they were leaving [The House of Mourning], Jesus was hungry. [in Mk 11.1 Bethphage and Bethany are close to each other…]
13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. [i.e. Jesus finds an unripe fig tree in the vicinity of the House of Unripe Figs] 
14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,
16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts
17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ” 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'” [a bit of proto-Midrash, not a “prediction”]
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
Mark sandwiches the cursing and cleansing of the Jewish Temple inbetween the cursing of a fig tree and its withering… in the House of Unripe Figs.
Because of all of the symbolism here, it seems pretty safe to conclude that Mark intended this to be an allegory for the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the end temple cult of Judaism into perpetuity; the fig tree represents the Jewish Temple and its withering represents the Temple's destruction. It is even possible that Mark placed the House of Unripe Figs near Jerusalem because he was equating the two (i.e. Jerusalem is the House of “Unripe” Figs because Judaism is no longer producing fruit).
There is more allegory than this in Mark (like the Barabbas pericope / the name Peter, the Legion exorcism, the Feeding of the Multitude, etc.), but since non-Gnostic Christians read Mark literally, we ended up with its “corrections” like Matt and Luke, and the subsequent Catholic tradition. The only reason they read it literally was because they – unlike the Gnostics – thought that its historicity and a literal reading were essential to the proto-Orthodox faith, a faith that all modern Christians have inherited.
So I have no problem with allegory as it seems to have been originally intended, like in the gospel of Mark or even in Deutero-Isaiah. The problem with modern Christian apologists' use of allegory (the apologists in this case are almost always liberal Christians) is that they are using it as a get out of accountability card to shield their faith from critique. The bigger problem with allegory, as proto-orthodox Christians have used it, which modern Christians have inherited, is that it destroys the original beauty of the Jewish scriptures and twists it to make it fit a preconceived Christian conclusion. If we read the Jewish Bible the way it was intended, then it would seem that Marcion was right; that Christianity and Judaism have either no relation or a very superficial relation to each other and Christians should give the Jewish Bible back to Jews as Marcion intended.
In short, the problem with allegory in Christian tradition is that it will always be abused by Christians to prove the truth of their Christianity, whether it is Justin Martyr writing in 150 CE or Karl Giberson writing in 2011. Unlike Mark, there is no art in their allegory. There is only apology.

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in apologetics


Cephas, James, and the Brothers of the Lord

An odd observation I made recently was that every time that Paul mentions Cephas, he always either mentions James or mentions the brother(s) of the Lord (or both in Gal 1.19). Any time Paul has a reason to mention Cephas, a reason to mention James always shows up as well. I mean, the only two letters that Paul writes about Cephas are in 1 Corinthians and Galatians, so it is a small sample. But then again, the only time that Paul writes about brother(s) of the Lord are also in those same epistles.
There is one part of Gal 2.6-7 where a “Peter” is mentioned, but the simplest explanation is that this was a scribal gloss/interpolation into the text of Galatians, and/or that Cephas and Peter were not the same person assuming that Gal 2.7-8 is authentic to Paul. These two names were probably equivocated in later Chrisian writings (like Jn 1.42). While the two names mean roughly the same thing in Aramaic and Greek respectively, logically there's no reason why someone's name would be translated literally between languages. No one started calling Paul “Smalls”, no one started calling James “leg-puller”, and no one started calling John “Grace of YHWH”; and no one called the High Priest Caiaphas “Peter” either.
So it seems to me that, to Paul and his audience, there was some sort of close relationship between Cephas and James, and between Cephas and the “brothers of the Lord” since they are always mentioned in the same context.  To me, it doesn't make sense why Paul would mention Jesus' blood brothers any time that he mentions Cephas. Why the connection between Cephas and blood brothers of Jesus? Unless Cephas himself also had some sort of familial relationship with Jesus, under the literal flesh and blood interperetation of “brother(s) of the Lord”.
Let me see if an analogy makes sense. If, instead of Paul writing “shouldn't we have the right to have (or “lead about”) sister-wives (αδελφην γυναικα::adelphen gynaika) like the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” in 1 Cor 9.5, a modern example might be “…and shouldn't we have the right to have XYZ thing like Congress and Obama?”. We list Obama outside of Congress because he is is in a leadership position much like Congress, but not a part of Congress himself. So a similar logic might be in place for why Paul uses that sentence construction in 1 Cor 9.5. Similarly, if that logic holds, we might be able to say in Gal 1.19 “…and I got acquainted with Obama. I saw none of the other government officials besides John the Congressman”.
On the flip side, if Paul is indeed talking about flesh and blood brothers of Jesus, then the familial view seems like the only valid parsing of Cephas and the brother(s) of the Lord being mentioned in the same context. Cephas would have to be some sort of close family member of Jesus, but not a brother. Maybe an uncle or something? Who knows.
What if the Congress analogy holds? That the “brothers of the Lord” were really like some sort of Christian-specific judging body like Congress or the Sanhedrin? Though I think this would be anachronistic because we don't start seeing signs of a hierarchy in the various churches until towards the end of the 1st century. Hence the obvious church structure implicit in the pseudo-Pauline letters like the Pastorals. However, maybe there is some room for some sort of synthesis to merge the thesis (governing body) and its – in current scholarship – antithesis (literal flesh and blood brothers).
Surely the various churches during Paul's time couldn't have been like a modern day Anonymous. A free flowing anarchy with absolutely no structure. So maybe there wasn't a very detailed and rigid church structure like in the late 1st/early 2nd century and beyond, but logically something had to have been in place. I think that this somewhat structured church might make sense of why Paul always mentions Cephas and brothers of the Lord almost always in one breath. These brothers of the Lord were the temporary leaders until the Lord himself came down riding on the clouds to rouse those who had fallen asleep and take command of the assemblies.
I don't know. Just a thought.
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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in early Christianity, greek


Cosmic Irrelevance

“Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?” 
You can’t answer this question normally. When believers or even questioning non-believers ask this question, the only proper response is “Are you really that arrogant?”.
I posted the above comment over at Jerry Coyne's blog, a blog post of his which was his response to a New Yorker article “dissing” atheism.
Indeed, you cannot answer this half-rhetorical, half-serious question on its face. Implicit in this question – about cosmic irrelevance – is that our lives should be relevant to the universe but, according to one paradigm, it is not. This very much hidden premise, this hidden “should be”, needs to be justified in some way. And the only reason people seem to justify it is due to arrogance.
Hell, even if a religionist thinks they have the answer to this question, in truth they do not. By positing an afterlife, they are emphatically affirming that this life is indeed irrelevant; it is just that there is some other life waiting for us that has “more relevance”. In essense, it makes this life infinitely irrelevant since the difference between some finite number and eternity will always be infinite.
Especially the Christian framework (aside from the Protestant Work Ethic), the extent to which you are successful in this life is inversely proportional to how successful you will be in the next life (hell or “expulsion from their god's presence”); and how unsuccessful you are in this life is how much more successful you will be in the next (heaven). This paradigm basically fetishizes suffering in this world, since said suffering would be considered veritable μακάριος (archaic “blessed” but more modern vernacular “congratulations”; cf Matt 5.3). If suffering is a blessing – a sign of how much more we will inherit in the next life – then what motivation do you have for alleviating your suffering now?
You have none.
You will see any suffering or the possibility of suffering and liken it to Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac – and follow through with it when you have the choice not to endure that suffering (or sacrifice) because you think suffering is a blessing. Or you will view suffering as the glory of Christ and not do anything about it (cf 2 Cor 12.7-10). A reversal of values, as Nietzche rightly points out in his critique(s) of Christianity.
Of course, my argument here is really just a subset of a couple of arguments I made before. One of them was that, if a god gives your life meaning yet that god itself has no reason for its existence, then by proxy your life also has no meaning. Trying to give god meaning is to place something more important than that god which also makes that god meaningless. It is really a no-win situation for theists who think that their god gives their life meaning. The other (for those who believe in this sort of thing) was that if a god who has some sort of master plan exists, then your life, again, has no meaning. Because this god's plan will come into fruition no matter what you do.
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

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The Musings of Thomas Verenna

A Biblioblog about imitation, the Biblical Narratives, and the figure of Jesus