Monday, July 17, 2006

A Buddhist Speaks...

...an open comment thread for thelyamhound to continue our discussion from Buggy's post.

89 comments:

Gummby said...

I'll go first.

thelyamhound said: Oh, and . . . I think you (and by you I mean bugblaster, though it applies to Simon, Matt, Kim, and all others) could all afford to learn a little more from your ostensible opponents. From what I can see, as a Buddhist/pantheist (depending on whether we're talking about life practice or theory of cosmogeny), both of your systems are equally closed, and tend to limit discourse with members of other belief systems to endless ontological arguments. Perhaps if Simon were willing to accept, for argument's sake, that faith in the unseen could be a rational (as opposed to rationalist) platform, and if the Christian among you could accept that other paths to the divine are based on equally solid foundations--again, for argument's sake; you're welcome to harbor whatever beliefs you like--a real dialogue would be establishable.

What you say is true, up to a point. But if one side believes they are correct, to the exclusion of the other, isn't it pointless, or perhaps even deceptive, to set up a dialogue?

BugBlaster said...

And here is my backup swing, shamelessly cut and pasted from my own blog:

thelyamhound: if the Christian among you could accept that other paths to the divine are based on equally solid foundations

Sorry, can't accommodate you on this point. The Bible is crystal clear that there is one path to God, and it is through Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. He is the only way, and the only truth, and the only life.

If we did accommodate you then we would be acting inconsistently with what we believe, and what the Bible teaches. In short, we would be flouting our God, and contradicting what we believe, and our heads would likely explode with the dissonance.

Told you that I don't swim well with the postmods ;-)

thelyamhound said...

Matt: But if one side believes they are correct, to the exclusion of the other, isn't it pointless, or perhaps even deceptive, to set up a dialogue?

If so, that's pretty unfortunate, since we have to share this world, vote on legislation and candidates, shop at the same stores, etc. It seems to me that if we take that position, all attempts to "get along" and live together are, by definition, arbitrary (and doomed to failure).

BugBlaster: And here is my backup swing, shamelessly cut and pasted from my own blog:

thelyamhound: if the Christian among you could accept that other paths to the divine are based on equally solid foundations

Sorry, can't accommodate you on this point. The Bible is crystal clear that there is one path to God, and it is through Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. He is the only way, and the only truth, and the only life.

If we did accommodate you then we would be acting inconsistently with what we believe, and what the Bible teaches. In short, we would be flouting our God, and contradicting what we believe, and our heads would likely explode with the dissonance.

Told you that I don't swim well with the postmods ;-)


I'm not really a postmod (except when I am); I only mentioned postmodernism to suggest that the assertion of good or evil in a text depends on the relationship of both the character and the reader to the text (I think the argument was about the ridiculous God vs. Sauron sub-thread).

That said . . . I would imagine that, even to a Christian, one can assume something arguendo without threatening true belief to the contrary. Moreover, since everyone who doesn't currently adhere to a particular system of belief is "up for grabs", it seems to me that you would at least have to recognize the rhetorical importance of the agreed-upon, empirical disciplines, and of appealing to the rational mind.

Look at it this way: if the entire argument for Christianity relies on the Bible, without secular rejoinders as to the veracity of such as a revealed text, and if you don't permit yourself to allow that, at the very least, other truths may appear more convincing to even the most brilliant of minds (like, say, mine ;^)), then the relationship between people of different faiths will be limited either to the different camps yelling declarations to each other in the public sphere (like you and Simon), banging their heads against the wall in endless repeats and rephrasings of the same ontological and dialectical arguments (like you and me), or sinking into the morass of separatism, wherein Atheists will only speak with other Atheists, Buddhists with other Buddhists, Christians with other Christians. Do any of these strike you as a desirable social condition?

Simon: If I "thrive on some assumption or other" - what is it? I can tell you that I constantly make great effort to remove all assumptions in my life.

By calling yourself an atheist, rather than an agnostic, you’re implicitly assuming that there is no God. Atheism isn’t a default position; it makes an active assumption that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
You also make the assumption that “objective”, empirical evidence is intrinsically superior to intuition, faith, gnosis. A reasonable position, sure, but not one that can be said to be any less a presupposition than any other.

Simon: Most people assume such and such is "wrong" or "right" and they expect you to assume it also. What it is is social convention - ideas become socially accepted.

I like the term “hegemony” , in this case, since it provides for both that which is codified in writing and that which makes up our broader societal assumptions.

Still, you take a position on belief and the existence of God; obviously, you think there are “right” and “wrong” reasons for believing (or not believing) in the power of the unseen, n’est-ce pas?

Simon: I will say, though, that virtually every single part of my life has been at some time or other thrown away, just to see if I really need it. Everything I then chose is chosen for real reasons, and not just out of habit, or the assumption that it's right.

I think that’s an admirable approach. Nonetheless, you still reach conclusions that you assume are correct because you assume that your path to knowledge is effective, and/or that it would always produce the same result. But I, too, have spent much time absorbing and discarding paradigms—including atheism—and have reached a different point than the one you’ve reached. What I’m getting at is that as long as we’re arguing over whether it’s OK to believe something or not, we’re not getting to real crux(es) of the matter, like the effect of faith on the human condition, its utility in regulating human behaviour, the useful boundaries between faith and pluralistic culture, etc.

Simon: There are some things I do that feel wrong, but I do them out of courtesy - like a church wedding I recently attended. The temptation for me to shout "this is all nonsense" as they went through some bizarre ritual ("You put you right hand on her left elbow, now we wrap it in the sacred cloth, now you lift you right knee and place the ring up her left nostril and light the candle...") had to be restrained.

And your feeling that “this is all nonsense” isn’t an assumption? The one thing both Christians and atheists lack, in my observation, is rational doubt regarding their positions.

Matt: God said it. It is all throughout Romans, but here is a sample:

>>18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21, ESV).<<

That’s well and good, Matt, but just because Paul said it doesn’t make it true. Your faith is in the postulate that Paul was inspired by God, or that God was speaking through Paul, or that Paul was speaking for those through whom God was speaking. Again, I’ve no problem with your taking that position—we all function on some sort of faith, even Simon. But the proof that the Bible is revealed can’t come from the Bible; presumably, if I were to declare my own words divinely inspired (by your definitions; by my definitions, they are, but I’ll get to that in a minute), arguendo, you’d require some proof of that statement beyond my own reasoning, correct?

Matt: God said that all have sinned, and all have turned away from the truth. More than that, they are actively suppressing the truth--the Greek word has the sense of a bound prisoner--so the picture is the unbeliever who wrestles truth to the ground and then binds her so she can be of no further nuisance. It is not simply a matter of passive unbelief, but rather an active refusal to listen to the truth.

That’s one viewpoint. Mine is that I’ve pursued nothing BUT truth, quite actively, all my life. And I found it elsewhere. My own path to truth carries with it its own struggles and sacrifices. My questions would then be: On what evidence would you negate my truth (evidence that could either function outside the paradigms of our respective religions OR was able to include the reasoning behind both)? To what degree should society accommodate both viewpoints, or allow for their contradictory practice?

Matt: Which books of the NT did you read?

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. The Bible remains part of my ongoing religious study, since my particular sect of Buddhism leaves questions of cosmology and origin anyway (ancient Buddhism essentially inherited its cosmogony from Hinduism, which has always had the ring of the symbolic).

Matt: Your statement about having read it or having it preached to you is interesting to me, because I've heard the opposite from folks that are former Catholics: lots of focus on doctrine, but little or no focus on the Scripture itself. In fact, that seems (to me at least) to be the defining difference between Catholics and a Protestant like myself--the ultimate authority in Catholicism is the Church, but for us it is the Bible.

You put me in the awkward position of defending Catholicism, but let’s put it this way: I think that the historical institutional acrimony between the Catholic church and the splinter groups that formed the foundation of Protestantism has provided fertile soil for misunderstanding. The authority the Church claims is in the interpretation of the Bible; the primary text still has primacy, but the doctrine of apostolic succession insists that the institution is the only vessel through which one reaches “correct understanding”. You’ll get no disagreement from me on that being a problematic stance, but multiple readings from the Bible came standard in the Catholic Church I attended, and significant Bible literacy is a requirement for confirmation; our studies outside of mass involved extensive delving into Biblical passages. I can’t speak to anyone else’s Catholic experience, but that was mine.

More importantly, as I suspect that your anti-Catholic hiccup was at least partially motivated by a benign and possibly even subconscious desire to discredit any notion that I’m passingly familiar with the Bible, I’ve probably read even MORE of the Bible since leaving the Church at 17, both as literature (tracking the endless Biblical references in my Melville class, for instance), as supporting text to studies of apocryphal text (comparing canonical Scripture to, say, Gnostic Gospel), etc. I’m no Biblical expert, but neither are most Christians.

Yet more importantly . . . what difference does it make? The Bible can’t prove itself true; it can only sound like truth to my ear. This is how the Lotus Sutra speaks to me: with the ring of truth. Since neither source can be fully and incontrovertibly verified as the authentic word of a divine or transcendent being—since both are written my man, and of questionable historical authenticity—this subjective attraction may be all we can offer each other if we get hung up on the question of whether either of our paths are valid.

Matt: I've read some Nag Hammadi. Found it quite confusing. Part of that, no doubt, is my Western mind, but another part of it is bothersome to me. All of the things about hidden wisdom--perhaps that's the part that pushes my "fairness button." And when I read something like the Gospel of Philip, where it says "females must become male to enter the kingdom of heaven," it gives me pause.

I think you’re looking at it overly literally. You seem to believe that one can accept the Bible literally; given that, I can see how you’d get hung up on certain aspects of certain Gnostic texts. Since I assume the Bible to be largely symbolic and historically unverifiable, I’m not particularly concerned with the little points of disagreement in the Gnostic gospels; heck, I wouldn’t even be concerned with my little points of disagreement in the Bible, were I not in a Christian nation (of sorts) where the values espoused in the text form the basis for legislation that I see as being unduly restrictive of individual liberty. To me, if I move the Western idea of male and female over to the more neutral Eastern division between yin and yang, the statement in the Gospel of Philip takes on a different aspect. Not an aspect I follow, per se, but an interesting piece to add to the puzzle.

And how is the idea of “hidden wisdom” any different from the notion of the elect as held forth by John Calvin, or the Lutheran notion of predestination, in terms of its tendency to exclude? Even So states on another thread that he/she(?) is Christian because God changed his/her(?) heart. There's a Greek word that is used almost universally to describe spiritual knowledge not gleaned from mere study: that word is "gnosis".

Matt: Your definition of "divine" would be different that mine, or (more importantly) to that of the Bible, I believe. The Bible reveals divinity as a person, and that person with defining attributes. What is your definition of "divine?"

I’m still working on a ready answer for that, so you’re stuck with the mere germ of a long-gestating idea. To me, the divine refers to what Nichiren Buddhists call “The Law”, expressed in the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. I also tend to look at the concept of the Tao as being not incompatible with this Law; my favorite description of the Tao is that it’s the uncollapsed paradox of chaos and completion. There’s also the pantheistic notion of “God” as the collective total of all things, “His” consciousness the sum total of all consciousness and will, filtered from post-Gnostic/pre-pantheist writing of Giordano Bruno filtered down through William Blake, who, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, defined God as the Poetic Imagination.

Matt: I think that the Bible, as a set of propositions, is consistent, and that consistency comes from its ultimate author.

But a document can be consistently wrong as well as consistently right. I’m not saying that the Bible is consistently wrong, just that its consistency only proves that it had a good editor.

Matt: I also find that its explanations about the world are time and again the best ones.

Best how? Most “successful”? You could make a good argument for that, but I don’t know that the success of an idea is really a testament to its truth. “Best” in the sense of being most in line with the findings of objective sciences? Sorry, but I don’t see it. Mind you, all faith requires an assumption that there’s something beyond the empirically measurable, but when we move past empiricism, we’ve lost a middle ground for discovering how one religion’s tenets are “better” than those of another.

Matt: I'm OK with attributing to faith (after all, the Bible talks quite a bit about faith), but I'm uncomfortable with divorcing that faith from objective reality.

I’ll agree in that, ultimately, what you or I believe is either true or untrue; there’s an “objective” reality above, beyond and aside from our interpretations of it. Where I distinguish between subjective faith and objective reality is in the ability to discern truth from and through our earthly resources. In other words, there are no objective principles or differences that show your religion to be better documented as TRUE than mine.

Matt: My faith is rooted in a person, and that person actually lived and performed miracles, actually died, and actually rose from the dead. Unlike other beliefs, it matters that Jesus was a real person who was who he said he was and did what he set out to do. If he didn't, then I am (with Paul) "the most pitied of men."

My faith is also rooted in a person. Shakyamuni was a real person who lived, just as Christ was. Whether either performed miracles is still largely a speculative matter for me, but I’ve seen some incredible acts and events in my lifetime, so I’m willing to suspend disbelief to a degree, and let documentation of said miracles function symbolically to whatever degree I require. Whether Christ actually rose from the dead, or whether Shakyamuni literally lived many lifetimes, is still a speculative matter for me, but what those things symbolize are of critical importance. Bottom line: there is no evidence indicating that what you base your faith on is any more “factual” than that on which I base my own faith.

And if what either of us believes is wrong, I fail to see how we should be “the most pitied of men”. We’ve both done the best with the information given. If God really found it critically important that we take another path, He really should have offered better information.

Matt: This is interesting on two counts. First, we've heard from Simon that Christianity is just like every other mythical belief system. You have highlighted part of why I believe Christianity to be true--part of its uniqueness.

I can’t say as I see this “unique” aspect as a positive thing, but there’s no way to get into that without directly critiquing Christianity. I’m not interested in picking at my problems with your theology, only getting to the root of my doubt that it’s exceptional in terms of being verifiable by means outside its own rhetoric.

Matt: Second, just so I'm clear about this (as opposed to putting words in your mouth), you are saying that you think the crux of Christianity's success is Hell?

It would, of course, be foolish of me to hold that it’s the “crux” of that success, but think about this: Buddhism doesn’t maintain that those who fail to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha are doomed to an eternity of suffering; Christianity DOES maintain that those who fail to follow Christ will suffer such a fate. For one who is as unconvinced as I that one take on the Truth is more believable than the other (by any paths of understanding other than faith or intuition, that is), the advantage of Christianity become the “just in case” clause. If I follow the Christian doctrine and it turns out that Buddha was right, I’m not really out all that much; if I follow Buddhist doctrine and the Christians were right (or rather, the reformed Protestant Christians; read in symbolic light, the NT could just be seen as another call to enlightenment), I’m clearly in for a much uglier eternity. Therefore, the tactical follower is more likely to gravitate towards Christianity.

Of course, if we’re BOTH wrong and Simon’s right, we’ve missed out a lifetime of cheerful debauchery that would go unpunished in any life, chasing a morality that would go unrewarded (though, of course, there are some rewards for virtue and punishments for vice in THIS life, which is part of what I think BOTH of our theologies are getting at). Oh, well.

BugBlaster said...

LOL. And I never type LOL. It's clearly going to be tiring talking with you, hound. I'm glad we moved this over here.

I will try to read this tonight!

thelyamhound said...

Bugblaster: It's clearly going to be tiring talking with you, hound.

Better tiring than tiresome, I suppose. :^)

Gummby said...

Perhaps while I'm busy digesting what you've written, you can think about and answer the only question that's really important to those who believe as I do: Who do you say Jesus Christ was?

thelyamhound said...

I believe Christ, insofar as his existence can be deduced at all from sources outside the Bible, to have been a great healer, a great teacher, clearly an enlightened being and, most likely, a boddhisatva and/or a Buddha. I believe he was a political dissident (though the mechanisms of that dissidence are difficult to pin down, as some secular sources indicate that the man on whom the Biblical Christ may be based could well have been more a militant . . . or, according to other sources, less of one).

Since I believe Christ, like the Buddha, like you, like myself, possesses all worlds and states of being in himself at any one time, I think any statement of true infallibility is folly.

I believe Christ was the son of God, but only in the same way I believe that I am the "son" of "God", part and parcel of a whole that contains all components of the whole, yet is incomplete with an acknowledgement of the rest.

Gummby said...

So would it be fair to say that you believe in a Christ, just not the one revealed in the Gospels?

thelyamhound said...

Depends on what you mean. Insofar as "Christ" means "anointed" or "Messiah", no (unless we were to qualify that "anointed" means "enlightened"). Insofar as we're referring to a Jewish dissident living at roughly the time between what we mark as "B.C." and "A.D." in the continuum of recorded time, sure. I tend to view the Biblical Christ as a composite, a construct largely based on a real individual (or individuals), whose actions may or may not line up with events and ideas attributed thereto.

What I don't believe is that the Gospels, as they stand, are either reliable history or inerrant revelation. Therefore, the Christ on which I comment won't necessarily be the one to which you refer. When I talk about the Bible's Christ, I'm talking about a symbolic figure, not necessarily someone I see as a real person. When I refer to history's Christ, I'm referring to what I believe to be an unknown quantity.

I could say the same about Shakyamuni, but then, he's rarely (if ever) been credited with saying that he's the ONLY path to divine wisdom.

Gummby said...

So I'll ask you the same question I've asked Simon, and countless others who have said they don't believe in the Gospels: why do the New Testament writers place such and emphasis on the existence and work of an actual Jesus (the Messiah, as you rightly point out) if there was little or no evidence that he existed? Why do they claim to be eyewitnesses to what he did, and that their own experience with him is the basis for all they teach?

And why, if Jesus really didn't exist, would Paul make this daring statement?

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:12-19, ESV).

Isn't it rather a gamble to tell your listeners this if it isn't true, or even if you have no way of verifying it's truth?

thelyamhound said...

Why do the New Testament writers place such and emphasis on the existence and work of an actual Jesus (the Messiah, as you rightly point out) if there was little or no evidence that he existed? Why do they claim to be eyewitnesses to what he did, and that their own experience with him is the basis for all they teach?

Well, first of all, we'd have to assume that the NT writers are who they're purported to be; there's ample controversey as to whether Matthew, Mark, Luke & John have anything of the hand of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John in them. But assuming that they were familiar with Christ, and that they had the hand in writing the Gospels that the canon would hold they did, wouldn't we assume that, as friends of this dissident, their elevation of him to divine status would certainly serve a great purpose in aiming for the (passive) overthrow of Roman (read: pagan) rule? Many cultures throughout history have asserted divine origin for their leaders; a religious insurrection against an empire would seem to provide good cause for a grassroots uprising with a messianic character at its center.

Since I already stated that the Biblical Christ was likely based on a real man, I don't really see why I'm called to defend the notion that he didn't exist. So the only positions I'd have to defend is my doubt as to whether the narrative of his life is accurate (don't think so, but don't know), whether he performed the miracles attributed to him (don't know; I imagine it's possible, but don't think it solidifies his status as Messiah, since miracles have been attributed to historically unverifiable, semi-verifiably and fully-verifiable figures in ALL religions), and what the relationship of these stories is to similar "revealed" stories in other traditions.

And why, if Jesus really didn't exist, would Paul make this daring statement?

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:12-19, ESV).

Isn't it rather a gamble to tell your listeners this if it isn't true, or even if you have no way of verifying it's truth?


If we say, for argument's sake, that Paul either knew it wasn't true, or believed it to be true but truly felt he had no way of verifying it--which, by the way, is NOT my assertion--it's still not much of a stretch to imagine that he knew there was no way of verifying it was UNTRUE (for, as we've said, reason and observation neither prove nor disprove any abstract, ontological argument for the existence of God). The "risk", therefore, would be less than you seem to imagine. Moreover, continuing with the same assumption, the benefit of maintaining a multi-generational hegemony based on the purported Word of God would outweight this meager risk. Even atheists see benefit in leaving an ideological legacy, after all; the will-to-martyrdom is hardly exclusive to the theistic construct.

It's more interesting for me, though, to imagine (since I've no way of knowing) that he DID believe it, that he had a divine experience, a revelation, and that he spoke from a place of conviction. The question then becomes this: Does this conviction "prove" that the truth he believed in was/is TRUE in an objective sense? And if so, how do explain the convictions of others that stand in opposition? How do we explain the Hindu and Buddhist martyrs; how do we explain the suicide bomber, the jihadist?

I'm not trying to create a moral equivalency between the fundamentalist Christian and the radical Islamist, so please don't get defensive at the comparison. But it seems to me that to believe in any one religion, you have to be able to dismiss the others, to find the reasoning that makes one more likely than the other. The convictions of the apostles, or of Paul, seems a pretty shaky foundation, for all religion has examples of fervent belief, martyrdom, sacrifice and declarations of absolute truth.

thelyamhound said...

So I'll ask you the same question I've asked Simon, and countless others who have said they don't believe in the Gospels . . .

I wonder whether there's an answer to which you'd grant any credence, considering that, by your own admission, you keep posing the question. Presumably, the previous answers have been unsatisfactory enough that you believe it to be something of a slam-dunk. IS there an answer that would, at least, satisfy you that the person to whom you were speaking had really thought the matter through?

Gummby said...

I'll try to hit some of the high points here. Sorry I can't do more than that right now. And, I'm working my way from latest to earliest--so don't be thrown by that.

Matt: So I'll ask you the same question I've asked Simon, and countless others who have said they don't believe in the Gospels . . .

thelyamhound: I wonder whether there's an answer to which you'd grant any credence, considering that, by your own admission, you keep posing the question. Presumably, the previous answers have been unsatisfactory enough that you believe it to be something of a slam-dunk. IS there an answer that would, at least, satisfy you that the person to whom you were speaking had really thought the matter through?


That's a good question; I'll have to think about it before I give you an answer. I will say that I've yet to meet any "skeptic" who has put their own beliefs to the same kind of test that they've subjected the Bible to. They wouldn't believe themselves either, but for the fact that they are predisposed to disbelieve the Bible.

In the meantime, let me tailor my discussion to points more relevant to what you've said.

That’s well and good, Matt, but just because Paul said it doesn’t make it true. Your faith is in the postulate that Paul was inspired by God, or that God was speaking through Paul, or that Paul was speaking for those through whom God was speaking. Again, I’ve no problem with your taking that position—we all function on some sort of faith, even Simon. But the proof that the Bible is revealed can’t come from the Bible; presumably, if I were to declare my own words divinely inspired (by your definitions; by my definitions, they are, but I’ll get to that in a minute), arguendo, you’d require some proof of that statement beyond my own reasoning, correct?

Well, if you were claiming that your own words were divine, I suppose you would provide some sort of proof. Thankfully, God didn't just write the Bible on golden tablets that have since disappeared, with unverifiable names and places. The Bible is a historical book; it tells about things that happened in history. Such things are verifiable.

You said: If we say, for argument's sake, that Paul either knew it wasn't true, or believed it to be true but truly felt he had no way of verifying it--which, by the way, is NOT my assertion--it's still not much of a stretch to imagine that he knew there was no way of verifying it was UNTRUE (for, as we've said, reason and observation neither prove nor disprove any abstract, ontological argument for the existence of God). The "risk", therefore, would be less than you seem to imagine.

But I wasn't making a vague, unprovable ontological argument for the existence of God (or at least I wasn't trying to), and more importantly, neither was Paul. Paul is arguing that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected. That shouldn't be unprovable, given the timeframe of when he writes. His entire argument hangs on what Christ supposedly did by dying and coming back from the dead.

To that end, let me also say that our discussion with Simon, and now with you, is at least as much epistimilogical as ontological. Probably more so. Because how we come to know God is indeed much more important than merely knowing He exists. Knowing He exists won't save you from judgement. Knowing and believing in the finished work of His son Jesus will.

Going back to the earlier thread...

More importantly, as I suspect that your anti-Catholic hiccup was at least partially motivated by a benign and possibly even subconscious desire to discredit any notion that I’m passingly familiar with the Bible, I’ve probably read even MORE of the Bible since leaving the Church at 17, both as literature (tracking the endless Biblical references in my Melville class, for instance), as supporting text to studies of apocryphal text (comparing canonical Scripture to, say, Gnostic Gospel), etc. I’m no Biblical expert, but neither are most Christians.

You're mistaken. I said that I found it interesting, and I meant what I said. The people I've known who have become Christians (Protestants) have done so because of reading the Bible. And I hope, in the interest of fairness, if you're going to accuse me of being "anti-Catholic" for saying that Catholics don't read the Bible enough, then you will do the same for the Vatican, which said the same thing last year.

Hopefully you won't take my exploring how much Biblical knowledge you have as an attempt to discredit you--if you want common ground on which to discuss things, the Bible is our best bet to do that. In fact, it's encouraging to me that you have that background.

Yet more importantly . . . what difference does it make? The Bible can’t prove itself true; it can only sound like truth to my ear. This is how the Lotus Sutra speaks to me: with the ring of truth. Since neither source can be fully and incontrovertibly verified as the authentic word of a divine or transcendent being—since both are written my man, and of questionable historical authenticity—this subjective attraction may be all we can offer each other if we get hung up on the question of whether either of our paths are valid.

The difference it makes is the difference between life and death. If God is a personal being, instead of a force, how would He express Himself? Would it be as the Bible says? You mentioned earlier something about beginnings, and that is one of the things the Bible answers for me far better than any other explanation.

I think you’re looking at it overly literally. You seem to believe that one can accept the Bible literally; given that, I can see how you’d get hung up on certain aspects of certain Gnostic texts. Since I assume the Bible to be largely symbolic and historically unverifiable, I’m not particularly concerned with the little points of disagreement in the Gnostic gospels; heck, I wouldn’t even be concerned with my little points of disagreement in the Bible, were I not in a Christian nation (of sorts) where the values espoused in the text form the basis for legislation that I see as being unduly restrictive of individual liberty. To me, if I move the Western idea of male and female over to the more neutral Eastern division between yin and yang, the statement in the Gospel of Philip takes on a different aspect. Not an aspect I follow, per se, but an interesting piece to add to the puzzle.

There's no "seem to believe" about it. If we can take the Bible in any sense, it must be literally. Yes, the Bible is literature, in the sense that there are different genres, so poetic language in Psalms don't have the same kind of literalness that the Gospels do. But yes, I believe that the Bible can be taken literally, and because of its comprehensive claims, I think it is foolish to take it any other way.

And how is the idea of “hidden wisdom” any different from the notion of the elect as held forth by John Calvin, or the Lutheran notion of predestination, in terms of its tendency to exclude? Even So states on another thread that he/she(?) is Christian because God changed his/her(?) heart. There's a Greek word that is used almost universally to describe spiritual knowledge not gleaned from mere study: that word is "gnosis".

Here's how it is different: we can't really see it from this side. I know that I'm elect, but it's because God saved me. I don't recognize that "I'm elect," and then go on to salvation. Seekers need never concern themselves with election, because if they find God they can know they are elect.

I can’t say as I see this “unique” aspect as a positive thing, but there’s no way to get into that without directly critiquing Christianity. I’m not interested in picking at my problems with your theology, only getting to the root of my doubt that it’s exceptional in terms of being verifiable by means outside its own rhetoric.

But here's the thing. This uniqueness is part of what testifies to truth, while at the same time being ugly. We make no bones about sin being bad--God's already wiped out the entire earth save for one family to punish sin, and worse is yet to come. But Christianity is the type of religion that man wouldn't invent if he wanted to. Man wants to do something--good works, right beliefs, be enlightened; Christianity says man couldn't do it, so God had to, through Jesus Christ.

I believe Christ, insofar as his existence can be deduced at all from sources outside the Bible, to have been a great healer, a great teacher, clearly an enlightened being and, most likely, a boddhisatva and/or a Buddha. I believe he was a political dissident (though the mechanisms of that dissidence are difficult to pin down, as some secular sources indicate that the man on whom the Biblical Christ may be based could well have been more a militant . . . or, according to other sources, less of one). . . .

Depends on what you mean. Insofar as "Christ" means "anointed" or "Messiah", no (unless we were to qualify that "anointed" means "enlightened"). Insofar as we're referring to a Jewish dissident living at roughly the time between what we mark as "B.C." and "A.D." in the continuum of recorded time, sure. I tend to view the Biblical Christ as a composite, a construct largely based on a real individual (or individuals), whose actions may or may not line up with events and ideas attributed thereto.

What I don't believe is that the Gospels, as they stand, are either reliable history or inerrant revelation. Therefore, the Christ on which I comment won't necessarily be the one to which you refer. When I talk about the Bible's Christ, I'm talking about a symbolic figure, not necessarily someone I see as a real person. When I refer to history's Christ, I'm referring to what I believe to be an unknown quantity.


And then later:
Since I already stated that the Biblical Christ was likely based on a real man, I don't really see why I'm called to defend the notion that he didn't exist.

Here's what I don't get: if Jesus is unknowable, as you put it, how can you be sure the Gospels aren't accurate, and that taken with the weight of other testimony (such as the Jewish scriptures which pointed to a Messiah, and gave signs which Jesus fulfilled), why can't they be accepted?

The rest of the New Testament seems to think Jesus is knowable, both when he was here on earth, and also now that he has ascended back to heaven.

I don't make too fine a distinction between "the person Jesus never existed" (Simon's argument) and "the person Jesus as described in the Bible is merely symbolic" (which I hope I've rightly ascertained as your position). Denying that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Messiah, is no better that claiming he never even existed at all, or that he died but never rose again. All of those positions mean, as Paul summarized, that those who have hoped in him have hoped in vain, that we are still dead in our sins, and that we are even misrepresenting God. These are serious implications to my faith if I'm wrong, no matter who turns out to be right--Simon, you, or the people from Paul's day who claimed Christ was never raised.

Simon said...

Matt: Isn't it rather a gamble to tell your listeners this if it isn't true, or even if you have no way of verifying it's truth?

As I've demonstrated with my belief that we are all alien batteries and this world is an illusion, it is virtually impossible to argue someone out of their belief, no matter how silly it looks to you on first look. Particularly if they are capable storytellers.

I find very few fiction writers who believe in a particular religious story, and I think this is because they know a yarn when they see one.

People who are not versed in the ways of fiction writing (story telling), however, are often taken in by convincing stories - remember Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast?

Millions of people were utterly convinced aliens had landed and were heading in a destructive path towards them.

On the whole - people are suckers. Germans believed Hitler was some kind of god-like figure. He freely admitted, if you're going to lie, tell a big one. Look how that worked out.

Doesn't history suggest Paul was on much safer ground with a 'son of god' story than he would have been with a 'Jewish rebel' story?

Simon said...

Hound: By calling yourself an atheist, rather than an agnostic, you’re implicitly assuming that there is no God.

Like I said, we have to make our minds up at some point, otherwise we'd never leave the house.

I have rejected the stories of gods which have been presented to me so far, without which there would be no concept of a god.

The concept of a god or gods which is presented to us is fiction.

That there may be some hint of truth in the stories, I don't deny. There may be a valuable message in the subtext, even if it is just to tell us what we are.

Still, you take a position on belief and the existence of God

I take a position for practical reasons. I assume nothing.

What I’m getting at is that as long as we’re arguing over whether it’s OK to believe something or not, we’re not getting to real crux(es) of the matter, like the effect of faith on the human condition, its utility in regulating human behaviour, the useful boundaries between faith and pluralistic culture

Believe what you like, but don't expect me to keep quiet when I see the flaws.

If those are the issues you wish to discuss, go ahead. Of course religion has had a part in civilisation - who can deny it? But so did hanging drawing and quatering, or human sacrificial executions practiced by prehistorical peoples.

What amazes me is that people still follow a cult which is based around a human sacrificial execution.

And your feeling that “this is all nonsense” isn’t an assumption? The one thing both Christians and atheists lack, in my observation, is rational doubt regarding their positions.

No, it was an observation. Like your observation.

As an atheist, if there is any doubt in my position, it very much has to be rational.

I won't accept anything else. I welcome rational doubt. I spend most of my day absorbed in rational doubt of my own beliefs.

BugBlaster said...

I feel like a slug.

Sorry guys, I wanted to jump in, but haven't been able to get the time to read carefully. Pesky things like family and work getting in the way.

I will try again tonight!

Gummby said...

Doesn't history suggest Paul was on much safer ground with a 'son of god' story than he would have been with a 'Jewish rebel' story?

Paul was executed for his beliefs. Not sure how that qualifies as "safer ground." Moreover, where is your evidence that Jesus was a rebel against Rome? He rebelled against the Pharisees, and his reasons are made manifest in the Gospels. As for his view of the state, see what I wrote to thelyamhound. See also his discussion with Pilate in the Gospels (John 18:28-40, for instance).

Paul also affirms submission to the Roman state in Romans 13:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7, ESV

Simon said...

I was specifically addressing your point: "Isn't it rather a gamble to tell your listeners this if it isn't true, or even if you have no way of verifying it's truth?"

If you're going to lie, lie big, is my point.

Apart from that, you're assuming Paul was completely sane. Take the example of the recent cult whose members believed a spaceship had coem to take them away and so took their own lives.

They clearly weren't faking their beliefs, but they sure were deluded.

thelyamhound said...

Matt: I will say that I've yet to meet any "skeptic" who has put their own beliefs to the same kind of test that they've subjected the Bible to.

Well, then, pleased to meet you. I've always been a doubter who wanted to believe in something, so I always put my doubt--since that was my "belief"--to the test. My interest was never in placing my faith in science; I'm an artist, and therefore a subjectivist. My interest was always in finding something worth believing, for its ring of truth, despite its shaky foundation in objective recorded history, scientific inquiry and study, etc. After 34 years, I found reason to make a place for myself in Buddhism. And I continue to subject my understanding of that to my inquiries, my doubts, my power to compromise twixt what I observe and what I'm offered as established theology.

Matt: They wouldn't believe themselves either, but for the fact that they are predisposed to disbelieve the Bible.

They might believe themselves. I suppose it depends on their credentials/credibility and the scale on which they're measuring. For my part--while I'm not exactly a "skeptic"--as faith is largely a facet of intuition, I find it useful to trust myself in that only I may intuit for myself.

Matt: Thankfully, God didn't just write the Bible on golden tablets that have since disappeared, with unverifiable names and places. The Bible is a historical book; it tells about things that happened in history. Such things are verifiable.

To a degree. Many of the events are verifiable; many are not. The people can all be shown to have some basis in historically verifiable individuals. Of course, the same can be said of the Bhaghavad Ghita (which I've read), the Koran (which I've not, so I'm really relying on what little dialogue I've had with Muslims on that), and even the Lotus Sutra (which I'm now studying).

As I said before, belief in one system means rejection of others. For one not "called" by divine gnosis, the only way to differentiate is either through measure of empirical support--where, again, I see little difference between the various religions--or the intuitive recognition of truth.

Matt: Paul is arguing that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected.

And again: that he said it--even that he believed it--doesn't mean it's true (any more than my doubt makes it false).

Matt: That shouldn't be unprovable, given the timeframe of when he writes.

Maybe not to him, but it certainly is to us. Moreover, societies have always created folk heroes out of real men, even as recently as the last century or two.

Additionally, even if we assume that Christ DID perform the miracles attributed to him, that only proves that he was a) a boddhisatva or Buddha (as some Buddhists claim), or a comparable "enlightened" being, or b) a magician, as held by a certain small strain of Gnostics who trace their origins back to Simon Magus.

The point is, without assuming that Paul erred, it's hard not to notice that there was plenty of room for him to do so.

Matt: To that end, let me also say that our discussion with Simon, and now with you, is at least as much epistimilogical as ontological. Probably more so. Because how we come to know God is indeed much more important than merely knowing He exists. Knowing He exists won't save you from judgement. Knowing and believing in the finished work of His son Jesus will.

That's fine, but I don't see any more of a way that either of you can win the epistemological argument than I do a way to win the ontological one. You essentially seem to hold that your text is self-proving. Which is fine, but that's only going to be useful for other Christians (or elect individuals who don't know they're Christian yet).

Matt: And I hope, in the interest of fairness, if you're going to accuse me of being "anti-Catholic" for saying that Catholics don't read the Bible enough, then you will do the same for the Vatican, which said the same thing last year.

Your reading of that article was either hopelessly facile or deliberately disingenuous. One might just as well chastise Protestants for leaving their Bible's on the shelf; the Vatican was suggesting that members need to study their foundational text, i.e., take their religion and its study more seriously. Your implication, as I read it, was that Catholicism systemically neglected the Bible, or that Catholicism was in some broad way more negligent of the Bible than Protestantism.

Matt: If you want common ground on which to discuss things, the Bible is our best bet to do that.

Maybe, maybe not. Since I only see it as one of many books, I can really only grant you points of internal consistency based on my (admittedly limited) understanding of the text.

Matt: If God is a personal being, instead of a force, how would He express Himself?

And if not, how is the hypothetical question relevant? One needs to presuppose to even ask the question. And if one does so as an exercise, how does one determine whether this personal God, this anthropomorphic deity, is the one worshipped by Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Jews?

Matt: You mentioned earlier something about beginnings, and that is one of the things the Bible answers for me far better than any other explanation.

I have to disagree with you, there, but we'll never get anywhere if we get into an evolution/creationism, old earth/young earth debate. We'll just have to agree to disagree on that matter, and let more scientifically inclined minds on both sides duke it out for our positions.

Matt: If we can take the Bible in any sense, it must be literally. Yes, the Bible is literature, in the sense that there are different genres, so poetic language in Psalms don't have the same kind of literalness that the Gospels do. But yes, I believe that the Bible can be taken literally, and because of its comprehensive claims, I think it is foolish to take it any other way.

If one must either accept it as literal or reject it entirely, then, yes, I suppose I'd have to say I reject it. Of course, that duality exists on your terms, not mine, so I may see fit to grant parts of it more credibility than others.

Matt: Here's how it is different: we can't really see it from this side. I know that I'm elect, but it's because God saved me. I don't recognize that "I'm elect," and then go on to salvation. Seekers need never concern themselves with election, because if they find God they can know they are elect.

That "difference" is no more, to my eye, than a misunderstanding of the concept of gnosis. Gnosis really is like election; if one is called to Christ, one has already accessed the "hidden knowledge". There are, of course, non-Christian schools of gnosticism, so there can be different understandings of "seeker", but the gist is the same.

Matt: But Christianity is the type of religion that man wouldn't invent if he wanted to. Man wants to do something--good works, right beliefs, be enlightened; Christianity says man couldn't do it, so God had to, through Jesus Christ.

How is the requirement for faith in Jesus Christ not a call to "right beliefs"? How is knowing the truth of the Gospel, given its position as one of hundreds of views on Truth, not a call to "enlightenment"? Is avoidance of sin not a call to "good works"? And, indeed, why would the triumverate of good works, enlightenment and right belief be preferable for mankind? Why would man consider such austerities easier than surrender to a proxy, a scapegoat? This point of argument makes no sense to me, as I don't really see the former path being more in step with human need, desire, or character.

Matt: Here's what I don't get: if Jesus is unknowable, as you put it, how can you be sure the Gospels aren't accurate

I can't be sure. Again, I'm left with my intuition as to whose testament of truth is more reliable--faith in religion is faith in those who founded the religion, in those who wrote/transcribed doctrine.

Matt: . . . and that taken with the weight of other testimony (such as the Jewish scriptures which pointed to a Messiah, and gave signs which Jesus fulfilled), why can't they be accepted?

Many, MANY Jews (and some Hebraic scholars i know) have insisted that the OT is quite altered from the Jewish "version" of the written record of the same events. How do you account for the fact that Jews don't believe their Scriptures point to Christ's fulfillment of those Scriptures?

Matt: I don't make too fine a distinction between "the person Jesus never existed" (Simon's argument) and "the person Jesus as described in the Bible is merely symbolic" (which I hope I've rightly ascertained as your position).

You've correctly ascertained an aspect of my position, in any case. For the purposes of our discussion, it will suffice.

Matt: Denying that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Messiah, is no better that claiming he never even existed at all, or that he died but never rose again.

It may be no "better", but it's more accurate with regards to the objective historical evidence; denying that he existed requires turning a blind eye to historical accounts that indicate there was some real person behind the figure. Simon takes a position that you can debunk on his own terms; you can only debunk my position from a subjective stance of faith. Therefore, while my argument may be as immoral and distasteful to you as his, it leaves less room for you to win the debate. :^)

Matt: All of those positions mean, as Paul summarized, that those who have hoped in him have hoped in vain, that we are still dead in our sins . . .

But if you were mistaken about Christ--IF (again, not necessarily my position)--mightn't you also have been mistaken about being "dead in [your] sins"?

Matt: . . . and that we are even misrepresenting God.

It seems to me that if God felt that strongly about being misrepresented, He may have left a few more objectively quantifiable markers. The reason I clung to agnosticism for so long, and why I still, in engaging non-Buddhists, argue from an agnostic viewpoint is that it DOES seem to me that agnostics are engaging the evidence with the greatest level of honesty.

Matt: These are serious implications to my faith if I'm wrong, no matter who turns out to be right--Simon, you, or the people from Paul's day who claimed Christ was never raised.

At this point, I can only say that I've no reason to convince you of these "serious implications". If Simon's right, I'll probably just wish, at that last moment, that I'd been just a little more indulgent; if I'm right, well, I'm probably not in for any picnic (I've got a little karma to pay, though I've probably got some dividends coming, too). If you're right, and if I'm in for eternal hellfire (or C.S. Lewis's brilliantly nebulous--and surprisingly humanistic, even vaguely Buddhist--view of hell laid out in The Great Divorce--I would have to consider my torment a worthy act of cosmic civil disobedience against a capricious God (capricious primarily for expecting such fealty without clear empirical markers differentiating this one understanding of truth from others in terms of verifiability). My only concern with Christians, then, is political: how their morality relates to legislation that governs my actions, how their free exercise works with or conflicts with my own. And that's hardly the subject of this thread.

Simon: I find very few fiction writers who believe in a particular religious story, and I think this is because they know a yarn when they see one.

C.S. Lewis is the one example that comes to mind; indeed, his Greek scholarship, and his (presumed) ability to know an eyewitness account when he saw one, was a big factor in his conversion.

>>Hound: By calling yourself an atheist, rather than an agnostic, you’re implicitly assuming that there is no God.<<

Simon: Like I said, we have to make our minds up at some point, otherwise we'd never leave the house.

So you made up your mind that the "truth" is that there is no God. Which IS an assumption, not (entirely) a deduction.

Simon: Believe what you like, but don't expect me to keep quiet when I see the flaws.

I'm not concerned; you haven't even made a particular argument with regards to my theological stance (and my stance is inclusive enough that we may well find that we agree more than we disagree, semantics aside). And to be fair, it doesn't look like the Christians are all that concerned, either. Recognizing these "flaws" relies on your own epistemological position, as surely as their "faith" relies on theirs.

Simon: If those are the issues you wish to discuss, go ahead. Of course religion has had a part in civilisation - who can deny it? But so did hanging drawing and quatering, or human sacrificial executions practiced by prehistorical peoples.

So religion, to your mind, is equivalent to these things? And that's not an assumption?

>>And your feeling that “this is all nonsense” isn’t an assumption?<<

Simon: No, it was an observation. Like your observation.

An observation would be, "This is all based on something for which I do not currently see a rational basis." Once you add the "nonsense" factor, you've made both a value judgement (faith bad, rationalism good) which implies a subjective position. Moreover, that subjective position implies a position on truth, essentially, "What these people believe and celebrate is untrue." That, my friend, is an assumption.


BugBlaster: Sorry guys, I wanted to jump in, but haven't been able to get the time to read carefully. Pesky things like family and work getting in the way.

Take your time. If we finish without you (heck, we may have already), well, I'm always good to look at an afterthought.

Simon: Doesn't history suggest Paul was on much safer ground with a 'son of god' story than he would have been with a 'Jewish rebel' story?

Matt: Paul was executed for his beliefs. Not sure how that qualifies as "safer ground."

I think Paul would just have likely been executed for supporting a dissident as supporting a Messiah. I don't think the ground was "safer" one way or the other. But if we wanted to assume that Paul didn't consider Christ the Messiah, it seems that granting him Messianic status for the sake of the revolutionary narrative--whether the revolt was against Pharisees or Rome (an argument can be made for either--or both--but we'll get to that in a minute)--would lend urgency and weight to the cause. That said, I still find it more interesting to imagine that Paul DID believe; the question becomes whether he really knew and understood what it is he believed in.

Matt: Moreover, where is your evidence that Jesus was a rebel against Rome? He rebelled against the Pharisees, and his reasons are made manifest in the Gospels.

Yes, of course. But these rebellions are not mutually exclusive. Given that Christ's "movement" was reactionary in a culture that valued progress, monotheistic in a culture that was both pagan and polytheistic, and often involved removal from the economic market as it existed at the time, it's not much of a stretch to imagine that Christ was considered a subversive. In fact, he spoke more than once of the liberation of the Israelites from pagan rule, though his methods were passive; his rebellion against the Pharisees could be seen as an attempt to create unity among the oppressed.

Whether he fought the Pharisees or Rome, however, Paul's support of such a dissident would likely have drawn attention, with or without the Messianic overtones.

Matt: As for his view of the state, see what I wrote to thelyamhound.

I've gone back over our conversation, and have found nothing about Christ's view of the state. Might that be something you thought about writing to me, but never did? No matter, really. As MLK showed, you CAN threaten the institution while still essentially, technically obeying its tenets.

Matt: See also his discussion with Pilate in the Gospels (John 18:28-40, for instance).

This has always been a sticking point with me, since most historical documents show a far less hesitant and circumspect Pilate than does the Bible; even the Roman hierarchy thought Pilate a decadent, violent despot. Still, if one take the Bible at face value, Christ's threat to the state was apparently seen as negligible. By Paul's time, however, Christians were clearly already considered a significant threat to Roman stability.

Matt: Paul also affirms submission to the Roman state in Romans 13:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7, ESV


This doesn't strike me as being all that different a directive than, say, Thoreau's concept of passive resistance. The cynic in me also wonders if he wasn't already looking to a time when Christians would hold the reigns of state.

thelyamhound said...

Simon touches on a point I already made and you (Matt) didn't address: if willingness to martyr one's self for a belief is proof of its veracity, how do you account for those who have sacrificed themselves for other religions?

thelyamhound said...

In noting my typos on re-reading, I'll make a blanket statement that misspellings, shifting tenses, extraneous (or missing) punctuation, etc. are the result of trying to type fast, in order that my fervor to win not cut too deeply into the time available for work, study, marriage, exercise, and artistic pursuit. The likelihood that I don't know any given grammatical rule that I'm breaking is miniscule. I'm just not subjecting my posts to any sort of proofreading, other than making sure I've italicized the right portions. As in boxing, a timely parry is more useful than a strictly correct one.

BugBlaster said...

Okay, I've read about half. I'll stick to one point for tonight.

hound: Of course, if we’re BOTH wrong and Simon’s right, we’ve missed out a lifetime of cheerful debauchery that would go unpunished in any life, chasing a morality that would go unrewarded (though, of course, there are some rewards for virtue and punishments for vice in THIS life, which is part of what I think BOTH of our theologies are getting at). Oh, well.

I can't speak to your theology at all.

I can tell you that reward for virtue and punishment for vice in this life is but a teensy part of Christian theology. It is not what Christian theology is getting at. The Bible certainly tells us outright that there can be rewards for virtue and punishment for vice in this life, but it doesn't say that this is always, or even most often the case. Rewards and punishment in this life will be ephemeral and fleeting when viewed from the perspective of eternity future.

The Bible does tell us not to fret if the wicked seem to go unpunished in this life. And it tells us to expect trial and hardship and persecution if we follow the way of Christ.

The primary message of the Bible regarding punishment and reward is that these things are eternal: not confined to this life, and perhaps not even begun in this life.

To equate or analogize our theologies on rewards and punishments in this life is to draw a false equivalence perhaps. (again, all this without me knowing diddly about the theology of your brand of Buddhism).

Simon said...

Hound, the problem with addressing every single point is that we develop an ever increasingly sprawling debate which is impossible to follow. I mean this thing will just get bigger and bigger and bigger...

Better to stick to one issue.

I've read and noted the various points, but I won't address them. You say 'assumptions', I say 'observations', lets call the whole thing off?

Note: I should have said living writers (creators - of which, I know many. Buddhism is popular amongst creatives and has been trendy for a few decades. Christianity is popular amongst rigid-thinking uncreatives, of which I know only a few).

Hound, what is your (non-Christian) historical evidence that Jesus existed

Simon said...

*meant to say - 'won't address them all'. If I did, I'd be here all day.

Gummby said...

Hound said: Simon touches on a point I already made and you (Matt) didn't address: if willingness to martyr one's self for a belief is proof of its veracity, how do you account for those who have sacrificed themselves for other religions?

I quite agree that sincerity does not equal truth. For instance, I believe you and Simon both to be sincere in your disbelief of Jesus being the Messiah, and your belief that your life is better off without him. However, you are wrong.

If I've sounded like I was arguing something contrary to this, mea culpa.

Simon said...

Matt, if your god has a plan, why does he get angry? For example, the story of Noah's Ark seems to suggest things didn't go according to plan.

Gummby said...

Hound: since God's signs aren't sufficient, how should God have revealed himself better in order for you to believe?

Simon asked: Matt, if your god has a plan, why does he get angry? For example, the story of Noah's Ark seems to suggest things didn't go according to plan.

That's a good question. I hope to answer, but I don't know when I'll have time--I have family coming in from out of town this evening (the UK, actually).

thelyamhound said...

Bugblaster: I can tell you that reward for virtue and punishment for vice in this life is but a teensy part of Christian theology.

And of Buddhist theology as well. What I was getting at--and I admit to not expressing such very clearly--was that those things which Christians call sin could be seen, for the most part (setting aside some of the sexual mores and Levitican admonishments about eating shellfish or wearing blended fibers), as actions not conducive to civility, community, familial stability or other temporal values. If one were to take the Bible as a symbolic text--and I've already noted in this thread that I DO, to a point--the talk of an afterlife could be looked upon as a comfort one may take in the fact that, while virtue can and should lead to temporal reward in theory, it often leads to long term reward--for the spirit or for the community--after death. So the literal meaning (for those who believe in the Bible as a literal document) isn't mutually exclusive with the symbolic meaning (for those of us who take a more small "g" gnostic approach to the text). From the perspective of "winning" non-Christians over to Christian theology, the practical value of Christian morality would be its recipe for civility (though, of course, my political argument would then be to measure each moral precept against a "control" of empirical consequentialism before allowing it to be codified . . . but as I've stated before, that's another discussion).

Bugblaster: The Bible certainly tells us outright that there can be rewards for virtue and punishment for vice in this life, but it doesn't say that this is always, or even most often the case.

The fact that these "virtues" can lead to higher temporal function, however, DO help to solidify the notion that God is GOOD; otherwise, even if we assume that there is a morally preoccupied, anthropomorphic deity, and that He revealed himself in the Bible, we only have HIS word as to his moral alignment.

Bugblaster: Rewards and punishment in this life will be ephemeral and fleeting when viewed from the perspective of eternity future.

Agreed. This is true in a Buddhist paradigm as well. Actually, I could even scare up an atheist or two who'd suggest that the long-term ripple effects of our behaviour, which continue long after our departures, is more important than immediate gratification. Not all altruistic impulse emerges from God.

Bugblaster: To equate or analogize our theologies on rewards and punishments in this life is to draw a false equivalence perhaps.

A nuanced equivalence, perhaps, though I realize that some schools of conservative thought dismiss nuance as falsehood or dishonesty.

Simon: Hound, the problem with addressing every single point is that we develop an ever increasingly sprawling debate which is impossible to follow. I mean this thing will just get bigger and bigger and bigger...

When faith is at stake, and no sides are likely to concede the debate, bafflement=victory. :^) Besides, the more points I address, the clearer it becomes that, whatever you, Matt, or Bb think of my conclusions, you're unlikely to come across a concept I haven't already mulled over in the course of my quest for Truth.

Simon: Better to stick to one issue.

I like that idea, but it means figuring out which issue matters more than all others. And if that one issue is different for all of us, or, worse, if my issue could be seen as a subset of Matt & Bb's issue, then some of the minor points take on major significance.

Question for you: what do YOU think is the PRIMARY issue twixt the lot of us?

Simon: You say 'assumptions', I say 'observations', lets call the whole thing off?

Fair enough.

Simon: Hound, what is your (non-Christian) historical evidence that Jesus existed

The problem with evidentiary arguments is that only the most incorrigible of nerds keeps their references around in their pockets. And while I AM an incorrigible nerd, I'm mostly a nerd about martial arts, world cinema, independent music, and philosophy (with more reflexive math skill than a liberal arts guy likes to admit to having); history, science, the empirical disciplines are simply where I check in to make sure that I'm not chasing aesthetic or philosophical dead ends.

An example: a fellow I encountered on the Fray, over on the Slate website, had some great links to peer-reviewed scientific journals showing that, in one experiment, speciation HAD occurred in mammals: two populations of the same species of mouse adapted to their environment to the point that they became different species, not only developing different adaptive, physical traits, but indeed become unable to create fertile offspring with one another. I read it thoroughly, found it fascinating . . . and couldn't tell you a thing about it now, other than what I noted above. It didn't relate to questions of whether existence precedes essence, the role of art in society, the mechanics of the body in opposition to another body, the emergence of the post-punk paradigm from the Anglicization of dub, or any of the things I've built my life around, so I pretty much remember it as an interesting anecdote supporting certain things I believe (evolution), which in turn support other things I believe (that the Bible is a symbolic document), which in turn supports the more important things I believe (pantheism, Buddhism, existentialism); only on these last points do I have any ready references, the rest long calcified into sturdy--but undistinguished--bedrock. And this is for something I read a matter of weeks ago. If you want a quote from Herman Hesse or Bruce Lee, I've got it. A link to study on rodent speciation or the evidence for a historical Jesus, however, isn't in the hopper.

So what I can say in answer to your question is that I've read many accounts, and have seen some documentaries, narrowing the field of possible Christ figures to a handful of people who emerged from Nazareth during the time of the Biblical Christ. A book called The Hiram Key, about the history of the Freemasons and the Knights Templar, discusses evidence both archaeological and textual that indicates that the Biblical Christ is a composite. It also has some interesting evidence pointing to both Judas and Barrabas being militance, Malcolm X to Christ's MLK (if you will), which strikes me as interesting because Nikos Kazantzakis explored that angle many years earlier in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ; The Hiram Key goes so far as to suggest that the figure we now call Barrabas was the one to die on the cross. This is all heresy to Matt and Bugblaster . . . and I'm afraid it's all hearsay to you, because all I can say is that I read it, it was interesting, it gave me something to chew on. The evidence is inconclusive, but compelling, and I, for one, am willing to accept that the man the Bible calls Jesus Christ (almost certainly not his name) existed, though his story was . . . I'll say filtered for ideological purposes.

Matt: I quite agree that sincerity does not equal truth. For instance, I believe you and Simon both to be sincere in your disbelief of Jesus being the Messiah.

I don't know about that. You've stated before that to not belief in Christ as Messiah is to suppress the truth. If you truly believe my faith to be sincere (I won't speak to or for Simon's), it seems to me that you'd have to believe I sought ernestly and came to believe (and disbelieve) honestly. The latter is incompatible with the former.

Matt: . . . and your belief that your life is better off without him.

How can I believe my life is better off without him if I don't believe in his divine status? Without that divine status, there's no reason for me to believe I can have him in my life. I can't technically reject something that I don't believe exists.

Matt: However, you are wrong.

Well, I suppose that's my risk to take. But you've yet to show me any reason to believe that your deductions on the matter are any more vigilant or accurate than my own.

thelyamhound said...

Matt: Hound: since God's signs aren't sufficient, how should God have revealed himself better in order for you to believe?

Your questions are pulling us deeper and deeper into the morass of semantic gamesmanship. If there's not an anthropomorphic God (which I believe, and you don't; think of it, for your sake, as a fictional premise taken up to broach a hypothetical dilemma), there's nothing to reveal itself. If there IS an anthropomorphic God (reversing the previous thought exercise), and, as many Calvinists have asserted to me in the past, all earthly action happens according to plan, God clearly has use, in the scheme of things, for my disbelief. What should be is an arbitrary construct in the face of what is.

What revelation would be required for you to believe in Krishna? Allah? What sign would indicate, irrefutably, that Shakyamuni was enlightened? In order to convince me of truth, one would have to convince me of the untruth of all else which claims to be truth.

I suppose if I HAD to take your question seriously, I'd say that if God truly didn't want me to be a Buddhist, pantheist, or gnostic, He might have done well to offer the human authors and carriers of Christian doctrine greater measurable credibility than the bearers of "opposing" doctrine (I'd also like to think that, if he wanted to blind me with the light as he did Saul, it would at least give me pause). Even better, a little drop of the Holy Spirit, a little gnosis, so that Scripture would actually give the ring, the call of truth that I hear when I read Bruno or the Lotus Sutra, would have been ideal.

Simon: Matt, if your god has a plan, why does he get angry? For example, the story of Noah's Ark seems to suggest things didn't go according to plan.

Matt: That's a good question.

Nah, not really. It's more free will vs. predestination, definition of omnipotence, etc. God gave man free will; if predestination is a given--and if God is omniscient, it would have to be: that which is eternal would have to "know" what is to come--then He had to know that free will would lead to sin. In that since, we are the ultimate thought experiment, our failure pre-ordained, with various opportunities (Noah's ark, humanity's salvation through Christ) offered for some portion of humanity to escape the cycle of sin. God's plan remains intact because it was forseen, its failures also forseen (but a result of free will, not of any particular failure of God's), the retribution ordained in advance. As to wrath, since we were created in God's image (or God in ours ;^)), our own anger is a microcosmic reflection of a divine state.

I have family coming in from out of town this evening (the UK, actually).

Hope you have a good time, and that things have been well for your family in the U.K.

BugBlaster said...

hound: ...it's not much of a stretch to imagine that Christ was considered a subversive. In fact, he spoke more than once of the liberation of the Israelites from pagan rule...

Whereabouts can I find Jesus referring to the liberation of the Israelites from pagan rule? I'm wracking my brain and perhaps you're thinking of Matthew 24 for example? Except it doesn't mention political liberation of Israelites.

BugBlaster said...

hound: Whether he fought the Pharisees or Rome, however, Paul's support of such a dissident would likely have drawn attention, with or without the Messianic overtones.

Except for the letters of Paul (and the book of Acts) make it clear that until the very end he only drew attention from the Roman rulers after he riled the local Jewish population in whatever city he was in. In place after place, Paul would go to the synagogue first, and then he would speak openly to the Gentiles.

The pattern was then that the local Jews would complain to the authorities or stir up the local Gentiles with accusations against Paul.

Paul would then get arrested or run out of town on a rail, usually with a bloody festering back from the lashes.

Of the many times that this happened to Paul in the first four fifths of his ministry, the Romans invariably didn't know or care who Paul or Jesus was. They just wanted to keep order in the streets. The Jews on the other hand, knew exactly who Paul was, and knew who Jesus was, and despised what he was preaching.

Several times, Paul had to haul out his laser encoded Roman citizenship card to get him out of trouble. This doesn't sound like a subversive.

What's the point of this rant? That Paul's support of a "political dissident" isn't what attracted attention. It was the rage of the Jews of the day that followed him from place to place that attracted attention.

In the latter part of Paul's ministry his teachings were attracting the attention of the Romans directly. But the main reason then was that the Christians were an exclusivist bunch, and their monotheism was offensive. Ironically, early in the second century they began to be called atheists by the Romans, because they denied the existence of the Roman gods, and denied the divinity of the Emperor.

So, saying that they were primarily or by intent political subversives is a nice deconstruction and reconstruction of Paul (and the Christ) that he worshipped, but it is without ground.

I'm not trying to be flippant hound, but you've really got no firm ground to stand on as you recast the story, ministry and mission of Paul to suit your notion of him as a political subversive.

You haven't even read the primary sources for information about Paul, the book of Acts, or the letters written by Paul... You don't know what he was preaching or teaching.

You won't find a politically subversive message in his letters. You won't find a call to military arms to achieve political ends. You won't find a call to political action to achieve political ends.

You will find over and over again the message of one way to salvation, salvation by grace through faith, the certainty that all have sinned and deserve death, the necessity and accomplished substitutionary sacrifice by Christ to atone for sin, the surety of the existence of a physical Jesus Messiah a literal resurrection from the dead, and practical Christian living that displays fruits of the spirit.

But nothing political.

Read the stuff.

BugBlaster said...

hound: But assuming that they were familiar with Christ, and that they had the hand in writing the Gospels that the canon would hold they did, wouldn't we assume that, as friends of this dissident, their elevation of him to divine status would certainly serve a great purpose in aiming for the (passive) overthrow of Roman (read: pagan) rule? Many cultures throughout history have asserted divine origin for their leaders; a religious insurrection against an empire would seem to provide good cause for a grassroots uprising with a messianic character at its center.

The Gospels, Matthew for example, show that one of the main reasons that Jesus was rejected by his countryfolk is that he did not want to lead an insurrection. In fact he shunned the whole idea. They tried to make him king by force, and he ran away.

This telling of a man who did not try to lead an uprising and who told his followers to pay their Roman taxes is the account that this so-called grassroots uprising perpetuated. Doesn't sound like it supports your notion that this was a movement that was aiming at overthrowing the pagan Romans.

This so-called grassroots uprising did not participate in the nationalistic Jewish movement. The nationalist Jews certainly wanted to overthrow pagan Roman rule, and they desperately tried, circa 70AD and circa 130AD. The Christians did not participate in these rebellions.

After 70AD, Christianity lost its Jewish anchor with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the mix of adherents became primarily Gentile. Christians were now Greek and Latin speaking Romans scattered in pockets throughout the Empire.

There is no thought whatsoever of political overthrow of pagan Roman rule in any of the books of the New Testament, or in any of the early post-New Testament documents, like the didache, the letters of Ignatius, or the letters of Polycarp.

In the middle of the second century Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity, and noted that its adherents were good law-abiding Romans.

So, can't agree with you at all that there is even a hint that the message of Jesus or that early Christianity had a political genesis or political aims.

BugBlaster said...

hound and Simon, I have a dumb question for each of you. It is the question that we are told that Pilate asked Jesus before he tortured him to death:

What is truth?

BugBlaster said...

Simon, you asked this question at the blog of the most beautiful woman in the world:
I don't understand why god gets angry if he knows everything that's going to happen.

Here is the best answer I can give you, Romans 9. In around the middle of the chapter, Paul answers the exact question you're asking. You won't likely like it, but why not give it to you straight from the Bible, eh? Besides, this was the book that Matt recommended that you tackle next.

BugBlaster said...

You guys realize the goal here, right? I'm trying to type as many words as thelyamhound does in one of his comments.

It's really hard!

Simon said...

So what I can say in answer to your question is that I've read many accounts, and have seen some documentaries, narrowing the field of possible Christ figures to a handful of people who emerged from Nazareth during the time of the Biblical Christ.

As my partner's father said to me upon first meeting, when he asked what music I liked and I said "good music" - "Not good enough", he growled. I was a terrified 22 year old, but I guess I deserved it.

I've been researching this for 3 months. The only direct non-Christian mention of Jesus is that infamous paragraph by Josephus. And that paragraph is appears to have been written by a Christian, anyway.

If you're going to make claims about historical evidence, I want to know where I can go and look it up. And I don't mean a book written by a contemporary historian or documentary, I mean actual historical evidence that I can examine for myself.

If you don't have it - don't make claims you can't back up.

Simon said...

Sorry, last quote was from Hound, too.

Hound: As to wrath, since we were created in God's image (or God in ours ;^)), our own anger is a microcosmic reflection of a divine state.

So when I get angry, I acting god-like?

This is a very tricksy, and highly dubious explanation.

If I somehow knew, lets say a year in advance, that my son was going to let the bath overflow and ruin the kitchen below, yet I also realised I couldn't do anything to stop him or I'd be messing with his freewill - would I wait for a year and then when it happened get furious anyway?

Absurd.

Anger is a spontaneous thing. Unless the Christian god's anger is not the same type of anger.

Does the Christian god have his anger programmed into a pocket computer - a little alarm goes off to remind him to get angry at something?

Can anger be preordained (I know it says so in the Bible - but the Bible says all kinds of nonsense)?

If the Christian god's anger is premeditated, then it isn't anger - it's cold-as-ice retribution.

The Christian god comes across as some kind of revenge machine.

Simon said...

Matt, how are you getting on with those evolution links I posted a while back?

Simon said...

Your species is doing well, then.

I already read Galatians, John and some Romans - so I'm afraid you have some catching up to do.

Let me know when you're up with me.

Gummby said...

Simon, you're much too quick for me. I was going to add to that response, but since you've already responded, I'll just put it back and try more later.
***

Matt, how are you getting on with those evolution links I posted a while back?

I've got 5 kids, including a 2 month old. I'll let you do the math.

How are you coming with Romans?

BugBlaster said...

Hope you're doing your share of diapy changing.

Even So... said...

All this makes me want to go read VanTil...

uuummmm, not the diaper stuff, though, the other stuff...

BTW, Buggy, I have it on good authority that a woman named Margie who lives in Florida is the hottest woman on the planet...ever...except for maybe Eve, I guess....

thelyamhound said...

I guess I'm speaking more broadly; Christianity is largely credited with "defeating" the Roman Empire (though one might certainly imagine the Empire defeated itself). Many of the histories that point to the man portrayed as Christ in the Bible focus on various dissidents. Yes, the primary "rebellion" was a theological one, but it has been speculated that this internal "heresy" was undertaken with the goal of creating a more effective resistance. I can neither prove nor disprove this . . . and neither can you, since your primary source is a book I've already stated I accept primarily as a symbolic document.

Paul supported a dissident, whether the dissidence in question was against the political machinery of Rome or the theological machinery of the Pharisees.
He suffered persecution for the support of a man. You'll find that I said nothing to the contrary. If I believe Christ to be a political dissident, it's because what little secular evidence that the man of whom we speak actually existed points to someone considered a threat to civic order. Whether that's because he spoke directly of overthrowing the Romans or because he made monotheism a greater threat by returning to a profound asceticism is fairly immaterial to a non-Christian.

We're talking about Paul because Matt felt Paul's fervency offered evidence of Christ's divinity. But Paul had something to gain, ideologically, from the assertion of Christ's divinity, whether it was reform within the Jewish community or subversion of the Romans (and I maintain it was both, or that either one could easily be seen as a necessary function or result of the other). One can easily observe that even the most outlandish movements have their martyrs. Even without questioning how Paul's sacrifice for Christ is measurably different from, say, Nichiren Daishonin's sacrifice for his "heresy" against orthodox Buddhism, I think we can safely say that Paul's advocacy doesn't require Christ's divinity for explanation.

But then, I've never been one to argue either that Paul didn't believe Christ was divine; indeed, I hesitate to say I even have anything invested in the notion that Christ was not divine. I have a different relationship than a Christian with the concept of divinity.

I was marginally familiar with the Bible (in excerpt) through my Catholic upbringing, and I've explored a lot of it piecemeal in the meantime. I'm not a Biblical scholar, and being as I'm not a Christian, I haven't even really cultivated more than a passing familiarity. I find it interesting that you both seem to take such pleasure in "stumping" me on a book on which I claim no expertise and which I believe to be only one of many ostensibly "revealed" texts. Presumably you aren't overly familiar with the teachings of Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra or the history of Buddhism. And I wouldn't expect you to be, since it doesn't sit at the heart of your belief system OR in the canon of secular knowledge. Should I hope for more expertise? Should I expect you to have familiarized yourself with these texts before I accept your rejection of Buddhism as "valid"? Should we check your familiarity with Giordano Bruno, Albert Camus, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Darwin, and Carl Jung?

Bugblaster: They [the Romans] just wanted to keep order in the streets.

Was the disorder a coincedence, an unintentional side-effect? Or might it have been the expected outcome? I don't know the answer; it just makes for interesting speculation.

Bugblaster: Several times, Paul had to haul out his laser encoded Roman citizenship card to get him out of trouble. This doesn't sound like a subversive.

I wouldn't say that. Some of the most impressive anti-government art of the last century was funded by the governments being criticized. Still, I've already said--even though I believe the ultimate target might well have been the Romans--that even theological subversion of the Pharisees is likely to cause unrest.

Bugblaster: In the latter part of Paul's ministry his teachings were attracting the attention of the Romans directly. But the main reason then was that the Christians were an exclusivist bunch, and their monotheism was offensive.

Um . . . have I not said exactly that, more than once, in the course of this discussion?

Bugblaster: So, saying that they were primarily or by intent political subversives is a nice deconstruction and reconstruction of Paul (and the Christ) that he worshipped, but it is without ground.

It is without Biblical ground. An important distinction. And again, whether they were theological or political subversives is immaterial to my point.

Bugblaster: I'm not trying to be flippant hound

That congragulations on your accidental success in that endeavour.

Bugblaster: . . . but you've really got no firm ground to stand on as you recast the story, ministry and mission of Paul to suit your notion of him as a political subversive.

Church orthodoxy is a political body; my cast of Paul and his story isn't without support even if I were to grant you (and I don't) that he had no interest in the state of the Empire.

Bugblaster: You will find over and over again the message of one way to salvation, salvation by grace through faith, the certainty that all have sinned and deserve death, the necessity and accomplished substitutionary sacrifice by Christ to atone for sin, the surety of the existence of a physical Jesus Messiah a literal resurrection from the dead, and practical Christian living that displays fruits of the spirit.

And NONE of that is political? Beg to differ . . .

BugBlaster: The Gospels, Matthew for example, show that one of the main reasons that Jesus was rejected by his countryfolk is that he did not want to lead an insurrection. In fact he shunned the whole idea. They tried to make him king by force, and he ran away.

Sounds a lot like Ghandi. Do you deny HE was a political figure?

Bugblaster: This telling of a man who did not try to lead an uprising and who told his followers to pay their Roman taxes is the account that this so-called grassroots uprising perpetuated. Doesn't sound like it supports your notion that this was a movement that was aiming at overthrowing the pagan Romans.

Theologically, the austerity of early Christianity could be seen as an affront to pagan decadence; ergo, the theological is the political. More importantly, what we know of the history of the time indicates that the Romans largely allowed the Jews to regulate themselves (within reason). Anyone who upset the rule of the Pharisees was, be extension, a threat to civic order.

Bugblaster: There is no thought whatsoever of political overthrow of pagan Roman rule in any of the books of the New Testament

. . . which I do not consider a valid historical resource.

Bugblaster: In the middle of the second century Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity, and noted that its adherents were good law-abiding Romans.

"Subversion", by definition, often brings about change through essential obedience.

Bugblaster: So, can't agree with you at all that there is even a hint that the message of Jesus or that early Christianity had a political genesis or political aims.

That's because, like a good absolutist, you reject the essential political nature of that which appears apolitical on the surface. Again, this is a battle of perspective, not of "correct understanding".

BugBlaster: hound and Simon, I have a dumb question for each of you . . .
What is truth?


I don't presume to know what big-T Truth is, though I feel I can recognize signs which point thereto. I see little "truths" around me all the time.

I'm not sure what you're looking for here. Truth as expressed in the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Daishonin is that we all possess the seeds of enlightenment, an inner "Buddha nature" waiting to be awakened; that we possess all potential states of being in ourselves, but are generally ruled by one or more of them primarily, and can lead with ANY of them at any given time; that all acts, any failure to act, any will germinating in the self creates karma which will have to be balanced in this life or another. The truth as expressed by Bruno is that all pieces of the universe are interconnected, and that God is collective experience of all things, the "inner principle of all movement"; that "diversity is the face of an underlying unity"; that, again, "karmic" principle applies so that every act, in this life or the next, brings appropriate retribution. The truth as expressed in Camus is that existence precedes essence; that existence is absurdity; that the mechanism and cure for this absurdity is choice, action, the self as the vessel acting upon other existent phenomena. In a sense, I believe all of these things are true, that their totality is a truth and a window to the Truth.

I'm trying to type as many words as thelyamhound does in one of his comments.

I'm more entertaining. But then, I'm an entertainer by trade. :^)

If you're going to make claims about historical evidence, I want to know where I can go and look it up. And I don't mean a book written by a contemporary historian or documentary, I mean actual historical evidence that I can examine for myself.
If you don't have it - don't make claims you can't back up.


Erm . . . OK. If a historian isn't a useful source, then I'm not sure what might be. But for our purposes, there's not really anything to be gained from agreeing on there having been a historical Christ. With your leave, my apparently very cranky friend, I will continue to speak to the Christians as though their saviour has some basis in an actual man. Agreed?

Simon: So when I get angry, I acting god-like?

I'd say you're exhibiting a characteristic inherited from God . . . on the terms laid out in my explanation. Lest you forget, I don't believe in an anthropomorphic God myself. But if I did, it seems intuitively sensible to imagine that even our worst characteristics are a distorted reflection of a Godly impulse.

It's clear that we're reaching something of a final impasse. One can't argue the necessarily subjective tenets of faith, gnosis, and sybolism with a strict rationalist any more than one can argue truth from a non-Christian perspective with Christians.

BugBlaster said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BugBlaster said...

Hehe, we all always knew that we were going to come to an impasse. But I don't think we're there yet. I have a couple bones to pick with you hound, but they will mostly have to wait until tonight.

I will respond now to the charge that we take pleasure in "stumping you" on the Bible. We're not taking pleasure, and we're not doing high fives; there would be no point to that.

Here is why we are pressing you on what the Bible does or doesn't say.

We are not making any statements about Buddhism, because for my part I don't know much about it.

By contrast, you are making statements about the individuals in the Bible, about the Bible itself, about the meaning of the Bible, about the transmission of the Bible, about the symbolism of the Bible, and so on.

But it seems clear to this guy that knows the Bible pretty well that you don't know much about a good part of the Bible.

You speculate that Paul wanted the Roman Empire to come down, and that that was one of his principle motivators, yet not a single letter of Paul, nor a single account of Paul's life by eyewitnesses to his life give any such indication. In fact Paul speaks of respect for those in authority, and of praying for wisdom for them.

When I asked you where we can find Jesus' multiple statements about liberating the Israelites from pagen rule, it was because I don't ever recall reading such a statement in the Bible. So it looks like you're not on firm ground on the whole line of thought.

Yes you can speculate. And when your speculations appear groundless based on the most reliable evidence, then yes, we can call you on it. And we should, because that is making good conversation.

thelyamhound said...

Bugblaster: I have a couple bones to pick with you hound, but they will mostly have to wait until tonight.

Then pick 'em. But recognize that it's pointless to quiz me on your theology.

Here is why we are pressing you on what the Bible does or doesn't say.
We are not making any statements about Buddhism, because for my part I don't know much about it.
By contrast, you are making statements about the individuals in the Bible, about the Bible itself, about the meaning of the Bible, about the transmission of the Bible, about the symbolism of the Bible, and so on.


Most of what you just said is FALSE. Matt asked ME to comment on how I would explain Paul's sacrifices for Christianity in light of my belief that Christ is no more divine than yours truly. Therefore, I was asked to comment on the Bible before making any strict assertions as to its content. Re-read the thread and tell me how and where you see otherwise.

Moreover, my statements regarding both the figures in the Bible and the symbolism of same are well documented in both secular histories and extra-Biblical work. I grant you that this is a filter through which I experience your text, but the distinction is arbitrary to someone who grants your text no special authority.

Maybe you don't comment directly on Buddhism, but you obviously reject its theology by accepting Christian theology, for all faith requires rejection of that which does not fit into the faith. My statements on the Bible's transmission, the relationship of canonical to apocryphal text, etc. are based on my layperson's understanding of the place of the Bible among numerous texts and a tangential knowledge of certain individual texts, canonical AND apocryphal, that relate to texts I've studied more directly.

But it seems clear to this guy that knows the Bible pretty well that you don't know much about a good part of the Bible.

The first true statement of your post. To which I will reply, "And . . . ?"

You speculate that Paul wanted the Roman Empire to come down, and that that was one of his principle motivators, yet not a single letter of Paul, nor a single account of Paul's life by eyewitnesses to his life give any such indication.
In fact Paul speaks of respect for those in authority, and of praying for wisdom for them.


This speculation doesn't begin with me; I borrowed liberally from various attempts to reconstruct the history of the time. And as I said above, I don't see "respect" for authority as being inherently mutually exclusive with a desire to see that authority end. And yet again, the importance of his dissidence isn't changed by the body against which he fights, whether it be Pharisees or Romans, in terms of the point I was making, which itself was only a response to Matt's facile assertion that Paul's fervor could be considered evidence of Christ's divinity, a matter you have yet to address (I suspect because it's the one piece of my argument you don't feel qualified to disredit).

Indeed, the REAL substance of my ENTIRE argument about Paul was here:

>>If we say, for argument's sake, that Paul either knew it wasn't true, or believed it to be true but truly felt he had no way of verifying it--which, by the way, is NOT my assertion--it's still not much of a stretch to imagine that he knew there was no way of verifying it was UNTRUE (for, as we've said, reason and observation neither prove nor disprove any abstract, ontological argument for the existence of God). The "risk", therefore, would be less than you seem to imagine. Moreover, continuing with the same assumption, the benefit of maintaining a multi-generational hegemony based on the purported Word of God would outweight this meager risk. Even atheists see benefit in leaving an ideological legacy, after all; the will-to-martyrdom is hardly exclusive to the theistic construct.
It's more interesting for me, though, to imagine (since I've no way of knowing) that he DID believe it, that he had a divine experience, a revelation, and that he spoke from a place of conviction. The question then becomes this: Does this conviction "prove" that the truth he believed in was/is TRUE in an objective sense? And if so, how do explain the convictions of others that stand in opposition? How do we explain the Hindu and Buddhist martyrs; how do we explain the suicide bomber, the jihadist?
I'm not trying to create a moral equivalency between the fundamentalist Christian and the radical Islamist, so please don't get defensive at the comparison. But it seems to me that to believe in any one religion, you have to be able to dismiss the others, to find the reasoning that makes one more likely than the other. The convictions of the apostles, or of Paul, seems a pretty shaky foundation, for all religion has examples of fervent belief, martyrdom, sacrifice and declarations of absolute truth.<<

Not ONE WORD of that drew a response from either of you. Why? My guess is because, while you could certainly disagree on principle or intuition, you had no hook to discredit the notion. By pulling me from the dialectical, where I excel, to the "historical" and Biblical, where I've already admitted I'm on shakier ground, you asked me to speculate on details that don't really matter to me when I'd already answered the question beyond any easy refutation.

This whole subthread is, in fact, a frivolous diversion; even granting my "ignorance" of the Bible, I've more than amply demonstrated that Paul's fervor only proves that Paul was fervent. There are many more interesting points worth addressing in this thread: about the nature of divinity; about my journey from Catholicism, through agnosticism, atheism, nihilism, and existentialism to arrive at an understanding of Buddhism through pantheism; about Truth; about what I perceive to be Matt's misunderstanding of the Gnostic Gospels; the veracity--as measured by the empirical sciences--of other religious texts; the efficacy, when speaking to or of non-Christians, of using the Bible as proof of its own veracity; and so on and so forth. But we've now spent more than half this thread proving what I admitted, like, 30 posts ago: that I'm not a Biblical scholar, that much of what I believe and know about those portions of the Bible I haven't read is based on extra-Biblical resource, and that I haven't exactly memorized the portions I HAVE read (being as my life is pretty much spent memorizing lines, reviewing music, learning new martial arts pieces, reading philosophy, critiquing cinema, and seeking tenets in which I am willing to place my faith by reading the religious texts I find compelling . . . and now, having found such tenets, studying the textual basis of my current religion). Frankly, it seems to me that you're less interested in engaging me as a Buddhist and a pantheist than you are
in engaging me as a non-Christian, and therefore subject to your convenient pre-judgment of me as one who suppresses truth (as opposed to one who has sought truth ernestly and has determined that it lies elsewhere).

When I asked you where we can find Jesus' multiple statements about liberating the Israelites from pagen rule, it was because I don't ever recall reading such a statement in the Bible. So it looks like you're not on firm ground on the whole line of thought.

Jesus's disdain for the Romans was clear; whether this disdain translates to insurgency is a matter of speculation. As I don't subscribe to the belief that the Bible is a historical document, I'm not obligated to limit my speculations to what can be corroborated by said text.

Yes you can speculate. And when your speculations appear groundless based on the most reliable evidence, then yes, we can call you on it.

And I reject the notion that the Bible is the most reliable evidence.

Up until yesterday, I might have agreed that this made for good conversation. But I feel like I'm spending a lot of time talking about your document now. If you want to challenge me on points of my own belief, fine. But if I'm going to be asked continuously to take positions on your figures and your text, I'd like to END that line of inquiry by summing it up: I believe there is both fact and fiction in the Bible, and my belief is supported by numerous extra-Biblical texts. I believe the same can be said for all religious doctrine. The essential moral and cosmological assertions of the Bible--the one piece of the puzzle explored ad nauseum back in confirmation class--strikes me as largely positive, but also advances what I consider to be problematic, and occasionally unconscionable, tenets. I intend to learn more about the Bible, if only to have a better grasp on its influence over Western culture, but will likely only ever engage it as a symbolic text. My opinion is that all religious movements implicitly threaten the state; this is largely bourne of a mistrust of state, an institution that I see as a necessary evil (though not without potential for good). I don't think I need to know the Bible intimately to discuss its symbolism or its major players, because the text and characters are already woven into the fabric of our Constitution, our literary canon, our cultural hegemony and our understanding of any and all non-Christian doctrine. If I seemed to be claiming expertise on the Bible, you obviously missed many earlier statements in which I made it clear that I am not.

So without a major shift of direction, we have reached our final impasse, because the only things on which I'm being asked to comment are those on which I've already admitted to having no expertise.

Gummby said...

So without a major shift of direction, we have reached our final impasse...

Hound: If we've reached an impasse, I would suggest that part of it comes from your approach to verifiability of truth. But if truth is as unverifiable as you seem to think it is, we might as well all go home, because there is no way to prove anything. Truth is more concrete than that.

Jesus's disdain for the Romans was clear; whether this disdain translates to insurgency is a matter of speculation. As I don't subscribe to the belief that the Bible is a historical document, I'm not obligated to limit my speculations to what can be corroborated by said text.

So what is your basis for the claim that Jesus disdained the Romans? Or is that the key of "not limiting yourself to any text"--you don't have to be bound by any actual events, preferring to speculate about all sorts of things which may or may not have happened?

Even if you don't think the Bible is reliable, there should still be some explanation for the historical events. Otherwise, you're reduced to not believing the Bible, not on the basis of a better explanation for those events, but merely because of your perception that it is unreliable. But what is that perception based on, if there is no evidence? Just your own opinion.

None of this requires you (or you, Simon) to accept that Jesus was God, or performed miracles, or whatever. But if he wasn't, if he didn't rise from the dead, then you need to explain where his disciples courage came from, why his followers were willing to suffer & die, what made Paul quit killing Christians, etc. You owe it to yourself to think through these things, because (as you've stated already) you've staked your eternal soul on the outcome.

And, as a Gnostic, you've tried to lay claim to parts of the Bible that you think fit with your belief; certainly, then, there is some common ground for discussion.

For my own part, I'd like an opportunity to compare (at least a bit) what you believe with what is in the Bible, particularly with regard to Jesus' claims of exclusivity (such as "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me"), and whether we can square that with your beliefs.

But, if you would rather not, then Godspeed, and know that we will praying for you.

Gummby said...

Frankly, it seems to me that you're less interested in engaging me as a Buddhist and a pantheist than you are
in engaging me as a non-Christian, and therefore subject to your convenient pre-judgment of me as one who suppresses truth (as opposed to one who has sought truth ernestly and has determined that it lies elsewhere).


I've been thinking about this, and about your question to me about being mistaken in the notion that I'm dead in my sin. Before you leave, I hope you'll give me a bit of time to formulate a response that includes these two things.

thelyamhound said...

Matt: If truth is as unverifiable as you seem to think it is, we might as well all go home, because there is no way to prove anything. Truth is more concrete than that.

I'd agree that truth is absolute, in that it's not dependent on belief. I'd quibble with the word concrete; it's clearly not empirical, since, when speaking of theological truth, there's no measurable, material evidence pointing towards any one conception of truth.

Matt: So what is your basis for the claim that Jesus disdained the Romans?

If ever I post from home, where there's a Bible, I may try to find some passages. I doubt that'll happen anytime soon, and I doubt it'll satisfy, in any event. As an actor, I tend to read for intentionality; to the non-actor, it's likely to appear that I'm "reading intent into" someone else's words.

Or is that the key of "not limiting yourself to any text"--you don't have to be bound by any actual events, preferring to speculate about all sorts of things which may or may not have happened?

I have to be bound by actual events if those events can be determined; where there's reasonable disagreement, I try to balance my sources. Where preternatural events are concerned--events that can't be empirically verified, in a history inadequately documented--I go on faith.

And yet still, we're talking about why I don't believe in the Bible, not why you don't believe in the Lotus Sutra or the writings of Giordano Bruno. The Christian moderator skews an argument--an argument in which I have heretofore been concessionary and polite--in favor of Christianity, wherein my ignorance of your text becomes proof that I simply don't "know enough", while your ignorance of mine does not equal proof of the opposite.

Even if you don't think the Bible is reliable, there should still be some explanation for the historical events. Otherwise, you're reduced to not believing the Bible, not on the basis of a better explanation for those events, but merely because of your perception that it is unreliable. But what is that perception based on, if there is no evidence? Just your own opinion.

No. Given multiple sources, my "opinion" comes into play only in discerning which sources are more reliable, which explanations (where one can be offered) are more plausible, which "evidence" appears more empirically verifiable, and what I can intuit about what it all means. I'm not making things up out of whole cloth.

But if he wasn't, if he didn't rise from the dead, then you need to explain where his disciples courage came from, why his followers were willing to suffer & die, what made Paul quit killing Christians, etc. You owe it to yourself to think through these things, because (as you've stated already) you've staked your eternal soul on the outcome.

And you should be required to explain why suicide bombers kill themselves and innocent bystanders for Allah, why Nichiren Daishonin was executed for his challenge to Buddhist orthodoxy, why people have martyrd themselves for everything from UFOs to fascism. If courage, fervor, suffering and martyrdom are "proofs" of anything, we must offer all instances thereof equal weight. After all, we're all staking our eternal souls on it.

And, as a Gnostic, you've tried to lay claim to parts of the Bible that you think fit with your belief; certainly, then, there is some common ground for discussion.

There are certain tenets of Christianity that fit, yes, but my knowledge of the text doesn't really qualify me to cite any sources. But we haven't touched on how we apply tenets in the world, or what specifically strikes me as problematic about Christian theology that's resolved, for me, in other belief systems.

For my own part, I'd like an opportunity to compare (at least a bit) what you believe with what is in the Bible, particularly with regard to Jesus' claims of exclusivity (such as "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me"), and whether we can square that with your beliefs.

I don't think we could square those; my beef remains that if Christ was the only way to reach communion with the divine, then the divine would be obligated either to offer spiritual gnosis to all equally, that they may discern truth for themselves and decide their relationships with it, or there should be empirical clues which show one version of the truth being more verifiable that other versions. This last point is important: much of history is difficult to verify absolutely, and religious text, in dealing with witnessed supernatural events, is even more so. So my concern has NEVER, EVER been with the singular, intrinsic verifiability of the Bible. What interests me is that, without any empirical evidence, I'm being asked to assume that your text is MORE verifiable than anyone else's, a matter you avoid by refusing to address any point I make that can't be related to your particular account of the truth.

Tell you what: If YOU can explain why people would martyr themselves to causes and beliefs other than Christianity, I'll try to speculate as to why Christ's followers would show similar devotion. If you can explain for me why you reject religions other than Christianity and the perceived truth of their revealed texts, I'll try to explain to greater satisfaction why I've rejected Christianity and the Bible. If we can talk about what I believe about matters other than my position on the historical veracity of the Bible or my guesses as to the motivations of its players and alleged authors, I'll gladly work to compare my moral and cosmological convictions with the directives set forth in your text, regardless of whether I believe it qualifies as accurate history. Otherwise, we're talking in circles.
But, if you would rather not, then Godspeed, and know that we will praying for you.

thelyamhound said...

Before you leave, I hope you'll give me a bit of time to formulate a response that includes these two things.

If there's one thing I've learned from many years of martial arts training, it's that you haven't lost 'til the ticker stops ticking. So even if I "leave" the debate, I'll surely check back regularly to see if anyone tossed in any cheeky rejoinders that require slapping down . . . or useful insights on which to meditate.

What's got me a little bothered right now is that the degree to which I've been burdened with displaying literacy in your theological history far exceeds the degree to which you've been burdened with displaying literacy in mine. Is this, then, truly a fair dialectical debate? At what point do we abandon historicity and verifiability, the second-guessing of the motivations of long-dead individuals, and start talking about what we believe about the human condition, the relationship between flesh and spirit, and the like? It seems no matter how hard I've tried to steer this conversation in the direction of ideas, we always come back to arguing over the determinability of facts. I've posed dozens, even HUNDREDS of questions, and you consistently answer only those questions that relate specifically to your Bible; even then, you answer my questions with more questions, often designed (it seems) to expose my ignorance of your text without getting to the matter of which texts I DO know, what my earthly experience has been, how I live my life, etc. It's downright non-responsive.

BugBlaster said...

hound, I hope you can appreciate that this has become a long sprawling thing, spread over at least two blogs and several posts. I apologize for missing some things you've said. The simple fact is that I don't have the time or capacity to keep up with everything, and I'm missing stuff.

Yet I want to engage you, and answer some questions, and ask some questions.

But seriously, at first you sounded like you had a thicker skin than this.

You are saying a lot of things. As you put it, you've asked dozens or hundreds of questions. They can't all be responded to. Of course you're not going to get all your questions answered, and you can't reasonably expect that. There is not enough time in the day. Of course we're going to answer the ones that jump out at us. What else would you expect?

I agree with Simon... (never thought I'd type those words!) We should try to keep this a little more focussed, or else everyone is going to come away thinking everyone else is unresponsive.

BugBlaster said...

thelyamhound, one specific grievance you have is that you are distressed that we are “picking” at the things you say. (my description)

Here is a statement you made early on:
I would imagine that, even to a Christian, one can assume something arguendo without threatening true belief to the contrary.

I told you from the beginning that I believe Christianity is the only way. Yes, I can and will assume some things arguendo, but not to the extent that you want me to.

For example, you recently said this: Jesus's disdain for the Romans was clear;

That’s a pretty strong statement. You sound like you think you’re stating a well supported fact. Well, no it wasn’t clear. It’s not a well supported fact. The Bible doesn’t make his disdain for the Romans clear (actually it implies quite the opposite). No other sources that I’m aware of make this clear either.

When you say he clearly had disdain for the Romans, you’re not asking me to assume it arguendo. You’re asking me to concede it as fact. Accepting as fact that Jesus clearly had disdain for the Romans when it is merely raw speculation (whether or not you were the first speculator was) is not something I’m willing to do. Sorry.

Yes, I’m willing to assume things arguendo, but not when you lay out what I believe to be falsehoods as if they were clear fact, almost as if you consider them to be dogma. If I leave these unchallenged then I’m not doing justice to what I believe, and I’m not doing justice to you, who are I think seeking a good discussion.

BugBlaster said...

And to plead the high ground some more hound, when I asked you what is truth, I was asking a real question about what you believe, not about the Bible.

And you did answer in the same spirit, thank you.

But (and I hope this makes you chuckle instead of bristle) I understood almost not a whit of what you said.

Is there any way you can boil it down to eight or ten lines instead of eighteen, and in language that an uncreative exclusivist Christian might better comprehend?

And a supplemental question: what is the opposite of truth? is it falsehood? or does falsehood even carry a meaning to a postmodernist, oops I mean a Buddhist.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, what is truth, in your opinion?

BugBlaster said...

See ya guys, I'm out of blogland until Monday or Tuesday.

Simon said...

Hound: I'm an entertainer by trade.

Me too. But I was always told 'less if frequently more'. ;)

Erm . . . OK. If a historian isn't a useful source, then I'm not sure what might be

Well, a contemporary historian is working with the available evidence. Better we work with that too, or we're just adding one more persons opinion to the mix - a commodity of which we are not in short supply.

You have to remember atheists are in short supply. At least, we're outnumbered. So when we hear "most historians believe..." the chances are those historians are wearing Christian coloured glasses.

Because even Muslim & Buddhist historians are likely to want to believe Jesus was a real person, even if their bias denies him messiah-hood.

Paul's fervor only proves that Paul was fervent.

I second that motion.

And I reject the notion that the Bible is the most reliable evidence.

Me too.

Matt: need to explain where his disciples courage came from, why his followers were willing to suffer & die.

Matt, please be good.

How many times have both me and Hound stated our case to show this means nothing other than those people were prepared for their beliefs - thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gone to their death for their belief.

Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Christians, Communists, atheists (yes, even god-deniers have died for their beliefs!) cult members of varying types.

I turn the question back at you and ask you please - do not avoid it or this conversation worthless.

What gave the Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan etc etc martyrs courage? Why were they willing to suffer and die?

The fact that you seem so blinkered on a phenomenon that is continuing to this day (except Christians aren't the ones dying for their beliefs these days) shows that your mind-set is completely biased and incapable of seeing out of your Christian-bubble.

It shows that your mind is, at this moment, incapable of reasoned debate. That people have and continue to die for their faith - regardless of what they believe - is a fact that is looking you in the eyes and demanding you take notice. Instead, you deliberately look the way.

Why?

You want to know what truth is - the truth is: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and various other crackpot cults, even atheists, hold their beliefs just as strongly as Christians hold theirs.

Why?

Simon said...

Hound: The Christian moderator skews an argument--an argument in which I have heretofore been concessionary and polite--in favor of Christianity, wherein my ignorance of your text becomes proof that I simply don't "know enough", while your ignorance of mine does not equal proof of the opposite.

Too right.

I'm constantly told to read this or that part of the scripture. When I recommend a few links to evolution evidence - total silence, from both Bug and Matt.

Blinkered.

Simon said...

Bug: That’s a pretty strong statement. You sound like you think you’re stating a well supported fact.

Is that the pot, I hear, calling the kettle "black".

BugBlaster said...

Is that the pot, I hear, calling the kettle "black".

Of course! :)

It's not an insult for me to be accused of dogma. And I don't mean it as an insult for the hound, but on his insistence of overt politicality of Jesus mission and motivation he is coming across as dogmatic.

BugBlaster said...

Regarding the blinkering Simon, be careful that you're not a pot calling the kettle black.

Will get to your evolution links, honest. But I will be out of town and not plugged in for a couple days.

Remember, Galatians 5 tells us that patience is a virtue!

Simon said...

...be careful that you're not a pot calling the kettle black.

I am being very careful. That's why I read those texts you suggested.

I'll be waiting patiently...

thelyamhound said...

Before I read any of the responses posted after 5:00pm (Pacific Time) last evening, I'd like to say that while I don't retract any of what I said in yesterday's posts, I'll certainly apologize for my tone. This isn't an open forum; it's Matt's blog, and I'm a guest here. The subject of discussion is what you wish to make it, not what I would prefer it to be. So I'm sorry for throwing down.

Given that, I'll do my best to respond to the substance of the posts, to whatever degree I can comment thereon, and not the tone, which may well be hostile given my own confrontational sensibility yesterday.

I'll get back to y'all when I've had a chance to read.

thelyamhound said...

The reason I address so many picayune points is that I tend to pre-empt what I see as points of argument by building my counterargument into the original statement, just to save time (paradoxically, it seems to cost time, since EVERYONE here has attacked me with a counterargument I already refute in the original statement--I blame skimming--and I end up restating anyway). This is a character flaw, of course--were I more secure in my wisdom, I'd see little need to prove it so incontrovertibly. You Christians have a built in mechanism for that, what with the whole, "fool the wise" thing that keeps coming up; I have to justify everything I say because I've no platitudes to protect me (granting that there may be some I haven't found yet, since I'm still new to the Lotus Sutra; and Taoism does have its reverence for the "uncarved block"). Eventually, I imagine I'll be sure enough of my knowledge and/or wisdom that the assumption of my ignorance on the part of a coupla Christians online won't bother me. We're not gonna fix that today, however, so we're just going to have to accept some sprawl.

What I'd recommend, though, is that you go back and see how much of my verbiage is wasted re-posing questions that were ignored for several posts in favor of arguing points on which I'd already admitted ignorance. Did it occur to you, ever, that this discussion might just have well been narrowed by YOUR focusing on the substance of my assertion, rather than on its tangential brushes with your theology?

Bugblaster: I agree with Simon... (never thought I'd type those words!) We should try to keep this a little more focussed, or else everyone is going to come away thinking everyone else is unresponsive.

Then tell me what to focus on. If this is all going to boil down to discussion of the Bible itself, I'll know we've left my area of interest.

Bugblaster: thelyamhound, one specific grievance you have is that you are distressed that we are “picking” at the things you say. (my description)

My specific grievance is that you're "picking" at my secular understanding of early Christian history and my ignorance of your theology, while steadfastly avoiding ANY engagement with the founding documents or historical evidence regarding my own. To put it another way, I believe I'm being held to a higher rhetorical standard than that to which you're holding yourselves. I can see why one may wish to do that, given my rhetorical fortitude ;^) . . . but it hardly seems fair.

Bugblaster: For example, you recently said this: Jesus's disdain for the Romans was clear;
That’s a pretty strong statement. You sound like you think you’re stating a well supported fact. Well, no it wasn’t clear. It’s not a well supported fact. The Bible doesn’t make his disdain for the Romans clear (actually it implies quite the opposite). No other sources that I’m aware of make this clear either.


That's because your sources are likely Christian. Which is fine; I made the statement because, out here in the world where the Bible is considered a symbolic document that, at best, vaguely sketches events that actually occurred, the conventional wisdom is that Christ began a long process that resulted in the internal dissolution of the Roman Empire. A fair number of Christians believe this as well. So, to be fair, I was taken aback at the vehemence with which you rejected something that seems, from where I sit, to have been accepted by nearly everyone aside from Biblical literalists.

Also, having noted that I read all texts for character and intention--being an actor--the context of such statements as, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," strikes me as implicitly subversive. And Ghandi was well known for speaking respectfully to and of British authority, yet no one challenges the notion that he wanted to see colonialism end.

None of this makes my reading of the Bible and/or contradictory data on its history "fact", but then, no empirical evidence indicates that the Bible is fact either. I figured since we were trading in things unproven . . .

Tell you what: for the sake of any further conversation (though I don't intend to discuss Jesus for another moment), I will assume--arguendo :^)--that Christ didn't give two foamy spitballs about Roman rule. Fair enough?

Bugblaster: Accepting as fact that Jesus clearly had disdain for the Romans when it is merely raw speculation (whether or not you were the first speculator was) is not something I’m willing to do.

Fair enough . . .except I wonder: do you consider ANY account of the history of this time that contradicts your understanding of what every non-Christian believes to be a symbolic text to be "raw speculation"?

BugBlaster: But (and I hope this makes you chuckle instead of bristle) I understood almost not a whit of what you said.

It makes me do a bit of both, really. I've gone back over it, and don't really see what's so unclear. It gets annoying having to dumb myself down for everyone. But I'll see what I can do.

Bugblaster: Is there any way you can boil it down to eight or ten lines instead of eighteen, and in language that an uncreative exclusivist Christian might better comprehend?

Here's why I don't know if that's possible: Christianity has the advantage of duality (good/evil; flesh/spirit; earthly/heavenly; God/everything else) and clear directive (no one shall come unto the Father but through me; thou shalt have no other God before me). Systems like Buddhism that seeks to undermine dualistic thinking, like pantheism that seeks to expose as illusory the boundaries between all object and intention, or like existentialism that posits both that action is arbitrary AND that action is the engine that drives one to become . . . these systems are inherently resistant to simplification, though their final prescriptions are clear and straighforward.

So the best I could do is c&p my first answer and edit it for length. Hopefully that will at least help you isolate what you don't understand, so that I may clarify.

>>I believe that we possess all potential states of being in ourselves, INCLUDING enlightenment, but are generally ruled by one or more of these states primarily, and can lead with ANY of them at any given time. I believe that all acts (term applied broadly) create karma which will have to be balanced in this life or another. I believe that all pieces of the universe are interconnected, and that God is the "inner principle of all movement"; that "diversity is the face of an underlying unity", this unity being how I would define or identify God. I believe that existence precedes essence; that existence is absurdity because all action leads to death; that the enlightened reaction to this absurdity is choice and action, use of the self as the vessel acting upon other existent phenomena . . . and faith that death leads to reconfiguration and rebirth.<<

Supplement (and I hope this is clear): That which is empirically provable and factual is "true", but not necessarily "truth"; fact is a component of truth, but only one, since so much of what is true is unobservable.

And a supplemental question: what is the opposite of truth? is it falsehood? or does falsehood even carry a meaning to a postmodernist, oops I mean a Buddhist.

I'd say falsehood is probably an acceptable term for the opposite of truth; I like the ring of "slander" a little better, but then, I like words that hurt a little. My only objection is that "falsehood" can't really be fairly determined in those cases where the truth isn't empirically observable. If the truth is that I've never slept with Juliette Binoche (sadly, this is true), then the opposite of that truth would be a falsehood, the statement that I HAD done so (I wouldn't call it slander, since I got a better deal in the lie than in the truth, but she might have a bone to pick). Can this really apply to unseeable truths, though? If we assume, for the sake of argument, that Christ IS the Messiah, and I say he's not, am I stating a falsehood, or simply making an error?

To expand on that last idea . . . it seems to me that when we're talking about Big "T" TRUTH, it HAS no opposite, for nothing exists outside of it.

Hound: >>I'm an entertainer by trade.<<

Simon: Me too. But I was always told 'less if frequently more'. ;)

Sure. I enjoy my minimalists--Jarmusch, Kitano, Ozu, Jean-Pierre Melville. Of course, I also like my Gilliam, Kusturica, Blake, Julian Cope, and Faulkner, all of whom clearly ignore that dictum. I always associate that dictum with Hemingway, whose work I've never liked (in point of fact, I consider him something of a stain on the history of the English language). I'm more of a hypotaxis man than a parataxis man . . .

That said, of course I could afford to pare down, if only so my work can be appreciated outside of the headier circles in which I travel. See above, however, as to why I don't in a forum such as this.

BugBlaster: I don't mean it as an insult for the hound, but on his insistence of overt politicality of Jesus mission and motivation he is coming across as dogmatic.

Fair enough.

Gummby said...

How many times have both me and Hound stated our case to show this means nothing other than those people were prepared for their beliefs - thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gone to their death for their belief.

Again you've missed my point, and again I'll take the blame. My point in asking about his disciples was not to make the case that martyrdom = truth. My question, if you'll look at it again, has to do with his disciples. Lest I create further misunderstanding, I'm talking about the 12 guys (minus Judas) who scattered when he was crucified. Guys like Peter, who denied him three times; guys who had gone back to the sea to fish when Jesus appeared.

I'm not talking about all the people throughout history who have died for something (whether true or false) because they believed it. I'm talking about a set group of people who didn't believe something, and then did a complete 180 turn: the 11 disciples; Jesus' brothers, who thought he was nuts, then later became a part of the church; Paul, who before his conversion was killing these Christians. And I'm saying that something happened--I believe it was Jesus coming back from the dead--and I'm asking you to consider that if it wasn't Jesus' resurrection, you should consider what the most likely (or to your mind, better) alternative explanation is.

The fact that you seem so blinkered on a phenomenon that is continuing to this day (except Christians aren't the ones dying for their beliefs these days) shows that your mind-set is completely biased and incapable of seeing out of your Christian-bubble.

That's completely untrue, Simon. Christians aren't being martyred in England or in America, but persecution of Christians continues to this day in Muslim countries, in China, and other places. Christians are still being killed for their faith.

I'm constantly told to read this or that part of the scripture. When I recommend a few links to evolution evidence - total silence, from both Bug and Matt.

Blinkered.


Again, do you really want to go there? I mentioned the book of Romans; you gave me 6 websites with multiple pages. Unless you want to start taking turns carpet bombing each other with various tomes supporting our position (on a related note, I noticed that Yale is putting out volume 25 of the complete works of Jonathan Edwards in Jan 2007), let's show a modicum of patience and restraint on the sarcasm.

Besides, some of that stuff you gave me makes me as sleepy as the book of Numbers--BORING. Don't you have the one you use to indoctrinate all the kiddies?

But I will grant you this--I don't think creationism will ever overtake evolution as the dominant theory. Nor do I think it needs to. In order to get a theory accepted by the scientific community, it will have to be dumbed down to the point that it doesn't point to the Genesis account. So unless they teach Genesis 1, it really doesn't matter to me what the dominant theory is.

That said, I think evolution (as Darwin envisioned it) is the perfect foundation for racism & sexism, though these days only religious types are accused of such things. It also makes it so much easier to be pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, and any number of other things that deny man being made in the image of God; if many comes from monkeys, or from some single-celled organism, he's just a fluke of nature, and no more deserving of life than any other animal. If he is created in the image of God, as the Bible affirms, then the lives of all men have inherent worth, in a way that evolution will never affirm.

Finally, I'll be perfectly upfront with you and say that it comes down to sources. We're both appealing to experts, of a kind: you're appealing to well-educated men, and we are appealing to God. Ultimately, there is a good chance we won't get anywhere, because you don't accept the testimony of Scripture, and I will reject unbiblical conclusions drawn from empirical data.

I have no problem being "unscientific," if that means that I'm willing to accept the testimony of the One who was there over scientists who are making "powerful inferences from many observations," to quote one of your websites. At the end of the day, since no human was there, no one can speak for certain about the origins of the universe based on purely empirical evidence; my faith is in God, and yours is in the human ability to eventually understand the all the mysteries of the universe.

I'll unashamedly stick with mine.

I think a quote from Job is appropriate here:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

(Job 38:1-7, ESV)

Stine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thelyamhound said...

I'm talking about a set group of people who didn't believe something, and then did a complete 180 turn: the 11 disciples; Jesus' brothers, who thought he was nuts, then later became a part of the church; Paul, who before his conversion was killing these Christians. And I'm saying that something happened--I believe it was Jesus coming back from the dead--and I'm asking you to consider that if it wasn't Jesus' resurrection, you should consider what the most likely (or to your mind, better) alternative explanation is.

I'm not sure that changes the terms of the question. Shakyamuni was a Hindu, after all; nearly all believers, in any faith, began as unbelievers, and came to a place of faith by way of a miraculous act or a deep-seated change of heart that bears all the hallmarks of spiritual gnosis.

Simon said...

Matt, the top link on my blog goes to a simple explanation of evolution.

I'm asking you to consider that if it wasn't Jesus' resurrection, you should consider what the most likely (or to your mind, better) alternative explanation is.

Allowing that the story of those people is true for the moment - they came to believe in a god called Jesus to the point where they were prepared to die for it. Why they became to believe is another question - why do you believe, why does anyone believe?

I think its something to do with wanting to believe and being set-up to believe by your culture. Their minds had already been prepared - we're talking about peoples who believed that a solar eclipse was an evil spirit stealing the sun.

I saw a Derren Brown show where he (an ex-preacher) used mind-tricks to make people feel like they'd found god. The human brain is easily suggestible.

Simon said...

That said, I think evolution (as Darwin envisioned it) is the perfect foundation for racism & sexism

How so?

Ultimately, there is a good chance we won't get anywhere, because you don't accept the testimony of Scripture, and I will reject unbiblical conclusions drawn from empirical data.

Even if I was inclined, I'd then have to decide which scripture to accept - look how they conflict. Most wars have been fought over race or religion.

Don't you think you're being hypocritical picking choosing which part of empirical data you trust based only on how useful it is to you - you'll go to the doctor and take medicine designed by scientists using the same empirical testing technique you reject when the subject gets too close to your religious bone.

This doesn't sound like someone looking for the Truth.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, I'm too lazy to search; can you point me to the evolution links you referred to? Do you have a specific evolution question or assertion you would like to see discussed?

bug "trying to keep it focussed" blaster

BugBlaster said...

thelyamhound,
I will catch up when I can, but I won't skim; that got me into too much trouble before ;o).

Won't have anything coherent to say for a day or three.

BugBlaster said...

And maybe even then it won't be coherent.

Simon said...

Starting with a simple question - do you accept a literal interpretation of the Bible?

- Creation in 6 days
- Adam & Eve
- 6000 year old planet
- Noah's flood
- Gay execution
- etc

Gummby said...

Literal Bible? Yes.

They also executed murders, adulterers, blasphemers, and children that disrespected their parents.

Gummby said...

Don't you think you're being hypocritical picking choosing which part of empirical data you trust based only on how useful it is to you - you'll go to the doctor and take medicine designed by scientists using the same empirical testing technique you reject when the subject gets too close to your religious bone.

This doesn't sound like someone looking for the Truth.


We're all ruled by presuppositions. You think God doesn't exist, and the Bible is bunk. Hound thinks that Diety exists but it isn't the Bible's God, and that the truth of the Bible is figurative and transcendant. And I believe God is revealed by the Bible, and that the Bible is God's revealed truth.

Only one of us can be right, BTW.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, You may have some trouble believing this, but something came up on the way to the blog, so I just don't have the time or energy to answer you today. You can check the new at my wife's blog for details of my problem. I had to take the day off work and I'm in a pickle because I have too many things to do in too little time. More patience from you will be appreciated. It could be Saturday before I respond.

But I will respond.

see ya.

BugBlaster said...

the news at my wife's blog. the news

BugBlaster said...

Simon, this isn't as involved as I thought. Here are the short answers. I'll leave it to you to decide on the next not-as-simple question.

Starting with a simple question - do you accept a literal interpretation of the Bible?

Creation in 6 days
Yes

Adam & Eve
Yes

6000 year old planet
The Bible doesn't literally say 6000 years. I think it's a little older than 6000 years. Could be totally wrong though.

Noah's flood
Yes

Gay execution
Hmmm, what is the relation of this question to evolution? Oh, none you say? Well here's an answer anyways...
If you are referring to one of the many things that brought on capital punishment under the Mosaic Law, then yes, I accept a literal interpretation of the Bible that this was in fact one of the Mosaic Laws. I also accept the literal interpretation of Galatians and Romans that we are no longer under that Law. I also accept the literal interpretation of the Bible that homosexual acts are sins, as are extra-marital hetersexual acts, as are lying, gossiping, cheating, stealing, general self-centredness, etc. I also accept the literal interpretation of the Bible that sin results in death, both physical, and eternal.

etc
Sure, I accept a literal interpretaion of etc. You might want to be a little more specific...?

Simon said...

So you're living in a bit of a scientific fantasy land, then. That's ok.

I guess any serious consideration of your belief I might have had ends there.

BugBlaster said...

Aw come on Simon. We both know that any serious consideration you had of our belief ended long ago, if it ever existed in the first place. And you told me that the two main reasons you didn't seriously consider it were miracles and the "antiquated morality" of our God. (i.e. sin)

Even if we wow you by harmonizing a literal interpretation of the Bible with physical evidence, that won't do it for you, because there are a couple of pre-existing showstoppers for you. Especially the bit about sin. You know what the Bible says about sin, and you say nope.

Gummby said...

The last time I checked, Simon, people (even scientists) were still finite. Mortal. Limited.

A couple of hundred years ago, people thought flies came from meat, because they thought that explained the facts. Then they dug a little deeper, and found out it just wasn't so.

You want to make this about science vs. faith. But the problem is your faith is in science, and in man's ability to understand everything. Even if you could prove to me God doesn't exist, you're still faced with the problem that man is finite, and science will never be able to explain everything in the universe.

More to the point, you're dying, just like me, Buggy, and everyone else on the planet. Death will eventually get you, and you can't presume that you have 20 years, or even 20 minutes, before it does.

I urge you to rethink your decision to reject the only thing that stands between you and eternal punishment for your own sins. Bug & I don't know them, but you do, so you have some idea what you're in for. And God does, and He will hold you accountable for your rejection of Him.

Matt

Simon said...

If you're going to argue the universe was created in 6 days and we're alldecended from Adam & Eve, you may as well argue the earth is flat, too.

Are you suggesting science could be wrong about the earth being flat and that one day in the future we'll realise the spherical earth was an optical illusion?

thelyamhound said...

Gummby: The last time I checked, Simon, people (even scientists) were still finite. Mortal. Limited.

That's debatable, considering that both of our faiths postulate that the individual contains an eternal aspect, a spirit; but I'll agree that while we're here, we are limited. Then again, when it comes to science, so are the phenomena we observe.

Matt: A couple of hundred years ago, people thought flies came from meat, because they thought that explained the facts. Then they dug a little deeper, and found out it just wasn't so.

Not to speak for Simon, but I doubt even he'd contend that science is infallible. What he's suggesting is that empirical questions regarding the age of the earth and such are best answered by empirical means.

Matt: You want to make this about science vs. faith. But the problem is your faith is in science, and in man's ability to understand everything.

I, for one, have little faith in man's ability to understand everything. Oh, my theology postulates that man can find infinite wisdom and compassion after many lifetimes of pursuit, but even THAT man likely couldn't tell me how old the earth is. Indeed, he probably wouldn't be all that interested, since time itself is a construct when viewed from the perspective of the eternal.

That said, if I want to find out whether I have a broken bone, I go to a doctor and get an X-Ray. If I want to know how old a rock is--even the big rock I'm living on--I consult a geologist. If I want to know how life functions, I ask a biologist; if the way life functioned generations before me, I'm likely to study the work of paleontologists and anthropologists. They may not always be right, but at least I know they've weighed the empirical evidence, that they've engaged the material world on material terms and made the best guesses available.

This doesn't, of course, mean that the Bible is wrong. But the only terms by which we could assume the earth is several thousand years old, rather than billions of years old, are Biblical.

To me, it's not about faith vs. empiricism. Faith and empiricism may occasionally perch over the same questions, but I see their purposes as being fundamentally different. No, my quibble is that, without gnosis, we need SOME test for determining which of the many possible paths for our faith is correct; the only mechanisms by which I can imagine one would do that are intuition (perhaps a gnosis-lite) and empiricism (whereby we compare the cosmology of any given religion to the scientific consensus).

Matt: Even if you could prove to me God doesn't exist, you're still faced with the problem that man is finite, and science will never be able to explain everything in the universe.

Agreed. But is it necessary to explain everything in the universe? By what reasoning--if not empirical--do you imagine that the gap in scientific knowledge points to or requires an anthropomorphic deity?

I urge you to rethink your decision to reject the only thing that stands between you and eternal punishment for your own sins. Bug & I don't know them, but you do, so you have some idea what you're in for. And God does, and He will hold you accountable for your rejection of Him.

Interesting. There was something said on Kim's blog last week (not by Kim, but by someone replying to a post re: predestination):

When I fully embraced the idea of predestination I was overcome that God would choose me. There is absolutely no room for pride in a reformed Christian! There is room for pride in an Armninian because they believe they participated in their salvation. They were drowning and grabbed the lifesaver thrown to them.

I asked over there, but received no answer: if you don't participate in your own salvation, how are you accountable for it? And if you're not accountable for your salvation, how are you accountable for your damnation?

Simon is clearly an empiricist; for him, most of these questions are best answered in the context of the observable. You and I both operate from a different stance. But once you've cut loose from empiricism, I have to wonder: by what virtue do you discern a "true" belief system from a "false" one? If your God is out there, doing what you say he does, through what channels was a man of my gifts expected to find Christianity a more convincing theology than Nichiren Buddhism?

Gummby said...

If you don't participate in your own salvation, how are you accountable for it? And if you're not accountable for your salvation, how are you accountable for your damnation?

Again, this comes back to a correct understanding of the nature of man. If man is inherently sinful, then he has much to do with his own damnation; he sins. But if, because that sin has corrupted him so much that he is unable to be reconciled to God, what hope does he have? None, apart from the fact that while man was still God's enemy, God made the way for man to be reconciled to Him. As a result, though men are required to believe and repent of their sins, we can understand that even that act is something which, apart from God's work in their lives, would never happen. Therefore, we can say with confidence that we are responsible for our own sins, but God is responsible for that which is good in us.

thelyamhound said...

Again, this comes back to a correct understanding of the nature of man.

And again: how do we identify correct understanding? If you reject empiricism--or at least that empiricism which ostensibly contradicts Scripture--by what system do you discern truth from falsehood?

If man is inherently sinful, then he has much to do with his own damnation; he sins.

On the contrary, if man is inherently sinful, he bears a burden of sin quite apart from his own actions. Were this not so, Protestant Christianity--like Catholicism, Mormonism, and Jehovah's Witness . . . er, -ism--would be a works-based, rather than faith-based, system.

Simon said...

As I said before, religion proves itself by what I call the "Two Post Method".

You invent two posts leaning against each other - the right post supports the left post and the left post supports the right post.

That is why the poor rational-minded atheist debater finds himself bounced back and forth between the two posts, neither of which actually exist.

If you say, "The right post doesn't exist". They will say, "If the right post doesn't exist, how does the left post stand up?" So you turn your attention to the left post and say, "The left post doesn't exist either." And the reply is, "If the left post doesn't exist, what is holding up the right post?"

So you end up going insane, screaming "There are NO posts!!"

And the theist laughs as if you were a silly child, "You can't possibly be suggesting there are no posts at all. Now I know you're not serious."

Gummby said...

Hound: Since people act according to their nature (ie, sinners sin), while you statement is correct, the operative idea here is that men are completely deserving of their punishment, by their nature and their actions.

Simon: I posted this with you in mind. Flee from the wrath to come.

thelyamhound said...

Well, Matt, THIS:

Since people act according to their nature (ie, sinners sin), while your statement is correct

. . . is the important part. :^)

Still . . .

. . . the operative idea here is that men are completely deserving of their punishment, by their nature and their actions.

A system that holds faith above works doesn't really allow that one can use one's actions as a guard against damnation. Therefore, the act of sin is less important than the condition of sin; abstinence from sin (assuming our hypothetical soul concurs with the Biblical definition of such), selfless works, sacrifice, etc. are less important than faith. It seems to me that if the ultimate act for which one is accountable is faith, then sin is no more the true responsibility of the individual than salvation.

I realize that this distinction is probably more semantic than clearly circumscribable, and the fact that I reject certain Biblical understandings regarding sin means that I, for one, probably have quite a few acts under my belt for which I'd be expected to answer. But say I hadn't. Say that, without necessarily accepting the Bible's accounts of sin, I'd successfully abstained from all sin simply as a personal sacrifice, or for lack of volition regarding such acts. Would I then be truly accountable for my damnation, simply for failing to believe in the proper soteriological paradigm? Well, of course. Which brings me back to the other major question (from my last post):

And again: how do we identify correct understanding? If you reject empiricism--or at least that empiricism which ostensibly contradicts Scripture--by what system do you discern truth from falsehood?

In other words, through what channels of deduction, if not visitation by the spirit or metaphysical gnosis, does the Father anticipate that a given individual will discern one claim of truth from another? Does it really all come back to election, a decision made by God that certain individuals will perceive this truth and others will be clouded by other theologies and "mere" empiricism?

Gummby said...

by what system do you discern truth from falsehood?

God's truth is revealed in the Bible. It is the gold standard for judging truth & error.

It does require a proper understanding of Scripture, though I'm not willing to call it "gnosis," because that term has connotations that I'm not comfortable with. So the truth is revealed to everyone, but not understood by everyone.

A system that holds faith above works doesn't really allow that one can use one's actions as a guard against damnation. Therefore, the act of sin is less important than the condition of sin; abstinence from sin (assuming our hypothetical soul concurs with the Biblical definition of such), selfless works, sacrifice, etc. are less important than faith. It seems to me that if the ultimate act for which one is accountable is faith, then sin is no more the true responsibility of the individual than salvation.

This may be true up to a point, but the Bible also speaks of levels of reward, and implies that there will be levels of punishment, so works are not completely irrelevant.

I realize that this distinction is probably more semantic than clearly circumscribable, and the fact that I reject certain Biblical understandings regarding sin means that I, for one, probably have quite a few acts under my belt for which I'd be expected to answer. But say I hadn't. Say that, without necessarily accepting the Bible's accounts of sin, I'd successfully abstained from all sin simply as a personal sacrifice, or for lack of volition regarding such acts. Would I then be truly accountable for my damnation, simply for failing to believe in the proper soteriological paradigm?

First, the Bible doesn't speak merely in terms of "failing to believe a certain soteriological paradigm." It uses words that indicate a far greater level of responsibility. See this post for an example of the language used.

Second, you're underestimating the pervasiveness of sin and its effects in your life. You're not a neutral being; everything you do, if you are a sinner, is an affront to God ("filthy rags," as Paul puts it). Even "selfless" acts are not completely selfless. Everything is tainted by it.
Someone explained it one time like this: let's say you're a dairy farmer, and after a long day out milking the cows, cleaning out the holding pens, etc, you decide to come back and grill some plump, juicy steaks (I hope you're not a vegetarian, BTW). But you're the kind of person who never washes their hands. So the meat you cook is still tainted.

This isn't a perfect analogy, but it will give you some idea of what we're talking about here.

Third, Adam's place as the first man came with some specific responsibilities. When Adam sinned, he brought guilt upon the entire race (I believe the technical term is "federal headship"). Only through Christ can that guilt be mediated.

So for all of these reasons, God is more than justified in holding each of us accountable for sin.

The Bible is clear--rejection of God's plan of redemption is not merely a "failure to believe in the proper soteriological paradigm;" it is something far, far worse--an indication of the animosity and rebellion of the sinner's heart (your, mine, Bug's, and Simon's), toward the true God.

thelyamhound said...

The Bible also speaks of levels of reward, and implies that there will be levels of punishment, so works are not completely irrelevant.

Not irrelevant for the believer, but irrelevant for the unbeliever; if all good works are "filthy rags", including abstinence from sin, then damnation is related not to sin, but to a "failure" to see the Bible as revealed truth.

First, the Bible doesn't speak merely in terms of "failing to believe a certain soteriological paradigm." It uses words that indicate a far greater level of responsibility. See this post for an example of the language used.

The only extra factor I see in the passage is a belief in man's inherently fallen nature; I consider that part of the soteriological paradigm, as understanding the point of Christ's sacrifice demands that we accept the necessity of that sacrifice, which means accepting our sinful nature.

Second, you're underestimating the pervasiveness of sin and its effects in your life. You're not a neutral being; everything you do, if you are a sinner, is an affront to God ("filthy rags," as Paul puts it). Even "selfless" acts are not completely selfless. Everything is tainted by it.

Fair enough . . . if you take the Bible at its word.

I hope you're not a vegetarian, BTW.

Nah. We toyed with it a bit while my wife was in massage school, where they were doing cadaver work (which turned her off to the idea of meat), but between my martial arts study, blood type, physical theatre, etc., I gots to have a little flesh in my diet.

However, even if I was, may I humbly suggest that I've demonstrated intelligence far beyond that required to understand the character of the analogy, even if it were to fall outside the specifics of my dietary habits. :^)

Third, Adam's place as the first man came with some specific responsibilities. When Adam sinned, he brought guilt upon the entire race (I believe the technical term is "federal headship"). Only through Christ can that guilt be mediated.

This was well covered in Catholicism, though their doctrine of purgatory allows that one may still achieve rewards through works if faith is lacking (and that one may experience punishment for sin and selfishness when faith is present, which would seem to fit into the notion that there are varying degrees of reward and punishment). However, I'd ask that you not press me to defend this view (though I'm happy to discuss it, if the distinction isn't too subtle), since I don't really believe in it any more than I believe in your doctrines. Interesting, though, how C.S. Lewis managed to fold a view of purgatory, without it being purgatory per se, into the vision of the afterlife held forth in The Great Divorce.

The Bible is clear--rejection of God's plan of redemption is not merely a "failure to believe in the proper soteriological paradigm;" it is something far, far worse--an indication of the animosity and rebellion of the sinner's heart (your, mine, Bug's, and Simon's), toward the true God.

But it seems you're still dodging a matter here. If the Bible is the only truth of the Bible's authenticity, how does one sensibly measure its authenticity against empirical information which contradicts it, or other religious doctrine which lays claim to the truth and is equally verifiable through empirical channels?

I think your hesitance about the word gnosis displays a misunderstanding of the word, but even if I agree not to use it, what you're talking about is the visitation of knowledge that exists outside the realm of that which is empirically observable, measurable, or verifiable. So there's no reason to believe that a non-believer has any way or reason to believe in the Bible's veracity UNLESS that veracity is presupposed.