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Ch. 8 - Philo Story 
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Post Ch. 8 - Philo Story
Ch. 8 - Philo Story



Sun Aug 15, 2010 11:09 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
In “Philo Story,” Wright brings out the multiple ambiguities in the bible that are the result of its being such a huge book, composed over such a long period, with so many hands involved, with disputed translations, etc. These ambiguities relate to the degree to which the Hebrew god was a god of moral inclusiveness. In much of the OT, he isn’t, of course, morally inclusive, or tolerant, at all. He's a tribal god writ large who instructs his people to use his mandate to eradicate any peoples who worship a different god. Wright says that for “scriptural determinists,” these passages tend to seal the case against Yahweh. Since the passages are contained in the Bible, and since Christians and Jews believe in the Bible, ergo believers are obligated to say they condone Yahweh’s genocidal ways, say the critics. Believers must admit that ruthless militarism defines the god that founded their religion.

But for Wright, this isn’t the way things work on the ground. Any adherent of a religion has several ways to modify scriptures to suit his own needs or preferences, while still remaining a “Jew” or “Christian.” Usually, Wright says, believers make these changes because of the exsistential predicaments they find themselves in. His prime example is the Alexandrian Jew, Philo. He was a devout Jew who nevertheless extracted a theme of tolerance out of OT writings that seem to others quite clearly to point in the opposite direction. Philo was a member of a Jewish community in Egypt who had to fit into the native culture and to avoid offending the ruling, foreign regime of the Romans. Needing tolerance from other cultures, Philo and his sect naturally developed a more tolerant variant of Judaism.

Tolerance, manifested in an internationalist perspective, also resulted from the Jews’ exile in Babylonia and their return. Wright says that writings from this time originating with the Priestly class (coded “P”) give an emphasis on how Israel will make possible a community of peoples of the world, in contrast to the earlier emphasis on the nations all bowing down to Israel. He suggests the reason for the change is that the Jewish intellectuals being allowed to return to their homeland were sensitive to needing to sound less exclusive in their theology, with an ear to their former Babylonian hosts (and current rulers).

The moral circle is widening, in other words, however fitfully, says Wright. Is there an important “why” to this? Late in the chapter Wright speculates that if moral directionality—toward the good—exists, then does this point to some force of purpose in the universe? If the monotheistic religions do evolve to the point where they see they have one common aim, does this moral universalism also validate in a way the whole religious enterprise? Perhaps we’ll want to discuss whether Wright makes a leap here.

Relating to the question Chris asked about Wright’s stake in all of this, it seems to me so far that he has a rooting interest. With the future of the planet possibly dependent on the ability of the religions to cease hostilities, he wants to see the moral circle widen to contain everyone on earth. Beyond removing the danger religion presents, does he think religion has some kind of leadership role to play in saving us? I’m not sure about that. We can talk about that, too.


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Tue Sep 21, 2010 8:16 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
DWill wrote:
. . . Relating to the question Chris asked about Wright’s stake in all of this, it seems to me so far that he has a rooting interest. With the future of the planet possibly dependent on the ability of the religions to cease hostilities, he wants to see the moral circle widen to contain everyone on earth. Beyond removing the danger religion presents, does he think religion has some kind of leadership role to play in saving us? I’m not sure about that. We can talk about that, too.


I don't think Wright is saying religion will play a leadership role, but more acknowledging that religion is a big part of people's lives. And that if the three major religions can't foster tolerance for each other, then we're all in big trouble. On the other hand, one of his main arguments in this book is that religion tends to shapeshift within a larger framework of geo-political melding. When religion becomes more inclusive it is in conjunction with non-zero-sum situations in which it is win-win for respective gods to accommodate one another. Wright argues that the high-stakes conflict between Caligula and Philo led to their mutual doctrines of tolerance.

This is exactly what Wright addresses when he uses the term "scriptural determinants," those who "think that scripture exerts overwhelming influence on the religious thought of believers, and that their social and political circumstances matter little if at all." (188) Wright seems to be arguing that the social and political circumstances, in fact, play a much larger role than religion, and I tend to agree. More and more I'm seeing that religion is not a prime motivator of tolerance or of morality, but more of a social lubricant to ease the transition or as Marx said to serve as an opiate of the masses.

This takes me back to the conflict I was having on another forum wherein the prevailing attitude there was that Islam is not really a religion, at least not by Christian standards. There is a belief there that the West is in the midst of a "long war" with Islam and this will soon come to a clash of civilizations. The 9/11 attacks were in essence the Pearl Harbor of this long war. There seems almost a willingness to make this clash happen. Certainly some Fundamentalist Christians are convinced of an eventual Armageddon. The desire to frame Islam as something less of a religion seems to me to be a step in dehumanizing Muslims which will make it easier to justify eventually killing them.

Bringing this back to Wright, I see a very hopeful message that a clash between civilizations may not need to happen because both sides will eventually see such a conflict as being zero-sum—not beneficial to either side—and as a result we will develop more tolerance for one another. Naturally, our religions will accommodate this new-found tolerance, but they won't be leading the charge.


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Thu Sep 30, 2010 6:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
geo wrote:
I don't think Wright is saying religion will play a leadership role, but more acknowledging that religion is a big part of people's lives. And that if the three major religions can't foster tolerance for each other, then we're all in big trouble. On the other hand, one of his main arguments in this book is that religion tends to shapeshift within a larger framework of geo-political melding. When religion becomes more inclusive it is in conjunction with non-zero-sum situations in which it is win-win for respective gods to accommodate one another. Wright argues that the high-stakes conflict between Caligula and Philo led to their mutual doctrines of tolerance.

Just to fantasize a bit, if religions did want to play a larger role in extending the circle, they might be able to do it. The ability to mobilize a lot of people is nothing to sneeze at. But at this point, probably the greater interest of religions is to defend their versions of the truth. I am one of those soft atheists, though, who likes to think it doesn't matter who gets the credit, and credit is sometimes due the religious activist. I was listening to a radio spot about a guy who has been responsible for building hundreds of playgrounds in areas where there weren't any. He wasn't religiously motivated to do this, but his zeal was described as "evangelical." This did make me consider whether the dedication and drive to achieve lofty goals might be aided by a sense of religious purpose.
Quote:
This is exactly what Wright addresses when he uses the term "scriptural determinants," those who "think that scripture exerts overwhelming influence on the religious thought of believers, and that their social and political circumstances matter little if at all." (188) Wright seems to be arguing that the social and political circumstances, in fact, play a much larger role than religion, and I tend to agree. More and more I'm seeing that religion is not a prime motivator of tolerance or of morality, but more of a social lubricant to ease the transition or as Marx said to serve as an opiate of the masses.

Regarding scriptural determinists, I have a few times been puzzled by nonbelievers' attitude that a Christian (for example) is sort of obligated to believe whatever is in the Bible. That would appear to amount to someone who hates fundamentalism forcing that very fundamentalism on another.

I suppose there are different states of involvement with religious beliefs. Splinter groups that maintain a separation from society at large, such as the former Branch Davidians or the Amish might truly be shaping their lives to their religion. Other people, who engage the world, seem to have much less interest in having religion be the core of their lives and would rather be worldly. As I have argued with stahwre, this category would include even most of the evangelicals.
Quote:
This takes me back to the conflict I was having on another forum wherein the prevailing attitude there was that Islam is not really a religion, at least not by Christian standards. There is a belief there that the West is in the midst of a "long war" with Islam and this will soon come to a clash of civilizations. The 9/11 attacks were in essence the Pearl Harbor of this long war. There seems almost a willingness to make this clash happen. Certainly some Fundamentalist Christians are convinced of an eventual Armageddon. The desire to frame Islam as something less of a religion seems to me to be a step in dehumanizing Muslims which will make it easier to justify eventually killing them.

That is the true religious craziness, the belief that one's partial, parochial religious beliefs have some binding effect on history. That seems to be a particular liability of the monotheistic faiths.
Quote:
Bringing this back to Wright, I see a very hopeful message that a clash between civilizations may not need to happen because both sides will eventually see such a conflict as being zero-sum—not beneficial to either side—and as a result we will develop more tolerance for one another. Naturally, our religions will accommodate this new-found tolerance, but they won't be leading the charge.

I wonder if this is such a natural process as Wright seems to imply. Given conditions in some parts of the world, might it be true that zero sum is the current reality--in the Middle East or in the lawless areas of Pakistan, for instance? How can the rest of us help bring around different conditions that might convince warring people that both sides can win? Perhaps in Northern Ireland it was general prosperity that had most to do with the dramatic drop in religious hostilities.


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Fri Oct 01, 2010 8:00 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
Philo admittedly lived in Alexandria but he was hundreds of miles away, he might have had an influence on John and maybe Paul he did not know anything of the day to day life or details about Jerusalem. Philo never recorded anything concerning a Jesus, not his miracles, Herods massacre or anything else. I got this book from a local library and after reading through it there is no way I would buy. Wrights generalizations are not that particularly impressive and what point is he trying to prove?



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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
Star Burst wrote:
Philo admittedly lived in Alexandria but he was hundreds of miles away, he might have had an influence on John and maybe Paul he did not know anything of the day to day life or details about Jerusalem. Philo never recorded anything concerning a Jesus, not his miracles, Herods massacre or anything else. I got this book from a local library and after reading through it there is no way I would buy. Wrights generalizations are not that particularly impressive and what point is he trying to prove?


Hello Star Burst,

Wright explores the evolution of religion from the polytheism of hunter-gatherer and chiefdom societies to the monotheism of modern day nation states. Our idea of "God" has changed over time. Wright is perhaps one of the first scholars to apply game theory to show how religion becomes more inclusive over time within a larger geo-political and cultural context. He uses many examples from The Bible to show how when societies clash, either in war or trade, it becomes mutually beneficial if their religious beliefs encompass a widening moral circle that includes other nations, even people who are culturally and racially different from them.


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Last edited by geo on Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.



Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:58 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
Maybe I need to read a little more in depth.....



Sat Oct 02, 2010 3:27 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
DWill wrote:
Just to fantasize a bit, if religions did want to play a larger role in extending the circle, they might be able to do it. The ability to mobilize a lot of people is nothing to sneeze at. But at this point, probably the greater interest of religions is to defend their versions of the truth. I am one of those soft atheists, though, who likes to think it doesn't matter who gets the credit, and credit is sometimes due the religious activist. I was listening to a radio spot about a guy who has been responsible for building hundreds of playgrounds in areas where there weren't any. He wasn't religiously motivated to do this, but his zeal was described as "evangelical." This did make me consider whether the dedication and drive to achieve lofty goals might be aided by a sense of religious purpose.


Thanks for your post, DWill. I know I'm awfully negative about religion, but I do recognize that a lot of good things come from it. Religious beliefs do motivate people to do good. However, I am trying to think of a single instance of moral reform that was initiated from the pulpit. Think of the abolishment of slavery. It seems to me that it was seen as reprehensible for a long time, but wasn't that rooted in culture at large? In your example above, many individuals certainly are inspired by religious fervor, but I would think that this could easily be attributed to that "supersense" that I have mentioned here before. We are all born with a sense of something greater than ourselves. It seems to me that this the real source of our sense of wonder and awe and passion. It may manifest itself in many different ways, including supernatural religious beliefs or in something wholly secular such as the beauty of a flower or a woman.

DWill wrote:
geo wrote:
. . . .
Quote:
Bringing this back to Wright, I see a very hopeful message that a clash between civilizations may not need to happen because both sides will eventually see such a conflict as being zero-sum—not beneficial to either side—and as a result we will develop more tolerance for one another. Naturally, our religions will accommodate this new-found tolerance, but they won't be leading the charge.


I wonder if this is such a natural process as Wright seems to imply. Given conditions in some parts of the world, might it be true that zero sum is the current reality--in the Middle East or in the lawless areas of Pakistan, for instance? How can the rest of us help bring around different conditions that might convince warring people that both sides can win? Perhaps in Northern Ireland it was general prosperity that had most to do with the dramatic drop in religious hostilities.


This last paragraph of yours really hits home. I don't know if it's true or not, but sometimes I wonder if economic prosperity plays the largest role of all when it comes to peace and good will towards others. In that respect it may be like Maslow's Hierarchy. Certain basic needs need to be met first before we can meet our full potential. So if we want to bring peace to certain regions of the world, the only way it's really going to happen is if that region attains a certain level of economic prosperity or parity. Can non-zero-sum occur without economic parity?

Truly it does seem that the world is getting smaller and that current political boundaries are almost superficial in tackling increasingly global issues such as food shortages. It truly is paradoxical that so many people in the world can face starvation while in the West, obesity is a growing epidemic. But I am getting quickly off track here.


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Sat Oct 02, 2010 10:30 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8 - Philo Story
geo wrote:
DWill wrote:
Just to fantasize a bit, if religions did want to play a larger role in extending the circle, they might be able to do it. The ability to mobilize a lot of people is nothing to sneeze at. But at this point, probably the greater interest of religions is to defend their versions of the truth. I am one of those soft atheists, though, who likes to think it doesn't matter who gets the credit, and credit is sometimes due the religious activist. I was listening to a radio spot about a guy who has been responsible for building hundreds of playgrounds in areas where there weren't any. He wasn't religiously motivated to do this, but his zeal was described as "evangelical." This did make me consider whether the dedication and drive to achieve lofty goals might be aided by a sense of religious purpose.


Thanks for your post, DWill. I know I'm awfully negative about religion, but I do recognize that a lot of good things come from it. Religious beliefs do motivate people to do good. However, I am trying to think of a single instance of moral reform that was initiated from the pulpit. Think of the abolishment of slavery. It seems to me that it was seen as reprehensible for a long time, but wasn't that rooted in culture at large? In your example above, many individuals certainly are inspired by religious fervor, but I would think that this could easily be attributed to that "supersense" that I have mentioned here before. We are all born with a sense of something greater than ourselves. It seems to me that this the real source of our sense of wonder and awe and passion. It may manifest itself in many different ways, including supernatural religious beliefs or in something wholly secular such as the beauty of a flower or a woman.

I wouldn't put you in the "awfully negative" category, actually. You seem pretty balanced and steady in your view of religion. I, on the other hand, am more prone to vacillation. I have a hard time keeping things in their categories and may get carried away at times. But the fact I always seem to come back to is that the world refuses to submit to our need to have neat classifications and assign causes. From time to time, I've mentioned a book called Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman. I haven't even read the whole thing because of its difficulty, but I sympathize with the idea of the sacred on some level. I'm reminded of your reference to boat-making in Polynesia, how that sacralized process reinforced a reverence for nature and a wise use of resources. While reading Three Cups of Tea, I thought about the environmental effects of the mountaineering industry--the trash dumps and fields of frozen turds--and in frustration asked myself if a religious ideal of the mountains might have been more advanced, even if it did involve gods living up there. The mountains were for inspiration but not for exploiting; they were to be kept at a distance. As much as I'm drawn to getting into the outdoors, I recognize that in doing this we can love those wild places to death. As for modern capitalism, to get further afield, I've counted myself as a reluctant adherent (raising all boats). But one the clearest effects of capitalism is to erase the sense of the sacred. Speaking of science, it is I think significant that it does not have this same effect. People often claim it does, but I disagree.

DWill wrote:
geo wrote:
. . . .
Quote:
Bringing this back to Wright, I see a very hopeful message that a clash between civilizations may not need to happen because both sides will eventually see such a conflict as being zero-sum—not beneficial to either side—and as a result we will develop more tolerance for one another. Naturally, our religions will accommodate this new-found tolerance, but they won't be leading the charge.


Quote:
I wonder if this is such a natural process as Wright seems to imply. Given conditions in some parts of the world, might it be true that zero sum is the current reality--in the Middle East or in the lawless areas of Pakistan, for instance? How can the rest of us help bring around different conditions that might convince warring people that both sides can win? Perhaps in Northern Ireland it was general prosperity that had most to do with the dramatic drop in religious hostilities.


Quote:
This last paragraph of yours really hits home. I don't know if it's true or not, but sometimes I wonder if economic prosperity plays the largest role of all when it comes to peace and good will towards others. In that respect it may be like Maslow's Hierarchy. Certain basic needs need to be met first before we can meet our full potential. So if we want to bring peace to certain regions of the world, the only way it's really going to happen is if that region attains a certain level of economic prosperity or parity. Can non-zero-sum occur without economic parity?

The way to a decent standard of living is sometimes seen as dependent on education as well. This is a big part of Greg Mortenson's motivation (Three Cups of Tea). His efforts to build schools, mostly for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have literally paid off for the high-country people in those regions. I agree with you that economic parity is probably essential for nonzero sumness to emerge. But I don't think that parity based on a Western level of affluence is likely to occur. This may be "scarcity-based" thinking, but I don't think we can have both extravagant consumer wealth and relative economic parity.


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Last edited by DWill on Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:35 am, edited 2 times in total.



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