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Faith and Reason 
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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
I find by some weird synchronicity that this first statement from Harry is exactly what I have been thinking about, linking to the whole political scene ranging from statue iconoclasm to gay rights to climate change to the place of science and religion in society.
It's hard to get away from this complex of ideas these days. I am a confirmed liberal in politics, and I can hardly imagine circumstances that would cause me to even say I was "independent." But since I am in the center on religion, and a rather unusual take on that center as well (mainline Protestants in general come out like I do on social issues, but most would not recognize my take on faith: Kierkegaard is a distant rumor to most of them, and Tillich they have never heard of) I find myself more able to listen sympathetically to both sides than most people are.
Robert Tulip wrote:
This morning I listened to a radio interview about Merkel’s expected success in the coming German election, based on an article... which boiled down argued that the central religious figure in Germany is Karl Popper. “They rejected all grand ideas, their state religion became Karl Popper's "piecemeal social engineering." But the author accepted in the interview that this mentality made Germany rather passive, by comparison to the dynamism celebrated in the USA.

Yes, perhaps "piecemeal social engineering" describes it well. The Economist recently had a cover story on the German economy and how much it damages other economies in Europe with its Balance of Payments surplus. I was both intrigued and dismayed by the details, because the Germans seem to be overturning standard economic doctrine to the effect that such a surplus will drive up the price of "local factors of production" (land and labor, essentially) either through the exchange rate (which is rendered impossible by the Euro) or directly (which is how successful regions in the U.S. absorb success, as seen in Boston and the SF Bay Area of California). The failure of this prediction is an anomaly, but some of it seems to be due to managed prices for real estate, an unimaginable phenomenon in the U.S. but somewhat familiar to me from living in Switzerland.

I would have said "careful" rather than "passive." Germans and Swiss look a long way down the road and they usually have a good grasp of what key factors have to be looked after to avoid disasters. They are completely correct in observing that if the Southern Europeans would follow these cultural patterns, there would have been no Euro crisis. Not that this is any help.

There is no denying the dynamism of the U.S. economy, but sometimes that is a problem rather than a benefit. It can mean catching a wave and surfing it even though you have a pretty good idea there is a reef at the end. It can mean a callousness toward the social effects of economic decisions that the Europeans would consider barbaric. The kind of practicality one associates with Adenauer was in fact a rejection of radical solutions combined with an embrace of practical socialistic goals. "Piecemeal social engineering"? Sounds right.

Robert Tulip wrote:
How does that relate to the chasm of values? The highly educated skeptics focus on what is true and rational, while the workaday practitioners of religion focus on what is practical and resonant and meaningful. For a local community, not funded mainly by the state, if your language does not touch the heart it will not even be heard. All the high sceptical reason will be filtered by the heuristic of what it means for our life.
I guess I think both sides use heuristic filters based mainly on meaning, but the university system has learned a thoroughgoing trust in the process of building an interlinked understanding, a model of the world, so that "meaning" looks more abstract. In that model, "funded by the state" is neither good nor bad, but a reasonable practice with a strong track record. What the localized viewpoint holds in its heart has often faded into the background for the academic and big city culture.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Creationism touches the heart and builds community, while evolution is an arid demeaning of human exceptionalism, or at least that is how it seems to appear. That valuing of community is certainly not a determination to choose irrational ignorance, but rather a construction of an ideology, preserving the authority of tradition, aiming to protect conservative social values of faith and belonging.
All true, all important.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Such religious construction does however have the effect of causing irrational ignorance, which is why the elites view ordinary people with such disdain and contempt and exasperation.
Well, not only because of irrational and ignorant policy views, but that's generally true. Attachment to signals of social status is often invisible to the one attached: they are not choosing what is liked by people whom they want the respect of, they are just appreciating what is good in life. For example, since they are going to be moving around regularly in their life, ability to break off romantic relationships with no one being hurt is more valued than loyalty to the friendships of youth.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I like conservatism, because the elite reformers remind me of Dr Frankenstein, meddling with issues they do not well understand.
The basis for Burkean conservatism, a respectable position.
Robert Tulip wrote:
And I have always disliked Karl Popper, despite his brilliance, because his Poverty of Historicism attacked Platonic idealism in a way that destroys social dynamism, which is exactly why the cautious Germans worship him so fervently. I am in favour of social dynamism, which rests upon conservative values of faith.
I am not familiar with this complex of influences, but I am intrigued by the idea that conservative faith leads to social dynamism. I would not even want to guess what that means, much less how it might work.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Always the elites are asking for rational explanations of morality, and can never accept the conservative blessing of tradition.
Well, tradition turned out to be not only wrong but evil, about so many things, that Burke has a hard time getting a handhold these days.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The whole agenda of the empirical philosophers such as Hume was to reject the old religious claim that some ideas, notably God, freedom and immortality of the soul, are innate to human existence.
Well, on the supernatural, they have pretty much carried the day. Ideas about the supernatural may have strong attraction, for which Jung and the Structuralists were able to spell out good reasons, but as "falsifiable hypotheses" they might as well be cargo cults. One of the problems with finding conservative intellectuals is that the conservative temperament is uncomfortable with looking carefully at where ideas come from and why they catch on. The desire for these ideas to be "given" by some authority, even if it be the Jungian inner structure of the soul, is very strong.

If I may say so, I think the leftist temperament creates its own problems for intellectual inquiry. If it is more open to asking awkward questions, it is also more open to embracing easy answers. And in particular, we on the left tend to disregard the dark irrational in human affairs with a cavalier optimism that can contribute to the "no omelets without breaking eggs" disasters of totalitarian society. My relative who is a history professor enamored of left-wing politics honestly beleives that Chavez was great for Venezuala, but Maduro is a whole different phenomenon. I am left shaking my head at what appears to me to be his naïveté.
Robert Tulip wrote:
As with Descartes’ cogito, Hume’s logical empiricism stood in mythological service to the rise of capitalist individualism, with its rational rejection of all claims that could not be demonstrated by evidence. By contrast, the Red State mentality arises from an earlier psychology of faith and community, and the two paradigms face off in mutual incomprehension.
Well, I think it is possible that you are giving too much emphasis to ideology and neglecting, for example, the sociology of the processes. But let me grant you the point for now. Mutual incomprehension sounds right on target to me.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Fix the privilege gap and the evidence gap will fade into the background.
But fixing the privilege gap between red and blue economies involves fundamental questions about the role of the state. The military is the secret red welfare state in America. The Afghanistan war is needed to justify the 3.3% GDP military spend.
Yeah, that's a big obvious issue, pointing partly to sociology which has reinforced the ideology gap. For decades the Southern congressional delegation pursued the location of military facilities and production in the South, in part because it was the pork that was available and in part because the temperament of the conservative society was more agreeable than that in the North. It's ironic that the South has gone from hatred of Federal military institutions to being the mainstay of these same institutions. The most successful step Truman took to overturning Jim Crow was his integration of the armed forces. When Tea Partiers are against "gummint" the exceptions are the war machine and the entitlements they themselves expect.
Robert Tulip wrote:
My view is that the long term solutions rest in sound economics, but here we find the clash on market theory, for example between Keynes and Smith, produces conflict on sustainable growth. It is not possible to fix the privilege gap by redistribution of wealth, since that action undermines the incentives for wealth creation, which is the only sustainable source of prosperity.
We have been redistributing wealth in Western society for centuries now, with a nearly unbroken record of success. The "undermining of incentives" argument is mainly a smokescreen, not backed by evidence, to cover the relentless drive by the wealthy to bribe the government into giving them a larger share of what they, in their positional advantage at confiscation, think of as the pie. We know that it is possible to redistribute too heavily, but the U.S. has never approached that point and it is difficult to make the case that any democratic country has passed the point by much.
Robert Tulip wrote:
But wealth creation requires markets, which are intrinsically heartless, rewarding the talented and punishing failure, as Jesus commended at Matt 25.
The heartlessness of markets is not the main problem, though problem it is. It is the myopia of markets that needs to be addressed. Markets would not educate society, even though education is the clear basis for modern productivity. Sociopathic corporations would not neglect an opportunity to make more money by suborning government, even though the same individuals howl in protest when someone else undermines government with the same behavior. Markets have no consciousness of what makes for a good society, despite clear evidence that their pursuit of short-term gains undermines the good.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Henrik Ibsen's great play, "An Enemy of the People," looked at a community determined not to know the truth because the truth threatened its pocketbook.
Denial of truth is a universal syndrome, linked to the idea that democracy works only until the majority realise that power gives the key to print money.
Howard Zinn aside, most of us committed to democracy and liberalism don't care about the power to print money. That has never offered more than a short-term fix. And it is a constant source of irrational fear on the right, most recently seen with hysterical fears over Quantitative Easing which turned out to be so wrong that anyone dedicated to reason should have renounced the fear-mongers on the issue forever. But no, zombie-like, the fear of printing money stumbles on, searching for brains to consume.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
It's worth thinking about what kinds of economic structures, and what kinds of government structures, foster such denialist maladaptation.
You seem to be saying Harry that ‘denialist maladaptation’ occurs on both sides of this debate, among Christian fundamentalists and also among rationalist elites. The implication is that people’s views ignore the element of truth in the ideas of their opponents but instead fasten on aspects they don’t like. That is a recipe for a trajectory of worsening conflict and polarisation. This is where I think a rational faith can be a lightning rod, a basis for reconciliation and dialogue.

I don't remember my original argument, and had trouble locating it by scrolling back, but I would agree that both sides ignore the truth in their opponents' ideas and that we are in a soup because of it. Hurricane Harvey is a nicely dramatic example of that, but I doubt it will change anything substantial even if it drains a bit of the poison.
What I would underline instead is the industry that has grown up around the practice of winning without persuasion. Both sides seem to have given up on persuading the other side, or even the independents in the middle who are perceived as responding to particular issues and symbolisms (e.g. guns, abortion, trade) without having any interest in overall perspectives which might make sense of matters. Instead the game in the U.S. has shifted to firing up the "base" of true believers on one's own side, and nothing succeeds at this like demonization of opponents and fostering fears. However pragmatic such political behavior may appear, its toxicity is slow and cumulative like CO2. I don't have a good sense of who "started it" but the question of the age is who will stop it.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Unfortunately with all the screaming there is little interest in dialogue.

You can say that again.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Unfortunately with all the screaming there is little interest in dialogue.

Thank you.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Denial of reality occurs when our ideology separates us from reality. But given the fact that concepts of reality are constructed rather than observed, who is to say my beliefs are real and yours are not? This is where science is central, with logic and evidence the bedrock for reliable belief.
I have no quarrel with putting science in a central position, especially regarding scientific issues such as externalities and material capabilities. But with regard to whose beliefs are "real" I think the more educated have the responsibility to learn to translate from the language of the heart of the "left behinds" and bring them in.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Regarding your very pertinent point about maladaptive economic and government structures, my view is that thinking about what is adaptive should start by looking at what proves to be adaptive in nature, seen in the evolutionary concepts of natural selection and cumulative adaptation. Society is different from nature, since we have capacity for compassion for the weak.
Again, the issue of compassion only begins to scratch the surface. Who knew that prosperity was the road to population stability? But so it proved. When I was around 15 "scientists" were sure that population growth doomed humanity to resource exhaustion and mass poverty. They turned out to be so spectacularly wrong that it should have informed a humility about human behavior which would be discernable today. Let's just say it is not in evidence. For similar reasons, I am profoundly skeptical about using natural selection to guide any policy.

Robert Tulip wrote:
But intellectually, we should recognise that compassion is funded by markets, and that an ideology that pits them against each other is deluded, dangerous and likely to produce needless suffering. That is why I agree with Hayek that a core goal of economics should be to reduce the size of the state, since creeping intrusion of tax funded activity destroys incentive for market activity.
Well, again, if you allow for the huge impact of cooperative and socially enlightened behavior, such as education, market productivity is an important consideration. But look at Wikipedia for a moment, as the most spectacular success ever for production without incentives. It is not an aberration.

Participation in the great project of understanding the world has been a huge motivator from the beginning, with most scientists in Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries operating with limited financial reward and with Ph.D.'s in most disciplines offering negative return on investment for as long as they have been around. Incentives are great for focusing attention on productive minutiae, and thus producing gradual but enormous gains in productivity, but they are hardly the unique (or even sine qua non) source of productivity.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Gnostic Bishop wrote:
DWill wrote:
[
Not to belabor the point, but the ethical core of gnosticism isn't clear to me. As I see it, what you call for is already within a Christian ethical tradition.


No way.

Gnostic Christianity is a Universalist religion while Christianity is a divisive religion. We have all ending in heaven as we have tied God's righteousness to equality.

We, unlike Christians, cannot be homophobic and misogynous which is why we were a better moral religion than what Christianity ever was. That is why we call Yahweh a vile demiurge who could only create an immoral creed.

You insult this Gnostic Christian by saying our morals are as poor as what Christianity has.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mJCCARjyNM

Regards
DL

I don't think there was insult in what I said; certainly I didn't intend any and wasn't referring to the overall performance of Christianity over the centuries. I only meant that you can locate a strong ethical core in Christianity through many of the scriptures (not all) and through the lives of both prominent and unknown Christians.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
Gnostic Bishop wrote:
DWill wrote:
[
Not to belabor the point, but the ethical core of gnosticism isn't clear to me. As I see it, what you call for is already within a Christian ethical tradition.


No way.

Gnostic Christianity is a Universalist religion while Christianity is a divisive religion. We have all ending in heaven as we have tied God's righteousness to equality.

We, unlike Christians, cannot be homophobic and misogynous which is why we were a better moral religion than what Christianity ever was. That is why we call Yahweh a vile demiurge who could only create an immoral creed.

You insult this Gnostic Christian by saying our morals are as poor as what Christianity has.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mJCCARjyNM

Regards
DL

I don't think there was insult in what I said; certainly I didn't intend any and wasn't referring to the overall performance of Christianity over the centuries. I only meant that you can locate a strong ethical core in Christianity through many of the scriptures (not all) and through the lives of both prominent and unknown Christians.


Collectively, the mainstream religions have gifted us with 2,000 years of war, Inquisitions and Jihads.

Not to mention that, today, both religions scream for the freedom of religion that Christianity first denied the world and that Islam took over now that we have brought Christianity to heel.

Sure, some scriptures have an ethical core but that has been corrupted as they are based on adoring a genocidal son murdering God.

You must be a more forgiving person than I as I am focused on the women and gays that are still discriminated against without a just cause by both Christianity and Islam.

I support the oppressed, not the oppressors.

That is why Gnostic Christianity is the superior religion in terms of morals.

Regards
DL

P.S. No offence taken on your post above.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
I was talking on Sunday to the head of the Tongan breakaway Methodist Church in Australia and his wife, and they explained the pastoral function of Sunday School, with a detailed curriculum covering all the books of the Bible going up to the end of high school, aiming to ensure all children have strong relationships in the community. I find that admirable, except that such devotional fervour brings with it a strong acceptance of the fantasy in the Bible, which conflicts with modern scientific secular rationality. I hope that it is possible for such practices to evolve to include recognition of the symbolic content in their beliefs.

I apologize for taking so long to reply, Robert. I was away from the internet for two weeks (didn't miss it much).

I think we need to view this kind of belief with neutrality, in general, and not make such a bugaboo out of "the supernatural." If you find this cultural group admirable, that should be all that needs to be said about it, right? They wouldn't be able to change their mode of worship to the one you prefer without losing their identity altogether. It's important to realize, I think, that to many believers, symbolic understanding isn't belief at all--and they want above all to believe. Saying that all the supernaturalism and seeming fables in the Bible are symbolic would be to make them optional, and that won't work for this group.

When it's a matter of Buddhist or Hindu supernatural beliefs, we in the Christian milieu (though we may not be Christians) tend to be easy-going. Our disputes are most often with those in closest cultural proximity to us.
Quote:
John Lennon of the Beatles had a great insight into Christian origins, that Christianity started out with the view that ‘reaching the Christ within’ is the starting point for reform of society. However, this teaching of inner wisdom of the heart, as Lennon put it, that ‘love is all you need’, became associated with the movement known as Gnosticism. The church condemned and suppressed such ideas as heresy.

What makes you believe that the believers much later labeled Gnostics had a unified belief in the redeeming power of love? It's a nice idea, but it needs an historical basis. An orientation to look within for spiritual experience isn't equivalent to professing, "All you need is love."
Quote:
If John Lennon thought “the only true Christians were the Gnostics”, that supports the argument that he also thought the original Christians were Gnostic, and that orthodoxy was a degraded depraved heresy. That interpretation is of course completely contrary to the prevailing opinion in the history written by the victors.

That "true" equals early, first, or original I think is a shaky proposition philosophically. "True" is our evaluation of quality, most often meaning "the best." It doesn't follow that anything, whether belief or knowledge, is best in its earliest form. We don't think the pre-Socratic philosophers were the true, or best, philosophers, or that bartering is the best form of economy, or that animism is the true form of religion. At any rate, as for John Lennon, we wouldn't "imagine" that he he'd claim to have done any scholarly historical work on the origins of Christianity.
Quote:
But this also raises a further point, pertinent to your question about Gnostic diversity. It is clear that by the second century AD, Gnosticism was very diverse, as illustrated in the Nag Hammadi texts. However, my view is that there was a largely united secret mystery Platonic Gnostic society who were responsible for writing the original texts which became the orthodox Christian gospels, and that their cosmic theology was far more coherent and enlightened than the diverse texts which have come down to us as representing Gnosticism. It seems the diversity of the four (or more) Gospels, far less than the later Gnostic diversity, would map to the teachings of these earlier Gnostic schools.

But with respect, I don't see that a "view" is very satisfying in this case, where what is needed is evidence. Although some of the ideas of Gnosticism may have been floating around before the reputed time of Jesus, and although the Gospels may evidence a concern to squelch some "bad" Gnostic ideas (such as that Jesus only appeared to have a body), many of the Gnostic writings we have make reference to and even quote the Gospels that much later became the scriptural foundation of orthodoxy. Those writings are pretty clearly secondary to the established Gospels. The claim that there earlier must have existed Gnostic writings which contained the germ of the Gospels seems to have no other function or substance than to bolster a thesis.
Gnostic diversity was so great that, according to historians, some groups cannot even be called Christian. And note that even to use the term "Gnostics" is to imply a probably unhistorical identity or unity between groups who may have recognized no relationship with other "Gnostic" groups.
Quote:
The Gospels do have an overarching focus on love, which Plato, a great progenitor of Gnosticism, held as a core idea, for example in the Symposium. So my view is that the greatest commandment in Christianity, love of God and love of neighbour as self, is intrinsically Gnostic in meaning and intent, indicating how we can find Christ and the Kingdom of God within and among us.

That's what I was getting at when I said that for love, you can go to what is now called Christianity. Did love come from Gnosticism originally? I'm not sure that's even a meaningful question, given the inchoate state of the pre-Christian religious landscape.
Quote:
This vision was impossible as a basis of political stability in the context of the power of Rome, and was far weaker in military and economic power than orthodoxy, so the alliance of throne and altar was able to suppress it.

I agree with you there. "Do your own thing" isn't likely to appeal to an emperor.
Quote:
The politician bishops who supported this mass fantasy then were easily able to suppress Gnosticism and force it into hiding, leading to the subsequent distorted picture of what Gnosticism actually was.

What Gnosticism actually was, in the time of the emergence of a powerful bishopric, was the diversity you spoke of. Whatever "original," unified teachings that may have existed were long past and would not need suppressing. But you may say, anyway, that they existed and were suppressed, and that's why we don't have them. I just see this frequent recourse to disappearance by suppression as too convenient.
Quote:
I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘originalism’.

What I mean by originalism is the imprimatur often sought in the claim that one's view harks back to the birth of particular ideas, that birth being assumed to represent the true form of the ideas, before corrupting influences. I actually don't dismiss this impulse entirely, as it can be good to conservatively stick to foundational ideas in the face of momentary pressures to change. Our Constitution is a fair example. But of course it's not the fact that the Constitution birthed the nation that makes it sacred, in a sense. It's the fact that it has more or less worked for 230 years. In the case of Gnosticism, and for that matter Christianity, we don't don't have enough knowledge of origins to say we know what the germinal or pure form was.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Why it should be important that gnosticism is the original Christianity is interesting in itself. I can't see why it would make any difference, frankly.
It makes an enormous difference, because it sets Christian faith within a rational scientific framework that prepares the way for a future transformation of human existence on our planet, avoiding the real looming risks of collapse and extinction, leaving what Jesus called the wide easy path to destruction and finding the hard narrow path of survival, peace and abundance.

Just to say again that the "rational, scientific framework" that Gnosticism supposedly provides needs to be established by more than supposition.
Quote:
Beginning with the astronomy of precession, my paper will discuss how that drives long term climate cycles on a 20,000 year pattern, and how that stable natural cycle provides a scientific evolutionary framework to explain the Vedic Yuga myth of the descending and ascending cycle of the Gold and Iron Ages, and how this structure of time resonates with the real big structure of the solar system driven by the orbital patterns of the gas giant planets.

We are used to viewing this myth of the Golden Age solely in terms of descent, as you indicate, but it actually includes an equal ascending cycle, seen in the orbital data from ice and benthic cores.

The physical marker of this orbital climate cycle of precession is the date of perihelion, when earth is closest to the sun. The perihelion now occurs around 5 January and advances by one day every 59 years. This is a purely objective astronomical framework. My observation is that the climate cycle aligns directly to the old Yuga mythological intuition of the ages as cosmic seasons of summer, fall, winter and spring each lasting 5000 years.

My conclusion, integrating science and myth, is that our planet passed the depth of the iron age when the perihelion crossed the December solstice in 1246 AD and is now entering the ascending bronze age, leading over the next ten thousand years to the new golden age when the sun will be closest to earth in June.

One of my favorite literary titles is "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," by Ben Jonson. Your project could be aptly titled, "Myth Reconciled to Science." I understand almost nothing of what you outline above. But, you see, I don't think I really have to because of my feeling that myth can have no validation through science. I may be misinterpreting what you've said, but if it's that human ages occur in accordance with planetary or solar movements or forces, that is not a naturalistic or scientific concept.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
I apologize for taking so long to reply, Robert. I was away from the internet for two weeks (didn't miss it much).

Fun to have you back. I understand about not missing the internet much. Even TED talks seem better at first than when considered as an investment of future time.

DWill wrote:
I think we need to view this kind of belief with neutrality, in general, and not make such a bugaboo out of "the supernatural." If you find this cultural group admirable, that should be all that needs to be said about it, right? They wouldn't be able to change their mode of worship to the one you prefer without losing their identity altogether.
This is the dilemma vexing progressive Christianity (as well as Reconstruction Judaism): how do you build an account of Life, the Universe and Everything that will gather common assent in a society fragmented by specialization, with technology vastly outrunning any efforts at integration into an orderly view of life? My relatives in rural life, who have to understand a huge range of specifics (they are mechanics, nurses, agronomists, ecologists, plumbers, food scientists and business managers, all at the same time) do not have time to read much history and philosophy, so the ideas that hold religion together with science in my head are essentially incomprehensible to them. They are not too ignorant, they are too practical.
And it isn't their mode of worship at stake, it is their whole approach to life in community.

DWill wrote:
It's important to realize, I think, that to many believers, symbolic understanding isn't belief at all--and they want above all to believe. Saying that all the supernaturalism and seeming fables in the Bible are symbolic would be to make them optional, and that won't work for this group.
That's it in a nutshell.
DWill wrote:
What makes you believe that the believers much later labeled Gnostics had a unified belief in the redeeming power of love? It's a nice idea, but it needs an historical basis. An orientation to look within for spiritual experience isn't equivalent to professing, "All you need is love."
Gnostic diversity was so great that, according to historians, some groups cannot even be called Christian. And note that even to use the term "Gnostics" is to imply a probably unhistorical identity or unity between groups who may have recognized no relationship with other "Gnostic" groups.
Diversity makes it difficult to put our fingers on what was going on with Gnosticism, so sometimes it becomes a catchall like "alternative" is today.
DWill wrote:
That "true" equals early, first, or original I think is a shaky proposition philosophically. "True" is our evaluation of quality, most often meaning "the best." It doesn't follow that anything, whether belief or knowledge, is best in its earliest form.

But there is a long tradition among Christians believing that "original Christianity" was corrupted by imperial power and related institutional success over the 1000 years after Constantine. Even the century leading up to Constantine is suspect, as orthodoxies about women's roles, for example, came to push aside the idealism visible in the Gospels and Paul. My point is not that you are wrong - you make good points here. Only that there is a specific history being related to.

Robert Tulip wrote:
But this also raises a further point, pertinent to your question about Gnostic diversity. It is clear that by the second century AD, Gnosticism was very diverse, as illustrated in the Nag Hammadi texts. However, my view is that there was a largely united secret mystery Platonic Gnostic society who were responsible for writing the original texts which became the orthodox Christian gospels, and that their cosmic theology was far more coherent and enlightened than the diverse texts which have come down to us as representing Gnosticism. It seems the diversity of the four (or more) Gospels, far less than the later Gnostic diversity, would map to the teachings of these earlier Gnostic schools.
I recently ran across some very mainstream theology work arguing that the four Gospels were aimed at restoring balance to the scriptural material available for liturgy in the second century church, and possibly to putting Jesus' humanity back where Pauline (and post-Pauline) Christology had made him more and more divine. (The eerie resemblance to Price/Carrier mythicism is because they are looking at many of the same patterns as evidence). The Fourth Gospel, in particular, seems aimed at reconciling incarnational Christology with Platonic-derived notions such as Logos and Gnostic or proto-Gnostic willingness to elaborate supernatural structures as embodiment of theological principles.

To get from there to Robert's idea of "core (or Orthodox) Gnostics" behind the gospels requires a slight shift of focus. The Synoptic Gospels don't just humanize Jesus, they 1) put him in a context of the Jewish Messiah traditions, which are virtually ignored by Paul; and 2) represent his preaching of the Kingdom (also invisible in Paul) as entirely unified with his caring for individuals, especially the marginalized. It would appear that represents self-assertion by the Jewish/Syrian branch of Christianity, which almost dropped out of influence after the Jewish Wars (and virtually disappeared after the ascendancy of Islam, which some scholars now believe may have been a direct outgrowth of Syrian Christianity). In the Christianity of Palestine, care for the poor was central, and all the Synoptics make a big deal of it, with Luke/Acts being essentially a sympathetic account of that orientation written for non-Jewish audiences.

DWill wrote:
The claim that there earlier must have existed Gnostic writings which contained the germ of the Gospels seems to have no other function or substance than to bolster a thesis.
I'm no expert, but it seems to me I have heard reputable scholarly opinion to the effect that "sayings" texts were a strong part of the Gnostic or proto-Gnostic tradition, and thus the Q document which Matthew and Luke use to supplement Mark may have been from the tradition that became Gnostic Christianity.

DWill wrote:
I just see this frequent recourse to disappearance by suppression as too convenient.
Always an important principle to keep in mind.
DWill wrote:
In the case of Gnosticism, and for that matter Christianity, we don't don't have enough knowledge of origins to say we know what the germinal or pure form was.
True, but in my view we have strong evidence of later trajectories.

DWill wrote:
But, you see, I don't think I really have to because of my feeling that myth can have no validation through science. I may be misinterpreting what you've said, but if it's that human ages occur in accordance with planetary or solar movements or forces, that is not a naturalistic or scientific concept.
I don't have Robert's faith in the pervasive influence of astronomic/planetary cycles, or his motivation to get back to it if it was indeed once important. But I have been intrigued by other, less partisan, sources indicating that the precession was known and considered important by astrologers of the ancient world.

It's hard to grasp the hold that patterns of movement among the "eternal" heavenly bodies must have had on ancient thought. The stars and planets are inherently mysterious, with oddities like retrograde motion and regular waxing and waning, and the moon and sun are quite obviously cyclical. So people initiated into the lore must have felt they were in possession of keys to great secrets with mysterious powers.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
I think we need to view this kind of [fundamentalist Christian] belief with neutrality, in general, and not make such a bugaboo out of "the supernatural." If you find this cultural group admirable, that should be all that needs to be said about it, right?
Hi DWill, thanks very much for these comments. I do like to make what you call a ‘bugaboo’ out of the supernatural, because I see belief in the supernatural as the key problem for religion, as a delusional cause of suffering and error. My view is that religion originated in myths as allegory for natural events and moral parables, but gradually evolved in response to psychological signals, namely that a myth naturally gained traction if its teller maintained that it was factually true. The actual truth was secondary to the plausibility and social resonance, so myths evolved in the oral tradition to adapt to hearer’s psychological response. This psychology was well described nearly two centuries ago by Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity, with his hypothesis that God is a projection of human desires. This psychological projection involves what I call ‘entification’, the conversion of an imagined mythical being into an entity, and various Freudian processes such as sublimation, repression, etc.
So when I look at functional fundamentalist belief, I can admire its functionality while questioning its truth. The point of this questioning is that false belief has an inherent ethical problem, that it inherently distorts perceptions by erecting a fantasy that takes priority over modern methods of evidence and logic. Unfortunately evidence is not a great basis for social ritual and authority.
DWill wrote:
They wouldn't be able to change their mode of worship to the one you prefer without losing their identity altogether.
I don’t agree. The model I look to is the Protestant Reformation, which deeply shocked many pious believers with its observation that a rigorous return to scripture alone revealed moral failings of the church. I see the marriage of scriptural analysis and scientific vision as the necessary basis for a new reformation of Christianity, a basis to restore secular respect for religion.
DWill wrote:
It's important to realize, I think, that to many believers, symbolic understanding isn't belief at all--and they want above all to believe. Saying that all the supernaturalism and seeming fables in the Bible are symbolic would be to make them optional, and that won't work for this group.
Yes, I appreciate your point here. The trouble is that the central myth of literal Christianity is precisely this claim that it all happened exactly as inerrantly described in the Gospels. This myth has been mocked due to the contradictions between the Gospels. However, the social traction of Christian piety arises precisely from the claim that God has supernaturally intervened on earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, meaning things are not as they appear to our senses. Unfortunately, piety is incoherent. Rigorous analysis of Biblical claims indicates that their primary meaning is symbolic not literal. That means the literal believers must retreat into a sect, since their claims don’t stand up to simple modern criteria of assessing facts.
DWill wrote:
When it's a matter of Buddhist or Hindu supernatural beliefs, we in the Christian milieu (though we may not be Christians) tend to be easy-going. Our disputes are most often with those in closest cultural proximity to us.
Religion is political, producing local debates about the sort of society we want to live in, and the right of people to influence our moral views. Foreign religion only registers in this political debate to the extent that it affects our own society.
DWill wrote:
What makes you believe that the believers much later labeled Gnostics had a unified belief in the redeeming power of love? It's a nice idea, but it needs an historical basis. An orientation to look within for spiritual experience isn't equivalent to professing, "All you need is love."
The redeeming power of love is truly among the most profoundly complex and challenging questions it has been my privilege and difficulty to ponder. I would no more say that Gnostics were unified than that astrologers are unified today. Such eclectic methods are inherently individualistic and diverse. Unified beliefs require institutional enforcement, which was anathema to Gnostics, and a main reason that Gnosticism was suppressed.
The difference between orthodoxy and Gnosticism centrally rests with the orthodox belief in the redeeming power of the church. The bishops held that believers required institutional mediation to make contact with God, because the personal enthusiasm (‘entheofication?’) of the Gnostics presented serious risks to the stability of the state. Mysticism was viewed with suspicion by the magistrates and bishops.
There is a nice line in the Bible, http://biblehub.com/interlinear/luke/17-21.htm Luke 17:21, οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν ‘Ἰδοὺ ὧδε’ ἤ ‘Ἐκεῖ·’ ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶνc ἐστιν.” I have very naughtily only provided the Greek original here to encourage you to look at the interlinear link providing the English. The word entos, in ‘the kingdom of God is within/among (entos) you’, encapsulates the conflict between Gnosticism and orthodoxy. The definition is at http://biblehub.com/greek/1787.htm
For the Gnostics, the direct mystical experience of the gracious divine love within was the basis of religious experience of connecting to God, whereas for the orthodox, the communal expression in ritual faith among the community was key to deliver the social comfort of belonging and connection in a reliable and safe way. A parable for the difference between within and among might be that the Gnostics represent the vertical pole of the cross, symbolising the direct relationship between the individual soul and God, seeing the kingdom within the heart, whereas the orthodox represent the horizontal bar on which Jesus was crucified, signifying the connections of shared belief and ritual among the faithful.
Both these vertical (within) and horizontal (among) meanings of the kingdom of God are expressions of love, and the ambiguity in the words of Christ illustrates that both within and among are necessary parts of access to divine grace, combining the direct access of intellect and the mediated access of the heart.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I think we need to view this kind of [fundamentalist Christian] belief with neutrality, in general, and not make such a bugaboo out of "the supernatural." If you find this cultural group admirable, that should be all that needs to be said about it, right?
Hi DWill, thanks very much for these comments. I do like to make what you call a ‘bugaboo’ out of the supernatural, because I see belief in the supernatural as the key problem for religion, as a delusional cause of suffering and error.

Hi Robert. You thought my "this kind of belief" was too vague, but your gloss isn't quite on target. There is supernaturalism in almost any kind of Christian belief. Just believing in God in the way that most do is to credit a supernatural force. Where fundamentalism is concerned, it's true that I'm more sanguine about it than most others who would identify as atheist. Professing to believe every word of the Bible may not have a drastic social cost, relative to other religiously-based social costs such as the Indian caste system and the raft of Buddhist superstitions. Again relatively speaking, Christianity has not been as great an impediment to social and scientific progress as other world religions. I would deplore any belief that leads to suffering, but to castigate "error" strikes me as coming a bit too close to what the Church wrongly did over the centuries. I think I fully realize the harm and inanity that does come from some of the most ardent Christians, but since religion is embedded in every culture, the relativistic view is the only one that makes sense to me. I find, as an aside, that Howard Zinn's book lacks the context that a relativistic perspective would provide. If some of the bad conditions he describes in America are duplicated or exceeded in other contemporary cultures,doesn't that reduce the sting of his charges?
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
They wouldn't be able to change their mode of worship to the one you prefer without losing their identity altogether.
I don’t agree. The model I look to is the Protestant Reformation, which deeply shocked many pious believers with its observation that a rigorous return to scripture alone revealed moral failings of the church. I see the marriage of scriptural analysis and scientific vision as the necessary basis for a new reformation of Christianity, a basis to restore secular respect for religion.

The irony here being that before the Reformation, what we know specifically as Bible fundamentalism didn't exist; after the Reformation, literalism began its rise.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
When it's a matter of Buddhist or Hindu supernatural beliefs, we in the Christian milieu (though we may not be Christians) tend to be easy-going. Our disputes are most often with those in closest cultural proximity to us.
Religion is political, producing local debates about the sort of society we want to live in, and the right of people to influence our moral views. Foreign religion only registers in this political debate to the extent that it affects our own society.

My intent was to suggest that politics--factionalism--distorts our rational thought. We are much more forgiving, even liberal, about "foreign" practices than practices of our fellow citizens that objectively may be less harmful.
Quote:
The redeeming power of love is truly among the most profoundly complex and challenging questions it has been my privilege and difficulty to ponder. I would no more say that Gnostics were unified than that astrologers are unified today. Such eclectic methods are inherently individualistic and diverse. Unified beliefs require institutional enforcement, which was anathema to Gnostics, and a main reason that Gnosticism was suppressed.
The difference between orthodoxy and Gnosticism centrally rests with the orthodox belief in the redeeming power of the church. The bishops held that believers required institutional mediation to make contact with God, because the personal enthusiasm (‘entheofication?’) of the Gnostics presented serious risks to the stability of the state. Mysticism was viewed with suspicion by the magistrates and bishops.
There is a nice line in the Bible, http://biblehub.com/interlinear/luke/17-21.htm Luke 17:21, οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν ‘Ἰδοὺ ὧδε’ ἤ ‘Ἐκεῖ·’ ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶνc ἐστιν.” I have very naughtily only provided the Greek original here to encourage you to look at the interlinear link providing the English. The word entos, in ‘the kingdom of God is within/among (entos) you’, encapsulates the conflict between Gnosticism and orthodoxy. The definition is at http://biblehub.com/greek/1787.htm
For the Gnostics, the direct mystical experience of the gracious divine love within was the basis of religious experience of connecting to God, whereas for the orthodox, the communal expression in ritual faith among the community was key to deliver the social comfort of belonging and connection in a reliable and safe way. A parable for the difference between within and among might be that the Gnostics represent the vertical pole of the cross, symbolising the direct relationship between the individual soul and God, seeing the kingdom within the heart, whereas the orthodox represent the horizontal bar on which Jesus was crucified, signifying the connections of shared belief and ritual among the faithful.

I'm not saying you're wrong about the love being the sine qua non of Gnosticism, but I must see the claim as unproven. I would ask as a first thought, to whom is this divine love directed? Love must be shown to other people to exist in fact, in my view. Experiencing the love of God for oneself only could be solipsistic. So I'm inclined to see the canonical scriptures as evidencing greater love than the Gnostic writings do. We need more than John Lennon's analysis! Someone really familiar with the texts needs to weigh in.

Your cross metaphor is beautiful and could be powerful for those like you who want to rejuvenate Christianity in the opposite direction from evangelicalism. It seems to me, though, to not represent conflict so much as it does different tones or aspects of of the faith, in much the same way that Paul did. Elaine Pagels took a look at the Gnostic Paul (i.e., how the Gnostics interpreted Paul to support their thinking), yet Paul himself was also very much concerned with the process of defining a basic creed that would enable the faith to carry on as an institution. The fact that "the kingdom of God is within you" is canonical may itself be telling. This was not, evidently, considered heretical by the orthodox. Had it appeared only in a Gnostic text (something like it surely does), maybe the argument you began with about the distinct boundary between (early) Gnostic and (later) orthodox belief would be more compelling for me.

About your conviction that in the beginning, religious beliefs had a symbolic, not reified form. I would much prefer to go with science here, the science being in this case anthropology and related disciplines. I would hazard that these studies tell us that early humans were to varying degrees in thrall to gods and spirits, in other words to entities very real to them. This was a matter of survival for groups of people, not one of aesthetic contemplation. It is ironic that, though the gods and spirits were purely figments, there probably was some survival value in the belief structures themselves.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Dwill

On all you need is love.

Think of evolution or evolve, which we all do, and love being cooperation and hate being competition.

When we are born, we automatically default to love/cooperation as our first impulse. It is better than hate for our survival. Our selfish gene pushes us to survive and cooperation, not competition is the best survival strategy. That is the reason we default to cooperation /love.

If we all maintained that setting through life, all would always be well.

So in a real sense, for world peace, all we need is love/cooperation.

The problem is that at the same time that we create our love biases, we also create our hate biases and our social system are set up naturally to have us compete/hate.

If we did not hate we would likely go extinct.

John Lennon was correct, but only because he was only looking at half of evolution and not the whole picture.

Man can never have peace. What we can do though is mitigate the harm we do and we are really good at that.

Let's hope we continue and Trump does not end our good mitigating record.

Oops, no politics please.

Regards
DL



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Gnostic Bishop wrote:
The problem is that at the same time that we create our love biases, we also create our hate biases and our social system are set up naturally to have us compete/hate.

If we did not hate we would likely go extinct.

That's certainly an interesting analysis. As an economist, I used to be enamored of competition. But I have fallen out of love with it.

The basic argument for it is that it improves the efficiency of resource allocation, relative to monopoly forces. I would go so far as to conclude that efficiency of resource allocation is no longer a significant issue, and that competition is nearly over in key industries.

Probably none of that is of interest to you. But aside from it, I have no appreciation of competition at all. Sublimating competitive instincts into sports and the like is better treatment than competitive instincts deserve. I would prefer to see us master "status urge" in the same way we have learned to master anger.

I would be interested to hear a spirited defense of hate, competition, and all that, and especially why it keeps us from going extinct. Are you just arguing for "aggression", which in its more rational form becomes "self-assertion"?



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
Quote:
If John Lennon thought “the only true Christians were the Gnostics”, that supports the argument that he also thought the original Christians were Gnostic, and that orthodoxy was a degraded depraved heresy. That interpretation is of course completely contrary to the prevailing opinion in the history written by the victors.

That "true" equals early, first, or original I think is a shaky proposition philosophically.
In general you are correct, but in this case the equation of true and original has merit, because there is a strong case that literal faith emerged from political corruption of an original spiritual philosophical secret mystery concept of Jesus Christ. I do not know if John Lennon believed in Jesus Christ, but I find it hard to imagine a cultural evolution process whereby Christianity started off as incoherent and only later achieved conceptual coherence. One really interesting example of this degeneration to orthodoxy is shown in the prophet Amos 4:13, where the Greek text uses “Christ” as a synonym for the Hebrew “Mind of God”. So this concept of Jesus Christ as an anointed saviour as a spiritual myth goes way back for centuries as a purely intellectual eternal concept. That is how I think the Gnostics understood Christ.

DWill wrote:
"True" is our evaluation of quality, most often meaning "the best." It doesn't follow that anything, whether belief or knowledge, is best in its earliest form. We don't think the pre-Socratic philosophers were the true, or best, philosophers, or that bartering is the best form of economy, or that animism is the true form of religion. At any rate, as for John Lennon, we wouldn't "imagine" that he'd claim to have done any scholarly historical work on the origins of Christianity.
Lennon’s claim to be more popular than Jesus http://www.rollingstone.com/music/featu ... ly-w431153 was the most famous theological statement of the 1960s, up there with God is Dead, so I would not write off his insight. If the real history of Christianity is upside down from the Orwellian lies of the church, then the degeneration model does make sense. Lennon’s comment was that “"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I know I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
His later clarification that the Gnostics are the true Christians meant that the Gnostic movement in theology and religion keeps faith with the central ideas of Jesus Christ, whereas orthodoxy is corrupted by what Lennon called the “thick and ordinary” ideas of his disciples, such as Saint Peter.
DWill wrote:
what is needed is evidence. Although some of the ideas of Gnosticism may have been floating around before the reputed time of Jesus, and although the Gospels may evidence a concern to squelch some "bad" Gnostic ideas (such as that Jesus only appeared to have a body), many of the Gnostic writings we have make reference to and even quote the Gospels that much later became the scriptural foundation of orthodoxy.
What is needed is not just new evidence, in a context where the victors explicitly for more than a thousand years suppressed any hint of conflicting evidence as a capital crime. That means that evidence for Gnosticism is inevitably hidden. Rather than just asking for some new explicit archaeological finding, the better method is to look for the implicit Gnostic ideas contained within well-known material, the fugitive traces of high philosophy in religious myths.
Gnosticism was the inevitable result of the clash of civilizations produced by the Roman Empire, as Jewish, Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek cultures were thrown into contact and sought to explain the nature of religion in an entirely new imperial context. The Gospels are exactly what we should expect the “Noble Lie” advocated by Plato in The Republic to look like.
And by the way, it is not the Gospels that condemn the Docetic Heresy of saying Jesus only seemed to exist, but the much later Epistles of John. My reading is that the Gospel authors fully expected the ‘seeming’ fictional reading since it was true. It was only later as their fiction came to be so wildly popular that the need to suppress its real intent arose.
DWill wrote:
Those writings are pretty clearly secondary to the established Gospels.
Saying that anything is “pretty clear” in early Christian dogma is heroic. That is like saying it is “pretty clear” that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, since all extant records mentioned in Orwell’s 1984 support that story. The Gospels themselves are far from “pretty clear” given they explicitly indicate their status is symbolic not literal, where Jesus says everything for the general public is presented in parable form while the secret truth is reserved for initiates. Reconstructing what this secret truth most probably contained is the task for Gnostic analysis.
DWill wrote:
The claim that there earlier must have existed Gnostic writings which contained the germ of the Gospels seems to have no other function or substance than to bolster a thesis.
The problem with that statement is that the traditional view of the Gospels as literal history, even as embroidered history, confronts blatant major problems. Firstly, both Philo and Josephus would have written about Jesus if he was real, but they don’t. That is why the church historian Eusebius resorted to the desperate strategy of adding in mention of Jesus in Josephus, because the absence was just too scandalous for the dogmatists to explain. As to your “no other function” suggestion, it seems to me the point of postulating schools of thought that are only partly recorded is essential. We know many heretical traditions existed, because we have their names but not their writings. The function of postulating other writings, for example connecting the obviously similar ideas in Plato with Christianity, is to develop a historical hypothesis about what actually happened, given that the prevailing literal Gospel story is farcical. Such a realistic history could then offer the potential to explain the inner meaning of Christianity, separate from the imperial dogmas of Christendom that provide the dominant interpretative lens.
DWill wrote:
Gnostic diversity was so great that, according to historians, some groups cannot even be called Christian.
The same critique can just as easily apply to Christianity today, and in fact we do routinely see the opposite ends of the political spectrum of faith argue that those at the other end are not Christian. Historians have political bias, and perhaps no topic displays prejudice as strongly as Christian origins.
DWill wrote:
And note that even to use the term "Gnostics" is to imply a probably unhistorical identity or unity between groups who may have recognized no relationship with other "Gnostic" groups.
It may be in one sense that the identity of Gnosticism was negative, that those labelled Gnostic were those who set their personal insight about faith above the shared dogma of the church. It was inevitable that the ideas supported by institutional unity would prevail over the diverse range of Gnostic beliefs, especially after the Emperor Constantine gave explicit instructions to make Christianity the unified strategic dogmatic basis of imperial security and identity.
But there is also another possible meaning of Gnostic, referring to the actual ideas that produced the Gospels. If these actual ideas were something other than the traditional claim that a man Jesus of Nazareth actually lived, then there must logically have been a coherent secret vision that inspired the invention of this saviour.
DWill wrote:
for love, you can go to what is now called Christianity. Did love come from Gnosticism originally? I'm not sure that's even a meaningful question, given the inchoate state of the pre-Christian religious landscape.
The ‘brotherly love’ of the church has quite a strong history of pharisiacal hypocrisy, making love conditional upon obedience. An important source of Christian ideas of love is the Buddhist monastic influence of the missionaries from India in the Hellenistic period. My view, in agreement with Martin Bernal in Black Athena, is that the primary physical movement of ideas in ancient history was from east to west. This process of transmission recognises that the Greeks viewed eastern ideas as much older than their own civilization. One of the oldest sources is India, and a key to understanding the origins of Christianity is seeing the conceptual links to Gnostic thought from Indian traditions such as Buddhism. An example of Buddhist teachings on love at http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/ ... s-on-love/ says “Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and a particular form of equanimity are the four kinds of love taught and encouraged in classic Buddhist teachings. None of these are uniquely Buddhist; they are four qualities of heart that reside within everyone, at least as potentials. Teachings about the four forms of love existed in India prior to the Buddha; they were elements common to the Indian spiritual world which he included within his system of practice.”
DWill wrote:
"Do your own thing" isn't likely to appeal to an emperor.
This social requirement for shared agreement on core beliefs is a key insight to understand Christian history. The Roman Empire, like all empires, found that consent is a more efficient means of control than coercion. An Empire does not like to send armies to suppress revolts when it can achieve the same goal by convincing the revolters to remain loyal. A popular sense that the empire has political legitimacy is the basis of what the Chinese called the Mandate of Heaven, the ability of rulers to maintain peace and order.
The Romans found firstly that their own Pantheon headed up by Jupiter and Juno etc was good at inspiring the legions of the Republic but was far too culturally narrow to provide a belief system that subjugated races could buy into in a multiracial empire. So in imperial days Rome gradually switched to new ideas around sun worship, including Mithraism. The weakness of sun worship was that the sun lacked the ability to display empathy provided by a human being as the object of worship.
The great advantage of Christianity from the viewpoint of the magistrate was that it enabled a steady further evolution of sun worship towards seeing the attributes of the sun – light, life, stability – as provided by the man Jesus Christ, humanising the impersonal imperial symbol. The adaptive power of Christianity rested in its ability to convey a sense of divine redemption through Christ, to cultivate broad opinion that Jesus Christ served as a viable religious uniting saviour, by showing that the Emperor had a conscience and cared about executed rebels like Jesus. The political attraction of the version of Christianity accepted by the Empire was that it displaced emotions that might cause rebellion into an imagined heavenly afterlife, while providing the emotional comfort needed to generate political loyalty to empire.
DWill wrote:
What Gnosticism actually was, in the time of the emergence of a powerful bishopric, was the diversity you spoke of. Whatever "original," unified teachings that may have existed were long past and would not need suppressing.
With respect I think that critique misses the point. The Gospels themselves entered the mix of a highly suppressive culture, just like how mainstream media today, with its allies in religion, politics and academia, have no interest in or sympathy for esoteric ideas except as objects of mockery and disdain. The original esoteric Christianity, based on the complex idea that Jesus was God incarnate, had to go through a winnowing process before it became the viral meme of the Gospels. That Gospel meme of the man from Galilee then influenced subsequent esoteric teachings which split into diverse schools. To understand the cultural evolution of Christianity requires that we reconstruct how this winnowing of an original idea could most plausibly have occurred.
DWill wrote:
But you may say, anyway, that they existed and were suppressed, and that's why we don't have them. I just see this frequent recourse to disappearance by suppression as too convenient.
The psychology of repression and suppression is central to understanding the history of religion. The concepts of orthodoxy, heresy and blasphemy are directly aimed at intimidating any thoughts of diversity, indicating that complete doctrinal conformity to what is deemed correct opinion is legally and socially mandatory. Imperial edicts stated that possession of heresy was a capital crime, which then led librarians to immediately discard any potentially risky books. We call the Middle Ages dark for a good reason, that extensive learning from the classical world was lost, and the nature of Christendom dogma meant this loss was more deliberate than accidental.
When you are trying to work out how an old car engine works, but the design documents have been lost, few would argue that absence is evidence no one ever had such documents. Rather, that absence is taken as a challenge to reverse engineer the design process based on its actual results.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
I think we need to view this kind of [fundamentalist Christian] belief with neutrality, in general, and not make such a bugaboo out of "the supernatural." If you find this cultural group admirable, that should be all that needs to be said about it, right?
DWill wrote:
There is supernaturalism in almost any kind of Christian belief. Just believing in God in the way that most do is to credit a supernatural force. Where fundamentalism is concerned, it's true that I'm more sanguine about it than most others who would identify as atheist. Professing to believe every word of the Bible may not have a drastic social cost, relative to other religiously-based social costs such as the Indian caste system and the raft of Buddhist superstitions. Again relatively speaking, Christianity has not been as great an impediment to social and scientific progress as other world religions.

That's an interesting notion. Historians tend to blame the Mandarin system in China for confining literacy to a few, and downgrading any learning that was not about the best ways to organize and lead a society. Thus technology could advance within communities of production, but science, the study of how the world works for the sake of knowledge alone, languished for lack of cultivation within universities and other elite structures.

This makes me wonder if any conservative social organization is not destined to hold back progress. If the purpose of the institution is to pass on the wisdom of the past, won't it police which ideas are deemed helpful to that effort and pass over, if not actively suppress, the rest?

What we have in monotheistic religions is an active rejection of the findings of science which were uncovered in a separate social process, at least when those findings threaten the authority of the institutions charged with cultivating social order. An analogy would be India's rejection of Buddhism after Ashoka. Evidently it went too far, trying to reform deep social structures in an unsustainable way.

We in the religious camp like to see ourselves as propagating light and truth, to lead to general peace and mutual benefit. In fact, however, the dynamic imperative of social control is often stronger than the dynamic imperative of seeking truth.
DWill wrote:
I would deplore any belief that leads to suffering, but to castigate "error" strikes me as coming a bit too close to what the Church wrongly did over the centuries.
Maybe, but the church itself wants to enforce its errors on others. Obviously that is the point on which we must focus, and refuse them that goal, but at its base is error. Robert focuses on the evidentiary error of supernaturalism, a holdover from ancient views, and a serpent in the shirt of religious authority.

But to me the error really needing correction is the psychological ("spiritual") one behind this felt need for religious authority. Religious traditionalists feel that there must be an all-powerful enforcer or human society will degenerate into anarchy and barbarism. To me Jesus was an incarnation of the alternative truth, that justice and mutuality is right for its own sake, and outside of it there is no meaning to life.
DWill wrote:
My intent was to suggest that politics--factionalism--distorts our rational thought. We are much more forgiving, even liberal, about "foreign" practices than practices of our fellow citizens that objectively may be less harmful.

This is a powerful insight. We are living with an inside-out version today, in which people who have won a major battle over social rules then turn with universalistic claims of human rights to trying to set right other societies. Obviously no one has really thought through the problem of where to exert pressure on a society in order to bring about improvements in human rights, but I have recently been excited by the idea of "dense accountability" as opposed to "prophetic confrontation."
DWill wrote:
Love must be shown to other people to exist in fact, in my view. Experiencing the love of God for oneself only could be solipsistic.
Well, this is true for sure, but it leads directly to the next question, which is how to turn our identification with this love into "existing" practice. It appears that mere resolve, even genuine enthusiasm, is not the most effective path. The truly standout saints who inspire others emphasize a way of seeing life, a "truth" if you like, that careful judgment about what is right and what is wrong is an active impediment to the holistic view of life in which others are "part of me." To use Paul's terminology, the law kills while the spirit gives life.

As a result of this slightly counterintuitive insight, love of God and love of others turn out to be mutually reinforcing. Focusing on one empowers the other, and vice-versa. Any religious doctrine which derails this dynamic path to enlightenment will quickly become reactionary and oppressive.

DWill wrote:
I would hazard that these studies tell us that early humans were to varying degrees in thrall to gods and spirits, in other words to entities very real to them. This was a matter of survival for groups of people, not one of aesthetic contemplation. It is ironic that, though the gods and spirits were purely figments, there probably was some survival value in the belief structures themselves.
In general this seems to be true. However, as I have poked into this a bit I have been surprised to find out how frequently status systems (often with sociobiological roots in sexual selection) are behind these religious imperatives, rather than functional, survival based needs. "Big Man" systems, phallic symbolism, even fetish priests and shamanic healing, often have deep motivations in status systems.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
DWill wrote:
What I mean by originalism is the imprimatur often sought in the claim that one's view harks back to the birth of particular ideas, that birth being assumed to represent the true form of the ideas, before corrupting influences. I actually don't dismiss this impulse entirely, as it can be good to conservatively stick to foundational ideas in the face of momentary pressures to change.
The situation in analysing Christian origins is that there actually were corrupting influences which can be seen to distort an original high purity. That analysis applies equally to the traditional theory that Christianity was founded by Jesus Christ as to my view that Jesus was invented by a secret Platonic Gnostic mystery philosophy society. On my view, as Greek philosophers interacted with other cultures in the Hellenistic Period from around 300 BC on, they sought to develop a philosophy that would implement the ethical ideals explained by Plato in The Republic, that the four cardinal virtues (wisdom, courage, discipline, justice) required leadership by a philosophical elite. Firstly, this theory produced the religion of Serapis, where the Greeks invented a new God combining Zeus and Osiris, as a basis for their rule over Egypt. Then, building on the Serapis model, Jewish and Babylonian ideas were added in to invent Jesus Christ, imagined as the universal saviour of the world. This original Jesus Concept retained a philosophical connection to the Greek Logos, the central idea of logic that the universe is rational.

The impact of exposing this high idea to public politics was that firstly people did not understand it very well, but they liked it. A lot. To make sense of the Jesus Concept in simple terms for a popular audience, Saint Mark changed the Greek Mystery Idea into something ordinary illiterate people did understand, the story of Jesus of Nazareth. This change process was intrinsically corrupting from an original high wisdom, turning an abstract truth into a popular myth.
DWill wrote:
Our Constitution is a fair example. But of course it's not the fact that the Constitution birthed the nation that makes it sacred, in a sense. It's the fact that it has more or less worked for 230 years.
The US Constitution reflects a distinctive period in the evolution of modern thought, the period of rational scientific enlightenment when reason was seen as the basis of statecraft and before the concept of reason had been corrupted by socialism. The rationality of the Founding Fathers is the main reason the USA has remained rich, united, stable and free to the extent it has. A nation with coherent principles of governance that are applied with rigor is on a path of improvement. The turmoil in the US today seems largely to arise from the logical problem of grappling with the Biblical assumption of the Founding Fathers that restricted personhood to men who owned property. My suspicion is that conservatives still really like that assumption but can’t say so.
DWill wrote:
In the case of Gnosticism, and for that matter Christianity, we don't have enough knowledge of origins to say we know what the germinal or pure form was.
While it is true that there is no consensus on the historical origins of Christianity, we do have enough information to speculate about rival hypotheses, assessing their probability against evidence. My view is that the evolution of Christian orthodoxy as a degeneration from an original high rational Gnostic philosophy, formulated by a cross-cultural network of secret societies linking astronomers, priests and philosophers, is easily the most probable explanation of all the extant data. It is certainly far better than any assumption that invokes the power of the miraculous.
DWill wrote:
the "rational, scientific framework" that Gnosticism supposedly provides needs to be established by more than supposition.
“Supposition” means ‘a belief held without proof or certain knowledge; an assumption or hypothesis.’ The next step from mere imaginative supposition is assessing rival hypotheses against how well they explain the extant data. Scientific method means choosing the hypothesis that coheres best with known facts. This question of a hypothetical original rationality of Christian faith would have little traction if it were solely a belief with no evidence. Again, I return to my central hypothesis on Christian origins, that astronomer priests saw the slow movement of the seasons against the stars as defining the structure of time. For centuries before Christ, astronomers could see that the spring point would cross into a new age of Pisces/Virgo (fishes/loaves) at a specific moment (actually 21 AD), defined by the movement of the equinox from Aries into Pisces. This observation, and its suppression, explains numerous facts about the Bible and the claimed identity of Jesus Christ which otherwise make no sense.


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