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The Christian Paradox - Pious and illiterate

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Robert Tulip

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Re: The Christian Paradox

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Me again Quote:though it may sound odd to you, I think that there is clear evidence that some people do not hold "the goal of human flourishing" to be the primary value upon which ethics ought to be based..Apologies to continue with a discussion which may appear pedantic, but this is a really interesting question you raise. Yes you are right, I see all values as secondary to the primary value of flourishing. If something conduces to human flourishing it is good, if not, bad. Maybe it is my genes talking, on the shoulders of four billion years of cumulative adaptation, but I happen to think our species is something special. You may have read the book Rare Earth (debated at www.space.com/scienceastr...20715.html ) which notes just how amazing complex life is. I like to imagine humanity expanding to fill the galaxy over the next ten billion years, and look at values in factual terms against this goal. Quote:Any attempt to see the whole of the universe reflected in something as specifically located as human thought is bound to be faced with a great deal of distortion.Of course, just as a gust of wind in New Orleans had a great deal of distortion between it and the eye of the storm. But it still makes sense to see the whole hurricane as a fractal system.Quote:Your resources for this sort of information come not from independent research foundations but from explicitly capitalist investment interests. Who are these "independent research foundations?" My impression is that most left wing literature suffers from a serious anti-empirical bias, grounded in the dogma of class struggle (ie the wrong idea that poverty can be overcome through getting the poor to unite against the rich). I showed the weakness of some such ideas in a previous post on the absurd labour theory of value. Sure there is bias in the World Bank, but I would argue a lot less than in its critics.Quote:Some effort to enforce sustainable methods is, of course, commendable, but if it is only a gesture towards placating the outcry of concerned parties rather than a genuine interest in maintaining the well-being of second and third world populations, it isn't likely to serve as more than a palliative.Sometimes the trouble is that NGO ideas about sustainability are dogmatic, based more in political campaigning than in evidence. I do think the interest of the World Bank is genuinely in maintaining the well-being of second and third world populations, and if you explore this honestly you will find much more openness to debate than you imagine.Quote:McKibben doesn't seem terribly interested, in this article, with the subject of neoclassical economic research. He's interested in whether or not modern Christians are adhering to the actual doctrines of early Christianity, and I think he's right in concluding that, by and large, they aren't.The idea of the early church, epitomised in the primitive communism of Acts 2:44-45 (bible.gospelcom.net/passa...&version=9 ) is far from the whole story of the path of salvation. My point was that rigorous economics ought to be recognised as an essential part of a balanced view of salvation, but McKibben fails on this.Quote:The question is, at what long term cost. Increasing Zambia's income fifty-fold may be extremely beneficial in the short-term (and the short-term usually means for the top socio-economic tiers), but if those opportunities required ... widespread ecological damage ..., the inevitable result will be a Zambia that is, fifty years down the road, unliveable. Growth is good for the poor. Poverty is a main cause of ignorance, war and suffering, and is vastly more unliveable than stable progress towards wealth and peace. Edited by: Robert Tulip at: 11/9/05 8:42 am
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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The whole of WWI can be attributed to the capitalist competition for markets. And famine & disease in the countries of the South.... How many have they killed?Industrial diseases?Don't kid yourself - capitalism kills. It kills mercilessly and relentlessly. _________________________________________________________Il Sotto Seme La Neva
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Jesus, Wealth, and Power

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Jesus was hardly a profit-seeking entrepreneur with a worldly vision of economic structures where gold is king, greed is good, and markets provide the wisdom for social justice:Quote:Matthew 25 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me I was in prison and you came to visit me."Nor did Jesus place much stock in the generosity and charity shown by the wealthy philanthropists of his day:Quote:Mark 12: 41-44 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." And, Jesus' investment advice would crush the dreams and ambitions of any up and coming wall street warrior, hungry and desirous of his own slice of the pie:Quote:Matthew 19 "If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when the young man heard this, he went away sadly, for he was very rich. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "It is almost impossible for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again -- it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God! When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus replied, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."As it was, Jesus' mission statement was not directed to the wealthy and powerful- but to their victims:Quote:Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that the blind shall see, that captives shall be released and the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors."And, Jesus was not alone in this profound criticism of the worship of mammon and gold. He could very easily remind his listeners of those prophetic voices of their ancestors who were no strangers to the abuses of the mighty and powerful.Quote:Amos 8:4-7 " Listen, you merchants who rob the poor, trampling on the needy; you who long for the Sabbath to end and the religious holydays to be over so you can get out and start cheating again -- using your weighted scales and under-sized measures; you who make slaves of the poor, buying them for their debt of a piece of silver or a pair of shoes, or selling them your moldy wheat."Quote:Micah 6: 8-12 " What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? The voice of the LORD cries to the city : . . . Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the accursed scant measure? Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths. Your rich men are wealthy through extortion and violence; your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can't tell the truth! Quote:Isaiah 58:1-10 "The kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don't hide from relatives who need your help. If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you. Your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. 'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! "Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day." Again, here's the challenge, not profit above all else, personal gain and individual reward, but:Quote:Isaiah 1 "Learn to do right! Seek justice , encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."
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Re: Jesus, Wealth, and Power

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If I can summarise issues here, to explain how we got to this point. McKibben's article, The Christian Paradox, offers a cogent critique of the hypocritical and ignorant practice of Christianity in the USA. I opened the discussion on it by commenting positively on the article, but questioning whether its critique provided a balanced way forward. I argued that while much of the critique is correct and good, there needs to be a sound understanding of economics underpinning political religious commentary of this sort, and a respect for the paradoxical tensions within Christianity, such as between the call for individuals to use their talents and the call to sacrifice themselves. This opened debate on the merits of capitalism, with me saying despite its flaws capitalism is the best way to reduce poverty, and others disagreeing. My point was, sure the sacrificial dimension is central and necessary, but it is not sufficient for a sensible ethical stance, which requires a practical approach to investment and growth. This also led to some interesting (to me) side debates on ethics, mining and cosmology, while the main theme resolved as the clash between socialism and capitalism, with me essentially arguing that capitalism has won this debate so the socialist themes in McKibben deserve to be considered sceptically. I am not saying 'greed is good' in any crass way, or arguing against the excellent sacrificial ethics of Jesus, just saying that sacrifice is not the whole story of Biblical ethics and sensible people should be balanced in their views. I appreciate Dissident Heart's summation of the Biblical sacrificial ethic, and agree more love of neighbour is definitely needed, but simply consider it is dangerous to turn that element of faith into a stick to attack the non-sacrificial elements in society. I know the sacrificial is largely marginal and powerless so my comment may appear heartless, but the logical implication of DH's post is that everyone should sell all and give to the poor, a slightly crazy utopian image that would totally undermine the modern economy and would not create sustainable development but rather anarchy and conflict. People should be more generous and kind, but this observation needs to be set in a realistic appraisal of human behaviour and incentives. I commented earlier on the Koranic prohibition on greed, and asked if that strong view may be a factor in the relative stagnation of Moslem societies compared to Christian ones.These themes raise strong political passions, but I am trying to ask you to be logical about it, rather than simply partisan. America did not get rich through stupidity, so it is important to recognise the good values within American culture along with the bad. I am not an 'enemy' of socialists, except in so far as they try to impose policies which are harmful and lacking in sound evidence. And the objective then should be dialogue, not derision.ADO15's suggestion that capitalism causes famine and disease in poor countries is highly misleading. These problems are caused by too little capitalism, not too much. Capitalism correlates with democracy, and as Amartya Sen argues, democracy prevents famine. See interesting debate at folk.uio.no/danbanik/NYTarticle2003.htm The original quote I found most misleading was this from McKibbinQuote:Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans
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Re: Jesus, Wealth, and Power

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R.T. ...the logical implication of DH's post is that everyone should sell all and give to the poor, a slightly crazy utopian image that would totally undermine the modern economy and would not create sustainable development but rather anarchy and conflict.Leaving aside the virtues of anarchism (should we open that can of worms again at Booktalk?) and the ingrained necessities for conflict within capitalism, wouldn't you agree that the Gospel carries a radical vision for how the world should work? It seems to me, and perhaps McKibben as well, that Jesus' notion of the Reign of God was profoundly utopic, something in radical opposition to the Reign of Ceasar. Cornel West, in his recent book Democracy Matters has a chapter titled, "The Crisis in American Christianity". He makes a broad, admittedly imprecise, distinction between two types of Christianity in America: Constantinian Christianity and Propehtic Christianity. The first finds its roots in Roman Imperial domination, and the second in the lineage of Prophetic radicalism that I briefly refer to in my selection of Biblical quotes. Constantinian Christianity serves the Empire, provides moral and spiritual justification for its economic model, social structure, military endeavors, offering a sacred "Amen" for its quest towards global hegemony. Prophetic Christianity speaks for the victims of Empire, finding its source in a Messiah executed in brutal imperial fashion, always exposing the abuses of economic opulence and military might, challenging the social and political status quo to live up to its Prophetic obligation to seek peace, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with its God.West argues that both strands of Christianity have deep roots in the American experiment, and both are still at work in American politics and culture. I suggest that you are lending your talents to Constantinian Christianity's apologetics for individual wealth and imperial domination...which, by the way, is also a Utopic vision. The capitalist model you embrace could not exist without Imperial might: are you willing to take responsibility for the many crosses planted in your name? Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 11/29/05 12:36 pm
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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Me: I see no particular reason to think that the practical laws expressed by physics are in any sense an accurate embodiment or reflection of the universe as it really is.Robert Tulip: Are you serious? Kepler's mathematical description of the solar system enabled discovery of the outer planets and provided pinpoint gravitational basis for Voyager to travel to the planets
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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Quote:Science is a mass of symbols and signs, defined in large part by their applicability to practical problems, and it is not to be underestimated on that count. To think that it is a pathway towards absolute and infallible knowledge about the universe, however, is to overestimate the plasticity of human thought.The way I understand it, science is the system of gathering, sorting and examining what is about us. No scientist I respect ever claims to have an ultimate truth...just the best explanation at any given time. Science is indeed a 'PATHWAY TOWARDS' absolute and infallible knowledge of what we are and what we live in. The problem is, the pathway may never end, but science, the method not the symbols that represent knowledge, is the best and most honest pathway we have.Mr. P. The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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misterpessimistic: The way I understand it, science is the system of gathering, sorting and examining what is about us.Yes, but it's a particular system, and that's what defines it, distinguishes it from other systems of knowledge, and gives it both its strengths and weaknesses.No scientist I respect ever claims to have an ultimate truth...just the best explanation at any given time.It varies. Newton was not as cautious in his claims as later scientists would be -- I assume that you respect Newton. Darwin was far more modest in his claims, though the school of thought that has grown out Darwinism usually fails to share that modesty. Karl Popper, a noted scientist and philosopher, attempted to substantiate the "objective truth" of science, and his ideas were highly influential throughout the mid and late twentieth century. They still hold currency in some circles, but they've been scrutinized a great deal since then.And I think that's where science begins to go really wrong sometimes. You have to be careful to keep in mind the limitations of what science can tell us. Both scientists and laymen often take a scientific theory and run with it, mistaking it for a truth so broadly applicable that the whole of civilization should be build around it.But there's been a trend among scientists in the last fifty or sixty years to re-evaluate the dogma surrounding the philosophy of science, and I think that's been very valuable. John Ziman, Jacob Bronowski, Thomas Kuhn, Richard C. Lewontin -- these are, I think, valuable thinkers, who have made a sincere effort to understand the nature of scientific theory and knowledge and to feel out the meaningful ways in which science interacts with society.Science is indeed a 'PATHWAY TOWARDS' absolute and infallible knowledge of what we are and what we live in.I think you'd be astonished at some of the highly credible and obviously very bright scientists with very good reasons for refuting that claim.
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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Quote:Yes, but it's a particular system, and that's what defines it, distinguishes it from other systems of knowledge, and gives it both its strengths and weaknesses.Again...it is the best system we have of explaining the physical world. Of course it has weaknesses, but those weaknesses are far offset by the strengths...as opposed to other systems of knowledge...which are?Quote:Newton was not as cautious in his claims as later scientists would be -- I assume that you respect Newton.There are individuals in any group. But science is self-correcting. Any one person that claims the ultimate will eventually be proven wrong...or at least not as right as they thought. That is the beauty of the scientific system. No dogmatic system works in this way this well.One can respect people who 'got it wrong' because they did the best they could in the time they lived.Quote:Darwin was far more modest in his claims, though the school of thought that has grown out Darwinism usually fails to share that modesty.Darwin was at the beginning (for all intents) of the evolutionary discussion. Of course he was modest and careful. Since then, there has been much progress...and with that more understanding and more of a right to be a little more insistent on the acceptance of the theory. Should we allow 'Creation Science' equal time? I mean really...Quote:You have to be careful to keep in mind the limitations of what science can tell us. Both scientists and laymen often take a scientific theory and run with it, mistaking it for a truth so broadly applicable that the whole of civilization should be build around it.Again...this gets corrected. Science is limited...for now. But each new advance brings more understanding both of what is going on and how we should use it. It is not science that dropped the bomb or used it for that purpose, it was the government. All systems need to work together. I, for one, do not think society should be based on science...just sound reason and education of the people.Quote:I think you'd be astonished at some of the highly credible and obviously very bright scientists with very good reasons for refuting that claim. Who? AND...I do not care what 'credible' scientists necessarily say. It is how I see things and what I have learned that bears more on my thoughts. So much for dogmatic acceptance huh?Again...do not confuse the physical world with anything else when I conflate science with the pursuit of knowledge.Mr. P. The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy PiperEdited by: misterpessimistic  at: 12/1/05 10:01 am
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Re: The Christian Paradox

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misterpessimistic: Again...it is the best system we have of explaining the physical world.I have no complaint with that statement as it stands. The problems arise when we start expecting science to explain things that don't really belong in the category of "the physical world". Science cannot offer up a satisfactory explanation of justice, for instance.I am not, and have not been, a critic of science. I'm a critic of the tendency to expect more of science than it reasonably can produce.There are individuals in any group. But science is self-correcting.Individuals in any group? Newton is a little more than an individual in a group. This isn't like citing some research assistant at John Hopkins university. Newton had a profound influence on the philosophy of science, and it has taken more than a century of reproof to correct some of the ideas that he popularized, not only within science itself but about science.Yes, the methodology of science does entail the continual testing of assertions. That does not, however, protect science from dogmatism, and philosophers of science in the last century have pointed out that science has a tendency to allow a body of received fact to solidify. When that happens, "revolutions" in thought are often necessary to allow for any further progress.But that isn't really my point. My point -- and my concern -- is that while science as a practice may be self-correcting, the reception of science among non-professionals is anything but. When a person not working in a specialized field hears of the results of a particular experiment, their perception of those results and of what they mean tend to take on a rather fixed character that may have no real correlation to the results themselves.And that happens within scientific communities as well. Darwin seems to have concluded from the deductive argument of evolution that there is a general progressive tendency in nature -- in other words, "you have to admit it's getting better." But the deductive argument of evolution demonstrates no such thing. Nor could it really. And yet, scientists and laypersons continue to draw that same conclusion, more than 150 years after "The Origin of Species".That is the beauty of the scientific system. No dogmatic system works in this way this well.That's also true, but that is, in large part, because no other system has accepted the limitations that science accepts. The particular limitation I have in mind is, that science limits itself to a consideration of material phenomenon. And that decision was deliberate. Descartes, who laid the foundation for what we recognize as the sciences, basically said, hey, let's start focussing on the material world, because that's the only thing we can be relatively sure about. It isn't that science has been lucky in its choice of subject matter, but rather that it excludes anything that requires speculation. So while you could complain that something like ethics lacks the precision and self-correction of the scientific method, you could equally complain that science is incapable, by the dictates of its own design, of approaching the questions that demand the discipline of ethical philosophy. That's just how it is -- so long as we see the need for ethical thought, we're stuck with its limitations.Since then, there has been much progress...and with that more understanding and more of a right to be a little more insistent on the acceptance of the theory. Should we allow 'Creation Science' equal time? I mean really...Okay, a) I didn't mention Creation Science, and I don't really think it's to the point of what we're discussing. For the moment, I'm not so much interested in the attempt of religion to horn in on a forum that is specifically earmarked for science as I am in the attempt of scientists to horn in on a forum that is the specific province of ethics. And b) nor am I talking about acceptence of basic evolutionary theory itself. I'm talking specifically about the uses of evolutionary theory to support or speculate about claims that are ideological in character. Darwin took special care to avoid claims of that sort, although some slipped in despite his efforts. Later Darwinians -- Robert Wright, for instance, or Richard Dawkins -- have been willing to stray off the beating path in that regard, and a number of their ethical claims are derived not so much from the deductive argument Darwin presented as from their own speculations of an ideological character.Again...this gets corrected.Not by science, it doesn't. What I'm talking about are not testable hypotheses, but ideological claims that take on the guise of scientific validity because they are associated with scientific theory. Science can only correct hypotheses it can test.Who? AND...I do not care what 'credible' scientists necessarily say.John Ziman, Jacob Bronowski and Joseph Weizenbaum are three such scientists that I've read recently. Personally, I think that anyone with an interest in the scientific community and its impact on the rest of society should take concern themselves with at least these two questions: a) what is the proper application of scientific method, and b) how is it actually being applied? These are three authors that approach those questions. Nor do I intend to stop at those. It's a question with some serious ramifications on how we in the modern world live and understand the world around us, and I worry about the consequences of shuffling it aside.
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