January 21, 2014

Scientists Are “Tackling Mysteries One By One”

Posted in atheism, bible, critical thinking, film, history, mythology, philosophy of religion, science, science fiction at 2:51 pm by Jerry

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March 29, 2013

What Did Jesus Save Us From?

Posted in bible, mythology, theodicy at 8:22 am by Jerry

Demonology and the End Times are subjects that I’ve experienced very little education about in the churches or bible schools I’ve attended. I didn’t know if it was because the jury was still out on the biblical interpretations of these subjects or the cringe factor of these subjects alone. I still don’t know. But every now and then I hear Christians refer to Satan and his demons, or the End Times, when trying to articulate a past or future consequence.

This video I just watched draws attention to the need to separate the causation of evil from God…

…and it reminded me of my own struggle over the passage in Isaiah 45:7 that says,

I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

This verse isn’t just saying that God can be a trouble-maker, but that he creates “calamities” or “discords”, which sounded (and still sounds) similar to the behaviours of the greek gods I’ve read about. (See also Amos 3:6; and Lamentations 3:38.) And though it’s obvious to some like myself that God (or the gods) is portrayed as a cosmic bully, I’ve heard many attempt to justify this behaviour as divine corporal punishment for the immoral acts of humanity. In other words, God responds to our actions he disapproves of with violence.

This is just another example of how I end up in a place that challenges the view of God being perfectly good. But when I express this result, I’m consistently approached by Christians saying that no one is qualified to challenge God’s moral behaviour. We can’t fault God… we have to blame it on ourselves if it’s a moral calamity and on Satan and his demons if it’s a natural calamity… Or.. I mean.. natural calamities are a result of humanity’s moral calamities… The science? …Well, I guess we just don’t know why natural calamities happen.. or why God chooses to let them happen.

This weekend is Easter weekend. What use to be a time to celebrate the heart of what my religious culture brought me up on. “Jesus Saves!” But saves me from what, exactly?

From death? How is that naturally possible or even good for the natural world?

From sin or imperfection? How is this accomplished with free minds?

From Hell? Really? He’ll keep me from anything good just because I don’t like the guy?

From Satan and his demons? Who’s going to admit to this… out loud… in public?

If God/Jesus exists, I wish he would save us from the disasters/calamities he supposedly said he creates himself. You know? If the so-called “Saviour” could start saving us from his own crap first, that’d be cool.

December 2, 2010

Unicorns and Violence

Posted in martial arts, mythology at 3:20 am by Jerry

I’ve been feeling uneasy when the subject of my martial art training (Baguazhang) comes up. It’s the word “martial” that bugs me.

I’m not an experienced fighter. And as I explained to Becky some time ago, if I were to show another person how to do what I do, I wouldn’t call it “self-defense”. The way I practice Bagua is not to make me a fighter, I just use Bagua for exercise. I like this kind of exercise because I want to increase my standing balance by developing whole-body strength.* So, my physical training might increase my advantage if there’s ever a chance I find myself in a violent situation. But that doesn’t mean I have the training of a warrior.

I started reading Sgt. Rory Miller’s “Meditation On Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence”. I have a feeling this book will help me understand even more than ever how big of a gap there is between my martial art journey and actual combat.

Just as travelers’ tales passing from person to person and place to place and century to century managed to morph the reality of the rhinoceros into the fable of the unicorn, the insular tradition and history of each dojo has morphed a primal understanding of violence into the modern ritual of martial arts.

– Sgt. Rory Miller

This quote came from Miller’s introduction. The rest of the book should be an interesting read.

* The best way I can briefly explain “whole-body strength” is to say that every part of the body supports all parts of the body.

September 11, 2010

The Presumptuous “Why?”s

Posted in art, atheism, history, mythology, philosophy, psychology of religion, science at 5:26 pm by Jerry

The question “Why?” is a crafty one.

It seems to have the amazing power to take you to an understanding of another’s motivations, a primary cause, and a deep perception of reality. It can be a means to disillusionment, a breaker of personal paradigms, and a schooling of scepticism.

Can there be any questions more powerful than this one?

Way back when, questions like “What?” and “How?” always seemed too mechanical for me, too impersonal. I was looking for ‘the meaning (purpose) of life’, why we are here.

I thought, I can’t begin to explore what I’m meant to do unless I’ve at least started to seriously look into what kind of person I’m meant to be. I wanted to avoid unhealthy choices (and their consequences) by knowing what is truthful, what is right, what is life-enhancing. I remember hearing more than once among gathered christians sometime ago, “We are not human doings, we’re human beings.” And my christian self tried to make the best of this odd cliche by choosing to interpret (or re-write) it to mean: choosing righteous acts rely on having a righteous understanding of our being.

I think it’s safe to say that I made the “Why?” question the greater context where all other questions can find their answers. I made it their home. And this means that I’ve also made the ‘Why?’ question a cosmic question. I saw it as the means to the most authoritative (authoritarian?) understanding on anything and everything. This is a huge creation of mine because the ‘Why?’ question has the power to direct you to a source that is conscious, a source with intention, with personal motivations. Making it a cosmic question is fundamentally making the assumption that there is a cosmic consciousness, a personally motivated intention.

How is it that I made such an assumption? Here’s how: I believed in the existence of a personal being powerful enough to create all that is natural, including a reality that is supernatural. It is this type of perception that sees purpose and reason behind all that is non-personal. And if you feel fundamentally (existentially?) lost, it is this type of perception that assures you that you are surrounded by direction, by purpose, by insight that is all encompassing. Then, you can “know” (in your heart) that something someone (communicating from where?) far more authoritative than our unreliable humanness will take care of us. And this personal (hidden?) being is the ultimate source for finding security and significance.

BUT DON’T FORGET!!! All this personal direction is based on an ancient assumption (most likely inherited from one’s parents), an ancient assumption that a “God” exists.

I’m an atheist now. The big “Why?” questions have shrunk down into human form. Now, I wait for evidence of this supreme being before making the question “Why?” an all-encompassing, personal context for other questions like “How?” and “What?”

via

April 24, 2010

Gospel Narratives Lack Basic Historical Facts

Posted in history, literature, mythology, non-fiction, scripture at 5:52 am by Jerry

Here’s a few pieces from a response to a chapter in Scott McKnight’s book and an article of his in Christianity Today:

HJ scholars have NO basic facts to start with

To repeat: Nonbiblical historians begin with basic and public facts (that are certain and nondebatable) and move on from those to discover more complex and private facts that are less certain and more debatable than the original primary facts. Historical Jesus historians begin with no basic and public facts. They begin with an unprovenanced narrative that contains much myth and literary artifice, and from which they attempt to create their own basic and public facts by means of exegesis. But the basic and public facts so created are as uncertain and debatable as the secondary facts of nonbiblical historians.

In other words, historical Jesus scholars have no objective, existential raw materials with which even to begin to attempt a legitimate historical enquiry.

Historians have corroborated sources and primary evidence for Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. They have nothing but assumption in the case of Jesus. The Gospel narratives cannot be corroborated as history. Conclusions of exegesis are entirely dependent on the skills and interests of the historian. Exegesis of such documents can never produce an existential or basic real Fact…

Christian “historians” preach a hermeneutics of Love for the Gospel to find facts

Some HJ scholars attempt to substitute a “hermeneutics of love” or “trust” in the absence of external corroboration for their Gospel narrative. Whereas other historians (and everyone else) seek external corroboration to verify reports or narratives, McKnight, Bauckham, and others know they cannot match this basic common-sense approach, so complain that this standard is too “sceptical” and call it a “hermeneutics of suspicion”. This means that the HJ historian must take the Gospel narrative on trust at some level as a genuine attempt, again at some level, to convey real history. McKnight explains the Christian morality behind this:

I contend that a hermeneutics of suspicion is fundamentally at odds with the Christian gospel, which is what a theological discipline is most concerned with. In other words, what a  Christian needs is not a hermeneutics of suspicion but, as Alan Jacobs brilliantly presents, a “hermeneutics of love” or a “hermeneutics of trust”. (p.36)

Would they use the same trust or love for sources other than the canonical Gospels? Would they ask Christian judges in courtrooms to apply the same hermeneutic to any uncorroborated testimony? …

So where does this leave the “facts” used by the historians of Jesus?

McKnight believes that most historical Jesus scholars go along with the essence of this view of what they are doing (p. 15, Jesus and His Death). They see themselves as discovering facts and what those facts mean, and thus adding to an ever widening single knowledge base about Jesus incrementally.

But in historical Jesus studies facts are not incremental, and explanatory theories multiply, not decrease. Newly discovered facts do not augment established data. New “facts” are created to compete against other “facts”. If Jesus cleansed the temple, here are some “facts” to show that it was to declare that its days were numbered (Sanders). No it wasn’t. It was to speak up for the poor (Crossley). Hang on, I don’t think we can say it is a fact that Jesus cleansed the Temple at all (Fredrikson, Mack). This situation testifies loudly that the very preliminary “facts” in historical Jesus studies are nothing like the “facts” that other historians speak of — e.g. that the battle of Hastings took place in 1066, that the first atomic bomb was dropped on the civilian population of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. McKnight, as we have seen above, exposes exactly where such biblical “facts” come from — exegesis of the Gospels…

What of the sources we use?

Elton writes a warning for amateur historians:

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence which will answer a particular question; it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p. 60)

Many historical Jesus historians do, at times, apply this principle. But when confronted with alternative paradigms, such as that of Price, Thompson, or Doherty, they do not address the questions raised accordingly, but respond like amateurs by casting around to find a rebuttal with scattered pieces of particular evidence which they think will answer the particular question.

Elton also addresses the critical importance of the provenance of sources, and uses documents from the Tudor period as an example. How our sources came to be produced is of critical importance for knowing how to interpret them and understand what evidence, if any, they yield. It is essential to know how they came into being. They must be subjected to this sort of critical enquiry before we can know what sort of evidence they will yield (pp. 62-63).

Of the sources the historian uses, Elton wrote:

There is no perfect substitute for total acquaintance with the relevant material. . . . If the independent reality of history is ever to be apprehended, the real meaning of the surviving material must be elicited from the surface appearance. . . . Criticizing the evidence means two things: establishing its genuineness, and assessing its proper significance. (pp. 66-7)

I submit that there is no reason to think that the Gospels were written with a view to containing real history at some level, or were written from testimonies of oral sources that went back to eyewitnesses of real events. This view of the Gospels as authoritative sources is entirely an untested assumption inherited from centuries of inherited conventional wisdom. They have never been tested as the documents purporting to be the Donation of Constantine or the Ems Telegram have been. Certainly historians have attempted to argue for their origins in this or that geographical area, but precious few have attempted to test the conventional wisdom that claims they are indeed records ultimately derived from “traditions” traceable back to real historical characters and events.

Going this far, I suggest, risks questioning the very rationale for whole discipline of biblical studies.

But none of this, of itself, means that the Gospels might not contain real history. As Philip R. Davies might say, such a question has yet to be established. But Thomas L. Thompson can write (The Messiah Myth) that the idea that the gospel narratives and sayings are derived from real history is falsifiable. He argues that pointing to how the Gospel sayings and actions echo widely known literary sayings and deeds from other periods points to their dependence on their wider literary heritage. My own view is that we can only roll with the evidence we have, and that means comparing the Gospels with the similar literature, or literature that contains similar motifs (e.g. the Jewish scriptures, Book of Enoch and other Second Temple and other Mid East literature, Philo, Euripides, Homer), and seeing where that leads. There are no independent external controls to inform us that the contents of the Gospel narrative are historical. We only have literature to compare with literature. Thompson may not have written the most persuasive book when he composed The Messiah Myth, but he is certainly headed in the right direction with a methodology that pulls on the fewest strings to make it work.

What is required of the Gospels before their narratives can be assumed to be evidence for historical facts is a study of their origins, their audiences, their authors at a minimum. These are all matters of speculation, however educated the speculation may be. Their narratives demand external corroboration before they can be taken as serious evidence of historical events. Every historian from Christian Albert Schweitzer to Marxist Eric Hobsbawm knows that truism. Till then, the best any historian can do is to compare their literature with other literature. If that means seeking to explain the origins and nature of the Gospels themselves, and Christian origins more generally, instead of questing for the Historical Jesus “known” to exist by virtue of conventional wisdom and cultural heritage, then we will be making real intellectual and historical progress.

via

March 14, 2010

The Means of Maintaining the Mystery

Posted in art, atheism, culture, film, history, mythology, religion, science, scripture, theology at 6:04 am by Jerry

December 30, 2009

A First Century War On Mythmas

Posted in church, culture, fiction, history, mythology, politics, scripture, theology at 6:05 am by Jerry

Under the Caesars, Augustus and Octavian, the mantle of divinity was claimed for the Roman emperor. They claimed the titles Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace, and Savior of the World.

First century Christians remembered very well that according to Jesus “You shall love the Lord your God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.” Jesus was their Lord. They did not have divided loyalties.

The ancient world was full of miraculous birth stories. It was a favorite way for rulers to claim divine rights. It was a literary tool that was waiting for early Christians to use to declare the divine specialness of the one they called Lord.

The birth narratives that were eventually attached to Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, were stories that were created and circulated to counter the claim of the Caesars to be divine and worthy to be called Lord. Every claim of specialness for Caesar was countered by the claim that all his titles belonged to Jesus.

The birth narratives are as much political treatise as theological statement. They cannot be found as a part of the earliest memories of followers of Jesus and make sense only in the context of their Roman oppressors claim for divinity…

Broadly speaking the authors were storytellers. They were not historians. Their work cannot be understood as history.

The birth narratives are properly called myths. A myth by definition is any story or report in which God or a God is the primary actor. Angels, free-moving stars, dreams, and unexplained bright lights are a part of the tools of mythology. Christians and the world at large have not been served well by attempts to read the birth narratives as history.

Just as many children feel deceived when they find out Santa is not real, many Christians feel deceived when they conclude that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that a star did not travel through the sky and come to rest over a particular place in Bethlehem. (bold mine)

Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.

December 29, 2009

Virgin Born

Posted in art, atheism, mythology, religion at 7:04 am by Jerry

October 29, 2009

Stardust

Posted in atheism, film, mythology, science, songs, soup at 3:56 pm by Jerry

So many stars have died, exploding their dust across the universe, finding homes on planets such as ours. We, are literally the dust of many stars that have mixed into a variety of shapes, evolving from one form into another over millions of years.

One form we hold close to our hearts, among the many passing forms of stardust, is a form we call “life”.

We can be myth-makers, personifying death as a thief, a thief that will soon be met with justice, our lives returned to us once again. Or we can see ourselves as stardust, changing its form from one with life into another without.

Once the game is over, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.

Italian Proverb

September 29, 2009

Stephen Fry on the “Divine Fire” and Human Imagination

Posted in art, atheism, church, culture, fiction, film, history, literature, mythology, religion, science fiction, scripture, theology at 1:34 pm by Jerry

I feel like I’ve been posting far too many youtubes on my blog, but I also feel that it would be wrong not to post them. Here, again, is another youtube, and it has made my copy of Shelley’s Frankenstein call out to me for another read. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read this favorite among favorites of mine because it’s been so long since I’ve touched it last. And I’m afraid it will be some time longer before I get to it again.

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