Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-09-30

Professor John Moles — In Memoriam

by Neil Godfrey

I was very shocked and saddened to belatedly learn of the death of Professor John Moles:

Professor John Moles: In Memoriam by Jane Heath

john-moles

John Moles

Professor Moles was a Classicist (not a New Testament scholar) but some of his research did overlap with the earliest literature of Christianity. From time to time John Moles and I engaged in email discussion and it was while searching to renew contact just now that I learned that he had passed away last year.

Vridar addressed two of John’s articles:

Here is an extract from Jane Heath’s tribute:

Two themes that he never tired of were puns and Dionysus.  No one who had been to a few seminars with him could forget that “Jesus” in Greek is punned with the verb of healing (Iesous/iaomai), and “Christ” with “grace” as well as “anointing” (Christos/charis/chrisma).  Dionysus and his cult were often spotted by John in the motifs and language of the New Testament.  He would draw attention to Richard Seaford’s article from 1984 on Dionysiac echoes in Paul’s imagery of seeing Christ “through a glass darkly”, and might add, modestly, that he too had written a piece on Dionysus in Acts.  While it is not uncommon for scholars to try to cross the lines between Classics and New Testament Studies, it is a rare pearl to find one who combines the depth and breadth of Classical learning that John had, with such professional commitment to New Testament study.  Perhaps there were times when some of us thought he pushed the Classical connections too far, but we could only be grateful for being made think in ways we couldn’t or didn’t without our “pagan” friend.  And indeed, the prominence in the church fathers of both punning on Iesous and Christos, and of connections between Dionysiac and Christian imagery, lend strong support to some of John’s instincts in reading the New Testament texts.

In email exchanges John expressed several of his views on the Bible, New Testament scholarship, mythicism (he was not a mythicist) and religion (he described himself as a liberal Anglican) — and generally tied back to relationships with the Classical world. At a time I was going through a pretty rough patch with certain biblical scholars posting some rather vile comments about Vridar and me personally John Moles gave me encouragement by sharing some of his personal knowledge of the backgrounds and biases of those involved.

He also emailed me a compliment on a post of mine about one of his own articles — I had attempted to be as honest, writing with as much neutrality and distance as I could, and in return John wrote me in September 2011:

You’ve done a clean job in your posting on ‘Jesus the Healer’. It reflects well on you.

As an amateur that meant a lot to me coming from a Classicist of John Moles’ standing.

I had looked forward to following up with further exchanges and am very sad he is no longer with us.

 


2016-09-15

More nonsense from Jerry Coyne

by Neil Godfrey

At any rate, there’s a lively discussion going on in Heather’s comments section, and Neil Godfrey has shown up, arguing, as he always does, that the role of Islam in Islamic terrorism is much overrated. I’m just glad he’s inflicted himself on Heather and not me.

It baffles me that nearly every nonreligious ideology—Nazism, Stalinism, racism, and so on—can be seen without opposition as a source of horrible acts, but when you get to religion, well, nope, it never inspires anything bad. (Of course, those same folks will tell you about all the good it inspires.)

Jerry Coyne, Heather Hastie on why Bin Laden masterminded 9/11: was it Islam?

Of course Islamists terrorists used their religious beliefs to justify their terrorist program. Of course National Socialism and Stalinism inspired wicked things. So is “socialism” to blame for the Holocaust? the genocide of the kulaks? I recently wrote a post referring to Robert Owen and his socialist ideas. It’s utterly absurd to suggest socialism itself is responsible in any way for Hitler’s rampage in the name of National Socialism or anything done by Stalin.

Nazi and Stalinist ideologies are to socialism as Islamism is to Islam — as my recent posts on the origins of Islamism make very clear in the words of the Islamists themselves.

Who the hell is this Neil Godfrey anyway that Jerry Coyne should bother to even make reference on his blog post to my comment on Heather’s site?


About Vridar: On Politics, Religion and Propaganda

by Neil Godfrey

If you are vain enough to think I am directing my posts about propaganda at you you are probably right. I am certainly revisiting my past and still preaching to myself.

Vridar was the fictional name Vardis Fisher use of the main character in his “autobiographical novel” The Orphans of Gethsemane. Vridar had been raised in a strict Mormon household and had to learn anew the fundamental lessons of life and love only after leaving that faith behind. I found myself identifying closely with Vridar in the novel.

Religion was only one part of what Vridar had to unlearn and come to understand. The same with me. My past experiences left me wondering how I could have been so completely wrong for so long about so many things in life.

As a significant part of my post graduate degree course in educational studies I found myself compelled (willingly) to investigate the difference between education and propaganda. The bizarre irony was that I remained true to my religious faith the entire time of my studies! How is such a double-bind possible? It makes no sense.

But it did happen and as I was breaking away in subsequent years from my faith I often thought back trying to identify how it happened.

I have also told before my disillusionment on leaving my faith cocoon only to find the same processes at work in others and the wider society that had, in concentrated form, led me into my “extremist” religion. The world was not immune. The same processes were all around me, everywhere. The difference being, fortunately, that in the wider world there is also more potential to exposure to opposing views, debate, and the processes that come together to radicalize some individuals are often (not always) in more diluted forms elsewhere.

Propaganda is a topic that is close to my own heart; it is a topic that opens one’s eyes to not only how the wider world works but also to how each of us works. I am no different from anyone else in that respect.

So let’s recap, and I am embracing here previous posts where I have set out a discussion of what Vridar is about:

Vridar is about attempting to understand religion, not simply bash and attack it.

It is about attempting to understand the origins of Christianity and other related faiths, especially the Bible, and is not on any crusade to undermine or attack them, either. Plenty of other sites do that quite effectively.

It is about trying to understand human nature, the way the world works, how our views are shaped, whether those views relate to religion, politics, human values.

It is about understanding anything else from time to time of special interest from history and science or wherever.

I am well aware many readers have left Vridar because of the non-religious topics, especially those relating to Islam and terrorism. That is sad, but inevitable. (Many mainstream religionists, both lay and scholar, have walked away, too.) I know that many people are not interested in exploring why the wider world “thinks” the way it does or how they have come to have the views they do. They are supremely confident that they understand all of these things very well. Just like I was confident that a post-graduate course exploring the nature of propaganda would not shake my faith, because I knew the sure grounds of my faith.

I have tried to make the most of the experiences that led to Vridar in the first place so that those earlier years could be somehow turned to something useful for anyone interested. I don’t claim to have definite answers, but I have learned some lessons and am very interested in learning and understanding, and sharing what I learn and come to understand here.

It is a shame that some readers are more interested in trolling, attacking, etc rather than discussing those things, but that’s how the world works.


2016-09-04

Religion Explained: how to make a good religious concept

by Neil Godfrey

fsmLet’s try to understand what religious beliefs are. What makes a religious belief work, take hold, and are found across cultures and generations? In these posts I’m continuing to focus on Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer whose explanation is grounded in cognitive theory. That is, this is a cognitive explanation for religion.

Religious beliefs — gods, ghosts, virgin births, etc — are not randomly fabricated nonsense. (I included ghosts as an example of religious beliefs because I’m discussing religion in its most generic sense and not confining myself to mainstream Western religions.) Religious concepts actually follow certain rules or recipes. They have specific types of properties. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, on the contrary, is a concoction made to look like “randomly fabricated nonsense”; the ingredients that go into the making of real religious concepts could scarcely produce a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I cannot possibly explain in depth how this recipe works in a blog post. To get the details one ought to read the first two chapters of Boyer’s book. I will try to hit key highlights. (And of course the terms used in describing cognitive processes are necessarily metaphorical.)

There are two essential ingredients that go into making a viable religious concept, and they need to be mixed in the right proportions. Boyer discusses the experimental research behind it all but I won’t address any of that here.

Take the overall understanding of what we all have by the idea of “animal”. We have all constructed since infancy an common set of ideas of what being an “animal” means, such as:

  • animals grow and die
  • animals have typical shapes or body plans
  • animals need food to survive
  • animals reproduce “after their own kind” or species

In fact we have “minitheories” about what it means to be an animal. As soon as we understand something is an animal we immediately infer many things about it that we do not need to check or test each time: e.g. it consists of the same sorts of innards, digestive tract, nervous system, as any other animal; that it will have a symmetrical shape; that it eats to survive — either plants or other animals; that if it kills and eats other animals it does so because it gets hungry, and so forth.

If you never heard of an Invisible Rail but were told it was an animal creature of some sort, then you would instantly know all of the above about it before even knowing what sort of animal it was or what it looked like.

An animal category in our heads enables us to make sense of “natural concepts” and to make all sorts of inferences about their behaviour without ever being told such details again each time we learn about a new animal.

In other words, we have a whole range of expectations that come into play whenever we are told about a new animal. If you heard that an Invisible Rail laid eggs from which baby Invisible Rails hatched you would not be surprised. If in addition you learned that it had wings, you would know it is a bird, and you would assume it has a beak and feathers. All of this would be consistent with the sorts of details you would have expected to hear about a something belonging to the animal category of knowledge.

But if you hear that an Invisible Rail had the ability to suddenly materialize anywhere and anytime when a child was deeply distressed, that would be unexpected information. That ability would violate all that you know about the properties of physical bodies. It would not be something your understanding of animals allowed to happen.

In fact, you would almost certainly recall that unexpected detail about the Invisible Rail because it is so unusual, so unexpected. You would imagine the Invisible Rail is a very unusual sort of animal.

But at the same time everything else about the Invisible Rail — laying eggs, feathers, wings, beak — would be exactly as you expect.

A religious concept consists of these two things:

  1. it violates certain expectations from what we call “ontological categories”
  2. it preserves other expectations.

There are a few more rules surrounding these two details, but first let’s understand “ontological categories”. read more »


2016-09-02

Mountains Driving Evolution

by Neil Godfrey
SE chart simple FINAL

Selenium abundances in the oceans over the past 550 million years. Note severe depletion of this vital trace element at three major extinction events (red triangles), suggesting this was a possible factor in these extinctions. Credit: John Long & Ross Large. From Phys.Org; Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-11-elementary-theory-mass-extinctions-life.html#jCp

Okay, it’s a bit old, but awards have just been bestowed upon the scientists involved so it’s worth noting once again. Some fascinating science news by science reporter Natalie Whiting:

‘Eureka moment’ research into ocean selenium levels asks: Did mountains control evolution of humans?

Their research has shown that almost every major growth period or extinction in the Earth’s history correlates with a change in the amount of the trace element selenium in the ocean.

When there are high levels of selenium, there is growth; when levels fall, there are extinctions. . . .

. . .

“These three mass extinction events are put down to things like global anoxia — a lack of oxygen in the oceans causing extinctions, or cooling events, like ice age events.

“But none of these events or causes in themselves are total explanations for the widespread extinctions both in the oceans and on land in some instances.

“So our explanation of the trace element depauperation (poor development) in the oceans is a very good example of something that covers all the bases and actually gives a better explanation for some of these events.”

Then there’s header that I like:

A twist on Darwin’s theory: Did man evolve from the mountains?

The research has provided strong evidence that it is the movement of tectonic plates which releases trace elements, like selenium, into the ocean.

“So we’ve added a new dimension where you might say that really it’s plate tectonics which controls evolution. Because, indirectly, plate tectonics controls the chemistry of the ocean, and the chemistry of the ocean has a big control on evolutionary pathways,” Professor Large explained.

“That’s why I often say to people basically man came from the mountains. It’s mountain building, and the erosion of all those nutrients into the ocean, that controlled man’s evolution.”

Further, a discussion on The Conversation:

Plate tectonics may have driven the evolution of life on Earth

 


2016-09-01

The Games and Tricks We Play with Words

by Neil Godfrey

Remember Don’t Think of an Elephant! and its co-author George Lakoff and then go to Trump Means Exactly What He Says: Trump is swaying millions with his calculated rhetoric also by Lakoff. Lakoff takes the time to dissect Trump’s seemingly casual throw-away words and helps us understand a lot about the subtleties of communication. We can often sense that something’s not right or that there’s a message being conveyed that is not being explicitly stated, but Lakoff’s analysis helps us identify why we can sense that and puts a spotlight on the mechanisms by which that unstated message is being conveyed:

Here’s his analysis of Trump’s suggestion that many took as a call to assassinate Hilary Clinton:

Here is the classic case, the Second Amendment Incident. The thing to be aware of is that his words are carefully chosen. They go by quickly when people hear them. But they are processed unconsciously first by neural circuitry—and neurons operate on a thousandth-of-a-second time scale. Your neural circuitry has plenty of time to engage in complex forms of understanding, based on what you already know.

Trump begins by saying, “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.” He first just says “abolish,” and then hedges by adding “essentially abolish.” But having said “abolish” twice, he has gotten across the message that she wants to, and is able to change the Constitution in that way.

Now, at the time the Second Amendment was written, the “arms” in “bear arms” were long rifles that fired one bullet at a time. The “well-regulated militia” was a local group, like a contemporary National Guard unit, regulated by a local government with military command structure. They were protecting American freedoms against the British.

The Second Amendment has been reinterpreted by contemporary ultra-conservatives as the right of individual citizens to bear contemporary arms (e.g. AK-47s), either to protect their families against invaders or to change a government by armed rebellion if that government threatens what they see as their freedoms. The term “Second Amendment” activates the contemporary usage by ultra-conservatives. It is a dog-whistle term, understood in that way by many conservatives.

Now, no president or Supreme Court could literally abolish any constitutional amendment alone. But a Supreme Court could judge that certain laws concerning gun ownership could be unconstitutional. That is what Trump meant by “essentially abolish.”

Thus, the election of Hillary Clinton threatens the contemporary advocates of the Second Amendment.

Trump goes on: “By the way, and if she gets to pick [loud boos]—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Here are the details.
read more »


2016-08-31

Jesus Potter Harry Christ The Bible & A Scholar

by Neil Godfrey

basiccoverHow Is Harry Potter Different Than the Bible? — that’s a recent post by Christian-believing scholar James McGrath, and as one might expect from the title by such faithful convert the post is in effect an exhortation for people to read the Bible more seriously and diligently than they do their Harry Potter novels.

The majority of Harry Potter fans actually READ Harry Potter.

James McGrath continues:

In fact, they read it all the way through, paying close attention to detail, on more than one occasion.

Mmm, yeh, well . . . I happen to know many apologist jerks who can boast just that — having read the Bible right through, close attention to detail, several times.
Yes, yes, of course we all know the next line,

many Christians who claim to take the Bible seriously actually merely pay lip service to it

But isn’t there one little detail being missed here?
The Bible is NOT a single book by a single author like any Harry Potter novel. Unless one believes a supernatural mind was using human scribes to write it all in 66 chapters.
So what motivates a biblical scholar, a professional scholar, to compare the Harry Potter novels with a texts composed across centuries and cultures and compiled some time around the fourth century by a warring church council?
Odd.
One does not get the feeling that one would be able to engage in a serious non-partisan academic discussion with such a scholar.
But to see the real relationship between Harry Potter and Jesus Christ one can’t go past Derek Murphy’s analogies in Jesus Potter Harry Christ.


2016-08-30

Did Mark Invent the Sea of Galilee?

by Neil Godfrey

And while we’re talking about interesting posts elsewhere I must add one by Paul Davidson on his Is That in the Bible? (Exploring the Judeo-Christian Scriptures) blog. His recent post is Did Mark Invent the Sea of Galilee? It’s an interesting discussion on why the author of the second gospel decided to call that lake a sea. Paul Davidson brings in a range of sources into the discussion. About the only one he doesn’t reference is the possibility (according to some) that the theological or parabolic adventures on that “sea” were based on Paul’s career.

One message is clear (at least to me): the author is writing a creative narrative rich in theological symbolism.


Historical versus Spiritual Eyewitnesses

by Neil Godfrey

Matthew Ferguson has posted an excellent outline of how ancient historians and biographers testified to their sources or eyewitness testimony in ways we scarcely find in any of the New Testament writings: Eyewitness Recollections in Greco-Roman Biography versus the Anonymity of the Gospels. It’s a topic I’ve addressed here before but not for a while now and Matthew goes into much more detail than my earlier posts.

To move from sublime historical methods and understanding into the …. “spiritual”, let’s say …. On the Jesus Blog Rafael Rodríguez discusses some difficulties he has with Arthur Dewey’s chapter, “The Eyewitness of History: Visionary Consciousness in the Fourth Gospel”, in Jesus in Johannine Tradition. RR’s post is “eyewitness” in Johannine tradition.

I am very willing to admit I may have misunderstood key points (it is written in jargon that theologians apparently find meaningful) but it sounds to me as if the arguments is that an eyewitness in the Gospel of John is someone who has not seen the events with his or her own eyes but has been given spiritual understanding of the meaning of a story he or she read or heard about. Or at least if what they have heard or read about is the crucifixion of Jesus.

On the other hand, if someone did see the crucifixion with their own eyes, they would NOT be an eyewitness because the Spirit of God did not give them an understanding of the theological meaning of that event.

Somehow I’m reminded of Edmund Cohen’s The Mind of the Bible Believer and where he discusses the “logicide” of the faithful. To make the Bible “meaningful” and “good” for today’s readers the meanings of words have to be turned inside out. So “love” and “hate” are reversed; so are “death” and “life”, and so forth. Looks like theologians also have the ability to turn an eyewitness into someone who was not an eyewitness. And that this sort of “spiritual insight” comes packaged in an essay with “history” in its title . . .  well, someone else might be able to find the words to express a coherent thought.

 


2016-08-29

Jerry Coyne on Jesus Christ Again (per RR)

by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne is no doubt upsetting the biblical scholars whose living (and more often than not their personal faith) depends upon Jesus having been a historical figure @ Not much evidence for a historical Jesus. (He insists he speaks as a scientist and as such is not very impressed by theologians claiming he should respect the consensus of theologians; I do wish he’d approach Islam scientifically, too!) He’s referring to Historical Evidence For Jesus by Rosa Rubicondior.

(As an afterthought, I also wish theologians would not botch the theory of evolution by unscientifically saying that it is compatible with Old Earth Creationism.)


2016-08-28

Where religious beliefs come from

by Neil Godfrey
Tylor and Frazer

Tylor and Frazer

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Sam Harris: Wrong (again) about Religion and Radicalization
  2. Religion: It’s more than we often think
  3. Was Religion Invented to Explain Things — or to Compound Mystery? . . . Or. . . ?

Since we tend to take it for granted that beliefs in spirit beings and associated myths were invented to explain the world around us I was surprised to read in Pascal Boyer‘s Religion Explained that this assumption is problematic and no longer accepted by all anthropologists:

[T]he theme of religion-as-an-explanation was developed by a school of anthropology called intellectualism, which was initiated by 19th-century scholars such as Edward Burnett Tylor and James Frazer and remains quite influential to this day. (p. 15)

It is not true, Boyer argues, that humans naturally try to find some speculative explanations for commonly experienced phenomena that they lack the conceptual means to understand.

The mistake of intellectualism was to assume that a human mind is driven by a general urge to explain. That assumption is no more plausible than the idea that animals, as opposed to plants, feel a general “urge to move around.” Animals never move about for the sake of changing places. They are in search of food or safety or sex; their movements in these different situations are caused by different processes. The same goes for explanations. From a distance, as it were, you may think that the general point of having a mind is to explain and understand. But if you look closer, you see that what happens in a mind is far more complex; this is crucial to understanding religion.

There’s a lot to think about here. Certainly for me there is. Boyer gives an example of one of the most common everyday experiences of every healthy person that is very hard for us to think requires any explanation at all.

Nervous_systemNow, expressed in this blunt and general manner, the statement is plainly false. Many phenomena are both familiar to all of us from the youngest age and difficult to comprehend using our everyday concepts, yet nobody tries to find an explanation for them. For instance, we all know that our bodily movements are not caused by external forces that push or pull us but by our thoughts. That is, if I extend my arm and open my hand to shake hands with you, it’s precisely because I want to do that. Also, we all assume that thoughts have no weight or size or other such material qualities (the idea of an apple is not the size of the apple, the idea of water does not flow, the idea of a rock is no more solid than the idea of butter). If I have the intention to lift my arm, to take a classic example, this intention itself has no weight or solidity. Yet it manages to move parts of my body. . . . How can this occur? How could things without substance have effects in the material world? Or, to put it in less metaphysical terms, how on earth do these mental words and images pull my muscles? This is a difficult problem for philosophers and cognitive scientists . . . but surprisingly enough, it is a problem for nobody else in the entire world. Wherever you go, you will find that people are satisfied with the idea that thoughts and desires have effects on bodies and that’s that. (Having raised such questions in English pubs and Fang villages in Cameroon I have good evidence that in both places people see nothing mysterious in the way their minds control their bodies. Why should they? It requires very long training in a special tradition to find the question interesting or puzzling.)

That illustration got me thinking and wondering. Is it too clever? I can certainly see myself as one of Boyer’s English pub companions thinking there is “nothing mysterious” at all about the process. But of course that’s his point. Then I recalled the (apocryphal) story of Isaac Newton wondering why the apple he had just seen fall from a tree did not instead fall upwards or hang suspended.

If we can throw things up skyward why do they decide at some point to come back down again?

Why does food appease my hunger but then too much food make me feel sick?

Why do babies grow up and not just stay as babies? Why do we get weaker as we age? Why do we age?

Why do we and every other living thing have matching right and left sides?

It takes a little effort at first, but once one starts on that track it does seem there is a point here. And I can only think of some of those questions because I need first to refer to what I have learned from my reading of science. Religious explanations are indeed limited to only certain types of stories and never touch many potential questions for the pre-scientific mind.

The more I think about it the more I think it is true that our minds are not “general explanation machines”.

Boyer’s point is that the mind consists of lots of specialized explanatory engines or “inference systems”. I have hummed and harred whether to set out my own explanations and have finally opted to quote more of Boyer’s own words but with my formatting:

Consider this:

It is almost impossible to see a scene without seeing it in three dimensions, because our brains cannot help explaining the flat images projected onto the retina as the effect of real volumes out there.

If you are brought up among English speakers you just cannot help understanding what people say in that language, that is, explaining complex patterns of sound frequencies as strings of words.

People spontaneously explain the properties of animals in terms of some inner properties that are common to their species; if tigers are aggressive predators and yaks quiet grazers, this must be because of their essential nature.

We spontaneously assume that the shape of particular tools is explained by their designers’ intentions rather than as an accidental combination of parts; the hammer has a sturdy handle and a heavy head because that is the best way to drive nails into hard materials.

We find that it is impossible to see a tennis ball flying about without spontaneously explaining its trajectory as a result of a force originally imposed on it.

If we see someone’s facial expression suddenly change we immediately speculate on what may have upset or surprised them, which would be the explanation of the change we observed.

When we see an animal suddenly freeze and leap up we assume it must have detected a predator, which would explain why it stopped and ran away. 

If our houseplants wither away and die we suspect the neighbors did not water them as promised—that is the explanation.

It seems that our minds constantly produce such spontaneous explanations.

Inference Systems

read more »


2016-08-16

How the Roman World Received the News of Jerusalem’s Destruction

by Neil Godfrey

Just as I finished reading Steve Mason’s A History of the Jewish War, AD 66-74 an article Why Did Vespasian and Titus Destroy Jerusalem? by David Gurevich appeared in TheTorah.com (h/t Jim Davila’s PaleoJudaica). Gurevich’s views make an interesting comparison with Mason’s.

Both align with the view that the emperor Vespasian presented the destruction of Jerusalem as a major victory against a most significant threat to the Roman imperium in the East so that both he himself and his successor son Titus would be feted as the preservers of Roman glory and even as the ones who expanded her empire. The year 69 is infamous as the “Year of the Four Emperors”, being blighted by civil war in the wake of Nero’s suicide, and since Vespasian was from a social class lower than the aristocracy he was not the obvious choice for the one who would restore order and stability to the empire. But by presenting his and his son’s destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and by his subsequent establishment of Judea as a brand new province, Vespasian was able to present himself as not only the restorer of a stable peace but even as the pair who expanded Roman power and grandeur.

In reality ….. well, let’s not dwell upon the reality at this moment of the excitement of restoration of peace and expanding imperial fame.

Before CNN, Al-Jazeera and Twitter emperors relayed their messages through public displays, monumental constructions and coinage.

Public Displays:

Triumphal marches through the city of Rome were not awarded for the mere police-duty of bringing a few wild dogs to heel. But if such a police-duty could be presented as something much more than that, as even an expansion of imperial boundaries and the defeat of an existential threat from the barbaric Orient, then one would have to be supra-human to resist such a temptation. Triumphal processions displayed graphic images of the mighty Roman armies destroying the cities, homes and persons of the aliens; they displayed the vast wealth of treasures captured; and the displayed prisoners, including the enemy leader who was doomed to be executed at the end of the Triumph.

triumph

Monuments: read more »


2016-08-04

Happy Birthday Earl Doherty

by Neil Godfrey

Today, or whenever Thursday 4th August catches up with you, is, according to my Facebook reminder, Earl Doherty’s birthday. Earl has had a major impact on the understanding of many people about Christian origins whether or not they agree with every detail. And even among those who flatly oppose his views he managed to ruffle feathers and raise concerns over the questions many more people are asking.

Some years back in personal exchanges with Earl I found my awareness of the need for constant testing of one’s ideas against logical validity and evidence becoming increasingly honed. I was especially inspired by the grace, cool calm, sharp logic and vast knowledge of the scholarship and sources that he applied in his first foray into discussions with biblical scholars on Crosstalk despite the unprofessional responses of a few names there. Everything he has written on Christian origins is worth reading and thinking about.

And I am particularly grateful for him introducing me to Vardis Fisher’s Testament of Man series of novels (a graphic sits on the top right corner of this blog), from which I branched out to further read Children of God.

Anyway, enough of the speech. Have a great day, Earl.

 

 


Don’t call me spiritual

by Neil Godfrey
From https://pixabay.com/en/religion-biblical-spirituality-1136945/

From https://pixabay.com/en/religion-biblical-spirituality-1136945/

A prominent social researcher Hugh McKay was recently discussing the topic “Spirituality in a secular age” and claiming for the word spiritual a whole lot of stuff that I think surely belongs to chemistry, biology and various other specialist branches of science.

At one point McKay acknowledged that to some people (he must have been thinking of me!) the word “spirituality” has become as debased and meaningless as the word “organic” today. I do agree.

Is not our propensity to find meaning in “something bigger than ourselves” an extension of the contingencies of our very social nature. I doubt too many would consider our sense of identity with our families, local communities, ethnicity, gender, various other groupings (military, workplace, school, sports teams, political party), our nation, our species ….. as “spiritual”. But no, I’m jumping ahead here. Some people really do use “spirituality” to describe a person’s sense of one-ness with humanity.

When asked about my “spirituality” I used to say I believe in poetry, in metaphors, to describe very “physical” feelings of awe and wonder. Why not? No doubt the most “awesome” emotional experiences can all be identified via a CT scan.

If I wished I suppose I could go over the top and accuse the Hugh McKays of this world of ontological imperialism, of imposing their own belief constructs on others in a way that denies them their own identities. But nah. Too little time. Life’s too important. (Besides, I do respect Hugh McKay himself since he knows well the boundaries between his own assumptions and those of others, etc.)

It’s just one of those things that pushes the button that causes my eyes to roll.