Monthly Archives: June 2007

10 characteristics of religious fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is a term applied to various Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Judaic groups, and even to some secular (economic and environmental) groups. All different.

Yet Tamas Pataki in his newly published Against Religion lists what he sees as “criss-crossing similarities — family resemblances — in certain basic beliefs, values, and attitudes” (p.27) that characterize the various religious groups labelled “fundamentalist”. read more »

science vs faith, creation etc

Some might be interested in a discussion on faith and creation vs science and evolution hidden away under my post about Judasbeginning from the comment dated 23rd June 07

an old pic . . . my angle . . . (nothing more)

While visiting the British Museum I took this pic of Mithras Slaying the Bull from this angle because it shows (more than other images I can recall) how the scorpion is, like the snake and dog, sucking in the life juices of the bull — whether its blood from the dagger wound or the testicles. (Okay, the blood sucking dog and serpent is clearer as such in other images, but this angle does display the scorpion’s target of attack in this particular statue.)

So what does this have to do with the Gospel of Mark? Who knows…. David Ulansey may have something to say about it. So, in close step with Ulansey, might Michael Patella, who similarly sees the origins of Christianity embedded in cosmological developments otherwise known to practitioners of Mithraism. read more »

Did Iranian leaders really call for genocide of Jews and nuking of Israel?

There have been several rebuttals of the western media’s outrageous uncritical relaying of neo-con and “Bush-it(e)” propaganda asserting that Iranian leadership has called for the wiping of Israel off the map.

No such claim was made, and the fact that the mainstream western media reported it as fact speaks disheartening volumes about that media’s complicity with the corporate elite or lack of any principle other than $$ and ratings.

If you have been left with any impressions that Iran really did call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” then do please check out this latest rebuttal and forward to friends:

That such incredible lies can be perpetrated in the time of so much ability for a sincere media to really expose such nonsense for what it is, ….. what can one say, if not simply that when another mass killing happens that it will be the “fourth estate” as much as any who must be held accountable!

Richard Dawkins compounds the Sam Harris error on suicide bombers

There is much to commend The God Delusion as a clear presentation of a wide range of reasons for viewing atheism as not only a rational but a wholesome and positive alternative to religion. I will probably address some of these in future posts. (The book is also far by miles from being the rabid polemic against religion that it has been promoted as being in many quarters.)

But there is one area where the book disappointed me — it follows Sam Harris’s End of Faith in simplistically reducing the fundamental cause of Islamic suicide terrorism to the belief that a martyr’s death will translate into heavenly and/or virginal bliss.

At least Dawkins acknowledges that there are other factors pressuring such terrorists to their acts, but he still comes down on this fanciful belief as being the bottom line that enables such actions.

The reason I think it worth addressing this claim is that I believe it has the potential of stoking the flames of intolerance, especially against a large part of non-western humanity, and contributing to western blindness that can only serve to perpetuate the whole problem. read more »

The problem of understanding anonymous texts (e.g. gospels)

There’s an interesting passage in Steve Fuller’s Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science that strikes me as having a most cogent critique of those who assert that the most honest and true way to read the gospels is to simply take them at face value:

Even if ideas and arguments should be evaluated independently of their origins, we must still first learn about their origins, in order to ensure the evaluation is indeed independent of them. The only thing worse than accepting or rejecting an idea because we know about its originator is doing so because we know nothing of the originator. Ignorance may appear in two positive guises. Both are due to the surface clarity of relatively contemporary texts, which effectively discourages any probing of their sources: on the one hand, we may read our own assumptions into the textual interstices; on the other, we may unwittingly take on board the text’s assumptions. In short, either our minds colonise theirs or theirs ours. In both cases, the distinction between the positions of interpreter and interpreting is dissolved, and hence a necessary condition for critical distance is lost.

pp. 71-72 (italics, Fuller’s; bold, mine)

Substitute for “relatively contemporary texts” the canonical gospels and read a commentary about texts, in this case the gospels and Acts or the Epistles, that present a “surface clarity”. Such a “surface clarity” — especially in a case when we know nothing of the origin of those texts — presents a huge problem for any interpreter. This is contrary to many who would see ignorance of authorship and provenance as irrelevant and who believe that the plain meaning of the text compels belief in the truly fair-minded.

So what is Fuller’s point and what relevance can this have for our reading of the gospels? read more »

Mark’s Parable of Easter Sunday

Mark’s gospel concludes with a scene that contains several bizarre elements that defy logical explanation. One of these is his narrative of the women bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body but wondering as they go: Duh, has anyone worked out a plan for how we are going to get through the door of the tomb? (Mark 16:3)

The story, as told, does not make narrative sense. Yes, one can imagine a whole array of factors to make it work, but then it becomes the story of whoever is doing that imagining, and it is no longer Mark’s story as he has given it to us.

But the story, as told, does make profound and cogent sense as a parable or allegory. It recalls two stories in the early chapters of the gospel: read more »

Making more sense of Jesus . . .

One can argue that the author took historical traditions and sayings and edited them to give them a theological spin, but this is to make two assumptions when it is much simpler to make but one: that the author created the stories and sayings as theological parables.

Just as the healing of the paralytic is told in the shadow of the death and resurrection of Jesus (both laid in dug-out places, both rise and go through a massive block that prevents others from entering), so the withered hand miracle is also told as a reverberation of the withered growth in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:6) and the withering of the fig tree to mark the end of Jesus.

Thus the story and words of Jesus make sense when and only when they are read as an allegory. To read the story as a literal healing is to ruin the story and to disconnect the sayings of Jesus from the story. read more »

Making sense of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

Jesus’ words often make contextual sense only if his acts to which his words refer are viewed as allegory. They make no sense, and open him to false charges, if his acts are read literally. Mark did appear to say that Jesus did not speak without his words being a parable.

But without a parable he did not speak to them (Mark 4:34)

Yet readers generally take his sayings at face value and his healings as literal events. What if we look at both as parables? That is, his healings are parables and his words explain them as parables. Otherwise, the reader falls into the trap of siding with the enemies of Jesus and seeing him as a lawbreaker, even if they excuse him, unlike his enemies. read more »

Baptism: Another Markan trap? Or, The Gospel of Perfection

“I think the whole story of Jesus is a parable, an allegory. If you insist on making it literal you destroy it.” — Vridar’s thoughts in Vardis Fisher’s Orphans in Gethsemane (Vol.1, For Passion, For Heaven)

Why does Mark leave readers hanging right through to the end of his gospel and never show the fulfilment of John’s proclamation that Jesus would baptize with the holy spirit?

I indeed baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the holy spirit (Mk.1.8)

Or is this another one of those “Markisms” where he sets up the reader (and characters in his gospel) to expect one thing while he really means the words in a different sense? read more »

John Carroll on the Existential Jesus (live this time) — (podcast/transcript)

Mark’s Greek according to John Carroll (The Existential Jesus):

(pics nicked from here. Two faces or one vase?)

This is how Mark’s Greek works — surface text vs subtext — according to John Carroll: read more »

the creation of past golden ages, or beware what you dream . . .

Michelle Goldberg’s description of Christian nationalism in her book Kingdom Coming has been an eye-opener for this non-American on a number of levels. Till having read this book I had heard or read the odd strange comment from a US citizen that implied they believed the framers of the US constitution were divinely inspired, or that the founding fathers did not intend a separation of Church and State, but I dismissed these views as coming from the oddball eccentric. I know something of fundamentalist Christian power in the U.S. but Goldberg showed me that there really is a mass movement of radical Christians who believe these whacko or similar myths about their own national history. (Someone do please tell me Goldberg’s book is all b.s.)

Many Christian “restorationists”, I may be the last to have learned, really do trace the founding of their nation to idealized colonial “theonomies” (the rule of god’s law) and not to the War of Independence and related unification with their first Constitution.

I would love to trace the origin of this utopian myth and to know a little about when it first made itself felt among these religious groups, and to see how its growth has perhaps coincided with social conflicts and the religious identities of these groups feeling threatened, rightly or wrongly.

Are past Utopias a necessary part of constructing a vision of what we want for the future or sooner? Are they an atavistic analog of modern Soap Operas? (I’ve read statistics that said those who believe in God and watch Soap Operas are “happier” than those who don’t — true! But I’ll leave the commentary on the connection between these two to others) 🙂

Visions of past Utopian ages have always been among us. read more »

bauckham vs enlightenment (rev)

(i have wondered if the more grammatically correct heading should be “bauckham vs the enlightenment” — but the more i think about it the more i realize that “bauckham vs enlightenment” is the more accurate.)

For those who are not history buffs, by Enlightenment I mean the rise of a rational/naturalist/’humanitarianist’ approach to knowledge, science, and religion that marked especially the 18th century. Think Newton, Franklin, Voltaire, Boyle, Hutton, Harvey, Linnaeus (300 years old this month– big celebrations in Sweden!), Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Louis XIV, Catherine the Great, Frederick ditto — not eastern mysticism.

When I first began reading Bauckham’s Eyewitnesses I simply assumed I would be engaging with a work by someone with a normal academic acceptance of normal scholarly standards. read more »