Monthly Archives: July 2007

“Sin”, genes and human nature

Some brilliant programs have been broadcast recently on ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind program.

I’ve learned far more about why “good people do bad things”, why some people are more prone to violence or sex crimes in just one or two of Natasha Mitchell’s programs than anyone can ever hope to understand from all the holy books and revelations that have ever existed. And even better, what science has learned gives good reason to be hopeful for future treatment and preventive programs — if only primeval ignorance about human nature can give way in enough of society to make room for the facts.

Four of my favourites linked below — (recent programs still have podcasts available) read more »

From Cephas to Peter?

Thanks to Josh asking if I thought Cephas and Peter were not the same, this is a fanciful think-aloud session, tossing Paul’s references and the Gospel of Mark around, to speculate how and why Cephas (Aramaic) may have been changed to Peter (Greek) . . . . read more »

Thank (the non-theistic) God for Spong: Why religious violence

Spong may not present the strongest arguments for the historicity of Jesus but who cares when he delivers such a clearheaded critique of the sins of religion and advances a wonderfully humane message for religious and nonreligious alike, as he does in his new book, Jesus for the Non Religious.

In explaining religious anger (does one need any examples here? Spong says of the 16 serious death threats he has received not one was from an atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem, leaving only you-know-who) Spong points the finger directly at the violent and angry god Christians worship. Christians are quick to deny this, saying they worship a God who sent his Son to die for our sins, who always extends his mercy to us. And that message, says Spong, was not the message of the earliest disciples and it contains the seeds of the most pernicious and destructive of attitudes. read more »

Spong on Jesus’ historicity: Paul’s contacts

I’ve responded to the first 3 of Spong’s stated reasons for believing Jesus was a historical character despite many of his analyses of the gospels leaving readers good cause to doubt this. They are listed in his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious: Recovering the Divine at the Heart of the Human (2007).

  1. No “person setting out to create a mythical character would [ever] suggest that he hailed from the village of Nazareth . . . in Galilee”
  2. Jesus “clearly began his life as a disciple of John the Baptist”
  3. He was executed
  4. “Paul was in touch with those who knew the Jesus of history”

4. “Paul was in touch with those who knew the Jesus of history” (Spong, p. 210)

Response 1: To give this as a reason for believing in the historicity of Jesus is fallacious. It is another circular argument. read more »

(revised) Spong on Jesus’ historicity: John the Baptist and the Crucifixion

Spong in his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious: Recovering the Divine at the Heart of the Human (2007), lists four reasons that he claims leave no doubt about the historicity of Jesus:

  1. No “person setting out to create a mythical character would [ever] suggest that he hailed from the village of Nazareth . . . in Galilee”
  2. Jesus “clearly began his life as a disciple of John the Baptist”
  3. He was executed
  4. “Paul was in touch with those who knew the Jesus of history”

An earlier post looked at #1, “the Nazareth Connection”. This post looks, much more briefly, at #2 and #3 together, because they both make the same fundamental error of logic. read more »

How Acts subverts Galatians

There are two different stories, their differences well known, of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s conversion and the later Jerusalem Conference in the New Testament.

The Two Conversions

In the Book of Acts (9:1-30) we read that

  1. Paul was persecuting the church until —
  2. Paul was struck down by a divine call on his way to Damascus,
  3. that he was baptized in Damascus by a lowly disciple (Ananias),
  4. and after some time (“many days”) he fled to Jerusalem because of Jewish persecution,
  5. His contacts in Jerusalem were limited but only on first arriving
  6. until Barnabas acted as his Janus-like gateway by taking him to the apostles
  7. who, we learn elsewhere in Acts, were led by Peter and James
  8. Brethren took him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists

In the Epistle to the Galatians (1:13-24) we read a different story.

  1. Paul used to persecute the church until —
  2. Paul says Christ revealed himself by revelation “in him”,
  3. that he then went to Arabia.
  4. Only after he had been in Arabia did he return to Damascus.
  5. After three years in Damascus he went to Jerusalem because he wanted to see Peter
  6. His contacts in Jerusalem remained limited — the Judean churches did not see Paul
  7. He met Peter (staying with him 15 days) and James only.
  8. Paul then returned to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

One can conclude that the author of Acts did not know of the Galatians letter. But I think it more likely that the author of Acts composed a narrative polemic against the letter. Each of the differences can be accounted for as a polemical response to some point in the Galatians account. . . . read more »

Spong on Jesus’ historicity: The Nazareth connection

I am not sure if Bishop John Shelby Spong believes in god (he speaks of a “god experience”, and of atheism as being defined as not believing in a “theistic definition of god”, which definition he also rejects) but he does believe in Jesus. This, according to his new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious: Recovering the Divine at the Heart of the Human (2007). After acknowledging, even arguing the case of, the many theological and mythical constructs that have built up a non-historical figure of Jesus as found in a surface reading of the New Testament, he laments that some go one step too far and reject belief in the historicity of Jesus altogether.

So in chapter 19 Spong devotes the equivalent of a full 4 pages out of a 315 page book to establish the reasons for believing Jesus was, nonetheless, an historical person. He gives 4 reasons that he believes establish this historicity:

  1. No “person setting out to create a mythical character would [ever] suggest that he hailed from the village of Nazareth . . . in Galilee”
  2. Jesus “clearly began his life as a disciple of John the Baptist”
  3. He was executed
  4. “Paul was in touch with those who knew the Jesus of history”

This post addresses Spong’s view that no mythical character like Jesus would have been assigned a hometown like Nazareth. (I have so many loose threads on this blog I am still meaning to put up on this blog that I’m reluctant to say I will address the other points of Spong here “soon”.) read more »

Violence and (the Muslim) religion — some real data (for humanists) to chew on

In 2007 34% of Lebanon’s Muslim respondents to a Pew survey felt suicide bombings could be justifiable.

One in three people sounds horrific, but compare with the survey 5 years earlier.

In 2002 74% of Lebanon’s Muslim respondents to a Pew survey felt suicide bombings could be justified.

The figures are taken from the Pew Global Attitudes report released 24th July 2007. (Interestingly the second largest Muslim population in the world, that of India, is not included in the survey.)

Had Lebanese Muslims become any less devout between 2002 and 2007? That is what some popular literature against religion, and the Moslem religion in particular, would lead us to logically infer.

Rather, as I have attempted to point out in some of these posts, religion is a Protean beast that adapts itself to the social and politico-economic issues of the day. I recently wrote in The Problem with Some Muslims something like:

Christianity has both practiced and condemned slavery and racism, supported and fought against war and oppression of women and children, argued both sides of capitalism and socialism, according to the time and society in which it found itself.

Could it be the same with the Moslem religion? read more »

The bard says it best (article by Phil Rockstroh)

Someone (sorry I forget who) observed that not one of the leaders who led the invasion of Iraq has expressed the slightest remorse for turning that country into a charnel-house. The most hope I can salvage from this is that they felt compelled to lie to their publics about their reasons for invading. (Ditto re Afghanistan — for reducing that country to a state worse than the time it had to suffer insurrectionist war after the Soviet invasion — with results even more inevitable. At least the Soviets established a reasonable sector of a civic society throughout much of that country, something the American led invasion has proved incapable of achieving.)

The reason the lying efforts of our leaders to deceive their publics — and their ongoing lies to protect their pride and justify the ongoing slaughter they have been responsible for unleashing — the reason their lying gives me hope is that it is a sign that we have moved forward a slight step morally and at least no longer tolerate outright undisguised conquest for national gain. Our publics have enough power and consciousness to require deceiving (or self-deceiving) in order to cloak the realities of power. Now, if only we can bring the media to act on behalf of a public who has a right to ask searching questions and hold leaders accountable, and no longer take the economical option of being mere mouthpieces for the numerous self-justifying press releases of those in power. . . . (Even Hitler had to avoid documentation and publicity of what he did to Gypsies, homosexuals, socialists and Jews and manufacture public-consumption pretexts for invading others — we really ARE making progress — really truly . . . . (hope hope))

The most eloquent expression of the situation now is one I read by a New York “poet, lyricist, philosopher bard”, Phil Rockstroh (philangie2000squiggleyahoo.com)

Phil Rockstroh writes:

At present, George W. Bush is unpopular with the majority of the American public not because of the murderous mayhem he has unloosed in Iraq; rather, his standing has plummeted, due to the fact, he didn’t deliver the goods.

Americans are fine with fueling our republic of road rage using the blood of Iraqis (or any other distant and darker people) as long as “the mission” doesn’t drag on too long or reveal too much about ourselves.

How did we come to be a nation of vampires who live by sustaining ourselves on the blood of others? Is our mode of collective being so toxic in the United States that a writer must bandy about metaphors culled from Gothic horror fiction to describe it?

I’m afraid it’s come to that: We are a people who psyches have grown monstrously distorted from an addiction to imperial power and personal entitlement. (Imagery of Smurfs and Teletubbies won’t rise to the analogy, albeit as terrifying as those demons of hell-bound cuteness are.)

The corporate culture of exploitation has begot a hellscape of narcissists. It is an authoritarian culture riddled in kitsch and cruelty, in nationalistic hagiography and displaced rage — all the distortions of national character inherent to privileged grotesques and ordinary monsters.

A narcissist’s actions are monstrous because his only love is the image of himself wielding control and power. (Does this remind you of anyone, perhaps someone who struts about in a flightsuit — someone prone to proclaiming himself “the decider” — someone who grows intoxicated to the point becoming insensate from a whiff of his own pheromones as he swoons in macho-narcissistic self-worship?)

And what about the everyday monsters, those who feel nothing — not outrage, not remorse, nor sorrow — by the conscience-devoid attempt made by our vampiric leaders to sustain “our way of life” on Iraqi blood?

Are you not a monster as well when you feel nothing before immense human suffering? If you are impervious to, grown inured of, or have chosen to remain ignorant of the agony of the Iraqi people, then you might as well join the ranks of the undead — because the distant landscape of corpses in Iraq and Afghanistan matches your internal deathscape.

” Bush is unpopular with the majority of the American public not because of the murderous mayhem he has unloosed in Iraq; rather, his standing has plummeted, due to the fact, he didn’t deliver the goods.”

In short, our empire’s dependence on the resources (the life’s blood) of others renders us a nation of vampires. Moreover, the corporatist character (our national character) is defined by the vampire’s trait of taking, never giving. Accordingly, what do the big monsters at the top take from us, the little monsters?

In short, our empire’s dependence on the resources (the life’s blood) of others renders us a nation of vampires. Moreover, the corporatist character (our national character) is defined by the vampire’s trait of taking, never giving. Accordingly, what do the big monsters at the top take from us, the little monsters?

To name one: our time, the precious hours of our finite lives. The corporatists are Time Vampires: For a moment, reflect on all the hours of life you’ve wasted away — in office cubicles, in commuter traffic jams, in the addictive pursuit of consumer dreck, or simply numbed-out and exhausted, rendered inert from the incessant, soul-sucking stress of the corporate state.

The corporacracy devours our time and, like the charges of a vampire, has made us dependent and slavish in return. In our bloodless enslavement, we lose the vitality borne of existing within life’s inherent mysteries and grow estranged from the deep resonances of participation mystique.

How does one begin to take back one’s soul from these elitist usurpers? Start with this: The ebullient skepticism engendered from calling out soul-numbing, self-serving authoritarian lies.

In an era as perilous as ours, it’s imperative we act with utmost urgency. Yet, tragically, the exigencies of our age are being played out against a panorama of longer, more stressful work hours, superficially ameliorated by a mass media culture comprised of ceaseless trivia and mindless distraction.

This pathology began years ago when our ancestors offered up their life’s blood to the early corporatists of the Industrial Age. Henry Ford was a gray ghoul who measured out our flesh with his productivity-measuring stopwatch; he was a cunning practitioner of the black art of convincing human beings they’re mere cogs in an inhuman machine. It was only a short trudge from there through history’s slaughterhouse to Adolf Eichmann, insulated within his vampire’s coffin of cold calculations that shielded him from the horrific implications of the system of mechanized extermination he devised.

The corporate vampire’s creed is defined by ruthless efficiency; the fear of a “loss of productivity” is the driving force of the death machine. The system is so ruthless and inhuman that it must conceal its true face, hence the rise of the telegenic undead known as the corporate media. Do not look to them to report the facts of our condition: After all, a mirror can’t reflect the image of a vampire. A vampire is empty to the core; therefore, there is nothing to reflect.

Furthermore, his emptiness is the progenitor of his destructive nature. Rather than face himself, his appetite for death will devour all in its path: rain forests, Arctic glaziers, the people of Iraq, the hours of your life, as well as your inner being.

It is the force that holds Democratic politicians in the thrall of their own fecklessness, because they answer to the same blood-sucking, corporate masters as the rest of us. Quite simply, they’re afraid of their bosses too. The Washington Beltway is a version, in miniature, of the entire soul-dead, American corporacracy. The careerist politicians within the Beltway are afflicted with the same diminution of choice — the same hyper-attenuation of the will to freedom — as the rest of us.

And what remains for us: an existence (or lack thereof) within this hierarchical hellscape of narcissists. What sort of a pathetic mode of being is this, a life shackled to the service of a monstrous system wherein one must evince the obsequies of a vampire’s bloodless lackeys?

To reverse this situation: Now is the time to drag the lies of the corporate state into the sunshine where they will writher to dust. We are not powerless: We live in a world where our collective, hidden intentions are made manifest by our outward actions.

This is why Gothic — even b-movie — metaphors are not an overwrought description of our present condition. Ergo, by the vehicle of cultural collaboration, we are a nation of world-destroying, b-movie monsters — we are a hack-scripted, second-billed feature at the drive-in movie of existence — a laughed-off-the-big-screen of the cosmos, box-office poison of a people.

We are soul-sucking creatures of kitsch. Flesh-eating zombies of conformity. Road-rage werewolves. Right-wing, talk show demons whose wrathful voices rage into empty air. Hungry ghosts wandering the aisles of supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurant chains and the food courts of shopping malls.

We are: The Fat, Mindless Blobs That Ate the Planet.

To survive, first, we must find the monster within, then drive a stake through its heart.

(Copied from http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article18027.htm with permission of the author.)

Pilate and the Cosmic Order in Mark — 2

An earlier post here discussed thoughts arising out of the unlikely combo of Carrol’s “Existential Jesus” and Patella’s “Lord of the Cosmos.” One set of responses was too lengthy to be carried out in the tiny comment boxes so am extending the discussion here. read more »

Dennis MacDonald’s ‘Turn’ to reply to critics of his Mark-Homer work

I have been absent from web discussions for some time now and may be the last one to notice Dennis MacDonald’s reply to critics of “mimesis criticism” — his work arguing that the Gospel of Mark is as much an imitation and transvaluation of Homeric characters as it is of those from the Jewish scriptures.

It is well worth reading. Not least his concluding pages suggesting a more subtle reason for many of the objections raised against his work.

If anyone else apart from me is also late to this reply, check it out at DRM’s website — look for the article there titled My Turn.

(I’ve discussed aspects of MacDonald’s work elsewhere on this blog some time back.)

Defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq inevitable

….. according to Micahel Scheuer, former CIA head of their bin Laden unit. (Why? Our leaders don’t care to understand Islamic extremism, dismissing it ignorantly as hatred of Western culture). Check The Age article at:

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article18001.htm

Gentle Jesus meek and mild or Macho-Man Jesus?

If Islam is “quivering with male sexual insecurity” should the same verdict be handed down on the “macho-Jesus” type of Christianity? read more »

The problem with some Moslems

The second largest Muslim population in the world lives in the world’s largest democracy, India. How democratic? Professor Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics at Chicago University, explains the success of Indian democracy:

Yes, I think the founding fathers set up a political structure that’s very stable, that is very wisely designed, so political structure is part of it. They also guaranteed a free press and all the institutions that make it possible for voters to really feel empowered, such as local village councils, which was one of Gandhi’s big ideas. So you know, it’s a very successful democracy. It has higher voter turnouts by far than the US.

But there is a problem. India’s Muslims are not violent enough. They haven’t produced a raft of international terrorists. They just want to live at peace with their Hindu neighbours. They don’t even want to overthrow their nation’s democratic government and institute Sharia law for all. And they are the second largest conglomeration of Muslims after Indonesia. read more »