Monthly Archives: June 2018

Are you “politically correct” or are you “an arsehole”?

I used to have this tireless insistence on sticking to my principles and changing for no-one.

If you don’t like me, fuck you! I know who I am and I know what I mean and I’m not responsible for other people’s interpretations. And if you can’t see my point of view, you’re just too dumb, or too sensitive, to understand it.

But the world doesn’t work that way. Your words and actions have real effects on the people around you, especially if you have a large public platform. And you should give a shit about the impact of your words and how you make other people feel even if you don’t agree with their reasoning.

Sam Harris would call this “political correctness”. I call it “not being an arsehole”.

T1J — 12:00-12:37 @….

Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Angelic rulers

I continue my recent post, Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change: this post begins to address  Gene Miller’s argument that when Paul wrote that the “rulers of the age” crucified “the Lord of Glory” he meant human, worldly authorities, viz. Pilate, crucified Jesus. Miller’s article, “Archontōn tou aiōnos toutou—A New Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6–8,” JBL 91 (1972) 522–28, was published in 1972. Why bother with a 46 year old article? In the previous post we saw indications of its continuing relevance in major commentaries. In 2001 Chris Forbes of the Department of Ancient History (not a theologian!) described Miller’s article as presenting a

particularly forceful case . . . [arguing] that (at least for this verse) the view common since Cullmann that both human rulers and their angelic/demonic counterparts are intended “needs finally to be laid to rest”. (Forbes, p. 68)

We start with Miller’s translation of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Yet we speak of wisdom among the mature, not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are being brought to an end; on the contrary, we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew. For, if they had known (it), they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Miller opens with two passages that scholars have used to argue that “rulers of this age” refers to supernatural powers.

[Héring] cites especially Col 2:15, where the hostile powers over whom Christ triumphs in the cross are called archas kai exousias, and Rom 8:38, where archai is used to describe one of the forces which might be thought to separate men from the “love of God.”

Let’s look at those two passages:

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Col 2:15 NASB)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities [=archai], nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers , nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38f NASB)

Miller responds to these verses as follows:

It is immediately apparent that in neither case is there any certainty that the reference is to supernatural or spiritual powers. This is particularly true of the passage in Romans; in fact, the context of the passage seems to favor the opposite conclusion. Paul mentions specifically “angels” (angeloi) and “powers” (dynameis); the archai, then, might reasonably be supposed to be human authorities. This interpretation would certainly be consistent with the situation of the church in the first century. (p. 522)

So we see that Miller presents no argument to justify interpretations that contradict what was the virtual consensus in 1972; rather, he simply asserts that “there is no certainty” that spiritual powers are meant. I would have thought that the passage in Colossians that speaks of Jesus having disarmed the rulers could not possibly be saying that Roman rulers were suddenly disarmed by the death and resurrection of Christ.

But Miller wants us to look “particularly” at Romans 8:38 because, he asserts, the context actually suggests that Paul means human rulers. After all, Paul mentioned angels and powers in the same sentence and since these obviously refer to heavenly beings it surely is “more likely” that he must mean human rulers when he speaks of “principalities/archai” in between those two — so Miller asserts. The only way I can follow Miller’s reasoning here is that he begins with the assumption that Paul must surely have been talking about Pilate, full stop.

As we saw above, Miller’s essay has been cited as a persuasive argument so presumably a good number of scholars are inclined to view such an assertion sympathetically. read more »

Why are our enemies always so irrational, crazy, deluded, risk-seeking, suicidal and just plain nuts?

Another notice via Mano Singham of a worth-while article by a “politically conservative” writer, Stephen M. Walt. (Though I think Mano has mistakenly linked to an article about Walt’s article and not the Walt article itself.) Some of Walt’s words of wisdom as cited by Tom Boggioni …..

Noting a New York Times piece that marveled at Kim’s transformation, Walt dismissed it out of hand.

“America’s self-defeating tendency [is] to portray adversaries as irrational, crazy, deluded, risk-seeking, suicidal, or just plain nuts,” he wrote. “Instead of seeing foreign-policy disputes as the product of straightforward conflicts of interest or clashing political values, even well-experienced U.S. officials and knowledgeable pundits are prone to seeing them as a reflection of personality defects, paranoia, or distorted views of reality.”

“Similarly, many Americans continue to view international terrorists as deeply disturbed, irrational, deluded, or simply crazy individuals, instead of seeing them as politically motivated, calculating, and more or less rational actors who have adopted a particular tactic (sometimes including the use of suicide bombers) because they believe (with some basis) that it offers the best chance of realizing their political aims,” . . . . .

He then wrote,

“Some of the individual attackers may indeed be driven by wholly fictitious beliefs, but to dismiss these groups and their leaders as simply crazy underestimates their own resilience, strategic behavior, and capacity to adapt.”

It’s always been this way, hasn’t it? During the Cold War era weren’t we always being told how deluded the various liberation and anti-imperialist movements were — they had fallen for the crazy communist propaganda. And the Palestinians, too, are irrational, crazy, deluded, suicidal hate-filled terrorist lovers who just want to kill Jews. And as for those Muslims, well, ……

 

Trump and Another (Australian) Baby Boomer Drop Kick

When I read . . . .

The thing about Donald Trump is that he was never one of the Cool Guys. He was the schmuck over there across the room who was feeling up women and picking our pockets while we looked the other way. He ran a campaign that said, you know the club they would never invite you into? I’ve been there, and it’s all bullshit, and I’m going to tear it down, the whole stinking meaningless system run by these people who have looked down on you from their suites in Davos and the Renaissance Weekends, the places they kept you out of while they were making decisions about your lives and not listening to anything you had to say.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Don’t blame yourselves millennials (like you would), boomers created Donald Trump at Salon.

What is it about the hair with these guys?

. . . . I was reminded of Bob Katter, the leader of Australia’s Katter Party — (pro-guns, anti-gay, pro-racist/corrupt/dictatorial state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen supporter . . . . you get the picture). . . .

He was one of those who threw eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964.

Is this statement about historicity within the Gospel of Mark true?

The same can be said of the alleged first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark. The aim was presumably to “prove” that the Gospel is reliable. That’s even more ironic, because no one seriously doubts that the Gospel of Mark was written in the first century, and whether it was or not is independent of questions about the historicity of information in it.

James McGrath, Rumors of First-Century Mark and the Resurrection, on the Religion Prof blog.

Even if the Gospel of Mark were composed in the second century (which “no one seriously” believes) that late date would have no relevance to the historicity of its contents? How can that be?

 

The Study of the Historical Jesus Depends On . . . . .

The study of the historical Jesus depends on reconstructing oral tradition and honoring it with the same dignity we give the text.

That’s from David Galston’s, The 19th Century and Us, on the Westar Institute’s Biblical and Theological Reflections Blog.

Those words point to an even more fundamental dependency: The study of the historical Jesus depends on the assumption of oral tradition being the source of the gospel narratives.

Vridar posts addressing that assumption are archived here.

The Jeff Sessions Test for Hypocrisy Concerning Holy Books

Oh what a funny lot we are. Watching the outrage of offended defenders of the Bible over Jeff Sessions passing mention that the Bible teaches submission to government — I could not help but compare the Christian world’s often heard criticism of the Koran on the basis of the way a minority of Muslims use it to justify inhumane actions.

Muslims are by definition potentially violent because they follow the Koran and the true interpreters of the Koran are those who read it literally in justifying their violence — so the common assertion goes. That’s what the Koran says so that’s what Muslims (really, if secretly) believe, they say. The voices representing the vast majority of Muslims are accordingly shut behind closed doors by the hand of a generally wilful ignorance. Wilful? Whenever a reminder of them or a pointer to them is made the claims are generally trivialized and dismissed as irrelevant.

Now the Bible really does command obedience to government authorities. Christians and governments have known and preached that throughout history. There can be no denying it.

So out come the rationalizations. The reputation of Christian values and its holy book is at stake, after all. So we are now told that one cannot just use such a passage as Romans 13:1-7 “out of context” – like the context of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, for example. One has to be kind to strangers, etc etc etc. Sure. But that doesn’t change the clear direction to submit to government authorities. Christian pacifists have even taught that they must accept punishment and go to prison if they do not submit to the government’s direction to go to war.

Many people refuse to allow such rationalizations by the majority of Muslims for the Koran’s violent passages, however.

Surely the Jeff Sessions remark should wake us up to the absurdity of modern folk having any respect for an ancient text as a guide to living today.

Failing that, one might wish that the followers of one book might see just a little more of themselves in followers of another holy book.

Update to I Cor 2:6-16 post

I overlooked William O. Walker Jr’s arguments for 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 being an interpolation in my previous post and have since added his name. The insert now reads:

* Two outlier voices arguing that 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is a non-pauline interpolation into the original letter are those of

Widmann, M. 1979. “1 Kor. 2:6-16. Ein Einspruch gegen Paulus” ZNW 70: 44-53.

Walker, W.Jr, 2002. Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, London. pp. 127-146.

 

Widmann’s arguments are challenged by

O’Connor, J.M., 2009. Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues, Oxford University Press, New York. 257-260

Walker’s argument takes O’Connor’s rebuttals into account and attempts to strengthen Widmann’s case.

I may set the pros and cons for interpolation in a future post. In this post I assume the passage was penned by Paul.

Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change

Up till the 1980s it was the accepted view that the “rulers of this age” who crucified the Lord of Glory according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians were spirit beings. Several scholars explained that they did so by influencing their earthly counterparts to carry out the deed. The passage reads*:

* Two outlier voices arguing that 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is a non-pauline interpolation into the original letter are those of

Widmann, M. 1979. “1 Kor. 2:6-16. Ein Einspruch gegen Paulus” ZNW 70: 44-53.

Walker, W.J., 2002. Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, London. pp. 127-146.

 

Widmann’s arguments are challenged by

O’Connor, J.M., 2009. Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues, Oxford University Press, New York. 257-260

Walker’s argument takes O’Connor’s rebuttals into account and attempts to strengthen Widmann’s case.

I may set the pros and cons for interpolation in a future post. In this post I assume the passage was penned by Paul.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Thus in the 1985 edition of A Translator’s Handbook for 1 Corinthians Paul Ellingworth could write of the passage translated “rulers of the age”:

A majority of scholars think that supernatural powers are intended here.

(p. 46. Cited in Doherty, E. 2009. Jesus: neither God nor man: the case for a mythical Jesus. Age of Reason Publications, Ottawa. p. 222)

Bolded highlighting in all quotations is my own

It is not difficult to find confirmation of Ellingworth’s observation:

Without doubt the usual interpretation [of 1 Corinthians 2:6-8] at present is that the rulers are demonic spiritual forces, and this is mainly due to Everling’s recovery of the idea. It has, however, a long pedigree, being found in Origen and Marcion, and is currently supported by, among others, Bultmann, Lietzmann, Delling, Schlier and Barrett.16 . . . .

An allied view is that the rulers are both human and spiritual forces. This is supported by Dibelius, Leivestad, Wendland, Dehn, Caird, and especially Cullmann.18

16 Origen, de Princ. 3.2; Marcion in Tertullian, adv. Marc. 5.6. Bultmann, Theology, I, 147ff; Lietzmann, An die Korinther I, II (Gottingen, 1949), ad loc.; Delling, TDNT, I, 489; Schlier, Principalities, pp. 45f; C. K. Barrett, ‘Christianity at Corinth’, BJRL 46 (1963), 278ff, and I Corinthians, ad loc. . . . .

18 R. Leivestad, Christ the Conqueror (London, 1954), p. 106; J. Wendland, Die Briefe an die Korinther (Göttingen, 1946), p. 19; G. Dehn, ‘Engel und Obrigkeit; ein Beitrag zum Verstandnis von Röm. 13. 1-7’, in E. Wolf (ed.), Theologische Aufsätze fur Karl Barth (Munich, 1936), p. 104; Caird, Principalities and Powers, pp. 16f.

Carr, W., 1981. Angels and Principalities: The background, meaning and development of the Pauline phrase hai archai kai hai exousiai. Cambridge University Press. p. 118

(To assist with identification I hyperlink references that are unclear or lack descriptive detail.)

In the 1987 publication The First Epistle to the Corinthians Gordon D. Fee (disapprovingly) acknowledges the same:

But who are the “rulers of this age”? . . .  [T]here has been a growing consensus over many years that the “rulers” are demonic powers,21 or at least that by these words Paul wants the Corinthians to see demonic powers as lying behind the activity of the earthly rulers.22

21The literature here is immense. Among commentators, see Weiss, Moffatt, Lietzmann, Héring, Barrett, Conzelmann. Among others, see R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (ET, London, 1952), I, 259; Wilckens, 60-63; Scroggs, “Paul,” p. 41; BAGD.

22This view is espoused by such various scholars as O. Cullmann, Christ and Time (ET, London, 1962), pp. 191-206; G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers (Oxford, 1956), pp. 80-82; G. H. C. MacGregor, “Principalities and Powers. The Cosmic Background of St Paul’s Thought,” NTS 1 (1954/55), 17-28; W. J. P. Boyd, “I Cor. 2:8,” ExpT 68 (1957), 158; and Bruce, 38. . . . .

(p. 103.)

A backward look from a 2012 doctoral dissertation (supervised by Richard Hays) reminds us again of what the dominant scholarly view once was, this time approvingly: read more »

When Lipstick Is for Whores

Many aeons ago I was a member of a strict religious cult that taught makeup originated with harlots and therefore wearing it was a sin against God that could condemn one to annihilation in the Book of Revelation’s Lake of Fire:

Most women, when asked WHY they use lipstick, will, of course, not confess: “I use it as an expression of vanity,” or “I use it to express an urge to be like the world.” 

No, most women will say: “I wear it to look nice” — or “to avoid offense.” They SAY it in words that sound harmless. But GOD KNOWS YOUR HEARTS better than you do — and HE knows that the heart of women, as well as men, is “Deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” And He asks: “Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9.) Yes, the inner intents of the heart often deceive its owner. TO WHOM does this woman wish to “look nice”? — to GOD? NO, for to GOD she looks like a painted artificial PROSTITUTE! . . . .

There is so much more that could be said on this subject that I could go on and on and fill 100 pages!* But I think this is enough! Every woman who wants that deceitfulness and wickedness removed from her heart is going to remove that physical colored dirt from her face once and for all!

Those yielded to the CHRIST who paid such a PRICE for this very cleansing will need no more. Those not so yielded would not repent and let the precious blood of Christ cleanse them, and their faces, though I write ten thousand pages! God lays down the LAW. God tells us WHAT IS SIN, and He tells us that this vain use of facial makeup is SIN!

But God leaves it to YOU to decide whether to sin! And never forget the PENALTY for this sin is DEATH for eternity in a Lake of FIRE! It is truly, an AWFUL — a FRIGHTFUL FATE. YOU are WARNED! You are a free moral agent. That decision is now YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

(Thus saith HWA in Truth About Make-Up)

* The booklet Truth About Make-Up was 11,633 words long!

Wow.

I never expected to hear that sentiment echoed in today’s “worldly discourse”: read more »

Tiananmen Square (My Uncomfortable Visit)

In 2005 I had the opportunity to visit Tiananmen Square. It was an eerie, haunting experience not simply because of knowing what had happened there 16 years before but because of the pressure to remain silent and forget.

From the night of June 3, 1989 until early morning, Chinese soldiers carried out a clearance operation on and near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, a crackdown on what the Chinese Government wrote off as a “counter-revolutionary riot”.

Western media reported at the time that the death toll from the resulting massacre ranged from 100 to 3,000, but according to a secret UK diplomatic cable released last year, up to 10,000 protesters may have been killed. . . .

Over 1 million people were occupying Tiananmen Square in a show of solidarity by mid-May, but on June 2, China’s rulers made the order to send tanks and armed soldiers into the heart of Beijing.

ABC Report

Only a year earlier we had been treated to high-tech 3-D visuals of Tiananmen Square as a proud jewel of the Chinese exhibit at Brisbane’s World Entertainment Expo.

The event “never happened” according to Chinese government and educational institutions.

Born in 1990, Ming says he never even heard about the Tiananmen Square massacre until he was at university.

He happened to overhear his roommates talking about the so-called June Fourth Incident — a topic which is completely censored by Beijing and inaccessible for ordinary Chinese people.

It is not mentioned in Chinese state media, and it is not taught in schools. It is also a taboo topic even within some Chinese families, including Ming’s.

In 2005 soldiers stood guard at key points to enforce …. I’m not sure what. Presumably the curfew: no-one was allowed there after daylight hours. Possibly against large groups or persons they deemed suspicious from approaching. It remained a vast empty space broken in one direction by Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and queues of people slowly moving past his embalmed body. I felt very conspicuous stepping far away from that shrine to the vast empty expanse of the rest of the square that particular afternoon, with only a handful of others in the area, and with my movements being watched by the many young guards.

What agonized me was the failure of my Chinese hosts to indicate the slightest awareness of why I might have been interested in exploring further there at all after I had completed the obligatory look at Mao’s embalmed corpse. There was the usual talk of old history, of Mao, of the architectural features. . . . I finally burst it out, though nervously, softly: What did they think of what happened …. I don’t think I had the chance to finish my sentence. One girl butted in with a tense, anxious tone (or was that my imagination?) to tell me that yes, some bad people had been there at one time and how soon afterwards soldiers came to her family’s house (far away from Beijing) to ask about her. I think she had been a student at that time. I was told that her parents and neighbours assured the soldiers that she was a “good girl” and was not mixed up with any of those very bad hooligans causing some very bad trouble in Beijing. The soldiers, she told me proudly, went away smiling having been assured by parents and neighbours that she was, as they said, a “good girl”.

The reaction to my question left me in no doubt that I had seriously gaffed. It was not my place to raise such a question about such a “bad thing” that happened so long ago. Was I some sort of sympathizer with “bad people” for even thinking and wanting to ask about that horrible “forgotten” time?

That was the end of my visit to the vast and — except for the guards and the people immediately surrounding Mao’s mausoleum — practically empty Tiananmen Square.

Photo: Guo Jian’s artwork The Square. It’s a model of Tiananmen Square covered in pork mince. (Supplied: Guo Jian)

The Memory Mavens, Part 11: Origins of the Criteria of Authenticity (4)

After a long delay, owing to intrusions from the real world, I now wish to end this part of the Memory Mavens series with a discussion of perspectives and methods. For weeks I’ve ruminated over these subjects, concerned (no doubt overly concerned) that I will miss some important points. But when I do, I know I can return to them in the future. Such is the privilege of blogging.

Historical fads

Heikki Räisänen
1941 – 2015

Recently, while re-reading the introductory chapters to Heikki Räisänen’s The “Messianic Secret” in Mark’s Gospel, it struck me how little has changed in NT scholarship. Fads may come and go (does anyone even bother with rhetorical criticism today?), but we can always count on a sizable number of scholars to solve every problem in NT studies with a historical explanation that goes back to the “actual” words and deeds of Jesus.

William Wrede, as you will recall, addressed two problems: (1) What are the origins of the secrecy (or silence) motifs in Mark’s gospel? (2) Did Jesus think he was the Messiah, or did his disciples assign that role to him after they became convinced he had been raised from the dead? Wrede concluded that we could gain important insights into the second problem by solving the first.

By painstakingly examining each case of secrecy — silencing demons, warning people not to publicize his miracles, etc. — against contrary cases in which no such admonition is given, Wrede demonstrated that both openness and secrecy existed in Mark’s sources. He then set about to determine which traditions came first. If the historical Jesus openly proclaimed his status as the Son of God, the Messiah, the savior of Israel, etc., then it becomes exceedingly difficult to explain how the secrecy motif arose. But if Jesus did not publicly proclaim his messiahship, then we can imagine a transitional post-Easter belief (that Jesus and his disciples kept it a secret until his death and resurrection. Which is more likely?

Scholarly backlash and a volcanic Jesus

In the immediate backlash, scholars furiously accused Wrede of hyper-skepticism. As you recall, Albert Schweitzer entitled a chapter in The Quest of the Historical Jesus, “Thoroughgoing Scepticism and Thoroughgoing Eschatology.” He changed his mind, but nobody in the guild seems to care. Although scholars will pretend to have read Wrede’s Secret and Schweitzer’s Quest, the latter is the only one that’s actually on their bookshelves. And sadly, none of them seems to have caught up with the changes made in the second edition (published in 1913).

Schweitzer, along with Wrede, criticized the appalling excesses and flights of fancy which many life-of-Jesus scholars had fallen into. But Schweitzer was not immune to the allure of romantic historicization. read more »

The Corporate Crushing of the Intellectual Life

Universities have changed, and not for the better. Once a liberal arts or humanities education was prized as the gateway to learning how to think, how to live, to understanding how the world works. It was once impossible to enter a humanities field without undertaking at least a year’s course in a foreign language. Literature, history, sociology classes abounded. Political debates were everywhere one looked across campuses. Engineering students had a reputation for being politically conservative and looking down on the humanities students because the latter were seen as trouble-makers. But they, too, could be caught up in the debates. And the questioning and learning that took place both inside and outside the classrooms spilled over into the wider communities with demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The Beatles’ song Revolution played across the main grounds where tents were set up and students and staff engaged in calls for restrictions to be removed from free speech and for greater participation of students in administration. Civil rights, feminism, racism and participatory democracy were hot topics of talk and action. Corporate power and its hold over conservative governments in the pockets of mining interests were openly challenged.

Then the corporations and their political proxies fought back.

“In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.”

(That’s from a 2012 article by Debra Leigh Scott — see below — that was recently recycled on Alternet and reminded me of this major challenge we face today.)

That was in the United States. It appears similar action has been underway in other Western countries.

Today, a university is lucky if it has any history courses at all. Literature? What good is that for a job? French, German, Russian? If you want to study a foreign language then choose one that is going to help your business career: Japanese or Mandarin.

And for god’s sake make the universities profitable. Why should the public purse fund them? Make the students pay. That’ll make sure they keep their heads down doing a practical course that will enable them to get a good job as soon as possible so they can pay off their debt. There’ll be no time or interest in discussing wider social issues if they are all studying a business or engineering courses.

Let the universities attract money from corporations by promising them some material return on their investments.

In the Soviet Union dissident professors would be sent to labour camps for re-education. Western corporations have removed the threat of the intellectuals by other means of “manufacturing consent” for the status quo.

Mass public education began in Germany and Britain as a means of preparing a labour force for the factories and soldiers for the armies in a new world requiring literacy along with social compliance. The pressure has always been on schools to train children in useful, practical subjects so they can fill the job requirements of business. Now the universities have been very largely tamed, too.

For five blows that have been inflicted by the corporate world on at least the United States universities, see

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

(Reposted here)

 

 

Free Will Debate between Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris — and a plea to a third party…

I used to be fascinated by the question of free will. I still am, but it is some times since I have read the various debates. I see that Richard Carrier has posted a review of an online debate between Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris at Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will that will be of interest to some.  (As you may guess from my recent post addressing Harris’s views on another matter, I think Sam Harris comes out as the less clear thinker in such a debate.)

I don’t know if I have Richard Carrier’s attention with this post but just on the off-chance I do, with well-meaning intention I would like to add another comment on an unrelated matter. Carrier writes:

In his response, after 200 words of introduction, Sam Harris first burns 600 words complaining about Dennett being mean to him, treating criticism as an affront to his dignity that requires elaborating on for some reason. This is not a good start. It is usually a red flag for not having an actual defense. It’s the sign of a hack: If you can’t rebut content, complain about tone.

And concludes with:

Maybe some day Harris will realize all the mistakes he made here, and how he may be making them elsewhere too. The outcome will be marvelous.

Richard Carrier knows what it is like to have critics treating him and his works unfairly, very unfairly, even falsely, “being [extremely] mean to him”. Richard is known not to shrink back from complaining about such treatment in some of his response. Now in Richard’s case complaining in such cases about “tone” is not a sign that he has no “actual defense” or that he is “a hack”. But that’s not how people tend to react. Complaining in the heat of the moment about tone and unfair treatment can create the impression of being shrill. It certainly robs one of the moral high ground one has just gained by being the subject of bitter and false accusations. That moral high ground becomes evident by a response that shows up one’s attackers for what they are. The moral high ground is clear for all when an unprofessional attack is confronted with a professional and civil response.

I think it is a shame that John Loftus (an anti-Christian polemicist) and Richard Carrier cannot work harmoniously and supportively together. Recently, for example, John Loftus in his post Dr. Wallace Marshall Highly Endorses David Marshall’s Book, “Jesus is No Myth” added this disappointing remark:

Richard Carrier thinks this book is bad to say the least, but I find Carrier to be shrill, very offensive and exaggerated in defense of his own work.

Richard, you know you have the method and logic on your side (generally) so there is no need to display anything but the sound method and logic of your arguments against the criticisms. People don’t “work” in an ideal righteous and rational world of our own liking. The most devastating and memorable critiques I have seen against unfair or obtuse critics come from scholars like Michael Goulder, for one, who always responded with scholarly but wry wit. The punch line usually came towards the end — leaving room for readers to be impressed by the devastating logical dismantling of the opponents.

Another scholar I like and who demonstrates calm, devastating critique in a scholarly manner is Crispin Fletcher-Louis. He has the ability to demonstrate, for example, that Larry Hurtado is an apologist some of whose arguments are without merit in the scholarly world by calm scholarly prose:

If, as we have argued here, the New Testament nowhere in fact presents direct evidence to support Hurtado’s account of religious experience in christological origins then, for his thesis to have any credence, he surely has to explain why it is that the early Christians buried the evidence for what really happened and created so thoroughgoing an alternative story.

Fletcher-Louis, C. (2009). A New Explanation of Christological Origins. Tyndale Bulletin, 45. pp. 200f

Ouch! That’s a professional way to say that Hurtado’s argument is baseless and flies in the face of all the evidence for which there are other far more cogent explanations, that Hurtado is arguing like an apologist despite his claims to be doing otherwise.

There are a number of points where I think Richard goes beyond the evidence, too, and that his main arguments would be stronger without some of those loose bricks. I have had to tidy up a few of my own in the past. But that’s not the main point here.

The main point is a plea to do a Saul to Paul turnabout. It’s okay for those “on the top” in the professional world to display their bigotry, bias and falseness. What puts the spotlight on those warts is a calm and scholarly and professional rebuttal of the content, ignoring the “tone”. The contrast is immediately evident. Those “on the bottom” of the pecking order can never afford to look like the aggressor or as if they are prepared to get as dirty as their opponents. I know. I sometimes in the past crossed the line in responses to a few critics whom I considered blatantly dishonest — and it always backfired.

End of plea.