Monthly Archives: June 2018

How News Media Can be Dangerous

A day after I posted The Limits of News Media as Information Sources Mano Singham posted what could even be called a companion piece, We need more analysis, less reading of tea leaves. He begins (I have reformatted it)

Political news coverage consists of roughly three parts.

  1. First there is the reporting of an actual event that occurred (i.e., what makes up the ‘new’ in news).
  2. Second, there is an explanation of the context in which the event occurred that consists of the history and background that led to the event and the people involved, plus any actual consequences, such as how a new law that has been passed will be implemented in practice and how it will affect people.
  3. And finally there is the question of What It All Means, which consists of drawing broader conclusions and predicting future events based on the news event.

It is that middle bit that gets omitted or at best seriously abbreviated from most news reports.

Without that middle bit consumers of news are left without the most important details of all.

The second part requires not only some knowledge and expertise but also time spent in careful analysis.

Without that middle bit the news story is open to feeding popular beliefs, prejudices, misinformation, ignorance. Without that middle bit news stories potentially add fuel to bigotry and stereotypical and political, cultural, racial, etc biases.

How can it be otherwise? The news stories have to be selected and presented on the basis of what will catch the attention of the consumers and give them material they find interesting. Naturally the stories be selected and presented in a way that will tap into what is going to emotionally involve readers and viewers.

Many years ago I was required to study a couple of books by Jacques Ellul, one of them titled Propaganda. One counterintuitive detail he mentioned really pulled me up. He said that the very fact of mass media overloading consumers with enormous amounts of information, that is factual information, can in effect be a way of propagandizing a society. Information overload does not allow time for analysis or reflection and investigation. It ends up fueling the beliefs and attitudes that are taken for granted, “correct”, and so forth.

Jacques Ellul

You call that socialism? I call it basic human rights

This is called a “socialist platform“?

Compare points one and two (Medicare for all and Housing as a human right) with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of
his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security
in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances
beyond his control.

There’s also something in that “socialist” platform about higher education for all. Today higher education has become for many as necessary as elementary education was back in 1948.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental
stages Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Speaking of education, the UNDHR even includes curriculum guidelines:

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all
nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Some countries have seventy years of catching up to do!

The Limits of News Media as Information Sources

Frequently when I post something on topical subjects (e.g. “understanding Hamas”) someone will comment that my views are grounded in ignorance and supply a link to a webpage, often a mainstream news media article, to enlighten me of the facts.

When I see a news media article I will read it but I will also be conscious that it is but a single report that cannot possibly tell the “whole story”. We know the proverbial many witnesses of a car accident.

But let’s break that down a little.

Firstly, the news media report is usually the work of a journalist who needs to collect information. How often are they an eyewitness of the event? And even if they are an eyewitness, is that enough to report “the whole story”. (Again the proverbial soldier in the trenches reporting on a battle of which he necessarily witnessed only a part.) Who does the reporter interview for the information? And recall that the questions one asks and how they are framed can determine the types of answers one gets.

We know that very often reporters will rely upon official statements. Official statements themselves are generally the claims of certain politically interested parties. So again, how can we be sure we are reading “the whole story”?

And the media organization itself needs to generate revenue. They need to produce a product (news) that will in turn be sure to generate that revenue, so it is necessary for them to best study how to present the news, as well as to make decisions about what news should be prioritized. News has to sell to a particular market for the media organization to survive.

And that will always necessarily mean much detail needs to be stripped from the story, if background informative details were ever collected in the first place.

People who work for the organization are no doubt on the whole very sincere and believe wholeheartedly that they are doing a public service. That’s good, too, for the organization because it doesn’t want to struggle with any sort of cognitive dissonance.

So I keep in touch with “what’s happening” through mainstream media but at the same time I understand how filtered what I am reading necessarily is. It can never tell me the whole story.

For the whole story I always need to do a little bit of digging behind the media reports. That usually means finding reputable research into the actors of various news events. I mean scholarly and/or investigative journalist research. And I can never rely on just one piece of research. I always need to follow up the sources of certain works (via following through the sources mentioned in endnotes) and comparing with other research by other scholars, perhaps with a different perspective or background.

Or at least it means searching out news reports from diverse and often contrary political and other points of view. Such diversity won’t give final answers, in most cases, but it will generally make one aware of questions that need to be asked of each report and where further information is required.

And what I invariably learn is that one comes to have a very different perspective and understanding of what one reads in the news media when one comes to know a little of the persons, the organizations, the history of what is being reported.

Just to reduce this to a micro and personal example:

Some years back there was a newspaper and tv news report of a man who had shot another, killed him. In the news media he was a murderer, a villain in a dramatic story that caught the public’s attention. It just so happened that I knew that man personally for some years and considered him a friend. I spoke to him while he was waiting for his trial and later visited him a few times in prison. I knew a side of him that never made it to the media, or if it did, it was always in a distorted fashion. I am thinking of the many times his wife had betrayed him, his daughters turned against him, and I could only say I would have absolutely no idea what I would have done had I been in the same situation as he had been. But through the media the story was always black and white, or at most just a few hints of grey but never enough to lead anyone to question the core of the narrative.

Stories of events in the mainstream media are never comprehensive and can never, by definition, provide a genuine understanding of what has happened, why, or seriously inform us about the persons involved.

 

Bringing two recent posts together: Philip Davies and Life of Brian

Speaking of Jesus and Brian, and with Philip R. Davies still very much in mind, here is a quote from Philip Davies’ contribution to that volume:

This little detail … leads me to ask whether any details of the traditions of Jesus of Nazareth are historically true — bearing in mind that traditions are all we have. . . . .

The modern scholarly Jesus biographer tries to convert traditions like these [e.g. the betrayal by Judas] into historical facts, and theological explanations into historical ones. The outcome is instructive: a plurality of Jesuses, among whom are a charismatic holy man (Vermes), deluded prophet (Schweitzer), Cynic (Crossan), revolutionary (Brandon), incarnate deity (any number, including N. T. Wright). In making these reconstructions the biographer also has to decide whether, as in the case of Q (if there was a Q), anything but the words ascribed to Jesus mattered or, as with Paul, it was really only his death (and you can’t get much more different than that!). The plurality of ancient and modern Jesuses gives Christian believers more choice than they probably want, but in this age of consumer choice we should not expect too much complaint.

Davies, P.R., 2015. “The Gospel of Brian” in: Taylor, J.E. (Ed.), Jesus and Brian Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. pp. 87f

Monty Python’s Analysis of Historical Jesus Scholarship

A funny thing happened this morning on my way through conservative media sites. I had stopped to read something about Monty Python and political correctness when a remark about a “riotous diversity” of schools of thoughts in psychology reminded me of chaotic diversity in historical Jesus and Christian origins studies:

Piccionelli doesn’t in any way dispute that psychology is based on medical and biological truths. But he is saying that the field has been overrun by sectarians, charlatans, and, well, crackpots: “There are something like 300 schools of thought in psychology, from Freudianism to Jungianism to Structuralism to yadda yadda. And now, of course, PC has created a kind of politicized psychology.”

Such a vast variety of thinking isn’t the stuff of science because science is, by definition, rigorous: “By contrast, too much of psychology falls within the realm of personal belief—more like, say, religion.”

If the shoe fits, etc.

Oh the irony, the irony. What other field could produce a volume like . . .

 

Understanding Hamas in Gaza

Tareq Baconi and cover of his newly published book

I have read four studies of Hamas and have this evening begun to update my information by beginning my fifth, Hamas Contained : The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance by Tareq Baconi. So far I have only read the Preface and already I wish everyone could read it and follow up by speaking out and doing their little bits to spread light on a world that is too often lost behind distortions of reality.

Sections of the Preface that hit home with me:

The simplistic binaries that frame conversations of Palestinian armed struggle evoke the condescension expressed by colonial overlords toward the resistance of indigenous peoples. “Palestinians have a culture of hate,” commentators blast on American TV screens. “They are a people who celebrate death.” These familiar accusations, quick to roll off tongues, are both highly effective at framing public discourse and insulting as racist epithets.

Bolded emphasis in all quotations is my own.

I have often found discussions about Hamas very difficult so when I read the following I recognized something immediately:

The prevailing inability or unwillingness to talk about Hamas in a nuanced manner is deeply familiar. During the summer of 2014, when global news rooms were covering Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip, I watched Palestinian analysts being rudely silenced on the air for failing to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization outright. This condemnation was demanded as a prerequisite for the right of these analysts to engage in any debate about the events on the ground. There was no other explanation, it seemed, for the loss of life in Gaza and Israel other than pure-and-simple Palestinian hatred and bloodlust, embodied by Hamas.

Totally absent from any discussion, it seems, is any serious consciousness of the “broader historical and political context of the Palestinian struggle”.

Whether condemnation or support, it felt to me, many of the views I faced on Palestinian armed resistance were unburdened by moral angst or ambiguity. There was often a certainty or a conviction about resistance that was too easily forthcoming.

Oh yes. Black and white. Right and wrong. Good and evil. The simplistic paradigms that have always guaranteed the perpetuation of ignorance and suffering.

Tareq Baconi explains that what he attempts to do in the book is to

peel back all the layers that have given rise to the present dynamic of vilifying and isolating Hamas, and with it, of making acceptable the demonization and suffering of millions of Palestinians within the Gaza Strip. . . . This book works to advance our knowledge of Hamas by elucidating the manner in which the movement evolved over the course of its three decades in existence, from 1987 onward. Understanding Hamas is key to ending the denial of Palestinians their rights after nearly a century of struggle for self-determination.

At the end of his Preface Baconi discusses the wide ranging archival and other sources he has used for this purpose.

Story 1

Personal anecdotes have the potential to encapsulate hundreds of words of analysis. One discussion was with a young boy that took place about a year after the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza:

The conversation was during the Islamic month of Ramadan in 2015, and everyone was sluggish from the June heat. I asked him about the school year he had just finished and whether he was happy to be on holiday. He shrugged. “Sixth grade was fine,” he said, “a bit odd.” He was in Grade A and he used to look forward to playing football against Grade B. That past year, though, the school administration had merged several grades together. The classes were crowded and the football games less enjoyable. I wondered aloud to the boy why the school administration had done that. Annoyed that I was not engaging with the issue at hand, that of football politics, he answered in an exasperated tone. “Half of the Grade A kids had been martyred the summer before,” he snapped. The kids who had survived no longer filled an entire classroom.

Story 2

Another conversation with a Gazan boy (driving his taxi) who was about to graduate from his final school year:

I asked him what he wanted to do postgraduation — always a fraught topic in a place like Gaza. He said he “was thinking of joining the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas’s military wing. I had seen posters throughout the city and on mosque walls announcing that registration was open for their summer training camps. A few of his friends had apparently signed up. Why, I asked. He replied that he wanted to “fight the Jews.” He’d never seen one in real life, he added, but he had seen the F-16s dropping the bombs.

Almost a decade into the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which had begun in earnest in 2007, “Jew,” “Israeli,” and “F-16” had become synonymous. A few years prior, this boy’s father would have been able to travel into Israel, to work as a day laborer or in menial jobs. While it would have been structurally problematic, that man would have nonetheless interacted with Israeli Jews, even Palestinian citizens of Israel, in a nonmilitarized way. This is no longer the case. One could see in my driver how the foundation was laid for history to repeat itself. Resistance had become sacred, a way of living in which he could take a great deal of pride serving his nation.

Reality is complex

Here is why I wish many people would read this book: read more »

A Crucified Messiah Was Not an Offensive Scandal to Jews (with a postscript on evangelical language among scholars)

The idea that Jews would be (actively and aggressively) scandalized by the message of a crucified messiah because of his manner of death should be retired from New Testament scholarship.

Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle

Crucified Jewish Rebels from Jerusalem Post

This is a topic I’ve posted about before but this time I am sharing Paula Fredriksen’s version of the argument. (Yes, I know I have several other series I am supposed to be completing but as I follow up footnotes and related references to works on those posts I find myself coming across other little interesting details like this one along the way.)

Paula Fredriksen sums up the widespread scholarly view this way:

Some scholars have conjectured that the core message of the new movement — the proclamation of a crucified messiah — would have deeply offended any and all Jews. In Galatians 3.13, Paul cites Deuteronomy 21.23:

Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.

Jews in antiquity took “hanging on a tree” to mean crucifixion (so too, e.g., 11 Q Temple 64.6–13). On this scholarly construction, the early kerygma was an affront to pious Jews anywhere and everywhere, since a messiah known to have been crucified like a criminal would be viewed as dying a death “cursed by the Law”: for this reason, Jews would be scandalized by the message of a crucified messiah (cf. 1 Cor 1.23). How could the messiah be “cursed of God”?

This is one of those tropes of New Testament scholarship that refuses to go away, despite all its problems as historical reconstruction.

Fredriksen, Paula. Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle (Kindle Locations 1567-1573). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. — My formatting and bolding in all quotations

The first point to note (as Paula Fredriksen points out) is that the Deuteronomy passage does not speak of executing a criminal by hanging but to a post-mortem public display of the executed criminal’s body. (I am reminded of the later Talmudic account of a Jeschu (Jesus?) being stoned and his corpse subsequently being strung up on a tree.)

By the first century, however, “hanging on a tree” had become a circumlocution for crucifixion as we learn in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But a significant point that Fredriksen notes is that there is no evidence in any Jewish literature that death by crucifixion was considered a “cursed” type of death as appears to be indicated in Galatians 3:13. So it is worth looking at the broader context what death by crucifixion or hanging meant to Jews of Paul’s day.

Saul and Jonathan hanged

David retrieved the bones of King Saul and his son Jonathan that the Philistines had hung up on public display in one of their cities. Though hanged,

nowhere is this taken to mean that they had died under a special curse (2 Sam 21:12).

800 Pharisees crucified

In Antiquities of the Jews 13.380 Josephus tells us about king Alexander Janneus crucifying 800 Pharisees.

. . . . . after which the Jews fought against Alexander, and being beaten, were slain in great numbers in the several battles which they had; and when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein; and when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes. This was indeed by way of revenge for the injuries they had done him; which punishment yet was of an inhuman nature . . . .

Sons of Judah the Galilean crucified

Again we learn from Josephus in Book 20 of Antiquities of the crucifixion by Rome of two sons of a Jewish rebel:

And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom [Tiberius] Alexander commanded to be crucified.

2000 Jews crucified in wake of Herod’s death

Josephus further tells us in Book 17 of his Antiquities that the Romans crucified 2000 Jews to crush a rebellion that broke out after Herod’s death.

Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand.

Thousands of refugees crucified during the Jewish War

In the fifth book of his Jewish Wars Josephus writes of the crucifixions of thousands of Jewish refugees attempting to flee the besieged city of Jerusalem:

Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by the concern they were under for their own relations; for they could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children, without the knowledge of the seditious; nor could they think of leaving these relations to be slain by the robbers on their account; nay, the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers, they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more . . . . . So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.

No suggestion of divine curse, no offence in death by crucifixion

Paula Fredriksen observes that in all of the above Jewish accounts of crucifixions Josephus

nowhere claims that other Jews regarded these people as therefore having died under a divine curse.

read more »

Why Were Some Early Christians Giving Up Work?

Michael Goulder

Well, I never suspected that about those idlers condemned in 2 Thessalonians.

6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. — 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (NRSV)

Many scholars don’t believe 2 Thessalonians was written by Paul (see #1 in insert box below) but we find the same problem addressed in 1 Thessalonians, too:

But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one. — 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

What is going on here? One suggestion I came across recently (okay, maybe I have been the last to know) is that some among the Thessalonian converts had gone the way some always seem to go when possessed of apocalyptic fervour, expecting the end of days and coming of the Lord any day now.

I stumbled across this possibility as the explanation for “idleness” among the Thessalonians in Michael Goulder’s 1992 article, “Silas in Thessalonica” in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15, 87–106.

Idleness sounds like the culprits are just lazing around drinking beer paid for by others but the complaint is really about giving up work. Goulder has a “charitable” perspective:

1. The link between 5.14 and 4.11-12 is made by J.E. Frame (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul to the Thessalonians [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912], pp. 196-97) and approved by Holtz (Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 251). A connection with the parousia theme is suggested by the phrase following in 5.14, ‘comfort the όλιγοψΰχους’; cf. 4.18, 5.11, ‘comfort one another’.

2. There is adequate evidence from the papyri for the meaning ‘idler’; see J.E. Frame, ‘οί άτακτοι, I Thess. 5.14’, in Essays in Modern Theology and Related Subjects (Festschrift C.A. Briggs; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), pp. 189-206. Holtz says correctly that their motive in Thessalonians is far from being idleness; and he comments that even if 2 Thessalonians is not by Paul, this seems to be an especially Thessalonian problem, Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher, p. 241 n. 536.

The new converts have given their money away in a burst of excitement. This is a sign of the Holy Spirit (1.5; 4.8) and it is marvellous; but in their enthusiasm some of them have given up work. No doubt they did this so as to attend to the distribution of funds to the poor of their and other churches, and to healing services, spreading the word, and so forth. Paul had to tell them to cool down (ήσυχάζειν); to leave church affairs for a while and ply their own trades (πράσσειν τά ϊδια); and to work with their hands rather than expect God to provide all by prayer.
 
 . . . . . such a practice is common in millenarian movements. The passage just cited (4.11-12) is immediately followed by the section on the parousia (4.13-5.11); and in 5.14 Paul bids the church νουθετείν τούς άτακτους.1 Now ‘disorderliness’, here unspecified, is clearly delineated in 2 Thessalonians 3 as being the cessation of work; so whether 2 Thessalonians is Pauline or not, άτακτος seems to carry a NT connotation of ‘idler’.2 If so, then the parousia passage is straddled by references to the giving up of work, and the connection of ideas would be clearly evidenced in the text. (pp. 88f)

Common in millenarian movements

Goulder cites the example of the followers of Sabbatai Sevi so I tracked down Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626–1676 by Gershom Scholem and copy here one interesting passage:

The question how the community survived the economic crisis brought about by the excess of messianic enthusiasm is not yet satisfactorily answered. The wealthier classes were completely impoverished, and according to the Jesuit author of the French Relation, Sabbatai Sevi scornfully boasted of having “ reduced to beggary” all the rich Jews of Salonika.96 Throughout the winter and summer of 1666 some four hundred poor lived on public charity. (p. 634)

Another example, this time quoting Goulder:

Similarly, from the 1950s, L. Festinger et ai., When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957): Dr Armstrong, a teacher in a local college in California, lost his job for evangelizing the students, and did not seek another, believing that most of N. America was about to be inundated. (p. 88)

Paul versus the Gospel of Matthew

Even more interesting is Goulder’s connecting the propensity of religious zeal to lead converts to give up work with the Gospel of Matthew. He draws attention to the following passages: read more »

The Devil’s Empathy

Real life has called me to undertake several many hours-long drives this weekend and I’ve had plenty of time to listen to podcast interviews that have queued up on my thumb drive. One that I listened to on my way back home this afternoon was with psychologist Professor Paul Bloom who iconoclastically argues that empathy is not necessarily a good thing at all.

For the interview itself go to the Late Night Live site, Is Empathy Always a Good Thing. Philip Adams is a great interviewer.

The most current event that came to mind while listening to Bloom’s arguments was Donald Trump’s appeal to Americans to feel empathy for the families of persons murdered by “illegal immigrants”.

http://

Empathy can be (has long been!) a tool to justify persecution, war, genocide.

Go for compassion. Even Paul Bloom argues that compassion is the greatest moral good in us.

I was heartened to hear Bloom even put in a positive word for Peter Singer’s contribution to the moral advance of humanity. Singer has persuaded many of us, millions, yours truly included, to look at the data, the facts, before deciding where our contributions will do the most good. Don’t always rely on the cute images of suffering children that sway with empathy alone.

 

Once more on the Bible and “Illegal Immigrants”

Hector Avalos has updated his chapter “The Bible Is Not a Friend of Immigrants”  in The Bible in Political Debate: What Does It Really Say? and posted a link for its PDF version to be downloaded from The Bible and Interpretation.

Once more on Romans 13:1-7. Avalos’s chapter contains the following comment:

Romans 13:1-7 could be used by authoritarian regimes to justify their rule, and we might have to repudiate our Founding Fathers for their rebellion against Britain.

True. Yet was not the passage written to justify the authority of none other than imperial Rome, an authoritarian regime that treated rebels with the utmost cruelty.

Avalos concludes:

The Bible is too morally contradictory to be a friend to immigrants. For every immigrant-friendly prooftext, someone else can find one that says the  opposite. . . . .

It is very difficult for Christian biblical scholars to criticize what they worship. Christian biblical scholars are, in general, worshippers or admirers of Christ. Jesus is definitely one character who is “protected” from moral criticism, and one can see it today on immigration issues. He is portrayed as uniformly the friend of immigrants, when his portrayal in the Gospels is far more complicated and contradictory.

The result of these religionist approaches is the perpetuation of a textual imperialism that retains the authority of the Bible. More importantly, the denunciation of “bad” or “illegitimate” interpretations of the Bible, when based on theological rationales, continues an orthodox-heterodox model of biblical interpretation that has caused so much conflict and violence throughout Christian history.

Most biblical scholars I have seen comment on the current family separation crisis are more involved in a sectarian war about biblical interpretation than in a battle against using the Bible to debate immigration issues.

We certainly need biblical scholars who will publicly challenge bad interpretations of the Bible, whether they be from Jeff Sessions or Jesus. But we also need more biblical scholars who will help this world move beyond the very idea that the Bible should be a moral, social or political authority at all.

What the British Did to India

Oh my god. The lies we were taught in school. I have just finished listening to an interview with (v.i.p.) Shashi Tharoor about his book on the British rule of India: Inglorious Empire: What the British Did To India.

  • Before the British arrived India represented over 20% of the world’s GDP (textiles, steel, shipbuilding…) and had done so for centuries. By the time the British left it was reduced to 3% of world’s GDP.
  • There is an eyewitness account the British smashing Indian looms and breaking or cutting off the weavers’ thumbs so they could not rebuild the looms and resume production.
  • The Indian export textile industry was effectively destroyed as Indians were forced to sell cotton to Britain and then buy back inferior British textiles.
  • The railways did little to benefit Indians until after the British left.

An interesting datum given today’s situation…

  • The British were the ones responsible for introducing the Hindu-Muslim antagonistic divide. The Hindus and Muslims were united, serving under common native command, to oppose the British. The British responded by initiating policies that over time succeeded in their aim of building hostility between the two faiths — the old “divide and conquer” tactic.

And we are reminded again of the genocidal policies that I first read about in Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. This time, however, it was Winston Churchill himself who emerged as the Stalinesque monster, diverting grain from regions where millions were dying in order to build up reserves for remotely hypothetical threats in Europe. Churchill is on record as saying the deaths are the Bengalis own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

And on and on it goes…..

And we were taught how different the British empire was from any other previous empire. The British empire was a civilizing boon to the world, spreading law and civilization and lifting the standards of living of its subjects.

The only redeeming detail in Tharoor’s account is that there were many British voices who saw the reality of what was happening in their own day and did speak out. But like the anti-war and anti-neoliberalism voices today they were sidelined by those with the power.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/did-britain-modernise-or-destroy-india/8860348

Reddit Criticisms of Vridar

A reader of this blog kindly notified me of a little discussion on Reddit about Vridar:

How reputable is Vridar (Neil Godfrey’s) blog?

The first thing that surprised me was that a Reddit discussion would even raise my name as a topic. I have no idea who the poster is but I would be interested to know his associations with anyone I have crossed swords with in the past.

He says Vridar fails to rely(?) ”

  • almost solely on academic sources” (that’s news to me)
  • posts “opinion pieces” (is there any discussion or argument that is not an expression of opinion?)
  • “avoids original research” (well, I am an amateur and my interests and purposes are all set out in the “About Vridar” sections of this blog)

Further, Vridar is said to “evoke a scholarly feel” with “bombast language and numerous citations”.  To my mind bombast language by definition cannot evoke any sort of scholarly feel. I used to provide very few citations but since partnering with Tim I have learned to lift my game in that respect.

But there is further criticism. Tim and I are said to “consistently downplay our armchair status”! Oh. Well, I don’t know how we could have made it any clearer that we are just a couple of amateurs as we have pointed out several times in our posts and as we make very clear in our “About Vridar/Author profile” sections. And as is surely clear from some of the commendations of this blog that we have posted.

And despite all the posts where we favourably cite scholarly arguments, because we do present reasons we believe other scholarly arguments are flawed, now that seems to be the real “no-no” and reason we are not to be trusted.

And from there the discussion proceeds.

I’d like to comment myself but don’t seem to be able to access that forum for some reason. Meanwhile, perhaps some sympathetic readers might like to add their own comments there.

 

Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Previous posts in this series:

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)
  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Each heading represents an argument Gene Miller addresses.

In 1 Cor 2:6-8 Pau’s “rulers” (archai) is a pesonalization of the spiritual powers “elemental spirits/principles” (stoicheia tou kosmou) in Col 2:20

Miller responds: Paul would be unlikely to use an ambiguous term (archai) that could mean either human or demonic authorities to indicate “elemental spirits”.

Comment: Such an assertion needs to be accompanied by a justification.

In Rom 13:1-7 Paul considers the Roman authorities to be “a providential and beneficent power” so he would not in 1 Cor 2:6-8 accuse them of being ignorant and crucifying Jesus. 

Miller responds: Paul’s view of Roman authorities is irrelevant since he believed it was the Jewish authorities who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. In support Miller cites Acts 13:27-29 and 1 Thes 2:14-15.

Comment: The author of Acts elsewhere portrays a view of Paul that is in stark contrast to the Paul of the letters. That author known as Luke appears to have been creating a Paul more suited to the “orthodoxy” of his day. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is of very doubtful authenticity according to a number of scholars so cannot be relied upon as a sound basis for an argument.

I Cor 2:6 says the “rulers of this age” have a certain kind of wisdom, implying in a sense that they are more than human.

Miller responds: In this context, Paul has been speaking only of human wisdom. Ergo, the rulers of this age have a human wisdom and are therefore human. Compare 1:19, 20 where Paul speaks of the wise person, the scribe or teacher, the philosopher of this world. read more »

A moving plea for Julian Assange

It is easy to find fault with Julian Assange as a person and with some of the views of John Pilger, but it is also easy to find much good in both of them. I found John Pilger’s address on behalf of Julian Assange very moving

Bringing Julian Assange Home