Geocentrism and a historical Adam

It is possible to read certain passages from the Bible in a way that suggests they “teach” a geocentric model of the universe.

It is also possible to read those same passages differently, which is to say to read them in a way that does not suggest that they “teach” a geocentric model of the universe.

The case for the geocentrist reading is not particularly strong. It requires, among other things, a disregard for genre and literary context in which the reader treats one kind of text as though it were another kind of text — much like if one were to read a novel as though it were a newspaper, or a newspaper as though it were a novel.

Lo, Io.

But never mind that for now. For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that both readings seem equally plausible. Let’s say that the case for a geocentric reading of those Bible passages is just exactly as strong as the case for a reading that does not teach geocentrism.

How then should a reader decide between two such equally plausible possible readings?

The answer is to put down the Bible and pick up a telescope, or an astronomy textbook. The text itself may allow for two possible readings, but the telescope and the astronomy textbook do not.

This is a fact: the geocentric model of the universe is not true.

That fact must inform our choice between the two possible readings of those biblical passages. Yes, one way to read those passages suggests a geocentrist teaching. But another way to read those passages does not. Given that geocentrism is, in fact, not true, it makes more sense to prefer the non-geocentrist reading.

To prefer the geocentrist reading despite the fact that we know geocentrism is false would be to create an unnecessary and artificial conflict between the Bible and reality, forcing readers to choose between the two.

To prefer the non-geocentrist reading allows readers to embrace both. And this choice does nothing to influence doctrine or the substance of Christian teaching — unless, that is, we have made some previous mistake in such teaching by building doctrine on top of a geocentrist foundation. If we have made such mistakes in the past, this is an opportunity to correct them and to rebuild such doctrines on a firmer foundation, one based on truth rather than on the quicksand of falsehood.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

It is possible to read certain passages from the Bible in a way that suggests they “teach” a historical Adam and Eve.

It is also possible to read those same passages differently, which is to say to read them in a way that does not suggest a historical Adam and Eve.

The case for the reading teaching a historical Adam and Eve is not particularly strong. It requires, among other things, a disregard for genre and literary context in which the reader treats one kind of text as though it were another kind of text — much like if one were to read a novel as though it were a newspaper, or a newspaper as though it were a novel.

But never mind that for now. For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that both readings seem equally plausible. Let’s say that the case for a historical-Adam reading of those Bible passages is just exactly as strong as the case for a reading that does not teach a historical Adam.

How then should a reader decide between two such equally plausible possible readings?

The answer is to put down the Bible and pick up a microscope, or a biology textbook. The text itself may allow for two possible readings, but the microscope and the biology textbook do not.

This is a fact: the idea of a historical Adam and Eve is not true.

That fact must inform our choice between the two possible readings of those biblical passages. Yes, one way to read those passages suggests a historical Adam and Eve. But another way to read those passages does not. Given that the idea of a historical Adam is, in fact, not true, it makes more sense to prefer the other reading.

To prefer the historical-Adam reading despite the fact that we know it is false would be to create an unnecessary and artificial conflict between the Bible and reality, forcing readers to choose between the two.

To prefer the non-historical Adam reading allows readers to embrace both. And this choice does nothing to influence doctrine or the substance of Christian teaching — unless, that is, we have made some previous mistake in such teaching by building doctrine on top of a foundation requiring the existence of a historical Adam. If we have made such mistakes in the past, this is an opportunity to correct them and to rebuild such doctrines on a firmer foundation, one based on truth rather than on the quicksand of falsehood.

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  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

    Well played.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    It is odd that given a choice of many possible readings of the text, fundamentalists prefer to choose as definitive readings that contradict reality.

    One expects the opposite: to try to twist the meaning of the text to be in line with reality, rather than to say, well we could interpret in a way that’s in line with reality already but instead we’ll read it in this other way that flatly contradicts reality and attempt to reshape people’s understanding of reality to be in line with our arbitrarily chosen reality-contradicting reading of the text.

  • Carstonio

    Excellent comparison. The two ideas are really variations of humanocentrism. The universe isn’t about us as individuals or as a species.

  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

     excellent point on the humanocentrism!

  • Hexep

    I once had a friend, and say I had him once because he probably no longer regards himself as my friend, though I would still regard myself as his, and by all accounts, one day he went utterly insane or something, and abandoned his laissez-faire Protestant upbringing to become a hyper-fundamentalist Catholic, writing long internet screeds about how all non-Catholics should be rounded up and put in death camps, and posting gloating pictures of the book-burnings he and some of his companeros had thrown on the grounds of their university.*

    When once I cornered him on this exact subject, his response was a little different from either of these. Rather than say something on the lines of, ‘you’re right, the astronomy doesn’t allow this explanation, let’s revise,’ nor rather than say ‘I don’t care, the astronomy must be wrong,’ he pulled the thing option. His answer, and I paraphrase, was something like…

    ‘What is evidence? What is truth? Who can say whether telescopes are correct? Who can say how old the earth is, or what happened a thousand years ago, or what happened ten years ago or ten hours ago? How can we trust our own memory, or our own reasoning? The only thing to do in creation is drive towards salvation; nothing else matters and everything else is dangerous. There is no truth outside the Truth; no way outside the Way; no light outside the Light. Does the Earth revolve around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth? We never will know; we never can know. But if we choose to believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which in turn revolves around some other place, which in turn revolves around yet something else, then this makes our position in the Heavens small and insignificant, and causes mankind to lose faith in God. If, instead, we choose to believe that Earth is the fixed and unmoving center of all Creation, then this will cause mankind to believe that they are blessed in the sight of God, the very center of his attention, and thus prevent the human race from straying from the light.”

    In his mad pursuit of truth, he abolished the very notion of truth.

    To this day, it is a great shame of my life, that nothing I could say could deter him from this course. Was there something that could be said, some perfect argument, some pure crystal of knowledge, that could bring him back to the real world? If there was, I never found it.

    *To my knowledge, there are very few people who have done this; if you know who I’m talking about, then yes, it’s that guy. He and I were once intimates.

  • Madhabmatics

     Man trust me, you wouldn’t want to get your friend into crystals either

    ;)

  • SisterCoyote

    God, that is utterly terrifying. I’m so sorry for you, and for your friend.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yeah, it’s a pity when an otherwise-useful mind goes down this road.

    “What is truth? […] if we choose to believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun,[…]  causes mankind to lose faith in God. If, instead, we choose to believe that Earth is the fixed and unmoving center of all Creation, […] thus prevent the human race from straying from the light.”

    I am always tempted to respond to this sort of thing with “Oh? You think that’s true, do you?”

    But of course doing so does no good.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Was there something that could be said, some perfect argument, some pure crystal of knowledge, that could bring him back to the real world? If there was, I never found it.

    Man, it sounds like that guy is trying to dig his way into the deepest corner of Plato’s Cave he possibly can.  

    You have been outside the Cave, and when you try to alert the prisoner in it to his own prison, he reacts with hostility to the very idea.  

  • christopher_y

    In his mad pursuit of truth, he abolished the very notion of truth.

    If he’s a Catholic he ought to pay more attention to St Augustine.

  • Arimus72

    One might suggest that a common thread underneath these discussions is narcissism. Oh not the clinical variety. The evolved narcissism that The Last Psychiatrist often harps on. (http://thelastpsychiatrist.com)

    The illusion disease. The perception illness. The over valuing of appearances  over actions. The idea then, that one is taking a biblical stand against modernism (gay rights, evolution, etc.) appears better EVEN if you are unsure of what that requires, what it means and who it hurts. Appearance trumps action. And since believing something like fundamentalism requires ZERO action, just a constant pointing towards the imagined boogyman, well then, count most in.

    You might call it the Geocentrist disease. Its not that the earth must be the orbital center of the cosmos but that *I* must be. And what better way to make a lackluster and meager life suddenly adventurous than to pretend to be taking a stand against the powers that be. 

    Which has the added benefit of avoiding the nagging (Kierkegaard might call it the despairing) feeling that we ourselves are the powers that be.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    To prefer the historical-Adam reading despite the fact that we know it
    is false would be to create an unnecessary and artificial conflict
    between the Bible and reality, forcing readers to choose between the
    two.

    Reading the comments in the link from people who prefer the historical-Adam reading gave me a sad.  There was the one guy who was talking science and whatnot and the other people who were just running the standard, “But were you there?” lines of questioning.

    Sadly, they seemed to require many, many, MANY words to basically say, “I don’t believe science, so neener neener neener.”

  • Baby_Raptor

    I like to respond to the “Were you there?” comments with “Yes. I was.” When they start sputtering, I say “I don’t recall you being there, so how can you prove me wrong?”

    I can’t claim the idea for the trick, I saw it in a comment over on the Friendly Atheist. But it works. 

  • Kaylakaze

    I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve. Without the characters in the book thinking that they are in fact historical, most of it makes even less sense than it does otherwise. And if the characters in the book are incorrect, the whole religion is demonstrated to be a farce.

    You’d might as well have a religion based on a book by a science fiction auth… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the word of a con artist claiming he was reading magic stones in a ha… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the ramblings of a desert dwelling pedophil… oh, wait. Screw it, if we’re just making up religions, I’ll go with the magic friendship ponies. At least they make sense.

  • LoneWolf343

    “I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve.”

    Well, yeah, if you read all parts of the Bible absolutely literally, including the parables.

  • vsm

    Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else, like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness? Getting rid of it completely would probably be a bit difficult.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else, like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness?

    Not a Christian, but that’s my take on it. “original sin” seems to represent an awareness of good and evil, a moral awakening to concepts of “right” and “wrong”. Before that point, Adam & Eve were child-like: not embarrassed by their own nudity, trusting of strangers, discovering the names of all the things in their world. After that point (from which there is no return, thanks to angry angels with flaming swords) there’s pain and childbirth and other adult things. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Soooo…puberty?

  • Jim Roberts

    Why do you need original sin? I haven’t believed in it for, oh, ten years or so now, and it’s not impacted me at all. I have plenty of unoriginal sin for God to hold me to account for without it.

  • Nicanthiel

    You know… Original sin! What a hellish idea that is! People have to go,
    “Father, bless me for I have sinned, I did an original sin… I poked a badger with a spoon.”
    “I’ve never heard of that one before! Five Hail Mary’s and two Hello, Dolly’s.”
    “Oh, all right…”
    “Bless me, Father, for I have slept with my next door neighbor’s wife.”
    “Heard it! I want an original sin.”
    “Oh, I’m terribly sorry!”
    -Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill

  • Tricksterson

    I would think that the badger’s response to being poked with a spoon would be penance enough.

  • Nicanthiel

    True enough.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s
    historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else,
    like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness? Getting rid
    of it completely would probably be a bit difficult.

    I can’t speak for anybody else, but I briefly went with a modified riff based on Martin Buber’s I and Thou and the mythological concept of the World Tree/World Navel.  Basically, eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden represented the sundering of the relation between self and the divine.  At the other end of the axis, then, the cross was an equal and opposite World Navel wherein the connection was re-established.

    I thought it was pretty neat.  I still kind of do.  But I know that it would have given literalists a fit.  Hell, I think it would have given Paul Tillich a fit, since the model didn’t actually require the divine to break through and touch reality at all.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s historicity do with the original sin?

    “This world was intended to be a wonderful place, whole and complete, exactly as it should be. However, it is broken, fallen, and incomplete. This is partially our fault – the way we act is part of what is broken. Because the world is broken, things are hard, people hurt each other, and tragedy happens. This is not how things should be.”

  • vsm

    I was thinking specifically of what it was that broke us. Say, did the adaptation of some attribute, like the ability to feel greed or or bloodlust send us on an evolutionary track that resulted in a sad world?

    Maybe it was the discovery of agriculture. It enabled the creation of surplus, which resulted in property, hierarchy and civilization. It fits surprisingly well, actually. After the fruit incident, God tells Adam and Eve to start farming the land and assigns them gender roles, ie. there’s a connection between agriculture and the patriarchy right there in the text. That’s my pseudo-Marxist answer, anyway.

    I’m not entirely sure what to make of Abel and Cain. There’s a theory the story is somehow related to the transition to farming from hunting and gathering (those being their respective professions), but it doesn’t make much sense for the hunter to be the one to found the first city. Maybe he switched professions?

  • Foelhe

    Does there have to be a specific breaking point? If I had to guess I’d say it was a natural consequence of our developing complicated desires. (Or desires at all, maybe.)

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I don’t think there’s a specific thing that did. (Or a specific thing that the story’s referring to – assuming, as I do, that the whole fruit thing is metaphorical.) It’s more… “Evil entered the world, and we embraced it rather than rejecting it. We kinda suck like that.”

  • Lunch Meat

    I am not a theologian, I have not studied this at all, and therefore my musings on this subject do not even rise to the level of ideas, let alone actual beliefs or doctrines.

    But I sometimes muse that at some point along our evolutionary journey, we came to a crossroads and were offered a choice; God communicated with us, whether through a physical manifestation or no, and we could have been something different than we were. But something broke, or we made the other choice, or…something.

    Vague enough for you?

  • SisterCoyote

     I dunno if I can really capture this accurately at all, but let me try… I was raised Baptist, and the way I remember, perhaps falsely, being taught about sin was that every human being born sort of reinvented original sin. Every single babe born in this world has, at some point, a clear choice between right and wrong, and at some point, every single one of us makes the wrong choice, bringing sin into our lives. (I don’t recommend teaching your kids this way. It’s sort of a ridiculously heavy burden of guilt to lay on a kid. “You were too young to remember this, but your soul is no longer innocent because of a choice you made. Yes, that you no longer remember.)

    The problem is, the dice are loaded. It’s an imperfect world because of sin, because of evil – my upbringing would say that Adam/Eve made the first poor choices, but I would say, rather, that the fact of consciousness, personhood, means* that it’s an eternal fact. Where there is consciousness, there are choices; where there are choices, there is sin; where there is sin, there is pain/death/etc.

    Theoretically, according to the above, a perfect world is possible – if everyone made the ‘right’ choices when they were born, from here on out, sin would be gone. But like I said, the dice are loaded – the world is set up such that at some point, the difference between right and wrong is really blurry and muddied, and it’s all but impossible to figure it out all the time. So – not so much original sin as a mobius strip of people making the wrong and right decisions, eternally backwards and forwards through time. Which sounds depressing, but… somehow, it bothers me less than the idea that the first two humans having sex made everything in the world terrible.

    *Someone remind me to never write an attempt at thoughtful commentary while iTunes is on shuffle, because halfway through the above paragraph, The White Stripes’ “Rag and Bone” came on, and I cannot think worth a damn with this song playing in the background. I have lost my train of thought three times in one sentence, now.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Cain was the farmer. Abel sacrificed meat. And Abel didn’t live long enough to found any cities.

  • vsm

    Huh, looks like I misremembered the story pretty badly. Abel wasn’t a hunter either but a shepherd. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but at least it ties the founding of the first city to farming. Thanks for the correction.

  • PatBannon

    The only problem I have with that is it offers no explanation for non-human-based harmful things, like hurricanes and AIDS and so on. But neither did original sin, at least, not if you think about it for a minute, so I can dig this.

  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

    Why do you need original sin? Christians were just find without it for centuries before Augustine, and Orthodox Christians have NEVER believed in it.

  • LoneWolf343

    “WHATEVER else the worst doctrine of depravity
    may have been, it was a product of spiritual conviction; it had nothing
    to do with remote physical origins. Men thought mankind wicked because
    they felt wicked themselves. If a man feels wicked, I cannot see why he
    should suddenly feel good because somebody tells him that his ancestors
    once had tails. Man’s primary purity and innocence may have dropped off
    with his tail, for all anybody knows. The only thing we all know about
    that primary purity and innocence is that we have not got it.”

    ~G.K. Chesterton (All Things Considered)

  • The_L1985

    It wouldn’t surprise me.  The degree of willful stupidity displayed by a small percentage of very vocal Christians has created a gleeful readiness by certain young atheists to belive that all Christians are that stupid.

    I’ve basically started reading such instances of Christians and atheists neeping at each other as “I’m right, you’re wrong, neener neener neener!” because it’s about as intelligent and mature as that.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Well, there’s a reason that a lot of * people* (not just Atheists) see Christianity like that. 

    (Note: Speaking of America here, as that’s where I live and the only place I can speak with any authority on. YMMV.) The media doesn’t often portray anything but that supposedly small, vocal group of Christians. And they’re the ones we hear about the most, because they are the ones out there trying to force their beliefs into law. It’s hard to miss things like so-called conscience laws, the abortion debate, the marriage equality debate, you get the idea.

    Factor in the potential of having grown up in a family that believes such things, or in a town with people who do, and that’s just more reinforcement. 

    I thought that all Christians were that way for a long time. I grew up in a fundamentalist home, grandparents raising me, who informed me that god demanded they disown me when I came out as Bisexual. I discovered Fred in 05, and only through him did I realize that there are Christians who aren’t complete hooting dickholes. And I’m not the only person here with a similar story. 

    TLDR: You can’t lay all the blame on people for thinking Christians are crazy when that view is the only one being reinforced by society unless you do some digging. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     “TLDR: You can’t lay all the blame on people for thinking Christians are
    crazy when that view is the only one being reinforced by society unless
    you do some digging. ”

    No, but I could wonder about someone who follows this blog and thinks Christians are crazy.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I don’t think *all* Christians are crazy anymore. But *some* Christians are unarguably missing a few nails.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Sorry, I should have been more clear.   I was referring to our friend the troll, not to you. :-)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Gotcha. No harm anyway, my statement is a bit vague. 

  • Carstonio

    I remember Fred arguing that a talking serpent should be the tipoff that the Eden account wasn’t written as literal history. But without the preconceptions about the book that influence people outside Judaism and Christianity, I might get the same tipoff from an all-powerful being that can create life. I don’t see a basis for distinguishing between the two types of magical elements in the story.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It’s important to remember that the very notion of “literal history” is pretty much an enlightenment-era concept. THe ancients didn’t separate texts into “These ones are  literal truth, those ones are parable, and the ones over yonder are fiction.”  Their minds didn’t work that way. They didn’t have photography, or stenography or even perspective geometry — the only way they had of recording their pasts were as abstract representations and associative memories. You asked five different people what happened on THe Day In Question, and you’d get five similar but distinct answers, and it just wasn’t part of the ancient mindset that there was One Real True Way It Happened, not in any concrete sense, certainly not as something that had any relationship to their lived experience — a “literal history” was the same kind of thing as a perfectly spherical cow — a thing that only existed in the realm of abstract concepts. 

  • Carstonio

    I don’t like that argument, because it amounts to dismissing ancient humans as stupid and ignorant while patting ourselves on the back for being advanced and cosmopolitan. My own memory is associative, so most people find face-to-face conversations with me to be frustrating. 

  • vsm

    It doesn’t mean they were stupid or ignorant, they just rolled differently. It’s perfectly natural to have a different view of the truth than us when you live in a society without rapid transit or communication, printing, photography, etc. And well, whether you like it or not, it’s true. Just consider the people who edited the Bible. The Tanakh starts with two contradictory creation stories and the New Testament opens with four partially contradictory stories of the same guy’s life.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     “I don’t like that argument, because it amounts to dismissing ancient humans as stupid and ignorant while patting ourselves on the back for being advanced and cosmopolitan.”

    Why so?  The fact that people in a different culture approach history in a different way than we do doesn’t make them stupid and ignorant.

    And it is true, people in ancient times did have more limitations in terms of reporting history than we do.  I gather ancient Greek and Roman historians were generally pretty frank in saying that the speeches they have people give in their histories are usually their notion of what they thought the guy might have said, since they didn’t generally have access to any sort of word-for-word transcription of speeches given in years past.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Only if you start from the assumption that our model of separating things out into “literal truth” and “mere fiction” is inherently superior, or that not doing it that way is “stupid and ignorant”.

    Also, whether or not you like it doesn’t really have any bearing on the fact that the ancients just didn’t think in the same terms we do.

  • Carstonio

     It sounds “stupid and ignorant” because a lack of literalism in recounting events would render communication almost impossible, particularly in basic concepts of law and engineering and commerce. I wouldn’t assume that the Old Testament actually reflects how that society thought, since records of everyday discourse outside the scripture are probably nonexistent.

  • LoneWolf343

    Well, when I was a young kid ina deeply creationist household, I always handwaved it that we might have some sort of “communion” with the animals that was broken with the Fall.

    Of course, I now realize that communion never existed, and that makes me sad. :(

  • Carstonio

    Imagine a parody of creationism with Adam as Dr. Dolittle.

  • LoneWolf343

     Yeah, pretty much.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Of course, I now realize that communion never existed, and that makes me sad. 

    There’s a beautiful Oscar nominated short animated film based on that idea:

    http://oscar.go.com/nominees/short-film-animated/adam-and-dog
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq0-i8GQbgw

  • vsm

    I’ve been trying to find that. Thanks for the link.

  • SisterCoyote

     That is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while, and suddenly I’m sniffling. Awesome little video.

  • The_L1985

    And let me guess: you’re not a Christian.

    Well, given that most Christians throughout the world today are NOT young-earth creationists, I’d say that reality proves you false.

  • Kaylakaze

    Far from it. It just proves that most modern Christians are good at ignoring the parts of their big book of multiple choice that they don’t like. The fact is without a literal Adam and Eve, the whole doctrine of original sin is nullified and the whole story of Jesus becomes meaningless.

  • Lunch Meat

    “Original sin” is not found in the Bible. It’s just one theory as to how Jesus did that thing he did. There are many other theories, and many of them work just fine without a literal Adam and Eve.

  • Kaylakaze

    I don’t think that’s accurate, however it’d be like arguing where Harry Potter gets his magic from. It’s irrelevant and has nothing to do with reality.

  • Lunch Meat

    I don’t think that’s accurate

    Oh? Then tell me where it says “original sin” in the Bible. And then explain to me why all the other soteriological theories are wrong. I just love it when other people explain my religion to me!

    however it’d be like arguing where Harry Potter gets his magic from. It’s irrelevant and has nothing to do with reality.

    You’re the one who said Christianity falls apart without original sin, and when an actual Christian disagrees you’re saying the meaning of salvation is irrelevant because it has nothing to do with reality?

  • Kaylakaze

    I could find a mile worth of people claiming to be Christians who would say you were wrong. That’s why it’s irrelevant. You’ll believe whatever you want to believe whether it’s true or not. You prove that by being a Christian in the first place. And yes, “salvation” is irrelevant because it has nothing to do with reality. Original sin has no bearing on that point. And I’ve posted elsewhere in these comments my evidence that you are incorrect in your assertion that the concept of original sin is not in the bible.

  • Lunch Meat

    I could find a mile worth of people claiming to be Christians who would say you were wrong.

    Hey look, an entire denomination who says I’m right:
    http://preachersfiles.com/the-argument-against-the-doctrine-of-original-sin/

    Hey look, another one:
    http://theorthodoxchurch.info/blog/ocrc/2009/06/original-sin/

    Newsflash: Christians are not all the same. Everyone interprets the Bible slightly differently. The Bible is not a theological textbook, so its words have to be interpreted. All of doctrine is just that–interpretation. The words “original sin” are nowhere in the Bible, nor is there anywhere a short, concise, theologically structured statement on what it means. The verses you cite have been interpreted one way to mean “original sin”, but that is by no means the only correct way.

    Anyway, I think it’s pretty rude to take advantage of the hospitality of our host just to insult him.

  • The_L1985

     “You’ll believe whatever you want to believe whether it’s true or not. You prove that by being a Christian in the first place.”

    Aww, how cute.  The widdle troll thinks that religious belief prevents one from any form of skepticism WRT other things!  Clearly he is a person of great intelligence and insight!

    Seriously, you aren’t as clever as you think you are.

  • SisterCoyote

    Y’know, being condescending at people doesn’t usually tend to make them more open to whatever message you’re trying to send.

    You seem to be saying that without original sin, Jesus’ sacrifice had no purpose. Do you really believe that one cannot believe in sin, period, without believing in Original Sin?

  • Kaylakaze

    No, you can believe it. Strangely, people are capable of holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. The difficulty is trying to discuss something in a rational manner that is about as far from rational as you can get.

    And frankly, once it’s become clear that the subject of my comment is incapable of rational thought due to delusions of trans-dimentional space pixies, yeah, I get condescending. It’s the only alternative to running through the streets screaming in terror that such insane people are allowed to drive, have guns and be in charge of anything, including the nuclear launch codes.

  • Lunch Meat

    And frankly, once it’s become clear that the subject of my comment is incapable of rational thought due to delusions of trans-dimentional space pixies, yeah, I get condescending.

    Trans-dimensional space pixies? Oh, well, once you put it that way, I recant everything.

  • SisterCoyote

     It’s really, really not a contradictory belief, and you have utterly confused me with regards to your intentions in this space – aside from insulting its inhabitants, I suppose.

    Either you believe in original sin, and believe in an original Adam and Eve, and cannot comprehend that I – and many others – believe humans are an evolved species who are both flesh and spirit, and thus are capable of sin…

    Or you do not believe in original sin, or an original Adam and Eve, and are trying to tell me – and many others – that if we believe in sin at all, we logically must also believe in original sin, even though you do not.

  • Kaylakaze

     I have no purpose but to insult, in the hopes that ridicule will succeed where fact, science, logic, and rationality have failed. Unlike many places where Christians hang out, I know the readers here are mostly capable of sanity, so I know that they’ve already faced facts and science and logic and rationality yet have willfully chosen to turn their backs on such and embrace superstition.

    “I – and many others – believe humans are an evolved species who are both flesh and spirit, and thus are capable of sin…”

    Well, see, there you go. Two contradictory ideas that you claim to believe right in the same sentence. And if you REALLY believe that, then you must also believe that your god is both a sadistic bastard, and a whiny crybaby. Unless you have some definition of sin that doesn’t involve hurting the feelings of a sky spook.

  • SisterCoyote

     Sin is what we do to each other, not to God. I believe that God is Love, perfect love, and when we make the decision to harm those around us, we sin – at its core, the concept is that simple, despite all the complications around it. Because God cares about the lives in this universe – the least of these, hang a millstone around their neck, even the sparrow that falls from the nest, etc. – sinning also harms God.

    So… no. No, I don’t.

  • Kaylakaze

    I expected you to say something like that in which case a) that is the height of arrogance and b) that still says to me that either your god is powerless or both a sadist and a masochist. Also, if sin were what we did to each other, the concept of 3rd party atonement and 3rd party forgiveness is even more disgusting.

  • SisterCoyote

    I think you’ve made your first interesting remark on this thread, considering the idea of 3rd party atonement and forgiveness. I don’t buy it, but it’s worth thinking about.

    Less understandable is the idea of sin being what we do to one another… arrogance. I’ve been called arrogant many, many times for many, many reasons, but this is not something I thought would do it. I’m sure I’ll regret this, but – why, exactly?

    (Also, if you expected me to believe that sin is harming each other, why on Earth did you go with the point that sin is harming God? Just to get in one of your “God is a jackass because I said so” zingers? Mature, dude.)

  • Kaylakaze

     Sorry, I was unclear as to what I was calling arrogant. It was the assertion that the trans-dimensional, all powerful, creator of all that exists actually cares about the goings on in the life of an insignificant primate on an insignificant, tiny planet in the middle of no where Milky Way in the vast array of billions of galaxies that I was saying was arrogant.

    And you said sin is harming god. I brought it up because if it didn’t harm god, then there would be no point in him being involved in the matter.

  • SisterCoyote

    …the trans-dimensional, all powerful, creator of all that exists actually
    cares about the goings on in the life of an insignificant primate on an
    insignificant, tiny planet…

    Man, you haven’t been paying attention at all, have you? Not the goings on of a primate – the goings on of all life forms, on all planets, in all galaxies, and for that matter, all universes.

    Sin is harming God in that it harms us/each other.

    I’m sorry you grew up in such a toxic environment. Really, I am. No one should have to deal with that kind of a life as kids, let alone adults. But please, please stop assuming all Christians are superstitious, hateful, narrow-minded assholes, simply because the ones you had to deal with were thus.

  • fraser

    If there are intelligent races out in space (and I hope there are) he cares about them too.

  • caryjamesbond

    Get off my team, you’re making me look bad.

    Not to mention-seriously, this is what you’ve got? “The idea of a historical Adam is a problem for Christianity”? This is your great atheistic evangelism? Did you just become an atheist yesterday or something? You’re the atheist equivalent of the street preacher who thinks that asking me “how many sins do you think it takes to be sent to hell?” is going to rock my worldview

    .Seriously- this is differential calculus, and you’re coming straight out of remedial pre-algebra. Go learn something, then come back and play with the big kids, ok? 

    (Punk-ass kids think they can hang. Shit.)

  • Kaylakaze

    No, I don’t do evangelizing. I mock the nutjobs. Maybe you missed that.

    And I don’t think I ever said lack of a historical Adam was a problem for Christianity. I said that pretending as if the authors of the bible didn’t believe in the historical Adam was a distortion of reality.

  • caryjamesbond

    No, I don’t do evangelizing.

    Hmmm, lets see- poorly thought out arguments that bear no resemblance to the actual views of the people you’re talking about.  Condescension. Saying that all the people who do not conform to your exact set of beliefs are morons. Reducing complex theological discussions to facile bullet points.If you’re not an evangelist, you’re doing the best impression of one I’ve ever seen.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Heck, I’m wondering if that’s actually the case.  (Literally true, to use the language of this thread.) 

    Because, seriously, this is like the most extreme stereotype of the Internet atheist come to life.  Right-wing evangelical pretending to be an atheist and going trolling to make atheists look bad?

    If that’s so, the act would probably have more impact in the evangelical channel, though.

  • Kaylakaze

     “Hmmm, lets see- poorly thought out arguments that bear no resemblance to the actual views of the people you’re talking about.” [Citation needed].

    “Saying that all the people who do not conform to your exact set of beliefs are morons.” I never said that. They can have many beliefs that are different than mine and not be morons. They only become morons when they believe things despite the evidence to the contrary.

    “Reducing complex theological discussions to facile bullet points.” There’s only such a thing as complex theological discussion in as far as there is complex discussion about the nature of Gandulf’s magic. Sure, such disussions happen, but to people outside the group, it’s meaningless and pointless babble.

  • caryjamesbond

    I never said that. They can have many beliefs that are different than mine and not be morons. They only become morons when they believe things despite the evidence to the contrary.

    There’s only such a thing as complex theological discussion in as far as there is complex discussion about the nature of Gandulf’s magic. Sure, such disussions happen, but to people outside the group, it’s meaningless and pointless babble.

    Man, that’s BAD.  You literally disproved your own point in your SECOND paragraph.  Delightful. 

    It was a while ago, but I don’t believe my first post was hostile and I didn’t become hostile until people started being hostile towards me. 

    Kaylakaze’s actual first post!

    And if the characters in the book are incorrect, the whole religion is demonstrated to be a farce.
    You’d might as well have a religion based on a book by a science fiction auth… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the word of a con artist claiming he was reading magic stones in a ha… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the ramblings of a desert dwelling pedophil… oh, wait. Screw it, if we’re just making up religions, I’ll go with the magic friendship ponies. At least they make sense.

    So- no, sugar. Wrong again.  Also, I found that post through the highly technical method of clicking on the little numbers on the bottom of the page, then pressing the control key and the f key and searching for “Kaylakaze” Maybe you haven’t gotten to that part of software programming yet. Don’t feel bad, its advanced stuff. 
    Petty childish name calling? Really?

    Wow, thats a good point.  Hey, Kaylakaze-from-an-hour-ago, do you have anything to say in response?

    I have no purpose but to insult, in the hopes that ridicule will succeed where fact, science, logic, and rationality have failed… Not being an asshole doesn’t get you anywhere.

     And you’re trying to discount my literacy and intelligence.
    Have to exist before they can be discounted. 

    For someone as preening and self aggrandizing as yourself (I checked your activity log, Mr. Literature) you really shouldn’t have made such a fool of yourself with such childish snipes. It’s too bad. Most of what you’ve said I agree with, but why are you such a child?

    The purpose of ridicule is not to make the subject have an epiphany and be “OMG I was so wrong.” In an ideal world, that’s what facts and science and logic would do. The purpose of ridicule is to chip away. It’s to get under the skin. It’s to get past the barriers by annoying or angering someone so that they can’t just disregard the comment because it’s bothering them. Once that’s established, there’s a possibility that they’ll actually analyze that nugget, try to figure out why it bothers them so, and maybe start to question.

    New game, everyone! Respond to the troll using only the troll’s previous statements!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    ” I have no purpose but to insult, in the hopes that ridicule will
    succeed where fact, science, logic, and rationality have failed.”

    I’ve read the insults, but did I miss the part where you tried fact, science, logic, and rationality?

    *****

    At any rate, I’ll be interested to see if this thread goes on as long as
    the argument with the Internet shock troops of the Lutheran Church –
    Missouri Synod.

  • SisterCoyote

    I can’t believe I just responded to someone who admitted their entire purpose on the thread was to insult. One of these days, I’ll learn to not feed the trolls.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    It’s like driving past a car crash.  Even if you don’t think you should look — it’s still hard not to.

  • AnonymousSam

    A bucket-load of logical fallacies does not rationality make.

    You’re not about to make new converts to your side by shitting on them and telling them what they believe. They fucking know what they believe. Coming here in your Big Boy Pants with a pocketful of Bible verses that you assume you alone have deciphered the inner meaning thereof and have thus unraveled the whole iniquitous secret fails to impress anyone. You’re talking to people who’ve, by and large, spent most of their not particularly short lives thinking very carefully about these matters. You’re not saying anything new. You’re not bringing anyone to enlightenment.

    Moreover, if this is what you’re selling–“just give up your faith and you can be just like me, a sanctimonious prick!”–then you can keep your magnificent edification. May your sophistry keep you warm on cold evenings. I’ll be over here, enjoying being a pantheist with a bunch of people I happily call my Christian brothers and sisters despite not believing a word about original sin, creation in six days or singular ancestry. Last I checked, none of us were diminished by the differences in our beliefs.

    You, however, bear a strong resemblance to the asinine people this very thread was mocking. Congratulations on the uncanny similarities to your antitheses.

  • Kaylakaze

    *YAWN* Sounds like some feels butt hurt. Sanctimonious? Hardly. Living in reality? Absolutely. I grew up in their psychotic cult. I know the damage it causes. So yes, I want them to free themselves of the shackles of their madness. “Oh, but we’re the GOOD ones” BULLSHIT! By claiming their name, and book and most of their ideas, you give cover and respectability to the nutters. You say “Oh, they’re wrong about this specific portion of doctrine, but they’re completely spot on with their other superstitions that continue to drag humanity into the sewers”

    Yeah, you keep believing your superstitions. You keep us in the dark ages. You keep the blood of the human race on your hands.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, because tribalism is behavior exclusive to Christians. Where would the world be without those extra special harding rage-on atheists to prove that fundamentalists don’t have a monopoly on ramming proscriptions on wicked human nature down people’s throats?

    Ah, yes. “Marginally improved.”

    Since you’re not about to piss off, let me demonstrate a neat little trick. It’s where I completely ignore you.

  • Kaylakaze

    Promise? ‘Cause that’d be swell!

    Though before you do, could you explain that first paragraph? I think it’s the way your sarcasm mixes in with the WTF that makes it difficult for me to follow,

  • EllieMurasaki

    Sam’s explaining that asshole atheists, like asshole Christians, asshole Muslims, and asshole anybody else, are a thing the world would be better off with fewer of. May I suggest you try to be less of an asshole?

  • Kaylakaze

    Been there, done that. Not being an asshole doesn’t get you anywhere. Hell, would people even be responding to anything I say if I weren’t? No, no they wouldn’t. However, because I’m being confrontational and not pussyfooting around my use of language (though I am trying to keep from profanity), there is actual dialogue being conducted about the subject in question. It may be sandwiched between name calling and denouncements, but it is there.

  • caryjamesbond

    . Hell, would people even be responding to anything I say if I weren’t?

    Yes. If there is one think the slacktivist comment section is known for, it’s completely ignoring politely worded comments. 

    though I am trying to keep from profanity

    Based on your previously demonstrated level of intelligence and literacy, I’m guessing it’s less “trying to avoid” and more “mom will take away my internet if I use bad words.”

    Not being an asshole doesn’t get you anywhere. 

    Hey, what year of elementary school do they teach you about double negatives?  Because you not haven’t gotten there yet. 

    there is actual dialogue being conducted about the subject in question. 

    It’s not so much “dialogue” as “people explaining why you’re an idiot, with citations.”

  • Kaylakaze

    Perhaps you are correct. It was a while ago, but I don’t believe my first post was hostile and I didn’t become hostile until people started being hostile towards me. So I suppose they did respond.

    Now who’s being an asshole? Petty childish name calling? Really? And you’re trying to discount my literacy and intelligence. Apparently, you missed the class where they taught that double negatives aren’t always incorrect. That sentence is accurate and grammatically correct. And I’m a software developer so the last thing I pay attention to is grammar, yet even I can see that. Sad, really.

    Speaking of citations, how about you provide one to demonstrate your point.

    For someone as preening and self aggrandizing as yourself (I checked your activity log, Mr. Literature) you really shouldn’t have made such a fool of yourself with such childish snipes. It’s too bad. Most of what you’ve said I agree with, but why are you such a child?

  • arcseconds

    The question is, does being an asshole get you anywhere?   If it’s no more successful than not being an asshole, then you’ve no reason to be one.

    You’ve given a rather unlikely looking argument that it might, but you’ve still not given any actual examples of it working.  Have you ever been persuaded by ridicule when rational argument didn’t work?  Do you know of anyone who has been persuaded?

    Speaking for myself, ridicule has never had any impact on my whatsoever, except maybe to keep quite about my beliefs, or maybe to stop talking to the person in question because it ceases to be pleasant. 

    What has moved me on an issue, at least to the point of seeing that perhaps it’s not as ridiculous as I might have thought at first, are things like the following:

    *) rational argument.  Sometimes this has to be persistent for it to take effect.
    *) discovering people I respect holding the view.
    *) finding out more how the point of view can work (in some sense) for people, sometimes including myself.
    *) finding out how a position I support has hurt people
    *) discovering cool things about the view.

    All of those things take a lot of time, especially if your interlocutor has an investment in not broadening their horizons in the matter under discussion.

    Note also that being ridiculed is only going to hinder any of those routes.

    If you’re expecting to change people’s minds, you have to be very patient.  You can’t tell what they’re thinking by how they respond to you that day.  it’s only a very honest, very secure, very not invested in looking good in an argument person who will tell you that you were right on the very day of a heated argument.  They may well think you made some good points, but if they tell you at all, it’ll only be much later.

    The only reason why you’re getting any kind of useful dialogue at the moment is that you don’t appear to be a complete troll.  There seems to be hope for you yet.   You could have had an equally illuminating discussion if you’d asked some open-ended questions.

    However, note the dialogue you’re inspiring now: you’re arguing with an atheist about how ignorant you are about history. 

    I hope you’re wrong about ridicule changing people’s minds. If you are right, we really need to start erecting even greater social barriers to ridicule, because a world where people can convince others through ridicule rather than rationality and niceness would be a horrible place.  Everyone would be being dicks to everyone else, and the view that carries the day will not be the right view, or the view held by the nicest people, but the view held by the greatest dickheads.

    Ugh.

  • caryjamesbond

    Nah, Arcseconds, they’re right. Ridicule IS the best way to change minds. Which is why I don’t understand them getting upset at my ridicule. Isn’t that how all the smartest and bestest people construct arguments?

  • Lunch Meat

    Not being an asshole doesn’t get you anywhere.
    Hell, would people even be responding to anything I say if I weren’t?

    Right, because there has never been a single discussion on any of these posts that involved polite commenters. Certainly not in this very thread!

  • EllieMurasaki

    You need to lurk moar. We dialogue about these things all the time. Usually there’s no trolls involved, so everyone’s in a much better mood when the dialogue’s occurring.

  • caryjamesbond

    You keep the blood of the human race on your hands.

    Oh, honey.   No.  I cannot think of ANY philosophy that isn’t drenched in blood. There’s Buddhist terrorists out there, ok? 

    It boils down to this- some fraction of the human races are complete fucking assholes. Just utter shitbags.  And once your movement, whether its “Jesus is Lord” or “kittens are awesome” gets above a certain size, raw statistical probability says you’re gonna get some assholes in there. Welcome to the real world- for someone who claims to be a scientific rationalist, you sure aren’t that good with science and rationality. 

  • Kaylakaze

    Sorry, but only one group (maybe two, but my knowledge of ancient China is lacking) is responsible  for such systemic and institutionalized repression on such a large scale that it held humanity back for over a millennium. While one could say that if they hadn’t, it’d have just been some other group, well, maybe, but it wasn’t, so we have nothing but conjecture.

    Keep in mind, I’m not talking about a few assholes getting in.

  • caryjamesbond

    Sorry, but only one group (maybe two, but my knowledge of ancient China is lacking) is responsible  for such systemic and institutionalized repression on such a large scale that it held humanity back for over a millennium.

    Oh my chocolate coated Jesus.  You’re so stupid, its almost cute. 

    OMG, where to start first??? 

    Ok- first, even conceding ALLLLL your other points (which I don’t, but more on that in a second)  during the period that people who don’t know what they’re talking about call the “Dark Ages,”  HUMANITY was doing just fine.  There was China. And the Middle East, and some rather interesting things going on in this entire other hemisphere no one even KNEW about. At best, your argument can be “Northern Europe was held back for a couple hundred years.”

    Second!  The period called the “Dark Ages” only lasted a couple hundred years. People who know what they’re talking about call it “the late middle ages.” Mentioned that.  Worth repeating.

    Third! When European society did sorta kinda collapse, a little, it was due to the black plague, which had very little to do with the Pope.  And the people most credited with preserving massive amounts of knowledge?  Christian Monks. 

    Fourth! The High Middle ages?  Noted primarily for the founding of universities, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Marco Polo….. I could go on. The period you’re thinking of as being all “backwards” is the LATE middle ages, which again- plague.  Not good for the arts and sciences when 25% of the people kick it. 

    Before that, you had, oh, the Venerable Bede, and those monks I mentioned before. Their obsessive copying is the only reason we still have a lot of those great classic works of Roman literature. And Charlemagne!  Fucking hell, genius- you think it’s called the “Carolingian renaissance” because it’s easy to spell?

    Oh, and during all of this?  Byzantines were still around. Not to mention the Irish. Book of Kells ring a bell?Also- Cathedrals.  Just- cathedrals. 

    Theology, history…..any other subjects you want to demonstrate your complete ignorance in?  Maybe you can explain the fine points of Lamarckian evolution to us.

  • Kaylakaze

    No, the time period I’m thinking of is before that, when we were on our way to types of discoveries that weren’t made until the Renaissance thanks to the destruction of the civilizations and scholars that were performing the closest thing we had to science at the time. I’m talking about the mental shackles that were put on innovators. I’m talking about mathematics texts being destroyed as sorcery.

    You want to hold the religious universities in esteem? Really? And you have the nerve to call me ignorant?

    And when I say humanity, I mean ALL of humanity because our entire global civilization would be a thousand years more advanced.

  • caryjamesbond

    No, the time period I’m thinking of is before that, when we were on our way to types of discoveries that weren’t made until the Renaissance thanks to the destruction of the civilizations and scholars that were performing the closest thing we had to science at the time. 

    Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313.  The middle ages started in the 5th century.  So that leaves about…..87 years in which, according to you, Christians destroyed classical society before the middle ages. Or MAYBE, just MAYBE, the two hundred years of violent civil war that preceded that had something to do with it. 

    You want to hold the religious universities in esteem?

    Yeah, you’re right. 

    Oxford. Cambridge. University of Paris. University of Aix-en-Provence. University of Glasgow. Trinity, University of Edinburgh and plenty of others, while not strictly in the middle ages, all started with religious backgrounds.   Notable for their complete lack of intellectual rigor, the lot of ’em.

     Small correction: the period known as the Dark Ages usually refers to the early period of the middle ages, not the late period. Often it’s around the fall of the last Western Roman Empire to the coronation of Charlemagne.

    Ah, thank you.  Good catch. 

    Plus, the reason for the decline in civilization is the collapse of Roman civilization in the West.

    True- although as I pointed out to Kaylakaze above, I think that the crisis of the third century didn’t do the arts and sciences any good, either. Also, while the early middle ages weren’t the Renaissance, I’ve always thought that the collapse of the Western empire, while messy in the short term, was a massive kick in the pants to advancement in the larger sense. The Roman Empire had been incredibly stagnant for a couple hundred years before Odoacer gave Romulus Augustulus the boot.  Not to mention that for all the “barbarian” talk, the Gothic tribes LOVED Roman culture. All those laws and institutions just lying around.  Really, immediately after 476, it wouldn’t be that wrong to say that Odoacer was just the latest Roman emperor. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ohhh so you’re not slamming religion as a whole, just Christianity. Because Muslim folks were humming along nicely on the expansion-of-human-knowledge front during that timeframe. Where did you think the words ‘alchemy’, ‘algorithm’, and ‘algebra’ came from? And yes, alchemy isn’t chemistry, but we wouldn’t have chemistry if we hadn’t first had alchemy.

  • Jim Roberts

    A friend is reading a book – I don’t have the title, or I’d give it – that makes the argument that the Muslim alchemists realized pretty early on that alchemy just plain wouldn’t work, but kept it up because their patrons wanted them to. Their actual interests weren’t far off from modern chemistry, but hampers by poor equipment and limited time.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I believe it.

  • Madhabmatics

    Nah, they also compared Islam to scientology earlier, so

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, so they’re iggerant fuckwits. I was kind of leaning that way anyway, but good to have confirmation.

  • arcseconds

     ‘we’d be 1000 years more advanced now if it hadn’t been for Christianity’ is a popular idea amongst the anti-Christian crowd.

    But I reckon it’s a myth.  

    History isn’t my strong point (as evidenced by my ignorance of the Visigoths’ conversion to Christianity), but I’ve read enough to know that this is not what academic historians say.  In fact, they generally point to more-or-less the opposite: the role the Church had in promoting literacy and learning and preserving knowledge at a time when scholarship wasn’t valued.

    (The book I’m reading at the moment has some interesting points in connection with the development of modern science, which I’m happy to relate if anyone’s interested. )

    So this kinda puts you in the same boat as creationists: preferring a view proffered by dilettantes with an axe to grind rather than the view maintained by serious scholars, because it fits with your religious prejudices.

  • caryjamesbond

    But I reckon it’s a myth.  

    Yup.  However, there is an argument to be made that we’d be significantly more advanced if the Library of Alexandria hadn’t been burned.

    ( I’m still a little ticked at Islam over that.   All that knowledge up in flames because it wasn’t the Koran.  Makes me sick. )

  • arcseconds

    The burning of the library by Moslems is also almost certainly a myth, too.   At any rate there were several other highly destructive events to happen to that library previously.

    See:

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2233/what-happened-to-the-great-library-of-alexandria

    http://www.bede.org.uk/library.htm

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yup. However, there is an argument to be made that we’d be significantly more advanced if the Library of Alexandria hadn’t been burned.
    ( I’m still a little ticked at Islam over that. All that knowledge up in flames because it wasn’t the Koran. Makes me sick. )

    That was Julius Caesar, wasn’t it? The ‘if it disagrees with the Qu’ran, it is unnecessary’ incident was some other library, centuries more recent.

  • AnonaMiss

     IIRC the Library at Alexandria was burned something like 6-7 times total, so I wouldn’t be surprised if both were true.

  • The_L1985

     I thought it was Alexandrian Christians, who formed a mob and burned a lot of other things too.  IIRC, they also killed Hypatia at about the same time.

  • vsm

    Pretty much everyone who was around has been credited for destroying the Library of Alexandria at least once.

  • EllieMurasaki
  • The_L1985

     “our entire global civilization”

    You see this?  This is me laughing at you.  History is way more complex than you seem to think it is, and quite frankly, we have absolutely no idea how things would be different if Christianity didn’t exist.  Frankly, I see things going down like this:

    – Rome falls (ok, technically just the Western Empire, but that is where the city of Rome was), just the same as in real history.  (Christianity really, truly is not the reason Rome fell.)
    – Because there is no literate religious class to preserve the Latin language, all knowledge from ancient Rome is lost.  People in Europe revert to small tribal and feudal societies, just like in real history, but without the benefit of any sort of learned class that would allow them to move forward–essentially setting them back a further 1000 years in terms of scientific knowledge.  The Latin alphabet falls into disuse, and the various forms of runic writing used in Northern Europe remain the standard forms of writing there.
    – The Jewish diaspora are more or less a footnote of history, like the Zoroastrians in real history–a small group of people with a minority religion that are basically treated like everybody else, except maybe viewed a bit oddly for being monotheistic.
    – Without Mohammed’s creation of Islam (which borrowed very heavily from Christianity), the Arab tribes never gather into a nation, and the caliphates and the Ottoman Empire never exist.  Byzantine Constantinople survives for 1000 years in its real-history form before either becoming stagnant or possibly re-conquering the West (this idea is pursued in more depth in The Agent of Byzantium by Turtledove if you’d like to examine it further–it really would take a novel.)
    – The Mongols have no difficulty conquering all of Europe and the Middle East, because they don’t really encounter any massive resistance.  Possibly the various forms of internal bickering that led to the fall of the Mongol Empire in real-history may still end up happening, but that is uncertain.
    – India and China become the main seats of modern civilization.  Eurocentrism basically can be replaced with Asia-centrism, wherein Asian culture is viewed as “the norm” instead of European/American culture in real-history.
    – After the invention of computers (no clue when that would happen in such a world, frankly, because everything would be so dramatically different), stupid Internet trolls start talking about how Buddhism or Hinduism has held the world back, and that people would be much better off without them.

  • Rowen

     Because there is no literate religious class to preserve the Latin
    language, all knowledge from ancient Rome is lost.  People in Europe
    revert to small tribal and feudal societies, just like in real history,
    but without the benefit of any sort of learned class that would allow
    them to move forward–essentially setting them back a further 1000 years
    in terms of scientific knowledge.  The Latin alphabet falls into
    disuse, and the various forms of runic writing used in Northern Europe
    remain the standard forms of writing there.

    Actually, with Rome being otherwise occupied, many of the roads and bridges fell into disrepair and that was a HUGE factor as to why the outlying lands started becoming more and more isolated. There were educated and learned classes, it was just that much harder to get to the centers of learning, so wasn’t worth it for lots of people.

    Also, Latin, as a living language, didn’t really die until the Renaissance when people started idolizing the Roman era as this great lost Empire and we started getting this idea that nothing good happened in the intervening millenium.

  • arcseconds

    There were educated and learned classes, it was just that much harder to
    get to the centers of learning, so wasn’t worth it for lots of people.

    In Britian, the levels of literacy went from quite good to almost none in a generation or two.  It’s somewhat frightening how fast civilization can vanish after the support structures decay and life gets difficult!

    Even after the Norman conquest in 1066, being literate was more or less synonymous with being a priest or a monk, from what I have read.  It didn’t re-attain the Roman levels of literacy until the 13th century, or maybe even later.

    Britian’s probably something of an extreme case, as it was completely overrun by barbarians who knew next to nothing of Roman civilization.   But things weren’t all that much better in Merovingian Francia (roughly what is now France and the western  portion of Germany).   It’s notable that Charlemagne, although he was a great sponsor of literacy and learning, couldn’t write, and possibly couldn’t read.  

  • The_L1985

     And written Latin would have automatically survived because…?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought Latin mostly died because it drifted into being Italian.

  • vsm

    As for Latin, there were actually two forms of the language in Antiquity, vulgar and classical. Vulgar Latin, or the Latin dialects of the common people, evolved into the Romance languages, which include Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian and lots of smaller languages. Classical Latin, the language of the upper classes, ceased being a spoken language during the Western empire’s fall, but continued its life and evolution as the language of scholarship and religion until the 18th century.

  • Carstonio

    So can I assume that the Latin taught in modern high schools and colleges is the classical variety? Interesting that Romance languages didn’t take root in more of the former Roman Empire.

    I hear “vulgar” Latin and I imagine drunken, unshaven brutes letting out huge farts, grabbing their crotches and yelling things like “Nutrientibus mea testiculos!” and “Mater tua ‘a fornicariam!”

  • vsm

    Yup, they’re taught the Latin of Cicero and friends.

    I think Romance languages did pretty well for themselves, especially since Latin never took root in some parts of the empire, like the Greek-speaking eastern parts. Here’s a map that shows which areas continued speaking Romance languages and which switched languages. The former is much bigger: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Western_and_Eastern_Romania.PNG

  • arcseconds

    ‘vulgar’ originally just meant ‘common’.

      (You can see this usage in the name of the Vulgate bible, short for (and anglicised from) versio vulgata: the ‘common translation’.   Ironically it also means ‘non-Latin (and non-Greek)’ e.g. when talking about Renaissance and Early Modern authors deciding to write in their native languages, or the RC church liturgy not being done in latin)

    The shift in meaning to ‘crude, rude’ is a common sort of slide

     cf.
    -‘pagan’ (from paganus, which used to mean ‘country person’)
    – ‘villain’ (from villanus, ‘farmhand’)
    – ‘boor’ (from Old French bovier – herdsman)
    – ‘churl’ (Old English ceorl ‘peasant, freeman’)

    Also contrast:
    – ‘civil’ – relating to a citizen, i.e. a townsman (civis)
    – ‘gentle’ – originally meaning ‘well-born’
    – ‘courteous’  – Old french curt – ‘court’
    – ‘urbane’ – I think this one’s obvious.

    There are other examples, but I can’t remember them. Other languages often show a similar pattern.

    The implication is obvious. Cityfolk and aristocrats are nice and good and well-behaved and speak awl proper-loike; countryfolk are nasty and bad and ill-behaved and poorly-spoken.

    Nietzsche goes on about this at some point, probably in Beyond Good and Evil.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks. With any ancient language, including Old English, I suspect that the cultural assumptions behind many words did not come down to us, at least not completely.

  • arcseconds

     I’m not suggesting that anyone using ‘villain’ these days is in any way impugning rural people, not even as an unconscious undertone.  That use has been entirely forgotten except by those of us who follow etymology or history (the spelling ‘villein’ is still in use in historical discourse to describe a serf).

    However, this kind of semantic shift has occurred over a long period of time and in different cultures.   ‘Paganus’ has meant ‘non-Christian’ since Roman times (and English imported that meaning), whereas ‘villein’ still meant serf up until at least the 15th century (and kind of still does in historical discourse).  ‘Villain’ as in ‘bad guy’ only came into being in the 19th century.

    So I think it’s pretty clear that there has been a slope on the semantic energy surface where words that mean ‘rural’ often drift into meaning ‘crude’ or even ‘bad’ :]

    And I think this cultural attitude is still there.  While I can’t think of any recent examples of a word shifting from a non-value-judgement meaning of ‘rural’ to bad or crude, ‘yokel’ and ‘redneck’ are both fairly recent words, and they both pretty much started off with strong connotations of both rural and stupid/uncouth.

  • arcseconds

    also:

    Mater tua cricetus erat et pater tuus olebat sambucum.
     

  • arcseconds

     Small correction: the period known as the Dark Ages usually refers to the early period of the middle ages, not the late period. Often it’s around the fall of the last Western Roman Empire to the coronation of Charlemagne.

    Although the term isn’t used by historians any more for the kinds of reasons you state.  It’s no longer assumed to be a complete dearth of development.

    However, it’s true that that period in Western Europe was associated with a general backsliding of the many of the kinds of things we normally associate with civilization, such as literacy and architecture.

    But to support your point once again, this only happened in the West.  In the East, the Eastern Empire was still going strong, and the Islamic civilization was going from strength to strength in terms of intellectual endeavour and technology.

    Plus, the reason for the decline in civilization is the collapse of Roman civilization in the West.  Very little to do with religion, but if we want to observe a correlation we might note that the Roman empire was Christian at that period (at least nominally), and the collapse was accompanied by (and partly caused by) incursions of pagan peoples, mostly Germanic.

    From 800 onwards (and probably from hundreds of years before that), Western Europe  experienced more-or-less continued advancement in technology and intellectual endeavour, at a greater than average rate if anything.

  • Rowen

     but if we want to observe a correlation we might note that the Roman
    empire was Christian at that period (at least nominally), and the
    collapse was accompanied by (and partly caused by) incursions of pagan
    peoples, mostly Germanic.

    Um. . . the Visigoths, by this point in time, had been Christianized. It’s something people kinda forget.

  • arcseconds

    Thanks for that. I had either forgotten or never knew, and it’s an interesting point.

    However, 15 minutes on Wikipedia suggests it’s not as clear-cut as all of that.  the term ‘Visigoth’, it seems (I’ve heard this before) was a later invention, and probably an over-simplification of complex political and tribal affiliations and divisions.  Also, Fritigern of the Thervingi converted to Christianity in 376, and this looks like it was for political advantage: to make an alliance with the Roman Emperor Valens.   He and his people were granted asylum from the Huns, but were treated badly, which resulted in the Gothic War.

    I’d regard this as a somewhat borderline case of being ‘Christian’. I’m pretty sure they didn’t down to the last person toss out their pagan beliefs and practices overnight just because their leader decided to make a political alliance.

    Anyway, the Visigoths were hardly the only barbarian tribe to cause problems for Rome.  The Vandals were still pagan when they were granted lands on the Danube in 330 by Constantine, the Huns probably weren’t Christian, the Franks were presumably still pagan until the conversion of Clovis in 496.   The Alemanni were pagan until the 6th century.  The Saxons, the Jutes and the Angles certainly were pagan when they colonised Britain.

    It seems fair to say that those that ended up colonizing within the Empire were Christian by the official fall of the Western Roman Empire, but the decline and fall of the empire didn’t happen overnight.

  • Rowen

    Basically, the main idea is that a hefty chunk of the “barbarians” who sacked Rome (on more than one occasion) had, at least nominally, accepted Jesus over  . . .whomever, even if their brand of Christianity was later deemed heresy. Alaric was very much a follower of Christ, so it wasn’t exactly pagan vs Christian, which is the point I’m trying to make.

  • arcseconds

    Yes, but as you point out, focusing on the ones that actually sacked Rome is missing the big picture.  I didn’t want to get into all the details about which barbarian tribe did what, because it’s complicated and I don’t have a good handle on it, but I was thinking of the entire ‘barbarian situation’ (which started quite early on), not just Alaric or Odoacer.

    I obviously lose the tidy point that they were pagans, but I think my main point still stands: the collapse of Roman civilization in the West had little to do with religion.

  • The_L1985

     So, the fact that you grew up among the same horrible forms of fundamentalist Christianity (just like I did, btw) somehow means that you need to get revenge on Christianity for hurting you?

    Seriously, grow the FUCK up, learn to move on, and quit acting like a whiny baby.  You’re only making atheists look bad the more you post.  And as someone with atheist friends, I deeply resent that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have no purpose but to insult, in the hopes that ridicule will succeed where fact, science, logic, and rationality have failed.

    Speaking as an atheist, Kaylakaze?

    The fact that you’re nominally on the same team as me is making me look bad. Go the fuck away. Or ridicule someone who deserves it, which is to say, someone who’s using religion to hurt people with, which I think it’s safe to say no regular commenter on Slacktivist is.

  • arcseconds

    Why would you think ridicule to be effective? Has it worked for you often in the past?

    I suspect it’s not going to work so well here.  For a start, as you note, most people here are thoughtful and intelligent and have already reflected on their opinions, at least when it comes to religion.  To have anyone change their minds about something is going to take some effort.

    Ridicule might work in some cases where there’s some combination of the person being dependent on social validation of their beliefs, plus social support for your ridicule.   Respect for you and your opinions would help a lot too.

    But none of that is working for you here.  You’re just coming across as a self-righteous, arrogant, sophistical dick.   People might find your insults annoying, but they’re not going to find them challenging to their beliefs.

  • Kaylakaze

     Yes, ridicule works. The purpose of ridicule is not to make the subject have an epiphany and be “OMG I was so wrong.” In an ideal world, that’s what facts and science and logic would do. The purpose of ridicule is to chip away. It’s to get under the skin. It’s to get past the barriers by annoying or angering someone so that they can’t just disregard the comment because it’s bothering them. Once that’s established, there’s a possibility that they’ll actually analyze that nugget, try to figure out why it bothers them so, and maybe start to question.

    So like I said, I’m not trying to challenge their beliefs directly. They’ve already been faced with the things that should have made them reject superstition and chose to hold on to it. They have defenses built up against facts, the same as when you tell a tea bagger that no, Obama is not a socialist, and it just rolls off of them.

    So I stopped trying to make them see reality long ago. Now I just point and laugh, because, like I said, the only other option is dealing with the terror that the inmates are in fact running the asylum.

  • arcseconds

    OK, so you’ve got a theory as to how it might work.  

    Have you got empirical results to support this theory?

    It certainly doesn’t sound very likely to me — I think it’s more likely that annoying people and making them angry is more likely to cement their beliefs than challenge them.   It’s also likely to make them see you as an enemy, which is not going to help.  More likely to hinder, in fact.  That’s how fundamentalists work:  the reason why they can be so anti-science, anti-gay, anti-secular society is that they cognize these things as enemies of the faith.   There are plenty of examples of people who were rigorously homophobic until such point at which they became friends with a gay person or had a loved one come out.

    Perhaps your real motivation is revealed in your last paragraph.  It makes you feel better in the face of your complete lack of trust in other people.   I feel sorry for you, but really, you’re not being honest with yourself, you’re not being intellectually honest, and you’re stooping to fallacies and demagoguery.  As a result you’re receiving a lot of antipathy from your readers, which is hardly likely to improve your view of people.

    None of this will help you or anyone else in the long term.

    Time to try some other tactics in life rather than trolling, I think. 

  • fraser

    Bless your heart, kaylakaze, you have no idea how easy you’ve made yourself to disregard.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Well, you’ve done a great job at proving that “being a giant dumb-fuck ignorant asshole” is the sort of thing that has no relation with whether one is a theist or an atheist.

    (There’s been several times in my life when I considered atheism. Fortunately, at those times there were always atheists like you around to help me decide I didn’t care for that)

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    (There’s been several times in my life when I considered atheism. Fortunately, at those times there were always atheists like you around to help me decide I didn’t care for that)

    Because it’s not like there are very many religious assholes in the world or anything. It’s not like this very blog is almost all about said religious assholes and the incredible amount of power they hold in the world, and how they use said power to cause immeasurable harm to people. But let’s forget about, say, *rolls* healthcare; it’s much more important that people not be mean about the dominant class on the internet.

    Seriously? I mean, just… choosing your belief system based on some of the people who ascribe to it being jerks seems pretty ridiculous anyway. When you’re talking about “they said something mean on the internet”, it gets even sillier. But if it’s a priority for you to believe in something that no jerks believe in, then your only choice is to create a Religion of Ross. And I’m pretty sure the Religion of Ross’s one believer would be someone who is a jerk at least sometimes.

    I was all ready to dogpile on some Internet Atheist being a rude fuckwit, too. But then I saw this, and frankly I am so boggled that my brain has stopped on it and I can’t think of anything else.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I’m sorry that my lived experience bothers you. I will try to go back in time and not grow up surrounded by 90% reasonable theists, 5% fundamentalist assholes and 5% arrogant jerks who adopted atheism primarily as a way to justify their insistance that they were smarter than everyone else. Try to rejigger things so that I meet some reasonable non-believers out in real life before I was 30.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I don’t recommend devoting much of your time or resources to time-travel; it isn’t typically a rewarding pursuit. It’s probably more cost-effective to work on having your current beliefs about the world reflect the evidence you have now.

    This is a challenge for all of us, of course; we tend to weight far more heavily the evidence we had in our formative years, and beliefs change slowly, as do habits of thought.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Why not decide what you believe based on what makes the most sense to you, rather than the percentage of jerks you met before you were 30?

  • The_L1985

     “so I know that they’ve already faced facts and science and logic and
    rationality yet have willfully chosen to turn their backs on such and
    embrace superstition.”

    I love how you’re assuming here that somehow non-Christians never, ever, EVER read or comment on a blog written by a Christian.  Because….well, fuck if I know.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Which theory of Original Sin are you suggesting?  Most Protestants and Catholics got theirs from the St. Augustine, which is wholly rejected by the Orthodox as wrong.

  • The_L1985

     There are Christians who don’t believe in original sin in the sense of “something that happened because of that whole apple thing,” but rather in the sense of “humans have a tendency to do what we know we’re not supposed to because we’re imperfect.”  There are also Christians who don’t believe in the concept of original sin at all.

    Muslims don’t believe in original sin, but they very clearly do not hold the story of Jesus to be meaningless, because they hold him in high regard as one of the great Prophets.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve.

    Could you elaborate?  I can see how an argument might be made that, say, the Bible teaches that there was a historical Noah, but Adam and Eve not so much.  It instead seems that one has to jump through hoops to believe it posits a historical Adam and Eve.

    What hoops do you see as having to be jumped through?

  • arcseconds

    Without the characters in the book thinking that they are in fact
    historical, most of it makes even less sense than it does otherwise. 

    Really?

    I don’t think Adam and Eve are mentioned very often at all.  In fact, I can’t offhand think of a single passage that depends on a historical interpretation of Genesis (apart from of course the genealogy given in Genesis itself).   That’s not to say there isn’t one: my Bible knowledge isn’t very comprehensive.   But I don’t think the text is as riddled with this assumption as you make out.

    If most of the Bible makes less sense with a non-historical reading of Genesis, then I should be able to go to any chapter and have a good possibility of finding dependence on historical Adam and Eve.

    So maybe you could explain how these passages, chosen with Random Bible Verse, make significantly less sense without a historical Adam or Eve?

    Proverbs 19

    1 Kings 8

    Matthew 5

    1 Peter 3

    1 John 2

    Also, I’d be interested in any passage outside Genesis which depends strongly on the historical existence of Adam.   Particularly, given that Fred is Christian, in the New Testament.

    At the moment it’s looking to me rather like in your anti-religion enthusiasm you’ve stooped to making stuff up that’s convenient to the story you want to tell.    That’s the kind of tactic we expect from a religious demagogue, not a rationalist.

    It’s not hard to make fun of the Bible without exaggerating or making stuff up about it, but it might require a modicum of effort to actually becoming familiar with its contents (reading it, for example, but there are easier options) rather than making convenient assumptions.

  • briddle

    The perceived difficulties come from passages like the following:

    1 Cor. 15:20-22:    20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

    Rom. 5:12, 14-19: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

    18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    Basically, Paul’s soteriology seems to indicate that Adam was a type of Christ; he brought death to the whole world through his actions, while Christ brings life to everyone, if that makes sense.  It’s also the basis for original sin (Adam was the stand-in for the entire human race in the garden of eden), and when he sinned essentially all of the humans ever to be born sinned as well, and we are all going to die at some point and we all need salvation because of Adam’s actions.  Christ is the means by which we gain forgiveness for the sin of Adam. 

    I do think it’s a fair point that these verses (and, by extension, soteriology) become more difficult when you ditch the idea of a historical Adam.  It would be like saying that Christ’s purpose was to undo the damage of the prodigal son, which I suppose can be said, but it’s odd to say a metaphorical/mythical person is directly responsible for anything in the real world, let alone the reason that all men need salvation.

  • Lunch Meat

    Paul’s soteriology seems to indicate that Adam was a type of Christ; he brought death to the whole world through his actions, while Christ
    brings life to everyone, if that makes sense.  It’s also the basis for
    original sin (Adam was the stand-in for the entire human race in the
    garden of eden), and when he sinned essentially all of the humans ever
    to be born sinned as well, and we are all going to die at some point and
    we all need salvation because of Adam’s actions.

    Paul’s soteriology also seems to indicate that Eve did not exist, or at least she did not, as 1 Timothy assumes, sin before Adam. Or, Paul is using “Adam” as a stand-in for “Adam and Eve”* and therefore I don’t see any problem interpreting “Adam” as a stand-in for “the first human to sin” or “the first community of humans.” (Not every Christian believes in original sin, by the way.)

    *because to create a parallel between Eve and Jesus would just be…well.

  • briddle

    I thought the 1 Timothy passage said that Eve was deceived first, not Adam? I could be wrong on that one (I’m not as familiar with the 1 Timothy passage).  

    Anyway, it’s a fair point, and as I said, I’m not arguing for a YEC position.  However, this is still problematic because a) he really hammers the “one person brought death, one person brings life” angle of the argument, and b) it still sounds odd to talk about an actual historical figure undoing the deeds of a metaphorical one. 

    Still working through these passages myself; I’ll probably just end up going with Mark Z and saying the argument makes no sense anymore, haha.

  • Lunch Meat

    I thought the 1 Timothy passage said that Eve was deceived first, not Adam? I could be wrong on that one (I’m not as familiar with the 1 Timothy passage).

    That’s what I meant–sorry if that was unclear. In order for him to hammer home the “one person brought death, one person brings life” argument, he has to pretend Eve didn’t exist. If Paul wrote 1 Timothy, he contradicts himself, because 1 Timothy said Eve sinned first.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Pretty much all New Testament scholars agree Paul didn’t write either Timothy, though.

  • Briddle

    Ah, gotcha.  I’m stretching back pretty far to my literalist/fundamentalist days here, but the explanation I’ve heard of this is that Adam was created first and was the stand-in for the human race.  The hypothetical situation where Eve eats the fruit and Adam does not (thus leading to a perfect human race) would, again hypothetically, ended with Eve being punished for eternity while the human race descended from Adam and a new Eve.  

    It also plays in with the “he was born of a virgin (without human paternal lineage)” = “he was born without original sin” story line.  After all, if he had original sin, he wouldn’t be a perfect and blameless sacrifice.

  • P J Evans

     Parallel structure in literature.

  • Mark Z.

    Yeah. On the other hand, there wasn’t a historical Adam, so we need to find something else to do with those texts.

    As a Christian, I don’t have a problem with just saying that Paul’s argument no longer makes sense. He was writing to an audience that already implicitly believed in Adam. Jesus told his followers to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; that doesn’t mean we must right now go out and appoint a Caesar.

  • briddle

    I agree that, in light of all the evidence, Adam and Eve did not exist as literal historical persons.  I was just pointing out to arcseconds that there are at least some passages that will need some “jumping through hoops” if you admit they were metaphorical, as he seemed to be legitimately interested in seeing what passages became problematic.  

    As far as writing to an audience that already implicitly believed in Adam, I will grant you that for the Romans passage (I believe it was a church composed of Jews living in Rome, no?), but the 1 Corinthians passage is a little tougher, as I believe it was a church of gentiles that would be much less likely to be committed to the OT stories short of his explicit approval of them.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     I don’t need an historical Adam or an historical Christ to think that Paul is saying something useful or insightful.

    Myths have power regardless of their truth or falsity.  They motivate people’s behaviour.

    The nasty and false myth that Africans were thus because of the Mark of Cain (Genesis 4) was integral to Southern plantation slavery.

    On the flip side there is a philanthropic organization call the Harry Potter Alliance.  To quote their home page:

    We are an army of fans, activists, nerdfighters, teenagers, wizards and
    muggles dedicated to fighting for social justice with the greatest
    weapon we have– love.

    and

    Just as Dumbledore’s Army wakes the world up to Voldemort’s return,
    works for equal rights of house elves and werewolves, and empowers its
    members, we:
    Work with partner NGOs in alerting the world to the dangers of global
    warming, poverty, and genocide. Work with our partners for equal rights
    regardless of race, gender, and sexuality. Encourage our members to hone
    the magic of their creativity in endeavoring to make the world a better
    place.

    Under no hermeneutic is anyone going to consider the Harry Potter books works of history or science or fact.  Every bit of them is a work of fiction.

    Here I would contend that if J.K. Rowling’s books can motivate this kind of behaviour, especially over longer periods of time, then in nontrivial ways and in religious ways what she wrote is inspired. 

  • Briddle

    I agree with your general point, but what keeps me from embracing the metaphorical interpretation of Paul’s comments is the way he sets it up.  Your statements seem to me to be analogous to saying “Just as Jonah stayed in the belly of the whale for three days, so Christ had to stay in the ground for three days before coming back to life,” or something along those lines (in other words, drawing parallels to a story with which the hearers are likely to be familiar in order to make a point).  

    However, saying that Christ died to save us from the actions of Adam would be more analogous to saying “Just as Dumbledore relied on his army to wake up the world to Voldemort’s return, we are attempting to awaken the world to the perils of global warming, which is clearly the work of Voldemort” or “Dumbledore’s Army woke the world up to Voldemort’s return, and we are working with the Death Eaters to hide the evidence of the return of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.”  You can’t undo a fictional character’s work, in other words, because they never actually did it IRL.     
    Obviously the story of Adam and Eve could be used as a shorthand here for the entry of sin into the world, but there aren’t many (if any) clues to that in the text.  For an argument reliant on “context and genre,” there appears to be a lot of assumption that Paul was most definitely, clearly, for reals talking in metaphor here, even though it’s not really flagged as such in the text.    

  • Briddle

    Not to mention that, from a historical context of 1800 years pre-Darwin and ~2500(?) years post-Genesis’ author(s), Paul probably actually believed that the earth was created by God in six literal days, given that he lived so long before the discovery of geological evidence to the contrary and so long after the intention of the original author had been lost.  
    Had you asked him where the world came from, I doubt his response would have been, “I don’t know, since the stories in Genesis are clearly metaphor, but I believe God played a role in it,” or “Ask me again in about 1800 years and I’m sure I’ll have a great answer for you.”  This seems an awful lot like reading our biases/knowledge into the text.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Not to mention that, from a historical context of 1800 years pre-Darwin and ~2500(?) years post-Genesis’ author(s), Paul probably actually believed that the earth was created by God in six literal days, given that he lived so long before the discovery of geological evidence to the contrary and so long after the intention of the original author had been lost.

    That I don’t know.  I mean, in the third century Origen wrote:

    “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second,
    and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun,
    and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also
    without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the
    manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east,
    and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one
    tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that
    one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from
    the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and
    Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts
    that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history
    having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

    And Augustine writing in the 4th century apparently said that the world was created all at once (the 6 days just being a way of organizing things in the narrative) but the creation story was hard to understand, and that we needed to be prepared to revise our interpretation of it based on new discoveries, because going around insisting that being a Christian depended on believing things that were manifestly untrue, that was just going to make Christians look stupid.  (That a heavy paraphrase, of course. :-) )

    What a 1st century Pharisee who had been well-educated in the Diaspora might have plausibly believed I have no idea, but these ideas definitely didn’t originate with Darwin.

  • Lunch Meat

    I just want to thank you for your comments, and I wish I had enough time tonight to really think about them and answer them fully. (I also wish hapax were here…)

    Quick answer–I’m not disagreeing with you about what Paul probably thought, because I don’t know enough about ancient views of even more ancient history, but I think that again we have to go back to the point of what he was saying. If we could miraculously bring Paul to the present day and explain everything we know about the origins of human life in a way that he could understand and believe, would he say, “Oh, I guess Jesus didn’t actually do anything, then”? I think he would stand by his words that there is no one righteous, not even one, and we needed Jesus to rescue us, even if he couldn’t tie it up in a neat little rhetorical package connecting Adam to Jesus.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Paul most likely thought that Adam and Eve were real people, Jonah too.  I certainly think it is wise to resist infusing modern perceptions into what ancient authors said.  (I mean we shouldn’t put our words in their mouths.  Let them say their piece before we try to interpret what they said, hermeneutical quagmires notwithstanding.)

    You are certainly correct that the correlation between Adam and Jesus as real people is assumed by Paul.  Adam is the fountainhead of sinful humanity.  Jesus is the fountainhead of redeemed and righteous humanity.  Adam is the imperfect human; Jesus is the perfect one and he replaces Adam. 

    You are right that the text doesn’t flag these as metaphors.

    But I don’t feel obligated to make Paul’s assumptions about the two people.

    I don’t think that Adam was a historical person, and who the historical Jesus was is lost under 2000 years of theological accretion.  So to me both are myths.

    First, I can say that Adam and Jesus are metaphors for both the worse devils and the better angels of our nature.   How our better natures work against our worse ones does undo what was done in real life.  This doesn’t have the mythic drama of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, but it is nevertheless real, which those events may not have been.  (I am not using mythic dismissively here; myths are powerful in the mind and the soul.  And yes, I am skeptical of a literal soul.)

    Having said this, I do not place too much emphasis on whether such myths are literally true.  If they are, then so be it.  If not, then so be it.   I see these stories motivators of behaviour not belief.

  • Briddle

    Fair enough.  Depending on your view of inspiration/inerrancy/etc, I think that’s a reasonable position, and one that I’m inclined towards myself.  Thank you for the thoughtful response :-)

  • arcseconds

     Right, this sort of thing did briefly cross my mind, complete with “was that in Paul? I think maybe it was in Paul”. 

    My point was mainly to challenge Kaylakaze to come up with something like this – and one figure making occasional arguments that seem to require a historical Adam hardly makes the entire text depend on a historical Adam. It does strike me though that it’s not impossible to read those metaphorically, especially the first two, with Adam a stand-in for either the beginning of humanity or all of humanity.

  • Kaylakaze

     I’ve already mentioned in other places. As for those at random, let me see…

    Prov 19 reads like a Benjamin Franklin quote book, so it’s fairly self contained and has no external context.

    1 Kings 8 is easy. It’s all about patriarchy and ceremony. Patriarchy and ceremony that are assumed based on the fictitious account of Adam and Eve, including the demonization of the feminine.

    Matt 5: Link broken. Not going to bother looking it up myself. But it most likely involves Jesus, whose lineage was traced to Adam.

    1 Peter 3: That’s EXTREMELY blatant patriarchy and female demonization. Though, to be fair, in that passage he blames it on Sarah and Abraham. Though it does lose points for claiming Noah as literal.

    1 John 2: The beginning of the passage is about sin and 3rd party atonement for such sins. Without the concept of original sin, the whole idea of sin is insane. To believe in since without the belief that it was the result of a human failing is to believe that humans were created to sin, which, if you believe Yaweh created humans, you have to believe that it was his sadistic plan all along. True, it seems that way even with original sin, but at least that gives them an out to pretend that it wasn’t the case.

  • Lunch Meat

    Wait, are you saying you can’t have patriarchy and female demonization without a belief in a literal Adam and Eve? Seriously? I can find you plenty of atheists who would disagree…

    And again, original sin is NOWHERE IN THE BIBLE.

  • Kaylakaze

     Romans 3:23 :  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, <- that, right there is original sin.

    Psalm 51:5 : Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (thoug you could argue he's just being a melodramatic emo here)

    or, for a larger list http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-is-the-biblical-evidence-for-original-sin

  • LoneWolf343

     Prooftexting is bad, mmkay?

  • Kaylakaze

     Why, in this context? That’s the entire basis of Christianity.

  • LoneWolf343

    No, Genesis is NOT the basis of Christianity. The Gospels are.

    What you are doing is an unholy hybrid of a strawman and an No True Scotsman fallacy. You’ve constructed a profoundly ignorant idea of what a Christian ought to be, and when you are NOW meeting real Christians who don’t fit your definition, you try to browbeat them back into conforming to something which their reason and consciences are preventing them from conforming to. Don’t you realize that, by telling US what to believe about OUR OWN religion, you’re just as bad as any of the demagogues you are arguing against?

  • The_L1985

     No, it’s just the statement that people do bad things.  Again, the concept of “people do bad things, and we choose to call those bad things ‘sin'” is different from “human beings are, by nature, sinful creatures, and this nature came upon us because of the sin of Adam.”

    How do you miss the difference here?  What happened to your reading comprehension skills?

  • arcseconds

    Sin, patriacharchy and ceremonies can’t be understood without a historical Adam?  I think you might be reaching a bit here.

    I can kind of see how you might argue that for sin and patriarchy, as it’s been part of the traditional Christian understanding of these things.  But if you think about it for a bit you might come up with one or two cultures that are patriarchal without believing in a historical Adam — patriarchy being more the rule than the exception. 

    But ceremonies? I can’t even begin to see an argument here, so you must tell me why you think a historical Adam is necessary to understand ceremonies. 

    And do you really think that an accurate genealogy is necessary to understand someone or things written about them?  That’s a rather odd thing to think, especially in modern Western society… so I think you might be confabulating here a little bit.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     No, wait, he’s right!  Ceremonies and patriarchy are totally based on the idea of a historical Adam and Eve!  That’s why ancient Greece and Rome, for example, were known for complete gender equality and had no ceremonies of any kind. 

  • Kaylakaze

     Understood? Yes. Excused, no.

    I don’t remember the passage now, so perhaps ceremony was incorrect.

    And, while accurate genealogy is not necessary to understand, the point was that the writers thought that there was in fact a historical Adam to ascribe his ancestry to.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    And if the characters in the book are incorrect, the whole religion is demonstrated to be a farce.

    Wanna bet?

  • Kaylakaze

    Sure, but I must stipulate that it’s a pretty unfair bet since the whole religion is a farce whether or not the characters are correct. It’s just more blatant when they are not.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Farce is a bit harsh – Do you think the same of the Harry Potter folks, who know full well there is no Hogwarts, but still use the themes and lessons from Rowling’s books to do good in the real world? If so, how is that different from the folks using Joseph Smith’s books to do the same? 

  • The_L1985

     Wow, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Hinduism.

  • EllieMurasaki

    …please let’s try to confine the troll to discussing the religions she’s already mentioned. I bet there’d be hella racism in her discussion of Hinduism and I don’t want to see it.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve.

    But readers are not required to accept the claim to begin with.

  • AnonymousSam

    I recall someone trying to prove that the geocentric model of the universe was the correct one by hovering a remote-controlled helicopter above the ground. He argued that because the helicopter wasn’t drifting into the distance, the Earth was not rotating and the reason we saw the sun as doing so is because it was the one orbiting the Earth.

    Telescopes aren’t enough to deter a willful mind.

  • P J Evans

     That’s about the same argument the Greeks had for a non-rotating world.

  • Eamon Knight

    I’m reading some history-of-science at the moment, and one book pointed out that getting past this objection requires a coherent concept of inertia, which is non-obvious, and wasn’t really developed until the 17th century. Without that, our natural intuition tells us that we should *feel* ourselves to be in motion, that thrown objects should be left behind, etc. Some people, apparently, haven’t gotten the message (presumably, they learned high school physics well enough to regurgitate the correct answers on the exam, without really understanding it).

  • arcseconds

     Telescopes aren’t in fact enough to resolve the issue at all, and didn’t resolve the issue at the time.

    You can show using a telescope that Venus orbits the Sun (because of the phases).  So that means Ptolemy’s model isn’t correct.  However, Tycho Brahe proposed a model where the Sun orbits the Earth, and everything else orbits the Sun.

    If you imagine one of those mechanical models of the solar system (an orrery), and imagine fixing the Earth, rather than the sun, to the ground.  Then you’ll have the Tychonian model. 

    Given that all you have to do to a model which replicates the motions is change what is fixed, then there’s actually no observation (certainly none made from the surface of the Earth) that can tell you whether the Tychonian or the Keplerian model is true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Tycho’s model actually was empirically distinguishable from the Copernican one, just not with the instruments available at the time.

    The difference is in the “fixed” stars. In the Copernican model, they’re fixed relative to the Sun. (Of course, they’re not really fixed at all… but they certainly don’t wobble about once a year to follow the Earth in its yearly orbit.) In the Tychonian model, they’re fixed relative to the Earth.

    Tycho wasn’t trying to produce a system empirically indistinguishable from Copernicus’s. Actually, he thought the data supported his model over Copernicus’s, because if the stars were fixed relative to the Sun, we would see stellar parallax (an apparent slight change in the positions of the stars) as the Earth’s vantage point varied over the course of a year, and he couldn’t detect any such thing.

    The truth turns out to be that the stars are so far away that parallax is harder to measure than Tycho’s instruments could manage, and we *do* see it (as well as “aberration of starlight” caused by the finite speed of light relative to the Earth’s motion). So the data actually support a (modern version of a) Copernican model over a Tychonian one.

    Sometimes, you’ll hear that general relativity makes geocentrism true again, or as true as heliocentrism, because you can just as well use a coordinate system in which the Earth is fixed. (I have even heard an actual Nobel-prize-winning physicist claim this.) And it’s true, you can–you don’t even need Einstein to do that; his theory just became particularly explicit about the effect of a change of coordinate frame, because it had to be.

    But that’s just a statement about coordinate systems, not about the world. There are sensible coordinate-independent definitions of whether the Earth is going around the Sun or vice versa: they have to do with such things as parallax and aberration of starlight. And the heliocentric picture wins out.

  • arcseconds

    I was hoping someone was going to raise this topic again.

    Everything you say is true, and I had forgotten about the business of the stellar parallax.  Although, as you say, at the time this seemed to support Tycho, not a heliocentric system.

    I was only thinking of observations within the solar system itself, which is in keeping with the time, because it wasn’t possible to measure the stellar parallax until quite a bit later.

    And the question was resolved at the time, without recourse to telescopes.

    What interests me about it is that it’s essentially a metaphysical question (and I love metaphysical questions! especially ones with answers, if only for the variety): what counts as being in motion?

    If we restrict the discussion to the solar system, Tycho’s contemporaries simply had no way of assessing this question.   The models that had been developed up until that time were essentially ‘curve fitting’, which can’t settle the question.  If you don’t know what makes things move, then you have no basis for saying what is in motion and what is not.

    With the advent of Newtonian dynamics, though, the question has an answer.

    (or rather a partial answer due to the relativity of the physics. Yes, Newtonian physics is relativistic, although not in the Einsteinian way, and Newton was well aware of this: his infamous absolute space and time were metaphysical propositions that were not integrated into his physical theory)

    Once you know that it’s universal gravitation that make the solar system move, there is a point that can be picked out non-arbitrarily as being at rest relative to the rest of the system, and that’s the centre of mass.

    So that’s one interesting thing.  Geocentricism vs. heliocentricsm were not resolved by observation, but by theory.

    The other interesting thing is that, strictly speaking, the resolution was in favour of neither.  They’re both wrong.   The Earth and the Sun are both in motion, and they both orbit the centre of mass.   Sure, it’s closer to the sun than any other body, but it’s far enough away so that the centre is actually outside of the sun’s surface often.

    (and of course, they’re both wrong in a more dramatic fashion: the solar system itself is in orbit around the centre of mass of the Milky Way)

  • Will Hennessy

    I don’t know how I found them, but there are still people on the internet who actually believe in a Geocentric view (as I recall, mainly because David said so in his poems).

    And I found this to be a timely post, being that I very recently bought this shirt:
    https://controversy.wearscience.com/design/geocentric/

    Hopefully wearing it will help clarify the issue…

  • SisterCoyote

    I think it goes back to the All-or-Nothing problem. If you’re brought up never to question, to believe that the Bible, esp. the King James, is The Only Truth, and all of it is equally and literally unassailable, then your faith is built on the idea that if there is even a minor problem with anything the Bible says, then God does not exist and life has no meaning.

    The more science pokes at the universe, the more complicated it is. I think that gives life more meaning, not less.

    Either God created two humans, and set up all the universe to revolve around them, or God created the entire universe, and watches and loves the life that grows and thrives and questions in it, from the several-thousand humanoidish apeish dudes who started leaning towards language and culture, to whatever life systems did, are doing, will do, the same sort of thing, untold lightyears away from here.

    I dunno, but the latter idea is rather more beautiful, as far as I can see. Why do we try so hard to recast God in our own image?

  • Madhabmatics

     have you ever read Teilhard de Chardin?

  • SisterCoyote

     I have not! He looks incredibly interesting, though, I’ll have to remedy that. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Nicanthiel

    You might also like Thomas Berry. I would also suggest his The Universe Story co-author Brian Swimme for a secular/science-based version of much the same concepts.

  • http://comic.truefork.org/ Silly

    The more unbelievable the doctrine, the greater faith one demonstrates by believing it in defiance of all evidence, and the more one is distinguished from the unbelievers and confirmed in one’s identity. At least that seems to me why people prefer insane interpretations.

  • Eamon Knight

    Yes, but: How do we know which way the text is intended, and by whom? What did the person(s) who originally told the stories, or wrote them down, or redacted them, understand them to mean? Or can we just ignore that, and read the text in whatever way lets us have our cake and eat it too? Granted, texts can have meanings beyond that consciously intended by the writer, but surely a specifically *religious* use of the Bible requires accepting a particular reading as authoritative — that’s what *God* means by it. Otherwise, though it may be a collection of inspiring moral maxims, it’s no more uniquely significant than Aesop’s Fables.
    [/obnoxious_atheist]

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    but surely a specifically *religious* use of the Bible requires
    accepting a particular reading as authoritative — that’s what *God*
    means by it.

    Only if you see the point of the Bible as communicating “what God means”. There are many religious uses of texts that don’t worry about this at all.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I’ve gotten the impression that those who insist on so-called “literalism” actually have a conception of God that is very small, so the bigger and older the universe is revealed to be, the smaller their God seems by comparison. I think that fits in well with the discussion in this thread about narcissism. Narcissists don’t need a God big enough to fit the universe, they just need a God big enough to make them more special than others.

    It’s difficult for humans to think big.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    According to Cold War mythology, when the U.S. space program was attempting to send probes to Saturn, they used the geocentric model instead of the heliocentric; both models accurately predicted the location of the planets relative to earth, but the calculations for a central, stable earth were easier.

    The purpose of this myth (true or not) is that a model does not need to 100% accurately model every aspect of the thing it’s modeling. It only needs to convey information accurate to the query. Most physical models of the solar system have horribly inaccurate scales for distance and size, but correctly show the sun at the center and the correct order* of the planets**.

    The model of Adam & Eve doesn’t need to be 100% accurate; it only needs to be accurate for the purpose of what it’s trying to teach, or for the purpose it is being utilized for. A historical Adam & Eve could be a strong teaching tool against racism, or for compassion for your fellow humans who are really just distant family. 

    The trouble is that the Historical Adam & Eve model is used to teach ignorance, bigotry, and denialism. And that’s not so good.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The purpose of this myth (true or not) is that a model does not need to 100% accurately model every aspect of the thing it’s modeling. It only needs to convey information accurate to the query.

    This seems to be something people who use the “science has been wrong before” or “science cannot explain everything” arguments seem to forget (creationists are particularly fond of the “evolution has gaps in the theory therefor God exists” version.)  The fact is, a scientific model does not need to make a complete description of something universal, it just has to work as a reliable predictor long enough to be displaced by a more complete model.  

    For example, Newtonian physics is an incomplete physical model.  Relativity and quantum mechanics were created precisely because there were elements of the model which could not account for the things that these new theories could describe.  Yet the Newtonian is hardly obsolete, and for quite a wide variety of common circumstances it is still quite “right” and reliably predictive, hence why we still teach it in schools and still use it in all kinds of science and engineering.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     The creationists make a fine argument that science is not a kind of religion promising absolute truth to the faithful.

    The problem of course is that the people making the claim that science *is* doing that sort of thing… Aren’t scientists. (I won’t say “nobody is making that claim”, since a lot of hack hollywood writers make it all the time)

  • P J Evans

     My college physics teacher said classical physics works fine for most things. You don’t need relativity and quantum mechanics in order to buy groceries.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    The Saturn story must be a myth. Once a space probe has switched off its engines and is far from Earth, it is in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. If you think the Sun circles the Earth you will get that orbit, and hence the speed and direction needed by the probe, totally wrong.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The Saturn story must be a myth. Once a space probe has switched off its engines and is far from Earth, it is in an elliptical orbit around the Sun
    Right story, wrong name.

    It was the Voyager Program that the story related to, which definitely did not have elliptical orbits. 

  • Not

    Given that we have *nigh-certain historical knowledge* from a plethora of other sources that geocentrism was the view of nearly all thinkers on the subject prior to the Renaissance…. I would say that any heuristic that does NOT lead you to conclude that the geocentric reading of the Bible passages is the correct understanding of what the authors have in mind….

    …. is horrifically flawed.

    And yes, I know the post is not really about geocentrism. the other side of the analogy has to hold up, however, for the overall point to work.

  • Foelhe

    … Unless, of course, discussions of the physical state of the universe were not actually the point of the story, and the bible passages are about the nature of God. That might be a bit of a stretch for a religious text, but I figured I’d throw the idea out there.

  • Not

    The question is whether the Bible says X. The Bible clearly does says X. If you want to argue that “Yes,  but the story is clearly only saying X by-the-way, and its main goal is to say Y” then that *constitutes an acceptance on your part that the Bible does actually say X* because its authors did actually think X.

    What that implies – well, it might imply that the Bible is not divinely inspired, or that it is divinely inspired but God only intervened to ensure accuracy with regards to “the main point of the story”. Take your pick. What it can’t possibly imply is what you want it to imply which is “the Bible seems to say X but does not really say X”.

  • Leum

     My Catholic NT professor takes the view that the Bible is only inspired with respect to matters that impact salvation.

  • Not

    Which is more or less my point. If you have that kind of understanding of divine inspiration – which, I am given to understand, most non-fundamentalists do – then it’s quite possible and uncontroversial for Bible authors to have gotten it wrong on things like the position of the earth. That being the case, why do people like Fred and many commenters see the need to get tied up in rhetorical knots on things like “the point of the story” to avoid admitting that various Bible authors do in fact get it wrong on the position of the earth?

  • Lunch Meat

    Simply put, the reason “the point of the story” is important is because it allows us to disagree with the authors on their scientific assumptions while still accepting the authority of the Bible. I probably would not agree with Moses* or Paul on germ theory or how reproduction works, but I doubt Moses or Paul would care about that. Moses and Paul would care what I think of God and whether or not I do what God wants. So if their goal was also not to teach** a geocentric understanding of the universe, then I do not have to accept a geocentric understanding of the universe in order to accept the authority of the Bible.

    *By which I mean whoever wrote the Torah.

    **A word that I think Fred emphasized on purpose.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Simply put, the reason “the point of the story” is important is because
    it allows us to disagree with the authors on their scientific
    assumptions while still accepting the authority of the Bible. I probably
    would not agree with Moses* or Paul on germ theory or how reproduction
    works, but I doubt Moses or Paul would care about that. Moses and Paul
    would care what I think of God and whether or not I do what God wants.
    So if their goal was also not to teach** a geocentric understanding of
    the universe, then I do not have to accept a geocentric understanding of
    the universe in order to accept the authority of the Bible.

    I was once sitting in a Q&A where a bunch of Presbyterians were asking a Jewish Rabbi about religion and whatnot.  One person asked if Jews took the Biblical account of creation literally.  His response (paraphrased, natch) was, “The Bible is the authority on the Law.  The Bible says that the world is a few thousand years old.  Science says that the world is millions of years old.  So now we know.”

    I specifically remember it because the, “So now we know,” at the end was pretty much delivered in the most stereotypical Jewish comedian style possible.  It was amusing.

  • Foelhe

    But again, using the metaphor I used with Patrick, I could say “sings like a bird”. I’m not talking about zoology. That’s not the point of what I’m saying, and if I wrote a zoology textbook, I wouldn’t say “sings like a bird” unless I was talking about an animal that mimicked literal bird sounds.

    So I’m talking about singing… but that’s still not how a bird sings. By your argument, “sings like a bird” is a failure of zoology. And what I’m saying is no, I know what a bird sounds like, I’m trying to illustrate something with the quality of bird song, not an exact representation.

    “Four corners of the earth” is the same thing. We’re not talking about how the earth has four corners. If we were talking about geography, it’d be a different story, but we’re not. We’re discussing four corners because that’s a good way to illustrate the quality of completeness.

  • Foelhe

    I probably shouldn’t be arguing on this too much. I’m not Christian myself, so I probably see this differently than Fred does.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    So, this is all the way back on Page 2 quoting someone who no longer appears to be participating in the thread, so would it be shameful thread necromancy to point out that there’s a huge logical problem here? It’s just I haven’t seen it pointed out yet, probably because there is oh-so-much other chewy argumentable stuff going on.

    The question is whether the Bible says X. The Bible clearly does says X. If you want to argue that “Yes,  but the story is clearly only saying X by-the-way, and its main goal is to say Y” then that *constitutes an acceptance on your part that the Bible does actually say X* because its authors did actually think X.

    (emphasis mine)

    That the “Bible does actually say X” is a falsifiable statement, sure – it can be true or false. To argue over the interpretation of quoted statement X is, yes, to “accept that the Bible does actually say X” in the sense that the statement does exist on the page.

    However, it does not follow that “authors did actually think X.” The authors of the various books of the Bible were as capable of writing lies, myth, parable, metaphor, exaggeration, poetry, and political propaganda as we are.

    Here: I will write the statement “The air has become a solid mass of white.” I truly wrote that statement. No denying it. That I wrote it, however, does not inevitably prove that I actually believe that that all the breathable atmosphere has been replaced by a big white D&D-style gelatinous cube. It’s a lot more plausible to read that and presume that the author 1. is commenting on the heavy snow where she lives, and 2. is none too pleased about it.

    See also Dierd’s winningest post including a quote from the Song of Songs if anyone needs further illustration.

  • Foelhe

    Heretic. Clearly the author is speaking of FOG.

  • Carstonio

    A couple of my earlier posts were addressing that same issue, arguing that we can’t be certain what the authors actually thought. In your case, if the reader had never heard of snow, or if the reader knew that you were living in Costa Rica, your meaning would be less clear. This isn’t about treating the text as literal fact but treating it as communication, and what the scripture authors sought to communicate isn’t always obvious.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Which it does. Try replacing “the bible” with “The Tale of Genji” or “Beowulf” in what you just said.

    It makes exactly as much sense to say that “It is correct to read the bible as teaching geocentrism” as it does to say “It is correct to read Beowulf as teaching geocentrism,” and it only makes slightly less sense to say “It is correct to read the TV Guide as teaching geocentrism.”

    Because the TV guide is not about the motion of the planets, and neither is beowulf, and neither is the Bible, and I can find books written *this year* that refer to “the four corners of the earth” and they aren’t teaching flat-eartherism either.

  • EllieMurasaki

    “What the authors had in mind” != “what is real”.

  • Leum

    I think Paul’s writings are the major scriptural challenge to disbelieving in a historical Adam, inasmuch as the parallel’s between Adam and Jesus seem a bit…weird if one of them is metaphorical and one is literal. Why would you need a literal death on a cross to atone for a metaphorical expulsion from Eden? I’m not saying it can’t work, but Paul really really stresses the Adam/Jesus parallel, so I think you have to account for it at the very least.

  • MaryKaye

    There is an essay by Lewis Thomas in which he describes putting the tip of his pencil on the paper and then, by an effort of will, making the entire universe revolve around that point:  the Earth, the Sun and planets, the fixed stars of the Milky Way, even the distant galaxies.  It complicates the math to describe the movements, but there’s no logical impossibility.

    In some sense geocentrism isn’t even false.  The Universe has no center, or is all center.  You can measure the cosmic background radiation at any point and you are measuring the fading glow of the Big Bang, when it was all one point.  (I think this is really cool, personally.)  So if you want Earth to be the center, well, the Milky Way is kind of lopsided then, but that’s just an artistic objection.

    In one of its occasional flights of philosophical fantasy, my martial arts tradition says that the one-point in the lower abdomen is the center of the universe.  Your one-point, mine, anyone’s.  The (to my mind wrong) corollary is “And because they are all the center of the universe, and all one, your aikido should fundamentally look like my aikido.”  (If you want to find the center of the universe, by the way, tighten your stomach muscles and feel below your navel for the point at which you can no longer detect that tightening–usually around 2 inches below the navel.  There it is.)

    I don’t think there’s an equally true interpretation of special creation.  Adam and Eve in the sense of common ancestry, yes.  But the denial of our kinship with other life is a lot more “wrong” than geocentrism, or at least it seems so to me–admittedly I’m a biologist.  You can do the math to get a probe to Saturn without heliocentrism.  You can’t figure out what genes are doing, I don’t think, without acknowledging the causal connection between my HLA allele and a chimpanzee’s.  (My allele is quite likely to be more similar to the chimp’s than it is to yours.  And that’s not an aspersion on our ancestry on either side.)

  • Madhabmatics

    geo-existentialism

  • Carstonio

     It’s possible that the original authors of Genesis intended the story as both more or less literal history and parable. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Similarly, the ancient Greeks may have subscribed to a similar dual reading of the the Pandora story.

    A third option is that all three people may have existed and the stories grew into legend and myth over time, just as King Arthur may have originally been a Saxon chieftain. Several legends at Snopes reappear with different celebrities in the roles, and the fact that each version has the same (questionable) moral doesn’t negate the actual existence of the celebrities.  Joseph Campbell might have had something to say about that.

  • Patrick

    Using what is true to help interpret the Bible begins with the assumption that the Bible is connected to truth.

    Which is, of course, EXACTLY the same error you’re accusing literalists of when you say this:

    “The case for the geocentrist reading is not particularly strong. It
    requires, among other things, a disregard for genre and literary context
    in which the reader treats one kind of text as though it were another
    kind of text — much like if one were to read a novel as though it were a
    newspaper, or a newspaper as though it were a novel.”

  • Foelhe

    Arguing about whether something is true or not isn’t the same as arguing whether it’s literal or metaphoric. If I say someone sings like a bird, you can disagree and say the person is a lousy singer. That’s a perfectly valid counter-opinion. You can’t say, “Oh, you mean they make high-pitched tweeting noises?” without looking like a damned idiot.

  • Patrick

     You didn’t understand my point.

    Lets say that Fred Clark is right that the Bible is not the sort of genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of real events.  This is probably false, mind you.  Its near to functional illiteracy to claim that because a story has a moral, the writers must not have intended it to be read literally.  This very blog regularly showcases modern day people who pass around stories they read as both actual accounts of events, and stories with morals- right wing email forwards and urban legends.

    But lets leave that problem aside, and just accept that the Bible isn’t the genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of real events.

    Given that, why would you possibly conclude that a particular interpretation of the Bible is incorrect just because it yields false results when compared to the real world?  Much, much worse, you wouldn’t apply the inverse of that standard to literature- we’d never conclude that a particular interpretation of, say, a play by Shakespeare, was the best one because it matched real world history.  It isn’t a question we’d even ask, because we’d recognize that a fictional play is not the sort of thing that has to be interpreted in light of real world historical events.  No one is going around and arguing that, based on a close review of the real life events of Danish history, we’ve got Hamlet all wrong.

  • vsm

    Fred’s a Christian so he presumably starts with the premise that the Bible is true on some level. I don’t think he needs to start every post by explaining why he accepts that.

  • Foelhe

    Its near to functional illiteracy to claim that because a story has a moral, the writers must not have intended it to be read literally.

    Good thing nobody’s claiming that. You certainly can tell a true story with a moral, but you can also use metaphor to make a point. It’s ridiculous to assume you can’t use metaphor as part of cosmology building in a religious text, particularly when that religion’s major prophet/savior explicitly spoke in parables all the time.

    (Also, “it’s”. It is. Normally I wouldn’t bother to point that out, but when you accuse someone of functional illiteracy you kinda have to expect these things.)

    Given that, why would you possibly conclude that a particular interpretation of the Bible is incorrect just because it yields false results when compared to the real world?

    If you think the bible is compatible with the real world, you keep that in mind when you’re figuring out what it says. If you don’t, you don’t. I’m not a Christian, so my opinion on which interpretation is correct isn’t swayed either way (and I also don’t care very much), but a Christian might consider this important.

    Thing is, nobody’s asking you to believe that, Fred’s just saying that if you think the bible reflects reality, this is the correct way to approach it. If, then. 

  • Foelhe

    … Quoteblock? What?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Lets say that Fred Clark is right that the Bible is not the sort of
    genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of
    real events.  This is probably false, mind you.

    *raises eyebrows*

    “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.” Psalm 18:4

    “And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” Genesis 7:12

    “Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.” Proverbs 7:26

    “My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.” Song of Songs 5:4

    “The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.” Psalm 18:13-15

    The Bible isn’t “a” genre at all. It’s several. And, yeah, I’d say that a literal interpretation of some of those genres would be “near to functional illiteracy”.

  • SisterCoyote

    …you totally win an internet for this one.

  • Patrick

     Fair point that the Bible contains multiple genres.

    No doubt it was mere oversight that the originating post make the same slip in accuracy without comment, but the commentariat has drawn out the blades against someone critical who did the same thing.

  • SisterCoyote

     I… guess? But Fred’s pointed out the whole “patchwork” thing before, multiple times. It seems like you’re kinda reaching for a disagreement when you disregard that.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I do not think that the “geocentric” bits of the Bible are part of a genre that seeks to discuss astronomy and science. Nor do I believe that the bits of the Bible about Adam are part of a genre that seeks to discuss literal, historical events.

    I’m fairly certain Fred agrees with me on that one. His post was not assuming that the whole Bible was of a single genre, but asserting that the genres of the bits he was talking about were not trying to be literal.

  • Lunch Meat

    Where did Fred say that the Bible is all one genre? As far as I can see, he’s only talking about particular passages.

  • SisterCoyote

    Lets say that Fred Clark is right that the Bible is not the sort of genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of real events.  This is probably false, mind you.  Its near to functional illiteracy to claim that because a story has a moral, the writers must not have intended it to be read literally.

    I think you’re missing the point a bit. The Bible cannot be fit into any single genre because it’s not a single solid-work book, it is a patchwork, a mosaic. Some things therein should be taken literally, and some should not. All things therein should be read with context, and keeping in mind that the authors were many different humans, all fallible, all with agendas and issues of their own.

  • The_L1985

     I really do get tired of people acting like the Bible is a single work.  It’s like they don’t see the headings “The Book of Ezekiel” and “The Book of Luke.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    I kind of want a Bible that’s a book set now. Like, bind Genesis separately from Exodus separately from Leviticus. The really short books can go in one binding, and the multiple bindings would send the price up, but the text size could be something reasonable without making the book uncarryably large.

  • vsm

    I have an edition of the Gospel of Matthew that was published separately. It’s presented in a thoroughly secular context: the cover has the names of the secular publisher and the notoriously communist translator in large letters, and the first thing you find opening it is a list of other ancient works translated by him. The translation itself uses some modern words (like cop for guard) for a jarring effect, and Jesus tends to use an informal, conversational tone whenever appropriate. It’s a lovely little book.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ooo. Linky?

    Isn’t the Cotton Patch Gospel published as separate volumes, come to think?

  • vsm

    Sorry, it’s a translation to Finnish. While it is an admirable work, it probably isn’t quite worth learning the language :).

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah. :(

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     “Lets say that Fred Clark is right that the Bible is not the sort of genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of real events.  This is probably false, mind you.”

    Why probably false?

    For one thing, the Bible isn’t any “sort of genre”, because despite the fact that the Bible typically comes bound in a single volume, the Bible isn’t a unitary entity.  It was written over maybe a thousand-year period, in multiple different countries and in multiple languages.  It contains material form a variety of genres: history, biography, letters, hymns.  And yes, possibly myths.

    At any rate, why do say this is “probably false”?  Like I said, as far as I can tell it seems to be widely believed that the Genesis creation story wasn’t taken as completely literally true in ancient times.  Certainly it isn’t a modern idea: even Mr. Original Sin, Augustine himself, apparently said that understanding the creation story in Genesis is complicated and that our interpretation of it will need to be modified as we learn more through human reason.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Lets say that Fred Clark is right that the Bible is not the sort of genre of writing that concerns itself with relating accurate accounts of real events. This is probably false, mind you.

    That’s a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ statement, whatever the fallacy’s called. It carries the hidden assumption that the Bible belongs to exactly one genre. It does not. It is not even a single book. It’s a fucking LIBRARY. It’s got a whole bunch of genres. Some of it surely is meant to be historically accurate (though ‘meant to be’ and ‘is’ don’t necessarily align). Some of it, and I direct your attention to all iterations of the Garden of Eden, is straight-up myth.

  • LoneWolf343

     “Loaded question” is what it is called.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Define ‘truth’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    When Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, via Seth, Enos, Cainan et al. and down to Joseph, which of those individuals do you think he believes to be real human beings? If the answer is not “all of them”, how do you justify your answer? 

  • http://semperfiona.livejournal.com Semperfiona

     When Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, via Seth, Enos, Cainan et al.
    and down to Joseph, which of those individuals do you think he believes
    to be real human beings? If the answer is not “all of them”, how do you
    justify your answer?

    If I trace my ancestry through Harald Farhar of Norway back to Odin, does that mean I believe Odin is a real human being? If I trace it through Charlemagne and the Merovingians to Jesus’ child with Mary Magdalene, does that mean he really had one (or existed at all?) Or is it maybe that Harald and Charlemagne were both trying to legitimize their reigns as divinely ordained, so someone in their court made up a family tree to prove it?

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    My Glenn-Beck-retweeting cousin sent my mom (whose genealogy research is always fully documented) a “family tree” she’d worked out that traced our family to kings of England and from there to Adam. She probably does believe in a historical Adam; but then, she also believes Glenn Beck.
    (Mom sent it on to me for a laugh. My dog ate it. Good dog!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    OK, so Luke was lying. I’m happy with that. But then, who else in the Bible was lying?

  • Jim Roberts

    The purpose of Luke’s genealogy was not to be accurate, so I’m uncertain how it’s being inaccurate constitutes a lie.

  • Rowen

     What always got me about the genealogies of Jesus is that they go through the line to Joseph, who didn’t really have much to do with the conception of Jesus.

  • AnonaMiss

    While I understand what you’re saying Jim Roberts, that idea reminds me of #notintendedtobeafactualstatement . http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/not-intended-to-be-a-factual-statement

    We should be careful to note where untrue statements are expected to be understood as not literally true – such as the previous notes about mythological convention, or the modern equivalent, memetic convention. Arguing with the geneaology of Jesus is like arguing with Chuck Norris jokes: Yes, OK, it’s not true, but objecting to it on the basis of it being false is only possible if you are functionally internet-illiterate.

    The problem is that there are entire sects of religious “fundamentalists” who are, and laud being, functionally 2000-years-ago-illiterate. The Chuck Norris equivalent would be some asshole who pointed out that if Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding, and Chuck Norris is a real person, that is incontrovertible evidence that Waldo too is a real person.

    Or was, until Chuck Norris found him.

  • Mark Z.

    We must believe in Waldo, because as Scripture says, “Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding.” If we reject a historical Waldo, then we open the door to rejecting a historical Chuck Norris. And Chuck Norris will be angry about that. Very angry indeed.

    Or do you reject the Word of Chuck? He won’t be too happy about that, either.

    That’s why the Waldo Research Institute needs your gift of $1,000, $500, or even $200 to support the Waldo Expedition. Our team of Waldo Science experts will travel to the mountains of Ararat in Turkey* to find Waldo and bring back proof of his existence to an unbelieving world.

    “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and In Town, and On the Beach, and at the Ski Slopes, and the Camp Site, and the Railroad Station, and the Airport, and the Sports Stadium, and the Museum, and At Sea, and in the Safari Park, and the Department Store, and the Fairground, and to the ends of the earth. Truly I say to you, everywhere you can find me, you shall be my witnesses.”
    — Waldo 28:16-20

    * or possibly Orlando, Florida.

  • Jim Roberts

    I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

    The genealogies in Luke and Matthew don’t have the purpose of being factual, but have the prupose of demonstrating a connection between Christ and the deepest roots of humanity. It’s the same reason that there are dragons and monsters in the book of Revelation – it’s not that the writer’s saying, “And there will be an actual dragon running around on Earth,” but rather that the things that Christians oppose are powerful, selfish and ancient – they’re monstrous, but not actually monsters.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m agreeing with you Jim! Sorry for not being clear. 

    I saw an opening for our troll to strawman what you said about “Since it wasn’t intended to be accurate, that makes it not a lie”, and I attempted to close that opening with the Chuck Norris example. Since I was hard to understand, I guess I didn’t do a very good job.

    I only brought up #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement because your wording reminded me of the John Kyl incident, which was an example of someone engaging in “mythical” speech in a context in which it was inappropriate – as opposed to a mythical genre, such as when speaking of Jesus or Chuck Norris. At least in theory, the “facts” in political debates are supposed to be, y’know, actual facts, or at least within spitting distance of them. (Though if we apply the idea of mythical speech to the Republican party, it suddenly makes a whole lot more sense…)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I’ve read that the general view of scholars who study such things is that the two stories of creation in Genesis (yes, there are two different and contradictory ones) were never meant to be taken as an actual, factual account, and in fact were not taken as such at the time when they were collected into the Torah. The story of prehistory (which includes both the creation story and the flood story), like must such stories, were myths, and weren’t thought to be literally true any more than the ancient Greeks believed that the Greek myths were literally true, and any more than the listeners believed that the story of the Prodigal Son was meant to be taken as literally true. At least, that’s what the people I’ve been reading seem to think. YMMV.

    I’ve always liked Harold Kushner’s (and presumably others’) interpretation of the story of the forbidden fruit, which is that it describes what makes humans different from every other animal in creation: we alone are moral agents, and we suffer stress and anxiety in a way that animals don’t. (I mean, animals suffer stress and anxiety, but take my cats — once the Cat-Eating Vacuum of DOOM! is back in the closet, life is good again and they stop worrying. They don’t worry about the future or feel guilt or regret about the past. If they weren’t spayed they’d have kittens, and they would experience labor pain and taking care of the kittens would be work, but they wouldn’t worry about the kittens the way a human parent does about their children. )

    At any rate, it’s not indisputably a story about how Original Sin came to be passed down through sex like some sort of religious STD – after all, neither Jews nor Muslims, nor many Christian denominations, take it that way. Rather, it’s a story about the human condition and the fact that something is clearly not right, in our lives and in the world, and what are we to make of that?

  • Hilary

    Wohoo! someone else who has read “How good do we have to be?”  best take on Adam and Eve ever!

  • Leum

    When Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, via Seth, Enos, Cainan et al.
    and down to Joseph, which of those individuals do you think he believes
    to be real human beings? If the answer is not “all of them”, how do you
    justify your answer?

    I’m more familiar with Matthew’s genealogy than Luke’s, and I’m pretty sure that after one or two generations back he was pulling it out of his ass to prove that Jesus was descended from David. Which, to be fair, since David lived 1000 years before Jesus–assuming he existed–just about everyone in Judea would be descended from him.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    As far as the question of whether the story presupposes a geocentric view of the world goes: of course it presupposes a geocentric view of the world.  Everything written before the 16th century presupposes a geocentric view of the world.  That’s because that’s how people thought the universe worked until then — and a perfectly reasonable view it was, too, given the evidence then available to them.

    But if we’re going to abandon everything that was written, said, or thought before Copernicus because the author held a geocentric view of the world… well, that would be silly. 

    I’m sure there’s plenty of things we believe about the nature of the universe that will have been proven wrong a few thousand years from now (though hopefully the march of scientific progress over time means we’re less wrong about the scientific ideas of how the universe works than the people of ancient Israel) and I’d like to think that doesn’t invalidate all of our musings on the nature of the human condition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    There’s a body of work called the Matter of Britain. Its most famous segment is the Arthurian cycles, but it also includes a genealogy of Britain’s “legendary kings” that has little basis in actual history. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae (one of the central pieces of the Matter) claimed his source was a “certain very ancient book.” Geoffrey of Monmouth even claimed, much like Virgil with Rome in The Aeneid, that the first British king, Brutus, came from the Trojan people.

    The point of the Matter isn’t to be a Real And True Historical Account. It’s there as a piece of cultural mythmaking under the pretense of history. It was written to connect then-modern history into ancient and legendary history, tapping into their power. Heck, there’re even versions of the Brutus of Troy account that trace his lineage back to Noah.

    That’s what I think of when someone brings up stuff like the Bible treating Adam as completely literal throughout just because it references him sometime after Genesis. Even a genealogy tracing Jesus to Adam. No, that bit’s not literal. It was, like the Matter, written by someone plugging into the legendary history to borrow its power. It’s saying, “Jesus is so great and important he belongs in the lineage of ancient heroes.” It’s mythic speech, which is metaphor with greater license to exaggerate. Once you’ve let it out, Myth dances in and out of factual history with wild abandon.

    But even the grandest, most blatantly metaphorical of mythic speech is going to end up in the hands of painfully literally-minded people eventually. And then we get either “Obviously Adam Must Have Been Historical Or Everything In The Bible Is A Lie,” or else “Obviously Adam Wasn’t Historical So Everything In The Bible Is A Lie.” Either way it misses the point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    Allow me to add the caveat here that my preferred sociological framework is Symbolic Interactionism. Essentially, and to grossly oversimplify it, that the way people do society and culture (and, to an extent, do reality) is based strongly on constructing and sharing symbols that create discrete elements of culture and identity. All this stuff about the Matter and the Bible is to say that we do culture and group identity and so on through our symbolic elements such as myth and legend, and that taking them literally from outside the culture is kind of Doing It Wrong, for anyone trying to prop it up or tear it down.

  • Briddle

    “Essentially, and to grossly oversimplify it, that the way people do society and culture (and, to an extent, do reality) is based strongly on constructing and sharing symbols that create discrete elements of culture and identity. ”
    You completely lost me there, haha.  How exactly do people “do reality” in general and/or “do reality based strongly on constructing and sharing symbols”?  Perhaps we can clarify based on the example we’re working with, Paul. 

    Are you saying Paul believed the Genesis account but we should not assign error to him for being incorrect?  Or that he was simply interacting with his culture by sharing myths that he knew to be false or likely false? Or that he was correct from within his culture in spite of the fact that from outside of his culture he would appear to be wrong? How do you interpret what he said based on this framework? 

    Sorry for all of the questions, but I am not familiar with Symbolic Interactionism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    Okay, to start, when someone in sociology mode says “do [thing]” that is not normally an action, like Doing Reality or Doing Gender, it means how our understanding of that concept influences our actions and how our actions then feed back into our understanding. When parents give their son a toy truck and give their daughter a doll, they’re doing gender as our society declares normal, and teaching their children how to do gender in the same way. They’ve shared a masculine idea (or symbol) that incorporates things like trucks, and a feminine one that incorporates attention to fashion and personal appearance.

    Or that he was correct from within his culture in spite of the fact that from outside of his culture he would appear to be wrong?

    I make a qualified statement that this is pretty close to how I think of it. Paul was speaking through his culture’s symbols. Relating Jesus to Adam is co-opting the idea of Adam into serving the idea of Jesus. I think the question of whether he personally believed it is actually kind of irrelevant. He may have! Or he may have not! We can’t get into his head to know.

    But the symbols he created and shared have the same power regardless of his personal belief, and regardless of what empiricism has to say about them. Any symbol falls apart once we engage it with rigid literalness. Myth is a form of cultural symbol that we imbue with special power, but I think doing so makes it more vulnerable to literalism. Taking a symbol literally from the inside means you’re killing a its flexibility (its ability for others to meaningfully relate to it) to make it rigidly align to your agenda. Doing it from the outside means you lack or are throwing away the cultural referents that allow it to make sense, and I think that makes the person’s arguments against the symbol lose sense as well.

    Basically how I interpret Paul goes something like: “Myth. Myth story myth. Story, myth myth? Myth!” It’s all a kind of mythic history to me that I don’t personally believe in. If we want to contend with the negative effects a symbol has on people and society (misogyny, racism, etc.), we’d be better served to find a way to change its meaning, or change our other cultural symbols to make the first symbol a harder fit, so it loses its power.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    It’s probably wrong to jut in here, but find the whole thing becomes much simpler when you stop assuming that every single last word of the Bible is necessarily true and inspired, rather than a collection of various peoples thoughts on God – all different, often contradictory, sometimes repulsive; but (theoretically) valuable in the attainment of Understanding…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    This is probably an effect of a combination of too much stress, not enough sleep, and low blood sugar (hurry up, pasta, boil!) but now I’m having visions of people 2,000 years from now arguing about whether people of the Early Internet in the first decades of the 21st century literally believed that all cats crave cheeseburgers.

  • Hilary

    Oh that’s too awsome! I can haz internet midrash in future centuries?

  • vsm

    Incidentally, I find the idea of Sakaki-san using the Internet to declare Christianity a patriarchal farce more amusing than I probably should.

  • Hilary

    Kaylakaze, have you ever considered how Jews see the Torah differently than Christians see the Old Testament?  We don’t read it with Christ in mind, and that changes things.  I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Talmud, but it’s several hundred years of rabbi’s arguing with each other about how to understand, interpret and apply the Torah to real life.  The first part (mishneh) was finished ~200 CE, and the final product, the Babylonian Talmud, finished ~500 CE but we’ve still been arguing about it even since then.  (IIRC, please correct me if I’m off anybody).

    I’m not arguing for you to beleive in anything, if you think this is all a farce I can’t change that but I do want explain to you and anybody else reading this an alternative to the Adam/Christ/Original Sin/Perfect sacrifice angle.  You said, “Without original sin the whole idea of sin is insane.”  Jews don’t believe in Orginal Sin.  At all.  You can google it and find out on various websites. 

    We believe that we are created innocent, with the potiential for both great good and great evil.  In our prayers we recite “Elohai neshema shenatata bi tehorah hi – O G-d, the soul you have given me is pure.”  (I hand painted this in Hebrew on my tallit that I made for my bat mitzvah, this verse means a lot to me).  The Hebrew is Yetzer Ha-Rah, impulse to evil, and Yetzer Ha-Tov, impulse for good.  The word impulse isn’t very accurate though, because ‘yetzer’ means more then that.  It also means ‘formation’ as in the very formative powers of creation.  It’s the word of creation itself, in Genesis/B’reishit, verse 7, “And G-d fashened the man – the dust from the soil -” in Hebrew it’s “V’yi-yetzer YHVH Elohim et ha-adam”  V’ – and, yi’yetzer – created,* YHVH Elohim – G-d,  et ha-adam. Adam, man, is also from adamah, soil, earth. Usually the word ‘yetzer’ is spelled with only one yod/y, but here it is spelled with two yods, yi’yetzer.  The Talmudic rabbis translated this to mean that in our very formation we are created with both yetzers, good and evil.

    To say that we are created with ‘evil’ again isn’t very accurate.  The yetzer ha-rah is often used as a synonym for the sex drive and sexuality, but it isn’t quite that or just that.  It’s the drive for life itself, the animal urge to eat, sleep, grow, be safe, have territory, have sex.  Those drives aren’t considered ‘evil’ in and of themselves, but they are drives without a conscience, a-moral instead of im-moral.  This yetzer, this formative drive to survive can so easily be turned to evil without a tempering yetzer hatov.  A sex drive isn’t evil, but it can so easily be compromised, and uncontrolled it can bring great evil and pain into people’s lives.  But as painful as it can be, it’s necessary and part of being fully human.

    There is a story in the Talmud about some rabbis who were very upset at all the evil they saw around them.  They believed G-d had made a mistake in creating humans with a yetzer ha-rah, so they went up into a mountain and prayed, prayed, and prayed some more for G-d to remove the yetzer ha-rah from humanity.  G-d was so impressed at their piety that G-d actually did that, and withdrew the yetzer ha-rah from people.  But when the rabbi’s came down off the mountain and went back into the villages and cities, instead of finding peace and paradise, they found stagnation.  Nobody got married, fell in love, plowed a field, ran a busness, or built a new home.  Reluctantly they asked G-d to bring the yetzer ha-rah back into the world when they realized that without it nobody would get anything done. 

    (Shout out to Firefly fans: this is like what happened in the movie ‘Serenity’ where Mal and crew find out what happened on the planet Miranda, that the Alliance tried to make a world without sin by using the chemical Pax. Instead of peace most of the population laid down and died.  Except for those who became Reavers.)

    Sin in Judasim isn’t something we are born with, it’s missing the mark, not doing what we should or doing what we shouldn’t.  It’s action or inaction, not the innate state of our souls for no longer being in Eden, and we don’t need redeemed from sin by some sinless, perfect person aka Jesus being tortured to death on our account.  Built into the system of laws and commandmets, Torah and Mitzvot, are ways of reparing the damage caused by sin.  From the records of the tribal Hebrews and Israelites in the Torah it is the system of sacrifices.  For Rabbinic Judaism of the last 2,000 years it is the threefold system of prayer, return to correct behavior, and reparitive justice for our wrong actions. In Hebrew that’s t’filah, teshuvah, tzedakah (gesuntite).  How well this system works, YMMV, but this is our paradigm of sin. It is not Paul’s, and not Augustine’s paradigm.  “In Adam’s fall we sinned all” is a Christian statement, not a Jewish one.

    And for the record while I’m on a roll, Jews don’t see other human beings as more or less sinful then us.  We believe the righteous of all people have a place in the world to come, check out the noahide laws on wikipedia.

    I hope you, or at least somebody, appreciates this is a different way of understanding sin, goodness, and creation then the Christian polarity of Adam/sin v Christ/redemption.  Again, I’m not trying to convince you I’m right or ask you to believe this, just explain how those who read the Torah in Hebrew without Jesus Christ in the picture see things.

    And – cool name, BTW.

    Hilary

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There is a story in the Talmud about some rabbis who were very upset at
    all the evil they saw around them.  They believed G-d had made a mistake
    in creating humans with a yetzer ha-rah, so they went up into a
    mountain and prayed, prayed, and prayed some more for G-d to remove the
    yetzer ha-rah from humanity.  G-d was so impressed at their piety that
    G-d actually did that, and withdrew the yetzer ha-rah from people.  But
    when the rabbi’s came down off the mountain and went back into the
    villages and cities, instead of finding peace and paradise, they found
    stagnation.  Nobody got married, fell in love, plowed a field, ran a
    busness, or built a new home.  Reluctantly they asked G-d to bring the
    yetzer ha-rah back into the world when they realized that without it
    nobody would get anything done.

    Reminds me of the Two Kirks episode when the transporter accidentally “splits” Kirk. The side of him that is fundamentally benevolent also is incapable of making decisions, suggesting that the side of him (a side with an “action-spiriti”, if you like) not acting in concert with the benevolent side is needed to help him be the doer and mover that captains the Enterprise.

    Trek aside: I think the fact that Spock does not sense the same action-spirit within him and this is what leads him to state that he “does not wish to command the Enterprise”.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

     

    Reminds me of the Two Kirks episode when the transporter accidentally “splits” Kirk. The side of him that is fundamentally benevolent also is incapable of making decisions, suggesting that the side of him (a side with an “action-spirit”, if you like) not acting in concert with the benevolent side is needed to help him be the doer and mover that captains the Enterprise.

    Huh. I just flashed back onto Sheri Tepper’s Grass and realized it’s the same basic theme (that a sentient species can be too good to do itself or anyone else any good) with the addition of the main character playing the serpent, i.e. arguing that species into taking a rational, harmful, but necessary-to-survival action.

    Which metaphor plays backwards to make me think a whole different set of thoughts about the Adam and Eve and Serpent myth.

  • Madhabmatics

    How did no one post the relevant Married to the Sea comic after the first post starting this derail

    seriously are ya’ll gonna make me do it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    I have no idea what you’re talking about so I’m all in favor of random mystery comic so I can get more strange internet references. Post it! Post it!

  • David

    The Bible doesn’t teach a geocentric view of the universe; it assumes it. To the Israelites and other ancient Near East cultures, the universe looked like this:

  • Carstonio

    What’s the relevant distinction between assumes and teaches in this context? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jake.litteral Jake Litteral

     Exactly. They also assumed there were giant sea-beasts and that the land was a floating disk.

  • Katie

     To be fair, they were right about the giant sea-beasts.

  • Carstonio

    Here’s a contradiction I’ve noticed in surveys- something like 40 to 50 percent of US residents profess a belief in creationism, yet according to this chart, Southern Baptists are the only large religious group whose doctrine includes young earth creationism. I’m inclined to think that millions of people define “creationism” as simply a god creating universe and life, while parroting the YEC’s straw man definition of “evolution.” What do you think?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    something like 40 to 50 percent of US residents profess a belief in creationism, yet according to this chart, Southern Baptists are the only large religious group whose doctrine includes young earth creationism […] What do you think?

    I think there’s a large group of survey questions that 90% of the population answer via the following method:
    1. Think about the choices presented and what social groups are most closely affiliated with each.
    2. Think about what social groups they themselves are most closely affiliated with.
    3. Think about what social groups they are most opposed to.
    4. Pick the choice from #1 that most closely maps to #2 and anti-maps to #3.

    We are in the habit of phrasing survey questions in such a way that the second strategy gives different results than the first, then reporting and interpreting survey results as reflecting the population’s beliefs about what the world is like.

    The result is, predictably, gibberish.

  • Rakka

    What is it with people trying to view myth as truth the same way as scientific facts? It probably helps to encounter several creation myths before being hammered over the head with “our story about this is The Truth in literal way”, but I just don’t get the worldview at all. Myths are not powerful because they’re testable scientific facts, they’re powerful because they tell about how we operate in relation to the world. Therefore there’s nothing odd (or at odds) with all creation myths being true.

    There’s a walkable scale model of Solar system in Helsinki, in 1:1 000 000 000 scale (was that billion to one?) and viewing the inner planets takes about 15 minutes if you take it at leisurely stroll, they are ridiculously tiny compared to the base of the Sun (the model itself is on a 20 meter pole, but the foundation is the same size around as the model) but if you want to see them all it takes a bike and whole afternoon. The outer ones are less minuscule but still oh so tiny, and beyond Saturn you can’t see the Sun model without binoculars. It’s pretty mindblowing.
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/cqs7g2w

  • Carstonio

    Ultimately we can’t know if the originators of any myths viewed these stories the same way we view myths both ancient and modern, because the unstated cultural assumptions aren’t available to us. They might have believed that the stories had some degree of fact to them, and this wouldn’t necessarily have interfered with them valuing them as parables. They might not have believed in talking serpents or minotaurs but they probably believed in gods.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    in 1:1 000 000 000 scale (was that billion to one?) 

    Depends on which country you’re from, and if you’re British, depends on your age.

    (Oh noes! There’s an inconsistency in mathematical nomenclature! All math is now invalid!)

  • Lunch Meat

    Kaylakaze, 8 hours ago:

    And I don’t think I ever said lack of a historical Adam was a problem for Christianity. I said that pretending as if the authors of the bible didn’t believe in the historical Adam was a distortion of reality.

    Kaylakaze, 12 hours ago:

    The fact is without a literal Adam and Eve, the whole doctrine of original sin is nullified and the whole story of Jesus becomes meaningless.

    Goal post moving! I think that’s troll bingo! All right folks, we can all pack up and go home now.

  • sarah

    Damn. Someone just quoted Eddie Izzard on original sin. I was gonna do that.

    I pretty much agree with Lunch Meat, but I usually do that. I’m gonna go back to lurking.

  • MaryKaye

    A Pagan from NROOGD said, at a festival seminar many years ago, that there are two errors we can fall into with myths:  we can believe that they are factually true, or we can believe that they’re untrue.  Both, in his view, unhelpful and misguided approaches.  If you think they’re factually true you end up having to distort your view of the world to fit, and if you think they’re dismissably false you can’t gain anything from them.  There’s a third alternative which is quite distinct from both, which is to regard the enduring myths as mythically true:  they say something important about what it is to be human in the world, something worth hearing and learning, but they are not factual.

    One of the things I think this view frees you to do is *write* myths.  Our culture, which tends to vacillate between error #1 and error #2, has trouble writing myths, or at least acknowledging that that’s what we are doing.  We can look at what we’ve created and see it acting as a myth–we make certain stories that are told and retold and re-interpreted in a million ways, stories that settle into the fabric of our lives–but we’re really uncomfortable with this and don’t know what to do with it.  (And it sits very poorly with our approaches to authorship and copyright, because you can’t really own a myth, but we want to own our stories.)

    I recently got to see a theater showing of _Star Wars Uncut_, which is Episode 4 shot in 15 second clips by several hundred amateur filmmakers.  I totally recommend it–it’s a hoot.  The trash compactor scene with the roles played by overexcited ferrets in a box!  But I also found it surprisingly moving, in large part because it says something about how that story, which does seem to be a myth, belongs to all of us.  I found the scenes where the actors were the “wrong” race or gender or age or type weirdly powerful and affirming.  Princess Leia as an old woman chewing out Darth Vader!

  • Mark Z.

    (Note: Not relevant to the discussion at hand.)

    I’ve been curious about this for a while, but if it’s an impertinent question, please tell me and I won’t bring it up again.

    You’ve talked about the need for Pagan groups to do a lot of original work in designing rituals. How do you decide what’s, for lack of a better word, “legitimate”? That is, which rituals get accepted by a community and become part of your regular practice, and which ones get discarded? (Assume I know nothing about leadership and organization in Pagan communities.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Not speaking for MaryKaye, and not actually a Pagan myself, but the Pagan communities and individuals I’m aware of generally use as their standard “this seems to work pretty well.”

    Individuals and communities vary in terms of what rituals they think work well enough to adopt, and in terms of what “work” means… for some of them, it means the ritual is effective at altering the world in various ways that violate the laws of physics as understood by mainstream scientists, while for others it means the ritual is effective at evoking the mental states they wish to evoke, while still others don’t distinguish between the two in any way that makes sense to me.

    And as with any group of humans, there’s also a strong element of “this is how we did it last year so now it’s tradition,” invoked with varying degrees of tongue in cheek.

  • Hilary

    Like making latkes for Hanukah?  Because there were so many potatoes in Israel way back then . . . “Let’s see, I set the fire alarm off but didn’t actually burn the house down, everybody liked them and nobody had a heart attack from deep fried potatoes with sour cream, followed by gelly donuts, so I’ll try the recipe again this year.”

    BTW, Rabbi Adam* at my temple, along with the temple brotherhood group have been home brewing beer for Purim, Hamen’s wicked ale and Ester’s secret stout.  I have a feeling this is soon going to turn into “this is how we did it last year so now it’s tradition” invoked with plenty of TIC – this is Purim after all. 

    *Rabbi Adam, as opposed to Rabbi Esther, who did not involve herself in said brewing of ale.  But she did once turn the entire megillah into Dr. Seuss rhyme scheme, the Grinch who stole Purim.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Precisely this.
    I was a Sephardic child of recent Cuban immigrants to the U.S. attending an Ashkenazi Yeshiva, so many of these “Jewish traditions” were a complete mystery to me for years. Latkes? Gefilte fish? Yiddish? What on Earth are y’all going on about?

  • Hilary

    Thats an interesting combo.  My father’s family is pretty typical Ashkenazi immigration story.  His grandparents came to the US fleeing pogroms, his parents got rid of as much old-world baggage and superstition as soon as possible, and he had to re-learn for the first time a lot about Judaism to raise my brother and I.  My mother was raised pre-Vatican II Catholic, left all that before she met my father, and it was her desision to raise us as Jews. I grew up in the same city as my Catholic family, then when I fell in love in college it turned out her parents were both Protistant ministers, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ. So while I’m pretty well educated on the religion and history, and fairly observant for a Reform Jew, my Yiddishkeit is limited to an odd dozen klezmer cds.  Like a lot of JBCs, Penny is better at Hebrew than I am.
    Theres a lot of cultural, secular, NY East Side Judaism that I have no connection to. 

    There’s something you said a few weeks back on one of the Slacktivist threads I didn’t have time to reply to.  You said that you considered the destruction of the Temple a good thing, the best thing that could have happened for Jews.  I celebrated Tish B’Av for the first time this summer, and it ment a lot more to me then I thought it would.  I’ve never morned the loss of the Temple, I like being Reform and do not want to go back to 1st century CE Judaism no matter how much I like the Pirke Avot.  So I agree with you, because that was what finally ended the Israelite culture and temple sacrifical system.  But it made sense to still mourn for that loss, to remember the terrible pain, fear and grief of that generation that survived it.  To remember that our Judaism came out of the ashes of that terrible loss, one which by every historical standard should have been the end of that particular semetic tribe.

    I’ve been studying that part of Jewish history recently, and while like I said as a modern woman I wouldn’t go back in time to live there, I have tremendous respect for what those Pharisees, Scribes, Scholars and Rabbis did to create something out of the total destruction of both Temple and Nation.  That what they created with diaspora Judaism to have survived 2,000 years the way it has is even more impressive.  Pretty fucking amaizing, IMO.

    Anyway, nice talking to you.  I always enjoy it when our posts cross paths on Slactivist. 

  • Hilary

    Oh, and I know it’s jelly donuts.  The only way I can think of to explain ‘gelly’ donuts is that I work in a protein biochemisty lab doing column chromatography and purification, and I run SDS-PAGE gels all the time.  So I’m always talking about ‘running a gel’ and ‘developing my gel’ or ‘running a gel series’ at work, and some how that became ‘gelly’ donuts.  Which is absolutly disgusting to think of a donut made of an SDS-PAGE gel.  Thats Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate Poly-Acrylomide Gel Electophoresis. 

  • arcseconds

    Even if somehow the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem hadn’t happened and ancient Israel survived unscathed into the modern era, there’s no reason to think that the culture would still be the same as it was in the 1st century. 

    (Although it’s pretty unlikely that they’d avoid this kind of disaster altogether.  If the Romans didn’t destroy Israelite culture, then either the Christians or the Moslems would have probably had a good go at it)

    Every other culture has undergone significant change and evolution since then, and Hebrew culture went through plenty of changes in the millenium immediately prior, so I presume by today it would be very much changed, largely in a modern direction. 

    Of course, it’d be at best a distant cousin to what we recognise as Judaism today.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    But it made sense to still mourn for that loss, to remember the terrible
    pain, fear and grief of that generation that survived it. 

    Oh, absolutely. Being better off and grieving are distinct things.

    When my grandfather died, it was a relief for everyone, including him. No good would have been served by keeping him alive. That didn’t stop me from mourning his death or grieving his loss.

    I had a stroke a few years ago, and as a direct consequence of that stroke I am happier and healthier now than I would have been without it. That doesn’t stop me from being traumatized by the associated suffering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    There’s also a fourth alternative, which is that the myth may have been intended as mythically true, but what it’s saying about what it means to be human is itself a pernicious lie, so that it’s actually mythically false. Some of our myths might be like that. I suspect some modern urban legends are, especially the ones where the moral is something petty like “fear group X”.

  • MaryKaye

    Mark Z writes:

    You’ve talked about the need for Pagan groups to do a lot of original
    work in designing rituals. How do you decide what’s, for lack of a
    better word, “legitimate”? That is, which rituals get accepted by a
    community and become part of your regular practice, and which ones get
    discarded?

    I can only speak for the two groups I’ve been involved with:  a private coven of 4-5 people and a public circle with 10-15 core people and up to 60-80 ritual attendees.

    The general answer was the same for both:  after a ritual you talk about it, and maybe you say “yuuch, let’s not do that again” or maybe you say “wow, that worked really well.”  The same conversations happen when you are planning the next ritual.  You try not to repeat the stuff that didn’t work.  In the larger group, this caused periodic fights between people who remembered the last time something didn’t work, and people who didn’t–it was hard to communicate the accumulated experience of works/doesn’t work without a written record.  This is a place where more formal religions may have an edge–though I have seen plenty of failed rituals in a non-Pagan context too.

    We also talked with other members of the community at festivals and other joint events, and some people wrote best-practices documents and shared them (lately, on the Web).  For example, I wrote an essay on “five things never to do when using alcohol and Epsom salt to make an indoor fire.”  I hope the essay prevented other people from setting their carpets on fire, because that’s one you really don’t want to learn by experience.  The most useful essays I found were ones on how to scale rituals up to large groups–that’s tricky, and hard to practice, and small groups often don’t know how to do it.

    I led a couple of workshops on “how to make rituals work” where experienced people shared best-practices info and we actually tried out some elements to get a feel for them.

    The basic questions were:  did a ritual element have the desired effects?  Was it safe?  Was it feasible?  Did people like it?  Did it fit with the overall structure (i.e. keeping the ritual an appropriate length)?  Did it offend anyone strongly?  Was the cost (rehearsal time, equipment, time, fussiness) proportionate to the payoff?

    The hardest one to describe is “did it have the desired effects?”  A practical example would be grounding:  ritual elements meant to help people feel calm, centered, and connected to the earth.  We tried a lot of grounding rituals over the years.  Some of them left people feeling hyper and excited and spacey:  that’s a failure.

    One Full Moon group, confronted with some very high-energy and some very low-energy participants, had the low-energy ones represent a cherry grove while the high-energy ones represented crows circling round and picking off cherries.  The low-energy people had some sharp things to say about this afterwards:  it wasn’t helpful AT ALL. 

    I did not in general see ritual elements judged on long-term results, probably because it was hard to measure them.  If we did a ritual for artistic inspiration, we didn’t check in three months later to see if the novels got written or paintings got painted. 

    There were a very few things we didn’t do because someone outside the group said “You shouldn’t do that.”  For a long time we didn’t do invocation of the gods into ritualists because other Wiccan groups say that that should be reserved for initiates.  Eventually we decided that as we were never going to be initiates in those traditions, their experiences weren’t directly relevant and we’d just try it.  In my opinion the very best of our rituals (in both groups) involved invocation, though we did have some notable problems with it too.  Overall I’m glad we took the risk.

    I don’t think I ever saw a ritual fail on what I would identify as theological grounds (we got the god/dess wrong).  They failed on practical issues, on problems of intent (especially, when you say you intend one thing but you really intend another–that doesn’t end well), on group social dynamics, on failures of nerve or wisdom.  (In the private group I was once confronted by the Magician of the Tarot, who said, “You spent *six rituals* skulking around the edge of my garden and never introduced yourself.  What did you think you were doing?”  That was a failure of nerve, for sure.)

    The night before a Midsummer ritual the person playing the Oak King said, “You know, this is just wrong.  It’s still rainy spring weather, but this ritual is about the passing from Oak to Holly–the turning point toward fall.  It’s not time for that yet!”  I said, “Maybe when the animals gather to say farewell to Oak and usher in Holly they should rebel and not do it–so we wait until Lammas to welcome Holly.  We could rewrite it tonight–what do you think?”

    We chickened out.  Some people felt they couldn’t learn the new lines fast enough and would botch the whole thing.  But the ritual was a failure–we had clear feedback from participants who hadn’t heard about our reservations, but who came to the same conclusion.  The natural world just wouldn’t support what we were doing.  I wish we’d gone ahead and improvised.

     

  • Mark Z.

    Thank you. That was informative.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Second!  The period called the “Dark Ages” only lasted a couple hundred years. People who know what they’re talking about call it “the late middle ages.” Mentioned that.  Worth repeating.

    I always heard the Dark Ages as referring the Early Medieval, (both because it was a terrible time to live, and because no one really understood anything else about it) the period directly after the fall of the Roman Empire, when all the various groups were fighting each other and things were generally terrible, before things were returned to a relative equilibrium by, uh… the Church.

    Now, the feudal aristocracies of the Middle Ages were terrible by modern standards.  But so was literally everything else – the Romans were not kind – we sort of imagine them as super advanced and modernistic because they had a republic (at first) and a big city… but their society was built on slavery, their ‘justice’ made the Middle Ages’ courts look nice (as far as ‘worst ways to die’ go, crucifixtion and burning at the stake are both pretty far up there, but the Romans crucified a *lot* of people…)

    On top of that, while the Middle Ages were somewhat ‘stagnant’ technologically (assuming we ignore stained glass, the flying butress, the windmill, plate armor, the astronomical telescope, the dome, various advances in animal husbandry, transoceanic ships, reliable production of steel… before we even get into the Late Middle Ages/Renaissance), that doesn’t mean they were the Worst Period in History.

    Caryjamesbond: Even the Late Middle Ages had some serious advances – in geometry, architecture, and, of course, weaponry (that was when gunpowder came to the fore).  It’s generally accepted that the turmoil of the plague was what led to the Renaissance…

    Also- Cathedrals.  Just- cathedrals. 

    Theology, history…..

    No no no, those don’t count, because they’re contaminated by the Sky Fairies.

    No, the time period I’m thinking of is before that, when we were on our way to types of discoveries that weren’t made until the Renaissance thanks to the destruction of the civilizations and scholars that were performing the closest thing we had to science at the time. I’m talking about the mental shackles that were put on innovators. I’m talking about mathematics texts being destroyed as sorcery.

    People, please… the Romans were *not* more advanced than Medieval Europe.  They had cement, yes.  But you know why the Romans didn’t have castles, or plate armor, or seagoing vessels?  Because they *couldn’t*.  What the Romans had was an incredible amount of wealth and slave labor they had looted from the rest of the world, which they used to build everything they could think of in their imperial city.

    If Rome hadn’t fallen?  Well, maybe we’d be a bit ahead.  Then again, the Romans already had everything they wanted, what interest would they have in not keeping the status quo…

    (There’s been several times in my life when I considered atheism. Fortunately, at those times there were always atheists like you around to help me decide I didn’t care for that)

    Yeah, took the words out of my mouth…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     According to my medievalism professor, the term ‘Dark Ages’ has less to do with those being an age of stupidity and lack of progress, and more to do with that period being poorly documented, and hence “obscure”  or “dark”

  • arcseconds

    What’s impressive about Roman civilization is not so much the absolute level of technology, but rather its civilization, especially in comparison to the immediately following centuries. 

    There were good quality roads everywhere, and they were fairly safe.  It wasn’t uncommon for people to travel across the Empire.

    There was a pretty high degree of literacy.

    You could letters from Britain to your cousin in Palestine, and be pretty sure they’d arrive (there are records of this sort of thing happening).

    Cities and towns were well-designed, they had sewers, water supplies.  Houses, at least for the well-off, had central heating and running water.

    None of these things were to become common again for centuries later. 

    As far as technology goes, they weren’t as sophisticated than some of their contemporaries.  The Greeks in the 1st century BCE had clockwork mechanisms that rivaled those of the Renaissance.

    I think this point of yours needs emphasizing:

    Then again, the Romans already had everything they wanted, what interest would they have in not keeping the status quo…

    Progress, as we’d think of it (technological, scientific, intellectual, cultural) was really a foreign concept to Roman society (and it’s hard to find it in any pre-modern cultures, really, although the ancient greeks sometimes showed promise).

     There’s even an anecdote about an inventor showing off a machine (to raise pillars or something) to a ruler, who’s response was “that’s all very interesting, but we have slaves to do that”.

  • http://dumas1.livejournal.com/ Winter

     

     There’s even an anecdote about an inventor showing off a machine (to
    raise pillars or something) to a ruler, who’s response was “that’s all
    very interesting, but we have slaves to do that”.

    If memory serves, Suetonius tells this story about Vespasian, who paid the inventor, but said that he still had to see the plebs fed. Public works have always been a good way to distribute money to lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

    Re: The survival of written Latin:
    It was a language that had been widely spread, with a literature of deeply-respected scholarly and literary work (hence a reason to keep using it in centers of learning). This made it a natural medium for communication over long distances between parties who may not have shared a spoken language (e.g., distant bishops or monasteries and Rome).

    Something similar occurred in China, where there is a great variety of spoken languages but a single written standard prevailed for a very long time. The style was mostly based on a set of Classics and philosophical writings from an early period (the Spring and Autumn, I think, maybe a bit later), with incremental changes in vocabulary as need arose.

  • arcseconds

     Bullseye!

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Vespasian*.html#18

    On the way I encountered someone arguing (in a scholarly-looking book) that this couldn’t be true, because even if Vespasian couldn’t use it in Rome, the invention could be useful in other parts of the empire, for building fortifications, etc.  

    While military possibilities often do focus rulers on the virtues of science and technology even when they’re otherwise nonchalant about it, it’s not unknown for rulers and military leaders to be pretty unimaginative and hidebound, even in the modern era.  

    We know for sure that the Romans (and everyone else) basically passed up the opportunity with Greek automata.   What we’d expect to happen is for a ruler to recognise this opportunity and exploit it by hiring Greek mechanicists away.   I presume it was seen to have no real ‘practical’ application, but again this would not be how we’d think of it — we’d suppose the practical applications might well emerge later, and we’d be looking for them.
     
    It strikes us as bizarre to pass up technological improvement, but that’s entirely my point: we think continual progress is inevitable and generally a good thing and kind of what we’re all about (and maybe what everyone is all about) , but we’re unusual in that regard.  While generally large-scale cultures do experience technological advancement, it’s usually fairly gradual by our standards, and they don’t usually think of themselves as progressing technologically. At any rate, it’s not their metanarrative ­— they’d couch things in terms of expanding or preserving the empire, or spreading their religion, or maintaining their traditions, or things like that.

  • Rowen

    I’d also like to point out that Rome was pretty much a goner anyway. Hundreds of years of civil war and increasingly piss poor governance was eroding at the foundations. One of the reasons why that period between the fall of Rome and the Carolingian Renaissance wasn’t that great was because the infrastructure* that held the Empire together started collapsing and no one could be spared to go fix the myriad of problems that were popping up everywhere. By the time Rome actually fell, they had been past the point of no return for a few generations. And even AFTER Rome fell, there were still emperors and people in the West. Just no one with any real power.

    *yeah, roads and bridges were falling down and there were fewer and fewer technicians to repair them, which meant the increasingly small armies couldn’t get far and even those couldn’t really be spared from their wars and everything just kept slowly collapsing on itself. Like a flan in a cupboard.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for explaining this. Far too many fundamentalists insist that Rome fell because of decadence, often portraying the empire’s capital as a giant gay sex club. The myth exists in milder form in the larger culture, with reality shows often described as symptoms of cultural decline. And it’s too easy for anti-theists to twist the historical record of Christianity’s spread to blame that religion for Rome’s fall.

    Aside: Shouldn’t English and other languages call that city by the native Italian name? I recently saw the place name Firenze and didn’t realize at first that I already knew a little of that city’s history.

  • Rowen

    It doesn’t help when the biggest name in late Empire Roman history (Gibbon, btw) basically says the that very thing.

  • Rowen

     As for exonyms, I don’t know. Realistically, I think a lot of them are going to be difficult to get rid of due to how ingrained they are (ex, Firenze) or the fact that most Americans (talking about this as an American, btw) aren’t familiar with the original language (ex: Gaelic).

    I think a good way to start phasing some of these out is introducing more and more people to a second or third language.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    What’s impressive about Roman civilization is not so much the absolute level of technology, but rather its civilization, especially in comparison to the immediately following centuries. 

    That’s absolutely true – the Roman Empire was very impressive in its level of infrastructure… but, as I was saying, this was more a function of its massive wealth and relative unity than having markedly more advanced technology than the proceeding era.

    Progress, as we’d think of it (technological, scientific, intellectual, cultural) was really a foreign concept to Roman society (and it’s hard to find it in any pre-modern cultures, really, although the ancient greeks sometimes showed promise).

    Also absolutely true, especially of Rome, for which (with my layperson’s knowledge) was particular focused on tradition and generally backward-looking…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think the takeaway point is that stable empires (or countries) that break down, for all that the break-down was probably necessary over the long-run historical arc, tend to have the unfortunate side effect of generally increasing the misery of the people who have to live within the successor states.

    See, for example: USSR, Yugoslavia.

  • arcseconds

     

    Also absolutely true, especially of Rome, for which (with my layperson’s
    knowledge) was particular focused on tradition and generally
    backward-looking…

    As was mediæval society.  Even in the Renaissance, the culture had to basically trick itself by pretending to go backwards and renew classical values while it was actually going forwards and innovating.

    This shows how Kaylakaze’s idea of getting another millennium of technological advancement is an extremely unlikely prospect.  We can immediately dismiss the idea that it was Christian repression that prevented it — Roman civilization, Christian and pagan, just never looked like it was going to go down a modernesque path of innovation, over all the centuries of its existence).    We couldn’t have had the Renaissance without the dissolution of the Western Empire — if the Western Empire had survived, it would have just gone on perpetuating ‘classical values’, which is to say its own values.  Self-consciously trying to re-create the traits of a long-gone civilization is a very different thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gregory-Peterson/1608524690 Gregory Peterson

    Christianity Today put a portrait of Adam on one of their covers. What a handsome European Neanderthal man!  http://dogmatics.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/ct_cover.png

    http://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/the-proof-of-adams-non-existence/

  • Carstonio

    Great image. “since the biblical authors assume a historical Adam, what are we to do as evangelicals committed to inerrancy or, at the least, infallibility of Scripture?” Maybe acknowledge that inerrancy and infallibility of any kind don’t exist, or at least that no book is capable of either?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Man, I scored bingo from Kaylakaze by like page two. Then zie managed to fill pretty much every box on my chart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    ‘Villain’ as in ‘bad guy’ only came into being in the 19th century.

    Don’t several of Shakespeare’s villains refer to themselves as such?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Don’t several of Shakespeare’s villains refer to themselves as such?

     

    And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

    To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

    I am determined to prove a villain

    And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

    Richard III, Act 1, Sc. 1

    So yes.

  • arcseconds

     I meant ‘bad guy’ as in the antagonist of (say) a play (see the OED).   Sorry, I was really unclear about that. Should have at least said ‘the bad guy’.

    ‘Villain’ has been used as an insult for almost as long as it’s been in use to mean the socially lowest kind of peasant, with overtones of uncouth and untrustworthy. 

    But over time it’s shifted from meaning a low-class sort of ratbag who might rough you up and take your purse to diabolical types who are masterminding world takeovers.  Villains speak with posh British accents these days :]

    I presume this change is related to its gradual detachment from the original rural context of the word.

    Shakespeare is a bit of a halfway house here.  It seems to me that in Shakespeare,  it’s got a considerable overlap with ‘rogue’, which  means roughly as it does now: someone who’s shady, and who might help themselves to your purse, but it’s also got a sort of chummy, cutesie use where it’s OK to call your friends ‘rogues’ as almost a term of endearment (Shakespeare uses ‘villain’ in this kind of way from time to time.)

    Note the contrast in the quote from Richard III with ‘lover’.  It’s quite possible that the contrast here has as much to do with churlishness, sullenness and impoliteness as moral badness.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The black and grey colored areas on this map seem to suggest that Germanic and Slavic speaking peoples began inhabiting those areas, which would seem to indicate that the Roman Empire was the weakest in those areas.

    Indeed, it is of interest that the Latin influences on the base language of modern-day England and Wales are minimal, surviving only in the “-caster” of some English cities, and that the Romance influences on English come mainly from French and a conscious drive to pretty up the language in the 18th century.

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s funny, just last night, I was talking about how several languages have subtly sexist implications in the way certain words and professions have masculine and feminine spelling/pronunciations. Etymology has a way of pulling skeletons out of the closet, huh?


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