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Here’s some more historico-critical drivel. Someone else can fisk this one. I don’t have the time.
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Tags: Christianity, history, holidays, scripture, stupidity
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“Outside Matthew, there’s no historical record of Herod’s slaughter of infants (even though there’s plenty record of his other atrocities),”
There have been biliblical stories that long lacked archaeological evidence that were later substantiated.
“and the story is suspiciously similar to that of Moses and Pharaoh.”
Most, if not all, biblical prophesy had two characters, proximate and remote. It was foretold that another great prophet like Moses would arise and free the Israelites. Christ fulfilled that prophesy. He is priest, prophet, and king. He fulfills prphesies about the latter two qualities as well.
“Why post a link full of garbage when you have no time to respond? Just a question from a faithful reader.”
Ironically, my silence generated more comments than most of my lengthy posts. Thanks for readings and welcome to the “family”. 🙂
“Add that to the fact that none of the other gospel writers recorded the infant slaughter, as well as to the fact that Matthew’s gospel is also filled with things like miracles and a resurrection”
The gospels are not just dry historical accounts. They were written for specific audiences. Matthew emphasized the aspects of Jesus that would convince Jews that He’s the Messiah. The other writers had different audiences and thus different emphases. Josephus had his own biases as well. Various blogs covered the election in different ways. Sometimes a blog would have information that nobody else had (such as incidents of voter intimidation). Does that necessarily mean that what that blog reported did not happen?
“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;I will choose a path that’s clearI will choose freewill.” – “Free Will” by Rush
So even ignoring the fact that you still (at least on a case-by-case basis) accept the “belief system” of athiesm (i.e., the set of corollaries that naturally arise from the axiom “There is no god”), this is hardly what most folks (in these parts anyway) would contrue to mean by belief.
There is no “belief system” of atheism. I don’t know why atheists have to go through this over and over and over and over and over with theists. Being an atheist does not involve “accepting” any axiom that “there is no god.” However, it does involve finding the common assertion of the axiom that “there is a god” unconvincing. How being unconvinced makes you think I have some kind of “belief system” that dictates my unconvinced-ness, I don’t know.
My movement out of religion and belief did not involve the discovery of a “belief system” which I then adopted and applied to everything. Rather, it involved the long process of having the various applications of a belief system fall under scrutiny. I have not since rebuilt a new belief system, but rather find the world incomprehensibly complex, inconsistent, lacking in any systematic cohesion, extremely non-narrative, and beyond the scope of any explanatory, simplifying, or otherwise helpful “belief system.”
Note, and this is very important, that I did not at any point decide that the world is beyond systematic explication, but rather found in my experience that no system (“faith” based or otherwise) sufficiently explains or simplifies all the phenomena that comprise my experience of the world.
A denial of systems is not a replacement system. Nor is the subjective bias intrinsic to being a human individual itself a “belief system.” If it were, then every individual would operate according to a unique “belief system,” which, while it might be the case, empties entirely the meaning of the term.
As has been said enough times by enough people that it ought to be sufficient by now, rejecting someone else’s claim that a god exists does not amount to a positive claim that a god does not exist.
Something being said enough times by enough people doesn’t make it true. It is profoundly simple boolean algebra. Given proposition: “A”, the proposition: “not A” is identically equal to the proposition: “not the proposition A”.
Furthermore, I find it exceedingly odd that people who believe in god are so intent on proving that everyone has a “belief system” built on axioms or tenets of faith. Even if you were correct, you would have accomplished little more than to say that every single person sees the world according to axioms, you have yet to explain why any given person would choose one axiom over another.
I think it’s because some athiests (present company excluded) love to go around flaunting their supposedly “categorically different” (usually superior) way of looking at the world. Often they imply that the way they look at the world is rational, and the way theists look at the world, superstitious. Some theists object to this false characterization of both “ways of looking at the world” and its implicit false dichotomy. It is demonstrable that our “ways of looking at the world” are not categorically different, but differ instead only in content. As you say, it doesn’t even attempt to explain why one set of axioms is “better” than another, but I think it goes some way toward “leveling the playing field.”
…atheism is not just a rejection of one of the positions taken by those who participate in the argument, but a rejection of the argument itself.
This has the same problem as above. An utter rejection of the argument would be purely skeptical or agnostic, a (more or less inviolable) suspension of judgement. Atheism would not appear (at least by definition) to have this quality.
Being an atheist does not involve “accepting” any axiom that “there is no god.” However, it does involve finding the common assertion of the axiom that “there is a god” unconvincing. How being unconvinced makes you think I have some kind of “belief system” that dictates my unconvinced-ness, I don’t know.
The state of being unconvinced, whether or not rising to the level of being doggedly unconvincable, wouldnot be atheism. It would be equal to skepticism or agnosticism. Atheism goes further. It is a convinced-ness that there is no god. You could propose that the universe and human consciousness are the due to the actions of the Great Blue Phallus in the Sky, and give your supporting data. I might find the data unconvincing. I may not now even have an alternative explanation for the universe and human consciousness, but it would still be fair to say that I believe the Great Blue Phallus does not exist. I.e., I positively believe the converse of your proposition. It may be small potatoes, but it’s potatoes.
My movement out of religion and belief did not involve the discovery of a “belief system” which I then adopted and applied to everything…
A denial of systems is not a replacement system.
I agree that we do not usually “discover” belief systems first, and then and only then try to make sense of the world. What we do is first try to make sense of the world. The more thoughtful among us (e.g., great writers of various stripes) can and do distill such complexity down to a workable belief system: any set of intellectual and ethical principles that follow logically from materially unproveable propositions. It is no stretch at all to find that believing the world to be “incomprehensibly complex”, “lacking systematic cohesion”, “extremely non-narrative”, &c. is in fact such a system. A “belief system” doesn’t require the universe to be systematic. To truly deny the existence of one’s “belief system” would be to decend fully into a skepticism so pervasive that it would doubt even itself (i.e., self defeating). It would still nevertheless be a “belief system”, only a very small one: “Doubt everthing, including this.” Still, Theo, your writing is too filled with morality, concern, apparently heart-felt opinion, &c. for me to believe that you are that skeptical. In fact, many if not most atheists are good people who care about the world they live in. Add this to the fact that many of them are smart, and this suggests to me that there are some codes that they live by.
belief or non-belief cannot be positive statements about the existence of anything, but only about the believer or non-believer’s attitude toward the proposition that something else is out there
I may have been reponsible for introducing the word “positive” into the discussion a while back. By “positive” I meant “affirmative” or “expressed” and not, by any means, “certain”. It isn’t clear how you are using the word (it has umpteen definitions) in the above phrasing. Using my intended definition, I don’t see how belief or non-belief can fail to be “positive” (i.e., not necessarly certain, but explicit, affirmative) statements.
I recognize there is a difference between proving a positive fact vis-a-vis a negative fact. One is directly possible, the other not. But proof hasn’t really entered this discussion… I don’t think.
What about the “Almighty Great Blue Phallus”? My guess is that we both believe it is non-existent, right? Or at least we severely doubt its existence. At what point does extreme doubt become disbelief?
I am fine with your definition of atheist as one who behaves as though god(s) didn’t exist. Of course there are many “Christians” who behave exactly that way too. Of course in the case of Christians, this is a simple case of not living in a manner consistent with what one “believes”. By the same token I am rather forced to wonder, however, how one could behave as though god(s) do(es) not exist and not believe either that he/she/it/they do(es)n’t exist OR that he/she/it/they is/are pretty darn tolerant.
Actually after further thinkin’, I suggest that both defintions #1 and #3 could quite easily both be “reduced” to definition #2. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.
As I pointed out, the “massacre” need not have been a large number of children, considering the size of Bethlehem. Therefore, the absence of archeological evidence and collaborating historical documentation is not surprising. It poses no problem to anyone approaching Matthew’s text unless they are already predisposed to discount “supernaturalism”, as you do.
And, as I guess needs to be made more clear, my comment that “the normal exegetical mode of early Jewish/Christian thought..placed a premium on the allegorical, and only secondarily on the literal” points to exegesis, not to the intent of the author in writing the text. Specifically, Matthew allegorically exegeted the literal event of Isaiah’s almah to be the mother of Jesus. Similarly, Matthew allegorically exegeted the literal event of the slaughter of the innocents as fulfilling the passage in the OT where “a cry was heard in Ramah, Rachel weeps for her children.”
Today, many allegorically exegete the slaughter of the innocents in re: abortion. This does not mean that we do not believe in the literal value of the Matthean account.
“Whether events of the Bible should be investigated by the standard methods of history at all” History is an interpretive discipline where passions often overcome facts. You bring your passion for antisupernaturalism to the table, and I bring my passionate belief in the supernatural to the table. But, I think it is clear that one cannot discount the Matthean account of the massacre of the innocents based on the fact Josephus was silent about it.
Could be he believes something like this (what I do…)
“The events in Matthew cannot be historically proven or shown to have ever occured. Thereby, I cannot determine if they are actual or not, and must treat them with care.”
Happy holidays all.
Furthermore, I find it exceedingly odd that people who believe in god are so intent on proving that everyone has a “belief system” built on axioms or tenets of faith. Even if you were correct, you would have accomplished little more than to say that every single person sees the world according to axioms, you have yet to explain why any given person would choose one axiom over another. Then, you would have to explain why people who operate according to one axiom have any right or ability to comprehend or criticize those who operate according to a different axiom.
That is, if you could show that atheism involves the acceptance of an axiom instead of the denial of another axiom (or axioms), that it was constructive rather than destructive, then you would have to show why your axiom is better than my axiom. But how are you going to do that without appealing to some third standard, and what will that be, if no one can operate independent of his or her axiom?
I have had enough of religious people telling me that non-religion equals religion, that disbelief equal belief, that rejection of one thing requires acceptance of another, and so on. How it bolsters their position to twist language and insist that differences are really similarities, I don’t know. In saying that atheism is really just another brand of theism, they have not made atheism meaningless or wrong, but only turned it into another sect.
If atheism is just another sect of belief, what have you gained in your battle to prove it wrong? You reject other religions as well, and yet they persist, and reject you, too. What have you done but redefine the conflict in different (and, in my opinion, nonsensical) terms? You have certainly not neutralized it, because even atheism-as-a-religion would be at odds with Christianity (and every other religion) for all the same reasons.
The only reason atheism is mistaken for a religion is because as a rejection of religion it can only operate within that sphere of human discussion that is occupied by religion. But atheism is not just a rejection of one of the positions taken by those who participate in the argument, but a rejection of the argument itself.
G.K. Chesterton had some snappy rejoinders to accusations that religion is a silly passtime for women. I think they were in “Orthodoxy”.
Here we go again, Theo. Dictionary.com defines:
1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another: My belief in you is as strong as ever.2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something: His explanation of what happened defies belief.3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.
You apparently put your entire case on a universal acceptance of the 3rd one so that you can claim you don’t have “beliefs.” So even ignoring the fact that you still (at least on a case-by-case basis) accept the “belief system” of athiesm (i.e., the set of corollaries that naturally arise from the axiom “There is no god”), this is hardly what most folks (in these parts anyway) would contrue to mean by belief. Why not agree to allow “belief” to be the second one? Why? Because it is the simplest and clearest. In such case, “belief” is (if I may be permitted to summarize) merely “intellectual acceptance of a proposition.”
And it doesn’t take a very bright person to see that not accepting a proposition is identically equal to accepting the converse proposition. Ergo, if one disbelieves a proposition, they still believe… merely in its negation. So when I (or Rex) accuse you of “belief”, we accuse you of this kind of belief, which is not categorically different than my kind of belief. We just “believe” different propositions.
As to passion, I agree it is a loaded word. But does anyone doubt that you believe the proposition “Matthew’s Gospel records fictional events” with any less passion than Christian readers believe the proposition “Matthew’s Gospel records actual events” ? Both propositions are necessary corollaries to the “belief systems” to which we have variously subscribed.
Your apparent claim to moral high ground therefore seems quite unjustified.
BTW, why the hell are you so opposed to understanding French? 😉
Are you receiving email remotely? Did you get mine??
Well, we disagree about the definition of “belief system.” I would say it amounts to:
a logically coherent set of mental biases regarding (when one ponders it) the way the world is.
I think that this definition lies somewhere between mere subjectivity and your story-focussed definition. The requirement of coherence rules out non-rational creatures from the club. In a very real sense, I’d say “belief system” is simply a “science” of the mind: a theory to explain our observations.
I agree that if you view the narrative (the “I’m part of the story”) as essential to “belief system”, one believing in no narrative has every right to assert they have no such “belief system”. In a sense though, there is still a narrative in such case… just a really short one: “There is no narrative. The End.” 😉
I think we’re close to arguing in circles so I won’t restate in a different way what has already been stated. Suffice it to say, I disagree with your definition of atheism, and I’m having a hard time reconciling what you say it is and what the dictionary says it is.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind at all hearing your definition of “Christianity”. If it came straight from an otherwise reputable dictionary, I don’t suppose I could complain too loudly.
I certainly agree that it would be better to “live open-eyed in a wasteland and try to make it legitimately better than dream of a paradise” and do nothing else. But I’d argue that is only the dream (true or false) of paradise that tells us we’re in a wasteland in the first place.
I agree that lots of Christians loosely fit my definition of “atheist.” I have long thought that many Americans who call themselves “practicing Christians” are really just “functional atheists” who show up at church because it offers a social network. They go through the motions and even think they believe, but when it comes to their daily life, they’re not much different from me.
It is also my own private hypothesis that 80% of males who attend church are doing so for the sake of some female, be it a wife, a girlfriend, a potential wife or girlfriend, or a mother. 😉
Indeed, it is pretty standard stuff. Nevertheless, it is still drivel.
1.)Arguing from silence that because something isn’t in the historical record (ie, Herod’s slaughter) is subpar scholarship at best, intellectual dishonesty at worst. Despite popular depictions to the contrary, the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ would be a compartively small atrocity for the utterly atrocious Herod if one accounts for the size of the little town o bethlehem (how many boys under 2 could there have been? No number is given).
2.) Yes, the story is similar to that of Moses and Pharah, but similarity does not prove descent. Another logical inexactitude. 😉
And Matthew did indeed quote a Greek translation, yes. However, Jewish scholars who translated “almah” into Greek more than 200 years before Christ understood the word to mean “virgin”. And, apparently, so did God. LOL
Further, your exegisis of the passage as completely temporal excludes the normal exegetical mode of early Jewish/Christian thought, which placed a premium on the allegorical, and only secondarily on the literal.
And a thoughtful person is s’possed to get both sides before making up their mind. Of course, all is jaundiced to the jaundiced eye.Happy NonSpecificWinterHoliday, theo.
P.S. Why post a link full of garbage when you have no time to respond? Just a question from a faithful reader. 🙂
My definition of Christianity:
“Religion built around the figure of Jesus as the Christ.”
Note that I am not defining “Christ” nor specifying the nature of Jesus, nor requiring that “religion” be supernaturalist. This is the definition I derive from observing all those people who call themselves “Christian.” They all have at least these two things in common: they’re religious; their religion is centered on Jesus.
And I stand by the definition of “atheist” as “not theist,” since the prefix a- means “not.” Since a theist is a person who believes there is a god (theos), an atheist does not believe there is a god. The problem from there, I suspect, is what it means to “not believe” something. You are arguing that non-belief includes a positive statement about the existence of the potential object of belief. But I am not willing to take belief beyond the person doing the believing. Not believing in something does not make it nonexistent anymore than believing in something makes it exist. In other words, belief or non-belief cannot be positive statements about the existence of anything, but only about the believer or non-believer’s attitude toward the proposition that something else is out there. Hence, being an atheist does not require one to state categorically that there is no god, only that one does not heed any god.
Passion for antisupernaturalism?
Gawd that gets on my nerves. How can I have a “passion” for not seeing something that I can’t see? Having a “passion for antisupernaturalism” is like having a passion for not understanding French, which is to say, it’s nothing at all.
(This is just like that same old tripe that gets dragged out time and again, telling atheists that “having no religion” is the same thing as a religion. Grrr.)
I have no desire to participate in a discussion that involves the ludicrous redefinition of terms. Later.
Steve, you’re forcing your own definition of atheism (and, alternatively, I doubt you would be happy if I forced my own definition of “Christianity” on you). But as I (and as all my atheist friends) consider our place in society, being an atheist does not mean being sure that no gods exist, but living as though no gods exist–i.e., not living theistically (praying, worshiping, paying respect to invisible entities, etc.). We are atheists because we are not theists, no more no less, which means that there are certain things we don’t do, and nothing is prescribed by “atheism.”
If you want to level the playing field, don’t define other people’s terms for them, or redefine them.
Second, when I talk about a belief system, I mean a way of interpreting the world to give it meaning. But my point is that the world has no intrinsic meaning, only the meaning we create for it. That is what I experience in life and what I read in history. But, as I have already pointed out, everybody experiences subjectivity. This, I think, is not the same as a “belief system,” but something much more basic. You can reject belief systems, but you cannot reject subjectivity because you will always be restricted to an isolated, finite experience. To say that subjectivity itself necessitates a belief system goes too far. After all, subjectivity only requires a sensory input-output system that distills diverse stimuli into a workable response. Dogs are subjective, as are cats, apes, dolphins, mice, etc. But they don’t have belief systems or narratives. The world for them has no intrinsic meaning. Nor does it have any intrinsic meaning for me. But I have something they don’t have–the ability to give it meaning, although always a delusory one, and I would rather live open-eyed in a wasteland and try to make it legitimately better than dream of a paradise.
To sum up, subjectivity and belief systems are different and should not be conflated.
There is no argument from silence. There is simply no evidence, archaeological, historical, or otherwise that Matthew’s account is accurate. Add that to the fact that none of the other gospel writers recorded the infant slaughter, as well as to the fact that Matthew’s gospel is also filled with things like miracles and a resurrection, and the evidence gets even thinner.
Add that to the fact that Matthew’s account is so strikingly similar to the story of the pharaoh killing newborns, in a context where “the normal exegetical mode . . . placed a premium on the allegorical,” and you have a situation where it looks more like Matthew was working overtime to draw tenuous parallels between Jesus and Moses, “literal” facts aside.
If Matthew had been a skeptical recorder like Greek and Roman historians, instead of a religious advocate, and if the rest of his gospel wasn’t filled with supernaturalism, he would be a firmer source. Better still if somebody like Josephus had corroborated his account, or if there was archaeological evidence (like mass graves filled with infant skeletons or something). But that’s not the case, and we’re stuck with text that, as you admit, is more about allegory than literalism, which hardly makes it a suitable primary source, especially when it’s the only source for a particular event.
But I suspect the problem here is not whether historical investigation regarding events in the Bible is honest or worthwhile, but whether events of the Bible should be investigated by the standard methods of history at all. This comes up every December, when historians and biblical scholars write articles and essays in various publications, and non-historians and non-scholars insist that what they believe as part of their religion is beyond the reach of historians or scholars.
None of that is to say that you can’t believe what you want, though. Nobody can stop you from believing that Herod Antipas really did order all the infants slaughtered, or that Jesus really was born of a virgin, or that he really was God incarnate, or that he really did rise from the dead. Nor could anyone stop you from believing all those things have greater power as metaphors or allegories than as literal history, if you wanted to follow that tack (as many do).
Could be he [Theo] believes something like this (what I do…)
Well I’m sure Theo can answer for himself (assuming his righteous anger doesn’t keep him permanently away ;-), but I suspect that regarding the Slaughter of the Innocents, directly at issue in the foregoing debate, that some restrained judgement might apply. (I.e., Theo may believe based on his reading of the evidence that the Slaughter of the Innocents is purely (or mostly) fictional…). If new and “sufficient” evidence were to arise, he might easily assent to (e.g., “believe”) its authenticity. Since there is nothing particularly “supernatural” in the account, no part (AFAIK) of Theo’s system of thought would be challenged by such assent.
But to the larger question of whether Matthew’s gospel contains fictional events in general, I’m pretty sure Theo’s good friends here at Ales Rarus could easily predict his verdict: An Unqualified Yes, i.e., a positive belief that the story contains some if not many fictional accounts. (The supernatural ones would presumably be ruled out a priori.
Uh, drivel? No, this is pretty standard stuff in biblical scholarship.
Outside Matthew, there’s no historical record of Herod’s slaughter of infants (even though there’s plenty record of his other atrocities), and the story is suspiciously similar to that of Moses and Pharaoh.
And Matthew did indeed quote a Greek translation of Isaiah and he did not capture the sense or context of the original. An almah is not a virgin, and the bit of Isaiah in question, when read in context, is clearly not about some distant future.
So what’s a thoughtful person to do with these bits of information? Probably surmise as much as the scholars have, which is that the Matthew account, while a dramatic story, is more fiction than fact.
Yeah, well 80% seems a bit high, but I’ve no doubt about the principle. Most unfortunate that (as CS Lewis rightly complained) Christianity fails to well propagate itself as the “manly” religion that it rightly is. There are quite a few of us (including regular readers/contributors to Ales Rarus) who are trying (Quixotically perhaps… Dern! wish we were playing Scrabble) to stem this tide.
But what of my inconsistency assertion? Certainly, if one lives as though a principle is false but fails to actually believe the principle is false, then I s’pose one could simply believe in the self-inapplicability of principles… but then seems that such a one can’t really go ’round saying, “I’ve been true to my principles!” Rather they’ve lived as though they had principles, but they really didn’t have any.
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