Monday, December 04, 2017

Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen have mutual intellectual lightweight religious talk

Reading Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen have a back and forth on religious belief that is laughable.

Among Cowen’s biggest hoots is deploring the lack of Bayesianism in most religious belief. I suppose he thinks Richard Carrier’s Bayesian book-cooking in the name of Jesus mythicism is spot on? Cowen also confirms that his libertarian bona fides are deep and thoroughgoing when he claims to be a Straussian on religious issues. Anyone who invokes Leo Strauss for THAT bears careful watching. (Note to Massimo Pigliucci: Remember, Cowen strongly blurbed Harry Frankfurt’s new book, which was the first reason I became highly skeptical of it.

Douthat responds by ignoring that both Blaise Pascal and C.S. Lewis stacked the deck with their wagers on, respectively, the existence of god and the divinity of Jesus.

Cowen then replies that he takes William James seriously. Wow. “Varieties” only shows how deep-seated are the human mental evolutions that have been “hijacked” by the development of religion. Nothing more.

Rusty then extends that to a “mystical ineffability means its true!” stance.

Surprisingly, near the end, Douthat lays out his own Bayesian take, and only 45 percent of his total of 100 percent is for classical theism.

That’s called “Cafeteria Catholic,” Rusty, next time you lay that label on the likes of John Kerry or any pro-choice Catholic.


Douthat finishes by invoking Nicholas Taleb’s black swans and saying that, among religions, Christianity is the blackest of all. This is nothing more than a fancy new presentation of Tertullian’s “Credo quia absurdum.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

Who wrote the book of Revelation?

Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals in the pews — and still many in pulpits and even a fair bit in academia — stand by the idea that the “beloved disciple” John did.

Well, there may have been SOME John behind it. But, not that one.

That person didn’t write the Gospel of John, nor three letters attributed to him.

In fact, one person wrote John 1-20 (whether working from an original “Signs Gospel” or not), another appended John 21, somehow, later than that, John 7:53-8:11, the woman in adultery story got appended, and the whole schmeer, either before or after the adultery pericope, likely had some sort of editor.

And, a different person yet, in all likelihood, wrote the three letters.

And, none of them wrote Revelation, and certainly didn’t write its core.

The book almost certainly has a non-Christian core. That background has been discussed by James Tabor, as influenced by an older contemporary, J. Massyngberd Ford.

Ford wrote the original Anchor Bible volume on Revelation.

Here's my review of the volume on Amazon.

Her idea? John the Baptizer wrote it.

James Tabor offers his reconstruction of a pre-Christian text of Revelation

This is based on an earlier post speculating it was likely it had such a core.

As Tabor notes, he has an academic relationship with Ford.

They both seem to be on the right track, but neither seems totally correct.

I believe, contra Ford, that a follower of the Baptizer wrote it after his death, not John the B himself.

Accepting Paul's comment in Galatians as true, as well as others in Acts, John had disciples in Asia Minor. Given that its provenance has always been considered to be there, and many of the elements in the non-Christian core seem to fit the times of the 60s CE, that fits the idea of a “Mandean” (to use an anachronistic word) core, but not one from John himself. For that same reason, there’s no need to follow Tabor's specifics in trying to anchor Revelation to his pseudo-Clementines take on the whole New Testament and claim it is reflecting 40s-50s Judean politics.

Rather, it should be seen as the reaction of 60s-era diaspora apocalyptic Jews to the Temple Revolt.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Luther bio not worth reading

Having recently done, and updated, a blog post about the 500th anniversary of the legend, and the reality, at the start of the Lutheran reformation, when I saw this new bio at my local library, I figured to give it a whirl.

I could tell it was a pop bio not an actual history. But, even by those standards, Eric Metaxas has written dreck.

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the WorldMartin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Meh at best as a pop bio from a conservative evangelical POV; worse than that otherwise

Per the first half of my header, that's the only reason I rated this book with two stars rather than one. Even though Metaxas discusses Luther's differences with the Reformed on the Eucharist, and a lesser degree on other things, and even tries to take a look at both the philosophy and theology behind this (while failing as much as succeeding), Metaxas still tries to paint Luther as a modern American conservative Evangelical rather than as a German Evangelical, ie, Lutheran.

The epilogue, trying to pretend Luther was some sort of forerunner of modern Western democracy, only made this worse — and more laughable at the same time. Again, though, the fact that it's being tried, and will probably be tried by others from now through maybe 2030, with the 500th anniversary events, gets it that second star rather than 1.

That said, there's other errors, mainly errors of fact, though a few others of interpretation, like those above.

I actually was originally going to rate it three stars, despite the above, but two errors late in the book got it knocked down to two stars, and almost to one, in spite of me wanting to hold it up as an example.

OK, let's dive into those errors.

First, after debunking several Luther myths in the introduction, Metaxas perpetuates two BIGGIES himself.

In reality, the consensus of good historians is that Luther did NOT nail, paste, or otherwise affix a sheet or two of 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517.

A similar consensus says that Luther did NOT say "Here I stand" at the Diet of Worms.

OK, next. Erasmus did NOT restore first-century Greek to his edition of the New Testament. Instead, his "textus receptus" was similar to that in the Orthodox world of this time. Erasmus didn't have Sinaiticus, Vaticanus or other older codices, nor did he have the treasure of modern papyri finds. Also, Erasmus had no detailed methodology of textual criticism.

Tonsuring? It's Christian martyrological legend that emperors inflicted it upon apostles or later generations of Christians. That said, per the likes of Candida Moss, the severity and broadness of Roman Imperial persecution of Christians has itself been mythologized. Finally, although in these cases it involves shaving the head entirely, not just in spots, tonsuring-like practices are known to other world religions.

The idea that Luther didn't have a "modern" idea of consciousness? Well, Metaxas sets up a straw man by claiming that what he calls the "modern" idea of consciousness is modern. Less than a century after Luther, Shakespeare has Polonius in Hamlet say "To thine own self be true." And, a full 2,000 years earlier, the oracle at Delphi said "Know thyself." And, from that, Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Of course, Metaxas is here ultimately setting up a bank shot for how Luther was different from today, but yet, was a lead-in to Merika or something.

After Erasmus, Metaxas trips on his Greek New Testament again. While the verb synago is in the New Testament in various forms, including as a participle for gathering together for worship, including gathering for the Eucharist, the noun synaxis is not. It is used in post-NT writings, I believe beginning as early as the Didache, but the noun is not in the NT.

Now, the two biggies, which give the game up.

On page 391, Metaxas claims that Suleiman the Magnificent, as part of expanding the Ottoman Empire, was trying to expand sharia law.

Tosh and rot. The Turks, and their Central Asian Turkic cousins, have been known for their generally moderate interpretation of Islam. And the Ottoman Empire was known for its millet system, which gave a relatively high degree of freedom to its Christian — and Jewish —residents.

Given that Metaxas, if not a full blown right-winger, hangs out with a lot of conservative politicos and is a talking head for a major right-wing radio network, I can only consider this to be rank pandering.

Page 417 follows in its train.

Metaxas claims that Luther, in his anti-Jewish diatribes, was influenced by "Victory over the Godless Hebrews," which he claims contain things "which we now know to be untrue." Among this, he lists Jewish blasphemies against Jesus and Mary, and claims by Jews that Jesus did his miracles by kabbalistic magic.

Deleting the "kabbalistic," as it didn't exist 2,000 years ago, and actually, these things ARE true.

Metaxas is either ignorant of some things written in the Talmud, and even more in the Toledoth Yeshu, or he's heard about such things and refuses to investigate, or thirdly, he fully knows about them and covers them up.

In any case, I suspect political leanings not just of general conservativism, but specifically neoconservativism, are now in play.

And, with that, I decided that this book could be held up as an example of wrongness AND get one star instead of two as well.


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Friday, October 20, 2017

In the year 2020, the Nones will ...

Riffing on an old rock anthem, per Scientific American, by 2020, self-identified "Nones" in the United States of America will equal self-identified Catholics.

Don't be so smug, you Baptists and Church of Christers, either.

By 2035, Nones will catch you, too.

And, you should, in fact, be even less smug, per this image:



That comes from the author's own blog, linked at the bottom of the SciAm piece.

In other words, the liberal wing of Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians has already caught you Baptists, etc.

Sure, they may go to church less — setting aside the fact that time and motion studies show that most of you don't go to church as much as you claim — but they don't feel the guilt-tripped NEED to go to church.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Robert Wright writes about religion again (Buddhism), fails again

So, Robert Wright has a new book.

Like his older “Evolution of God,” it applies ev psych to religion, in this case one specific religion.

I won’t bother to read, as I one-starred that previous book for both that reason and the fact that Wright uses his old one-trick pony of “non-zero,” as in applying non-zero sum game theory to religious evolution.

That said, one can derive anthropological-based insights from the best of ev psych, and THEN apply THAT to the study of religious origin and development. Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer, among others, have done it quite well. And Robert Wright can't hold a candle to either.

Besides, I don’t need to review it for another reason.

Adam Gopnik, in a long piece at The New Yorker, has already done the favor both with him, and his somewhat older quasi-paralleling British secularizer of Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor. It's so good I re-read the whole thing.

I agree with Gopnik a LOT on both of them. That said, while still not planning to read the book (I’ve read previous Batchelor, too) I did click link to the Amazon page for Batchelor's one book.

I wanted to look at the one- and two-star reactions.

Funny, most of the people who accuse him of "pillaging" Buddhism for secularist ends most likely do their own pillaging for New Agey ends.

And, this also ignores that the history of all religions is full of pillaging. Today's Hinduism, whether Vedanta or many other branches, isn't the Brahmanism of 2,000 years ago. Today's Judaism isn't the proto-Rabbinic Judaism of 2,000 years ago or the Israelitism of 2,500 years ago and more. Today's "fundamentalist" Christianity isn't that of the pre-Nicene age.

To run Churchill through Marx: "Religion is written by the victors."

That said, my personal, philosophy-of-religion definition of religion remains a basic two-item one.

First: A belief in metaphysical matters that are of ultimate concern to human life. Note that this allows atheistic versions of Buddhism to be — rightly — defined as religion. Note that this also rightly, versus many Gnu Atheists — uses the word "atheist(ic)" as what it is, not a synonym for "irreligious."

Second: A set of praxis and/or dogma that is developed to rightly "align" believers with these matters of metaphysical concern. Note that this allows for both what are called "orthodoxy" religions and "orthopraxy" religions.

So, Buddhism — if not stripped of ALL metaphysics, is a religion. Certainly, it originally developed as one. Brahmanism of circa 500 BCE believed in some form of reincarnation and karma. Most versions of Buddhism today, setting aside things like Pure Land Buddhism that believe in a one-off afterlife, not reincarnations in a cycle. And, though not really having a dogma, Buddhism does indeed have a praxis. (Note to meditating New Agey Westerners — most Buddhism in its homeland still has plenty of other praxis for the laypeople, most of whom don't have the time or the inclination for meditation.)

This, then, gets to my earlier comment.

Wright isn't offering up Buddhism. He's offering up "Buddhist secularism." Per good linguistics, the noun is controlling, the adjective is modifying.

In a discussion with David Hoelscher on a Facebook page, I say the same. Ditto for what we should call “Jewish secularism” rather than “secular Judaism.”

That said, what about “secular humanism”? Shouldn’t it really be called “Christian secularism,” at least in some cases? I’m thinking primarily of non-Wiccan/pagan Unitarian churches and similar.

Shows that “cultural Christianism,” per Samuel Huntington, Rodney Stark and others, still dominates American culture, that we don’t do that.

One doesn't have to be a Gnu Atheist to critique — critique to the point of heavily criticize — Wright.

And, that all said, regular readers of this blog know that I am in general unfriendly toward attempts to pass Buddhism off as something it is not. Above all, that's when it's done by — speaking of "secular Judaism" — so-called BuJews.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why neither Buddhism nor Robert Wright is true

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of EnlightenmentWhy Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wrong from the title on

Ignore the blurbs, it’s still a bad book

There are several reasons for that.

First, IMO, Wright is overrated. I rated “The Evolution of God” as a one-star. This one had a chance to get lucky, even though it was starting minus 1 star due to the title alone. That title, and ding, along with puffery from too many others, though, cost it that chance to do better.

Now, within specific reasons it’s a bad book.

First, ev psych isn’t nearly as true as Wright claims. And, as I said in the review of “The Evolution of God” if you want to apply something like that to religion, try the evolutionary anthropology of Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer.

Second, the Stephen Batchelor denatured, demetaphyticized “Buddhism” that Wright presents isn’t Buddhism. (Wright even backhandedly, and out of the side of his mouth, admits this in the first chapter.

Third — or, if it is, then Unitarianism is just as much Christianity as is what Wright et al call “Buddhism.” And, it’s not.

Fourth — If Unitarianism WERE that, yet, nobody writes a book called “Christianity is true” unless they’re a fundamentalist.

That alone should show what’s wrong with the book.

But BuJews like Sam Harris on one said, and BuGoys like Wright et al on the other, find millions of people who can still be conned this way.

Fifth, it is possible, indeed, that Buddhist secularism has special mediation insights derived from its religious roots. It’s also possible Christianist secularism does, too. It’s also possible neo-Stoicism does, and derived from its original philosophical roots. Maybe self-hypnosis does, derived from original empirical results followed by trial-and-error fine tuning. Or that modern science does, and influenced by a Buddhist-derived general idea of mediation, but NOT by anything specific.

(From what I know, there is indeed at least some degree of truth to all of the above. That’s from reading a new bio of Rorschach, on precursors to modern science; from some experience with self-hypnosis; from a philosopher friend who teaches neo-Stoicism counseling; and more. And, much of these things started happening before Batchelor, or precursors, started popularizing Buddhist-derived meditation ideas in the west.)

Sixth, note my adjectives two paragraphs above. Non-metaphysicians within Unitarianism would practice Christianist secularism, not Christianity. (Not all Unitarians are non-metaphysical.)

Wright seems to make the assumption that only Buddhism, among world religions, has unique insights that can be secularly distilled. Tosh. I haven’t even mentioned Taoist secularism. (Confucianism? I agree with many philosophers of religion that it’s a philosophy, not a religion.)

None of this is to say that meditation is bad. I think it can be good, indeed, for reasons in the book and beyond. So, don’t feel discouraged if the meditation Wright derives from Buddhist secularism doesn’t float your boat.

Seventh, Wright ignores the irony of people — selves — reporting on the idea that there is no self. This is part of a larger issue that certain Buddhist principles should be ineffable. Wright also ignores this connection to karma, vis-à-vis what is, and is not, reincarnated, and why the whole idea of karma is senseless at best and repulsive at worst if there is no “self” yet we have punishing karmic reincarnations based on actions of past selves.

Of course, he ignores it in part by presenting Buddhist secularism as “true,” and as true without having to look at its religious and metaphysical background.

In fairness, he does note that issues related to this are raised by “maverick” Buddhists.

Eighth, Wright, like other BuJews and BuGoys ignores that real, actual Buddhism has its own version of fundamentalism, violence against other religions, etc. Take the 969 Movement, leading the attack against Muslim Rohingya in Burma.

And, no, please no “no true Scotsman” claims that this is modern, and just one small offshoot. Before Buddhism in its Indian homeland went over the mountain to China and then was pushed out of India by a new, reformed Hinduism (Vedism or Brahamnism or similar are better terms for the main religion of India at the time of Siddhartha Gautama), Buddhists are documented as persecuting Jains.

Beyond Buddhism, he gets things wrong elsewhere. That includes muddling emotions and instincts, which he does so baldly and badly.

Finally, the title.

Often, it may be an editor at a publishing house that chooses a title. In this case, I highly doubt it; I’m sure that’s Wright’s baby. It is provocative and smug as well as wrong.

==

If Wright were just offering up a book called “Buddhist-based meditation tools and ideas,” he might get another star. But, he earned the low rating.


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Friday, August 04, 2017

Philosophy food fight falls flat

A favorite modern philosopher of mine, Massimo Pigliucci, on his blog, runs a Friday links roundup. This one, per a link of his about ethical eating, has exploded in comments.

Massimo, per that link, is a "reducitarian." So am I, but for different reasons and for a different moral compass. And, he's very ardent about it.

Fueling the comments fire was, first, Rita Wing, a hardcore vegan, and second, and interesting, or sometimes "interesting," but not-favorite philosopher, philosophical friend, and sparring partner of Massimo's, Dan Kaufman. He's not a philosopher enemy; he's more a semi-frenemy.

And now, our philosophers, with their "philosophy food fight falls flat."

Massimo comes off as defensive, and very defensive for an admirer of Stoicism who even has a second blog about modern Stoic-based advice, "How To Be a Stoic." It's an "if you're not for me, you're against me," defensiveness.

Dan comes off as smug. (That's not new, even more so on his own blog site, The Electric Agora.) That said, Dan seems to largely reject animal rights issues, and not just an extreme, Peter Singer version of them, but all of them. (More on that below, though.)

Behind the "smug," I think Dan's stance is twofold:
1. People can become preachy on this issue without warrant;
2. This isn't that big of a deal for him.

Now, to comments.

First, Wing comes off as sanctimonious, especially when she appeared ignorant about Jainism, notably, "sky-clad" Jains and the most rigorous of them starving themselves to death because they believe even plants have some senses.

I mentioned that vegans, without supplements, have Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Massimo, after critiquing her for an appeal to nature fallacy, called mine a naturalistic fallacy.

I think not, when I unpack the shorthand.

Yes, I can get B-12 from a pill. But that's coming from animal products that, if the whole world went vegan, we'd have to raise just for that purpose. That would be costly, wasteful and have environmental burdens. (More on that in a minute.)

Let me state one other thing for the record, before I dive into the two protagonists.

I'm not a moral realist, but, if I'm presented that as an issue of two polarities, moral realism vs. "moral non-realism," I reject that.

I consider myself some sort of moral semi-realist.

I don't think empirical facts, whether findings of science, recordings of history or other things, should control moral investigation, articulation of positions and stances, etc. I do think, though, that empirical findings should guide such things, and on a case-by-case basis.

As I told Ms. Wing, I'm a definite Humean, and with him, I affirm the "is ≠ ought," IF that means, "an is doesn't necessarily imply an ought." Because an "is" may imply an "ought," and certainly, the extreme idea, that any "is" should have zero consideration on any "ought," is flat wrong.

Back to Massimo, and first with a prelude.

He called extreme Jainism's belief "bizarre." Yeah? So are other religious and quasi-religious arcane dietary beliefs. Kosher rules are just such an example. And I believe veganism is just such a quasi-religious system.

Per the matter at hand, and animal pain, that means getting the best scientific information, and interpretation of it, on what animals can feel pain, or something like it. The "interpretation" issue means no anthropomorphizing.

That also includes the "folk science" issue of knowing that, if an animal is capable of feeling pain, it's not just factory farming that causes pain. The act of killing an animal, unless you've shot it up with morphine or gassed it with ether first, also inflicts pain.

Massimo also didn't really like this observation. Nor various spinoffs, largely from me, but also from others.

On the commercial side, of empirical facts in record, for reducitarians to ponder, it is to be noted that major fish, such as salmon and catfish, are factory farmed. Therefore, above and beyond the note above, a reducitarian, for even a partial moral cover, must logically avoid factory farmed fish as well as beef, hogs, etc. (And, I'm venturing that a significant minority, at least, do not.)

One smaller note on issues of philosophy, and even more, of psychology, THEN the protagonists.

I see scales and shades of gray in many things, not just what I mentioned above.

Fernando raises an interesting aside in comments there. We have pretty good reason to be sure that any mammal feels pain. And, beyond the idiots in the cosmetics industry, a fair amount of “legit” scientific research causes lab rats pain, let alone dogs, doubly let alone primates.

It seems the only way to justify such research is to be a utilitarian, but of a different stripe of what one’s utilitarian canon contains than Singer. But, Massimo in general is a virtue ethicist.

However, Massimo rightly calls out Kaufman for calling Peter Singer shallow. And he's right. Dan unconvincingly appeals to other philosophers. I disagree with Singer less than Dan — and probably find him a bit more discomfiting. Shallow, though, he is not.

That said, given the degree of Massimo's emotional angst, I suspect Singer hits kind of close to home for him, and he'd like to dismiss him.

As for claims I'm committing the naturalistic fallacy? I suggest a little MatthewArnold. Or if that's not good enough, I'll riff on that and suggest that Arnold was saying, contra Hobbes, we can never totally rise above a state of nature. In other words, the only good Buddha is a dead Buddha. With that, if I am still committing somebody's definition of that, then, I'm definitely making only a non-Edenic appeal.

What I see Arnold as saying is that we're never going to truly transcend "it ≠ ought" issues, and we're certainly not going to expand our addressing of them, on natural issues, if our attempts to transcend a Hobbesian state of nature remain selective. And, yes, that's what I think Massimo is doing.

Contra sky-glad Jains, I do not think plants feel pain. Therefore, if one wants to be vegetarian, as long as they don't preach at me, I think they've got a pretty strong moral standing.

Veganism? Milking a dairy animal causes no pain, per se. Factory dairy farming may, but that's a different critter. Therefore, if one "sources" one's cheese, butter, etc., one can make a legit claim to dairy products. Eggs? It's possible a hen feels a psychological pain from egg theft, so, maybe leave them out. Clothing? If the cow's dead for other reasons, don't waste the leather. Wool-shearing, as long as sheep aren't too exposed to elements, is not painful. Down? If taken from natural molting, no pain.

So, one can certainly ethically wear animal-based clothing. Ms. Wing is wrong, and sanctimonious.

Finally, the issue of animals suffering pain ANYWAY. A leopard or lion would kill a wild cow. Something might kill a wild hog. Varieties of animals kill wild sheep and goats. Bears kill wild salmon. Etc., etc.

Other animals don't have a second-level sense of others, like we do. Even if it cared, an obligate carnivore leopard, can't stop killing a cow anyway.

Is the fact that we can sense pain of other creatures of itself enough reason to stop?

Back to utiltarianism.

What if ... ants and flies sensed pain.

Are sprays and swatters always OK, or, how do you justify it? I'm sure many vegans who aren't sky-clad Jains haven't thought about this and would prefer not to.

Some opponents of factory farms will talk about broader "quality of life" issues rather than pain.

Quality of life is itself a quasi-anthropomorphizing concept when applied to animals. I mentioned free-range cows to Saph. We don't build barns for free-range cows. Millions of them died on the US High Plains in the blizzards of 1886-87. Barning free-range livestock would be pretty silly, in my book.

Dan's blog discusses a piece by Cora Diamond which partially, but not entirely, parallels my thought.

However, without reading Diamond's original, I think Dan's piece isn't totally relevant to Massimo's piece, as he is not adopting a quasi-Singerian position. And MPBoyle in comments is one reason I not only stopped writing for Dan but largely stopped reading.

I do think he in particular, Boyle, misses friend Thomas' points. And, one of those is that Diamond, and from her, Kaufman, may push some things too far.

On the other hand, Massimo's own stance is presented largely in terms of the western world, and beyond that, a more privileged subset of it.

And, I mean that. Not all Americans, with our factory agriculture, can afford to pay to be vegetarians, let alone vegans. Many can't easily even afford Massimo's reducitarianism.
  
Finally, in an interesting sidebar from the non-human portion of the natural world: sometimes vegans, under duress, become cannibals!

==

As noted, my animal ethics is based on environmentalism, and two subgrounds.

One is that it takes 10 pounds of food to put a pound of weight on a cow, about 8 for a hog, etc. Except in places, like savannah plains that are semi-dry, and not suitable for much agriculture, where we should ranch animals like cows (or better, in the US, the native bison), we have too much livestock. We can feed people better with a more vegetable-based diet.

This is even more true in places in the world where most cannot yet afford the Western hankering for meat.

Second is global warming, and things like cow farts.

Too much livestock is killing our future. And, killing it more rapidly than most conservative-minded scientists want to admit — along with all the other causes of global warming.


Finally, there's good non-ethical reasons to avoid not meat in general, but modern factory farmed meat, especially in the US, or countries making special trade with the US. Food safety reasons. That article ignores the fact that the USDA's own stateside food safety programs suck as is.

There's yet other issues.

A stance like Massimo's, to get back to capitalism, involves a certain amount of privilege. I mentioned that in a late comment that he didn't address. So, too, do other moral issues that are in part, aesthetics issues in disguise.

Next, it's not just veganism, or even vegetarianism, that are arcane dietary systems. Some, as those of a Kamchatka Peninsula people, are culture-wide.

Finally, one last thought.



Massimo, it's OK to be non-Stoic once in a while.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Poem: SITTING SHTETL FOR THE LIVING

SITTING SHTETL FOR THE LIVING

He has six months left,
If it's even that.
What can I say to ease his pain?
We're both secularists; we both accept
The reality that presents itself to us.
Why do I feel the need to speak?
Is it to ease my pain, not his,
To ease my frustration for him?
He is not the first secularist friend
That I have had die.
But, he’s the first for whom
I’ve had this much advance notice.
Sitting shtetl is about listening.
Only then about speaking.
I can ease his pain best
By dealing with mine in other ways.

But, I’m still talking about me.
What, other than listening,
Will ease his pain?
I hope he knows of what will help
And reaches out
To one or more of his listeners.

It doesn’t have to be me.

“Control freak” is just a label that
I don’t have to use.
Others surely feel the same.
Helpless, frustrated, angry.

I’m sorry.
Rest in peace among the living,

For as long as you can.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Luther legend shitstorm about to hit (extensively updated)


I blogged nearly three years ago about myth vs reality on Martin Luther, well in advance of the 500th anniversary of his allegedly doing something with some theses. Indeed, I started with that legend, for legend it is, that he nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

And, I was already planning on starting a series of blog posts with the anniversary nearing vision.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think that a liberal American opinion magazine would be the spark for my memory, to get started.

But, it is.

The Nation uncritically repeats the legend about the 95 theses (It's unclear whether any of the books it reviews have this, or just itself) in a review of several new biographies about Luther and/or his times.

The 95 Theses has been refuted here and here.

Luther also did not say, as best as we know, "Here I stand, I can do no more," at the Diet of Worms in 1521. The "Here I stand" legend is refuted at the first of the two links in the paragraph above and also here.

He wasn't the son of peasants, either. His father owned copper-smelting operations and relatives of his mother advanced him the money to buy in. One of his mother's brothers was a doctor. A more distant relative was mayor of Eisenach at one time.

Oh, and Luther himself apparently started the "son of peasants" myth. That said, Eric Metaxas, who refutes that in his new Luther bio, repeats a polished-up version of the 95 Theses myth, along with several others in a book that won't get more than 3 stars on my review.

(That said, the link has been updated to my Goodreads review of the book. It SUCKS. It got 1 star because he does far worse than that, including running Luther through an American evangelical sheep dip, including neoconservativism and Islamophobia.)

Beyond that, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US rejects or questions some Luther myths, including the 95 Theses and the Here I stand. However (shock me) the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the main denomination of the fundamentalist wing of American Lutheranism (and, yes, you are fundamentalists) accepts the castle church door legend wholeheartedly, as it does again in this timeline at a spinoff Reformation anniversary.

What else can it do? If you're a literalistic church body on things like the inspiration of scripture itself, you probably have to double down and be literalistic on the Textus Receptus history of your founder.

It's clear that on the theses, they were only submitted to Luther's superior, Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, under cover of an explanatory level. Most the myth-busters note that the doors of churches, in general, were not used as community bulletin boards or even ecclesiastical ones. Had Luther wanted to provoke discussion, he would have posted a copy somewhere within the university, instead.

Also, the second "here" that is linked above notes that Luther granted indulgences himself early in his ecclesiastical career. He just didn't sell them.

A good bio of Luther shows he was sincerely tormented with guilt over sinfulness. And, contra Erickson, this was not misplaced Freudian paternal-directed anger. At the same time, he was far from alone. His anger seems to have become more intense, and floated to the surface, as he realized more how much the medieval church had strayed from its, say, pre-400 or pre-500 roots or semi-roots.

(Of course, Luther didn't look at how much the post-Nicene church strayed from its pre-200 roots in erecting a theological edifice that probably would have astounded Jesus and his followers.)

His anger was mixed with a stubborn obstinacy that spilled beyond indulgences and related issues, not only to the authority of the papacy, but to the formation of a new tradition.

That said, the church of Luther's era was not only led by corrupt popes, it was also increasingly ossified. Indulgences had been a problem for 300 years or more by the time Luther drafted his theses, yet neither the Fourth Lateran Council nor the Council of Constance, among other church meetings, seriously and lastingly addressed the issue.

Combined with incipient proto-German nationalism, the abuse was ripe for the plucking.

POST-1517


And, as noted in that original piece, Luther’s virulent anti-semitism is no legend at all.

Peasants' Revolt

lighter-hearted mythbusting site, from within the liberal wing of Lutheranism, itself gets a thing or two partially wrong. Luther perhaps may not have hated all peasants. But, citing the fact that his grandfather was a farmer is proof of nothing. Many acorns fall close to the tree, but to reverse the cliche, the dandelion seed head blows far away. It seems pretty clear that he DID hate "uppity" peasants, especially ones who might be trying to implement a 1500s version of social gospel, let alone liberation theology. Luther's "Admonition" to both peasants and lords was not as 50-50 as claimed. In any case, even for that day and age, arguably, The Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants are more irenic than, say, something written in conjunction with the Wat Tyler Revolt in England 150 years earlier.

The real issue is that, when he wrote "On the Thieving, Murderous Hordes," and afterward, Luther (in my own debunking of another myth) refused to admit he was wrong. Appeals to people to prove him wrong were, by 1525 at the latest, nothing more than rhetorical tropes.

Given his father being a member of the ownership class, and his mother coming from a family background both richer and much more educated, and more politically corrected, a few conclusions can be drawn.

Above all, that is that Luther was much closer to being a proto-capitalist than a proto-Marxist, despite East Germany's attempts to exploit Luther 450th anniversary events.

Meanwhile, as noted above, by 1525, that stubborn obstinacy at the core of Luther's character spilled elsewhere, with further major consequences.

Dealings with the Reformed

He shows this clearly in his dealings with non-Lutheran Reformed brethren, starting with, but by no means limited to, Ulrich Zwingli. Even a middleman like Martin Bucer came in for Luther's wrath. In general, he used the same language on Reformed leaders as he did on Catholics, even though their language in response was, and remained, much more irenic.

If there's a "fault," beyond irreconcilable doctrinal issues, that, in Germany and beyond, there wasn't a more united Protestantism (until the Prussian Union in much of Germany, and the rise of more liberal theology in general), the fault lies with Martin Luther more than any other single person.

As far as the keystone there, Luther's take on the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist, this was a literalistic vs more humanistic take on what the human nature of Jesus implied. That said, even in his post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus in a Pauline spiritual body, while shown appearing out of nowhere, is never shown as appearing in multiple ways at the same time.

On the other hand, neither Luther nor his Reformed brethren at the Marburg Colloquy appeared to wrestle with John 6 — only the Synoptics.

Speaking of, as Orthodoxy accepts John's timeline for the Passion, and more pertinently, rejects Augustinian ideas of original sin, a good bio of Luther, unlike Metaxas, will do at least a bit of putting Luther into the context of ALL Christianity, not just its western variants. Many Orthodox post-Nicaea theologians, or, per the real breaking point time, post-Carolingian ones, would have laughed, if nothing else, at Luther's turmoils. However, unlike a Cajetan telling Luther to just say "revoco" and follow Rome, Orthodox thinkers would  have laughed for other serious reasons.

Also, while Orthodoxy believes in penance as a sacrament, and in a quasi-purgatory, it has never had a practice of indulgences. Luther himself, other than noting the Eastern churches were free of Rome, made no real effort to learn about post-Nicene, and certainly not about post-Carolingian, Orthodoxy.

(Prayers for the dead, on which purgatory is partially based, have some tenuous New Testament basis. And more, below that, from early Christian tradition.) And, per Wiki (follow links) Philip Melanchthon accepted that prayers for the dead were part of Christian tradition in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (XXIV 96). (That's of note given that Luther mailed out his 95 Theses copy on All Saints Eve.)

Transubstantiation, the Real Presence and the pre-Reformed

The Reformed theologians, along with Luther, agreed in rejecting transubstantiation. Whether the Reformed thought about it or not, beyond their actually expressed reasons, they had others for rejecting Luther's stance.

Basically, Luther was trying to walk a petard between two horns of a dilemma with his stance, although neither he nor the Reformed appear to have seen that.

The horns?

One was ex opere operato, in other worse, the very thing that Luther found lying behind transubstantiation when he rejected it. In this case, if it is faith itself that makes Jesus bodily present for a believer in the sacrament, well that too is ex opere operato. Luther might raise two objections — the biggie is that belief comes from the Holy Spirit.

That leads to another problem. In that case, going beyond Luther's single-predestination version of predestination, a human in this case becomes nothing more than an automaton, a playtoy for Jethro Tull's "Bungle in the Jungle." Luther would also reject that, but he'd have no grounds for that other than his own stubbornness, or else appeals to god's inscrutability. THAT, in turn, leads to the Psychological Problem of Evil, about which I've blogged beforemore than once.

The other horn? Scholasticism, and angels on heads of pins. If neither a state of faith nor a particular statement of faith at the time of the blessing and offering of the Eucharist makes Jesus bodily present, then exactly when and exactly how IS he? Does the reading of the Biblical words of the Institution, not as a priestly act, but simply the presence of the words, do it? In that case, the words of the bible are themselves close to becoming the fourth person of the Trinity. Islam, in some extremely "high" versions of theology of the nature of the Quran, ran into similar issues.

Infant baptism faces similar horns, unless one ditches Lutheran ideas and instead treats it merely as a sign of grace or entrance into a Christian covenant, paralleling circumcision.

Antichrist

Oh, and he was wrong about the papacy being the Antichrist. Antichrist, whether a person or spiritual stance, in 1 John, is not the same as the "man of lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians. (That sets aside, of course, the issue of whether "the man of lawlessness" is the papacy. And, even on a literalist, even fundamentalist, reading of 2 Thessalonians, that's a hard stance to take.) 1 John mentions nothing about Antichrist being in a position of authority.

Critical theology, not mentioned much at the Wiki page, at least MY critical theology, says that, instead of Nero, the pseudo-Pauline author, like the Synoptic gospels, may have been envisioning the Jewish revolt, temple takeover and temple destruction, which also gives us a terminus a quo for the book.

Assuming the author wrote before Titus, in the name of Vespasian, finished the conquest, that would have us talking late-60s CE. I'd argue that it most likely refers to one or more of the Jewish leaders who took over the temple and started the revolt.

Today

The "yes I'm right) stance of Luther himself, not only vis-a-vis things where he clearly was, but other issues, such as versus the Reformed on the Eucharist, versus many Reformed and other Lutherans on the issue of adiophora and more, seems to still run strong in much of the conservative wing of Lutheranism. (Let's not forget that Luther thought he was competent to condemn Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the solar system, and rushed to do so when his book was published.)

That's not a total surprise, though. Fundamentalist versions of Christian denominations, just like fundamentalist strains in other world religions, stay fundamentalist due to mindsets.

Outside of being the largest single fulcrum for the Reformation, and secondly, the anti-Semitic issue, Luther contributed little to the larger world. No German state had any New World colonies, for one thing. Many individual Lutheran emigrants to early America were Mennonite, not Lutheran.

NB: Expect one major update three-plus years from now, with a further look at the Diet of Worms.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Say goodbye to History for Atheists

I keep a fairly slim blogroll, as well as general webroll, on this and other blogs. But, blogs I link to, or even incorporate into my feed list, aren't necessarily ones I totally agree with. I'll keep ones that I find stimulating when in disagreement, especially if the disagreement is more on matters of philosophy rather than empirical facts in the hard or social sciences, or interpretation thereof. That's especially true as long as exchanges between me and other authors remain halfway personable.

Well, Mr. O'Neil's History for Atheists blog, which had been linked here, is gone again. (He'd originally been placed here and one other blog after he'd commented favorably on something I wrote.)

His blog is primarily about refuting Gnu Atheist claims about religious figures and ideas in history. And, on people such as Giordano Bruno, he has some good refutation. (And he's not alone in that.)

I won't link to him, though.

When he's wrong, he can sometimes be howlingly wrong.

And he was, a month ago, in trying to defend the papacy in general, and Pope Pius XII in particular, against charges of anti-Semitism.

One medieval papal bull he cited was honored as much in the post-Crusades-era breach as in the observance. And

He refused to even discuss the much later, 1860s-era, Papal States kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. And, it's hugely relevant to refuting his claims.

So is Catholic hierarchy in the US ignoring physical anti-Semitism as late as World War II. (About halfway down the piece.)

He refused to discuss books by professional historians — non-Jewish as well as Jewish — that undermine his claims about Pius XII. And, I've read several such books.

One such book is "The Popes Against the Jews," just read and reviewed by me here. Its author, David Kertzer, previously wrote "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" and "The Pope and Mussolini," both of which I have read, and reviewed the latter here. (Pius XI comes off as better than Pius XII, but that's praising with faint damns one of the worst popes of the last 200 years or more. And don't forget that Pius XII, as Vatican Secretary of State, negotiated and signed the Reichskonkordat.)

Then, he says, after I told him I hadn't listened to his podcast attached to the post — but without answering at all to Mortara, high-placed priests' post-WWII involvement in the "ratline" and more — his only answer is "go listen" to the podcast" followed by a stream of insults.

Well, Tim, I've got one back for you.

Go fuck yourself.

Beyond that, my most charitable explanation is that, even though he's an atheist himself, he's still some sort of "cultural Catholic."  Or, more accurately, given his much higher regard for Rodney Stark than I have, perhaps he's a "Christianist" in the same vein as Samuel Huntington et al.

If it's the same Tim O'Neill being referenced here on an online forum, he's also wrong about other issues related to the Holocaust. Among them? Hitler did not come to power via a "backroom deal." Instead, he was duly accepted as chancellor by President Hindenburg as the agreed-upon representative of a parliamentary coalition. That's the way chancellors, premiers and prime ministers are selected. And, his particular selection, as far as negotiations between coalition partners, was no more of a backroom deal than with any other parliamentary colaition in Germany or any other country.

Monday, March 27, 2017

#Philosophy can't justify dumb wars, setting the issue of justice aside

That said, the issue of just war is itself problematic, and has other "baggage," even if its separated today from its religious roots.

NOTE: This is an updating of a 2011 blog post about the Libyan bombing campaign and a philosophical attempt to justify it. What follows is a lightly edited version of the original, along with extended follow-up.

You can slice and dice logical arguments to support all sorts of claims. That includes what evidence you include as warrants vs. what countervailing empirical evidence you exclude from discussion.

Especially in real-world informal logic, how you frame the parameters of the argument is another way of slicing and dicing an issue to an already-held conclusion.

Take Massimo Pigliucci's argument for bombing Libya.

Sure, in a vacuum of Libya and no other foreign policy worries, might be great. But, why Libya and not Yemen? Or, why not Cote d'Ivoire a year ago?

Massimo goes on, in what is nearly 100 posts down the list, in response to me, to say he has non-humanitarian reasons, as well, to support intervention in Libya. I've asked what they are, because I don't see any that aren't either directly or indirectly related to oil. Terrorism? Since we intercepted the ship with nuclear supplies headed to Libya several years ago, Gadhafi had become "our guy," so scratch that, even if Massimo makes that claim.

Massimo also limits the parameters of the argument by saying his support for air strikes doesn't mean support for intervention. But, given criticism of the Obama Administration, that it doesn't have an exit policy, and that our British and French allies have pushed going beyond air strikes, if necessary, that "restriction" might work in formal logic, but, in a real-world political situation, doesn't.

Massimo also, basically, tried to claim in his last comment to me that I didn't know what I was talking about on just war. Actually, I do. But, since he apparently cares not to read Walter Kaufmann's "Without Guilt and Justice," which I highly, highly recommend, he doesn't really understand where I'm coming from. (Should Massimo see this, I'll leave it to his personal judgment as to whether or not he was trying that hard to understand, wanted that much to understand, or wanted to try that hard to understand.

That said, I'm going to further deconstruct, or just plain refute, some of his claims.

The idea that the air campaign was supported by the UN is tenuous at best, per Wiki's piece on the intervention in Libya. That "at best" would be seeing the air strikes as one interpretation of how to support the no-fly zone the UN called for.

First, going beyond philosophism to actual political science and geopolitics, Massimo should have recognized that the likelihood of a successful denouement to the Libyan bombing was about as likely as a similar result for the Iraq War. Related to that, I did a separate blog post about some of his just war claims.

That said, in brief, I believe, per Walter Kaufmann's evisceration of "justice" as an abstract concept, that "just war" as an abstract concept is a mix of philosophical non sequitur and invitation to political mischief in democratic or quasi-democratic societies, especially when inveighed with religious overtones.

Per that separate post, and comments on three different incarnations of his blog home, I realize Massimo apparently has no interest in Kaufmann's book. That said, a number of left-liberals might not like the book any more than interventionist liberals, given the degree to which Kaufmann crushes John Rawls.

Second, if we are going to speak of colonialism, it's fair to ask if Massimo, as a native Italian, might have additional reason to support the bombing of Libya.

That said, let me further deconstruct his actual claims.

Just cause? If we did that all the time, we'd be Wilsonian interventionists to the extreme. And, what if other countries made similar claims about the US, or Italy. I mean, vis-a-vis the US, that's what al Qaeda itself claimed as its reason for 9/11. And, "just cause" also falls prey to some of the same issues as does "just war."

Last resort? That's a judgment call, one based in part on how willing one is to support the use of force in the first place.

Legitimate authority? Is NATO, or a hived-off portion of NATO, a "legitimate authority"? (Per what I said above, with the Wiki link, I did not, and still do not, consider the bombing campaign, certainly not in toto, and even more the deliberate killing of Muammar Gaddafi, then beyond, to be a correct and legitimate extension of the UN's no-fly and cease-fire call.

Proportionality? Failure to include things like "collateral damages" and "unintended consequences," as well as failure to appreciate the difficulty so far in seeing Arab states of the Arab Spring actually transition to democracy, means that, again, proportionality will be calculated differently by different people.


I could be accused of hindsight, but in reality, I had all these thoughts to some degree six years ago. I'm just elaborating now because I happened to come across this post a couple of days ago.

I also forgot to add in my original blog post that Libya had Africa's most vibrant economy at the time, with a per-capita income of $14,000. It also had a higher literacy rate, equal rights for men and women on divorce, and life expectancy almost as high as the U.S., all per Wikipedia. Wiki also notes that on this, and general human development, Libya was ahead of neighbors and Arab Spring predecessors Tunisia and Egypt.

Massimo also refers to the bombing of Serbia over Bosnia, then Kosovo, as a success.

However, he ignores the geopolitics behind this.

Even as Serbian paramilitaries were pulling their horns back from Bosnia, Croatian ones were sticking theirs out. And, we did nothing. (Counterpunch, among others, has covered this.)

Why?

Because Croatia was being lined up for NATO membership, as far as part of why we did nothing.

Don't forget that this was another violation of the US's (presumably good for all then-current NATO members) promise to Boris Yeltsin in 1990 not to expand NATO eastward.

And, with that, at least in the U.S., that's the difference between a liberal, on the one hand, and a left-liberal or beyond, on the other.

I visit, and comment on new posts, at Massimo's blog regularly, and have totally agreed with his take on people like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt.

But here? Being logical isn't the same as being right.

At the least, without engaging in serious multi-valued logic, with answers that would include things like "maybe" and "maybe not." With that in mind, I wouldn't say Massimo is wrong on his support for Libyan air strikes. I would say that, to use the old Scottish jury verdict, he's only reached the "not proven" state.

And, I wouldn't say I, or others, are "right" to argue against air strikes.

At bottom line?

Not only is being logical not the same as being right, the use of bipolar western logic to try to "prove rightness" is often wrong.

Arguably, such situations are even a good example of Hume's famous dictum: "Reason must be the slave of the passions."

Again, there's not necessarily a "right" or a "wrong" involved. But, in this particular case, since Massimo is claiming non-humanitarian reasons for Libyan intervention, and I doubt he can name a good non-oil-related one, I think, on the passions, he's wrong. (That said, some Humeans forget that he still called on reason to take a role in guiding the passions.

I should note that I've hinted before that Massimo practices "philosophism," the hyper-philosophic parallel to scientism. And, I think it sticks here. I don't know if Massimo would go as far as Dan Kaufmann in admitting that philosophy doesn't have final answers for many of the questions it addresses. But, maybe that would help. At a minimum, non-classical Western philosophies reject such certainty.

I mean, per the above, I probably could invent a multidisciplinary, intersectionality-driven new discipline called "the philosophy of political science" or something, but why? It wouldn't add anything significant to the academic study of political science as currently constituted.

Or, per that piece linked above, and again here, on refuting his claim on just war, maybe he needs to expand his Weltanschaaung to include non-Western philosophies.

Per Iranian philosopher Idries Shah's famous dictum (he himself being non-Western, of course):

“To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.”
I noted that I could find seven or eight "sides" either directly involved in the Libyan Civil War or else playing bank shots.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"What color are these strawberries?" is ultimately a philosophical question, not scientific

A lot of people have probably, via Facebook friends or whatever, seen the photo of strawberries at left, whose production is described here.

I haven't actually opened the picture in Photoshop, but I'll take at face value the claim it has no red pixels.

But, what does that actually mean?

Photoshop's default on color pictures is to present a photo in "RGB" format. That's Red, Green, and Blue — the three primary colors. But, many Photoshop commands let one manipulate not only those three colors, but the three commonly accepted secondary colors of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, plus a channel for Black. If you've ever heard of CMYK (B already used for Blue) photo editing, that's where it comes from. The Black channel is necessitated by the conversion of primary colors back to secondary.

Anyway, back to RGB colors. Several thoughts here.

First, many colors, even in "normal lighting," whatever that is, aren't what we think. If you use Photoshop much, you'll see that the "green" in grass is about one-third yellow.

Second, does Photoshop's 256-bit format for each color channel imply a level of digital accuracy that doesn't exist? I mean, we can peg light to 500 nanometers. But, is that blue or is that cyan, or turquoise, if we use a non-technical color, or what? Wiki has a full piece on "spectral color" which raises such issues.

And, with that, we're into various issues of philosophy.

Setting aside some aspects of epistemology, we've got what would be either informal logic or linguistic philosophy, first. That is the issue of categories and definitions.

Per what I posted above, where does one color "stop" and another "begin"? That's not a science issue, that's a philosophy issue.

We also have linguistic philosophy issues on how one defines color. Setting aside the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is nonetheless of a certain degree of strength, some languages distinguish between more colors than others. Isaac Newton, with the rainbows produced by his prism, famously distinguished indigo as a seventh color of the spectrum.

To the degree the above photo is an optical illusion, it trades on something else which is related to epistemology, and to David Hume's project of empiricism. That is the idea of qualia, or why do things seem to be the way they are.

The idea of qualia, if accepted in one of its several forms and definings, undercuts the "blank slate" idea of human perception stressed by Hume, and to fair degree by fellow empiricists. A child old enough to point to a red splotch in normal light, when shown this picture above, would not be able to point to claim it has a color similar to that red splotch on the blank slate theory of the human mind. (I frame the example this way to try to bracket the issue of the baby's mind being "contaminated" by explicit written or oral conversation.)

As to opponents of the idea of qualia? As I've gotten older, and more read in modern philosophy, I find Dan Dennett's arguments more and more lacking. The more and more we do current research in robots, artificial intelligence and similar, the more and more we realize human minds don't work that way. Dennett's other objections are somewhat functionalist in nature.

A side issue is that discussions of qualia often get wrapped up with issues of ontological dualism, even though in reality the two are separate items.

There is no logically necessary reason to invoke ontological dualism to explain qualia. That's doubly the case if one understand consciousness and the mind through the lens of embodied cognition and not Dennett's crudely mechanical and scientism-driven computer models.

Let's take this in terms of color. My cone cells in my eye may have slightly different wavelength sensitivities than yours. My optic nerve neurons may respond slightly differently to my cone cell impressions than your neurons do to your cone cells. That's a thumbnail on embodied cognition and color.

Next, let's head to psychology.

If your father, or mother, was a firefighter, your "suchness" of the color red will be far different than mine, at least if their fire department still uses traditional fire-engine red colored vehicles.

Or, as an adult, let's take yellow. If you're a salesperson for French's, as in French's mustard, your "suchness" for yellow will be different than mine if I'm a salesperson for Dole banana. Or for Sunkist, and Sunkist lemons.

Friday, March 03, 2017

St Paul puffer acts like Jesus Seminar fellows he excoriates

Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical JesusSaint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus by Donald Harman Akenson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Short on scholarship, long on coprolite polishing

I really wanted to like this book, after seeing it at the local library. And parts of it, upon review, I do — above all, Akenson’s critique of the latest version of the search for the historic Jesus, especially as conducted by most of the fellows of the Jesus Seminar.

But, at the same time, Akenson gets a LOT wrong in this book — and, at the risk of concern-trolling for academics, I suggest that he might reconsider jumping from history to biblical studies with any more books.

Some of his errors, per that above, are whoppers.

The New Testament is NOT a “single artifact.” The theology of Paul is not the same as that of the Synoptic Gospels — which Akenson himself discusses!

Second, Yahwism does NOT go back to 1600 BCE. It’s no earlier than 1000 BCE, in all likelihood, and certainly no earlier than that in an organized state called Israel, if it’s even that old.

Now, some more specific errors.

Paul, in his passage in 1 Corinthians on marriage, was NOT giving halachic correction to Jesus’ “don’t get divorced and remarried” passage from Mark and softened parallels. First, Paul and Jesus were operating in totally different Sitz im Leben. Paul is speaking, I believe, in terms of the End Times, and thus, this passage is similar to his “neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free” in Galatians. He’s telling believers don’t change your status in life. Second, he admits in 1 Corinthians 7 this is HIS teaching and not “from the Lord.” Jesus, on the other hand, if we call him a quasi-Pharaisee, WAS offering a statement of halakah.

Next, his accusation that “Questers” want to date Mark pre-70 just to have something before the destruction of the Temple is untrue. Rather, the Markan apocalypse is lacking some vaticinium ex eventu that are in Matthew and Luke, and thus, like Daniel, gives us a dating hook.

Next, claiming the Talmud has nothing historical, or nearly so, about this era? The “gardener protecting his cabbage” from the Toledoth Jeshu was knows to Tertullian, so it at least includes myth from the middle second century.

Soon after that, he is too credulous to Robert Eisenman.

Now, Paul “versus” James and other things. First, how do we know James only believed after Jesus’ death? Paul’s word plus Synoptic disparagement of his family. Now, I don’t believe in Eisenman’s earthly dynasty, but Akenson makes a statement with slim warrant.

Next, the food sacrificed to idols and blood, re 1 Corinthians and whatever council met on this. The meat sacrificed to ideas was not kosher, as he notes. But Akenson then commits either a big “oops” or a huge rewrite. The law on blood in meat is NOT Jewish; it’s Noahide. I’m sure he knows that, and thus is doing a deliberate rewrite, softening up Paul.

Next, if the Mishnah is not historically accurate, how do we know mitzvoth were numbered at 613 in the time of Paul and Jesus? Actually, the number 613 isn’t even mentioned until the Talmud. And, what they are isn’t itemized until Maimonides. Oops! More Judahism pseudo-authenticity by Akenson gets torpedoed!

On the criterion of embarrassment in the gospels, he ignores the variant “he was angry” reading in Mark 1 with the unclean man. Oops again, or deliberate rewrite again?

A bigger possible rewrite is ignoring the idea that Paul may have “invented” the Eucharist out of similar meals from pagan mysteries. Akenson here is bad in general.

Even worse, finally, is his claim that Mark may well have known about the Virgin Birth myth and deliberately discarded the idea. This underplays how oral tradition plays out and eventually becomes concretized, as shown in Mark, then the other Synoptics, then the Protoevangelium of James, etc.

The bottom line that Akenson seems to have, that Saul is a reliable witness to the historic Jesus, as well as a reliable anchor to a semi-unitary development of the move from Jesus to Christ, pretty much fails.

His smackdown of the Jesus Seminar and related issues are probably the primary things saving this from a one-star rating, which is ironic, because in his construction of Paul, he comes off as not a lot better than some of the Jesus Seminar fellows he excoriates.

And, I forgot to mention until now that he says he's going to use the KJV as his English text because of its poetic language or whatever, and he, first cite of it, talks about how it's a bad translation.


View all my reviews

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Another failed book on Jesus and his alleged Davidic dynasty family

The Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New TestamentThe Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New Testament by Peter Cresswell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Good on textual criticism; gobs of gibberish elsewhere

Cresswell does good work on textual criticism of Codex Sinaiticus, and related topics, such as its relation to Codex Vaticanus and the possibility that Sinaiticus was created to serve as an exemplar for the creation of 50 bibles Constantine wanted Eusebius to do.

Much of the rest of the book is rank speculation, and no, that comment is not coming from a conservative Christian, but from someone at least as educated in critical biblical scholarship as Cresswell.

First rank speculation is the idea that "Pauline Christianity" is largely derived from Mithraism. First, take the Eucharist, as first articulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Many Greek mysteries had similar fellowship meals; this isn't something unique to Mithraism. Second, other themes allegedly from "Pauline Christianity," such as miraculous birth of the savior-god and a dying-rising savior god, were of course known around the eastern Mediterranean long before the rise of Mithraism. Indeed, a lot of scholarship shows that the development of Mithraism was itself influenced by these other mysteries, as part of what made it become a mystery religion itself.

Wikipedia, in its piece on Greco-Roman mysteries, lists a full dozen of them. Indeed, in its piece on Sabazios, it notes Jews were accused of worshiping this mysteries god, under confusion of Sabazios with either the Sabbath or Yahweah Sabaoth.

Third, for Paul allegedly incorporating so much of Mithraism into Christianity, at least in this book, Cresswell doesn't tell us what he considered genuine Pauline letters.

And, though not mentioned here, Cresswell would probably cite the Dec. 25 date of Christmas as showing Mithraic influence. Really? Why isn't that a sign of the influence of Saturnalia instead? Of more likely, of Sol Invictus? Or what about Christmas in early Egypt being placed at Nov. 18, which just so happened to be the date of a major Osiris festival — which gets us back to a non-Mithraic mystery?

Besides, a lot of the Mithra-Christ bullshit comes from that astrologically minded Gnu Atheist/New Ager, the late Acharya S., as the author of the History for Atheists blog explains in detail. That ignores Robert M. Price, who also seems to be more and more of a New Ager along with being a Gnu Atheist, and explains his favorable blurbing of so much of her stuff.

Next, on to the idea that Jesus and Davidic family members were quasi-Zealots not only revolting against Rome, but a dynasty of sorts. This Eisenman-Tabor-DaVinci Code idea has no support within the canonical New Testament and has little in other early Christian literature, until one goes mucking around in the Pseudo-Clementines or else taking a "sectarian" (I see what I did there) view of the Dead Sea Scrolls as reflecting a fight between Paul and heirs of Jesus, rather than being sectarian, non-Christian Jewish literature covering a wide range of issues.

Jesus might have been a revolutionary — with OR WITHOUT being being part of a Davidic dynasty. Or he might have been Geza Vermes' et al's Jewish faith healer. Or he might have been the Jewish Cynic of Burton Mack, and at one time of John Crossan. The fact is, the Second Quest for the historic Jesus and its extension through the Jesus Seminar etc has brought us no closer to a denouement than did the First Quest. Jesus might have been one of the Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus for all we know.

There's also an element of petard-hoisting here. While claiming limited historicity for gospels allegedly edited by the Constantinian and post-Constantinian church, Cresswell, Eisenman, Tabor et al will nonetheless do their own mining of the gospels for anything alleged to support their Davidic family dynasty ideas. But — how do you know Jesus family passages were edited? if we do have some evidence, how do you know what they were edited from? Cresswell does show some cases where we can know this. In others, he engages again in rank speculation, the biggest of course being that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife.

Elsewhere, Cresswell presents himself as having insightful learning only to later shoot himself in the foot. He rightly points out that the "barjona" of "Simon Barjona" in Matthew likely does not mean "son of John" but is the Aramaic for "outlaw." He then, later, laughably claims that "Arimathea," as in Joseph of, is a botched transliteration of "ab Maria," as in "mother of Mary." The reality is that it is a place-name surname, after a Jewish village. Indeed, Eusebius himself, so touted in discussing the text-critical history of Sinaiticus, makes the specific village identification.

That, in turn, undercuts a claim made elsewhere by Cresswell that such place-based namings were rare in the New Testament — a claim he (along with Eisenman and others) employ to claim that "Jesus of Nazareth" must be "Jesus the Nazorean." Truth is, per Joseph of Arimathea's name (and dispute over whether Judas Iscariot is "Judas the man from Kerioth" or "Judas the Sicarian") we don't know.

And I haven't mentioned until now that Cresswell's idea that the "we" sections of Acts reflects a separate document from the third-person narratives of Acts is also laughable. Sherwin-White in his "Roman Law" has addressed this, noting that switching to a "we" narrative was a literary commonplace in the 1st-2nd centuries CE in this type of literature whenever the protagonist was on a shipboard journey.

Also laughable is his claim that Matthew (in Cresswell's attempt to give credibility to Papias) originally worked with an Aramaic version of Q, combined with Mark, and wrote his Matthew in Aramaic.

And, all of this information undercutting Cresswell (and Eisenman, Tabor, et al, to the degree they hold it) is easy to find.

So, contra breathless blurbs, this is NOT a "pivotal" or "groundbreaking" book, other than on the textual criticism areas, perhaps.


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Thursday, February 09, 2017

One will be taken and the other left

For people not familiar with the Christian scriptures, whether some atheists, or some Xns both liberal and fundamentalist or conservative evangelical, that's Matthew 24:40 I'm referencing. And, whether riffing directly off Pauline material or not, the "Great Apocalypse" of the synoptic gospels at least arguably supports Rapture-type ideas, contra, oh, an L.D. Burnett at S-USIH, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, who claims the Rapture is un-Christian.

Baptism for the dead, of Mormon doctrine, is also Christian, L.D. and others. Deal with it.

But let's get back to why that header I have us up there.

In the fairly small town to which I recently moved, a lady announced earlier this week that she had officially been pronounced cancer-free by her doctor after a fairly severe cancer with arduous treatment process.

She took this all as a gift from Jesus, etc. She also went so far as to say, even for comment to the newspaper, that she was using this as a tool to try to convert her atheist doctor.

Erm, not so fast, ma'am.

The very next day, a young firefighter, or rather, a young ex-firefighter on forced medical retirement due to extensive radiation-induced heart damage due to an infancy neuroblastoma cancer, died.

And, where was god then, when in an existential Rapture-like sense, one was taken and one was left.

Was it better for the firefighter to die as gain than live for Christ?

Well, the conservative Christian apologists will offer up the tender mercies of god, the inscrutability of god, silver linings that we can't see, etc.

Then, when the likes of me counter with Ye Olde Problem of Evil?

Some of them will counter with "original sin."

Do not go there, unless you really want your biblical literalism to be that repugnant.