Friday, August 31, 2012

The Fountainhead of Satanism

First Things offers an interesting essay on Ayn Rand:

 Over the past few years, Anton LaVey and his book The Satanic Bible has grown increasingly popular, selling thousands of new copies. His impact has been especially pronounced in our nation’s capital. One U.S. senator has publicly confessed to being a fan of the The Satanic Bible while another calls it his “foundation book.” On the other side of Congress, a representative speaks highly of LaVey and recommends that his staffers read the book.

A leading radio host called LaVey “brilliant” and quotations from the The Satanic Bible can be glimpsed on placards at political rallies. More recently, a respected theologian dared to criticize the founder of the Church of Satan in the pages of a religious and cultural journal and was roundly criticized by dozens of fellow Christians.

Surprisingly little concern, much less outrage, has erupted over this phenomenon. Shouldn’t we be appalled by the ascendancy of this evangelist of anti-Christian philosophy? Shouldn’t we all—especially we Christians—be mobilizing to counter the malevolent force of this man on our culture and politics?

As you’ve probably guessed by this point, I’m not really talking about LaVey but about his mentor, Ayn Rand. The ascendency of LaVey and his embrace by “conservative” leaders would indeed cause paroxysms of indignation. Yet, while the two figures’ philosophies are nearly identical, Rand appears to have received a pass. more

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ayn Rand's philosophy is just Satanism minus ritual?

The photo from James McGrath's post was distorting the format on my own blog, so I took it down. But it's still at his.

 Update: This article compares and contrasts Satanism and Objectivism (Ayn Rand's philosophy).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Jewish Gospels

I'm not quite done reading Daniel Boyarin's The Jewish Gospels; The Story of the Jewish Christ. After reading Ehrman's book, it is a breath of fresh air:

Much New Testament scholarship has been led astray [e.g., Bart Ehrman's view] by an assumption that the term 'Son of Man' referred only to the coming of Jesus on the clouds at the parousia, Jesus' expected reappearance on earth.  This has led to much confusion in the literature, because on this view it seems difficult to imagine how the living, breathing Jesus, not yet the exalted-into-heaven or returning-to-earth Christ, could refer to himself as the Son of Man, as he surely seems to do in several places in Mark and the other Gospels.  This problem can be solved, however, if we think of the Son of Man not as representing a particular stage in the narrative of the Christ but as referring to the protagonist of the entire story, Jesus the Christ, Messiah, Son of Man. (p.36-37)

 "The great innovation of the Gospels is only this," writes Boyarin: declare that the Son of Man is here already, that he walks among us.  As opposed to Enoch, who will be in those last days the Messiah Son of Man, Jesus already is.  As opposed to the Son of Man flying on the clouds, who is a vision for the future, Jesus has come, declare the Gospels and the believers.  The last days are right now, proclaims the Gospel.  All of the ideas about Christ are old; the new is Jesus.  There is nothing in the doctrine of the Christ that is new save the declaration of this man as the Son of Man.  This is, of course, an enormous declaration, a huge innovation in itself and one that has had fateful historical consequences. (p.101)

But now I must go back to reading the rest of the book. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Problems for Ehrman: #3, Keeping the Commandments

In his book, Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman writes:

" [Mark 10:17-27], when a rich man asks Jesus how to have eternal life, he tells him to 'keep the commandments.' Is this what early Christians thought, that it was by keeping the Law that a person would inherit eternal life? Quite the contrary, this is a view that the vast majority of Christians rejected. The early Christians maintained that a person had to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus for eternal life. Some early Christians - an increasingly greater number with the passage of time - argued precisely against the idea that keeping the Law could bring eternal life. If it could, then what as the purpose of Christ and his death? No, it was not the Law but Jesus who could bring salvation. So why is Jesus portrayed in this passage as saying that salvation comes to those who keep the Law? Because that is something he actually said." (p.309-310)

So Ehrman believes that Mark 10:17-27 is something that Jesus actually said. Here it is in its entirety:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The first thing to notice is that Jesus lists the second half of the ten commandments: the half that refer to how we are to treat other people. He has not listed the first half of the ten commandments: the half that refer to how we are to relate to God, such as remembering that He brought us out of bondage in Egypt; not having any other gods before Him; not making any graven images; not taking His name in vain; and keeping the Sabbath.

I wonder if Ehrman has ever noticed this. If so, I wonder if he ever wondered why Jesus skips the first half of the ten commandments and only lists the second half. I've always thought that the rest of the story makes it clear why Jesus did so. After the rich man says that he has kept the second half of the commandments, Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing: sell all his possessions, give them to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow Jesus. Jesus is replacing the first half of the commandments (which are about how we are to relate to God) with himself. Jesus says that he is to be the most important thing in our life. We are to forsake all and follow him. If one thinks about it, this is a very shocking thing to say. Jesus is placing himself in the position of God.

If we understand the story this way, it is clear why the early Christians wouldn't find it to be incongruent with what they believed to be the way to eternal life - faith in Jesus. I think if Ehrman understood this to be the lesson of the story he might change his mind and decide there was no longer any reason to think it contained the actual words of Jesus. But then, it becomes clear that Ehrman's criterion for deciding what was and what was not historically reliable regarding Jesus depends more upon his preconceived notions of who Jesus was. For Ehrman believes that Jesus did not regard himself as anything more than just another human being. Ehrman doesn't believe that Jesus regarded himself as in anyway being divine. So anything that hints that Jesus might have regarded himself in that way simply could not be historically accurate.

But why should we think that Ehrman has the correct view of who Jesus thought that he was? Because Ehrman is a scholar? But there are many Christian scholars who disagree with his view of Jesus. Because Ehrman is a secular scholar? Well, yes he is. But is his secularism shaping his view of who Jesus was? The fact that he will accept the above story as historical if it fits his view of Jesus, but (probably) reject it as historical if it doesn't, suggests that perhaps his secularism is distorting his work as a professional scholar.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Open your eyes

Mike Gene makes a good argument and concludes:

"Gnus tell us to “open our eyes” and witness all the harm that religion does. Well, maybe the Gnus should open their eyes and look in the mirror. We’re told that if we could only get rid of religion, the world would be a much better place. Then why oh why isn’t the Gnu cyberworld a much better place? The movement is not even ten years old and is already saturated with accusations of sexual harassment, rape threats, embezzlement, censorship, computer hacking, conspiring to get people fired, and more. If the movement is not a fad, imagine what this list will look like in a hundred years.

Sorry, but Gnu behavior does not constitute evidence that the world would be a better place without religion.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Problems for Ehrman: #2, The Son of Man

In his book, Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman argues that Jesus was merely an apolyptic preacher, warning Jewish listeners of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, to be ushered in "by a cosmic judge whom Jesus called the Son of Man." According to Ehrman, anytime Jesus refers to this future heavenly Son of Man, the saying is authentic. But anytime Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, it is an instance of his followers putting words in their leader's mouth, since they thought (though Jesus didn't) that he was the Son of Man. (p.307)

But Ehrman also thinks that Jesus believed that he was the Messiah, who "would be the king of the coming kingdom of God....when the Son of Man brought the kingdom to earth, he, Jesus, would be anointed its ruler." (p.319) So apparently Ehrman thinks that Jesus believed that the Son of Man and the Messiah are to be two different persons.

There seem to be a number of problems with this view. First, is there any evidence that anyone thought the Son of Man and the Messiah were to be two different people? Second, when Jesus refers to the future Son of Man (sayings Ehrman accepts as being authentic), he describes him as a ruler or king (e.g., Matthew 25:31, a saying that Ehrman is quite sure came straight from Jesus's mouth: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne"). So who is to be king: Jesus or the Son of Man? Third, earlier in his book, Ehrman pointed out that the Aramaic (Jesus's native language) word for "man" and "son of man" is the same word: barnash. So when Jesus used the phrase "the Son of man" he and his listeners knew that it could also mean "the man." It's difficult to believe that Jesus and his listeners wouldn't wonder why a cosmic judge, who had never been a man, would be called "the Son of man," nor why he would be in a position to judge men. What would make sense is for "the Son of man" to live as a man, a perfect man, who had come to fulfill the Law (which Ehrman thinks Jesus said of himself), and thus earn the right to judge and rule other men. Perhaps Ehrman addresses these issues somewhere else. Unfortunately, just like his forgetting to explain the "author of life" phrase in Acts, he doesn't explain this apparent paradox in this book, either.

Meanwhile, this creates two problems for Ehrman. First, he has argued against the mythicist view by maintaining that the oldest traditions display a Jesus who saw himself as being merely human. Yet he offers us a Jesus who seems to suffer from a split personality. And second, his own view that the oldest traditions are consistent with his view that Jesus was merely human has been severely compromised.

Thanks to Steven Carr, I found out that Ehrman has his own blog. I joined and addressed my concerns to him. If I get an answer, then with his permission, I'll post it on my blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Barry Jennings, 1955 - August 19,2008

Today is the fourth anniversary of Barry Jennings' death, who died under very mysterious circumstances. As with Danny Jowenko , I will always wonder what was the real cause of his death.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adam Taylor takes on Popular Mechanics

9/11 Truther Adam Taylor takes on that premier periodical of the best that science has to say on any matter, and hence was delegated with the task of defending the official version of the events of 9/11, Popular Mechanics.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Problems for Ehrman: #1, "Author of Life"

Bart Ehrman, in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, argued that the early followers of Jesus did not think he was God. Rather he thinks that there was a gradual theological development, where Jesus was first scene as a human being that was "adopted" as the Son of God at his resurrection; then later at his baptism; then still later at his conception; then still later as having pre-existed as the Son of God in Heaven. He cites the speeches in the book of Acts as evidence that the adoptionist view of Jesus was the original view. According to Ehrman, "...some of the speeches in Acts contain what scholars call preliterary traditions: oral traditions that had been in circulation from much earlier times that are found, now, only in their written forms in Acts. This is important information because, here again, it shows that Acts is not simply a document from the 80s CE. It incorporates much older traditions." The problem (for Ehrman) is that among the speeches that he includes as representing much older traditions is the one given by Peter in Acts chapter 3. But right in the middle of that speech Peter says,

"You killed the author of life [Jesus], but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this."

That's a startling thing for Peter to say. The only "author of life" in Judaism was Yahweh. This reflects a much higher theological view of Jesus that an adoptionist theology would allow for. And I suspect that Ehrman would know that. So I'm puzzled as to why he included it in the list of speeches that he thought incorporated "much older traditions" than the document of Acts. Now perhaps it was just an oversight on Ehrman's part, which he forgot to edit out of his book. Or perhaps he thinks that statement by Peter is an interpolation of some kind. Or perhaps he has some other explanation as to what "the author of life" might mean. I would be curious to know what it might be. Maybe it's in one of his other books. He certainly didn't include it in this book.

But meanwhile, it is a problem for Ehrman on two counts. First, Ehrman argues against the common Mythicist view, which is that Jesus was first a divine mythical figure who later was transformed into a human being. Ehrman maintains that this couldn't be the case, since the first followers of Jesus didn't think he was divine at all. And second, Ehrman himself maintains that Jesus was merely human, relying upon the earliest oral traditions, which he thinks clearly reveals this. But if a speech that refers to Jesus as "the author of life" is one of the earliest oral traditions, then Ehrman's claim that the earliest historical sources support his view that Jesus was merely human must certainly be questioned.

There are other problems in his book, which I'll get to next time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What were the Legal Penalties against Abortion?

When abortions were illegal (or where they still are illegal) what were the legal penalties against it? I might be mistaken, but I suspect that the punishment was less severe for abortion than for murder. Does anybody know?

Update: This article looks informative.

What's in the Ryan Plan?

Paul Krugman is making it more difficult for me not to vote. Maybe I should just stop reading his blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Historical Views on Abortion and Legal Status of the Fetus

Gringo Royale and I have been carrying on a discussion concerning abortion. I admit that I am rather ignorant of the historical philosophical, theological and legal views regarding abortion and the status of the fetus. I thought I would start a post on it and let others contribute what they know about it. So far, I have found this article:

Abortion and Personhood: Historical and Comparative Notes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summarizing Ehrman's Summary of the Historical Evidence for Jesus's Existence

In his book, Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman summarizes the historical evidence that "there really was a historical Jesus, a Jewish teacher who lived in Palestine as an adult in the 20s of the Common Era, crucified under Pontius Pilate sometime around the year 30." I've tried to summarize his summary, which one can find in his book, beginning on page 171:

"Among the Gospels we have numerous independent accounts that attest to Jesus's life, at least seven of them from within a hundred years of the traditional date of his death....They are based on written sources -- a good number of them -- that date much earlier, plausibly in some cases at least to the 50s of the Common Era....[The written sources] were based on oral traditions that had been in circulation year after year among the followers of Jesus....some of them...can be located in Jesus's homeland, Palestine, where they originally circulated in Aramaic. It appears that some, probably many, of them go back to the 30s CE. We are not, then dealing merely with Gospels that were produced fifty or sixty years after Jesus's alleged death as the principal witnesses to his existence. We are talking about a large number of sources, dispersed over a remarkably broad geographical expanse, many of them dating to the years immediately after Jesus's alleged life, some of them from Palestine itself. On the basis of this evidence alone, it is hard to understand how Jesus could have been 'invented.' Invented by whom? Where? When? How then could there be so many independent strands of evidence?

But that is just the beginning. The reality is that every single author who mentions Jesus -- pagan, Christian, or Jewish -- was fully convinced that he at least lived. Even the enemies of the Jesus movement thought so; among their many slurs against the religion, his nonexistence is never one of them....It is the view of all of our authors, for example, the authors of the epistles written both before and after Mark, whose views are based not on a reading of the Gospels but on traditions completely independent of Mark. It is also the view of Q and M and L and John and of all of John's sources. It is the view of the first-century books or letter of I Clement, I Peter, I John, Hebrews -- you name it. And it is also the view of the book of Acts, which preserves very primitive traditions in many speeches...that appear to date from the earliest years of the Christian movement, even before the followers of Jesus maintained that he was the Son of God for his entire life or even just from his baptism; according to these traditions, he became the son of God at his resurrection. This is the earliest Christology of them all, probably that of the original followers of Jesus, and so stems from the earliest Palestinian Christian communities. Once again we are back in the 30s of the Common Era, and the witness of these sources is unambiguous that Jesus existed.

The same results obtain by a careful study of Paul's letters. Paul came to know about Jesus within just a year or, at most, two of his death. Paul too preserves traditions that stem from the early period of his Christian life, right after his conversion around 32-33 CE. There is no doubt that Paul knew that Jesus existed. He mentions Jesus's birth, his Jewish heritage, his descent from David, his brothers, his ministry to Jews, his twelve disciples, several of his teachings, his Last Supper, and most important for Paul, his crucifixion. Paul indicates that he received some of these traditions from those who came before him, and it is relatively easy to determine when. Paul claims to have visited with Jesus's closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is, around 35-36 CE. Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

If I Decide to Vote...

...Paul Krugman has been arguing very persuasively that I should vote for Obama:

"Neither candidate is offering a realistic tax plan, because the fact is that the federal government is going to need more revenue than either is currently proposing. But the two men are not equivalent in their unrealism: Obama is proposing to raise revenue by around $80 billion a year compared with current policy, while Romney is proposing to cut revenue by around $450 billion a year compared with current policy. Obama is inadequate; Romney is intensely, screamingly irresponsible."

....but I still haven't decided to vote, yet.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ehrman's Summary of Historians' "Wish List"

From professor Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist?, page 42:

In short, if a historian were drawing up a wish list of sources for an ancient person, she would want a large number of sources that derive from near the time of the person they discuss: that are extensive in what they have to say about the person; that are disinterested*, to some extent, in what they say; and that corroborate one another's accounts without having collaborated.

*Earlier he had written:

The problem, of course, is that most sources are biased; if they didn't have any feelings about the subject matter, they wouldn't be talking about it. But if we find stories that clearly do not serve the purposes of the persons telling the story, we have a good indicator that the stories are (reasonably) disinterested.

Ehrman will proceed to show that there are numerous sources (at least 7) from near the time of Jesus (some within a decade); that they are extensive; and that they corroborate one another's accounts without having collaborated. But I don't remember his discussing their disinterestedness. I guess if I were going to take the mythicist position, this would probably be the weak link in the chain that I would try attacking.

And given that Ehrman himself rejects the resurrection story, and I think he rejects the miracle stories as well, one would want to know on what basis he rejects them, other than philosophical prejudice. I suspect he would point to their lack of "disinterestedness."

Update Two points: First, I remembered wrong on what exactly Ehrman claims about the historical sources. I better just quote him at length in a new post. Second, I'm not finished with the book, yet, and he's beginning to talk about he would call "disinteredness."

Monday, August 6, 2012

This Physicist Walks into an Ice Cream Parlor...


The quantum physics joke Penny tells the guys in tonight's episode was told to us by Nobel award-winning physicist, Dr. George Smoot. Penny tells it in about twenty seconds. Dr. Smoot's version probably took about three minutes, although it felt a lot longer. No one had the heart to tell him to get to the punch line, proving my hypothesis that in addition to time slowing down as you accelerate, it also grinds to a halt when you're being courteous to a genius.

Thanks for the joke, Doc!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bart Ehrman Asked about ME!

There I was reading along in professor Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist?, not suspecting for the world that he had ever given my existence a second thought, when out of nowhere there it was on page 39:

"How can we establish with reasonable probability that anyone from the past actually existed, whether our aforementioned Abraham Lincoln and Julius Caesar, or anyone else: Harry Truman, Charlemagne, Hypatia*, Jerome, Socrates, Anne Frank, or Bilbo Baggins?"

I read the passage again in disbelief and puzzlement. I'm humbled that he would include me among such notable historical figures, though I have no idea who Hypatia* was. But why did he refer to me as "from the past"? Hey professor Ehrman! I'm right here! How can you know? Try asking me! You know, like, "Hey Bilbo, do you exist?" Nu? What's so difficult about that?

*Update: I now know who Hypatia was. Misogyny and religious intolerance at their finest.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The 9/11 Truth and Reconciliation Movement

Back in November of 2008, David Ray Griffin called for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the idea being that we wanted the healing that comes from truth, not revenge. My Democratic friend expressed the view that right-wing extremists were behind the 9/11 Truth movement. I suspect that his opinion is one that is shared by many. I suggest that the best way to put this accusation to rest is to change the name of our movement from simply "9/11 Truth" to "9/11 Truth and Reconciliation."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Argument for Voting

I've been in correspondence with a friend of mine who is actively involved in the Democratic party.  Naturally he disagrees with my decision not to vote, largely because he knows that if I voted it would most likely be for Democrats.  He thinks that 9/11 Truthers are a bunch of cranks.  One of his arguments was that if there was any truth to the idea that 9/11 was an inside job, the media would have exposed the conspiracy long ago.  I pointed out to him that except for a few rare cases the media have not even written about or televised the collapse of WTC 7.

But then I added, "If a Democrat had been in office when 9/11 occurred, the media would have made the collapse of WTC 7 their lead story every night."

Afterwards I thought about what I had written. I don't buy the crap about having a "liberal news media." We have a media that report whatever is good for business. Since at least FDR the media have thought that Democrats are bad for business and they do what they can to make Democrats look bad.

Now if you want a free press, a press that is willing to take on politicians in power, then you want Democrats in power. If 9/11 was indeed an "inside job," then it is much less likely that it would have happened with a Democrat in the White House. The press would have eaten him for lunch.

So I'm rethinking whether or not to vote.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

July 21st was Anniversary of Danny Jowenko's Death

Dutch controlled demolition expert  Danny Jowenko died in a car crash a year ago this past July 21st.  When first shown video of the collapse of WTC7 Jowenko immediately acknowledged it was a controlled demolition.  Only afterwards was he told that it was WTC7 and that it happened on 9/11.  He was shocked, but continued to maintain that it was indeed a controlled demolition.  I'm not sure, but I think he was first shown the video in 2006.  So was his death an accident?   I'll always wonder.