Monday, June 29, 2009

Atheist Summer Camp: "Let me come home, if you miss me. I would even let Aunt Bertha hug and kiss me. "

Keep repeating to yourself: "Atheism is not a religion, atheism is not a religion, ..."

51 comments:

Lee said...

Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." Without Jesus, it's just "Suffer the little children," isn't it?

Makarios said...

Rather than giving children ten pounds if they can prove a negative, why not give them a trillion pounds if they can prove the positive atheist creed:
Everything can come from nothing by Natural means?

Richard Day said...

Ken Ham can open a museum based on his religion and Richard Dawkins can contribute to a summer camp based on his irreligion. So what?

It seems to me that fundamentalist Christians and convinced Atheists make the same mistake: They think they know.

My creator gave me a heart and a brain.

Lee said...

> It seems to me that fundamentalist Christians and convinced Atheists make the same mistake: They think they know.

We all act as though believe in things that we don't really know. It seems to you, for example, that Ham and Dawkins "make the same mistake."

What makes you think both of them are wrong?

What makes anyone think there is something to know?

What makes anyone think that, if there is something to know, we can possibly know it?

If we shouldn't presume a belief in God, or a belief in no god, what should we presume a belief in? That logic is some sort of an authority? That reason itself a valid? That a moral code exists that ought to be obeyed?

Says who?

If physics is all that there is, we have no reason not to consider the possibility that all these things that cannot be seen and cannot be explained naturalistically -- logic, reason, morality, even knowledge itself -- are mere conceits. Perhaps we are simply being deluded by the chemical and electrical impulses in our brains to believe these things exist in an objective sense.

Perhaps, if someone could know enough about physics, someone could have predicted the precise contents of our current posts a thousand years ago. Hey, if everything is physics and physics is everything, there is no reason to doubt that the future would be an extrapolation of the past and present.

So basically, we're all in the same boat as Dawkins and Ham. We all believe in things we can't prove, and act as if the things we think we know are important and real.

Thomas said...

On the similarity of atheists and fundamentalists: it often strikes me that they read the Bible in exactly the same way, it's just the one likes what they read, and the other doesn't. Both are unlikely to consider the nature of ancient genres of literature, the intent of the author, or the exegetical traditions of the church,; both are under the strange impression (historically speaking) that Christians must believe that every word of the Bible corresponds to an accurate, historical state of affairs, and does so in a straightforward way.

Lee said...

> On the similarity of atheists and fundamentalists: it often strikes me that they read the Bible in exactly the same way, it's just the one likes what they read, and the other doesn't.

Our church has an "officer's training course" which consists of a study of the Westminster Confession which goes on weekly for several months. A couple of years ago, two of our participants were a new couple to our church, who happened to be from a Baptist background, or some other Arminian denomination. The wife in particular was not taking readily to Reformed theology, and was prone to argue with our pastor on any number of points. Pastor Wally actually delights in such discussion, but clearly, the lady was not delighted, as she lost point after point, week after week. Finally, she closed her Bible on her lap with some exasperation, and proclaimed, "I don't *like* this theology!"

Pastor Wally had the perfect answer: "Nobody likes it. But it's our task to figure out what's it's telling, whether we like what it says or not."

All of which to say, it strikes me that the important part of this statement -- "it often strikes me that they read the Bible in exactly the same way" -- is not the part that says, "they read the Bible in exactly the same way," but the part that says, "It strikes me...."

> Both are unlikely to consider the nature of ancient genres of literature, the intent of the author, or the exegetical traditions of the church,

Well, you know, Tom, it's easy to throw stones when you never show your own cards. How many of these exchanges have we had? How many times have I asked you, what is the source of your own theological authority? I forget. But I haven't forgotten how many times I have received an answer to that question: zero.

> both are under the strange impression (historically speaking) that Christians must believe that every word of the Bible corresponds to an accurate, historical state of affairs, and does so in a straightforward way.

Explain why it's a "strange impression" instead of an obedient response to the revealed word of God.

And if you don't believe in it, why you feel compelled to tell those who do believe in it that they're wrong? On whose authority?

Thomas said...

"How many times have I asked you, what is the source of your own theological authority? I forget."

I fail to see how this has any effect on the force of my argument; if I'm a Catholic does that make my arguments invalid whereas if I'm a Presbyterian they would be just fine? If it helps, I'm sympathetic to Christian theology as it was developed from Christ's lifetime by Christ himself to about the ninth century, and then I start to get picky: I like parts of medieval theology, parts of later Byzantine theology, parts of modern theology. I don't make a leap of faith to say these things are epistemological starting points beyond proof or disproof.

"Explain why it's a "strange impression" instead of an obedient response to the revealed word of God."

Historically strange, as I said; I just mean this in the sense that the idea that Christians must believe each word of the Bible to exactly correspond in a straightforward way to an objective state of affairs in reality is one unknown until the rise of the fundamentalist movement. Gregory of Nyssa, to use a famous example, is quite comfortable saying that God did not kill the first children in Egypt as an historical fact, for God is not a murderer of children; but we ought instead to take the higher meaning: that the firstborn of evil (anger, lust, etc) must be killed off to prevent their propagation into acts of evil. Such sentiments were the rule among theologians for longer than a millennium. Fundamentalism arose during the period of modern philosophy, heavily influenced by Cartesian doubt, and very late in the game of Christian theology. Even among Christians today, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most mainline Protestant denominations (this is the vast majority of Christendom) don't accept the fundamentalist view of inerrency.

Lee said...

> I fail to see how this has any effect on the force of my argument; if I'm a Catholic does that make my arguments invalid whereas if I'm a Presbyterian they would be just fine?

It's sort of in the same class as an attorney asking the judge if he can treat the person on the stand as a hostile witness. It's always nice to know where someone is coming from. And it's courteous, I think, to reveal one's beliefs when taking potshots at another's.

But so far, I haven't seen an argument, simply a suggestion that Christian fundamentalists approach the Bible incorrectly. Since there has been no argument to this point, there is nothing to grapple with. I'm just passing the time until you make one.

> If it helps, I'm sympathetic to Christian theology as it was developed from Christ's lifetime by Christ himself to about the ninth century, and then I start to get picky: I like parts of medieval theology, parts of later Byzantine theology, parts of modern theology.

Well, that's fine, but what do you consider authoritative? The Bible? Apparently not. The Pope? Certain theologians? Your personal tastes?

> I don't make a leap of faith to say these things are epistemological starting points beyond proof or disproof.

Then it sounds like you are not a believer. It's sort of a requirement of the faith that one needs to have faith. If that is the case, believing in the Bible as the source of God's revealed truth is no sillier than believing anything else about God.

As for the Bible itself, Christian fundamentalists may be more nuanced than you give them credit for. I know that the pastors at my church, for example, are quite aware of the context, meaning, and intentions of the Biblical scriptures and their authors. I don't see how it could be otherwise, if the sermons are going to carry any weight.

As hard as Calvinist theology seems to some, Reformed theology does not make the mistake of assuming that you have to believe things exactly the way we do to acquire a saving grace. God saves whomever He chooses.

Anonymous said...

If someone were to have their first sexual experience at that camp, would it be against the rules to cry out, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God...?

Thomas said...

"...simply a suggestion that Christian fundamentalists approach the Bible incorrectly."

I didn't say incorrectly, I said they approach the Bible in much the same way as the "neo-atheists" do, without taking into account the way Christians have taken up the Bible over the years. I think this might signify that both read the Bible in a peculiarly modern way, with modern suppositions about how a religious book might be true. Do you deny that Richard Dawkins reads the Bible in a way similar (not necessarily identical) to modern fundamentalists.

"It's sort of a requirement of the faith that one needs to have faith."

We probably mean different things by faith: I don't regard faith as an absolute acceptance of something that rules out doubt or honest critical examination, or that takes one text to be true and attempts to use it as an absolute epistemological starting point upon which a metaphysics might be built; both these ways of thinking seem unique to the modern period--the latter is simply Cartesian. Thus Dostoevsky could say that his faith was fired in the forge of doubt, and Augustine could assert that one ought not believe what is clearly false either to sensory experience or in science (philosophy in his day).

"Well, that's fine, but what do you consider authoritative?"

I'm not sure what you mean by authoritative. If you simply mean normative for the Christian faith, I'd say first and foremost the life of Christ, especially as it reveals the Father; but additionally the Apostle's and the Nicene Creed, the Scriptures, the oecumenical councils, all as they are taken up in the life of the Church in its historical concreteness. If one rejects these, or accepts them in a way exclusive of the way they have been traditionally understood, then one stands outside the norm of that it means to be a Christian; but this does not mean that one is necessarily wrong.

Martin Cothran said...

Richard,

The point of the post was simply to observe the inconsistency between saying your belief is not a religion and at the same time adorning your belief with all the trappings of a religion.

I'm not sure I would take my skepticism as far as you appear to take yours. Pascal articulated a useful principle: "We know too much to be dogmatists--and tol little to be skeptics.

Everyone has dogmas. As long as we know what they are, we can think clearly and understand each other. The problem with atheism is that its adherents have dogmas and claim they don't.

Lee said...

> Historically strange, as I said; I just mean this in the sense that the idea that Christians must believe each word of the Bible to exactly correspond in a straightforward way to an objective state of affairs in reality is one unknown until the rise of the fundamentalist movement.

I guess that would depend on what you consider "fundamentalist." I've been called fundamentalist many times, and I don't eschew the label, but to be more precise, I consider myself a Calvinist. That may predate what you call the "rise of the fundamentalist movement."

I simply take fundamentalist to mean someone who considers the Bible to be the inerrant authority. It doesn't mean all fundamentalists extract the same meaning from the Bible, only that it is in the words of the Bible that differences need to be resolved.

> Gregory of Nyssa, to use a famous example, is quite comfortable saying that God did not kill the first children in Egypt as an historical fact, for God is not a murderer of children;

And I would ask Mr. Nyssa who died and made him the authority on such matters? God is the giver and ultimately the taker of life, and there are many instances throughout the Bible where He takes lives, even the lives of children. What evidence does he have to show he is the authority, and the words of the scriptures are not?

And if the scriptures are not authoritative, why does he believe in any of it? Forget about whether he believes God "murdered" the firstborn of Egypt -- why does he believe there was ever a confrontation between Moses and Pharoah in the first place?

> but we ought instead to take the higher meaning: that the firstborn of evil (anger, lust, etc) must be killed off to prevent their propagation into acts of evil.

What clues can you point to in the Biblical accounts of the Exodus from Egypt that tip us off to the mere allegorical nature of those passages? It sure *reads* like it's telling a factual tale.

It sounds to me more like people who interpret the Bible in such a manner are simply refusing to accept the parts of it that they don't like, and so somehow feel licensed to change it. "This is what the Bible is really saying," translates as "This is what the Bible should say," or "This is what the Bible would say if I had written it."

> Such sentiments were the rule among theologians for longer than a millennium. Fundamentalism arose during the period of modern philosophy, heavily influenced by Cartesian doubt, and very late in the game of Christian theology.

Which really matters not. What matters is, who's right?

> Even among Christians today, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most mainline Protestant denominations (this is the vast majority of Christendom) don't accept the fundamentalist view of inerrency.

When the Bible says one thing and the mainstream pastor says another, I am interested in a great many things. The first thing I'm interested in finding out is by what authority the pastor rejects what the Bible is telling him. Where is it written which parts of the Bible are true, and which aren't? You see the problem? All of a sudden, we have no authority. The pastor himself, by cherry-picking the Bible, becomes his own authority.

I respect the words of an ordained man of the cloth for one reason, and one reason only: the Bible grants him a certain authority. If he uses it to bring the authority of the Bible into question, then he has also undermined any reason I might have had to listen to what he's telling me.

Lee said...

> Do you deny that Richard Dawkins reads the Bible in a way similar (not necessarily identical) to modern fundamentalists.

I doubt that he does. He was baptized as an Anglican, and Anglicans aren't real big on fundamentalist interpretation. He probably cherry-picks the Bible like most other main-streamers, when and if he considers it at all.

> Augustine could assert that one ought not believe what is clearly false either to sensory experience or in science (philosophy in his day).

Why would anyone think science or philosophy is authoritative? For something that is supposed to be authoritative, it sure changes its mind a lot. Paul gives stern warnings about trusting the wisdom of man. But I suppose it's easy enough to cherry-pick those admonitions away too, since we've already introduced that concept as a legitimate approach to Biblical interpretation.

> I'm not sure what you mean by authoritative

I mean, who or what do you trust to give you the straight scoop on what is true and what is right? If you believe Jesus was God Incarnate, that He was crucified for our sins and resurrected in triumph, whose word do you take for it?

> If you simply mean normative for the Christian faith, I'd say first and foremost the life of Christ, especially as it reveals the Father;

Whose word do we take for it that Christ's life was something worth emulating? Or that the Father even exists?

> but additionally the Apostle's and the Nicene Creed, the Scriptures, the oecumenical councils, all as they are taken up in the life of the Church in its historical concreteness.

Were they just a bunch of guys who got together and thought of something plausible to tell the rubes? Or did they dig their truths out of something that can be trusted?

> If one rejects these, or accepts them in a way exclusive of the way they have been traditionally understood, then one stands outside the norm of that it means to be a Christian; but this does not mean that one is necessarily wrong.

Well, don't I feel lonesome and excluded! Well, I would, except in the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that He too considers "Moses and the Prophets" -- that's the Old Testament to you and me -- to be authoritative.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

"I guess that would depend on what you consider 'fundamentalist.'"

Wikipedia is a good place to go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist_Christianity

"God is the giver and ultimately the taker of life, and there are many instances throughout the Bible where He takes lives, even the lives of children. What evidence does he have to show he is the authority, and the words of the scriptures are not?"

Gregory makes an argument, and so he does not need to appeal to authority (that would involve an ad hominem fallacy). He argues that because God is good and loving, he does not kill children for their parent's (or their ruler's sins). You may think that God's goodness is compatible with the murder of children, and on that point I can only say that God's goodness is indistinguishable from evil. To paraphrase the theologian David Bentley Hart: if God is beyond moral good and evil, he is simply evil.

"What clues can you point to in the Biblical accounts of the Exodus from Egypt that tip us off to the mere allegorical nature of those passages?"

You'd have to read "The Life of Moses". It is a good book, and you can find it on CCEL (though I'd suggest just buying a cheap copy off of amazon). That's not the point of the example: the point is that a rigorous literal reading of the Bible is an historical anomaly, that Gregory's assertion was not controversial but fairly standard. Your approach and your questions about "authority" (as though a book cannot contain insignificant errors and still be authoritative) are thoroughly determined by modern suppositions, primarily a form of Cartesianism.

Christians over history and even today have not felt the need to regard the Bible as a book full of propositions which all correspond straightforwardly to an objective situation in reality, this is simply a fact. Prior to the advent of Protestantism, tradition served as the lens through which the Bible was interpreted in all its litarary multiplicities (even the Reformers usually regarded tradition as being somewhat authoritative). A text does not provide its own interpretive framework, as it is by definition external to the text itself, and the life of the Church in which the Scriptures were situated, functioned as the interpretive framework.

As to Richard Dawkins, you obviously have not read the God Delusion; he does believe Christians are obliged to read the Bible literally.

"[What is authoritative is] who or what do you trust to give you the straight scoop on what is true and what is right?"

If that's the case, then my local minister, Chris Rock, and quite often TV's "South Park" are authoritative; if you're going to keep invoking "on whose authority" I thought you'd have a more illuminating definition than that.

And anyway, your preoccupation with authority has no place in a philosophic debate anyway; the only authority is the truth and force of the arguments or observations employed--like I said, invoking authority commits the as hominem fallacy. In theology, this still applies, though one ought to defer a bit to people like St Gregory (an esteemed bishop who combated Eunomius after the demise of his equally famous brother, St. Basil) who do have authority; nevertheless, if Gregory makes a bad argument, one can point it out. Asking for the authority of someone who makes an argument does not demonstrate an understanding of how a philosophic/theological dialectic works.

Lee said...

> Gregory makes an argument, and so he does not need to appeal to authority (that would involve an ad hominem fallacy).

I think you mean argumentum ad verecundiam. But I don't think theological arguments play by those rules, Tom. If God says something, it is true. If God tells you to do something, you ought to do it. If the Bible is His revealed word, it is authoritative.

> He argues that because God is good and loving, he does not kill children for their parent's (or their ruler's sins).

And I would argue that the Bible says He did exactly that, therefore his argument, such as it is, is one man's attempt to make the Bible say something it doesn't.

See Exodus 34. The sins of the parents do indeed get visited on the children, and the children's children. By no means are the guilty left unpunished.

Examples abound throughout the Old Testament. You can't do better than the one in I Samuel 15, wherein King Saul is ordered to wipe out the Amalekites, men, women, children, even animals.

The Lord is the giver of life, and the taker of life. I am amazed, sometimes, at how this simple concept causes so much consternation among the humanistic denominations.

More later. Gotta go to work.

Lee said...

> And anyway, your preoccupation with authority has no place in a philosophic debate anyway...

Nonsense. Even in philosophical debate, *something* is authoritative. If two guys are wrangling over philosophical issues, there is no reason for them even to engage unless both are in agreement that there is a set of rules which stands over the both of them. In philosophy, we generally refer to these rules as 'logic' or 'rationality', but in any event our arguments are for naught if these rules are not authoritative over the discussion. We appeal to these rules whenever we wish to show that an utterance is not merely our opinion, but adheres to truth, as it were, on some sort of higher plane than our conceits and prejudices.

In theology, an appeal to logic cannot trump an appeal to the Lord's authority. After all, did logic create the Lord? Or did the Lord create logic?

Lee said...

> After all, did logic create the Lord? Or did the Lord create logic?

Probably a poorly chosen word -- 'create'. I would posit that logic is an aspect of His character, not an invention, as it were. In any event, the Lord is the source of it, and if it is not an aspect of His character, then it's a mere creation and no higher than we are.

I have had several go-arounds on Martin's blog with a very learned gentleman, an atheist or agnostic, who argued that logic can exist without God. I don't see how, but at least he did understand that it must be at a higher plane than we are for it to hold authority over us.

Lee said...

> As to Richard Dawkins, you obviously have not read the God Delusion; he does believe Christians are obliged to read the Bible literally.

There is still a difference between the way Dawkins and fundamentalist Christians read the Bible.

When a Christian reads the Bible, he should ask the Lord for understanding. There is no understanding, without the Holy Spirit. He should be in awe of what he reads. He should go in, convinced that there are truths that it contains, and ask the Lord to reveal these truths. He needs to go in with a certain amount of faith that the things that strike him as hard, improbable, or even cruel are in fact just and merciful, but just hard for us to accept.

When Dawkins reads the Bible, he's not looking for any of that. He's looking for gotchas. He's looking for ways to discredit it. He's looking for ways to discredit Christianity. As a result, I don't expect him to explore its meaning the same way that, say, Aquinas would explore the meaning of Charles Darwin's writings. Aquinas would try to do his level best to present Darwin's argument to his readers in good faith, and then level any criticisms he may have. That's not what Richard Dawkins does.

Thomas said...

"I think you mean argumentum ad verecundiam."

The argument from authority is a species of the ad hominem fallacy.

"If God says something, it is true."

And if someone says God says something, is that also beyond proof or disproof? I am not arguing that the Bible is not authoritative for Christians; I simply accept tradition and the practice of the Church (the former articulates the latter) as its interpretive framework. You might prefer another, such as the work of Calvin, or other post-enlightenment theologians, but I would point out this stands at odds with the normative Christian understanding of scriptural interpretation. The question is not about whether the Bible is true, but the mode of its truth. Traditionally the Bible has been understood to be true because it reveals the Son of God, and through him the Father; this requires a non-literal reading of the Old Testament as a shadow of things to come, where Israel must be re-imagined as the Church, where Egypt stands for paganism, and so on. The advent of Christ actually requires the reading of the Old Testament to be non-literal, for though he fulfilled the expectations of the prophets, he also exceeded them in a radical way. The Old Testament writers foretold the savior of a nation, what they got was the savior of the cosmos.

"The Lord is the giver of life, and the taker of life. I am amazed, sometimes, at how this simple concept causes so much consternation among the humanistic denominations."

I have enough confidence in your decency that I believe you would not hold this to be true if you were present when an ancient Israelite murdered an infant in front of her mother.

The life of the body of Christ serves as the context in which I try to understand the Bible, and so my reading of such Old Testament stories requires that I understand them as a foretaste of the trial and travails of the followers of Christ. Your interpretive framework seems to consist of an historiographical reading, divorced from the way Christ's own body on earth has understood the text.

I believe our difference on the Bible lies in our understanding of what truth is (and so: how a text can be true); my view, I would argue, draws on the idea of truth which was largely lost in the shift to modernism. I've made this argument before here: http://tearingdownthemaskofmaya.blogspot.com/2008/03/biblical-truth-and-modern-biblical.html

"Even in philosophical debate, *something* is authoritative."

Certainly, in philosophical debates some things generally hold, such as the rules of logic; however, those things do not do so quite on the basis of their own "authority", but on either their apodictic nature or on the fact that without these things, philosophic discussion cannot occur. I suppose if we were to look for an authority in philosophy, it would be that which is true; but then again, philosophy takes up the question of truth as one unsettled. Authority seems like a strange way to talk about the rules of logic anyway, since authority tends to be personal; but if you wish to use the term simply as that to which one might appeal, or something that holds in a discussion, I suppose that works. Your use of it is too imprecise.

"There is still a difference between the way Dawkins and fundamentalist Christians read the Bible."

You are correct in that the fundamentalist reads the Bible as an act of devotion and the atheist (sometimes) as a means of ridicule; I did not observe that their approach the the Bible and their reaction to it was identical, but that the way in which the Bible ought to be read -- outside of the tradition in which it is situated and of which it is a part -- is similar.

Lee said...

> The argument from authority is a species of the ad hominem fallacy.

Don't think so, Tom, though they are related. My text (Werkmeister) says they are both forms of begging the question.

Wiki says verecundiam is the inverse of hominem.

Lee said...

>> "If God says something, it is true."

> And if someone says God says something, is that also beyond proof or disproof?

Well, that's sort of the point. I am not the one who said God killed the firstborn of Egypt at the time of the Passover. I'm well aware that *my* utterances aren't authoritative. The Bible said it, not me. It doesn't read like an allegory; it reads like journalism. See for yourself, Exodus 12:29-30:

> "At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead."

If there is a clue in there that the author of Exodus is writing figuratively, I must admit, it is too subtle for me to see.

Why not provide some sort of general rule (i.e., an authority) for identifying ostensibly objective passages that are really intended to be interpreted allegorically? Something more objective than, say, Gregory thinks God would never do that, so it must not have happened that way.

Because, if there are no rules, then the Biblical revisionist himself becomes the authority. God did such a poor job, apparently, of giving us His word that he needs the Biblical revisionist to explain what it really should have said, and contradicting its plain words wherever necessary.

It's a form of saying, "I am God."

Lee said...

> I am not arguing that the Bible is not authoritative for Christians; I simply accept tradition and the practice of the Church (the former articulates the latter) as its interpretive framework.

Fine, so your authority is the Pope. I have plenty of Catholic relatives, and one thing they love to do is to quote the Bible at me, to prove the Catholic Church is God's legitimate church, because Jesus is quoted as saying Peter is "the rock" upon which He shall build His church.

And I'm fine with that, really. Because then I ask them, "Do I have this straight? You're proving to me that the Bible is not authoritative by quoting the Bible?"

> You might prefer another, such as the work of Calvin, or other post-enlightenment theologians, but I would point out this stands at odds with the normative Christian understanding of scriptural interpretation.

Normative? In what sense? It's outside the Catholic Church's idea of normative, fine. But then, the Catholic Church thought it was just fine and dandy to sell indulgences and relics. That's why the Reformation happened in the first place. The Catholic Church was also perfectly content to persecute people who tried to put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people. In short, Calvin and Luther and others prominent in the Reformation didn't like the Catholic Church's ideas of what "normative" meant.

I'm not saying there wasn't a cost involved: we have lost Church unity. A tragedy of epic proportions.

Lee said...

> The question is not about whether the Bible is true, but the mode of its truth. Traditionally the Bible has been understood to be true because it reveals the Son of God, and through him the Father; this requires a non-literal reading of the Old Testament as a shadow of things to come, where Israel must be re-imagined as the Church, where Egypt stands for paganism, and so on.

But there is no other evidence of Jesus's teachings aside from the Bible. Calvinists treat the scriptures as authoritative because Jesus treated the scriptures as authoritative. He quoted from practically every book in the Bible, and in no point challenged its authoritativeness, claiming He was the fulfillment of scripture. Jesus didn't quote from the Old Testament in a way that suggested He thought it was something to be taken non-literally.

> The advent of Christ actually requires the reading of the Old Testament to be non-literal, for though he fulfilled the expectations of the prophets, he also exceeded them in a radical way.

The second part of the statement does not follow from the first. I too believe Christ fulfilled the prophecies in a radical way. But that's consistent with God's entire m.o., going all the way back to Genesis.

> The Old Testament writers foretold the savior of a nation, what they got was the savior of the cosmos.

The Old Testament writers provided clues that their Messiah would be a savior of all nations, e.g.,

Isaiah 11:10 (NIV) In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

Isaiah 42:1 (NIV) "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations

Lee said...

> I have enough confidence in your decency that I believe you would not hold this to be true if you were present when an ancient Israelite murdered an infant in front of her mother.

I'm not sure here who your argument is with. Are you arguing with me because the Bible says something you don't like? I didn't write the Bible, I'm just trying to understand it.

Forget about the idea of God killing the firstborn of Egypt -- why does God permit death at all? Plenty of babies die in childbirth. Is God therefore not loving?

I think what we're seeing here is a basic difference of understanding about human nature.

I don't profess to know your theology very well, but I could infer (based on your writings) that you think we're born into this world innocent and allow the world to corrupt us. Thus, we are born undeserving of Hell and our job is to keep submitting ourselves to a cleaning process, paid by Jesus's sacrifice, so that perhaps we may be judged worthy of Heaven someday.

That's not how Calvinists see it. We are born into this world as victims of original sin. We are born guilty. We are born deserving Hell. As Paul wrote, "None are righteous; no, not one." "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." We are already condemned because of our sin. But through Jesus's sacrifice, the Lord is merciful and imputes Jesus' righteousness to His people, not through any claim of merit on our part, but as an act of pure grace.

Seen in this light, death is a blessing. Without death, the most sinful people in history would still be around to torture us. Imagine a world in which Belshazzar, Alexander, Nero, Caligula, Attila, Genghis Khan, the Borgias, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot would not just still be with us, but would have the benefit of centuries of knowledge and experience to use against the rest of us.

Egypt was in thrall to a horrible, horrifying cult of death, and it maintained a godless civilization of oppression and misery for thousands of years. Perhaps those children would have grown up to perpetuate that culture for another three or four thousand years. But as things turned out, it only lasted about a thousand years longer (after Moses), torn down finally, and mercifully, by the Greeks. Maybe that was God's perspective.

I don't pretend to know that this particular thing was what God was thinking. But I do know that Exodus says, unequivocally, God killed the firstborn of Egypt. Instead of living in denial, maybe we should just apply in good faith His principles and find the justice in what He did.

Lee said...

> The life of the body of Christ serves as the context in which I try to understand the Bible, and so my reading of such Old Testament stories requires that I understand them as a foretaste of the trial and travails of the followers of Christ.

So why did Christ quote the Old Testament as if it meant something objective?

> Your interpretive framework seems to consist of an historiographical reading, divorced from the way Christ's own body on earth has understood the text.

Just pointing out, Tom: that was an appeal to authority. The way "Christ's own body on earth has understood the text" is apparently more authoritative than the scriptures -- which, by the way, stipulate, among other things, the form that should be taken by "Christ's own body on earth."

I think Christ's church is a work in progress, if that's what you're getting at. In any event, I would much rather place my faith in the scriptures Christ Himself treated as authoritative, than to place it with frail institutions built by human beings. Not to say Christ Himself hasn't been involved in building His Church, but we certainly know that we humans still get things wrong on occasion. That's why it is so important to have the Word of the Lord as our ultimate authority. We can misinterpret it, but we can't change it or its real meaning.

> Certainly, in philosophical debates some things generally hold, such as the rules of logic; however, those things do not do so quite on the basis of their own "authority", but on either their apodictic nature or on the fact that without these things, philosophic discussion cannot occur.

Yes, we do quote on the basis of their authority. You tried earlier in the discussion to hold me to a standard that you thought was broken when I employed a logical error ("ad hominem"). You were saying, in effect, "Your argument is fallacious, and here is the rule -- i.e., the authority." Never mind that I think you were citing the wrong rule, and that it was in fact inapplicable -- you were still appealing to an authority.

If I say "water is not composed of hydrogen and oxygen," you could (plan A) come to my house with a few devices and electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, and lead me slowly and painfully with reason and evidence to accept and acknowledge my error. In this case, reason and evidence would be your authority.

Or, you could simply (plan B) cite a chemistry textbook and point out that approximately 100% of the chemists on the planet, past and present, disagree with me. This would be similar to ad verecundiam, but in fact would be a real time-saver, and in the real world, argument based on (legitimate) authority is permitted (even if not in the world of formal logic).

But in religious matters, Plan A is not readily available to us. You can't come to my house with a "God" machine and prove I'm wrong with reason and evidence.

So then, Plan B would be to invoke an authority that we both accept (Plan B.1), or to show me that I am attending to the wrong authority Plan B.2).

In this discussion, you are attempting Plan B.2. I cite the Bible; you cite tradition and "mainstream understanding."

Lee said...

> I suppose if we were to look for an authority in philosophy, it would be that which is true; but then again, philosophy takes up the question of truth as one unsettled. Authority seems like a strange way to talk about the rules of logic anyway, since authority tends to be personal;

Authority, as I have used the word, is a standard by which something is judged. It needs to be greater than we are, or it doesn't have jurisdiction.

> but if you wish to use the term simply as that to which one might appeal, or something that holds in a discussion, I suppose that works. Your use of it is too imprecise.

So is your criticism of it, if that's all you have to say about it.

> You are correct in that the fundamentalist reads the Bible as an act of devotion and the atheist (sometimes) as a means of ridicule; I did not observe that their approach the the Bible and their reaction to it was identical, but that the way in which the Bible ought to be read -- outside of the tradition in which it is situated and of which it is a part -- is similar.

An atheist cannot read the Bible the same way a believer does. There is no understanding of its truths without the Holy Spirit working in the reader. In our natural state, we are, as Paul said, "dead in sin." You have to submit to the Lord and have faith that the Bible is His revealed Word before you can understand any part of what it says.

In fact, I would go so far as to say many mainstreamers reject many of the truths in the Bible because somehow the atheists have shamed them into being sheepish about it. Sort of a search for some form of intellectual respectability. Which is a vain pursuit, in my view. Paul warned the "Greeks" (i.e., the philosophers) would see Christianity as "foolishness." At least that is one thing since Paul's time that hasn't changed. We will never be intellectually respectable to the philosophically inclined. Time to quit worrying about what man thinks, and start worrying about what God thinks.

Thomas said...

Lee,
This is the first sentence of the "ad hominem" entry on wikipedia:

"An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the man", "argument against the man") consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim."

Authority is a characteristic of a person, ergo an appeal to authority falls under the ad hominem fallacy.

Not quite sure why you're arguing about whether you regularly commit one fallacy or another when you continue your rather bizarre demand for someone's authority when they make an argument.

Thomas said...

"Why not provide some sort of general rule (i.e., an authority) for identifying ostensibly objective passages that are really intended to be interpreted allegorically? Something more objective than, say, Gregory thinks God would never do that, so it must not have happened that way."

I've already said this repeatedly. The Bible ought to be understood Christologically, that is, in light of Christ--and by extension his body.

You are laboring under the curious delusion that somehow if something is not true as a work of historiography, it is not true in any way, or else that historical truths are higher than metaphorical truths; both of which are false--and again I'll add: peculiarly modern. Truth is unconcealment, revelation, and this is why a fictional narrative can reveal more than a historical narrative.

When one interprets a text such as the Bible, which includes a number of different works, genres, and authors, one must have an interpretive framework for determining things such as what ought to be understood as historical, allegorical, binding, literature, etc., and this must be external to the text itself. Thus, in order to understand how to approach the Bible one necessarily relies on things outside the Bible such as the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the Magesterium, oneself, and so on. A book cannot be stripped of its context and expected to fully retain its meaning (I could only imagine what your exegesis of the Kama Sutra would look like), and I believe the original context of the production of the Bible was the Church and its historical situation. Thus, the life of the Church, which produced Scripture, stands epistemologically prior to Scripture (though it does not follow that it is ontologically prior, of course). In order to know how the Bible ought to be interpreted, one ought not strip it from its context, but read it from within its context, and so within tradition.

Thomas said...

"Authority, as I have used the word, is a standard by which something is judged. It needs to be greater than we are, or it doesn't have jurisdiction."

I hope you're not saying a standard must be ontologically prior to that to which it applies. I won't bother coming up with counter-examples, I'll just let you think about that for a while...

"Paul warned the "Greeks" (i.e., the philosophers) would see Christianity as "foolishness." At least that is one thing since Paul's time that hasn't changed. We will never be intellectually respectable to the philosophically inclined."

I'm sure you're just forgetting that both Paul and the author of the Gospel of John are Platonists, and explicitly so.

It seems that you believe that any context or interpretive framework for the Scriptures must somehow have "authority" over Scripture; however, this does not follow, for you are confusing epistemological and ontological priority. It is because of the manifold meanings of Scripture (the many ways it is true) are many that tradition is especially important; and whether you like it or not, Scripture is a part of the written tradition of the Church. One could even go so far as to say that Scripture refers to the whole of the written tradition of the Church, and that the works that the Church gathered into the Bible differ in degree of greatness, but not of kind, with other, less revered, scriptures.

Since I don't intend to compose a work on theodicy or refute Calvinism, I'll point you towards some resources:

On theodicy, you should read David Bentley Hart's "Doors of the Sea." (though, if you believe that a good being can murder a child justifiably, you may be beyond help)

On the exegesis of Exodus, I'd suggest Gregory of Nyssa's "Life of Moses".

On the development of tradition generally, I'd read Pelikan's first volume of Church History (not to be insulting, but it seems you're not familiar with the subject).

And quite honestly, I'm starting to doubt your first hand acquaintance with Calvin... have you read the Institutes?

Lee said...

> This is the first sentence of the "ad hominem" entry on wikipedia:

Did you look up "argumentum ad verecundiam"?

Lee said...

> Not quite sure why you're arguing about whether you regularly commit one fallacy or another when you continue your rather bizarre demand for someone's authority when they make an argument.

Well, Tom, there are two possibilities: I'm confused, or you're confused. Let's start there.

As usual, you brought up the issue of confusion yourself. The first mention in this thread of "ad hominem" was when you said,

> [Thomas]: "Gregory makes an argument, and so he does not need to appeal to authority (that would involve an ad hominem fallacy). He argues that because God is good and loving, he does not kill children for their parent's (or their ruler's sins)."

It was a response to this, which I said:

> Lee: "What evidence does he have to show he is the authority, and the words of the scriptures are not?"

I had taken it as for granted that, in any discussion about what is good, some sort of religious justification -- i.e., an authority -- would need to be consulted. But you construed that as a personal attack on Gregory.

And maybe at some level it is, but it is not *merely* a personal attack. The issue is that the Book of Exodus says one thing, and Gregory says another. They can't both be right. The author of the Book of Exodus is lying, or Gregory is mistaken. If what I said about Gregory was a personal attack, then what sort of an attack was Gregory's statement against the author of Exodus?

So now, if you want to know what really happened to Egypt's firstborn at the time of Moses, the question becomes, who speaks with more authority: the Book of Exodus or Gregory? It's a legitimate question.

All religions are based on authority. We take somebody's word for it that we are being given the straight scoop. "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe." But somebody has to tell us, doesn't he? We didn't see Jesus crucified, and then speak to Him afterward and touch His wounds. So if somebody is going to tell me about it, it had better be somebody I consider to be an authority. I wouldn't believe it if just anybody told it to me. That goes for all of the stories in scripture.

Lee said...

>> "Why not provide some sort of general rule (i.e., an authority) for identifying ostensibly objective passages that are really intended to be interpreted allegorically? Something more objective than, say, Gregory thinks God would never do that, so it must not have happened that way."

> I've already said this repeatedly. The Bible ought to be understood Christologically, that is, in light of Christ--and by extension his body.

Sorry, but that is not a method. What does it mean to read the Bible by "extending his body"? What's the rule, and how can it be used? "When the scripture says this, it's fine; when the scripture says this, it's wrong; when the scripture says this, it's fine." That's not a method; that's chaos.

Atheists often complain that the problem with the Bible is that you can read into it anything you choose. I would submit that your, er, method of reading it is more vulnerable to their criticism than Calvin's -- because there is no sure way of knowing which parts of scripture are literal, which parts are figurative, and which parts were just made up.

And what prevents us from using the same, er, method to read the New Testament accounts of Christ's life? "That part about loving one's neighbor? That sounds good; it's a keeper. That part about people being banished from God's presence and the weeping and gnashing of teeth? That's a bit much, we certainly won't stress that. That part about being raised from the dead? Well, you know, that seems a bit of an exaggeration, don't you think?"

> You are laboring under the curious delusion that somehow if something is not true as a work of historiography, it is not true in any way, or else that historical truths are higher than metaphorical truths; both of which are false--and again I'll add: peculiarly modern.

Let's keep this simple, shall we? The author of Exodus relayed a true event, or he relayed a falsehood. What sort of higher truth is served by relaying falsehood?

> Truth is unconcealment, revelation, and this is why a fictional narrative can reveal more than a historical narrative.

The author of fiction usually reveals that he is writing fiction. Where did the author of Exodus reveal he was writing fiction?

Thomas said...

Lee,

I'll make this simple for you: an ad hominem argument replies to the characteristics of the person making the argument, rather than the merits of the argument itself. Authority is a characteristic of a person, and so it logically follows that if one appeals to that characteristic (concerning himself with the man and not the argument, thus "ad hominem") then one commits the ad hominem fallacy in this sense. Not sure why that's so hard for you, that's what it literally means "to the man".

Typically the term is used to refer to attacks, but that is not its exclusive meaning.

Thomas said...

"The issue is that the Book of Exodus says one thing, and Gregory says another. They can't both be right. The author of the Book of Exodus is lying, or Gregory is mistaken."

You are reading Exodus in a very shallow way. Ironically, I'd suggest you read Calvin on just this point; he's sophisticated enough to realize that a work can be true on a number of levels, but doesn't need to be always true on one of those levels. If Gregory (and practically the entire Church, including those of the Reformed confession--again, read Calvin) say that the hidden, higher meaning of Exodus lies in its archetype of Israel as the Church, they are not saying one thing, while the text says another; rather, they take the text to be true in a higher, fuller sense. Truth is not primarily objective correspondence, otherwise poetry and hyperbole would be false.

"> I've already said this repeatedly. The Bible ought to be understood Christologically, that is, in light of Christ--and by extension his body.

Sorry, but that is not a method. What does it mean to read the Bible by "extending his body"?"

As to "by extension, his body", I'm just going to let you read that again.

As to reading the text Christologically not being a method... again, have you read Calvin? Even a little? That's exactly what he does (Book II, Chapter 7 of the Institutes). This is the same Calvin who invoked the Church fathers in support of his positions, and by your strange notion of authority, this means that he considered them an authority.

Lee said...

> I'll make this simple for you: an ad hominem argument replies to the characteristics of the person making the argument, rather than the merits of the argument itself.

Your argument on this side-issue isn't with me, it's with the people who defined the terms.

My last word on the subject:

From W. H. Werkmeister, "An Introduction to Critical Thinking".

"10. Irrelevant evidence. -- In order to prove a point or to establish a conclusion, the evidence advanced in its support must always be relevant; that is, it must be directly related to the point at issue. All unrelated or extraneous matter is irrelevant. If such irrelevant matter is presented or accepted as 'evidence', the result is a fallacy of irrelevant evidence.

"10a. Argumentum ad Hominem. -- This is essentially an appeal involving the personal circumstances of the opponent, usually in an abusive way. Instead of attacking the proposition, theory, or bill submitted for consideration, this argument attacks the person who submits it...

"10d. Argumentum ad Verecundiam, or the appeal to authority. This fallacy arises from an attempt to justify or invalidate an idea by quoting some 'authority' -- some person or group of persons, some party, institution, or book -- in its support..."

Now that we have a lexicon, here is the remark I made that pulled the accusation of ad hominem out of you:

> Lee: "What evidence does [Gregory] have to show he is the authority, and the words of the scriptures are not?"

Your response:

> Thomas: "Gregory makes an argument, and so he does not need to appeal to authority (that would involve an ad hominem fallacy)."

...and later...

> Thomas: "Authority is a characteristic of a person, ergo an appeal to authority falls under the ad hominem fallacy."

It is not clear to me what you really meant in your first utterance, though when I first read it I thought you were accusing me of committing an ad hominem fallacy. If you weren't, then I apologize for the misunderstanding.

In the second remark, however, my only suggestion is that you brush up a bit on your logical-error taxonomy. Ad hominem and Ad verecundiam are clearly related fallacies, but they are not the same thing. An appeal to authority need not be ad hominem.

Regarding appealing to authority, however, Werkmeister goes on to say:

> "However, not all appeals to authority are irrelevant. When an expert is quoted is his own special field, his 'authority' is worth a great deal. But the value of such a quotation even in this case depends not so much on his 'say-so', but on the fact that in this particular field his knowledge is to be trusted more than our own. His knowledge and reasoning, however, are trustworthy only to the extent to which they can be checked and verified through established methods of analysis or experimentation."

And as I have said many times in this thread, authority is not an irrelevant appeal in religion, since we weren't witnesses to the miraculous events which gave birth to the Judeo-Christian religions.

Now, that's all I have to say on this subject.

Lee said...

> You are reading Exodus in a very shallow way. Ironically, I'd suggest you read Calvin on just this point; he's sophisticated enough to realize that a work can be true on a number of levels, but doesn't need to be always true on one of those levels.

You certainly don't need me to explain ad hominem to you, Thomas. Thanks so much for always never granting me the benefit of the doubt. You're sly about it, but it's in there.

"Shallow" or not, I don't see anything in Calvin that challenges the authenticity of the miracle cited in Exodus 12:29. In fact it reads to me that Calvin (Harmony of the Law, Vol. 1) is in straightforward agreement that this miracle happened precisely as Exodus states. In fact, he seems to take a rather dim view of those who question it.

And, by the way, you don't need to erect a straw man. I never said that the Bible couldn't be understood at many levels. That does not preclude interpreting it as factual in those cases where it presents itself as factual.

Thomas said...

You don't need a lexicon when you can translate the Latin; and formally, there is no distinction between attacking someone's personal characteristics or lauding them.

I'm aware Calvin thinks of God's infanticide literally; my point was that your claim that a "Christological" reading didn't seem to be viable would apply to Calvin's reading of the Old Testament... and virtually every other Christian theologian.

"I never said that the Bible couldn't be understood at many levels. That does not preclude interpreting it as factual in those cases where it presents itself as factual."

If the Bible is true on many levels, then there is not a simple dichotomy between true and false, wherein the truth of the text depends on only one level of truth (the historical). If a chapter is false as a matter of history, even if it presents itself as historical, this does not mean it is false in an unqualified way; in fact, what is historically false may be true in a higher way.

Anyway, the decision about what ought to be read literally must be made extra-textually (unless you wish to take some of Jesus' parables literally, or parts of Revelation); and anyway, Scripture is one kind of tradition among others. Again, context is everything.

Lee said...

> You don't need a lexicon when you can translate the Latin;

I didn't challenge your skill at Latin, just your application of the definitions in question.

> and formally, there is no distinction between attacking someone's personal characteristics or lauding them.

From now on, you should just interpret everything I say "Christologically"; if you think I'm factually incorrect, just remember that I'm serving a higher truth. Not realizing that the things I am saying could be true on many different levels, you mistakenly focus on my perceived inaccuracies. Such a reading seems awfully unsophisticated and shallow.

> I'm aware Calvin thinks of God's infanticide literally

So Calvin and I are in agreement, but somehow the way Calvin interprets scripture is an admonition to me. Go figure.

> my point was that your claim that a "Christological" reading didn't seem to be viable would apply to Calvin's reading of the Old Testament

I wanted to know how it works. If you meant by "Christologically" that the Old Testament needs to be read with an understanding of what Christ brings to the table, I'm fine with that. In fact, it's pretty much what our pastors and elders instruct us to do. The best guide for interpreting the Bible is the Bible; the entire Bible is treated as inerrant and self-referential, and to understand one part requires you to understand all of the contexts in which the ideas in a given passage are presented throughout.

That means, if Christ said something that seems relevant to an old account, you can't understand one passage without understanding the other.

I just don't see how this gives us license to pronounce that Exodus 12:29 didn't happen the way it said -- or any other part of the Old Testament that we might not like.

The nature of truth is that, sometimes, it tells us things we don't want to hear. The question is, do we make the scriptures get right by us? Or do we get right by the scriptures?

Which is to say, go ahead and consider that the problem here is me: fine, I'm just too shallow and unsophisticated to understand scripture the right (i.e., the Thomas) way. Go ahead and stroke that part of your ego that needs to feel superior. We're way beyond salvaging your good opinion of me, anyway. And by all means, continue to perfect your method of decrying ad hominem even while practicing it on your opponent.

But also consider this: If you are forced to view the Exodus passage (or the many others like it) as non-factual in order to square it with your concept of Christ, maybe, just maybe, it's your concept of Christ that needs work.

> If the Bible is true on many levels, then there is not a simple dichotomy between true and false, wherein the truth of the text depends on only one level of truth (the historical).

If passages that purport themselves to be fact are not fact, I'm just asking what possible good a falsehood can be on any level. It sounds too much like something Dan Rather would say: fake, but accurate.

If something represented as fact is not fact, how can any other level of truth be served?

How many other fields of endeavor base major truths on an assembly of falsehoods?

> Anyway, the decision about what ought to be read literally must be made extra-textually

So, if you're looking for truth in the Bible, you have to look outside the Bible...?

Lee said...

> When one interprets a text such as the Bible, which includes a number of different works, genres, and authors, one must have an interpretive framework for determining things such as what ought to be understood as historical, allegorical, binding, literature, etc., and this must be external to the text itself.

Putting this aside for a minute, this is not the method Gregory employed (by your recounting) to dismiss the idea of a factual interpretation of Exodus 12. As you presented his proposition, killing children is not what the Lord does, ergo it must be factually in error and any truth it contains must therefore exist on a higher plane.

I think there is an essential difference between interpreting -- understanding the Bible in terms of the overall context -- and using the interpretive framework as a sort of "deus ex machina" to rescue one's concept of Christ from the words spoken in a plain and simple Biblical narrative.

The Lord, of course, takes the lives of children all the time. Every day. Every second. We are all born into this world owing Him a death. Not one of us knows when or where it suits the Lord to do this. Children die in childbirth. Children die of illness. If the Lord is sovereign, He has numbered the days of our lives, and takes lives as it suits Him.

So if you take the view that Exodus 12 has to be factually inaccurate in order to square with Christ's teachings, you have a lot more than just that to harmonize, but numerous other such statements throughout the Old Testament as well. The judgments against the Canaanites (I would suppose I Samuel 15's factual credentials would need to be sacrificed to maintain that view); the judgments on Sodom, Babylon, the Assyrian destruction of Israel; the Babylonian destruction of Judea; the destruction of both Babylon and Judea. Even in the New Testament, there are similar passages warning of judgment. One school of thought on the Book of Revelation, for example, is that John was prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem. It certainly squares with the timeline given by Christ ("this generation shall not pass away until these things come to pass"), and His foretelling of the fate of the Temple ("not a stone will be standing").

An awful lot of children died to make those prophesies come true.

So, then, to waltz in and simply proclaim that it couldn't be factual because a loving God just doesn't do those things would be to cast into doubt not just Exodus 12, but much of the Old Testament and some of the New Testament.

This doesn't sound like interpretation, external frameworks of interpretation or not.

It sounds a lot more like good old fashioned, plain and simple denial.

> A book cannot be stripped of its context and expected to fully retain its meaning

The Bible, cannot have its plain words contradicted over and over again and be expected to retain its authority. If the Word of the Lord is not perfect, as He is, it is no authority, and there is no reason to believe in any of it, not even the parts we want to believe in. Paul said, for example, that if the physical resurrection did not happen, Christians of all people are the most to be pitied. I have actually heard a Methodist pastor contradict Paul from the pulpit on that. Well, why not? If we get to alter the narrative whenever it doesn't fit our world view, why not challenge the notion of Christ's resurrection? Why not challenge the veracity of one of Jesus' most respected apostles?

> (I could only imagine what your exegesis of the Kama Sutra would look like)

Is the Kama Sutra to be treated the same as God's revealed word? If someone gets to make the Bible say anything he wants it to say, I guess I don't see why not.

Lee said...

> ...and I believe the original context of the production of the Bible was the Church and its historical situation.

It depends on what you mean by "Church". The Jews certainly had the Old Testament and (depending on which of the factions you sided with) treated its books as authoritative. In the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man appeals to Abraham, asking if he could go warn his brothers about Hell. Abraham dismisses this: "They already have Moses and the prophets." Moses and the prophets = Old Testament scriptures. In this parable and in other passages, Jesus acknowledges their authority. "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."

Every word of God. Even the ones we don't like.

> Thus, the life of the Church, which produced Scripture, stands epistemologically prior to Scripture (though it does not follow that it is ontologically prior, of course).

The question here is whether or not the scriptures are the Lord's revealed word. If that is the case, then by whatever mechanism the Bible was assembled, the mechanism was the tool and the Bible the authority. The Lord can create a perfect work even from the hands of imperfect man. This was necessary because man's own wisdom is not to be trusted. We need the truth to be written down, so that its meaning may not be obscured by the words of man.

> In order to know how the Bible ought to be interpreted, one ought not strip it from its context, but read it from within its context, and so within tradition.

Spoken like a Catholic. This places a lot of responsibility in the hands of fallen man. He tends to mess that up. And (straw man alert), once again, I'm not arguing that context is unimportant. I'm arguing against handwaving. I've invited you to explain what it is about the context of Exodus 12 that makes it non-factual, and your response is simply that it doesn't jive with your concept of Christ. I don't remember seeing any arguments from context.

Thomas said...

Let's go over the points that should now be settled that are at the core of our debate:

Reading the Bible out of the context of the written and spoken tradition of the Church, in a fundamentalist way, is historically strange, in that it is not the norm for Christians even today, much less historically.

Reading the Old Testament Christologically is viable as a method, as even Calvin realized, and has been the traditional way to read the Old Testament. (On this point I can only ask you to actually study the theologian you claim to follow)

The point of contention seems not to be that this is the historical norm, but whether it is true or binding for Christians. I am not committed to reading the Bible the "Thomas way", but the way in which the body of Christ reads the Bible; you are committed to reading the Bible the "Lee way".

Any time one comes to the text, one already has presumptions about the text and belongs to a wider context, and these always are external to the text; one may decide to "let the clear passages interpret the unclear passages", to read aloud with the Scriptures as they are read in Church, to read by oneself as a work of literal history, and so on. These are always determined in advance, and are prior to the text.

You may decide that the best way to read Scripture consists of reading all the passages literally that can be read literally, letting the others be allegories or poetry, and do this on your own; however, you can never ground these techniques in a reading from Scripture. This does not mean that you set up these hermeneutical methods as superior to the text itself, but it does mean these cannot be defended by appealing to your reading of Scripture, since that takes place only under the very conditions you try to defend. For instance, you presume the principle of non-contradiction prior to reading the Bible, for even if that were in the Bible (it's not really), by quoting as proof, you've already presumed the contradictory reading impossible (you might ask if you are setting the rules of logic in a position of authority over the Bible). Your approach, the context in which you read the Bible, must be defended separately; and you can either appeal to your own authority as a person, to another person, or to an institution.

Though you may like to think that you don't depend on the Church to make fundamental decisions about the Bible, you already do. The book you claim that stands on its own contains within it nocomprehensive list of books that should be considered Scripture; the reason you consider James Scriptural and the Shepherd of Hermas unscriptural depends upon the decision of the Church as an institution to include these books and exclude others. After all, what authority can you appeal to in order to defend the claim that the Gospel of John is canonical and the Gospel of Thomas is not? Appealing to the text, even if a list were included, begs the question. So you have already depended on the Body of Christ to declare what can be included as Scripture, whether you like it or not.

You claim that the Church is the work of man, incomplete and fallible, while the Bible is the work of God; surely the irony has not escaped you that the Bible itself is the work of human authors, and though is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit animates the Body of Christ as well. The Scriptures do not say that it itself is the pillar and ground of truth, but that the Church is--though maybe you would like to insert your theological agenda here despite its actual absence. Or you might just not read that literally. Both the Bible and the Church have a share in humanity and divinity.

Thomas said...

Anyway, the Bible is one form among others of written tradition, which itself belongs to a wider tradition (including oral tradition and ritual practice); to say that one particular kind of tradition is qualitatively distinct from another kind is certainly not found in the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures are a part of a wider whole, and to sever the part from the whole alters that part at a basic level, changing its character fundamentally.

You must defend your extra-textual approach to Scripture (beginning with the criteria for what counts as Scripture, for I would consider the writings of the Saints to be Scripture as well), and I must defend mine. I stand with the weight of Christians over two millennia: you might wish to ask who it is that privileges their own reading over Christ himself, as articulated through his body.

By the way, the word of God primarily means the second person of the Trinity, and only secondarily the Scriptures (see the first chapter of John).

Lee said...

The claims that a fundamentalist reading is "historically strange" is simply to ignore a lot of history. How did someone come to God before Christ? This seems to be the way the Jews read the scriptures before the Catholic Church was even invented. Jesus never quoted the scriptures in an obviously figurative way, and He certainly quoted the scriptures a lot.

The Catholic way is to insist that priests are still necessary (Jesus is our high priest now, and does the intercession thing on our behalf -- see Hebrews), and that ordinary people are incapable of understanding the scriptures. This appeared, from a Reformed perspective, less about protecting people from their own ignorance than preserving the power and authority of the Church. Psalms 119:130: "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple."

> Reading the Old Testament Christologically is viable as a method...

I'm fine with that as long as "the method" can be specified. Read the Old Testament from the perspective that the Good News has been revealed? Absolutely. Invoke the word "Christological" as an incantation to keep from having to harmonize inconvenient Old Testament passages? Nope.

> ...as even Calvin realized...

As I pointed out, on the one specific example you brought up, Calvin came down on my side.

> ...and has been the traditional way to read the Old Testament.

For someone who doesn't believe in appealing to authority, you spend a lot of time appealing to authority. But then again, you do the same thing with ad hominem.

> (On this point I can only ask you to actually study the theologian you claim to follow)

As I was just saying.

> The point of contention seems not to be that this is the historical norm, but whether it is true or binding for Christians. I am not committed to reading the Bible the "Thomas way", but the way in which the body of Christ reads the Bible; you are committed to reading the Bible the "Lee way".

I say it's the "Thomas" way because there is no way to employ the scriptures to argue someone using your method out of his conclusions. The words of the scriptures have no authority if they contradict your understanding of Christ. The idea that the scriptures might be right and your understanding of Christ wrong never enters into it. That makes Thomas the authority. If you want to know what the scriptures mean, you have to ask Thomas.

But it's easy to argue me out of a mistaken interpretation: just use the scriptures. The pastors at my church have discovered I can be argued into an alternative view -- I became a Reformed Christian about four years ago, having been an Arminian-style evangelical fundamentalist before that. They didn't sneer at my ignorance; they didn't point to the Grand Tradition of Reformed Theology; they didn't use ill-defined terms and tout them as a method; they simply showed me what the Bible said. They were (I think) even gracious to diagram the differences in interpretive style (Reformed vs. Arminian vs. Catholic), and always did their best to present the other views in good faith.

Thomas said...

As to Calvin, I maintained that the Old Testament should be read Christologically, you assured me this was not possible, and I pointed out the rather embarrassing fact that Calvin himself does exactly this (I never said Calvin didn't take the story of God's infanticide literally). You seem to be under the impression that a method for reading the Bible turns the text into a finite set of straightforward propositions, when the fact is that a Christological reading yields a variety of (non-mutually exclusive) meanings.

Saying that I am in theological agreement with the tradition of the Church is hardly appealing to authority; as I said, the fact that a position is normative for Christianity does not necessarily entail that its true--this falls to the task of Christian rhetoric. However, if one claims to believe in the Bible, claims to believe that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, and nevertheless puts oneself in a position that opposes the normative position the Church has taken up, one is in a rather peculiar position. And when I mention, for example, Gregory of Nyssa's work on Moses, I don't expect you to believe it because Gregory is a saint, but because his arguments are compelling (I have better things to do than reproduce a poor summary for you to read in a blog combox, you'd just have to read the work -- freely available online -- for yourself).

You've attempted to dodge the main issue, the defense of your interpretive framework which is always epistemologically prior to your reading itself. The Bible cannot simply be shown free of decisions always already made about how it is to be taken up; for -- to paraphrase Scripture -- how shall someone understand it unless there is something to guide him. You may think certain passages should be taken literally, others not, but your criteria for such decisions are prior to your reading itself, and so cannot be defended on those terms. You yourself would make logic prior to the Bible in the principle of non-contradiction, and unless you take everything literally, you have an extrabiblical criteria for what to take literally and what not to. I've made my interpretive framework clear, and wouldn't mind defending it further. You haven't defended yours, you've simply assumed it. I'll even give you one of your own, from a Reformed perspective: Robert Jenson's online lectures entitled "Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture". (http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/robert-jenson-the-2009-burns-lectures-on-video/) It would be a good introduction to the basics of interpretive procedure, and the lectures are excellent.

And if your pastor told you Catholics think ordinary people are unable to understand Scripture, you ought to ask for your money back. I might as well say that Calvinists still burn anabaptists at the stake.

Lee said...

Thomas, you either didn't read this...

> I wanted to know how it works. If you meant by "Christologically" that the Old Testament needs to be read with an understanding of what Christ brings to the table, I'm fine with that.

I considered the term ill-defined, and not a method. Maybe an approach. But not a method. When someone makes a determination that a passage must be factually true or false in a book that is (otherwise) considered authoritative, there has to be some sort of method. How is the determination made? "Christological" cannot be an excuse for cutting wide swaths through the factual credentials of scripture, an incantation for brushing aside inconvenient statements. If there is a way to determine which passages are false, it needs to specified.

I hope now I've made my objections clearer, and that you will henceforth refrain from bearing false witness about my earlier questions about your use of the word "Christological." I trust that that particular Old Testament sin has not been "Christologicaly" left on the cutting room floor.

> Saying that I am in theological agreement with the tradition of the Church is hardly appealing to authority

So you deny that the Catholic Church claims that tradition is an authority? Wiki says:

> "Catholic beliefs are based on the deposit of Faith (containing both the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition) handed down from the time of the Apostles, which are interpreted by the Church's teaching authority."

Is Wiki wrong this time?

When you point out (repeatedly) that the fundamentalist reading is outside of Church tradition, you appear to be trying to sow doubt about its approach. That would make it an argument from authority. There's nothing wrong with arguing from authority in a religious debate; if you consider tradition a valid authority, I respect your belief even though I don't share it. I think I made that point much earlier in this thread.

My objection to its use as an authority is simply that traditions change, but the Lord does not. That's why it's important that the Word is written down. Once upon a time, it was okay for priests to marry; then, it wasn't. Which was theologically correct? Both? Once upon a time, it was wrong to eat meat on Friday; then, it was okay. What changed? The Lord's truth? Or tradition?

Thomas said...

Lee,

As to the issue of method, I said: "You seem to be under the impression that a method for reading the Bible turns the text into a finite set of straightforward propositions, when the fact is that a Christological reading yields a variety of (non-mutually exclusive) meanings."

The purpose of interpretive methods has not been so much to establish what should be taken literally and what should not be (really, the early church didn't seem particularly concerned with that aspect of the Old Testament), but how passages in the Old Testament foreshadow Christ's coming. The Old Testament does this in endless multiplicities of ways; even single passages can be read in different ways. The question of whether an historical record would correspond to what an objective observer might see if he were placed in that place or time doesn't seem terribly important.

For example, the passage in Exodus about the plagues obviously has its historical dimensions (you quite correctly point out that it doesn't seem to be allegory), but it also seems to involve a great deal of interpretation. The Israelites were largely preserved from the sufferings the Egyptians went through, and so they interpreted these events to say that God inflicted these sufferings (and deaths) upon the Egyptians for the sake of the Israelites freedoms. Whether as a matter of objective fact God actually directly murdered the first children stands beside the point for a Christian reader, for while the Israelites read events as speaking of the story of their nation, Christians read these events (and the recounting of these events) as foretelling the coming of Christ and the travails of his church; because of this, early theologians did not feel bound by the thinking of the Jews, but regarded the Jewish stories as containing a secret within it that would only be revealed with the advent of Christ. When the Christians appropriated the Old Testament for themselves, they did not argue the Jewish understanding of it was correct, but exactly the opposite. This makes the historicity of the Old Testament much less important than the historicity of the New.

Lee said...

A passage can have more than one meaning. What amazed me (and still does) earlier in this thread is the notion that one of these "meanings" we are supposed to consider is that Old Testament propositions of fact are in error.

I reject such a presumption -- but that, too, is a proposition that is non-mutually exclusive with the idea of a variety of meanings.

The Jews certainly seemed concerned with it. That's an older tradition than even the Catholic Church's. The Church, in any event, may have had an incentive not to play up the idea of literal interpretation, as so many Catholic traditions are not grounded in scripture. (In particular, the idea that a priesthood is necessary. See Hebrews.) At some point, the Catholic Church became interested in power, and its traditions seem particularly well-designed to hold onto it.

I'm quite familiar with the idea that the Old Testament foreshadows Christ's coming -- Jesus Himself explains that many times, and I embrace it. I don't know why this precludes a belief in the factual credentials of Old Testament writings.

Here's what an objective observer might say: Exodus 12 says the Lord killed the firstborn of Egypt; that's not what happened; therefore, the Book of Exodus bears false witness, which contradicts the Lord's commandments. If it's unreliable in the little things, such as getting facts straight, how reliable can it be on the big important things?

> Whether as a matter of objective fact God actually directly murdered the first children stands beside the point for a Christian reader...

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." Exodus 12 is the word of God. Therefore, every word is important. There is no such thing as "beside the point." It can acquire new meaning, but nobody said anything about the old meaning being lost.

> When the Christians appropriated the Old Testament for themselves, they did not argue the Jewish understanding of it was correct, but exactly the opposite.

How did someone come to God in the days before Christ? There are perhaps several ideas on that score. Our own denomination believes the pre-Christian world came to God the same way then as now: obey his commandments, repent our sins, and trust in His promises. The difference is that in the world before Christ, there was no sacrifice sufficient for the sins of the world, and what is for us faith in Jesus was for them perhaps a harder and more uncertain faith that the Lord would find a way to cleanse them.

Thomas said...

Lee,

Again, the word of God refers primarily to Christ himself, as it is in Christ we have life as Christians (literally, for we are within his body). And one might as well ask, can the body of Christ itself contain error?

As to whether one meaning of a verse can be in error, the answer is of course. Some kinds of meaning exclude others (history cannot be a parable, for instance). If you believe that the historical meaning has some sort of precedence over other meanings (the metaphor of the Church, let's say), let's see an argument in support of that. The meanings a text can offer cannot be separated from the sort of approach a reader has, and the context that reader finds himself situated in. You have still failed to defend your approach to Scripture as superior to the one followed traditionally, which, as I have argued, is not grounded in the text, but is prior to it.

Lee said...

> Again, the word of God refers primarily to Christ himself, as it is in Christ we have life as Christians (literally, for we are within his body). And one might as well ask, can the body of Christ itself contain error?

Sort of hiding here behind an amphiboly. Jesus is the Word; the scriptures are the word of God. In the passages where Jesus refers to the Old Testament, He says, "It is written..." or "Moses and the prophets." When He says, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God," He could have been referring to Himself, but then why use the plural? I see no evidence He was not referring to the written word of God.

> If you believe that the historical meaning has some sort of precedence over other meanings (the metaphor of the Church, let's say), let's see an argument in support of that.

I'm being asked again to support an argument I didn't make. I did not say the historical meaning has any sort of precedence over any other meaning. I said we should not lose the historical meaning. The only other meaning it necessarily has precedence over is any interpretation implying it is historically false. As for other metaphysical truth one can divine from the historical narrative, assemble the evidence and knock yourself out.

Thomas said...

"What amazed me (and still does) earlier in this thread is the notion that one of these "meanings" we are supposed to consider is that Old Testament propositions of fact are in error."

This can mean either of two things: that one of the sorts of meaning one might consider a passage of Scripture as does not hold (history, for example), or that the passage must be true in a historical sense or it is false. A passage may be said to be true in a higher sense even if it is false as a matter of objective history, or a passage might conversely be true as a matter of history, but be devoid of a higher sense of truth; or again a passage might be both true in the lower sense of history and the higher sense of prophecy or metaphor.

Even if an author's intended meaning with a text doesn't pan out the way he thinks it does (even if it is not correct in certain ways), this does not mean that the text is not true; after all, we believe the Bible to be inspired, and thus the shortcoming of an author's historical account does not necessarily rule out a different, more supreme sort of truth beyond the human author's comprehension. To say that the human author's original intent determines the truth of the text or the sense in which it ought to be taken would either rule out the inspiration of God, or make the human author God; I take the position that the human author stands under a higher author, whose intentions cannot be fully understood by the human author. Thus, to borrow from you, the human aspect of Scripture might fall short, but the divine aspect does not; and the latter sense determines the truth of the text. Thus, while the human intentions may err, God works over -- and sometimes through -- those errors.

How all this gets work out depends again on the context the reader chooses to read Scripture in, and the decisions made always already before the reading of Scripture. You seem comfortable uttering principles such as "a text should be read literally where it can be, but need not where it cannot be" and the like, but you don't seem keen on defending these points. Perhaps the discomfort comes from the realization that such principles must be taken up prior to one's reading of Scripture (and cannot be defended on the basis of Scripture itself), along with the realization that you also impose logical rules upon the text (the principle of non-contradiction). Perhaps I might ask you where your authority is for such principles, or else for a compelling argument in favor of your hermeneutical principles.

And as to the "word of God", "every" is obviously not necessarily plural in meaning, though it could be. The context is God's instructions to Moses concerning manna, itself clearly an archetype for the Lord's Supper. To say this refers to Scripture would be silly, the majority of Scripture had not been composed at the time, even of the Old Testament, and even Moses didn't appear to have written any of the Pentateuch yet. Given a little thought it's blasphemous to say it's Scripture anyway, since the Life God gives man is Christ and is through Christ, not the Bible (unless you're one of those people who thinks the Bible actually is Christ, at least in the KJV).