Friday, November 2, 2018

Noble Lies and Ancient Literacy

Dr. Barrie Wilson once mentioned to me that a checkmark against the Noble Lie theory of Christian Origins is that the original Christians wouldn't have been familiar with the Noble Lies of such texts as Plato's Republic because they were illiterate peasants.

Leaving aside that Plato's Republic was the most well known text in the ancient world (and so the idea of Noble Lies may certainly have been floating around the ancient world), I think Wilson greatly underestimates literacy in the ancient world.  Larry Hurtado comments that:

The particular importance of graffiti is that they don’t likely reflect the activities of “elites,” but more likely people of lower/various social levels.  One can’t imagine Cicero stopping to write graffiti!  But also graffiti seem to have been addressed to similarly diverse social levels, with the expectation that various/many passersby would be able to stop and read them.  As the cited studies observe, this all means that, at least in urban settings, some meaningful levels of literacy were much more common that some have previously asserted.
To bring this around to the focus of this blog site, the NT and origins of Christianity, these studies reinforce the view that early Christian circles were rather “bookish,” as I’ve described them in my book, Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor Univ Press, 2016), 105-41.  Right from the first decades onward, Christians read, composed, copied and circulated texts on an impressive scale, given the small number of Christians at the time.  So, with all due regard for “orality” and the ancient appreciation of the spoken word, in early Christian circles (as, actually, in the larger Roman-era world of the time), texts were central as well.  For an excellent introduction to the matter, I recommend (as I have frequently) Harry Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
And anyway, you don't need to be aware of literary precedence to lie.  As Carrier says:
Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.
For an outline of the Noble Lie model of Christian Origins, see here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Re-Visiting Noble Lies and Christian Origins

I outlined The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

It's interesting to think about the original Christians inventing the idea that there were resurrection appearances of Jesus because they thought that lie would help make a better society.  After all, Paul said:

"If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" (1 Cor 15:32)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Happy Halloween: The Phenomenology of Evil and Popular Culture

- The Principle of Reason: "To be" means to stand in relation to a "ground." - Ἓν καὶ Πᾶν 

- "A rose is without a why.  It blooms because it blooms (Angelus Silesius)."

Given that it is the season when The Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch (cf. Charles Schultz), I wanted to make a few remarks about Evil in popular culture.

To reiterate what I said in a previous post:

(1) Palpatine in Star Wars:  I just wanted to take a moment to emphasize the genius of Emperor Palpatine, the strategies of whom over all the Star Wars prequels resulted in Palpatine taking over, not merely a country or a world, but an entire Galaxy.

Obi wan summed up that: "He was deceived by a lie. We all were. It appears that the Chancellor is behind everything, including the war. Palpatine is the Sith Lord we've been looking for."

Palpatine's genius was Machiavellian in scope.  George Lucas said Palpatine is an Anti-Christ type.  Palpatine wanted absolute control through deception.  If Palpatine were a blogger, he would come up with a blog post like this: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html


(2) The Joker in Batman: Consider these apt descriptions of The Joker's personality in the Heath Ledger portrayal movie:


(A) Alfred says: 

“...some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

(B) The Joker says:

 Joker: "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know...I just do things. The mob has plans. The cops have plans. Gordon's got plans. You know...they're schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth.  It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. And, uh, look where that got you.  I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look at what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmm? You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan"... even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I told the press that, like, a gang-banger will get shot, or a truck load of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die... well, then everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy.  Upset the established order, then everything becomes...chaos.  I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair."

Unlike Palpatine, who's Evil wanted absolute control, the Joker's Evil wanted absolute chaos.  
But what are we to say of the villain Michael Myers in the Halloween movie?  Michael is unique in that he has no back story.  There are many theories as to why he kills, but no one knows because Michael doesn't speak.  We could multiply plausible explanations indefinitely!

Schelling would say Palpatine and The Joker have sunken lower than animals because of their Evil.  But what about Michael Meyers?  

And even with Palpatine and The Joker, does a villain's ability to articulate the ground of his/her depravity  mean they are correct about their goals/motivations?  Might not there be unconscious psychological, social, genetic, etc factors the criminal doesn't realize?  The Joker is insane, after all!

Conversely, to be sure, people take credit for what they see as their own benevolence and restraint, but might we offer that because we have not walked a mile in the criminal's shoes (lived their unique circumstances, genetics, culture, family, etc), that we might say it's at least possible that but for the grace of God, we might be sitting in that prison cell with a thirty year sentence?  Recall Heath Ledger's Joker who brought a ship full of "decent people" to the brink of blowing up another ship full of people!

Postmodern Ethics humbly suggests we have a little compassion for the villains this Halloween season!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Difference Between Evil And Chaos: The Genius Of Palpatine / The Beauty Of The Joker


(1) Palpatine in Star Wars:  I just wanted to take a moment to admire the genius of Emperor Palpatine, the strategies of whom over all the Star Wars prequels resulted in Palpatine taking over, not merely a country or a world, but an entire Galaxy.

Obi wan summed up that: "He was deceived by a lie. We all were. It appears that the Chancellor is behind everything, including the war. Palpatine is the Sith Lord we've been looking for."

Palpatine's genius was Machiavellian in scope.  George Lucas said Palpatine is an Anti-Christ type.  Palpatine wanted absolute control through deception.  If Palpatine were a blogger, he would come up with a blog post like this: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

(2) The Joker in Batman: Consider these beautiful descriptions of The Joker's personality in the Heath Ledger portrayal movie:

(A) Alfred says: 

“...some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

(B) The Joker says:

 Joker: Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know...I just do things. The mob has plans. The cops have plans. Gordon's got plans. You know...they're schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth.  It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. And, uh, look where that got you.  I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look at what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan"... even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I told the press that, like, a gang-banger will get shot, or a truck load of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die... well, then everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy.  Upset the established order, then everything becomes...chaos.  I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair.

Brief Aside: Star Trek TNG's Captain Picard on The Essence of Human Passion


Q says in Star Trek TNG regarding the essence of humanity:
"You see, of all species, yours cannot abide stagnation. Change is at the heart of what you are."

In Star Trek TNG, Picard delineates the essence of Being-Human quite well in this quote from Shakespeare:

Q: Perhaps maybe a little, uh, Hamlet?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony, I say with conviction: "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!"
Q: Surely, you don't see your species like that, do you?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I see us one day becoming that, Q. Is it that which concerns you?

But what lies behind this vision?  Is there perhaps a flight from the boredom and tedium of the everyday?  Consider when Q transforms Picard's life into that of an ordinary person of no notable station: 

Lt. J.G. Jean-Luc Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?
Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?
Lt. J.G. Jean-Luc Picard: I can't live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion... and imagination! That is not who *I* am!

The Q saw the potential of humanity, but also the danger. In TNG, Q and Riker discussed that humanity would not tolerate stagnation - that change was fundamental to what humanity was. This flame would propel humanity indefinitely, even perhaps to a greater height than the Q themselves. But the Q saw the danger of humanity. At the end of the line, as we learned from the Q Philosopher Quinn in Star Trek Voyager, there was the potential for profound tedium where an omnipotent entity will eventually see everything and be everything countless times. The result? The Q Philosopher Quinn wanted the right to commit suicide. If humanity evolved as far as the Q or past the Q, how would humanity reconcile this boredom with their desire for change and novelty? Would humanity rather not exist in such a state, like Quinn? Or, out of anger at the tedium, would humanity rage and decide to annihilate reality and itself?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Postmodernism And Biblical Hermeneutics

Postmodernism and Biblical Hermeneutics is an interesting issue.

I think we have to be careful about drawing conclusions about the sources for stories based on the content of those stories. For example, consider the Temple Cleansing story and the plethora of possible source-explanations for it.  The historical verisimilitude of the story is in question because there would have been guards at the temple specifically to prevent such a disturbance as Jesus is depicted as starting.  So:
(1) Maybe the story is accurate and Jesus caused a small disturbance at the temple that didn't alert the guards..
(2) On the other hand, maybe the episode never happened, because there would have been guards there to prevent such a disturbance. Maybe Mark was part of an anti-temple sect like the Qumran sect and so was presenting in the story the idea that just as it was no longer the season for figs (the withering of the fig tree story), so too was it no longer season for the temple (the temple tantrum being sandwiched between the fig story).
(3) Maybe the story started out as a sermon Jesus liked to give about the corruption of the temple, and that sermon simply morphed over time into the temple cleansing episode that Mark inherited.
(4) Maybe the temple cleansing episode started out as a dream someone had about Jesus, which morphed, over time, into the temple tantrum story that was passed down to Mark.
(5) Maybe Mark was apologetically justifying after the fact that the Jews really didn't need the temple, in the wake of its destruction by the Romans
(6) And this could go on indefinitely ...
Anyway, postmodernism's point is that when we draw conclusions about sources that lie behind narratives we need to be very careful, because often times our choices can just be wishful, lazy thinking.

There's nothing new in the postmodern approach of those like Derrida (deconstruction) and Heidegger (destruktion). For instance, Kant is going to find something in Hume's philosophy that is going to threaten to overthrow Hume's position. Deconstruction comes about when something a System is trying to appropriate resists, and threatens to overthrow the system. For instance, there is going to be something about LGBTQ rights/love that is going to threaten to overthrow the traditional definition of marriage, and cause that definition to be "de-constructed," and then provisionally "re-constructed" in a more inclusive way. As Derrida says, Deconstruction is Justice. The methodology is very old. It's what Socrates did going around Athens and testing/questioning people's definitions. 

Sometimes when we are in the Meaning Making Process (in hermeneutics generally, not just biblical hermeneutics), there is polysemia, especially when the evidence is scant and ambiguous. My favorite example is by American Philosopher John Searle. Searle offered the following thought experiment:
"I was walking by the beautiful, bright window with an adorable dog peeking through. I wanted it." - Searle asks: Does the person want the dog or the window?
People sometimes confuse the idea that there is an objectively right answer (the person EITHER wants the dog OR the window), with the problem of whether we can epistemologically be confident in the scenario we choose as correct.

Hermenteutics involves humbly proposing a model that explains the evidence, and deals with any apparent recalcitrant evidence. But we must always accept that some of the evidence may be ambiguous and thus open to multiple interpretations.
Of course, this isn't the same as saying anything goes (e.g., claiming a reasonable explanation of the evidence is that the tomb was empty because Jesus was beamed up into space by aliens and the disciples were then regaled by the aliens with holographic images of Jesus, lol).

And I think we should acknowledge the issue that multiple attestation doesn't necessarily mean independent attestation. For instance, the "Love Commandment" is present in all four Gospels, and Paul. Maybe this is because the Historical Jesus taught Love over purity. On the other hand, an emphasis on love in Matthew doesn't mean an independent source, since Matthew read Mark. And, an emphasis on Love in John may simply mean John read one or some of the synoptics, or that some of the ideas from the synoptics were floating around John's community when John wrote. As for the presence of the Love Commandment in Paul, maybe this goes back to the historical Jesus, or maybe it was Paul's invention and Mark (having read Paul, or Paul's ideas just floating around when Mark wrote) put Paul's love commandment on Jesus' lips. Or, maybe Cephas and the gang came up with the love commandment after Jesus died, and this is how Paul was exposed to the Love Commandment. And these plausible scenarios could go on indefinitely - as Postmodernism points out. 

Postmodernism rallies against the conception of Truth as certainty, freedom from doubt (birthed from Thomas to Luther, and canonized in Descartes), and operates by not being satisfied with what seems "obvious," and trying to restore weight to ignored, marginalized, alternative paths. Didier Franck provides a useful summary of the genesis of modernism (the transition of verum into certum): “No doubt, Descartes transferred to the cogito what Saint Thomas, who placed certainty of faith above that of knowledge, attributed to divine science alone.” Further, Descartes took as his model Luther’s characterization of what had to be certain: certainty as freedom from doubt regarding the salvation of the soul, which left Descartes with the cogito as certain, that is, free from doubt. From there modernism blossomed beyond the antinomies of Kant (EITHER/OR), the dialectic of Hegel (BOTH/AND), and finally into postmodernism with destruktion/deconstruction of Heidegger and Derrida (NEITHER/NOR)

I think the goal of Postmodernism is fundamentally ethical. As we begin to deconstruct the "obviousness/certainty" of our beliefs, ignored, marginalized voices are given space to emerge, grow and flourish. 

Postmodernism is basically about testing our assumptions to see if there are perspectives which are unfairly marginalized. For instance,in the past, and to somewhat of a degree today, it was "obvious" that that marriage was between one man and one woman. Over time, voices called out for the traditional understanding of marriage to be deconstructed because it was marginalizing LGBTQ individuals, and so marriage is beginning to be deconstructed/reconstructed in a more inclusive manner. Still, even this new definition may need to be retooled to include Poly-relationships (e.g., polyamory, polygamy, etc.).

Derrida says that when we choose (an action, an interpretation, etc.), it is a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, because in deciding to choose there is never enough time, precedence, information, because we can always be wrong, and there is the possibility of unintended violence. The point is to make our choices in humility, and always be ready to revise and refine our positions if new information comes to light.  I don't  mean that any interpretation goes - like, as I said, the tomb was empty because aliens beamed up Jesus' body and then the aliens regaled the disciples with holograms of Jesus, lol. My point was just one about humility and responsibility in our choices.  And sometimes the evidence is more scant and ambiguous than we realize, and so polysemia can be a real possibility in certain cases.  

Of course, a further problem is that Jesus never wrote anything, so the issue arises, for example, how do we tell when Mark's Jesus represents the historical Jesus, and when Mark simply hijacks Jesus and uses Jesus as a mouthpiece for Mark's theology/purposes.  Philosophers encounter a similar problem when they try to entangle the historical Socrates from Early Plato.

So too do we need to be careful when we, as Ehrman does, infer that a writer has new sources because there is material unique to his gospel.  For instance, as Carrier points out, there is new information communicated about Moses from later writers outside canonical sources, but we would not infer these later writers had new sources that went back to Moses.  Similarly, it would be a paralogism to conclude that just because Luke has material unique to his Gospel, that this material reflects a unique source - let alone one that goes back to the historical Jesus (especially given the way we know Luke invents material for Acts, given that we can fact-check Acts against Paul's letters - much is assumed, for instance in Mark, because we have no documents to fact-check Mark against).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Religion as "Noble Lie" in the new animated movie "Smallfoot"

Speaking of religion in popular culture, I saw the animated movie "Smallfoot" at the theater on Sunday, and it was all about a clan of Bigfoot (Yeti) who lived in a society based on religious practices that were deliberately, fraudulently set up to keep the Yeti happy and separated from humankind. Nicely, the chief skeptic in the Yeti society was a Bigfoot called MeeChee (rhymes with Nietzsche). Great animated movie for kids!