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34559Re: Sacred Texts ?

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  • rabagas
    Sep 30, 2007
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      Dear Albi,

      By way of reply, let me tell you an anecdote which is not a fable.
      I like Offenbach, and I was discussing Offenbach with a friend of
      mine who loves music, and is by profession a Professor of Logic and
      philosophy at a Public Ivy up in Massachusetts. We've been friends
      since childhood and my friend is argumentative, but very bright. He
      doesn't like Offenbach, and ventured the opinion that the music was
      superficially pretty but "not true." My response was: Music is
      neither true nor false, it's pleasant or unpleasant, harmonious or
      inharmonious,interesting or uninteresting,aesthetically pleasing or
      unpleasing, etc. My friend replied: Uh-oh you are too bright to
      fall for that one. I've used it on people who should know better a
      number of times.(He loves to put people on. ) Truth, in a logical
      sense, has nothing to do with the way we experience music.We respond
      to rhythm, to tone, to harmony, etc. And that seems to be your take
      on religion. If that is your position (correct me if I'm wrong) I
      really don't disagree with you. But it doesn't correlate with "truth"
      in any logical or factual sense.Unfortunately, the religious make
      claims that they contend are both factually and logically true.And
      that is where I part company with them. If they tell me a Gregorian
      chant is beautiful, I'll agree. Or a Catholic mass, or a gothic
      cathedral, or The Sistine Chapel, I won't argue that. But if they
      tell me the world was made in 7 days, and that Eve came from Adam's
      rib, and that the whole universe is 6-10 thousand years old, sorry, I
      don't agree at all.

      Rabagas




      In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@...> wrote:
      >
      > Rabagas,
      >
      > While an exploration of the world from the rational perspective is
      > powerful, will, no doubt, be responsible for a great deal of
      progress
      > in the world, and may go on for infinity given the apparent
      infinite
      > nature of the universe dimensionally and in an ever more micro
      scale,
      > the rational perspective is not the only system with which to enjoy
      > the universe and can be proven itself to be a house of cards.
      >
      > Rational thought does not create any of the wonderful theories that
      > it, itself, claims to have "proven". Rational thought only can be
      > used to reject theories which can be shown to produce one or more
      > seemingly irresolvable conflicts either within observable fact or
      > within other theories that have not yet been proven to have
      > irresolvable conflicts. Rational thought is dependent on recursive
      > comparison to itself or to observation.
      >
      > And observation, while western science likes to assume otherwise,
      is
      > never objective. Observation is always subjective.
      >
      > Now to circle this back to the topic of writing, most writers are
      > always trying to express the never before expressed. They find
      > similes, metaphors and allusions important tools to show
      similarity,
      > convergence, or just plain otherwise inexpressible thoughts and
      emotions.
      >
      > Take off your green eye shade. Put down your sharp pencil. Rub
      the
      > back of your neck, and take in the creative, magic, and emotively
      > based world for awhile, as this irrational world may satisfy parts
      of
      > your soul that have been looking for something.
      >
      > albi
      >
      > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas" <fratranquille@>
      wrote:
      > >
      > > Dear Albi,
      > >
      > > Thanks for the kind words, but the article is not mine, it's
      simply
      > > one I clipped while web surfing on the Arts and Letters Daily.
      If I
      > > find something interesting I clip it and post it in clubs I
      belong to
      > > in the hope of getting some discussion going. The professional
      > > quality of the grammar, etc. are not mine.
      > >
      > > Having said that, I think you raise some interesting points.
      > >
      > > Just briefly looking at your two points:
      > >
      > > Does the law of non-contradiction apply to sacred texts or at
      least
      > > throw their truth
      > > in question? We live in a world where rational logic (which is
      > > based on the law of non-contradiction) seems to apply. At least
      we
      > > like to think it does. So if we are suddenly confronted with a
      text
      > > that
      > > claims to be "true" we expect that it will not be contradictory,
      or
      > > if there is a contradiction, it's only apparent and can be
      explained
      > > away like some of the initial paradoxes in relativity theory.But
      if
      > > no amount of rationalization or puzzling will get rid of it,
      then we
      > > are unlikely to believe in its truth. That says something about
      us.
      > > Of course, there are people who like mystification who revel in
      > > contradictions and paradoxes without wanting to explain them. In
      > > fact they may see no need to explain them and essentially either
      > > discard reason, or in a more sinister way, use reason to defend
      the
      > > unreasonable.
      > >
      > > Your second point:Is reason an inherently biased approach
      against
      > > metaphorical expressions of truth ?
      > >
      > > Absolutely. Arguing by metaphor or analogy is a very insidious
      way
      > > of debate. A metaphor, to my mind, although it may be beautiful
      and
      > > poetic, and sometimes even convincing, basically is a way of
      begging
      > > the question.We are trying to talk about X, and a metaphor or
      > > analogy says, in effect: let's talk about Y. A metaphor is not
      > > subject to analysis, it is a conclusion or solution, offered
      instead
      > > of an argument. I have a friend who employs this method of
      argument
      > > constantly, and it's very maddening trying to argue with him
      because
      > > if you tear one apart, he'll retreat to another, ad
      infinitum.And
      > > while he's very clever and inventive at finding analogies, he
      > > manages to avoid subjecting his ideas to rational analysis which
      > > they would rarely (in my opinion) withstand. He just won't hold
      > > still long enough for the light of reason to shine in his murky
      > > mindset.
      > > I simply don't think there is any "truth" that cannot be
      expressed
      > > logically, and subjected to traditional logical forms.If it
      cannot
      > > be expressed logically, it simply isn't true. You cannot build
      a
      > > logical system or world view based on metaphors. They may be
      useful
      > > in filling gaps, but they are useful only when reason or science
      > > cannot offer a solution. Primitive peoples need to explain why
      the
      > > Sun comes up regularly, so they speak of Apollo in his chariot.
      But
      > > once they understand astronomy, Apollo in his chariot
      > > is no longer filling the gap in knowledge, he is, if taken
      > > literally, impeding it. There is no way of judging the truth of
      a
      > > metaphor.
      > >
      > > But that pretty much sums up where religion is: It demands
      belief
      > > regardless of whether it is self contradictory or not, and tries
      to
      > > convince by means that are simply not logical, without openly
      > > admitting that it is illogical.
      > >
      > > Rabagas
      > >
      > >
      > > In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@>
      wrote:
      > > >
      > > > Rabagas,
      > > >
      > > > I have almost always held off on commenting on your work
      because I
      > > > find everything you post here so smooth, logical, and
      > > comprehensive.
      > > > You must have an awesome editor, as well, because I can
      remember
      > > > finding nary an error of syntax, grammar, punctuation, etc.
      Not
      > > that
      > > > I'm well known for finding these contraventions of convention,
      > > however.
      > > >
      > > > But let me wade into the fray by suggesting some things you
      could
      > > add
      > > > to this piece. I hope this is your original work and not a
      > > > translation, so that potentially you could benefit from these
      > > suggestions.
      > > >
      > > > 1) Does contradiction really detract from the sacredness of
      > > texts?
      > > >
      > > > Even today's rational ethicists have difficulty developing
      simple
      > > > precepts that build a system that is internally consistent or
      that
      > > > adheres to say the legal system or widespread majority
      opinions in
      > > > society.
      > > >
      > > > Then there is the question: is lack of contradiction a
      necessary
      > > and
      > > > sufficient characteristic of sacredness or an indication of
      > > whether a
      > > > text is the word of God? Atheists, at least the ones that
      write,
      > > tend
      > > > to be drawn to the camp of rationality, which is based on the
      > > precept
      > > > that contradiction is either wrong or the result of incomplete
      > > > analysis. But this does not make rationality correct or mean
      that
      > > it
      > > > is a good system by which to run one's life.
      > > >
      > > > If a person starts with the assumption that contradiction is
      > > something
      > > > to be avoided or is incorrect, is it any surprise that one
      rejects
      > > any
      > > > other system that accepts contradiction?
      > > >
      > > > By the way, the practitioners of Zen believe simultaneously
      holding
      > > > contradictory thoughts is certainly a characteristic of a
      higher
      > > > consciousness, while these practitioners claim to be adherents
      of a
      > > > system that is not sacred or religious.
      > > >
      > > > 2) Are the literal words and directions given in sacred texts
      the
      > > > items to be judged, or is it the metaphors and allusions.
      > > >
      > > > When I read the new testament, I tend to focus on the parables
      of
      > > > Jesus. These parables purport to explain how God feels about
      > > humans,
      > > > how humans should feel about and approach God, and how humans
      > > should
      > > > treat other humans. The actual story in each parable has
      extremely
      > > > limited value or direct meaning. But the symbolism is far
      greater
      > > > than the sum of the parts.
      > > >
      > > > I find similar intangible impressions in other texts
      considered
      > > sacred
      > > > by adherents of other religions.
      > > >
      > > > Rationality is by definition poorly equipped to assess
      metaphors
      > > and
      > > > allusions.
      > > >
      > > > When I say to the woman I love, "I have thought of you more
      times
      > > than
      > > > there are grains of sand in the oceans." A rationalist would
      > > compute
      > > > a reasonable estimate of the range of the later number (using
      the
      > > > average depth of soil over bedrock, the planar area of the
      surface
      > > > water on the globe, the average size of sand grains, the
      average
      > > > density to which such grains settle, etc.), but would never
      > > understand
      > > > that this is an expression attempting to describe something
      for
      > > which
      > > > no mere definite words are adequate.
      > > >
      > > > So if atheists do not adopt rationality as a framework for
      > > evaluating
      > > > whether sacred texts are informed by God, then they have no
      basis
      > > to
      > > > accumulate evidence against the thesis that the texts are so
      > > informed.
      > > >
      > > > And if atheists adopt rationality as a framework for this
      > > evaluation,
      > > > then they by definition they have adopted a tool that is biased
      > > > against the metaphor and allusions that are felt my many
      religious
      > > > scholars to be the core message and proof of divinity within
      such
      > > texts.
      > > >
      > > > _______________________
      > > > Now let me say that I didn't post the above in order to get
      into a
      > > > huge, or any, debate on these message boards. I just thought
      you
      > > > might be able to add to future articles on this topic.
      > > >
      > > > Thank you for posting the thought provoking, carefully
      constructed
      > > and
      > > > well researched article.
      > > >
      > > > albi
      > > >
      > > > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas"
      <fratranquille@>
      > > wrote:
      > > > >
      > > > >
      > > > >
      > > > > From the issue dated September 21, 2007
      > > > > CRITIC AT LARGE
      > > > > Are Sacred Texts Sacred? the Challenge for Atheists
      > > > > advertisement
      > > > > Article tools By CARLIN ROMANO
      > > > >
      > > > > In a Nation essay this year about the wave of successful
      books
      > > > > vaunting atheism, critic Daniel Lazare wrote the following:
      > > > >
      > > > > For a long time, religion had been doing quite nicely as a
      kind
      > > of
      > > > > minor entertainment. Christmas and Easter were quite
      unthinkable
      > > > > without it, not to mention Hanukkah and Passover. But then
      > > certain
      > > > > enthusiasts took things too far by crashing airliners into
      > > office
      > > > > towers in the name of Allah, launching a global crusade to
      rid
      > > the
      > > > > world of evil, and declaring the jury still out on Darwinian
      > > > > evolution. As a consequence, religion now looks nearly as
      bad as
      > > > > royalism did in the late 18th century.
      > > > >
      > > > > That might sound predictably snide coming from the wontedly
      > > secular
      > > > > Nation, but listen to a middle-of-the-road piece of
      journalism,
      > > an
      > > > > Associated Press article this May by religion writer Rachel
      > > Zoll. In
      > > > > the article, headlined "Angry Atheists Are Hot Authors,"
      Zoll
      > > > > describes the success of such books as "a sign of widespread
      > > > > resentment among nonbelievers over the influence of religion
      in
      > > the
      > > > > world."
      > > > >
      > > > > She quotes from Christopher Hitchens, whose God Is Not
      Great:
      > > How
      > > > > Religion Poisons Everything rocketed to No. 1 on the New
      York
      > > Times
      > > > > best-seller list in its first week out of the block. "There
      is
      > > > > something like a change in the zeitgeist," Hitchens told
      Zoll,
      > > > > positing "a lot of people, in this country in particular,
      who
      > > are
      > > > > fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless
      > > bullying."
      > > > > Zoll writes that atheists like Hitchens are tired of
      > > > > believers "using fairy tales posing as divine scripture to
      > > justify
      > > > > their lust for power."
      > > > >
      > > > > Atheism is on a roll, if not a holy roll, in the book world.
      > > Last
      > > > > year philosopher Daniel Dennett published Breaking the Spell
      > > > > (Viking), British scientist Richard Dawkins followed with
      The
      > > God
      > > > > Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), and writer Sam Harris,
      described by
      > > > > Zoll as "a little-known graduate student" until his
      successes,
      > > has
      > > > > been grabbing middlebrow readers with his The End of Faith
      > > (Norton,
      > > > > 2004) and Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006).
      > > > >
      > > > > This fall's second wave comes at the culture under the
      banner of
      > > > > secularism, even under the gentler light of irony. Canadian
      > > > > philosopher Charles Taylor, in his massive A Secular Age
      > > (Harvard
      > > > > University Press), seeks to understand what that title means
      for
      > > us —
      > > > > he's so ecumenical and thoughtful in his struggle to
      understand
      > > > > what he dubs "secularity" that you might not realize he's a
      > > > > believing Catholic. Columbia University's Mark Lilla, in The
      > > > > Stillborn God (Knopf), offers a rich intellectual etiology
      of
      > > how
      > > > > religion and politics realigned themselves within "political
      > > > > theology" to usher in our putatively secular modernity. From
      > > France,
      > > > > Olivier Roy's Secularism Confronts Islam (Columbia
      University
      > > Press)
      > > > > acknowledges the hostility to Islam marked by its title,
      while
      > > > > arguing against it.
      > > > >
      > > > > Atheism now flourishes even in the form of the gift book,
      the
      > > kind
      > > > > stackable by the register, as in Joan Konner's collection of
      > > > > quotations, The Atheist's Bible (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007).
      > > Polls
      > > > > show that 98 percent of Americans believe in God. But if
      atheism
      > > is
      > > > > going mass in some small way, an easily portable gift text
      is
      > > just
      > > > > as important as a sacred one.
      > > > >
      > > > > For almost everyone involved in the believer/atheist debate,
      > > atheism
      > > > > consists in denying the existence of God, then
      philosophically
      > > > > evaluating the consequences in the spirit (if not according
      to
      > > the
      > > > > exact program) of a contemporary Nietzsche or Grand
      Inquisitor.
      > > Yet,
      > > > > to a literary critic's eye, many of these books ignore, for
      the
      > > most
      > > > > part, a crucial question: What should the atheist's position
      be
      > > > > on "sacred texts"?
      > > > >
      > > > > Think of it as another "death of the author" problem.
      > > > >
      > > > > The first difficulty for atheists is glaringly apparent.
      Unlike
      > > the
      > > > > situation with God, atheists can't deny the existence of
      sacred
      > > > > texts, at least as texts. There's indisputably something on
      hand
      > > to
      > > > > deal with. They can only deny to such texts the quality of
      > > > > sacredness. That behooves atheists, then, to have a clear
      > > definition
      > > > > of the sacred — object of veneration, say, or "something
      related
      > > to
      > > > > the holy," or "something set apart from the non-holy,"
      > > or "something
      > > > > worthy of extreme respect" — and also a clear definition of
      text
      > > or
      > > > > book. Many atheists who have a relatively clear idea of what
      > > they
      > > > > mean by "God" when they reject His, Her, or Its existence,
      > > possess
      > > > > little knowledge of the sacred texts that animate religions.
      > > Indeed,
      > > > > Jacques Berlinerblau, in his book The Secular Bible: Why
      > > > > Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge
      University
      > > > > Press, 2005), opens his study by declaring, "In all but
      > > exceptional
      > > > > cases, today's secularists are biblically illiterate."
      > > > >
      > > > > Exploring what these books are as texts, then — take the Old
      > > > > Testament, New Testament, and Koran as representative — is
      the
      > > first
      > > > > step toward pondering the atheist's proper behavior in
      regard to
      > > > > them. Happily, one can get help from non-sacred texts, since
      > > > > critical scholarship on sacred texts, which includes what
      was
      > > once
      > > > > widely known as biblical criticism, continues apace.
      > > > >
      > > > > For instance, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew
      Bible
      > > > > (Harvard University Press, 2007), by Karel van der Toorn,
      > > president
      > > > > of the University of Amsterdam, insists on the Bible as the
      > > product
      > > > > of a professional, scribal elite, specifically the scribal
      > > workshop
      > > > > of the Second Temple in the period 500-200 BC. Another
      recent
      > > study,
      > > > > The Voice, the Word, the Books: The Sacred Scripture of the
      > > Jews,
      > > > > Christians, and Muslims (Princeton University Press, 2007),
      by
      > > F.E.
      > > > > Peters, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at
      New
      > > York
      > > > > University, similarly looks at what Peters calls the "human
      > > > > fingerprints" all over these texts.
      > > > >
      > > > > Van der Toorn is no sentimentalist. "Both the production and
      the
      > > > > promotion of the Hebrew Bible were the work of the scribes,"
      he
      > > > > states. "Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets did not
      write
      > > the
      > > > > books that the superscriptions attribute to them." Indeed,
      van
      > > der
      > > > > Toorn's analysis of the data leads him to conclude that "the
      > > modern
      > > > > concept of books is unsuited to describe the written
      production
      > > from
      > > > > the ancient Near East. ... To define the Bible as a
      collection
      > > of
      > > > > books, as implied in the Greek designation biblia, is an
      > > > > anachronism. The Bible is a repository of tradition." It is,
      he
      > > > > states, "the result of a series of scribal interventions;
      > > previous
      > > > > textual stages have not been preserved, with a few
      exceptions
      > > known
      > > > > mainly through the discoveries of Qumran."
      > > > >
      > > > > Peters, who examines three sacred texts in his book,
      describes a
      > > > > long process at whose end "are now three books or, rather
      more
      > > > > precisely, three collections of books or pieces. An
      impartial
      > > > > observer, if such ever existed, might call them edited
      books,
      > > which
      > > > > makes believers uneasy since the term 'edited' calls
      attention,
      > > > > undue attention, it would seem, to the fact that if all
      these
      > > words
      > > > > had a Divine Author, they also had some very human editors
      whose
      > > > > errant thumbprints are all over Scripture."
      > > > >
      > > > > Peters brings this disenchantment of the sacred even to what
      he
      > > > > calls the "human fingerprints" on the Koran, which Muslims
      > > believe
      > > > > is "totally and simultaneously true." Among the fingerprints
      are
      > > the
      > > > > traces of those "anonymous editors who, we are told by
      Muslim
      > > > > tradition, collected the scattered records of Muhammad's
      > > > > revelations, added the headings now prefaced to each sura,
      and
      > > then
      > > > > arranged the suras in the order they now appear. Apart from
      an
      > > > > opening sura which is a prayer, that order appears to be, to
      the
      > > > > historians' considerable chagrin, roughly that of descending
      > > length.
      > > > > As all concede, it is certainly not the order in which the
      > > > > revelations were made public in Mecca or Medina."
      > > > >
      > > > > Peters adds that "once the suras are reordered, even in the
      most
      > > > > approximate chronological terms, immediately a new problem
      > > arises.
      > > > > On the face of it, many, if not most, of the suras appear to
      be
      > > > > composites — rhyme and assonance schemes are broken off;
      there
      > > are
      > > > > syntactical anomalies and abrupt changes of style and
      subject;
      > > that
      > > > > is, periscopes from different times and settings have been
      > > stitched
      > > > > together to form a single and quite artificial sura unit."
      > > > >
      > > > > Such lack of credence in the God-authored notion of sacred
      texts
      > > is
      > > > > widespread not only among scholars, but even in casual book-
      > > > > reviewing culture. Here, turning to the New Testament,
      consider
      > > the
      > > > > beginning of a review on Powells.com of another recent book,
      > > titled
      > > > > Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and
      Why
      > > > > (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), by Bart D. Ehrman.
      > > > >
      > > > > "Those who call the King James Version of the Bible the
      unerring
      > > > > word of God," writes reviewer Doug Brown, "have a slight
      > > problem.
      > > > > The New Testament of the KJV (as the King James Version is
      > > usually
      > > > > referred) was translated into English from a version of the
      > > Greek
      > > > > New Testament that had been collected from 12th-century
      copies
      > > by
      > > > > Erasmus. Where Erasmus couldn't find Greek manuscripts, he
      > > > > translated to Greek from the Latin Vulgate (which itself had
      > > been
      > > > > translated from Greek back in the fourth century). Here the
      > > problem
      > > > > splits into two problems. First, Jesus spoke Aramaic — his
      > > actual
      > > > > words, never recorded, were only rendered in Greek in the
      > > original
      > > > > gospels. Thus, the KJV consists of Jesus's words twice
      refracted
      > > > > through the prism of translation. Second, Erasmus's Greek
      New
      > > > > Testament was based on handwritten copies of copies of
      copies of
      > > > > copies, etc., going back over a millennium, and today is
      > > considered
      > > > > one of the poorer Greek New Testaments."
      > > > >
      > > > > Consider this just one example of a "sacred text" treated
      almost
      > > as
      > > > > a farcical text in regard to its having a single, coherent,
      > > > > intentional, shaping, authorial, divine mind behind it. Is
      the
      > > > > Bible, in one counting, the 66 books of the Protestant
      Bible,
      > > the 73
      > > > > books of the Roman Catholic Bible, or the 77 books of the
      > > Eastern
      > > > > Orthodox Bible?
      > > > >
      > > > > After a litany of examples of intercopy disagreements,
      scribal
      > > > > clarifications, arbitrary decisions on what is canonical and
      > > what is
      > > > > apocryphal, and putative scribal addenda such as the
      > > controversial
      > > > > last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) with their references
      to
      > > snake
      > > > > handling and speaking in tongues, it is difficult to think
      of
      > > such
      > > > > texts as sacred as opposed to much-handled — compilations
      over
      > > time
      > > > > by committee. If you'd been told recently that the seventh
      and
      > > final
      > > > > volume of the Harry Potter series had gone through changes
      at
      > > the
      > > > > hands of 10 copyists and editors, not to mention been
      translated
      > > > > through several languages before reaching English, would you
      > > feel
      > > > > confident it was J.K. Rowling's sacred conclusion to her
      tale?
      > > > > Writes Brown, "In many respects, the Bible was the world's
      first
      > > > > Wikipedia article."
      > > > >
      > > > > Religious true believers naturally possess arguments against
      > > some of
      > > > > these considerations and against the overarching conclusion
      that
      > > so-
      > > > > called sacred texts are not sacred. They might want to argue
      > > that
      > > > > sacred texts are the handiwork of God; directly dictated, as
      in
      > > the
      > > > > Koran; communicated more indirectly, as in the Old and New
      > > > > Testaments; or, as one modern hermeneutic strategy holds,
      > > > > inelegantly played out through generations of editors and
      > > copyists
      > > > > in a messy process, like Darwinian evolution itself, but
      with
      > > God
      > > > > the entity whose flick of a finger started the ball rolling.
      > > None of
      > > > > those conclusions, however, are the conclusions of an
      atheist.
      > > If it
      > > > > is the proper behavior of atheists in the face of sacred
      texts
      > > that
      > > > > interests us, we must work from the conclusion that such
      texts
      > > are
      > > > > not sacred in the sense of being "authorized" and fact-
      checked
      > > by
      > > > > God.
      > > > >
      > > > > The next question is thus whether sacred texts are sacred in
      any
      > > > > other sense than that they're God's handiwork. I say they
      are.
      > > > > Sacred means not only related to God, but also set apart in
      a
      > > > > particular way, worthy of uncommon respect, not open to easy
      > > > > violation. Here comes the twist on "Are Sacred Texts
      Sacred?"
      > > How
      > > > > atheists react to sacred texts, I submit, properly belongs
      as
      > > much
      > > > > to the history of etiquette as to that of philosophy or
      > > theology.
      > > > > Let me explain.
      > > > >
      > > > > Much of the believer/atheist debate, about God or sacred
      texts,
      > > > > takes place on printed pages, not at marriage receptions or
      in
      > > > > doctors' offices or during water-cooler conversations. We
      tend
      > > to be
      > > > > friction-averse in the latter settings. When we think, as
      > > > > intellectuals, of how atheists and believers should behave,
      or
      > > do
      > > > > behave, we often invoke the printed-page model of no-holds-
      > > barred
      > > > > assertion of truth and belief, of argument and
      counterargument,
      > > > > regardless of whether the heavens fall. But there's no
      obvious
      > > > > reason why the punch-counterpunch paradigm of the page
      should
      > > > > dominate our discussion of sacred texts.
      > > > >
      > > > > Not all secularly inclined intellectuals agree.
      Berlinerblau,
      > > for
      > > > > instance, says the goal of his book is "to outline a
      coherent
      > > > > nontheological, nonapologetic paradigm for the study of
      ancient
      > > > > Scriptures," while making plain that "the peculiar way in
      which
      > > the
      > > > > Bible was composed in antiquity makes it far too
      contradictory
      > > and
      > > > > incoherent a source for public-policy decisions in
      modernity."
      > > > >
      > > > > He seems to feel that such a goal requires an enormously
      > > aggressive
      > > > > critical spirit and focus on truth in sacred texts. He
      writes
      > > > > that "the secular study of the Hebrew Bible (or any sacred
      text)
      > > is
      > > > > animated by a spirit of critique. The motto of our
      enterprise
      > > might
      > > > > just as well be 'criticize and be damned!' We are bound by
      honor
      > > to
      > > > > cast aspersions on the integrity and historical reliability
      of
      > > holy
      > > > > documents. A scholarly exegete reads such work in heckle
      mode.
      > > He or
      > > > > she cannot accept that the Bible is the infallible word of
      God
      > > as
      > > > > mediated by mortals (as the secularly religious and most
      > > biblical
      > > > > scholars often contend), nor the distortion of the word of
      God
      > > (as
      > > > > some radical theologians have charged). The objective
      existence
      > > of
      > > > > God — as opposed to the subjective perception of Him — is
      not a
      > > > > legitimate variable in scholarly analysis. The Hebrew
      Bible/Old
      > > > > Testament is a human product tout court."
      > > > >
      > > > > This strikes me, the bravura virtues of Berlinerblau's style
      > > aside,
      > > > > as machoism pretending to be scholarly integrity. Why can't
      > > atheists
      > > > > see sacred texts as sacred to them — to those believers over
      > > there —
      > > > > and behave respectfully when not provoked? It is simply not
      > > true, in
      > > > > a normal, etiquette-infused vision of life, that we think
      truth
      > > must
      > > > > be stated at every time and in every context. We tell
      Grandma
      > > that
      > > > > she's looking well when she's looking terrible. We tell
      Grandpa
      > > that
      > > > > he's going to be fine when we haven't the faintest idea how
      > > things
      > > > > will turn out for him. We lie to people in small ways every
      day
      > > to
      > > > > make interactions gentler and less tense, and to be kind to
      > > others.
      > > > > Indeed, in a wonderful against-the-grain philosophical book
      some
      > > > > years ago titled The Varnished Truth (University of Chicago
      > > Press,
      > > > > 1993), philosopher David Nyberg argued that white lies are
      > > > > the "glue" that hold the civilized world together. Why
      shouldn't
      > > a
      > > > > similar gentleness and desire to avoid hurtful comments
      inform
      > > > > atheists when they write about books that many hold sacred?
      > > > >
      > > > > The most familiar rebuke to this rears its head regularly in
      the
      > > > > most scathing, sarcastic, and popular of the atheist wave,
      > > Hitchens'
      > > > > God Is Not Great. It is that believers in the God-given
      > > authority of
      > > > > sacred texts are "ultimately incapable" of leaving
      nonbelievers
      > > > > alone. Religion, writes Hitchens, "does not, and in the long
      run
      > > > > cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and sublime
      > > > > assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of
      > > > > nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths. It
      may
      > > > > speak about the bliss of the next world, but it wants power
      in
      > > this
      > > > > one. This is only to be expected. It is, after all, wholly
      man-
      > > made."
      > > > >
      > > > > The cosmopolitan atheist of today — the well-educated
      secularist
      > > > > steeped in the histories of various faiths, as well as the
      > > carnage
      > > > > they've produced back then and now — can't easily toss off
      > > > > Hitchens's point. Polite respect ends when believers insist
      on
      > > > > sacred texts as God's authorization of those believers to
      > > regulate,
      > > > > suppress, or punish the behavior of nonbelievers. In such
      > > > > situations, the atheist's politeness goes out the window
      because
      > > the
      > > > > believer has thrown his politeness out the window first. Is
      > > there
      > > > > anything as impolite — a gentle word, to be sure — as
      forcing
      > > one's
      > > > > moral rules on another because they supposedly come from a
      > > divine
      > > > > being whose existence the other doesn't accept?
      > > > >
      > > > > As a result, we get the predominant tones in which atheists
      have
      > > > > assessed sacred texts over the centuries — anger,
      disrespect,
      > > > > contempt, sarcasm, insult, dismissal, even pity. Consider
      three
      > > > > examples.
      > > > >
      > > > > "The Bible," sighed Voltaire. "That is what fools have
      written,
      > > what
      > > > > imbeciles command, what rogues teach, and young children are
      > > made to
      > > > > learn by heart."
      > > > >
      > > > > "As to the book called the Bible," thundered Thomas
      Paine, "it
      > > is
      > > > > blasphemy to call it the word of God. It is a book of lies
      and
      > > > > contradictions, and a history of bad times and bad men.
      There
      > > are
      > > > > but a few good characters in the whole book."
      > > > >
      > > > > And, as nasty wrapper, there is A.A. Milne's point. "The Old
      > > > > Testament," he claimed, "is responsible for more atheism,
      > > > > agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any
      book
      > > ever
      > > > > written: It has emptied more churches than all the
      > > > > counterattractions of cinema, motor bicycle, and golf
      course."
      > > > >
      > > > > Harsh stuff. Yet the very sophisticated understanding of
      history
      > > and
      > > > > society that often justifies the atheist's snappishness in
      such
      > > > > remarks — the elegant scholarship, for example, of Taylor's
      and
      > > > > Lilla's books — should also lead him or her not to stir
      > > conflicts of
      > > > > believer and unbeliever unnecessarily. Because
      sophistication
      > > > > implies an equal grasp of etiquette and tolerance as a
      bulwark
      > > of
      > > > > civilized, nonviolent life together on the part of believers
      and
      > > > > nonbelievers. In that respect, Taylor, Lilla, and Roy's
      second
      > > wave
      > > > > of books — books as thoughtful as those of Dennett and
      Dawkins,
      > > but
      > > > > considerably less offensive — wisely pay little direct
      attention
      > > to
      > > > > sacred texts, focusing more on how believers have behaved
      than
      > > on
      > > > > their authorizing documents.
      > > > >
      > > > > That's all to the good. In advanced, progressive, tolerant
      > > > > societies, we also don't go up to strangers and tell them
      that
      > > > > they're ugly, that their children are repulsive, that their
      > > clothes
      > > > > don't match, that they need a bath, that the leisure
      activity
      > > > > they're engaged in is stupid and a waste of time. In the
      same
      > > way,
      > > > > atheists should not, unprovoked, go on and on about how
      sacred
      > > texts
      > > > > lack God's imprimatur. And believers should not blithely go
      > > after
      > > > > atheists. If this sounds like the credo of an American — an
      odd
      > > > > creature of history who might be an atheist or believer —
      the
      > > plea
      > > > > is guilty. One can, of course, line up the bolstering high-
      > > culture
      > > > > quotations on this side too, against the belligerent
      atheists.
      > > > > Schopenhauer's proviso that politeness is "a tacit agreement
      > > that
      > > > > people's miserable defects, whether moral or intellectual,
      shall
      > > on
      > > > > either side be ignored and not made the subject of
      reproach."
      > > Even
      > > > > Eric Hoffer's lovely line that "rudeness is the weak man's
      > > imitation
      > > > > of strength."
      > > > >
      > > > > The simple answer, then, to how atheists should respond to
      > > sacred
      > > > > texts is: politely, if possible, employing all the wry
      ambiguity
      > > > > book critics use when awkwardly trapped with the author or
      > > admirer
      > > > > of a book about which they have reservations. "It's really
      quite
      > > > > amazing," one might say, or, "You know, I was just reading
      it
      > > the
      > > > > other day — it's as good as ever."
      > > > >
      > > > > But when believers start to use sacred texts to oppress, the
      > > atheist
      > > > > must attack and reject the "divine" aspect of their books,
      out
      > > of
      > > > > self-defense and because it interferes with the individual's
      > > freedom
      > > > > of conscience and behavior.
      > > > >
      > > > > Some things, after all, are sacred.
      > > > >
      > > > > Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle and
      literary
      > > critic
      > > > > for The Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy and media
      > > theory
      > > > > at the University of Pennsylvania.
      > > > >
      > > > >
      > > > > -------------------------------------------------------------
      ----
      > > ----
      > > > > -----------
      > > > > http://chronicle.com
      > > > > Section: The Chronicle Review
      > > > > Volume 54, Issue 4, Page B11
      > > > >
      > > >
      > >
      >
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