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34561Re: Sacred Texts ?

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  • albiaicehouse
    Oct 1, 2007
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      Rabagas,

      I agree that the domain of religion is often stretched to the point of
      silly. I guess "ridiculous" is a better term, because it isn't very
      "silly" when adherents blow up or murder by grizzly means those they
      consider to be non-believers.

      In former times, this tendency of religion to answer large questions
      stretched imaginations more than limited them. Also, it gave
      structure to a seemingly inexplicable world.

      Now, I agree these aspects of religion can be vestigial at best and
      retarding in progress at worst.

      However, science doesn't seem to know where to stop either. Look at
      theories regarding hominid bones in the last five decades. The
      absence of data wasn't enough to hinder the blind speculation that was
      repackaged and sold as science, was it?

      Perhaps one day, we will drop our anger at expansive religion and look
      at it as a necessary stage of human development, similar to the way we
      consider the utilization of fire.

      I know that the tendency of monks to write things down is responsible
      for the meager things we know of historical Celtic society.

      By the way, I didn't really know that a music could be "not true". I
      don't know Offenbach, so I'll have to check out music by that
      composer. But have you checked into the possibility that Offenbach
      was reacting to the style of a formerly popular style of composition?
      That principal alone can explain a lot about music and other popular
      styles.

      albi

      --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas" <fratranquille@...> wrote:
      >
      > 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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