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34563Re: Sacred Texts ?

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  • rabagas
    Oct 1, 2007
      Dear Albi,

      I agree with most of your points. The difference between science and
      religion is that while both make statements about reality,
      scientific statements are subject to being tested, verified, or
      refuted.. Religion insists that the statemnts it makes are
      irrefutable, and not subject to testing, and are to be taken on
      faith. It doesn't see its statements as metaphors or poetic truths,
      but insists that its statements are
      true period.

      Incidentally, my friend who I referred to as saying Offenbach was
      not true, was on the phone with me last night. I made no mention
      of the Offenbach remarks. Somehow we got talking about food, and
      Pizza in particular. He likes thin-crusted Pizza and not the thick
      Chicago style pizza. "It's not true pizza." So we had the same
      argument about Pizza that we had about Offenbach years before. And
      then I told him I'd referred to our Offenbach conversation in this
      email exchange earlier in the day.. How's that for synchronicity !!!

      Frank




      In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, albiaicehouse <no_reply@...> wrote:
      >
      > 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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