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34567Re: Sacred Texts ? (Rabagas 34540)

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  • albiaicehouse
    Oct 2, 2007

      Oh, I wish your wisdom was more commonly found among our leaders and
      the general populace.

      Thanks for these observations.

      I think as writers, besides entertaining our readers, we have an
      obligation to slide these pearls of wisdom within our creations.


      --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "wings081" <wings081@...> wrote:
      > Hi Rabagas.
      > Your posts and those of Albi set me pondering on the causes of the
      > entire disharmony in this world. I list them here but not necessarily
      > in the order of precedence:
      > Religion, territorial gains, Politics, Sex, Search for personal power
      > over others.
      > Religion: The majority of religions maintain there is a deity to whom
      > the followers ust bow down to His will. He is given different names
      > according to each belief,so why don't all followers agree there is
      > one Supremo and if my brother/sister prefers to call him by another
      > name that's OK by me.
      > Territorial Gains: Man and a few women have always looked over the
      > hedge and with avarice aforethought sought to claim another's
      > territory. My neighbour has a better cave than mine, facing south, so
      > if I bash him over the head with the thigh bone of a tyrannosaurus I
      > can move house.
      > Politics: I admit there is a need to have rules, by which people can
      > be governed fairly,ut why all the mud slinging? Why can't a Solomon
      > from the opposition party stand to his/her feet and declare: That was
      > a good idea sir and we must congratulate you on your perspicacity.
      > Sex: This is possibly the root cause of all domestic turmoil. A
      > neighbour will willingly lend you his lawn mower but make a pass at
      > his spouse and you risk the start of world war 4. Women use sex as a
      > weapon of mass destruction whereas to men, it is an essential element
      > of their very existence.
      > Power over others: We can't all be `king of the castle'. There are
      > those best suited to lead and others who make excellent serfs, happy
      > to defer to a master's demands.
      > Give two persons of equal intelligence ten thousand pounds each and
      > one will become a multi-millionaire while the other will become a
      > burden on his fellows and end in the gutter.
      > Religion and politics is usually regarded as verboten on his site,
      > but I had to have my little say in your discussion.
      > As always
      > Wings
      > --- In ticket2write@yahoogroups.com, "rabagas" <fratranquille@>
      > wrote:
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > From the issue dated September 21, 2007
      > > 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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