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34569Re: Sacred Texts ?

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  • albiaicehouse
    Oct 2, 2007
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      Frank,

      Synchronicity!

      Now there is a concept.

      Are such synchronous events a coincidence bound to happen in a
      statistical universe? Or are they evidence of a rational system
      acting in dimensions we do not presently understand or even perceive?

      Either way, such events are entertaining and tantalizing, aren't they?

      albi

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