Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cogito Ergo Sum

I don't know if he did actually lock himself in a cupboard to do it as the story goes, but the philosopher Rene Descartes took the bold step of deciding not to come out (of cupboard or wherever) until he had found something of which he could be certain. At the end of a period of intense doubt he concluded that although he may be deluded about everything one thing he could not be deluded about was that it was he who was being deluded. 'Therefore', he said, 'I must exist. I think therefore I am' (cogito ergo sum).

Lots of recent comment strings, links and challenges have helped me to the point where I want to try and pin down some certainty. Mustard Seed Shavings is a metaphor of minimal faith but there must be some certainty underpinning that faith or I may have to go back in the cupboard for a bit.

What is certainty? Ah, good first question. There is law court certainty (reasonable doubt, balance of probabilities etc).

There is working certainty. This is my own expression to summarise those things of which we have no proof but without trusting in their certainty we will go mad. E.g. this chair will continue to bear my weight whilst I type; I can safely walk into town today for some food, World Vision will pay me for the Resource Packs I am writing.

And there is scientific certainty. As Language Guy has said here 'A reasonable degree of scientific certainty' is an annoying phrase which has crept into US courts to take into account the slim chance that the data under review may have become corrupted or the scientific processes, however well trusted, may have been mishandled.

I can't demonstrate the bases which underpin my life with scientific certainty. Who can? On the balance of probabilities a court would find me guilty of a charge of loving my wife. There is enough evidence and we just had a great week's holiday at home together. We have enjoyed each other's company through 32 years and been married for 28 of them. But no litmus test. I say so. You look at the evidence. Hopefully you believe me. Once an apparently happily married couple came round to dinner with us. We enjoyed the evening and they sat on the sofa contentedly together, holding hands as we chatted. The next week they separated and later divorced. Who could tell? We couldn't.

What can I say about my faith with certainty, if that is not a contradiction? I can say that I have lived as a Christian for the last 31 years. With law court certainty you can be certain that that is true. For the last few years I have preferred to be known as a follower of Jesus and a seeker after truth. 'Christian' was originally a derogatory nickname and I have never liked it.

What can I say about God with certainty? Nothing. Not a sausage. The Bible is my main source of information about God (we'll get on to why in a bit) and it says, in effect, if you want to know about God look at Jesus, the likeness of the invisible God. I'm not going to pepper this piece with references but can hand them on if anyone wants them.

We can know some things about Jesus with rigorous working certainty. The sort of certainty we use about, say, the writings of Caesar or Tacitus. Evidence for Jesus' existence is multi sourced - two separate sources within the Bible itself plus at least two Roman historians mentioning Christians at an early stage and one Jewish historian referring specifically to the death of James by stoning calling him, '...the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.'

When I say 'two separate' biblical sources I refer to John's Gospel (which is stand alone) and Matthew, Mark and Luke, sometimes called 'the synoptic gospels' who had, to some extent, access to each other's works. There are three if you count Paul's letters.

Incidentally Jesus is what you get when you pronounce Jeshua with a Galilean accent; honestly.

In his excellent little book, 'Jesus: the fact behind the faith', Leslie Mitton unravels some of the stuff we can be sure of about Jesus:

'Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and spoke Aramaic as his native tongue. His parents were known as Joseph and Mary. He had four brothers and some sisters. He earned his living at Nazareth as a carpenter.

'His public work began when he identified himself with the prophet known as John the Baptist, and accepted baptism at his hands. He died by crucifixion, executed by the Roman authorities in Palestine as one suspected of threatening danger to the Roman rule and security.

'His public activity was characterised by teaching and healing. As a teacher people noted his authority. This same authority was evidenced in his competence in the presence of illness, his power to command and retain the loyalty of his closest followers, his ability to confront influential and powerful opponents with complete effectiveness.

'He had remarkable gifts for healing people's illnesses. He freely offered God's forgiveness. He asked from those who came in their need a response in 'faith', a confidence that God could and would take effective action through him.

'He especially reached out to those who were treated as outcasts of society by the religious leaders, offering them friendship and gladly responding to their gestures of friendship, even to the point of accepting their hospitality. He did not hesitate to acknowledge his deep concern for both women and little children, and his happiness in their company.

'From among his followers he brought a small, chosen number into a specially close relationship with him of committed discipleship. He trained them for their later tasks and in due course entrusted them with a share in his mission.

'He gave great offence to the religious leaders of the time. This was caused in part by what he did in freely associating with disreputable people, and, so far from leading the ascetic life of John the Baptist, gladly accepting their invitations to share in their meals. Sometimes also he challenged and defied the commonly accepted standards of behaviour that were observed by the religious leaders and which they regarded as representing a true obedience to God. He would not, for instance, submit to their rigid sabbath regulations nor to their various rules about clean and unclean foods and ritual purifications. He disputed their legalistic views of God and morality.

'All the people who came into the story - his enemies, his friends, and those who came to ask his help - appear as real people, and in his relationship with all of them Jesus shows an unusual power of perception into their characters and motives.

'His message as a teacher was about God and God's rule in human life. He made the nearness of God very real to others. He spoke as one who knew that God is always seeking entry into human life and constantly at work, unseen and unsuspected, in the world of nature. He spoke about God's will, but in a very different way from the conventional piety of current religious teaching. What God asks of men is portrayed in the strange standards of goodness embodied in the beatitudes ('Blessed are the poor in spirit...' etc - St). He insisted that obedience to God is far more than an outward avoidance of murder, adultery, and the breaking of oaths. It reaches also into men's inner thoughts and feelings, calling them to abandon all resentment, all lustful imagining, all deceit. He asked from men a love for others that acknowledges no limitations of any kind, a love that is offered even towards enemies and strangers and those who do us wrong, and a spirit of forgiveness that never gives up. The obedience to God for which he calls is not, however, an unreasoning submission to external authority but an intelligent insight into the rightness of what God asks, and a voluntary acceptance of it by one's own free choice.'

Note, we cannot know from these facts if Jesus was deluded or not; all we can know is that it is clear beyond dispute that this is what he thought and did. Also note we have made some progress in the area of inclusive language since Mitton wrote this in 1973 (Published Mowbray and Co).

For those who need to know, the scientific criteria Mitton uses to distinguish the historical from the non historical are:

Multiple source attestation within synoptics
Coincidence of Johannine (John's Gospel) and synoptic
Stumbling-block characteristics (matters which would have been embarrassing to the early church which preserved the records)
Dissimilarity (discount all 'facts' which might have arisen in contemporary Judaism)
Consistency (ensure material is consistent within itself)

So there is no virgin birth, no resurrection (evidence on this later) and no nature miracles (walking on water, calming storms). There is no transfiguration and no feeding miracle (5,000, 4,000 or water into wine). Mitton doesn't deny these but says there is no reliable evidence for them. But it is clear that with Jesus we are dealing with more than King Arthur or Robin Hood. Too much is often claimed about him, for sure, but he is undoubtedly more than myth.

Why might we put our trust in the Bible? As already explained the Bible is multi-sourced. There is not one book but 66, by at least 40 different authors and editors. They were written down over about 1600 years. Although we gladly accept Tacitus' work as history it was written in AD100. The earliest surviving copy is from AD1100, There exist 20 copies, preserved for the most part by those who had a vested interest in Tacitus' 'take' on history. Surviving copies of Caesar's Gallic war have a 950 year time lapse and 10 copies exist. The New Testament has 25,000 full surviving copies from within 310 years of its completion and fragments from as early as 30 years after completion. The Old Testament is er, much older, being the Jewish Scripture too. You'd learn this, by the way, on a good Alpha Course.

Whilst the Bibles we have now include a selection of fact and fiction, narrative and editorial, history and myth it is possible to use source, form and literary criticism techniques to get back to near enough historical material. This is a technique used by those who study the manuscripts of Shakespeare amongst others. It is also important to remember that writing does not have to be historical to contain truth or be useful.

The focus of the Bible's writing is the person of Jesus. The Old Testament looks forward to the coming of a Messiah, the Gospels describe the man claimed to be such and the letters describe the mess the early followers got into trying to put following Jesus into practice. Revelation is an apocalyptic warning that the world will end. It's a vision and not a very nice one. Ignore, for now.
It is likely (but we can't be certain) that some of the stuff written in the Bible about Jesus did not actually happen. The early 'Christians', probably known at first as followers of 'The Way', had latched on to a person so remarkable that they read 'God' back into everything he said and did. Some myths and legends about him were added to the bank of history. The wonderful work of historian/theologians such as the late Joachim Jeremias and the living Geza Vermes can unravel that for us. It is true that the very idea and process scares some Christians so much they refuse to consider it, even if a trained and theologically educated minister tells them. This is a fact of life - ordinary folk hate changes and challenges to their world view. (This blog loves and welcomes them.)

So what of the key allegation about Jesus, the only one that really carries any weight, that he may have been a remarkable charismatic, roving preacher who was crucified for stirring up trouble (this is beyond dispute) but that his resurrection from the dead is a tacked on myth? Here's the evidence:

He really died. All sources agree on this. The Romans were good at crucifixions and a messed-up one would have led to more press than a successful one. If Jesus had come down from the cross alive he would have caused more publicity, his teaching and followers would have life after AD 30 and there would be a place marked as his eventual and final burial place, even if only in myth.
So what happened to his body? If the Romans stole it to prevent him being reburied in a place to become a focus of zealot pilgrimage (remember the Romans were an occupying and unpopular army and feared uprisings) then once talk of resurrection began they would have produced it.

If the disciples took it then they kept the secret and many went to their deaths for something they knew to be a lie.

If grave robbers removed it then they rolled away a massive stone from a tomb, took the body and left the grave clothes, which I think might have been the only thing of value in the tomb given the unlikeliness of Jesus having gold teeth or a Rolex.

If something else happened to it then we can only turn to the next bit of evidence, resurrection appearances.

If these stories were made up then:

Who would have made up a story with women as the first witnesses in those days? Women were not allowed to give acceptable testimony then. A made up story would have been so much better if it had begun with a man. If I was going to invent a story today which I wanted people to believe (rather than simply enjoy as a story) this would be like my making a patient of a Mental Health Unit my witness. Yes, I have seen Conspiracy Theory.

Paul's claim to the Corinthians, written very shortly after these events, that many of the people who saw the risen Jesus were still alive (so readers could ask them), becomes an outrageous mass con.

What made the defeated and disappointed disciples turn around and change their tune? Did they have an idea to pretend Jesus had risen, to invent a story and live with it, as if it was true, for the rest of their days, even to the point of prison, beatings and martyrdom. We know that religions can persuade people to do the most dreadfully foolhardy things. If this was a lie who started it? One disciple? A team of them? It's possible.

I think I may be a new kind of Christian. Not in the sense that Brian McLaren discusses (see here and here if you didn't read what I said about his eponymous book), but in the sense that I am a follower of Jesus, a devotee of scripture, happy to use the existence of God as a working theory that makes sense of the world for me and anxious to engage in as many conversations as possible about what this might mean in 2006. As an ordained minister I therefore come across as someone in the machine being grit rather than outside chucking rocks and, if I can stay, I like it that way.

The Christian community, in my experience, is supportive not evil, my extended family and, in its times of separateness, space, worship and meditation as a community, unique in the world. I would go so far as to say that if the things I have postured as evidence were discredited tomorrow I would still need the company of those who have been my fellow seekers along the way, some of whom wouldn't recognise a discredited argument if it invited itself round for dinner.

Lots (most?) of the good social changes in our world have come, and continue to come, at the behest of Christians, so many of whom are anxious to see if they have overlooked some good in their hurry to be theologically accurate.

You new in town and want to make friends or get a free nourishing meal as a broke student? Visit a church.

You want to find out what endeavours are going on locally to help the poor? Ask in a church.

This is my certainty. The rest is faith.

I am happy to lead a church consisting of the unshiftable deluded, the seekers after truth and all shades in between. I wish we had nicer music by which I mean my taste, (which is very left-field), less certainty and more questions. I wish the leader didn't have to be the person most secure in their faith but could be the person most anxious to find the truth. Come to think about it I would be very uncomfortable enjoying my music in church if I felt everyone else hated it.

In my prayer life I am simply trying to listen quietly to the inner voice of reason rather than the external voice of God, although I try not to be dismissive of that. I don't like asking God for things. It feels weird to me. If he is there and cares then he knows before I ask. I think the only thing prayer changes is the pray-er. As I pray I try to change. I don't object to others asking God for things if it helps them. I object to statements that begin 'The Lord said...' unless backed up by reason, scripture or simply being worth the risk to take seriously. It is sometimes worth the risk to take my horoscope seriously.

I am not a fan of C.S. Lewis but found this quote in the third book of McLaren's trilogy The Last Word and the Word After That:

'The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name... There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians although they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by him that they are his in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand...' (Mere Christianity)

I think I belong in all three categories. Forgive me. I believe I will, with this piece of writing, probably upset Christians who will think I have gone too far and atheist/humanist thinkers who will say I haven't gone far enough. I used not to be sure which way to jump; now I'm not convinced jumping is necessary. It is not that everything I have based my life on for the last 30 years or so was misjudged, simply that I now interpret the same evidence slightly differently.

Until that day when my death taps me on the shoulder and says 'It's time' (an idea Philip Pullman plays with in The Amber Spyglass) I think I might be doomed to explore the twilight world of ununcertainty. Then, on that day, I will rest as my atoms join all the others in the universe (Pullmanitis breaks out) and not know any more that I am waiting for the resurrection that may never come.

In the meantime this wonderful life keeps me fully occupied and I am grateful for it.

If you read the lot, thanks for indulging me. My initials are a coincidence.

20 comments:

Jonathan Potts said...

Thanks for this, St. Very thought-provoking (to use an overly-used phrase, I know, but I'm not a creative writer). Is this essay freeware? I may like to use it as a resource in the future, with your permission.

Dave said...

Steve,

Thank you. Has stimulated excogitation and some rumination.

St said...

Jon. Anything on my blog can be used by others. It would be nice to have an acknowledgement but I ain't gonna sue.

Jonathan Potts said...

St - will do - I always try to quote my references.

Andy said...

Love it St, I'm with you 100%.

When I was tackling with doubt in my early Christian days - my mum bought me a copy of "Who Moved The Stone?" (from whence mine and your leaning towards the resurrection narratives come) and it has always been tremendously important to me.

Like yourself, I find certainity hard (impossible?) but my faith is informed and thought through and not without doubt at times. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not alone in that.

:)

Martin said...

In the interests of openness, I'm posting what I tried to post earlier. St - thanks for letting me know it was fixed. Nice addition of picture to illustrate the 'jump'. And no, I only get email notifications when someone comments on my blog - I was just here at the right time, checking if there were any more than 44 comments on goodness gracious me, when the post first appeared.

wow, pretty long post, like stream of consciousness of what you are thinking at the moment. I think your post is encouraging to faith, so I am happy for you to search for truth in this context.

I think to search and find that the core of the faith remains means that the faith is now yours, not what you have been told. For some reason I think of the Woman at the Well (yes, I know this is coming up a lot nowadays). I am thinking of John 4:42 in particular 'They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."'. Not an exact replica of your situation, but still, a case where they beleived the woman, but there faith was greater when they owned it. I know my is greater now I own it, and don't rely on my parents' faith to get me through (I probably mentioned this in my baptism testimony).

Anyway, I hope my comments are also an encouragement, and I appologise for the lengthiness. I hope your lifelong search for your own mustard seed of faith continues well (just as I hope the same for my faith journey).

Simon said...

Well done. You've cleverly painted a convincing picture of the life of man called Jesus.

I used to be amazed at how the old masters could paint such life-like people. Then I saw this doc by Hockney putting foward a very convincing theory that these painters' sudden abilty to paint with almost photographic accuracy was down to the use of mirrors projecting images onto the canvas to be traced. In a way, they were the first photos.

Someone commented that religion as been the primary source of inspiration for creative types. Its true. In fact, all myths have. And I think that tells us a lot about what they really are.

Unlke artists, scientists have never been directly assisted in their work by their belief. Yes, their desire to cure people may have been inspired by worship, but the nuts and bolts of science has come from rigorous intellectual and logical study and scientific practice.

To say that you know all that about Jesus and is "beyond dispute" is absurd. An historian wouldn't even say that about a real historical figure like Ceasar.

The problem with the logic of your thinking (and supposed intellectuals like Polkinghorne and Mitton) is this:

You have this jigsaw puzzle. This puzzle is so difficult it would be impossible for you to finish it in your lifetime. Even in a thousand lifetimes. But if you really dedicate yourself, you might just get to fit two pieces together in your lifetime.

Religious people aren't interested in that. There's no way they're going to spend their whole lives just to fit two bits of sky together. So they play around with the pieces for a few days, then decide on instinct what they think the picture is. Quickly, they set about arranging the pieces to fit the picture they have in their mind. Because they've convinced themselves this is the picture, they're blind to the mess they are making with the puzzle. To them, it looks beautiful. To the rest of us, it's just a mess.

If you just took of your blinkers for a second you'd see what a mess you'd made.

That's why I can't trust your evidence which is supposedly "beyond dispute". This is evidence is from people who have imagined the same picture as you.

You know, there's several bits of written evidence describing King Arthur or some who may have been the inspiration for him. The fact that the myth of King Arthur didn't take off in the way the myth of Jesus did, is why we don't have thousands of written accounts of "what people saw him do". But written evidence is not enough to say "beyond dispute". That's why we have archeology.

There is not one shred of archeological evidence for the existence of Jesus.

I don't care what Mitton says, there is nothing a historian could say about Jesus which would be "beyond dispute", except that he was the central figure for one of the biggest religions the world has ever seen.

Alvar Ellegård thinks the story of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified by Pilate, was a fictional construction.

Because these accounts of Jesus are always going to wrapped up in the mass-hysteria that drives religous belief, we can't be sure exactly what these people saw, or what they heard other people say they saw.

Have you ever witnessed a witch hunt? I have. I nearly joined in but saw it for what it was in the nick of time. The force and power and conviction of the people involved was scary. Simply due to a charming person saying bad things about a person everyone loved to hate, they were ready to do physical harm. And these were hippies.

Hitler did the same things as Mitton. He took bits and pieces of "fact" and put them together in a compelling way to persuade people to believe in National Socialism.

When people decide to go skating on thin ice, if they want other less reckless types to follow, they go to great lengths to persuade them the ice is solid as a rock.

How predictable am I?

Simon said...

How about this:

"The Messiah was expected to be a historical, not a mythical, savior. It was inevitable, therefore, that the Jesus story would have to develop a quasi-historical setting. And so it did. What had started as a timeless myth encoding perennial teachings now appeared to be a historical account of a once-only event in time. From this point it was unavoidable that sooner or later it would be interpreted as historical fact. Once it was, a whole new type of religion came into being - a religion based on history not myth, on blind faith in supposed events rather than on a mystical understanding of mythical allegories, a religion of the Outer Mysteries without the Inner Mysteries, of form without content, of belief without Knowledge." (The Jesus Mysteries, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, p. 207)

Jonathan Potts said...

I don't know about Mitton, but Andy referred to "Who moved the stone?" by Frank Morison, which originally was Frank Morison's attempt to debunk the story of the resurrection (he was an atheist) but in his investigation, he ended up deciding he was wrong and writing a book defending the historicity of the resurrection. So he (at least) didn't start his discussion with any "imagined picture". Indeed his bias was against Christianity.

Simon, calling Polkinghorne a "supposed intellectual" is immensely arrogant (again, I don't know about Mitton). Polkinghorne is a fellow of the Royal Society and has a knighthood for his services to science. What qualifications do you have to be derogatory about his status as an intellectual? You may not agree with him, but at least approach his work with due respect. If you think you can debunk any emminent scientist's written theories with one-line arguments (as you tried to on a previous post) then have you thought that maybe - just maybe - you've misunderstood the subtlety of the theory and should read it again carefully? As I've said elsewhere, I think the best way to abstract truth from someone's belief is to first try as hard as you can to agree with them (however much you may instinctively disagree) and only then try to carefully pick out the flaws.

Anonymous said...

The philosophical discussion is all whooshing over my head, so I'm not even going to try to comment. I am just so glad that I am not the only one who is still trying to work out what some of my certainties are. Sometimes it feels like church is full of people who have all the answers, and I feel a fraud because I don't.
You made me think, and feel less alone, so thank you.

Simon said...

Hi Jonathan. I must admit, I was expecting better from Polkinghorne, considering his background. If daring to see through his psuedo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo is arrogance, the so be it. Certainly, the reply I had from his website (not actually written by him but, I understand, by the "voice" of Polkinghorne) was very dismissive (whilst talking utter nonesense).

The idea there are forces at work such as "militant atheists" is sheer fiction (and probably a bit paranoid).

If Frank Morison started off with a bias, he can't be considered much of a historian, can he? As you say, he started with an atheist picture in his mind and tried to fit the jigsaw to his picture and you would have rubbished him if he'd come up the 'wrong' answer. But now he's come good for you, suddenly he's a champion historian.

A scientist's or an historian's methods must be rigorously scrutinised before we accept his conclusions, no matter what.

I'm sure Jesus would have been accused for being arrogant in the way he rubbished people's beliefs, swanning around with his "I'm holier than thou" attitude. He would've annoyed the hell out of me, that's for sure.

I have nothing to be arrogant about. I don't even have a degree, so I don't consider myself to be any kind of intellectual. Like you say, I have no qualifications to rival Polkinhorne. That's why I'm very surprised. Surely you guys can do better than this. Surely.

Andy said...

I'm sure Jesus would have been accused for being arrogant in the way he rubbished people's beliefs, swanning around with his "I'm holier than thou" attitude. He would've annoyed the hell out of me, that's for sure.

Care to expand on this, Simon? I'm not sure where he rubbished people's beliefs, and swanned around with any holier than thou attitude. By all accounts he was loving and humble, especially to the kinds of people despised by the religious leaders of the day.

Just interested...

Simon said...

Saying or implying "I'm the son of God" is difficult to beat in the holy Top Trumps. And then going round saying, "I've come here to show you how to do it properly", which is basically telling most holy men of the time they had got it wrong and he knew better.

"To those who sold the doves he said, 'Take these things away! Do not make my father’s house a marketplace!'"

Ooh, get you, Mr Snooty-drawers.

"This is what Jesus taught at the synagogue in Capernaum: 'I am the bread of life.'"

Just a tinsy-winsy bit arrogant, don't you think?

And, like your reaction to my opinions, he put many people's noses out of joint:

"After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more."

Hey, a little question... you know Jesus told that rich guy to sell all his stuff and give the money to the poor ('cos you gotta be poor to get into Heaven)? Doesn't that make those poor people who get his cash less likely to get into Heaven themselves?

It seems to me, to be really heroic, a rich man should keep his wealth to himself, so others can go to Heaven - that would be true self-sacrifice.

You see, Jesus hasn't thought this through, has he?

Andy said...

Simon,

First off, saying he was the son of God is only arrogant if he wasn't. And if he was who he said he was (or if he believed it), that makes his actions all the more surprising, cos he seemed to hang out with the lowest people, he washed his disciples feet and generally tried to shun attention - actively seeking to get away from crowds on a number of occasions.

On the rich young ruler - he wasn't saying that people who have money have no chance of salvation. He was saying that people who put their trust in money - who put the love of money in place of the love of God, those are the kinds of people who will struggle to get into heaven. When he says to sell what you have to give to the poor, it's not so that they will be rich at your expense, but rather that neither you, nor they, will lack for what they need.

Apologies for nose out-of-jointedness in previous replies, i've just given up coffee y'see... ;)

Simon said...

No worries.

My point is, Jesus would have appeared arrogant to anyone who didn't believe he was the son of God (most people at the time). Likewise, I appear arrogant only if you don't agree with what I'm saying.

You can't say he shunned attention - what with sermons to thousands and storming into temples shouting and smashing the place up - not exactly the shy and retiring type.

He comes across to me as a bit of a poser, hanging out with the poor and washing his mates feet.

There's people out there who spend their lives undertaking unpleasant tasks for others without any desire for glory or publicity.

They're the real heros for me.

St said...

Militant atheism is not to be confused with military atheism (to imagine that exists would be paranoid). It is simply to note that those who are anti-Christian seem a bit more aggresively active, zealous, wanting to have a good argument than before. I welcome that.

Simon said...

Militant or military atheism is how the Voice of Polkinghorne describes regimes such as those lead by Hitler or Stalin.

A totally false claim, in my opinion.

I have another question - how is a mortal, such as yourself, qualified to interpret the word of God?

Surely, no man or woman has the intellect to judge the Bible.

St said...

Thanks Simon. Haven't read the Polkinghorne myself but if that's what he says I think you're right and he's wrong.

You seem to be making a lot of criticisms of the behaviour of Jesus who you don't think existed. Just an observation.

Will post on biblical interpretation in the next few days. I think it needs more than a simplistic answer.

Simon said...

Ah, I didn't say I didn't think he existed. I said I didn't think there was any more evidence he existed than King Arthur or Robin Hood. I personally consider him more myth than reality. But if you guys are going to keep him as your role model, lets talk about whether his actions really were so squeaky clean.

I was really reflecting criticism that was aimed at me by suggesting Jesus would have also seemed arrogant (whether its a fiction or not) to many people of his time. They would not have liked what he had to say about the world or about their beliefs.

St said...

I wonder if it truly is possible to disagree with someone's heart-felt truth and not appear arrogant. It is a bit like the impossibility of a politician teling someone they have listened to them when they are not going to do as they say.

It is interesting that the Jesus of the gospels comes over as arrogant to some and humble to others.

Maybe it's one of those irregular verbs:

I am convinced I have an important job to do...
You have an inflated opinion of your own worth...
He is an arrogant bastard...

I'm going to try really hard not to be arrogant in posts or comments in future, although will have to avoid the alternative pitfall of people saying,'Ooh get you Mr Humble Pants.'

Nighty night.