Christians fight the Right
May 16, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Red Letter Christians are part of a Christian backlash against the Christian Right. The “Red Letters” are the words spoken by Christ himself, often rubricated in Bible editions.

The Red Letter movement is certainly not without critics.

The movement is growing, with churches like that of the pirate pastor springing up.

Red Letter Christians do not want their movement to become an instrument of the partisan Left. They see its role as social and cultural, as opposed to political. It is up to politicians, then, to respond.

Historical antecedents include The Social Gospel Movement and Christian Socialism.
posted by No Robots (362 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gandhi once said that everybody in the world knows what Jesus teaches in those red lettered verses — except Christians.

Yes! Favorite this 1 Million times!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:32 AM on May 16, 2013 [41 favorites]


I didn't really expect to say this but that critique on Free Republic matches up with my own feelings on this. The 'red letters' aren't the words spoken by Christ himself, they're the words that the various gospel writers attribute to him. They're just as fallible as the rest of what a bunch of folks wrote in books that were later canonized as Holy Scripture. It makes no sense to say 'These particular phrases that the Council of Nicaea decided reflect Christ matter but all those other phrases that the Council of Nicaea decided reflect Christ don't because they aren't inside quotation marks.'

I mean I get the idea and it's not a bad one but it's not a hermeneutic.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:34 AM on May 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


The only 14 red letters any human being needs to know can be found in John 13:34

LOVEONEANOTHER

Simple really, go forth and do that stuff.
posted by Callicvol at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2013 [41 favorites]


They're just as fallible as the rest of what a bunch of folks wrote in books that were later canonized as Holy Scripture.

I don't think that's what Mitch Lewis meant at all.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is not new that professing evangelicals tend to side with the Right. That does not make them correct on all issues, and certainly not infallible. It's just that the Bible tends to square with certain positions, like those against abortion and homosexuality. The champions of these practices tend to ignore, and even disparage the Scriptural backing for this in very overt, vitriolic ways. That doesn't change it. Fundamentalism is not the same as evangelicalism and we need to remember that, especially those of us who are more moderate.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, I'll sure take this over Prosperity Theology any day of the week. Regardless of whether the "red letters" are verbatim what Jesus of Nazereth actually spoke, or if they were all made up by a bunch of priests in Nicea in the mid 200's AD, they're still a useful set of guidelines for humanity.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's just that the Bible tends to square with certain positions, like those against abortion and homosexuality.

Not to derail this into a whole thing, but you'd be surprised.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2013 [56 favorites]


That does not make them correct on all issues, and certainly not infallible. It's just that the Bible tends to square with certain positions, like those against abortion and homosexuality.

I don't think that's true at all. I think that's how one portion of Christians interpret the Bible, but it is by no means the ONLY or authoritative way to interpret it. In fact, it's pretty far the other direction by many reads.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The only 14 red letters any human being needs to know can be found in John 13:34

LOVEONEANOTHER


Similar theme to the ones that David Duchovney used to read in the Red Letter Diaries late at night on Bravo.
posted by srboisvert at 9:44 AM on May 16, 2013 [32 favorites]


Where's the part about abortion again?
posted by thelonius at 9:45 AM on May 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


fundamentalists of this subset are like THIS but fundamentalists of that subset are like THIS
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a Black Letter Christian. Also, the map of The Mediterranean in the back.
posted by michaelh at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


shakespeherian: Well, yes, but I don't think this necessarily requires a view of a historical Jesus who said those exact words at those exact times in those exact places. I mean, I'm not a red letter Christian, because I'm not Christian, but I think it might be valuable to note that the compositors and editors of the Bible have established a tradition of putting the nicest parts in red letters, without focusing on the claim that they are literally divine words literally spoken by a literally divine person.

Basically, I like the name because it can be used to sidestep historical-Jesus questions in favor of textual analysis. The red letters aren't noteworthy because Jesus said them, they're noteworthy because generation after generation of copyist has put them in red.

Okay, so the thing I'm really into, though, about focusing on the literal red letters rather than treating them as the Word of God Incarnate, is that their foundation stops being their status as direct revelation of the divine, and starts being based in something like, well, scholarly practice.

What do I mean? The words in red are noteworthy because they're for the most part the most thoughtful part of Christian scripture. These words are in red not because Jesus said them, but because scribes and scholars keep putting them in red. As such, they represent not divine wisdom, but wisdom marshaled and preserved by copyists, monks, printers and nerds throughout history. And that is why I like both the things in red letters and the name "red letter Christians" itself.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:48 AM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


yes but red ink is so striking
posted by grubi at 9:50 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It'll never catch on. Hate feels too good.
posted by Decani at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


The words in red are noteworthy because they're for the most part the most thoughtful part of Christian scripture. These words are in red not because Jesus said them, but because scribes and scholars keep putting them in red. As such, they represent not divine wisdom, but wisdom marshaled and preserved by copyists, monks, printers and nerds throughout history.

I don't think you can have ever looked at a Bible. It is only what Jesus says that's in red in every one I've ever looked at. Attributing this to the Wisdom of Monks is ridiculously circular. There's plenty of good, but non-red, stuff in the Bible. Several of the 10 Commandments, for instance.
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love the idea of red letter Christians.

My boss, who's Jewish, claims you can always tell the parts that Jesus actually said because he's ripping off earlier rabbis' teachings, and that if you study Jewish teachings of the era you can see it very clearly.

I'm not a scholar but I don't remember anything against abortion specifically. What I remember was that life started with breath, which means that fetuses aren't alive by Biblical terms. That seems as silly as saying it starts with conception, but that's religion for you.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Does red lettering of words attributed to Jesus really date back to the time of "scribes"? Wikipedia says
Klopsch published the first red-letter New Testament later in 1899. The first red-letter Bible was published in 1901.
posted by jepler at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


If this can keep Christians out of the role of being a useful way for the upper class to get the middle and working classes to vote against their own interests, I'm all for it.

Cause that's pretty much the Christian role in politics right now. "God Hates Fags LITE (TM)" and also, for some odd reason, God hates the poor, women, and blacks, because that's probably in the Bible somewhere right?
posted by edheil at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's just that the Bible tends to square with certain positions, like those against abortion and homosexuality.

I think it makes sense that Jesus, despite his very forward-thinking views on most things, probably had some pretty antiquated opinions about other issues, especially from a modern standpoint.

After all, nobody's perfect.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we're shits as people and we love to hate and kill. But on the bright side, even in the darkest parts of human history — the chaos in the west after the collapse of Rome, the brutal grinding stupidity of the thirty years war, the charnel house that was the 20th century — people kept putting those words in red. I mean, at least we've always known what we should be trying for, even if we're terrible at actually doing it right.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


damn. facts got in the way of my righteous rant :). Thanks for doing the research, jepler...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:56 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think it makes sense that Jesus, despite his very forward-thinking views on most things, probably had some pretty antiquated opinions about other issues, especially from a modern standpoint.

After all, nobody's perfect.


Actually, He was.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do they favour a professional white background?
posted by Segundus at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2013


YCTaB: Sure, and I'd say that part of what makes certain bits of the New Testament compelling to me (in both the Gospels and some stuff in Acts, which incidentally also happens to be attributed to Christ) is that they establish themselves as a hermeneutic themselves-- there's all the stuff about differentiating between loving the Law vs. loving people, but the best example is probably when some yokel is like 'Yo Jesus, what's the greatest commandment?' and Jesus winks and rolls up his sleeves and goes 'The greatest commandment is to love God, but the second greatest is actually the same thing: Love everyone else as yourself. All of the law and prophets are elaborations on these two things.'

Which gets at, I think, what the Red Letter movement is all about: using Christ as a lens through which to view the rest of scripture. Does this thing here help me love others? Does the way I'm reading this seem to instruct me not to love others? Then I'm reading it wrong.

I'm all in favor of that, and I think, in fact, that if you're going to be a Christian it's pretty much the only sensible way to read shit. I'm mostly reacting against the idea that you can separate out bits of a single book (Matthew, say) as more authoritative than other bits.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


After all, nobody's perfect.

Actually, He was.


But even if you grant that this one dude was perfect that doesn't mean that the stuff folks later said that he said is perfect.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yep, that's the popular formula:

1. Quote or paraphrase a Bible verse.

2. Follow with, "Which means that..."

3. Conclude with your personal beliefs about an issue.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:01 AM on May 16, 2013 [21 favorites]


doesn't mean that the stuff folks later said that he said is perfect.

"Play it again, Sam."
posted by grubi at 10:01 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Where's the part about abortion again?

Psalm 137:9
posted by TedW at 10:04 AM on May 16, 2013 [52 favorites]


What I remember was that life started with breath, which means that fetuses aren't alive by Biblical terms. That seems as silly as saying it starts with conception, but that's religion for you.

To be fair on this particular point, there's not a universally accepted, nailed-down definition for "life." It's kind of an arbitrary point. Breath is a less silly choice by 1st century standards than conception is by 21st century standards.

"When can we actually call this thing human, and when should we proclaim that it has human rights?" are difficult questions to answer, and I say that while firmly in the pro-choice camp.
posted by Foosnark at 10:05 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Judas shot first.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:05 AM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


radical, counter-cultural teachings

the parts that Jesus actually said because he's ripping off earlier rabbis' teachings

While I agree with the sentiment of the organization here, I should point out that Jesus was a reformationist, not a revolutionary. He wasn't for throwing out the law and the prophets!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:08 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Silly rabbi; tricks are for kids! -- Pontius Pilate
posted by grubi at 10:11 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


damn. facts got in the way of my righteous rant :).

Most people never realize that, much less admit it.
posted by headnsouth at 10:12 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


While the words of Christ were not actually rubricated until recently, they have always been held in unique reverence.
posted by No Robots at 10:15 AM on May 16, 2013


Where's the part about abortion again?

Psalm 137:9


Isn't that more of a warning than an affirmation?

Anyway, here's a better version of Psalm 137.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:15 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, here's a better version of Psalm 137.

And this is why it's hard to take literalists seriously.
posted by Mooski at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


The "better version" bit, that is. My last was a tad glib, but I didn't want to edit it down.
posted by Mooski at 10:18 AM on May 16, 2013


And this is why it's hard to take literalists seriously.

Totally, especially with all the ganja they smoke.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:20 AM on May 16, 2013


The only 14 red letters any human being needs to know can be found in John 13:34

I would add that Blakes interpretation of the Bible and particularly the New Testament focuses on the allegories, metaphors and symbolism of the Bible rather than taking a fundamentalist interpretation. Quite a fascinating read about it in Frye's Fearful Symmetry.
posted by juiceCake at 10:23 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously though, you're right that if you take one line from one psalm or verse, you could just about justify anything. Psalm 137 is about how the Israelites were carried off as slaves in Babylon and how one day God is gonna get those Babylonians for what they did and how a mother that loves their child would do better to kill them than let them face that wrath.

It's an anger poem (revenge porn), not a law or a prophecy.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


thelonius:
Where's the part about abortion again?
There's the bit about "I knew you when you were in your mother's womb" that usually gets trotted out as pro-life.

Then there's the bit where intentionally causing a woman to miscarry is only punished by a fine instead of being treated as murder.

So, as usual, however you want to read it.
posted by charred husk at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


And I feel the Jefferson Bible is relevant here.
posted by charred husk at 10:27 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anti-abortionism is not "a hermeneutic", either. As with much of what passes for "biblicism" among the religious right, it's an ideologically-motivated abomination:
Religious conservatives mobilized not because of outrage over legalized abortion but because they were furious over threats from the Internal Revenue Service, or the IRS, to revoke the tax-exempt status of a Christian college for practicing racial discrimination.

...

What’s more, two years before the Court’s decision [on Roe v. Wade], the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution calling on fellow Southern Baptists to work to make abortion legal under certain conditions—namely, “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

... Paul Weyrich, a conservative political activist and strategist, had tried for years to mobilize evangelicals into a conservative movement over school prayer, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, and abortion—all to no avail. But when government agencies started challenging the segregationist practices of the private Christian schools that evangelicals had built and their children were attending, evangelicals snapped to attention.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


for some odd reason, God hates the poor, women, and blacks, because that's probably in the Bible somewhere right?

Tarim hates poor people which is why they don't have any money.
posted by Slothrup at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


But even if you grant that this one dude was perfect that doesn't mean that the stuff folks later said that he said is perfect.

Well, the apostolic teaching is not that He was just a "dude" but a co-eternal and co-equal person of the Godhead.

But yes, I would agree that not every word attributed to Jesus Christ is accurate. That is why the church assembled a canon of scripture. Don't let the "lost books of the Bible" shows on the History Channel fool you - they were never lost and they were never of the Bible. The writings that were assembled into the canon were chosen because of their theological content. Any words in rejected writings are correctly rejected.

FWIW, I do not take literalists seriously either because literalism is not apostolic. The apostles never saw a Bible. Christians went over three hundred years without a Bible.

Someone mentioned the "prosperity gospel". I think that the "prosperity gospel" is demonic. There are a lot of bad teachings on both the right and left that claim to be "Christian" that I think are just horrible. I frankly do not blame a lot of people for becoming ex-Christians because they hear so many horrible teachings.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, Numbers chapter 5 gives detailed instructions, ostensibly FROM God, on how to perform an abortion. So any statement that begins with "The Bible says ..." can probably be contradicted by the Bible itself.

I LOVE the idea of red-letter Christians, and that's as a non-Christian myself. The man was the ultimate liberal, and truly one of the great humanitarians. I don't have to believe that he rose from the dead or that he was perfect or the son of God to know that I can learn a lot from him.
posted by jbickers at 10:30 AM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


and also, for some odd reason, God hates the poor, women, and blacks, because that's probably in the Bible somewhere right?


Don't forget the Mexicans!

Yes- it's interesting how a guy who lived among the poor as one of them, hung out with prostitutes, believed in sharing possessions, was an illegitimate child, and a refugee, should turn out to have such strong feelings about moral hazard, "non-traditional" families, communists, immigrants, and sluts.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:30 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


As happy as I am seeing at least a small subset of "Christians" attempting to be more in line with what "Christ" purportedly said, because historicity aside, the philosophy attributed to that particular carpenter is generally a good one, it's still attempting to derive a meaningful worldview and way of living from shit a bunch of dudes wrote hundreds of years after the guy who may or may not have existed did or did not exist.
posted by stenseng at 10:31 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The History of Christianity in 3 steps:

1. "But the BIBLE says X about Y"!

2. "Yes, well the bible says a lot of things, for example B which contradicts your X"

3. Repeat
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:31 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


!!!!!! RESET !!!!!

If the commnet you're about to post doesn't relate to the Red Letter Christians, please think about not posting it here.

Sincere thanks,
Someone who's interested in modern religious movements but is kind of tired of the same old debates from the same old people.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:32 AM on May 16, 2013 [29 favorites]


OH YEAH
posted by grubi at 10:33 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, benito.strauss. This is an interesting thing to talk about and I hope we don't just go into more LOL BUT THE BIBLE
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tanizaki: Well, but also, it's important to note that the Nicaean councils et al were extremely political events, even if the terms of the political disputes seem totally alien to people who aren't as obsessed with Christology as they were. So it's really quite useful to read about how and why they approved certain books and rejected certain others, so long as one doesn't fall into that stupid history channel/davinci code style "the books of the bible THEY don't want you to read!!" frame that you reference.

Why do you say prosperity gospel is demonic? I've literally never heard anything like that before — but (as you can probably tell) I know almost enough about Christianity to be ignorant about it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:34 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


[taking side discussion to memail]
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:34 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Backwater itinerant preachers are almost always economically populist, social conservative and not without a touch of mania.

Jesus caught fire, and so did Muhammad. If the Battle of Milvian Bridge went the other way, we'd be wondering what did Mithras really mean?

This debate is about 300 years past it's experation date. We already have far better exponents of humanism: humanists. No eye-plucking to avoid sin required.
posted by spaltavian at 10:35 AM on May 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Which gets at, I think, what the Red Letter movement is all about: using Christ as a lens through which to view the rest of scripture. Does this thing here help me love others? Does the way I'm reading this seem to instruct me not to love others? Then I'm reading it wrong.

Yes, this. When I've bumped into the Red Letter people, it's seemed like the RL designation is shorthand for preferencing the story of Jesus as your interpretive framework.

It's telling that we have arrived at a point when choosing Christ's life and teachings as your lens for interpretation is seen as a radical move. Many Christ-ians are actually something else, bibliolators or just plain old traditionalists with a Jesus-y veneer. Either of those might be valid choices, but I do think it's nice when the people who call themselves Christians get back to the business of trying to follow Christ.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2013 [19 favorites]


BTW, from the memory hole: Tony Campolo, the guy whose signature is on the RL introductory message, is the Baptist minister who became Bill Clinton's spiritual advisor after the Lewinski affair blew up.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


" Fundamentalism is not the same as evangelicalism and we need to remember that, especially those of us who are more moderate."

I only quote this one sentence, and the rest of your comment makes this clear(-ish? perhaps I've misunderstood you), but your conception of fundamentalists and evangelicals is almost the opposite of mine.

In the 70s and 80s, christian cultural and political conservatives were always referred to as fundamentalists and not evangelicals. This was because fundamentalist signaled particularly a cultural and political ideology within the context of American life and Christianity while evangelical was much more broad. It, as the word implies, represented a particular approach to ministry and tended toward literalism. I don't disagree that even then it had a noted tilt toward conservatism. It did. But evangelism was a much bigger tent then, there was a long-standing and significant progressive strain of evangelism.

That strain has been badly marginalized in American life today, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't yet exist and, more to the point, it's not the case that evangelism is inherently conservative, as you claim. Fundamentalism is.

Fundamentalism was supplanted by evangelism in the US because of the rise of explicitly evangelical non-denominational ministries and the relative fall of the denominations (which are also historically evangelical) that formed the nucleus of the "fundamentalist" identity. Concomitant with this change has been a much stronger identification of "conservative" with "evangelical", as these new ministries are where all of the new culturally conservative christians are going.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:43 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


@Seekerofsplendor "It is not new that professing evangelicals tend to side with the Right." You perhaps are not aware of the Evangelical left (often lumped in with Christian socialism and/or liberation theology, though not the same thing). Prominent figures are Jim Wallis (founder of Sojourners, the magazine and movement), Tony Campolo, and Phillip Yancey. They are left-leaning, and tend to favor things like caring for the poor and not going to war and all that other social justice stuff. They are not as widely known, I think, because they tend to shut the hell up in public and instead do stuff to help others. This Red-Letter thing is not at all new, just the name is.
posted by old_growler at 10:47 AM on May 16, 2013


[and now I'm realizing that when tanizaki typed "prosperity gospel" I read "liberation theology." Yeah, prosperity gospel is some demonic, I agree, and I hope these red-letter folks help shove it out of our cultural mainstream.]
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:47 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


bibliolators

I can't tell you how long I've been needing this word, Pater Alethias. Because yes, at some point in my Christianity I realized that we were basically taking the Bible, dipping it in gold, and making offerings to it in most churches. Forget what God said in your conscience, the bible was utterly sacred and beyond any sort of examination whatsoever. We Never Spoke of the fact that it, you know, came from somewhere, humans were involved, it was a messy process, because that might lead to doubt and no one wanted that. Somewhere, the idea of "inspired by God" got to mean "infallible."

And of course the fact that what most of those people called "the Bible" was only certain bits of the Bible, the parts they liked/could make support what they wanted to do, made it all the worse.

Anyhoo, I wish these people luck.
posted by emjaybee at 10:52 AM on May 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


They [the Christian left] are not as widely known, I think, because they tend to shut the hell up in public and instead do stuff to help others.

Hmmmm... quite a coincidence that the Christians most likely to critique ruling class behavior get such little media exposure. I wonder why...
posted by mondo dentro at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because yes, at some point in my Christianity I realized that we were basically taking the Bible, dipping it in gold, and making offerings to it in most churches.

From sola scriptura to solo scriptura.
posted by PMdixon at 10:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I believe that a man should be indebted to his neighbor / Not for the reward of Heaven or fear of hellfire." Words to live by - not from God exactly, but from God's own drunk.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 10:56 AM on May 16, 2013


The movement is growing, with churches like that of the pirate pastor springing up.

I don't see anything to suggest that Shawn Birss, the Pirate Pastor, is part of the "Red Letter" movement.
posted by Jahaza at 10:57 AM on May 16, 2013


It's telling that we have arrived at a point when choosing Christ's life and teachings as your lens for interpretation is seen as a radical move.

You know things are fucked up when Episcopalians are considered radicals.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:58 AM on May 16, 2013 [21 favorites]


For those interested in the historical antecedents, I heartily recommend two seminal books of the Social Gospel Movement: Christianity And The Social Crisis, by Walter Rauschenbusch; and The New Christianity, by Salem Goldworth Bland. Joel French has a good summary of the Movement in Canada, where it gave birth to Socialist political movement now operating as the NDP.
posted by No Robots at 10:59 AM on May 16, 2013


Hmmmm... quite a coincidence that the Christians most likely to critique ruling class behavior get such little media exposure. I wonder why...

Why yes, Tony Campalo would never show up on the Colbert Report for example... oh wait.
posted by Jahaza at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2013


You know things are fucked up when Episcopalians are considered radicals.

Are we sure they aren't just copying someone else and watering it down a bit?
posted by Atreides at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't see anything to suggest that Shawn Birss, the Pirate Pastor, is part of the "Red Letter" movement.

I met Shawn last week. It was he who drew my attention to the Campolo. He may not be formally part of the Red Letter movement, but he definitely operates in a similar vein, as a glance at his blog will show.
posted by No Robots at 11:02 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's telling that we have arrived at a point when choosing Christ's life and teachings as your lens for interpretation is seen as a radical move.

The problem is that that's nonsensical. We can't choose "Christ's life and teachings" as our interpretative framework for the Bible until we know what those teachings are... which these Protestant groups would get from the Bible.
posted by Jahaza at 11:03 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Historical antecedents include The Social Gospel Movement and Christian Socialism.

In the sense that they're both aligned with the political left perhaps, but they don't seem to come out of the same place theologically.
posted by Jahaza at 11:05 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should also probably mention Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, and his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which Christianity Today called one of the 100 most influential books in religion in the 20th century.
posted by old_growler at 11:07 AM on May 16, 2013


And I feel the Jefferson Bible is relevant here.

I feel the LOLCat Bible and the Brick Testament are relevant here.

And in related news, Pat Robertson gives the 7th Commandment the brush off--for cheating husbands anyway. Especially if he's handsome.
I guess that lets Don Draper off the hook
posted by fuse theorem at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why yes, Tony Campalo would never show up on the Colbert Report for example... oh wait.

I said "such little" media exposure, not "no".

The media penetration of horribly bad, and frequently "demonic" right-wing theology is overwhelming, starting with your local cable access shows and tiny AM radio stations and heading all the way up. Just because Campolo and Wallis occasionally find their way on TV doesn't change that.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:10 AM on May 16, 2013


I'm happy with Christian good guys confronting all the fucked up shit the Christian bad guys do. I wish them luck bitch slapping the Christian right with the term "red letter" too.

That said, there is nothing here that undercuts the Denis Diderot paraphrasing that "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
posted by jeffburdges at 11:15 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel the LOLCat Bible and the Brick Testament are relevant here.

Yes.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:15 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought it said, "red leather Christians." So disappointed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:20 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


The media penetration of horribly bad, and frequently "demonic" right-wing theology is overwhelming, starting with your local cable access shows and tiny AM radio stations and heading all the way up. Just because Campolo and Wallis occasionally find their way on TV doesn't change that.

It's not clear to me that they have any lower a media profile than their numbers warrant. They show up in the mainstream media from time to time. You're not seeing John Piper on TV all the time either. On the local level they also have access to media, like the The Memorial Church broadcasts on Harvard's radio station or the Trinity Church broadcasts in New York.
posted by Jahaza at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2013


If I recall bankers were the only people Jesus ever told to GTFO, he hated them so much he actually whipped them with a whip.
posted by Damienmce at 11:26 AM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


The problem is that that's nonsensical. We can't choose "Christ's life and teachings" as our interpretative framework for the Bible until we know what those teachings are... which these Protestant groups would get from the Bible.


Okay then, Christ's life and teachings as portrayed in the Bible. I don't find that nonsensical at all. No one can privilege the whole thing. But it is possible (and healthy, I would argue) to say that I am going to begin with the story of Christ and let it be paramount. If Jesus says show mercy and some other part of the Bible says stone the sinner, I'm going to show mercy. If Jesus places great value on the poor, and some other part of the Bible places more value on the powerful, I'm going to walk with the poor. What is nonsensical is to claim that there is some faction of Christianity that doesn't have part of the canon it emphasizes over others. Everyone does--best to admit it and be smart about what you pick as your canon within the canon.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:35 AM on May 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


Why yes, Tony Campalo would never show up on the Colbert Report for example... oh wait..

I think it is also worth noting that Campolo has criticized the left as well. In turn, the left tends to be subdued in cheering for him because of his opposition to abortion and gay marriage. I do not know how much discussion was given to his views on those matters on the Colbert show.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2013


It's not clear to me that they have any lower a media profile than their numbers warrant.

That little phrase, "it's not clear to me", gives you a mighty big loophole.

So, your thesis is that the relative amount of time a viewpoint is represented in the media is roughly proportional to the numbers of people who share that view? And then, as if to support your thesis, you provide as evidence radio shows in Cambridge and NYC??

You don't spend much time out in the hinterlands, I guess, do you?
posted by mondo dentro at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2013


If I recall bankers were the only people Jesus ever told to GTFO, he hated them so much he actually whipped them with a whip

You are correct.

He drove them out with a MacGyver'd whip. He flipped their tables and
wrecked their shit.

Another thing- in one of the videos on the site, Campolo says that he's bald because his hair has been raptured. I don't love everything about these guys, they are still pretty conservative evangelicals, and there are too many 2-cool white dudes with dreads for my taste, but it seems like Campolo and his crew go to great lengths to sincerely try to do good in this world. I do have a lot of regard for what they do.
posted by beau jackson at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"There's the bit about "I knew you when you were in your mother's womb" that usually gets trotted out as pro-life."

I'm a Christian, and, strictly speaking, this line is a poor argument for thinking of a fetus as a person. God is omniscient, he knows everything that has, is, and will happen. So, he knows me now, and when I was in my mother's womb. And 3,000 years ago he new me, too! But I clearly wasn't a living person back then.
posted by oddman at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


At issue outside the fold is that the words "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" are widely misunderstood. They aren't interchangeable.

"Evangelical" Christians historically believe that they must spread the Good New of Christ's sacrifice to everyone, because absent an actual conversion experience after the age of accountability, everyone is damned.

There may be handwaving around ancients, or isolated populations, or whatnot, but that's the gist of the message. Some modern evangelicals may reject the "all in" approach and emphasize sharing Jesus' teachings, etc., without actually believing that nonChristians are going to hell, but the emphasis is still on spreading the faith -- i.e., evangelizing. It's a core idea.

"Fundamentalism" when applied to any faith usually means raving loony rule-mongers and retrograde values, and invariably includes lots of exclusionary doctrine about anybody different from the mainline population of the church.

In Christianity, I'm pretty sure all fundamentalists are also evangelicals, more or less by definition, even if, say, the supposed conversion/evangelism efforts of Westboro Baptist aren't likely to garner many converts.

Probably, even, most if not all Christians of ANY kind are at least somewhat evangelical; Christ himself is said to have given the Great Commission, which more or less orders that behavior. However, if we're talking about capital-E Evangelical, we would typically exclude mainline Catholics and Anglicans, and focus more on the other denominations and the rising number of non-denominational congregations.

All evangelicals, though, are not fundamentalist.
posted by uberchet at 11:45 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh. Maybe it's because I was raised Catholic and bible-reading isn't encouraged (that's what priests are for!), but I've never seen a bible with red letters. Even the little New Testament I got at my uncle's funeral recently is all black letters. It's a Catholic edition, too, though.
posted by looli at 11:45 AM on May 16, 2013


You know who else thinks you need to treat the Sermon on the Mount as Christ's direct instructions on how to live life? Yeah, the Amish. So if you're serious about this, close that laptop, and let's take this discussion to the post office.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:45 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Red Letter movement is certainly not without critics.

Heh. From the link:
In fact, the red-letter Jesus could be judgmental.
[...]
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41 ESV)
Aw, so cute. Like most of his ilk, he left out the important context!
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Loosely translated? "What part of love one another, take care of each other, tend to the folks who have it worse than you" did you assholes not understand?"

I'm not even Christian, and I know what Jesus said about "the cursed", and why. (I like Jesus just fine, but there's a really loud, obnoxious part of his fan club that he really needs to come back and school. Hard.)
posted by MissySedai at 11:49 AM on May 16, 2013 [33 favorites]


It's very interesting (in a "wow, I mean... really?" way) that right-wing Christians are so adamantly pro-life these days.

In 1968, Christianity Today affirmed that Biblically, life begins at birth, not at conception. In 1971, the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention affirmed that abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.

So how did things so radically change between then and now? Did God change his mind? Was the Bible wrong? If the official position of mainstream Christianity can swing fully 180 degrees from being pro-choice (as the Bible clearly teaches) to being anti-choice (as the uh... Bible clearly teaches), maybe it is a good time to take a step back and really examine some of our long-held beliefs. Do we believe them because we've examined the issue for ourselves from all angles, and come to our own well-reasoned conclusions? Or do we believe them because that's all we've ever known, all we've ever been told?

In history that is living memory for many people, mainstream Christianity shifted from a Bible-based position of being "pro-choice, life begins at birth" to a Bible-based position of being "anti-choice, life begins at conception." This is not a subtle change in meaning; this is a complete polar shift, a total reversal of opinion.

As fervently as mainstream Christianity believed in one thing, it now just as fervently believes the complete opposite.

But hey, it's all there in the book, right?
posted by xedrik at 11:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Huh. Maybe it's because I was raised Catholic and bible-reading isn't encouraged (that's what priests are for!), but I've never seen a bible with red letters. Even the little New Testament I got at my uncle's funeral recently is all black letters. It's a Catholic edition, too, though.

I think it's a subset-of-Protestants thing. I'm trying hard to remember if I've ever seen a Bible with red letters and I've seen Bibles in non-Catholic contexts.
posted by hoyland at 11:56 AM on May 16, 2013


"That little phrase, "it's not clear to me", gives you a mighty big loophole."

As opposed to your comments which were all quantitatively exact?

So, your thesis is that the relative amount of time a viewpoint is represented in the media is roughly proportional to the numbers of people who share that view?

No, I didn't say that. A small group having a small media profile is not the same as "roughly proportional" coverage as a general principle.

You don't spend much time out in the hinterlands, I guess, do you?

I live in New York right now, but I haven't always lived here. Those were the first examples that came to mind. In the small town (22k people) in New Hampshire where I grew up, the local United Church of Christ had its Sunday services broadcast on the radio. Or you can listen to ELCA broadcasts from Duluth, MN.
posted by Jahaza at 11:57 AM on May 16, 2013


Like most of his ilk,

Methodists?
posted by Jahaza at 12:00 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of the criticisms about the Red Letter Christians, or at least their name and ostensible hermeneutic focus, will make a lot more sense with some background of what we know about what we know the Jesus and what he said.

It would be unimaginably awesome if we had contemporary accounts by perfectly disinterested observers, or better yet multiple independent ones, but the contents of the bible really is pretty much the best we've got for figuring out what the dude actually said. Unfortunately, after Josephus' less scketchy brief mention of Jesus in 90 CE, the earliest undisputed account that we have like this is from Pliny the Younger who, as a governor, writes to the Emperor in 112 CE that there are "Christians" about who are meeting illegally and who "worship Christ as a God," all he wants is advice as to how to handle the situation. The next earliest is by Pliny's friend Tacitus in 115 CE in his history of Rome where he mentions that the great fire, supposedly set by Nero, in 64 CE was blamed on "the Christians." He seems largely uninterested in the scapegoats, but does mention that they got their name from Christus and that the "superstition" spread from Judea to Rome after Pontius Pilate executed Christus under the reign of Tiberius. This is still seventy nine years later. The earlier stuff that we have is indeed pretty terrible by the kinds of standards used to asses modern history, though is importantly a pretty standard level of terrible for the age. The accounts we have are written by true believers, who were not themselves eyewitnesses, who mostly spoke a different language and lived in a different country than the eyewitnesses, they are not free from collaboration (With Mark being used as a source for Matthew and Luke), and they are pretty wildly inconsistent in both details and global understandings. However, there is still a lot we can do to get decent information out of what we've got.

Thankfully there is a common thread among in puzzle solving oriented atheists and theists who FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT RELIGION in a certain way and who have obsessed about these kinds of questions for centuries. Since well before the enlightenment, there has been a community of puzzle solving minded folks, both atheists and theists, who have put A LOT OF THOUGHT into squeezing just about everything that we possibly can out of the extant records we have. They've found that when assessing the veracity of historical materiel, it is important to keep in mind a number of principles, not all of which are very intuitive,
First, and intuitively, the earlier the sources that the materiel is found in the better. Twenty years is indeed an awfully long time to be playing a game of telephone, or even for a single person to keep a consistent view. However, so long as we are talking about a single person, one could argue that their later writings might benefit from additional perspective, Paul's letters for example do get a lot more subtle and interesting as time went on. Also, we do have pretty reasonable ways to date even the earliest texts, for example each of the gospels refer to the destruction of Jerusalem (even if it is sometimes as an awfully specific prediction) and so we can reasonably assume that they were each written after that.

Second, is the criterion of multiple attestation, or the more sources we have that cite or repeat the materiel the better. Materiel found in multiple sources that are independent and contemporary to each other is more likely to be historically accurate. It is pretty intuitive that it would be difficult for someone to make something up and get someone else, somewhere else, to make up a similar thing at the same time. Thus a dozen folks saying something in 75 CE isn't that much worse than someone saying the same thing in 50 CE. For example, both Matthew and Luke talk about how Jesus is from Nazareth but say very different and unique things about how he got there from Bethlehem. Mark also says that Jesus was from Nazareth and so does John, which was written totally independent of the other three Synoptic gospels. Thus, we can pretty solidly trust that Jesus was from Nazareth. However, as we can assume that since both Matthew and Luke were aware of the prophesies that declared that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, their unique stories of the nativity are probably a result of their common need to explain how Jesus was both born in Bethlehem and from Nazareth. (The traditional Christmas story that most of us get as children is a pretty forced mash-up of the two)

Third, and much less intuitively but if anything much more important, is the criterion of dissimilarity, also called the criterion of embarrassment. There are a bunch of parts of the New Testament that really don't fit the simplistic version of the Christian narrative, and these are, if anything, parts that we can trust the most. Why would anyone make them up later? Thus, using this principle, we can trust that Jesus did indeed come from Nazareth all the more. Nazareth was a two horse town in the middle of nowhere that was famous for precisely nothing and recognizable to practically no one, particularly when the messiah is supposed to come from the birthplace of David, why make that up? And how could you possibly get everyone to agree on it if you did? Also, when authors disagree that can, if anything, tell us more about what the community thought than when they say the same thing, particularly when they argue like Paul regularly does. Who would make that up? Similarly, in a lot of first and second hand accounts in ancient texts, and particularly the bible, you will often find things that just make too little sense to be fiction - like the random naked guy running through Mark. Indeed during Mark's very condensed run through of the final arrest of Jesus, Judas gets with the Jesus making, the fuzz shows up, Jesus cops to causing trouble, and then everyone books it, but then something really interesting happens. Some random dude, its not even clear if he was a follower of Jesus, loses his clothes as he tries to flee butt naked. The naked guy adds absolutely nothing to the story, isn't the least bit relevant to the narrative, and if anything detracts from the message Mark is trying to convey; but fuck would that be memorable to an eyewitness. In a time when to be naked was to be dishonored, and to be dishonored was to be less than human in a way that is only really understandable in the abstract in our post-Christian world, that was a pretty big fucking deal. While this would never occur to a fiction writer to put it, an eyewitness talking to the author of Mark would have good reason to consider the tale incomplete without it.

Fourth, is my favorite criterion, just making sense. Jesus was an itinerant rabbi in the first century Levant, and any traditions that don't make sense in that context are a lot less reliable. A lot of the later non-canonical Gospels suffer from stuff that is just stupid, but even some of the canonical gospels have some subtle things that don't make sense when you think about them. For example, in John's account of Jesus' famous late night conversation with Nicodemous, Jesus tells him that he must be born again/above. It is a play on words, and kind of a neat one. The words used are gennao (Strong's 1080), which means begotten or born in a formal father oriented sense, and it is modified by anothen (Strong's 509), which can mean either again or from above. The author of John uses anothen for both meanings in different parts of the Gospel and so the effect is obviously intentional, but importantly, neither the Arahmaic nor Hebrew languages that Jesus could have been speaking have an analogous word with both meanings. Whoops.
Despite what they've got on us, along with these tools, we have a lot of advantages today over any contemporary folks who might have been trying to distort history:
  • We understand more Greek and Hebrew than they did; dictionaries are a great thing, though we do have meaningful gaps.
  • We know a lot that they didn't about what Christians on the other side of their world were saying.
  • We have the benefit of two millennia of careful study to notice little subtle things like the play on words I mentioned.
  • We are better educated than their general audience.
  • We can spell properly and use computational analyses to track their non-standard spellings.
  • We generally have a lot more access to the writings of their peers than they did.
  • It is also important to keep in mind that these principles apply just as well to any other ancient subject. For example, we only have three surviving contemporary records that describe Caligula, the contemporary and very popular Emperor, and they were written by people who despised him. They all have common motives in the same way, say similar things about how awful he was in a similar way, say incompatible things about how awful he was is a similar way, and if anything say things that just don't make any fucking sense a lot more often.

    Paul's epistles, despite being unpopular with many liberal Christians, were written earlier than the Gospels. That is solidly before the First Judeo-Roman War, which started a train wreck in 66 CE that would sack Jerusalem in 70 CE, desecrating the temple and killing some huge proportion of all of the Jews, and would keep on wrecking until the end of the Third Judeo-Roman War in 135 CE by which point Hadrian all but erased Judea - even though he did predict it if more obliquely.* That they were earlier, that they aren't afraid to argue with other sources, that they largely agree with other sources, that at least the early undisputed epistles are really consistent, and even the canonical forgeries are both pretty good as well as really early and thus still give us a lot of insight into the early church and thus Jesus. Unfortunately, there are no extant earlier writings than the Epistles of Paul, though there were clearly writings produced that were contemporary to his that have not survived. Again, this level of shitiness in the record is not unusual for the age, even for people who were considered much more important than the rag tag followers of a random rabbi in the backwater of a backwater of a backwater.

    All of this is to say that the Red Letters, even setting aside that they are English translations of Greek translations at best, are not even generally the most solidly attested parts of Jesus' life, if anything the opposite is more generally true.


    *It is important to keep in mind that when Paul was saying that the world is going to end before the end of his generation, he was absolutely right. It wasn't a very bold prediction, and was indeed a pretty obvious outcome to any educated observer of the day. The Roman Empire was growing, and Judea was no longer really a client state with an appropriate distance between the Emperor and Judaism but was instead more of a province like any other causing deep problems that didn't have solutions, which pretty soon no band-aid would be big enough for. Statues of Caligula had been recently been placed in Jewish synagogues by force, the benefits of integration with the Roman economy were being very unevenly spread, and the people of Judea were increasingly seeing the Roman collaborators who ruled them as corrupt, sacrilegious, and (almost worse) Greek. They also wern't wrong, and no amount of negotiation could fix the hard truths of the time, rebellion was inevitable. However, rebellion was also inevitably a disaster. The Roman Empire was near its height, and no matter how well put together, how popular, or how well lead any rebellion was, its downfall would also be a trivial and essential task, and this would also be obvious to any educated observer. The world was going to end, the temple was going to be sacked and desecrated, the wealth of Judea was going to be carted back to Rome to finance the Empire and its obscene building projects, the people of Judea were going to be slaughtered, raped, sold as slaves, and scattered, and there wasn't really anything anyone could do about it. It would awfully easy now to snark about whether the sky was also expected to fall, but try to think about it from the perspective of an educated Jew living in the age and knowing all of this, with sons who would die at the hands of the Romans and daughters who would still be there when they did.
    posted by Blasdelb at 12:00 PM on May 16, 2013 [92 favorites]


    "My boss, who's Jewish, claims you can always tell the parts that Jesus actually said because he's ripping off earlier rabbis' teachings, and that if you study Jewish teachings of the era you can see it very clearly. "

    Unfortunately our knowledge of what Jewish preachers at the time and immediately before were teaching is very scant and mostly filtered through Roman cultural stupidity, later Christian manipulation, or both.
    posted by Blasdelb at 12:02 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    In history that is living memory for many people, mainstream Christianity shifted from a Bible-based position of being "pro-choice, life begins at birth" to a Bible-based position of being "anti-choice, life begins at conception." This is not a subtle change in meaning; this is a complete polar shift, a total reversal of opinion.

    It may interest you to know that opposition to abortion is found in the earliest Christian writings such as the Didache 2:2 ("thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born") or the Epistle of Barnabas 19 ("Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born"). See also Clement of Alexandria, St. Athenagoras, Tertullian, St. Basil the Great, and others.
    posted by Tanizaki at 12:05 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Double flip-flop! Awesome! :D
    posted by xedrik at 12:06 PM on May 16, 2013


    You really can distill the entire Bible into one teaching. Jesus said the most important commandment was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second was like unto it-to love your neighbor as yourself. He said that upon those two commandments hung the entire Law and the Prophets.

    If we could get THAT, what a different world it would be.


    But do remember that this is the same Jesus who said that if we called someone a fool we were in danger of hellfire. Jesus was (and is) not mealymouthed, that's for sure.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:07 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    In 1968, Christianity Today affirmed that Biblically, life begins at birth, not at conception. In 1971, the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention affirmed that abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.

    So how did things so radically change between then and now? Did God change his mind? Was the Bible wrong? If the official position of mainstream Christianity can swing fully 180 degrees from being pro-choice (as the Bible clearly teaches) to being anti-choice (as the uh... Bible clearly teaches), maybe it is a good time to take a step back and really examine some of our long-held beliefs.


    You can't have it both ways. They can't be both "the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention" and "the official position of mainstream Christianity."

    I, of course, think the SBC get huge portions of Christianity wrong, so I don't see any problem in having them screw-up this one too.
    posted by Jahaza at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    And for those who didn't know, Tanizaki is Eastern Orthodox (as is my son) so he's not just blowing smoke when he is quoting those early Christian writings. His denomination takes the early Christian fathers very, very seriously.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


    You can't have it both ways. They can't be both "the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention" and "the official position of mainstream Christianity."

    Fair point, but it wasn't just the SBC; the far more mainstream (then and now) Christianity Today said the same thing.
    posted by xedrik at 12:12 PM on May 16, 2013


    Maybe it's because I was raised Catholic and bible-reading isn't encouraged (that's what priests are for!)...

    Even here there may be some variance - I was also raised Catholic and our Sunday School teacher once did a session on "Getting Into The Habit Of Reading Scripture," and I was presented with a Bible when I was confirmed. (I still have it, in fact.) But it doesn't have this red-letter thing; I've only seen it in a handful of Bibles. I'm trying to remember whether the one at our church was that way (I did a couple readings in a couple services as a teenager, but I somehow always ended up getting something from the Book of Psalms and wouldn't know).

    It kinda strikes me that the "red letter" approach is an attempt to beat the right-wing fundie zealots at their own game - "you wanna base things on Scripture? Okay, let's base things on only the Scripture that Jesus said. Take that." Which, if nothing else, is clever as all hell.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Maybe it's because I was raised Catholic and bible-reading isn't encouraged (that's what priests are for!), but I've never seen a bible with red letters.

    My parents' gigantic family-type Catholic bible has red lettering for Jesus' words.
    posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:15 PM on May 16, 2013


    The 'red letters' aren't the words spoken by Christ himself, they're the words that the various gospel writers attribute to him...It makes no sense to say 'These particular phrases that the Council of Nicaea decided reflect Christ matter but all those other phrases that the Council of Nicaea decided reflect Christ don't because they aren't inside quotation marks.'

    shakespeherian, you're completely right, but I think you're missing the point of what the Red Letter movement is really about.

    Even if maybe some of them believe that the direct quotes from Jesus are more important than the rest of the Bible, that's not really the point.

    The point is that there are big, significant chunks of what the Bible teaches that many conservative Christians seem to ignore, and the fact that a whole lot of what is ignored is actually the teaching attributed to Jesus and traditionally highlighted in red letters just makes it particularly egregious and ironic.

    Pointing to the Red Letter portions of the Bible is just a flashy, catchy way of saying, "Hey! Look! Loving our neighbors, caring for the poor, being quick to forgive and slow to judge -- these are central to Christianity. Certainly more central than fixating on political power and sexual morality."
    posted by straight at 12:20 PM on May 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


    I'm not comfortable with interpretation rubrics that give more weight to one or another set of passages in text. The wonderful explanation from Blasdelb above echos a lot of my thoughts about the relative unreliability of the sayings of Jesus, but even in that space there are some interesting techniques to rate the confidence level of each saying.

    My discomfort is that part of being a Christian is living with the interpretive challenge and privileging ~5% of the text is a dishonor to the whole work. Making informed decisions based on the Bible isn't easy, but I don't think its spiritually proper to carve out a section because we are supposed to wrestle with this.

    The ambiguous and uncomfortable place affords a lot of growth, albeit at the expense of simple answers. In this regard, I don't think Red Letter Christianity offers anything more for spiritual advancement than right-leaning extra biblical interpretations offer.
    posted by dgran at 12:27 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    "you wanna base things on Scripture? Okay, let's base things on only the Scripture that Jesus said. Take that." Which, if nothing else, is clever as all hell.

    I would be interested in the RLC take on "So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.'"
    posted by Tanizaki at 12:39 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The 'red letters' aren't the words spoken by Christ himself, they're the words that the various gospel writers attribute to him.

    Ehhh, if you're already a Christian and hence inclined to believe at some level in the divine truth og the Bible, this is not a problem.

    It's certainly much more justifiable to go on the supposed words of Jesus than pick and choose from the more authoritarian bits of the OT or bloody Paul.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:42 PM on May 16, 2013


    The ambiguous and uncomfortable place affords a lot of growth, albeit at the expense of simple answers. In this regard, I don't think Red Letter Christianity offers anything more for spiritual advancement than right-leaning extra biblical interpretations offer.

    Oh, I agree that reflection upon the writings and their nuance is definitely preferable. But if you're dealing with someone who embraces the slogan "God said it, I believe it, that settles it," then calling them on whether or not God did actually "say it" may be a way to reach them where they are.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    "The God of the Christians is a father who makes much of his apples, and very little of his children."
    posted by stenseng at 12:45 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    My discomfort is that part of being a Christian is living with the interpretive challenge and privileging ~5% of the text is a dishonor to the whole work. Making informed decisions based on the Bible isn't easy, but I don't think its spiritually proper to carve out a section because we are supposed to wrestle with this.

    Can you call yourself a follower of Christ if you're really just a follower of whatever people tell you is the Bible, though? (Not you personally of course.) If so, how does that make you any different than a Jew or a Muslim who also accepts the books of the Old and New Testament as sacred texts? Which version of the Bible should people wrestle with, the Protestant version (which only counts the Hebrew Bible among its Old Testament books), or the more expansive Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian canons?

    The bible has been modified and re-translated in all sorts of ways over the years. Yes, even the words attributed to Jesus have been changed, but at least they're clearly supposed to represent Jesus' own instruction to his followers. And if it's not wrestling with the actual direct teachings and life example of Jesus to the best of one's ability that makes someone a Christian, what is it? Checking off the box on a demographic survey form that says so? Taking whatever collection of old texts some religious leader hands them and identifies as "The Holy Bible" at face value and slavishly accepting every last word--even the many long lists of names--as direct instruction from God?
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:45 PM on May 16, 2013


    Jahaza:

    Yes, my statements are quantitatively pretty spot on. I've lived in rural PA for 25 years. In my environs, there are exactly zero radio shows with "liberal theology" on them. Likewise, if you look at our cable TV offerings, there are exactly zero left-leaning or progressive religious shows--even though there are many "Christian" channels on the cable roster (and, by the way, there is no other philosophical or religious content). If you want to include an occasional Karen Armstrong interview (or the like) on NPR/PBS, you might be able to bump my "exactly zero" up to, I dunno, maybe 1%?

    On the other hand, if you want to hear people constantly violating the 9th commandment by repeating lies about pretty much anyone who disagrees with them, or if you're attracted to the version of "Christianity" that is really more of an end-times-yearning death cult... now shows like that are very easy to find.

    I imagine that you're a serious Christian (with no quotes), and I assume a very sincere one. I can respect that. But you seem to be in denial about how the rest of the world sees--and more importantly, experiences--the "Christian" media landscape.

    After all, if the likes of Campolo and Wallis were really all that commonly seen as Christian exemplars, would this RLC stuff even be news? Would it even have come into existence?
    posted by mondo dentro at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


    It may interest you to know that opposition to abortion is found in the earliest Christian writings such as the Didache 2:2 ("thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born") or the Epistle of Barnabas 19 ("Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born"). See also Clement of Alexandria, St. Athenagoras, Tertullian, St. Basil the Great, and others.

    This is not really a complete view of the early Church's view on abortion.

    For starters The Old Testament clearly defines the wonton killing of a fetus as a property crime, not even serious injury, and not a murder.
    Exodus 21:22-24 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
    Genesis defines life as beginning with the first breath in the very distinct sentence construction of Genesis 2:7
    Genesis 2:5-7 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
    and Numbers defines person-hood as beginning one lunar cycle afterwards
    Numbers 3:14-1614 The LORD said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, 15 “Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” 16 So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD.
    Numbers also prescribes priests of the temple perform violently dangerous abortions on pregnant women whom their husbands suspect of being unfaithful, which should only work if the suspicions are true.
    Numbers 5:11-31 11 Then the LORD said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing. 16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the LORD cause you to become a curse[d] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” “‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.” 23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[e] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. 29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”
    Indeed Romans like Tacitus were fascinated and revolted by the Jewish opposition to infanticide and would have considered it hilarious and incredibly remarkable if Jews they encountered believed anything so pompously Pythagorean as that ensoulment happened at conception.

    Moving forward to the early Church though, and setting aside how uneasy any of us should feel about claiming Barnabas as anything remotely like orthodox, the early church fathers you mentioned neglect to specify just how serious of a crime they believe abortion to be, and many others had explicitly much more nuanced views or disagreed entirely. For example the synods of Elvira and Ancyra only established abortion as a crime when commingled with porneia and not considered murder. Indeed strongest case to be made is that what opposition to abortion existed in the early church was primarily from its association with the systems of sexual chattel slavery that existed at the time and the things that were like it - not the life of a child.
    posted by Blasdelb at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


    After all, nobody's perfect.

    Actually, He was.
    He had his doubts as you may recall.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:49 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "Pointing to the Red Letter portions of the Bible is just a flashy, catchy way of saying, "Hey! Look! Loving our neighbors, caring for the poor, being quick to forgive and slow to judge -- these are central to Christianity. Certainly more central than fixating on political power and sexual morality."

    While the Christian way of doing things really is more about transcending political power than fixating on it or trying to co-opt it, fixating on sexual morality really is at the heart of a lot of the Christian revolution, though not really in the way the Christian Right typically thinks of it.
    posted by Blasdelb at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I don't have much vitriol to add to the discussion, but this Red Letter group is what I thought Christianity was supposed to be about when I was younger. I went to a religious grade school in my early years, and while I was always a skeptic regarding the "supernatural" stuff, it wasn't emphasized as much as the actual teachings and actions of Jesus.

    I was most compelled by the stories about helping and respecting the poor - such as Jesus asking a rich man to give away all his possessions to the poor in order to enter heaven, or pointing out that a poor woman's small church tithe was worth more than that of a rich person's large contribution, because she had less to give. I thought Christians were supposed to learn from these examples and make those kind of a differences in the world - tirelessly opposing things like violence and poverty, and standing up to injustice, just like Jesus!

    Our church (which was in a rich neighborhood) had a great storyteller for a priest, but he didn't really give sermons on the evils of hoarding wealth, or giving back to the community, or volunteering very often. But when he did, you could tell he was almost a different person - a man with real conviction and fire in his belly. Maybe this is merely what great orators do, but as I grew older, those were really the only sermons I looked forward to, though they happened only a few times per year. I always wondered if the rich people being upbraided were guiltily squirming in their seats, or if they were even paying attention, instead just hoping the service would let out by noon so they could watch the football game. It was fairly obvious that they certainly weren't giving as much as they could be.

    In the years since, I've written off religion for the most part, mostly because if I call myself a Christian it doesn't mean that I fight for the poor, or that I oppose war in all its forms, it means that I also think Jesus moved a giant boulder that sealed him into his tomb, that he ascended into heaven, etc. Those last two things have nothing to do with my own moral code, but the first things absolutely do, and which do you think better define me as a person? Upon which things will a higher power judge my modest contributions to this planet? I think this line from the freep criticism states it best:

    If, on the other hand, they want to prioritize Jesus' teaching over the saving power of his death and resurrection, there is a big problem.

    If Jesus was actually resurrected, it was because of his teachings, and I think the point was that your only hope of joining him in the Kingdom of Heaven is to live your life according to said teachings. (and remember that Jesus kicked the shit out of some money changers who were gouging the poor with interest rates which are much lower than my current bank's.)
    posted by antonymous at 12:53 PM on May 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


    In Christianity, I'm pretty sure all fundamentalists are also evangelicals, more or less by definition, even if, say, the supposed conversion/evangelism efforts of Westboro Baptist aren't likely to garner many converts.

    WBC isn't looking to convert or save anyone. They're Calvinists. If you don't believe what they believe then you're already damned, the end. They just want you to know about it.
    posted by elsietheeel at 12:56 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    the wonton killing of a fetus

    Well there's an unfortunate typo if I've ever seen one. Sorry.
    posted by hoyland at 12:58 PM on May 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


    "If Jesus was actually resurrected, it was because of his teachings, and I think the point was that your only hope of joining him in the Kingdom of Heaven is to live your life according to said teachings. (and remember that Jesus kicked the shit out of some money changers who were gouging the poor with interest rates which are much lower than my current bank's.)"

    If y'all are interested in introductions to some more hardcore theology this is the Moral influence theory of atonement. There are others though,

    Christus Victor (Patristic)
    Governmental (Arminian)
    Penal substitution (Scholastic - Reformed)
    Ransom (Patristic)
    Recapitulation (Patristic)
    Satisfaction (Scholastic - Anselmian)
    Substitutionary (Scholastic - Reformation)
    posted by Blasdelb at 1:00 PM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


    After all, if the likes of Campolo and Wallis were really all that commonly seen as Christian exemplars, would this RLC stuff even be news? Would it even have come into existence?

    This web site is pushing a book sold by Thomas Nelson, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, a subsidiary of NewsCorp. This Red Letter Christian thing is the mainstream media.
    posted by Jahaza at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This is not really a complete view of the early Church's view on abortion.

    I cannot read the link to Google Books. In some sense, the appeal to "the Mosaic law" as being not strict as the Christian position is not very persuasive because Christians are not just "less strict views". In fact, in at least one instance, Jesus said the law of Moses was too lax. In Matthew 19, Jesus explains that the Mosaic permission of divorce was a concession to human weakness and what God wanted from the beginning and will explicitly demand now is something stricter.

    the early church fathers you mentioned neglect to specify just how serious of a crime they believe abortion to be

    False. They are quite specific:

    Clement of Alexandria: "for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings."

    St. Athenagoras: "We say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God.

    Tertullian: "For us we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth"

    St. Basil the Great: "She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder...here it is not only the child to be born that is vindicated, but also the woman herself who made an attempt against her own life, because usually the women die in such attempts. Furthermore, added to this is the destruction of the child, another murder... Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus."

    Now, those were just the Church Father I mentioned. Now, I will quote the councils you cite:

    Council of Elvira, Canon 63: "If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice." (some translations say "she has doubled her sin")

    Council of Ancyra, Canon 21: "Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfil ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees."

    These councils do not say "abortion is ok if your husband got you pregnant". That Elvira holds that abortion means that one has "sinned twice" requires that abortion was a sin in the first case.

    fixating on sexual morality really is at the heart of a lot of the Christian revolution, though not really in the way the Christian Right typically thinks of it.

    In turn, I find that a lot of objections to Christianity are based in sex. It is the rare religion discuss that gets very far without someone bringing up sex.
    posted by Tanizaki at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


    If you don't believe what they believe then you're already damned, the end. They just want you to know about it.

    Even if you do believe it, it's still up to God's Grace whether or not you end up damned, under Calvinist doctrine. Doesn't matter if you're an atheist child murderer, if God pre-qualified you for salvation, you qualify, according to the Calvinists. On the other hand, even if you're faithful and devout as a saint, you might already be damned anyway, so I guess it evens out...
    posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "I'm not comfortable with interpretation rubrics that give more weight to one or another set of passages in text. The wonderful explanation from Blasdelb above echos a lot of my thoughts about the relative unreliability of the sayings of Jesus, but even in that space there are some interesting techniques to rate the confidence level of each saying."

    Looking back my comment has kind of a pessimistic tone that I kind of regret, really its pretty amazing how intact and reliable the scriptures we do have are. for example, even though the author of Luke edited out the naked guy when copying from Mark to make his separate Gospel, none of the scribes who transcribed Mark over the years neatened that bit up leaving us with this remarkable and ostensibly irrelevant slice of the life of Jesus.
    posted by Blasdelb at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This web site is pushing a book sold by Thomas Nelson, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, a subsidiary of NewsCorp. This Red Letter Christian thing is the mainstream media.

    And what is the implication of that, in your view?
    posted by mondo dentro at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2013


    fixating on sexual morality really is at the heart of a lot of the Christian revolution, though not really in the way the Christian Right typically thinks of it

    I didn't mean to say that Christianity is uninterested in sexual morality. But the stuff you link to where Paul writes about it, it's mostly his responses to problems in a specific church.

    When the New Testament writers lay out their comprehensive vision for the Church, particularly when Luke puts forward the story of the early church in Acts, and in letters like Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, there is much greater emphasis on the believers sharing with each other, caring for the poor, widows, and orphans, unity between Jews and Gentiles, and loyalty to Christ as Lord above the Roman Emperor. And certainly when the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus teaching, ministry, death, and resurrection, there's far more emphasis on things like care for the poor, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the spiritual dangers of wealth than on sexual morality.

    But you're right that sexual morality -- particularly as it pertains to the treatment and exploitation of women (which is what Jesus's condemnation of divorce is all about, for instance), is indeed one of the important concerns of the early church and the New Testament writers.
    posted by straight at 1:23 PM on May 16, 2013


    And what is the implication of that, in your view?

    That when NewsCorp is publishing their book it's hard to claim that "the Christians most likely to critique ruling class behavior get such little media exposure" or perhaps that they are in fact critiquing ruling class behavior vs. critiquing the behaviour of some within the ruling class on behalf of others within the ruling class.
    posted by Jahaza at 1:24 PM on May 16, 2013


    What I like about these kinds of movements, as well as the Quakers, and various other kinds of liberal Christian flowerings over the years, is that their reading of the text is truly post-modern. Who gives a shit about historical context or scholarly interpretations? Read it and see. The words themselves are the truth, not the long-dead author or the jittery Church.

    If you truly understand the world, no text is more privileged than any other. Every text is in fact sacred. But only a few texts exist that can cause this understanding to blossom. The words of Jesus in the Bible are the rip-cord that opens the parachute of holiness, at least the one that does the most magic to my particular soul. They are why I am Christian. You should check 'em out in detail if you never have.
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:31 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Jahaza, there is a growing segment of the ruling class, ie. the bourgeoisie, that is shedding its own class interests in favour of embracing the proletariat. I count myself in that group, and doubtless many Red Letter Christians would also see themselves in that way. Perhaps even certain elements within the publishing industry are also moving in this direction.
    posted by No Robots at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2013


    "When the New Testament writers lay out their comprehensive vision for the Church, particularly when Luke puts forward the story of the early church in Acts, and in letters like Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, there is much greater emphasis on the believers sharing with each other, caring for the poor, widows, and orphans, unity between Jews and Gentiles, and loyalty to Christ as Lord above the Roman Emperor."

    Heh, the average capitalist prosperity theologian would likely rather fall down dead than take Acts seriously
    posted by Blasdelb at 1:39 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    their reading of the text is truly post-modern. Who gives a shit about historical context or scholarly interpretations? Read it and see. The words themselves are the truth, not the long-dead author or the jittery Church

    You could just as well call that a pre-modern reading of the text.
    posted by straight at 1:40 PM on May 16, 2013


    Who gives a shit about historical context or scholarly interpretations?

    Well understanding how metaphor works for example, helps one understand the words in question and historical context can help too.

    Read it and see.

    Which basically gets the same results as the debates that result from those who take historical context and interpret words in a scholarly way.
    posted by juiceCake at 1:43 PM on May 16, 2013


    That when NewsCorp is publishing their book it's hard to claim that "the Christians most likely to critique ruling class behavior get such little media exposure" or perhaps that they are in fact critiquing ruling class behavior vs. critiquing the behaviour of some within the ruling class on behalf of others within the ruling class.

    Yeah, I can dig that. I have long suspected that most cultural upheavals, including "class struggles", often are really about one group of rich bastards fighting with another.

    But that just shifts the conversation about the frequency and types of media representations of Christian thinking to somewhere else--you're commenting now about what's actually behind this RLC "movement". I could also see pure careerism: I mean, being a big time evangelical these days pretty much means that you have to think of new ways to get at "underserved markets". From that cynical perspective (among many other perspectives), Campolo and company are going after that "lefty hipster" spiritual consumer.
    posted by mondo dentro at 1:46 PM on May 16, 2013


    there is much greater emphasis on the believers sharing with each other, caring for the poor, widows, and orphans

    Which why the obvious life is precious in the womb but at the same time once you're out of the womb and you're poor you're a freeloader and don't deserve better and guns are great, the sanctity of life then is God's will if you're shot down, etc., "Christians" are so utterly selective in their spirituality.
    posted by juiceCake at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2013


    Just you guys wait until you get my letter. Huh. Then...we'll see. You'll all see. I expressed it so perfectly in that letter.

    Keep an eye out for that letter. Okay?
    posted by Toekneesan at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]



    But even if you grant that this one dude was perfect that doesn't mean that the stuff folks later said that he said is perfect.


    The counter to this is something I heard from fairly liberal Christian friend way back when. Essentially, he would argue that the inherent imperfection of man (which would of course include various men messing with the "truth" of the scriptures) was all part of God's perfect plan. In other words, even as we humans get it eternally wrong, He's getting it right.

    That guy was annoying to argue with.
    posted by philip-random at 2:02 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


    introductions to some more hardcore theology

    Excellent links as always, Blasdelb. And for those interested in an anthropological approach to Christianity and Biblical teachings I highly recommend Rene Girard.
    posted by Doleful Creature at 2:03 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


    The philosophical lodestar of the current Christian Right seems less the words of pre-Nicene Jesus Christ and more the words of pre-Christmas Night Ebenezer Scrooge.
    posted by Celsius1414 at 2:04 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


    hoyland: I think it's a subset-of-Protestants thing. I'm trying hard to remember if I've ever seen a Bible with red letters and I've seen Bibles in non-Catholic contexts.
    It's actually a very traditional idea carried over from pre-Protestant, hand-written and illuminated days. Red ink was used to create visual cues to the reader which emphasized important words (by analogy, the MASTER OF SCIENCE DEGREE and WASSAMATTA UNIVERSITY are supersized on modern diplomas).
    posted by IAmBroom at 2:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I just wanted to thank everyone for making this thread both awesome as well as not the shitfest it would have inevitably been just a couple of years ago, and also specifically thank each of the various awesome mefites who have self-identified as Christian in this thread for stopping by and doing so.

    I have the feels.
    posted by Blasdelb at 2:18 PM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


    I just wanted to thank everyone for making this thread both awesome as well as not the shitfest it would have inevitably been just a couple of years ago....

    It gives me hope that some day we will be able to discuss hipsters or bicyclists on MeFi without Threadageddon breaking out. ;)
    posted by Celsius1414 at 2:24 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


    "Excellent links as always, Blasdelb. And for those interested in an anthropological approach to Christianity and Biblical teachings I highly recommend Rene Girard."

    As an introduction? Damn, you don't fuck around. For something that might be more the speed of the average mefite I'd recommend most anything by Bart D. Ehrman. All of his books say more or less the same thing and each say it very well.
    posted by Blasdelb at 2:26 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


    History of the Red Letter Bible (invented in 1899). (More History.)

    Thomas Nelson, publishers of Tony Campalo's Red Letter Revolution, which this web site is backing, were the first to publish an entire Bible with the words of Jesus printed in Red (others had previously done the New Testament). Today they helpfully offer 128 different red letter bibles.

    For something that might be more the speed of the average mefite I'd recommend most anything by Bart D. Ehrman. All of his books say more or less the same thing and each say it very well.

    It's been a while since I read any Ehrman, but the recomendation of Girard was for his antropological approach, not as a general introduction to Biblical criticism, I think. As far as I know, Ehrman doesn't take that perspective.
    posted by Jahaza at 2:29 PM on May 16, 2013


    It gives me hope that some day we will be able to discuss hipsters or bicyclists on MeFi without Threadageddon breaking out. ;)

    maybe hipsters -- never bicyclists. Get thee behind me.
    posted by philip-random at 2:31 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Watching the inevitable historical snipes between Tanizaki and Blasdelb belies the real story here: the bible is so little read that there is a "movement" to "read what Jesus said" and then to do those things.

    For modern people, saying that "God believes in Concept A" and "I believe in Concept A" are the same form of expression, and that's a wonderful development. So can we skip the regurgitation of historical claims? I don't care what someone thought about abortion if they also thought that women were property, regardless of how emphatically they wave around a book. Let's have a discussion about today, in the 21st Century, because that is where we are.
    posted by tripping daisy at 2:35 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    "It's been a while since I read any Ehrman, but the recomendation of Girard was for his antropological approach, not as a general introduction to Biblical criticism, I think. As far as I know, Ehrman doesn't take that perspective."

    Yeah, at least in his popular works Ehrman doesn't really engage at all with the kind of anthropological philosophy that is Girard's real focus. My suggestion came from how to really engage with Girard's ideas one kinda needs to already have a working familiarity with a lot of philosophy* and I suspected a lot of people new to these kinds of ideas but interested in this thread might really be looking for Ehrman's kind of New Testament textual criticism.

    *This is an awesome resource if you want to catch up!
    posted by Blasdelb at 2:44 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It gives me hope that some day we will be able to discuss hipsters or bicyclists on MeFi without Threadageddon breaking out. ;)

    OK, but what about comic sans?
    posted by mondo dentro at 2:57 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    OK, but what about comic sans?

    I thought everybody agreed that comic sans is just this side of National Socialism for unadulterated evil.
    posted by Celsius1414 at 3:19 PM on May 16, 2013


    OK, but what about comic sans?

    BURN THE WITCH
    posted by elsietheeel at 3:20 PM on May 16, 2013


    RELEVANT
    posted by shakespeherian at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The bible is so little read that there is a "movement" to "read what Jesus said" and then to do those things.

    For modern people, saying that "God believes in Concept A" and "I believe in Concept A" are the same form of expression, and that's a wonderful development. So can we skip the regurgitation of historical claims? I don't care what someone thought about abortion if they also thought that women were property, regardless of how emphatically they wave around a book. Let's have a discussion about today, in the 21st Century, because that is where we are.


    What.

    No, you are daft. Boo to you. Texts don't work that way.

    It's impossible to understand, say, Jane Austen without understanding at least a little bit about England in the early 1800s. Like, if you just pick up Pride and Prejudice and try to read it for universal truths or beauties that apply now as then (which is itself a fraught thing to do, but never mind that), you will quickly find yourself utterly out to sea unless you have at least some sense of how people did things there and then, and how Austen's work is in dialogue with that (rather than being mere reportage or whatever).

    Moving forward a bit, Ulysses offers a lot more to someone who knows about Dublin than someone who doesn't, and a lot a lot more to someone who knows a lot about Irish political history. the first time I tried to read Ulysses, I didn't know who Parnell was.

    England in the early 1800s, or Dublin at the turn of the 20th century, is really, really familiar compared to Palestine in late antiquity. Palestine in late antiquity isn't just a bit alien, it's a lot alien — like, Game of Thrones alien, or maybe even China Miéville alien in some ways. Attempting to understand a set of books composed then without bothering to learn about the culture is ungodly stupid. I'm surprised anyone gets anything out of it.

    But wait, there's more. Despite its inaccessibility to people who don't know Irish history well, Ulysses has something going for it: it is at least one book written by one person. Not so with the New Testament. It's a bunch of different books written at different times by different people, some known, some anonymous. The selection of which books went in the NT happened as the result of a series of compromises and power-plays made by different factions who thought it completely sensible to kill each other over the differences between (for example) homooúsios and homoioúsios. So understanding the book, today, requires understanding a bit about that mess (really, I'm feeling pretty ignorant about ecumenical councils right now, given how extraordinarily well-read many of the participants in this thread are...).

    Oh, and then there's the matter of most of us reading this complicatedly authored and edited book in translation, which like don't even get me started on how translation is always a political act. Much of our common sense of what the Bible means comes out of what a group of translators roundabout Shakespeare's times thought it should mean. And much of the rest comes from the various efforts by American Protestant offshoots to retcon their extraordinarily modernist understanding of the world into a fundamentally pre-modern text. ("no no no, there was a gate in jerusalem called 'the eye of the needle!'").

    And, to get around to your point, much of what we do here, right now, in this 21st century, is — in the present, mind, not in the past — influenced by all of these sedimented layers of sometimes long-forgotten past dispute over an extremely old collection of texts. It would be lovely to wake from the nightmare of history, as you're suggesting we do, but as it turns out history will always manage to find us.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:32 PM on May 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


    "Watching the inevitable historical snipes between Tanizaki and Blasdelb belies the real story here: the bible is so little read that there is a "movement" to "read what Jesus said" and then to do those things.

    For modern people, saying that "God believes in Concept A" and "I believe in Concept A" are the same form of expression, and that's a wonderful development. So can we skip the regurgitation of historical claims? I don't care what someone thought about abortion if they also thought that women were property, regardless of how emphatically they wave around a book. Let's have a discussion about today, in the 21st Century, because that is where we are.
    "
    I feel compelled to defend both Tanizaki and I, as well as how strongly we each feel about how Paul and the early Church Fathers thought about this sort of stuff. Really where we seem to disagree about their feelings about abortion is related to the relative importance to the topic of two of their fundamentally radical and novel ideas that form the foundation of modern human morality. Namely the universal sanctity of humanity and the fundamental unacceptability of sexual exploitation.

    In Greece and ancient Rome a child was virtually its father's chattel, in Roman law, the Patria Protestas granted the father the right to dispose of his offspring as he saw fit. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law held that "Deformed infants shall be killed" (De Legibus, 3.8). Of course, deformed was broadly construed and often meant no more than the baby appeared "weakly." The Twelve Tables also explicitly permitted a father to expose any female infant. Cicero defended infanticide by referring to the Twelve Tables. Plato and Aristotle recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy. As I just mentioned, Cornelius Tacitus went so far as to condemn the Jews for their opposition to infanticide. In Histories 5.5 He stated that the Jewish view that "it was a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child" was just another of the many "sinister and revolting practices" of the Jews. Even Seneca, who was famous for his relatively high moral standards, stated, "we drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal" in his work De Ira (1.15). Hell, infanticide was a casually considered phenomenon, check out this letter that we have, "Know that I am still in Alexandria.... I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it." Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule, page 54. This all changed quite suddenly with the rise of Christianity.

    While we may disagree as to exactly in what way Christianity has been opposed to abortion, and how flexible that opposition is, an deep opposition to infanticide very much goes to the heart of a lot of what Christianity has always been. We just might not recognize that visceral conclusions of that opposition today because of how ubiquitous the change is creating a weird distortion effect where it is as hard to see as water might be to a fish. There was significant culture clash between the earliest Christians and the Greco/Romans they were surrounded by, and infaticide was one of the biggest sticking points that Christians were most aggressive about. The core difference was that while the Greeks and Romans defined personhood by the things a person was able to do, early Christians defined personhood by what one was, namely a child of God. The idea of the universal sanctity and equivalent value of life was a truly radical concept at the time, and inherently Judeo-Christian. With personhood being such a fluid thing, both vulnerable and naked people as well as children were less people than secure adults were. In essence, without the modern absolute understanding, how much of a person you were was precisely correlated with how much you could convince/force other to recognize your personhood. The fundamental paradigm shift can, I think be seen even more clearly in child prostitution.

    The Romans and Greeks didn't talk about child prostitution much, it was presumably not seen as an important moral issue like the duty to murder deformed children was, but there is ample evidence of it and early Christians could not shut up about the practice. There were pre-pubescent sex workers of both genders found at Pompeii and surviving written records of military child slaves being sold to pimps and brothels. This is from the First Apology of Justin Martyr (150-155 CE), "But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution." Children couldn't enforce their personhood and so they wern't persons unless their fathers enforced their personhood for them, similarly if their fathers declared them non-persons, that is what they were. Abandoned children were still non-people, or at least negligibly people, and thus morally exploitable.

    The Christian movement, from the very beginning, recognized the personhood of vulnerable people and saw it as a moral absolute, non-variable. Of course over the last couple thousand years Christians have not been immune to either hypocrisy or apostasy, but seeing babies as people has always been part of it - and that has radically changed the world, creating the one we live in. The whole system of sexual exploitation in chattel slavery, porneia (πορνεία) in New Testament Greek, that formed the foundation for the standard expression of sexuality at the time was vigorously problematized by this. Indeed, even those women who were not currently pornēs (πόρνης) had to live with the constant threat of disaster or divorce that would put them in grave danger of being thrust into porneia.

    Really this is the kind of perspective I think we need more of, not less.

    I personally see in the records of Christianity from 90 to 1000AD a healthy mix between explicitly stated opposition to porneia and the idea that the absolute personhood of the children of God should extend past infants to fetuses - even if that clearly conflicts with the cosmology, not just the law, of the Tanakh and a hell of a lot of ambiguity. Indeed, at least the author of the Epistle of Barnabas' opposition to abortion likely stems in part from his virulent, and heretical, antisemitism. Though hell, as someone who subscribes to the idea that personhood is indeed absolute and not enhanced by power or detracted from by vulnerability, it is indeed hard not to see abortion in general as inherently really morally suspect, where a fetus' inherent weakness makes it vulnerable to us being wrong about it. As a Christian myself I see a lot of the early church's concerns about sexual exploitation as being very cautiously addressable in better ways with modern tools for understanding it like consent, and also modern contraceptives, institutions, education, and wealth as having the potential to totally change the moral equation by simply eliminating the need for any abortions related to porneia. I see far more Christian solutions to abortion than prohibition. I also see a lot of themes related to porneia in a lot of modern opposition to abortion, where as a logical consequence it uses women and women's bodies as a means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves.
    posted by Blasdelb at 3:56 PM on May 16, 2013 [31 favorites]


    There really should've been Comic Sans Christians by now (unless, of
    course, that is some hermeneutic code for Jewish stand-ups).
    posted by Chitownfats at 5:27 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Deep thanks for this post and the thread.

    Regarding "the words of Jesus," I've always liked The Five Gospels by Funk, Hoover and The Jesus Seminar.
    posted by issue #1 at 5:55 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    what the Red Letter movement is all about: using Christ as a lens through which to view the rest of scripture

    When I've bumped into the Red Letter people, it's seemed like the RL designation is shorthand for preferencing the story of Jesus as your interpretive framework.

    I found this very helpful, thank you guys. The name is off-putting to me -- calling oneself a "red-letter Christian" sounds like making a claim to be a truer follower of Christ than all those other followers of Christ. But your comments make sense.
    posted by gerstle at 6:20 PM on May 16, 2013


    I repudiated my own Christianity a long time ago and I haven't put much energy into thinking about it in almost as long. This thread has reminded me how fascinating and important the history of Christianity is and really, how profoundly influenced I am by Christ and Christianity, both as someone who was formerly Christian and as part of a society that has been shaped by Christianity.

    So cheers.
    posted by deadwax at 6:26 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "You can't have it both ways. They can't be both "the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention" and "the official position of mainstream Christianity.""

    Since he cited Christianity Today as the evidence of mainstream, you can very much have both of those groups hold the same position. To take a facile example, I don't doubt that both of them see Jesus as the literal Son of God, despite one being mainstream and the other ultra-conservative.
    posted by klangklangston at 11:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Found their Facebook page and liked it, looking forward to seeing if it is valuable. Recent years have brought Sojourners, The Christian Left (initially great but sorta going downhill these days), the Wild Goose Festival. All really welcome developments after such a desert of nastiness - this one is a breath of fresh air too. Thanks.
    posted by Miko at 11:32 PM on May 16, 2013


    Jesus and Buddha join up in “Saint Young Men”
    posted by homunculus at 12:19 AM on May 17, 2013


    England in the early 1800s, or Dublin at the turn of the 20th century, is really, really familiar compared to Palestine in late antiquity. Palestine in late antiquity isn't just a bit alien, it's a lot alien — like, Game of Thrones alien, or maybe even China Miéville alien in some ways. Attempting to understand a set of books composed then without bothering to learn about the culture is ungodly stupid. I'm surprised anyone gets anything out of it.

    What Christians do you know who are reading deep history about ancient Palestine? Arguing about what early church fathers thought may be intellectually interesting, but it's practically useless. That's why nobody reads the bible in the first place -- the return on investment for the vast majority of people is zero because it doesn't contain uniquely useful information. There are billions of people who have never read it and are doing just fine.

    And, to get around to your point, much of what we do here, right now, in this 21st century, is — in the present, mind, not in the past — influenced by all of these sedimented layers of sometimes long-forgotten past dispute over an extremely old collection of texts. It would be lovely to wake from the nightmare of history, as you're suggesting we do, but as it turns out history will always manage to find us.

    If you had an example of "history finding us" in the context of this discussion, you would have provided it instead of implying it. At most you can make a weak argument about religion as a tool of the state, but what state hasn't claimed that God was on their side, and what difference did the specifics of that text create? Any system of power will exploit the faithful, because frankly, they are easily to manipulate and the state would be foolish to leave free resources laying around.

    Blasdelb: I don't mean to be cruel, but if there's a group I would look to regarding advice on the welfare of children, the religious community wouldn't even be a consideration. You can (and do) go on forever about the good ideas the Church has had, but that's because remembering good ideas is easier than recognizing the present reality.

    Also, your assertion that the ideas of early church fathers "form the foundation of modern human morality" and "the universal sanctity of humanity and the fundamental unacceptability of sexual exploitation" is mind-bogglingly ignorant, and religiocentric, but a predictable conclusion if the only thing you read is the history of your own church. A more strict view of the sanctity of life, as well as a call to avoid sexual exploitation, can be found in the Five Precepts which is hundreds of years older than anything you have cited.
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:52 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Tripping Daisy, I would accept the Five Precepts as an influence on "our society's morality" if we were living in India, Japan, China, or any of the cultures to which Buddhism spread. Blasdelb is referring to Western, Occidental society - which indeed was influenced by from Judeo-Christian culture, which itself had its roots in very early Palestine. There just plain weren't any Buddhists in the United States or Europe during those regions' formative years - at least, none in positions of any power - so there was no one to have been influenced by the Five Precepts, so I'm not sure why your bringing it up is relevant.

    What Christians do you know who are reading deep history about ancient Palestine? Arguing about what early church fathers thought may be intellectually interesting, but it's practically useless.

    Actually, a great many Christians do turn to history about ancient Palestine in an attempt to round out their own personal Bible reading. They may not be the kind of Christians you see in the megachurches, or picketing out on streetcorners, but there are a great many Christians who do indeed educate themselves about the history and politics of the Middle East in an effort to contextualize the Scripture they read, and find greater nuance within it. Which they find very useful.

    If you had an example of "history finding us" in the context of this discussion, you would have provided it instead of implying it.

    Okay, well, then - in the context of this discussion: the words printed in red became the basis for a philosophical and religious movement that contributed to the fall of a world power. They inspired vast armies to enter into battle in a country that was further away than anyone in those armies had ever been, and the resultant exposure of those people to those other lands spurred a flowering in economic trade which in turn spurred the seeking out of new trade routes which in turn spurred the "discovery"of the Americas, and their subsequent colonization. I believe you are familiar with the history of the Americas and the subsequent impact upon the world those regions have had.

    No one is claiming that religion is the ONLY reason any of that happened. But it is hard to ignore the impact of trade upon the exploration that called for America's discovery; and it is hard to ignore the impact that the Crusades had in expanding that trade; and it is hard to ignore the impact Christianity itself had on the Crusades. And, finally, it is hard to ignore the impact the words printed in red in some Bibles had on shaping Christianity.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:48 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Occidental society - which indeed was influenced by from Judeo-Christian culture

    The trend of the reconstituted Occidental civilization has been to escape from these non-indigenous Bronze Age values and back to the Classical values of the West's forerunners. From Petrarch to Darwin, the West rebuilt itself by rejecting Abrahamisn in fits and starts. This certainly wasn't the intent of most of these thinkers along the way, but it has been an inexorable advance.

    Our entire modern society is build on classical values, not Christian ones. Jesus wasn't a democrat, or a scientist or a humanist.

    When you talk about a country such as The United States being influenced by the desert creeds you are right in so much as they rejected it as much as possible. The United States was self-consciously based on the Roman Republic to the extent possible.

    the words printed in red became the basis for a philosophical and religious movement that contributed to the fall of a world power.

    Christianity was (and still is) another eastern mystery cult, and it's adoption by the Empire was a political stunt during a civil war. These civil wars, and diminishing returns on complexity in a pre-industrial society brought down a world power.

    What Christianity did was ensure the Fall of Rome lead to a dark age, rather than mere political transformation. The Christians convinced an entire civilization to throw away their inheritance; this puts Christianity in the long history of bad ideas. It's not particularly unique story: manic preacher has a prophecy, which is immediately exploited for political and economic ends, splinters into a bunch of squabbling creeds using religion to justify their underlying social/economic/political dispute, and eventually discarded in all by platitudinal form.

    enter into battle in a country that was further away than anyone in those armies had ever been, and the resultant exposure of those people to those other lands spurred a flowering in economic trade which in turn spurred the seeking out of new trade routes which in turn spurred the "discovery"of the Americas, and their subsequent colonization.

    The Crusades (which Alexander the Great would laugh at) were just Europe's coming out party. After a thousand years on the ropes, the civilization on the Western end of Eurasia was ready to be involved in the action again; just as it was during the entire Classical era. This wasn't due to religion; and some form of the Crusades were bound to happen, Jesus or no.
    posted by spaltavian at 4:43 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Christianity was (and still is) another eastern mystery cult, and it's adoption by the Empire was a political stunt during a civil war. These civil wars, and diminishing returns on complexity in a pre-industrial society brought down a world power.

    To add to this: a declining Roman was a necessary condition of a lasting Christianity, not the other way around. In a stronger Empire, Christianity would have remained the passing fad for elite it almost was in Constantine's time. If the Empire made it to the 7th century, the some elites would have briefly dabbled in Islam, then put it down for the next cool thing to do. We've seen this today with Kabbalah and Scientology.
    posted by spaltavian at 4:54 AM on May 17, 2013


    I guess that being nice while believing in Jesus is better than being a dick while believing in Jesus. On that level, I applaud this movement.

    However, I've never understood why people can't just be nice while not believing in Jesus.
    posted by cupcake1337 at 5:26 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The trend of the reconstituted Occidental civilization has been to escape from these non-indigenous Bronze Age values and back to the Classical values of the West's forerunners. From Petrarch to Darwin, the West rebuilt itself by rejecting Abrahamisn in fits and starts. This certainly wasn't the intent of most of these thinkers along the way, but it has been an inexorable advance.

    ....A little of Column A, a little of Column B. I actually wasn't claiming that religion was the SOLE driver of culture or society or history, only that it was a pretty damn big influence. One influence in a group, yeah, but still a damn big influence.

    Also, consider: the men who have been looking back onto the "Classical" past were themselves looking from the perspective of a culture which itself had been steeped Judeo-Christian culture and thought, often for several hundred years. That tends to have an unconscious influence on the person who is looking back; I mean, there were traditions from the ancient world which the thinkers of today never sought to revive. Consider that many of these were also traditions which Judeo-christian thinking frowned upon.

    And before you argue that "but the church also blocked scientific inquiry" - true, but that was more a function of medieval European politics than Judeo-Christian thought. It certainly wasn't an aspect of Abrahamic thought - at the same time as some European clergymen may have been frowning upon science, the Muslim world was having a huge scientific renaissance.

    To add to this: a declining Roman was a necessary condition of a lasting Christianity, not the other way around. In a stronger Empire, Christianity would have remained the passing fad for elite it almost was in Constantine's time. If the Empire made it to the 7th century, the some elites would have briefly dabbled in Islam, then put it down for the next cool thing to do. We've seen this today with Kabbalah and Scientology.

    And if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle. Again, I'm not saying that it was the SOLE cause of things, but it was one of a few major influences, and I made that argument to combat Tripping Daisy's seeming position that it had no influence at all. If you'd rather this reframing - okay, yes, Christianity may not have brought about the decline of Rome, but it still had a hell of a lot to do with what the aftermath itself looked like.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:30 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Red Leather Christians would make an awesome bondage goth bondage night title, ditto band name.
    posted by jeffburdges at 5:41 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Oops, I forgot completely about the sexinchrist.com, the original Red Leather Christian site.
    posted by jeffburdges at 5:53 AM on May 17, 2013


    And if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

    You're missing the point. Second and third century Rome was awash in eastern mystery cults. Some of them were incredibly similiar to early Christianity. These cults followed the same pattern I mentioned above, and Christianity was on the same trajectory. The difference was Milivian Bridge, not anything unique or special about this one more Jewish sect. It was an accident of history and propaganda. It simply became a good framing device during a Roman civil war, it didn't cause any of these wars or the Empire's decline. Christianity's importance is overstated.

    Christianity did have it's moment, has a destructive force and stifiling orthodoxy in the interregnum between Rome and Europe's reconstitution. At that point, lip service was all that was required.

    Again, I'm not saying that it was the SOLE cause of things

    I know that. I'm saying it wasn't the cause of almostanything. Religion is window dressing on the structures of history. It can be determintive at the margins; for example, the vacum after the Fall, but climate, culture, politics and economics reassert themselves.
    posted by spaltavian at 6:09 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Regarding Jesus and abortion, I always thought that this was fairly addressed when Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself."

    If a woman considers the fetus inside her to be part of herself, then she should love herself by doing was is the best thing for herself.

    If a woman considers the fetus to be another person -- her neighbor, then she should love her neighbor.

    It seems pretty simple to me.
    posted by flarbuse at 6:35 AM on May 17, 2013


    Splatavian - asking only to get a better sense of your thinking here; do you think any kind of philosophy or school of thought has had any impact on history?

    Actually, wait, a better question:

    climate, culture, politics and economics reassert themselves.

    Do you not consider religion to be part of culture? If not, what is your definition of culture?
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:44 AM on May 17, 2013


    Could the broad arguments about religion's role in history go elsewhere?
    posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on May 17, 2013


    Heh; sorry, that's actually one of my favorite Things To Ponder in history. Dropping it now.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on May 17, 2013


    Because yes, at some point in my Christianity I realized that we were basically taking the Bible, dipping it in gold, and making offerings to it in most churches. Forget what God said in your conscience, the bible was utterly sacred and beyond any sort of examination whatsoever.

    I don't recall exactly where I read it, but one of my favorite quotes is "It says 'The Word became flesh', not 'The Word became papyrus'."
    posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:19 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, worth pointing out that at least with the framing of John's Gospel, the Word of God is Christ, not the Bible.
    posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    an deep opposition to infanticide very much goes to the heart of a lot of what Christianity has always been...There was significant culture clash between the earliest Christians and the Greco/Romans they were surrounded by, and infaticide was one of the biggest sticking points that Christians were most aggressive about. The core difference was that while the Greeks and Romans defined personhood by the things a person was able to do, early Christians defined personhood by what one was, namely a child of God.

    Yes, I must join in this point. As is mentioned in the Epistle to Diognetus, "they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring". The fact that the epistle writer remarked upon this fact shows that it was, in fact, remarkable.

    I would disagree that πορνεία is just sexual chattel slavery, such as the term is used in Isaiah 47:10 or Ezekiel 23:7. Or, in NT usage, (and red letter!), Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Rev. 19:2 (τῇ πορνείᾳ αὐτῆς) also comes to mind. The lexeme gets about 20 hits in the NT so it is too cumbersome to list all instances here. However, defining the word as strictly being about sexual chattel slavery doesn't make very much sense in those contexts.

    On the other hand, Numbers chapter 5 gives detailed instructions, ostensibly FROM God, on how to perform an abortion.


    Actually, it was a trial by ordeal for women accused of adultery, although likely not used very much in practice according to the Talmud. I think using a forced abortion as part of a trial by ordeal as some sort of endorsement of elective abortion is a novel one.
    posted by Tanizaki at 7:47 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    There just plain weren't any Buddhists in the United States or Europe during those regions' formative years - at least, none in positions of any power - so there was no one to have been influenced by the Five Precepts, so I'm not sure why your bringing it up is relevant.

    Because there is nothing special about Christianity. There is no uniqueness to it. The ideas contained in the Bible and argued to death by the faithful have been around before it and developed independent of it all over the world, which has seen hundreds of thousands of cultures that have grappled with the same ideas. The point is that humans have the capacity to make the moral decisions necessary and no religion is required at all. If the only thing we could do is parrot what the Abrahamic God told us, then we would be doing our heave offerings right now and rejoicing at the revolting idea that ritualistically murdering our own children is a good way to worship God.

    Actually, a great many Christians do turn to history about ancient Palestine in an attempt to round out their own personal Bible reading. They may not be the kind of Christians you see in the megachurches, or picketing out on streetcorners, but there are a great many Christians who do indeed educate themselves about the history and politics of the Middle East in an effort to contextualize the Scripture they read, and find greater nuance within it. Which they find very useful.

    The ignorance of American Christians on the text of the Bible is so well known you should feel ashamed to imply otherwise. Some cursory googling will cure you of the notion that "many" Americans are reading anything having to do with the Bible. (To be fair, they aren't reading much of anything in the first place.)

    Okay, well, then - in the context of this discussion: the words printed in red became the basis for a philosophical and religious movement that contributed to the fall of a world power. They inspired vast armies to enter into battle in a country that was further away than anyone in those armies had ever been...

    This is just more hopeful positioning of your coincidental religion inside the wider context of world history. I find it ironic that you want to pretend that it had something to do with the fall of the Roman Empire, which had everything to do with the collapse of Roman culture, since the coincidental decisions of Constantine to murder and repress Christian traditions outside of what he accepted had more to do with the particular Christianity the that Roman empire is solely responsible for spreading. If he had picked some other religion or sect, you and I would not be having this conversation about it. Your religion is a coincidence. The advances in road building and cart construction (which unfortunately God had to send through the romans instead of instructions in ye olde Bible) are what connected the world. If the Crusades hadn't happened, some other event would have.
    posted by tripping daisy at 7:54 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    TD, let's save it for another FPP, maybe.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on May 17, 2013


    tripping daisy, this post was mostly about how some Christians are embracing socialism. You’re comments seem to be directed against socialists embracing Christianity, which is fair ball this late in the thread. In response, then, I would just quote from one of the founders of the Social Gospel Movement:
    Labor and Christianity, then, are bound up together. Together they stand or fall. They come into their kingdom together or not at all. It is the supreme mission of the prophetic spirit at this fateful hour to interpret Labor to itself, that it may not in this hour of consummation miss the path. To turn away from Christianity now would be for Labor to turn away from the throne. But it will not. Mankind is in the grasp of divine currents too strong to be resisted.—The New Christianity / Salem Goldworth Bland
    Socialism has lost its path because it has struck at its own root, ie. Christianity. We need to carefully reattach that root so that socialism can grow.
    posted by No Robots at 8:16 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The implied dichotomy between classical thought and Judeo-Christian thought is actually a little bit dicey in and of itself, because despite the sharp distinction between early Christianity and paganism, the writings of the church fathers and then Augustine were very much of a piece with / connected to / an extension of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy — I am not particularly smart or well-read on this stuff1, but if I were, I'd make the argument that, for example, the thought of the church fathers and by extension our understanding of what Christianity means today is in many ways dependent upon not just the Bible but also Plato's Timaeus.

    Your religion is a coincidence.

    Well, it's not my religion, so maybe I shouldn't be speaking here. But, please find me something about human society that is essential rather than accidental, necessary rather than contingent, and in no way coincidental. Please don't hold your breath while looking for it, though. It's coincidence all the way down; things that could have gone one way, but went another, over and over again, frequently for what seem like very, very silly reasons. On the one hand, it sort of sucks that so much of our world was generated by chance, but on the other hand, that's probably why history, textual criticism, and sociology are fields that can't be reduced to physics or chemistry or whatever.

    1: I'm embarrassed to admit that at least half of what I know here comes from Peter Adamson's History of Philosophy Without any Gaps podcast.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The implied dichotomy between classical thought and Judeo-Christian thought is actually a little bit dicey in and of itself, because despite the sharp distinction between early Christianity and paganism, the writings of the church fathers and then Augustine were very much of a piece with / connected to / an extension of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy

    A quick read on this topic is The Swerve. Yes, some ideas were tied to Platonic thinking, but most of it was really alien.
    posted by spaltavian at 8:27 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    For really alien read Jewish.
    posted by No Robots at 8:30 AM on May 17, 2013


    No Robots: For really alien read Jewish.

    Yes. I'm not sure what your point is here, other than to baselessly imply I'm anti-Semetic. Greek and Roman thought was not Jewish thought. Hanukkah is a story of an anti-Hellenisitc sect of Jews rejecting a Hellenizing sect.

    tripping daisy, this post was mostly about how some Christians are embracing socialism. You’re comments seem to be directed against socialists embracing Christianity, which is fair ball this late in the thread. In response, then, I would just quote from one of the founders of the Social Gospel Movement: Socialism has lost its path because it has struck at its own root, ie. Christianity.

    You're referencing a book written in 1920. The red banner flew over Paris in 1871. The Communist Manifesto was released in 1848. Socialism was a direct reaction to industrialization in the 18th and 19 centuries, and was a modern version of the peasant revolts in the Middle Ages. Christianity isn't the root of Socialism. It's a post-hoc attempt at linkage by liberal Christians.
    posted by spaltavian at 8:39 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Yes. I'm not sure what your point is here, other than to baselessly imply I'm anti-Semetic.

    I just wanted to make it clear that the Bible, both Old Testament and New, are Jewish literature.

    I'll be glad to pick up the debate about socialism in another thread.
    posted by No Robots at 8:48 AM on May 17, 2013


    I'll be glad to pick up the debate about socialism in another thread.

    I thought this thread was about Christianity and Socialism?
    posted by spaltavian at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2013



    The point is that humans have the capacity to make the moral decisions necessary and no religion is required at all. If the only thing we could do is parrot what the Abrahamic God told us, then we would be doing our heave offerings right now and rejoicing at the revolting idea that ritualistically murdering our own children is a good way to worship God.


    Really, moral decisions with no religion in ancient times...you know how wrong you are, for example take the rule of Akhenaten and compare his hymn to the "Aten" to pslam 104. So, you have Mr. Amun who turns to the Aten as the supreme god and in time amun and the others are "gone". Capital is relocated and his revolution might have worked but you see, Mr. Aten made himself a God of the solar disc...clever...and only he could interepret the atens will. So you abrahamic parrot seems to have more in common with a egyptian religous policy change years before the bible was written.

    The ignorance of American Christians on the text of the Bible is so well known you should feel ashamed to imply otherwise

    You have never met Billy Graham or seen Dr. Gene Scott curse the preachers and gesticulate to replay the film with the horses.

    I find it ironic that you want to pretend that it had something to do with the fall of the Roman Empire, which had everything to do with the collapse of Roman culture, since the coincidental decisions of Constantine to murder and repress Christian traditions outside of what he accepted had more to do with the particular Christianity the that Roman empire is solely responsible for spreading. If he had picked some other religion or sect, you and I would not be having this conversation about it. Your religion is a coincidence. The advances in road building and cart construction (which unfortunately God had to send through the romans instead of instructions in ye olde Bible) are what connected the world. If the Crusades hadn't happened, some other event would have.

    You know, I too have to make generalizations at least twice a week. So here is a refreasher course for you.


    "This was the great age of Christian diversity, sects, schools, heresies of all kinds, confronting Christian thinkers, and it was only in the second century that we begin to see the emergence of what we might call an orthodoxy, or something that might simply be called "Christianity" in a kind of uniform body of doctrines and text, that is to say, the New Testament. The New Testament as a collection of texts is a product of the second century, as the church figured out which books are sacred, which books are authoritative and which ones are not. ...

    By the third century of our era, we have something called Christianity with its own sacred books, its own rituals, its own ideas, but this is the great age of confrontation with the Roman Empire. The third century, of course, the great age of persecutions, where the Roman Empire now wakes up and realizes that there is something new, and from their perspective, sinister, afoot in new groups that are threatening the social order and ultimately the political order of the Empire. And the Roman Empire was correct. The Romans correctly intuited that the victory of Christianity would mean the end of the Roman Empire, the end of the classical world. ... We often think of persecution, of course, in a Christian perspective. We see it as heroic martyrs confronting the might of Rome, which is true. And the martyrs are indeed a wonderful spectacle and do present a wonderful demonstration of Christian faith. That is certainly true. By the same token, we must realize that the Roman Empire was doing what all bureaucracies do. It was trying to protect itself, trying to perpetuate itself....

    The Romans tried to beat down Christianity but failed. By the fourth century Christianity becomes the state religion and by the end of the fourth century it is illegal to do any form of public worship other than Christianity in the entire Roman Empire. There is a great mystery in how this happened -- how such an extraordinary reversal, that begins with Jesus who is executed by the Romans as a public criminal, as a threat to the social order, and somehow we wind up three centuries later with Jesus being hailed as a God, as part of the one, true God who is the God of the new Christian Roman Empire. There is a remarkable progress, a remarkable development in the course of three centuries. ... It's hard to understand exactly how it happened or why it happened, but it is important to realize that we have a progression and a set of developments, and that Christianity by the fourth century is not the same as the Christianity that we see in the first or even the second."

    As far as roads go, yes Rome did improve them but did not invent them, not even to cart, they just stole or bought what they knew and saw...if not the romans someone else would have built them right...

    "The world's oldest known paved road was laid in Egypt some time between 2600 and 2200 BC.[15]
    Stone-paved streets are found in the city of Ur in the Middle East dating back to 4000 BC.[4]
    Corduroy roads (log roads) are found dating to 4000 BC in Glastonbury, England.[4]
    The timber trackway; Sweet Track causeway in England, is one of the oldest engineered roads discovered and the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe. Built in winter 3807 BC or spring 3806 BC, tree-ring dating (Dendrochronology) enabled very precise dating. It has been claimed to be the oldest road in the world.[16][17]
    Brick-paved streets were used in India as early as 3000 BC .[4]
    In 500 BC, Darius I the Great started an extensive road system for Persia (Iran), including the Royal Road, which was one of the finest highways of its time.[18] The road remained in use after Roman times."

    -From Wiki page on "Road"


    "love the one your with" {squeezebox ditty} "love the one your with"

    posted by clavdivs at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I thought this thread was about Christianity and Socialism?

    Okay, great then. Let's talk about the necessary connection between the two. Here is something from Richard Rorty, the well-known American philosopher, that he wrote as an afterword to the centenary edition of Rauschenbusch's book (fun fact: Rorty was Rauschenbusch's grandson):
    One hundred years ago, there was still a chance that the Christian churches would play a central role in the struggle for social justice--that Christian, rather than Marxist, ideas would inspire radical socio-political change. One can imagine a twentieth century in which the two World Wars and the Great Depression were avoided, the Bolshevik Revolution collapsed, and social democrats like Eugene Debs and Jean Jaurès were elected to high office, thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Christian clergy. Decolonialization and the entrance of India and China on the international stage could then have taken place against the background of a consensus, in the West, that building a global egalitarian society was a moral obligation. With a bit more luck, Rauschenbusch's dream could have come true, despite "the sinfulness of the human heart."

    But our luck was bad, and Christianity has probably missed its chance. The likelihood that religion will play a significant role in the struggle for justice seems smaller now than at any time since Christianity and the Social Crisis was published. In Western Europe, where the influence of social democratic ideas has been greatest, there has been no return to religion; the term Christian Socialism no longer has resonance. In the United States and various other places in the world, such a return is indeed taking place, but it is producing forms of religiosity that have little to do with hopes for a cooperative commonwealth.

    In the last paragraph of his book, Rauschenbusch writes that "perhaps these nineteen centuries of Christian influence have been a long preliminary stage of growth, and now the flower and fruit are almost here" (chapter 7, "The new apostolate"). Even unbelievers like myself can agree that without that influence--without all those sermons on Rauschenbusch's favorite texts from Luke--we would have had neither the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century nor the rise of socialist ideals in the nineteenth. It was no accident that the push for socioeconomic equality first gained momentum in a part of the world where such sermons had been preached, generation after generation. By 1907 centuries of such preaching had created a climate of opinion in which it was reasonable to anticipate flowers and fruit. Rauschenbusch and his contemporaries could not have foreseen the fierce, blighting storms that were to come.
    There is plenty of other material on the necessary connection between socialism and Christianity. I would particularly draw attention to The Philosophy of Marx by Harry Waton, where we read:
    The socialists, therefore, must direct all their efforts to help the proletariat to rise ever higher and higher, mentally and morally, so that it may come nearer and ever nearer to the apex of the pyramid of creation, partake ever more of the natura naturans, and make ever more consciously and effectively their own history. "Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven." The Son of Man, the proletariat, who, unlike the foxes that have holes and the birds that have nests, has nowhere to lay his head, will, spite of all opposition and difficulty, attain to the right hand of power and will rise to the clouds of heaven and enjoy economic security and supreme happiness.
    These are words for a socialist to live by. Now, for those who think that socialism itself is antiquated, there is no proof to contradict them other than through the actual work of building socialism. And this work can find no better inspiration than in the words of Christ.
    posted by No Robots at 9:09 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "For alien read Jewish" seems like an oversimplification in and of itself, because Judaism now, after century upon century of rabbinical tradition, is quite different from Judaism in the centuries immediately after the destruction of the Second Temple.

    I believe one of the really big-name Jewish philosophers (Maimonides, even?) noted that Jewish practice and thought has evolved so much over time that Moses, dropped down in a contemporary synagogue, would have almost no idea what was going on.

    Second Temple Judaism is chronologically closer to Moses than it is to us.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2013


    The socialists, therefore, must direct all their efforts to help the proletariat to rise ever higher and higher, mentally and morally, so that it may come nearer and ever nearer to the apex of the pyramid of creation, partake ever more of the natura naturans, and make ever more consciously and effectively their own history.

    At first glance, I dislike this intensely. Like, this is the worst part of Christian proselytization — it reads as something like "we have special knowledge about how to live that we will share with you out of the goodness of our hearts! Now you can live like us, instead of like *sniff* you."

    I think this is why my own personal one-shot solution to society's ills is the Guaranteed Income. I don't think that anyone is especially qualified to raise the mental and moral condition of an entire class — raise it to what? Who decides what a properly raised mental and moral condition is? — and therefore I think the way to make things better is to just give us money without concern for what we do with it.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Waton is addressing something that Orwell also noted:
    I do not want the belief in life after death to return, and in any case it is not likely to return. What I do point out is that its disappearance has left a big hole, and that we ought to take notice of that fact. Reared for thousands of years on the notion that the individual survives, man has got to make a considerable psychological effort to get used to the notion that the individual perishes. He is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell. Marxism, indeed, does supply this, but it has never really been popularized. Most Socialists are content to point out that once Socialism has been established we shall be happier in a material sense, and to assume that all problems lapse when one’s belly is full. The truth is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.
    The message is that those who have leisure, wealth and education to emancipate themselves have an obligation to help those who do not have these advantages.
    posted by No Robots at 10:05 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


    I completely agree. But, since we're quoting scripture here, I'd like to highlight this passage from Billy Bragg's translation of the Internationale:
    When we fight, provoked by their aggression,
    Let us be inspired by life and love.
    For though they offer us concessions,
    Change will not come from above!
    It is absolutely right that the rare few of us with the resources to emancipate themselves should work to empancipate others — but they should never, ever, ever see themselves as the prime movers of emancipation.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:16 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


    they should never, ever, ever see themselves as the prime movers of emancipation.

    We need a reciprocal relationship between Christianity and socialism, Geist and Macht, genius and Volk. As Waton puts it, "[a]s philosophy finds in the proletariat its material weapon, so the proletariat finds in philosophy its spiritual weapon."
    posted by No Robots at 10:23 AM on May 17, 2013


    We should probably wander off to memail or something, but I'm definitely going to have to look into Waton. For my part, my relationship to Marx is a little bit... different... in that don't really have much interest in his early work except as historical artifacts, but nevertheless I think Capital is without a doubt one of the smartest pieces of writing of the last thousand years.

    For whatever it's worth, my, well, guru as far as Marx interpretation goes is David Harvey. Sometimes I think I'm more accurately described as a Harveyan than as a Marxist.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:30 AM on May 17, 2013


    No Robots: I was raised Catholic, the grandchild of of Sicilian immigrants, the child of depression-era parents. I gratefully acknowledge that cultural and religious context as the origin of my humanitarian ethics (not saying I perfectly apply them, mind you...) and left-leaning egalitarian politics.

    So, over the past 20-30 years, I've been incredibly frustrated at how badly the "left" has botched the culture wars. Traditional Catholic values are not even close to capitalist values--on the contrary, they're much more communitarian. I mean, as a child your main role models have taken vows of poverty so that they can focus on helping people! Can it be made any more clear that the pursuit of money and wealth should at most play a secondary role in a person's life? (I know, I know... the Vatican yadda yadda... but that's another story. I'm talking about the Catholic grass roots here.) On top of that, the type of neo-Confederate, dominance-hierarchy-loving, biblically idolatrous Christianity that has metastasized across America not only was anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant, it was the source of pop-eschatologies that viewed the papacy as the seat of the coming anti-Christ! I mean, these two groups really did not like each other!

    So it was apparent that liberals completely screwed the pooch when they let smug secularism drive Catholics and schismatic Protestants into the same political camp. (And I say that as a pretty secular and recovering smug guy, myself.)

    So, yeah, this sort of RLC thing, like Sojourners and Tikkun, naturally appeals to me. That being said, I can't say I see as much hope in these RLC characters as you do. It's too little, too late. But maybe that's just the cynicism of a tired, embittered 50-something...
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Sometimes I think I'm more accurately described as a Harveyan than as a Marxist.

    YCTaB: Off topic, but Harvey seems to think of himself as a "Harveyan and not a Marxist", as well! It's pretty amusing: he says he started to read Capital because he found it just so damn interesting and rich... and then was shocked to find one day that he was being identified as a Marxist. I think he says this as a cautionary tale to young scholars: be careful what you become intellectually infatuated with, because, like it or not, you'll end up carrying all of its baggage!
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Sure, thing, Buick, I'll memail you.

    mondo dentro, my background is thoroughly anti-Christian socialist. Since starting at university (I had a wonderful priest for my philosophy professor), I have sought ways to make Christianity and socialism work together. I decided to get active after reading Waton. I googled "Alberta + NDP + Christian" and found the blog of Joel French. I contacted Joel, and we met for coffee. We hit it off immediately, and agreed to continue working together to build what we are calling the Christian socialist working group. At the second meeting, Joel brought along Shawn Birss, the pirate pastor. We had a great discussion, and formulated ambitious plans for the future. Based on what Joel and Shawn have said, and from the responses in this thread, I am quite confident about the prospects for a revival of Christian socialism.
    posted by No Robots at 10:49 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


    No Robots: I'd be very interested to hear about the ideas you are developing.

    My community group work in my 20s was in Brooklyn with a guy trained by the great Saul Alinsky (the bête noire of Fox News), who taught that you should always, always organize around existing community groups, churches being chief among them. Now that I'm pretty heavily involved in my region's green transition (post-petroleum, post-capitalist) activities (not quite ready to call it a movement, just yet), I've been talking to some of my pals about how to get churches involved. So what you're doing is very important. Good on you!

    Any insights you could share would be most helpful. If not appropriate for here, perhaps you could memail me?
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I am certainly starting to realize the value of working with existing groups, hence my interest in RLC. But I can tell ya, mondo, that over 50 years of active experience in partisan socialism is a hell of a thing to bring to the table! If you can find a rogue socialist, grab him!
    posted by No Robots at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Saul Alinksy was a very smart guy.

    you should always, always organize around existing community groups

    What he perceived and promoted is continually being rediscovered. Today we call existing groups "social networks" and their combined power "social capital," but it remains true that people are more influenced by one another in their voluntary-participation lives than any media campaign, free-floating thoughtstream, ranter on TV, etc. That's not to say you can't organize new networks (the local food movement is testament to the fact that you can) but that leveraging existing networks is the main way in which movements grow.
    posted by Miko at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    you should always, always organize around existing community groups

    Gandhi also has interesting things to say about groups and social activism in his autobiography, especially when he was getting started in South Africa. One thing I remember in particular is his emphasis on the importance of a social activist group to be substantially funded from the community it serves to make sure that its goals and methods are suitable for the community.
    posted by shothotbot at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


    The 10th Regiment of Foot: "70You know things are fucked up when Episcopalians are considered radicals.

    Atreides: "Are we sure they aren't just copying someone else and watering it down a bit?"

    ...And then complaining about how great the old one was!

    Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week - try the tilapia.
    posted by Blasdelb at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Joel French has a good summary of the Movement in Canada

    How odd to see a random dude that I know cited on MetaFilter. Not that Joel isn't a smart guy...just an expected reference.
    posted by asnider at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2013


    Red Letter Christians do not want their movement to become an instrument of the partisan Left. They see its role as social and cultural, as opposed to political. It is up to politicians, then, to respond.

    this seems really coy, and i don't really understand what it's trying to say. "let's give more money to poor people. i know it sounds political, but i'm really just saying something about society and culture. it's up to those petty politicians to do something about it."
    posted by cupcake1337 at 3:08 PM on May 17, 2013


    No, I think that's fair.

    I don't think that anyone would argue that "social welfare" doesn't intersect "politics" and therefore, in what we're discussing here, advocacy for the material improvement in the lives of the poor doesn't also intersect politics. But there's this vague relationship and then there's advocacy for very particular policy as expressed in legislation and which is hotly partisan. They want to avoid that.

    Conversely, doing precisely that is much more politics than social welfare.

    They're not being coy, they're trying to stay toward one side of that spectrum.

    And not just for its own sake, but also because almost always what is most politically contested are the details about how to achieve shared goals. Being more explicitly political means, as it has meant for the Christian right, a requirement to weigh in on particular points of policy, to choose precise places to draws lines. This can sharpen political influence of outcomes at the cost of other kinds of influence and a corresponding loss of mission focus.
    posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Thank you, Ivan Fyodorovich.
    posted by No Robots at 3:42 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Not partisan, but certainly political.
    posted by Miko at 4:13 PM on May 17, 2013


    One thing I think is sort of funny (and I think those upthread have probably said this much more eloquently): we tend to be really convinced that religion is dominating or warping society, but less that society is really warping and dominating religion. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, all these religions and more have sustained enormous changes as a result of the societies they entered to be more like those societies, not the other way around. So it may not be a great idea to always ascribe the agency of these changes to religion, rather than the existing culture.
    posted by selfnoise at 4:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    we tend to be really convinced that religion is dominating or warping society, but less that society is really warping and dominating religion

    I have a friend who says that religionists should really be the ones who are most interested in maintaining the barrier between church and state - not seeking to enshrine church values in the state. Because if the church and the state aren't independent from each other, there's no reason to assume that it's the church that's always going to have the greater influence. Governments quash and persecute religions all the time. Yours may not always be the one on the top of the heap.

    This is similar to a thought I always have about the abortion debate. Having handed this matter over to law and the state rather than keeping it in the realm of decisions made privately with medical consultation, we are unlikely to get it back. We've established "state interest." And yet, when states see state interest in promoting abortion rather than opposing it, they have no compunction in doing so. In China, forced abortions for people who are over their child limit are still happening - even in the late term. When the state gets to decide who has an abortion, that creates the possibility that they may decide you should have one when you don't want one.
    posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Seems like we're due for the next major religion to emerge. It just a matter of when there's enough people disgusted with the current regime to spark it. It's been ~1400 years since Islam was founded. I guess in the mean time everyone will try to pretty up what we've got so far, isn't that what this whole red letter thing is?

    Campolo is no "Johnny come lately" this red letter thing is something he advocated at least as far back as the 90's back in my bible college days/associated departure from the church. It's a quaint effort to cover over the crap that the church has been pulling for the last 2000 years. The whole red letter thing isn't new and neither Campolo's socially conscious take on Christianity (which made him a pariah with many fundamentalists evangelicals in the post 9/11 Bush years.)

    Bottom line how do you preserve any religion from becoming a haven for hateful, selfish, narrow minded people who find in it the ultimate justification for being hateful, selfish and narrow minded.
    posted by empty vessel at 7:21 PM on May 17, 2013


    "Seems like we're due for the next major religion to emerge..."

    Sikhism, Bahá'í Faith, and Mormonism. All quite large, all theologically distinct from other faiths, and all founded within the last 500 years, or so.
    posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:28 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Campolo is no "Johnny come lately" this red letter thing is something he advocated at least as far back as the 90's back in my bible college days/associated departure from the church.

    Please realize that for many of us, the fifth century is "Johnny come lately".
    posted by Tanizaki at 7:30 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Bottom line how do you preserve any religion from becoming a haven for hateful, selfish, narrow minded people who find in it the ultimate justification for being hateful, selfish and narrow minded.

    What if you don't? One of the interesting things about Christianity is that it accepts and shrugs off the proliferation of false prophets, spends a lot of time on Pharisees (enough to enable anyone to recognize their contemporary analogues) and arms you against the fact that some of the toughest enemies you'll face are people who wrap themselves in the same flag you do. Don't expect for any pure religion to land on this earth and light the way.

    Religious institions are going to be shot through with all human ills, the way all human institutions are. It's possible to accept a personal directive without signing on to those institutions. It is worthwhile to be wary and know that you have to walk the lonesome valley by yourself, even when very positive groups like this one come along to align people to accomplish some of the work.
    posted by Miko at 7:32 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    By which I mean, Christianity done Jesus-style is skeptical of all institutions...including those of Christianity.
    posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on May 17, 2013


    I have a friend who says that religionists should really be the ones who are most interested in maintaining the barrier between church and state ...

    Wow, you're friends with Roger Williams? Okay, I'm impressed.

    /joke
    posted by benito.strauss at 7:44 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Sikhism, Bahá'í Faith, and Mormonism. All quite large, all theologically distinct from other faiths, and all founded within the last 500 years, or so.

    Mormons still fall in the Jesus camp, and though revered as a profit Joseph Smith is still not an object of worship.

    I am not familiar enough with the other two to comment.
    posted by empty vessel at 7:45 PM on May 17, 2013


    Campolo is no "Johnny come lately" this red letter thing is something he advocated at least as far back as the 90's back in my bible college days/associated departure from the church.


    I get the scope of time related to world religion. My point was this is nothing new for him to be advocating.
    posted by empty vessel at 7:46 PM on May 17, 2013


    It is worthwhile to be wary and know that you have to walk the lonesome valley by yourself, even when very positive groups like this one come along to align people to accomplish some of the work.

    Agreed, bet even the ranks of "Red Letter Christians" there are those that will use those red letters to justify just about anything.

    I have my beliefs, which I have sewn together from a variety of sources but have pretty much given up on religious institutions.

    "Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I'd still have to bum rides off people."

    - Ferris Bueller
    posted by empty vessel at 7:54 PM on May 17, 2013


    But there's this vague relationship and then there's advocacy for very particular policy as expressed in legislation and which is hotly partisan. They want to avoid that.

    what? uh, no. full stop. if they have certain beliefs about how the world should work BECAUSE GOD SAID SO then they are absolutely being coy about not committing to supporting or not supporting government policies that bring the world closer to, as they admit, WHAT THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE SAYS IT SHOULD BE. (oh, it's just a nice idea to you to strive for? then why do you believe in that other nonsense? but i digress.)

    there is a difference between supporting specific policies vs. supporting specific political parties, which maybe is what you're trying to mean by partisan. supporting a political party over another means making some kind of compromise, in the real world, and i could understand how that could be out of the scope of their idea. to what extent is a compromise worth it in the longer run? is a hard question.

    but communicating to the world what you want to see requires no such compromise. making vague statements about "give money to the poor!" and making a "wink wink" "the politicians will figure out the details" seems extremely disingenuous. and, it's lazy. saying "i'm for helping poor people!" is no better than "i'm for good things!" if you don't have a solution to actually implement. unfortunately, that doesn't stop people from feeling just as good about themselves.
    posted by cupcake1337 at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2013


    Wow, you're friends with Roger Williams? Okay, I'm impressed.

    I guess maybe it wasn't clear ...a lot of more conservative religious types are actually not that interested in that barrier. They try to enshrine their religious beliefs in law, basically using the state as an arm of the church. My friend's point is that there are two sides to that interchange, and that the reason church and state got their "wall of separation" was every bit as much to protect the church as it was to protect the state. The early colonizers' religions had been illegal in England, and apostates like Williams were persecuted by the religious governments of the early colonies. It was pretty clear that when church and state were married, things could get miserable for anyone whose church was not the one enjoying state power at the time. Secularization is indeed a triumph of fair government and not one any believer should be eager to throw away, as it holds sacred the very right to believe as you wish without persecution.
    posted by Miko at 8:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I guess maybe it wasn't clear ...

    Oh, no worries, Miko I got your point with the first comment. I was just joking that your friend was channeling the views of some people from as far back as the 1600's. At least as I understand them from Sarah Vowell.

    /I gotta learn to stop trying to josh around with people over the Internet. It just doesn't work like in real life.
    posted by benito.strauss at 8:43 PM on May 17, 2013


    Religious institions are going to be shot through with all human ills, the way all human institutions are.

    Yes. As Blessed Augustine wrote, "How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!" Any community populated of fallen human beings will have the same problems as any other.

    We (Eastern Orthodox) would say that the Church is not an institution with beliefs, but a community that happens to have institutions.
    posted by Tanizaki at 9:10 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


    We (Quakers) would say that too, but would be ready to walk from the institutions any time we felt so led (and multitudinous splinters have done so). No institution, in this view, can properly reflect the individual communication with the Divine; that's why we lead only by consensus, not compact, hierarchy or dogma.
    posted by Miko at 9:19 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


    they are absolutely being coy about not committing to supporting or not supporting government policies that bring the world closer to, as they admit, WHAT THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE SAYS IT SHOULD BE.

    The goal of socialist and Christian activity is to emancipate mankind from politics altogether. As Marx puts it:
    Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a Gattungswesen [genus-essence] in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.--"On the Jewish question"

    This process requires active engagement with mankind as it is, as political animal. Those who do not want to get their hands dirty cannot call themselves either Christian or socialist. But that does not change the fact that both Christians and socialists have the obligation to hold before them the ideal that lies beyond politics.
    posted by No Robots at 9:58 PM on May 17, 2013


    I was just joking that your friend was channeling the views of some people from as far back as the 1600's.

    Yes, he knows that of course. The point was that a lot of religious people, who can see only gains from using the political process to advance their moral goals, have forgotten why Williams promoted that principle.
    posted by Miko at 6:42 AM on May 18, 2013


    tripping daisy, this post was mostly about how some Christians are embracing socialism. You’re comments seem to be directed against socialists embracing Christianity, which is fair ball this late in the thread.

    Well, it's about how they may be embracing parts of socialism. You can't have equality if women are subjugated to men, or if their interpretation of putting the sword away is twisted into anything else. The institutions of churches are the first to join the state in fascist movements, because when the chips are down, the state and the church will pick genocide over the disappearance of their own organization. You can see this in the creeping state support for Golden Dawn in Greece right now, and there are numerous examples from our history that show the perseverance of the organization nearly always trump any principles the organization claims to have.
    Labor and Christianity, then, are bound up together. Together they stand or fall. They come into their kingdom together or not at all. It is the supreme mission of the prophetic spirit at this fateful hour to interpret Labor to itself, that it may not in this hour of consummation miss the path. To turn away from Christianity now would be for Labor to turn away from the throne. But it will not. Mankind is in the grasp of divine currents too strong to be resisted.
    This is pure assertion and since it was written in 1920 has been clobbered by reality. Socialism is thriving in non-religious states such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France... they have vestigial leftovers of the church, but only when you discard the habit of wasting resources on superstition will you have enough common sense, time, and money left over to actually do something about inequality.

    That is why I dislike the pedestal on which holy men are put. Sure they were okay philosophers for their time, but preserving their worldview beyond saving it for posterity is usually a fruitless exercise.

    Socialism has lost its path because it has struck at its own root, ie. Christianity. We need to carefully reattach that root so that socialism can grow.

    Socialism is dead in the United States because the Unions are dead because our entire economy is run by a small subset of elite power that own corporations. Using billions of dollars of propaganda and astroturfed political movements, they go to work every day to destroy labor and they're doing a damn good job of it. There is no need to look for philosophical reasons why socialism is failing. It's a simple matter of media ownership, inequality of capital resources, and the fact that while American standards of living are low, they are not as low enough to spark outright rebellion -- yet.

    The move to rope in religious institutions that, like it or not, are founded on principles of exclusion, is a desperate one and it should be avoided. I give it about six weeks before the Red Letter Christians are divided into the Trinitarian and Non-Trinitarians, or whatever ridiculous petty self-identification they will inevitably find more important than the original purpose they pretended for all of ten minutes.
    posted by tripping daisy at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Well, it's not my religion, so maybe I shouldn't be speaking here. But, please find me something about human society that is essential rather than accidental, necessary rather than contingent, and in no way coincidental.

    Cooperation of social groups is essential and not accidental. Reliance on a set of laws instead of mob violence is an essential part of human culture, if you're interested in having a community larger than a few hundred people. Having stop lights instead of no stop lights is an essential, and not accidental, solution to stopping car accidents at cross roads.

    These concepts and institutions were created by humans thinking about real problems, and then coming up with a solution that worked according to most of the people in that group.

    Now, sometimes God was brought into the mix because when you don't know how practically anything in the natural world works, when a lot of people start dying from eating pork, you just say, "God said don't do that." But now we have refrigeration and germ/viral theory, so the time for that kind of reasoning is simply over, and that's reflected in the world around you.

    There are close to zero Christians anywhere in the modern world when it comes to following advice in the bible. Virtually no one takes their child to a faith healer. I'd be willing to bet that zero people gave a heave offering last year. Whether they like it or not, every single Christian in America is following a liberalized version that the early church fathers would probably find completely blasphemous.

    Women in the church! A mix of races in the church! Coffee shops near the altar! These are all signs that humans are still trying to adapt the dead institution of religion into a modern culture, and America's just about 20-40 years behind the rest of the West that has already decided to give it up -- with decidedly excellent results. It turns out that peer review is far better than an argument from God authority, and one very important reason why is that what anyone asserts can be safely discarded unless they have some sort of evidence to back it up.

    Science > Religion. Game. Set. Match.
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:12 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Socialism has lost its path because it has struck at its own root, ie. Christianity. We need to carefully reattach that root so that socialism can grow.

    I get that that you like both socialism and christianity, and see the common and complimentary elements in both. And non-religious lefties should work harder on not alienating religious folk because there's plenty they can work on together. But it sounds like you're saying one can't have socialism without christianity. I disagree.

    If you were to say that to my aunt who lives on a kibbutz, or my socialist zionist father, or any of the jewish labor activist of the early 20th century they'd either laugh at you, or, more charitably, think you just need to broaden your thinking.
    posted by benito.strauss at 2:46 PM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Science > Religion. Game. Set . Match.

    Oh, okay, now I see where you're coming from - I think I'll just respond that this isn't a "my thoughts on cheese" discussion.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Oh, okay, now I see where you're coming from - I think I'll just respond that this isn't a "my thoughts on cheese" discussion.

    Sorry, I know I'm far afield. Let me provide an example of why religion cannot be attached to the better ideas socialism and science using the RLC as an example. Take a look at their article on abortion:
    Has Roe Been Good For Women?
    ...
    With Roe, abortion became the ultimate wedge issue—where spin control, sound bites, and fear tactics trump good public policy and common sense. Want to disrupt the kind of bipartisan conversation we Americans need to have? Wave a coat hanger or a picture of an aborted fetus or claim there is an attack on women’s health. For groups on both sides of the abortion issue, abortion politics has become big business; the current destructive stalemate between the sides becomes their meal ticket. In this polarized environment, we have lost sight of the women in the cross-fire who are facing crisis pregnancies or wondering whether to bring a special-needs child into the world. Compassion has given way to one-upmanship. As a result, the women and their children whom both sides claim as their motivation are neglected by both sides.
    ...
    Most critically, Roe has nationalized the abortion issue. The federal judiciary, by reserving the right to decide what restrictions on abortion are constitutional, has turned the symbol of abortion politics from a crowded city council chamber or a legislative committee room to the marble steps of the Supreme Court. Thus, with so many single-issue voters on both sides of the issue, the judicial nomination process (and the senatorial and presidential elections on which this process depends) has turned into a referendum on abortion rights for many people—drawing scrutiny away from the host of other issues that judges, senators, and presidents address to a single hot-button issue.

    However, there is hope. One of the most overlooked achievements of the Affordable Care Act was the inclusion of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (formerly part of the Pregnant Women Support Act). This provision gives grants to states to establish pilot programs aimed at assisting women in crisis pregnancies and helping them bring their pregnancies to term... None of this grant money can be used for abortion.
    Where to begin? First is it with a leading question, and a total tap-dance around the answer. The empowerment of giving women the right to choose their own path on reproductive health is well known, and when it's denied to them, there appear to be very real consequences. So why doesn't the author examine the evidence and report the obvious? Because the facts are too damaging to their argument and their worldview. They arrived at a question with a conclusion instead of the other way around, and that is a primary feature of religious thinking and a natural consequence of believing that all of the answers we need to find are already written down somewhere.

    And then there's the inherent paternalism: somehow women who are allowed to choose what to do with their own bodies are "neglected by both sides" and now there are "so many single-issue voters" that it's somehow upending our democracy when people vote on them! And so, in conclusion, "Unless there is a united front to put pregnant women first, Roe will continue to provide a wedge issue, an excuse to raise money, or a reason to March on Washington. Women deserve better. Children deserve better. America deserves common-sense solutions that empower women to choose life."

    Well, isn't that nice! Women deserve solutions that help them choose the way Christians want them to choose. So what we have in the RLC is another trial balloon to see if the Christian message can be spun enough to rope in some more moderate followers/voters, and I think it's a losing battle. Even if the RLC reaches back into the early church fathers, it's still riddled with horrifying misogyny:
    In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God's sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil's gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die. . . . Woman, you are the gate to hell.
    How is a young socialist woman to integrate that quote from Tertullian into equality for all?

    That's why the RLC cannot succeed. They cannot integrate true principles of equality because the Bible hates equality. The Bible believes in ethnically better people, at least for a while, and even the New Testament cannot escape its anti-science attitude, homophobia, and misogyny. So, sure, there's a possibility that a Unitarian Universalist Church could embrace socialism, but why in the world would socialism or science embrace Christianity? It doesn't make any sense.
    posted by tripping daisy at 8:32 PM on May 18, 2013


    If you were to say that to my aunt who lives on a kibbutz, or my socialist zionist father, or any of the jewish labor activist of the early 20th century they'd either laugh at you, or, more charitably, think you just need to broaden your thinking.

    Judaism is the essence of both Christianity and socialism.
    posted by No Robots at 10:08 PM on May 18, 2013


    but why in the world would socialism or science embrace Christianity?

    As I've attempted to show through quotations from Orwell and others, socialism is nothing more than scientific Christianity, ie. Judaism.
    posted by No Robots at 10:12 PM on May 18, 2013


    You can't have equality if women are subjugated to men

    Of course. But Judaism and early Christianity did not maintain any such subjugation. As Amy-Jill Irvine makes clear in an interview:
    [T]he Gospels tell us about women’s substantial rights: owning homes, having use of their own property, having freedom of travel, worshipping in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple, and so on. Women did not join Jesus because Judaism oppressed them, and the Jewish women who followed him did not cease to be Jews.
    I have no objection to a clean split between anti- and pro-Christian socialists.
    posted by No Robots at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2013


    Judaism is the essence of both Christianity and socialism.

    Sorry, that's non-sense. Judaism has had so many forms (2500 years give a lot of room for playing around) that to even talk of "the essence of Judaism" doesn't mean much.
    posted by benito.strauss at 10:40 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I said nothing about the essence of Judaism. I said that the essence of Christianity and socialism is Judaism. Specifically, I mean of course the Judaism of Christ and Marx. I will also say that the Judaism of Christ and Marx presents the only viable form of Judaism. As Waton puts it:
    It is not an accident that Judaism gave birth to Marxism, and it is not an accident that the Jews readily took up Marxism; all this was in perfect accord with the progress of Judaism and the Jews. The Jews should realize that Jehovah no longer dwells in heaven, but he dwells in us right here on earth; we must no longer look up to Jehovah as above us and outside of us, but we must see him right within us. The voice of Jehovah, which until now was still the small still voice, which was drowned in the noise of the passions, ambitions and vanities, must become the only voice to be heard and to be obeyed. This will require a complete change of attitude towards life and mankind.
    posted by No Robots at 6:09 AM on May 19, 2013


    Ah, you're right, I did transpose where the essence lies — too much editing of my comment. But you do really assert much the same thing when you talk about "the only viable for of Judaism". Me, I wear my yiddishkeit lightly, so I'm not going to claim any personal offense, but I'd expect anyone who's chosen to live some other variety of judaism to be needled by that.

    Which is too bad, because I'm pretty sure you've got very good intentions, and are trying to find good ways for us to live together. But everything you say is phrased in terms of essences and unique solutions. Me, I want to find ways for people to live together peacefully without agreeing on everything.
    posted by benito.strauss at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I want to find ways for people to live together peacefully without agreeing on everything.

    Me, too. But that includes a place for my own declamatory, univocal strident advocacy. :)
    posted by No Robots at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2013


    I've got no problem with advocacy, stridency, declamation, or having a unique voice. What bothers me is the way you deny legitimacy to all views but your own — for example, a phrase like "the only viable form of Judaism".

    To me it's the rhetorical equivalent of a waiter spitting in your face before serving you. Delivered that way, you no longer care how good the food is.
    posted by benito.strauss at 12:01 PM on May 19, 2013


    This is what I think of whenever anyone talks about shaking off history instead of understanding it. Also this, but it's a bit of a Godwin.

    I don't think we have a post-historical or extra-historical sense of what is right and wrong that we can appeal to. I think we only have our finely developed senses of right and wrong, and our finely crafted (albeit flawed) societal tools for establishing and maintaining goodness (like, for example, the tools of egalitarianism, democracy, and law) because we stand on the shoulders of moral and ethical giants just as much as we stand on the shoulders of scientific giants. I think if we pretend we can go it on our own without looking at what they did, we'll commit atrocities.

    Yes, Augustine was a total asshole — just look at how he treated his poor girlfriend — but he was a moral genius living in a time even more unfortunate than our own. If we want a shot at being decent we need to look very closely at how our very smart forebears went wrong, instead of just like dismissing them as beasts and pretending they never lived.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:28 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Also maybe something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with a thread when I'm thinking it's getting too strident, impractical, and abstract. :)
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:31 PM on May 19, 2013


    I don't think we have a post-historical or extra-historical sense of what is right and wrong that we can appeal to. I think we only have our finely developed senses of right and wrong, and our finely crafted (albeit flawed) societal tools for establishing and maintaining goodness (like, for example, the tools of egalitarianism, democracy, and law) because we stand on the shoulders of moral and ethical giants just as much as we stand on the shoulders of scientific giants. I think if we pretend we can go it on our own without looking at what they did, we'll commit atrocities.

    I agree, but the moral and ethical giants we stand upon were largely irreligious, and their morality does not depend on one creation story or another. I guess my larger point is, sure, go ahead and read Tertullian or whoever. But let's stop well short of calling them holy in the same we should stop well short of calling Marx holy. You don't have to lie about knowing what God thinks to know what good morality is.

    And as a corollary, let's not pretend that attaching all of the weight of dogma and church politics helps us come to an answer any sooner or any better than what we would have if we rely on mutually observable reality. If your God thinks you get to control what happens inside of my bedroom, that's swell and everything, but you're going to need more than hearsay to demonstrate how that makes society better before I'll even begin to listen. The arbitrary and colossally stupid opposition to things like birth control and safe sex are beginning to have a seriously harmful effect on our society at large, and even when those ideas are spun inside of rebranding attempts like the RLC, they still remain incredibly harmful for the general public. There's no need to be nice about how very wrong religious groups still are on those subjects.
    posted by tripping daisy at 2:14 PM on May 19, 2013


    I appreciate what you say, benito.strauss. I am drawing my inspiration from master Jewish polemicists from the early twentieth century, for whom these questions were literally a matter of life and death. I think that they are a matter of life and death still, but I must bear in mind that most do not see them so, and that I risk alienating my audience by hammering my points. I assure you I am most congenial in real life. Stop by for some home brew any time!
    posted by No Robots at 2:42 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It's not my god. I'm actually a near-total nihilist, and the only loophole I can see that might possibly allow existence to be in any actual sense involves a set of totally fruit-loops ideas about what clever machines can do.

    Basically, I can invent my own crazy bullshit, thank you very much.

    Here's what I think: I think you're thinking about the relation between religion, science, and society in terms that were more or less invented whole-cloth by a bunch of deeply stupid Americans in the 20th century. I think this frame is so difficult to step outside of that it catches us all sometimes. For example, note how at the top of the thread I just totally assumed that it's always been a thing to rubricate the words of Jesus in the NT, when actually it's a tradition invented in like 1901. I think that by stating "Science > Religion" as if it's a statement that's correct, rather than a statement that's, well, not even wrong, you're showing that you're using the versions of capital-S Science and capital-R Religion pushed by the new American Protestant sects. In this model, religious practice and scientific practice both are types of magic trick: you repeat the magic words about Jesus saving you and, if you're sufficiently earnest, you're saved, or you, on the other hand, just sorta science hard enough and scientific discoveries pop out.

    In the real world, both religious practice and research are much more complex than that.

    I am guessing, from your use of "Science" as a singular noun, that you've never either worked in a lab or done much reading in science and technology studies?

    we can take this to memail if it's best; I figure, though, that anyone still with this thread is here for the cranky-but-friendly argumentation...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:44 PM on May 19, 2013


    METAFILTER: a place for my own declamatory, univocal strident advocacy. :)
    posted by philip-random at 3:04 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Sorry, I didn't mean "your God" to be specific to you. For some people it's raki healing or psychic readings or church or whatever is selling today.

    In this model, religious practice and scientific practice both are types of magic trick: you repeat the magic words about Jesus saving you and, if you're sufficiently earnest, you're saved, or you, on the other hand, just sorta science hard enough and scientific discoveries pop out.

    Well, let's look at some polls: So what Christianity is today, at least in the United States, is a sort of weak spiritual brand that certain businesses adapt to changing customer tastes. It has very little to do with the Bible and even less to do with a literate exploration of any concept of God. So, yes, people believe if they show up for their preferred brand of Sunday service then Jesus will take care of them now and in the afterlife. And they don't even have to be bothered to talk about poor people. They can continue to focus on what's important: the customer. And the church can do the same.

    As far as someone assuming they can "science" hard enough and have a scientific discovery... well, that's precisely what can happen. If you have a hypothesis, and you develop a methodology to test that hypothesis and share it with others, you can have a scientific discovery and make the world a better place without having to accept any assertions from anybody. That's why religions hoped for a person who could use magic to restore sight to the blind and got nowhere in a few thousand years, and when people just "science" hard enough, they figure out how to make blind people see instead of just hoping for it.

    The benefit society receives is centered around the difference between religion and science: to contribute to the scientific community and literally change the way every single scientist thinks is as simple as presenting the evidence. (Notice how there are very few scientists protesting against the blasphemy of the results from CERN). Now, how could a person possibly change everyone's opinion of the divinity of Christ? It's not going to happen because religion values tradition over reality, and they have some fairly awful traditions.

    Fighting with that mindset is a losing battle. It took hundreds of years for the religious community to accept the basic facts of our solar system. I'm not going to wait a hundred more to get permission to say that gay people are okay, or to state out loud that the perfectly natural human behavior of sex does not need to be policed by a small group of old virgins. Keep the good, and throw out the bad? Absolutely. But most of what religion is, regardless of how many times they try to repackage it, just needs to be thrown out.
    posted by tripping daisy at 4:16 PM on May 19, 2013


    How then are we to go about determining what aspects of religion are or are not worth throwing out? Should we be guided by, like, philosophical texts? Legal texts? Empirical evidence (what research methodologies can get at this?) A sense of the Inner Light? A faith in our ability to maximize happiness when presented with an opportunity for rational reasoning?

    Aside from that, I guess the core problem is I don't see how what you're saying relates to the conversation at hand, despite the conversation at hand being almost pathologically small-c catholic at this point.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:16 PM on May 19, 2013


    Tripping daisy, I do need to let you know there is such a thing as miraculous healing and I have been the beneficiary of it more than once.

    Science isn't evil, God gave us brains and reasoning power, but it can go only so far and there are places it just cannot go.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:54 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I'm not going to wait a hundred more to get permission to say that gay people are okay, or to state out loud that the perfectly natural human behavior of sex does not need to be policed by a small group of old virgins.

    It pleases me to inform you that your wait is over. The apostolic teaching is not that gay people are "not okay". Rather, they are called to celibacy just as anyone else is. (I Cor. 7).
    posted by Tanizaki at 8:09 PM on May 19, 2013


    So basically the deal is, they lay on some hands, I lay on some robots, and everybody's happy.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:19 PM on May 19, 2013


    Whether they like it or not, every single Christian in America is following a liberalized version that the early church fathers would probably find completely blasphemous.

    Women in the church! A mix of races in the church! Coffee shops near the altar!


    Wow, this is quite a caricature. You talk about the early church fathers, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the church fathers would know that women in the church is not "blasphemous". Many of the holiest people of the New Testament were women e.g. Mary, the woman at the well, the woman who cleans Jesus's feet, and so on. There were women present at Pentecost, which was when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and disciples. To be sure, men and women have different roles within the church, but to claim that "women in the church" was ever a problem is just uninformed.

    Similarly, "mix of races in the church!" is a silly gasp. Again, Pentecost is remarkable for the disciples being able to be understood in many languages so that they could be understood by all races. Why did the apostles travel all over the place if the Church were just for one race? My church features chanting in English, Greek, and Arabic in reflection of the congregation's makeup.

    And, it will be a cold day in Hell before there is a coffee shop anywhere near our altar.
    posted by Tanizaki at 8:26 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


    You talk about the early church fathers, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the church fathers would know that women in the church is not "blasphemous". Many of the holiest people of the New Testament were women e.g. Mary, the woman at the well, the woman who cleans Jesus's feet, and so on. There were women present at Pentecost, which was when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and disciples. To be sure, men and women have different roles within the church, but to claim that "women in the church" was ever a problem is just uninformed.

    To be fair, there's a long history of controversy over the role of women in the church that TD is tapping into; for example, think of how in the medieval west, Junia got turned into Junias out of monkly anxiety about women as apostles.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:19 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Aside from that, I guess the core problem is I don't see how what you're saying relates to the conversation at hand, despite the conversation at hand being almost pathologically small-c catholic at this point.

    Well, let me restate it: attempts of groups such as the RLC to repackage faith-based thinking in friendlier terms are 1) usually disingenuous because they still perpetuate homophobic, misogynistic, and exclusionary thinking and 2) they are becoming irrelevant as they are being displaced by modern social norms which have almost nothing to do with the bible, and certainly don't owe the bible or any other religious text for unique philosophy.

    The bottom line is that most major religious texts are just wrong. The value of pi is not 3. There is no such thing as a djinn. There has never been any evidence to show that a place called heaven or hell exists or has existed. No miracle has ever been recorded, despite an ever-increasing amount of extremely rare events being recorded in their place. And in double-blind tests, prayer simply does not work. With a track record as poor as that, why use those texts as a primary source for anything? I'm not dismissing them out of my distaste for superstition. I'm dismissing them because they have shown to be wrong, morally and factually, for literally thousands of years, and are therefore not of much use.

    To examine an analogue in science, there is not a single respected medical journal insisting that we study the possibility that demons and imbalances of bile are causing sickness, because when science becomes unreliable it stops being science. Make any claim you'd like, but until it can be reviewed and duplicated in someone else's lab or under their observation, your ideas do not matter. However, when the next Joseph Smith claims that his magic white hat enables him to see golden tablets touched by God himself, well, that's not much crazier than anything else religion claims. So people end up wasting time and resources pretending that it did happen, and then they waste time constructing lies to protect the original fib. It's kind of impressive in its own way, I guess.

    Anyway, that's why it's confusing to me that any of this is even slightly controversial. No one regrets the decline of Greek mythology, or Zoroastrianism, or any number of doomsday cults. They stopped being useful to our cultures, so they were discarded. That's the natural cycle of religions because they can never go back and rewrite their holy books quickly enough to stay relevant and claim that they have been right all along, and their books are always wrong because they are always written by people.

    Having said that, if any church came out tomorrow and said they were melting down all of their golden statues, selling their real estate, and focusing all of their efforts to eradicate poverty with the proceeds, I'd be the first in line to volunteer. But, as is typical with institutions, preservation of the institution itself trumps principle, regardless of how loudly they trumpet them.

    Tripping daisy, I do need to let you know there is such a thing as miraculous healing and I have been the beneficiary of it more than once.

    Which is more likely: that the entire natural order of the known physical universe was suspended temporarily and in your favor, or that you are under a misapprehension?

    Science isn't evil, God gave us brains and reasoning power, but it can go only so far and there are places it just cannot go.

    Is there an idea would you like to present that is better explained by religion than by current scientific theory?

    but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the church fathers would know that women in the church is not "blasphemous"

    "It is not permitted to a woman to speak in church. Neither may she teach, baptize, offer, nor claim for herself any function proper to a man, least of all the sacerdotal office." -Tertullian

    Why can't you just admit that the church was wrong?
    posted by tripping daisy at 9:52 PM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Good lord. Whether or not the church was wrong is the dullest question in the world. Of course the church was wrong.1 The interesting questions are about how and why smart people2 ended up believing and doing the crazy things they did, in the interest of understanding the crazy things we believe and do.

    1: Well, except it's not particularly useful to think of "the church" as a unified singular voice here; it's not like, say, Boethius was going around shouting "Tertullian said it, I believe it, that settles it!"
    2: Just as smart as us! they weren't sitting around with their fingers in their noses waiting for tripping daisy and tanizaki and st. alia to show them what for. These folks had brains on them.

    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:02 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


    No Robots: As I've attempted to show through quotations from Orwell and others, socialism is nothing more than scientific Christianity,

    Mostly with a book written in 1920, by which time Socialism was so far along that it already was an official state ideology that betrayed its own principles.

    Your claim isn't just wrong, it's bizarre. Yes, Socialism and the Kingdom of Heaven are both notionally communalistic, but so is nearly every other creed ever. Why isn't Socialism just "scientific" Confucianism or Mithrasism? (Or, you know, an offshoot of secular humanism because that's what it actually is.)

    benito.strauss addressed this point very well. You like both socialism and Christianity, and see the common and complimentary elements in both. Up to that point, fine, but you're going well past that insisting there is and cause-and-effect relationship that does not exist.

    Christiantiy had vague peans to economic populism from day one. But it's "rejection" of wealth was based on a dismissal of Earthly concerns, an attack on Jewish leadership of the day, and more importantly, was forgotten once it was no longer an underground creed. It was nothing like Socialism which depends on the idea of class consciousness and is a direct reaction to capitalist and industrial society. Notional appeals to altrusim in the Bible didn't inspire Socialist thought.

    The socialist gospel you are taking about is quite the reverse; some spiritual leaders being inspired by Socialism and looking for post-hoc linkages and similarities. (Which is what you are doing.)

    Any one can do this with two ideas they find interesting (want to here me explain how Nietzsche was 19th century Europe's Siddhārtha Gautama?) but that doesn't mean there's a genetic relationship between the two.
    posted by spaltavian at 6:40 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    prayer simply does not work

    The problem with this statement is that prayer is not a way to "get stuff" in the physical universe. The purpose of prayer is to make you holy.

    "It is not permitted to a woman to speak in church. Neither may she teach, baptize, offer, nor claim for herself any function proper to a man, least of all the sacerdotal office." -Tertullian

    Why can't you just admit that the church was wrong?


    Because it was (and is not) wrong. In the apostolic tradition, women do not preach or celebrate the sacraments. This is not a very surprising occurrence in a community established by a man and his male apostles. I have already explained that men and women have different roles within the church. You may not like that practice, but it is incorrect to say that women have no role in the church.
    posted by Tanizaki at 7:23 AM on May 20, 2013


    but it is incorrect to say that women have no role in the church

    But it is unequal, and I think it was tripping daisy's point that such inequality and contemporary Western society and/or socialism don't mesh very well.
    posted by spaltavian at 7:56 AM on May 20, 2013


    So, spaltavian, you're just going to ignore what Rorty had to say about the matter?
    posted by No Robots at 7:58 AM on May 20, 2013


    In the apostolic tradition, women do not preach or celebrate the sacraments. This is not a very surprising occurrence in a community established by a man and his male apostles.

    And the apostle Junia.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:26 AM on May 20, 2013


    And the apostle Junia.

    I was using the term in its strictest sense of the original twelve who were actually in Jesus' cohort. If we expand it to the broader sense of those who engaged in the first missionary travel, then yes, there were women in that group.

    To the extent that some hay has been made about Junia in this thread, the "Junias" matter was a Latin innovation of the middle ages. This gender reassignment in unknown in the eastern church. (see e.g. St. John Chrysostom on Acts)

    But it is unequal, and I think it was tripping daisy's point that such inequality and contemporary Western society and/or socialism don't mesh very well.

    Many things in contemporary Western society (or any society, ever) do not mesh very well with Christianity. That is the point.
    posted by Tanizaki at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    But the chief danger (and the reason why the new illiterate denominations coming out of America are so dangerous) is thoughtlessly treating texts in a variety of genres from late antiquity as if they are totally transparent, totally modern instruction manuals for living. I think this is what led a nice atheist like tripping daisy to think that prooftexting Tertullian is a worthwhile activity. Digging around in old texts for clobber verses is, um, a silly thing to do. Looking for history is fun and fruitful, though.

    Tanizaki, can I just thank you for sticking around in this thread, even now that it's gotten weird? Your perspective and scholarship is a seriously valuable contribution to the site.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:17 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Why is it, do you think, that Junia got regendered male and was given an invented name by the west and not the east, by the way? And does the east have the deal where they make sure to keep her understood as a companion to0 apostles, rather than being an apostle herself?

    [yay!! I've been dying to know whether the east got as tied up about Junia as the west did, but I didn't have the faintest idea where to start looking]

    Basically, am I right to be hung up on the word "apostle" when referring to people other than the first twelve?

    As I understand the situation, "Junias" isn't a name; it's like, say, if I wrote a letter about my good friends Seymour and Rebecca who work as engineers at Google, and then a thousand years from now half the scholars in the world started insisting that either:
    1. I meant to say "Rebecca-sir", which is totally a man's name even though no one's ever had it before or since.
    2. or,
    3. Well, maybe she was a woman named Rebecca, but because women can't be computer engineers, especially not computer engineers at Google, she must have worked in some sort of complementary role, for example by washing the feet of real engineers like Seymour.
    But, um, as is clear, I have a real knack for misunderstanding situations...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2013


    Good lord. Whether or not the church was wrong is the dullest question in the world. Of course the church was wrong. The interesting questions are about how and why smart people ended up believing and doing the crazy things they did, in the interest of understanding the crazy things we believe and do.

    I agree that it's interesting. But, honestly, what major contributions did any one religion make that hasn't been made by others? That's the whole reason the RLC is doomed from the start to establish any dialogue about equality. They made the decision to start with Christianity just because they wanted to. That excludes a lot of other excellent work by other early philosophers who happened to follow other religions. If Tertullian and Aquinas don't mean more than Avicenna and Laozi, than I have no quarrel with the idea of looking to old texts. But let's be realistic: everyone reading this knows that religious equity is never on the table, otherwise they wouldn't be starting with one religion over another. It's nearly always about spiritual nationalism, and I know why they fight so hard over it. If God was wrong about one thing, in the minds of the faithful, he could be wrong about others. Perhaps their loved ones aren't in heaven. Maybe justice is not served in the afterlife, and evil men lead peaceful, decadent lives without punishment. Maybe everyone who has died today of malnutrition was born to suffer without mercy in an indifferent universe. Those are terrifying ideas, but wishing that God existed doesn't seem to make a difference.

    Let's look at another analogue from the scientific world: Newton was batshit insane, but I don't have to defend his bizarre religious views or faith in alchemy for his models of physics to continue to operate. Science works whether it is believed in or not, because all science is at its foundation is our best current guess at how something works. If science worked as religion does, and Newton claimed that everything he knew was a direct revelation from God -- certainly a possibility in his worldview -- there would be Newtonians running around trying to find a way to convince others that the parts he lied about true and relevant.

    And does anyone spend their time, as the faithful do, reading between the lines of Newton's rambling lunacy, trying to find ways to show that those parts of Newton's philosophy are somehow correct and important? And even if they did, would you give them money so they could build a temple to convince other people to believe those same things?

    But the chief danger (and the reason why the new illiterate denominations coming out of America are so dangerous) is thoughtlessly treating texts in a variety of genres from late antiquity as if they are totally transparent, totally modern instruction manuals for living. I think this is what led a nice atheist like tripping daisy to think that prooftexting Tertullian is a worthwhile activity. Digging around in old texts for clobber verses is, um, a silly thing to do.

    I'm actually agnostic... but I want to point out something very important. If prooftexting Tertullian isn't a worthwhile activity, and digging around for "clobber verses" is "silly" presumably because it is so easy, why would people look to those same texts as any sort of moral reference over other choices? Why read the Bible before reading A Treatise of Human Nature?
    posted by tripping daisy at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Because it comes chronologically earlier. There's also a case to be made for starting at the present and drilling backwards, going from De Landa to Deleuze to Nietzsche and Marx to Hume to Kant to [one two skip a few] Boethius to Augustine to Iamblicus to Tertullian to Paul to the authors of the Gospels to [one two skip a few] Diogenes the Cynic to Socrates to [...] ... to Thales.

    I think the difference here is that you're approaching thought and writing as something to judge for its moral value, while I'm trying to (good lord I try) approach it as an interesting and worthwhile object of study, whether or not I may regard it as holy or wicked or whatever. It's sort of like the difference between how a virologist approaches a new flu strain while working in a lab ("wow, this is some remarkable engineering, let's see how it works") versus how an ordinary person — or even that same virologist — approaches it while out in the world ("is it bad? could it get me sick? then GET IT AWAY FROM ME.").
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2013


    Also, Neal Stephenson got three or four pretty decent novels out of Isaac Newton's alchemical writings, though to be fair said novels could have benefited from some editing. :)
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:20 AM on May 20, 2013


    In the apostolic tradition, women do not preach or celebrate the sacraments.

    Except you're understandably defining your particular denomination's claim to apostolic succession to be the correct one. The are churches equally "in the apostolic tradition" where women do preach and celebrate sacraments.
    posted by hoyland at 11:33 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I think the difference here is that you're approaching thought and writing as something to judge for its moral value, while I'm trying to (good lord I try) approach it as an interesting and worthwhile object of study, whether or not I may regard it as holy or wicked or whatever

    The religious do not consider their own holy texts "interesting and worthwhile objects of study." They consider their own holy texts to be the directly inspired (or even directly written) words of God, which is, by sole virtue of that baseless assertion, superior to all other thought and philosophy. If that wasn't the case religion would just be another part of philosophy (which is where I place it).

    Again I ask: why read religious texts any more deeply than any other philosophical work? Even accepting the claim that God wrote them, that doesn't mean the teachings are moral or applicable to our modern lives. Let's say Jesus was divine and did rise from the dead. Does that automatically mean that Paul is correct in Romans when he says that men who are unnaturally "inflamed with lust for one another" as well as "gossips, slanderers [and] God-haters" are "insolent" and "disobey their parents" who "deserve death" despite knowing "God's righteous decree"?

    How do you integrate advice like that into the 21st Century? The simple answer is that you can't without ditching most of it, which is exactly what is happening. I'm not saying all of religion is all bad. I'm saying that most of it is worthless to any modern person, and rebranding attempts aren't going to change that reality.
    posted by tripping daisy at 1:20 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    If Tertullian and Aquinas don't mean more than Avicenna and Laozi, than I have no quarrel with the idea of looking to old texts.

    Sorry, by the way, for sort of talking past you. I'm getting wayy too snippy on this thread.

    I'd say that the reason why understanding Tertullian, Aquinas, and Avicenna is more pressing than understanding Laozi, at least in the context of contemporary American culture and politics, is because Tertullian, Aquinas, and Avicenna have had a much more direct formative impact on that culture than Laozi has. Would that it weren't so; but then again, we go to war with the culture we have, and not the culture we want. I'm guessing the majority of the people here on mefi either subscribe to an Abrahamic faith or grew up in a context where subscribing to an Abrahamic faith was seen as the default. And all of the Abrahamic faiths have developed in explicit dialogue with Greek philosophy, but not so much with Chinese thinkers.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2013


    The religious do not consider their own holy texts "interesting and worthwhile objects of study."

    This is true for some religious folks, sure, but all?
    posted by shakespeherian at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2013


    But let's be realistic: everyone reading this knows that religious equity is never on the table, otherwise they wouldn't be starting with one religion over another.

    In at least the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions seminary study traditionally begins with Aritstotle.

    The religious do not consider their own holy texts "interesting and worthwhile objects of study."

    I'm not sure about that one either. Why bother going to seminary at all then if you're just going to make them memorize and regurgitate a buch of ancient text? I know my father spent years doing exgeses and studying philology, for what purpose then?
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:30 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


    >>The religious do not consider their own holy texts "interesting and worthwhile objects of study."

    >This is true for some religious folks, sure, but all?
    And this is why I can't shut up about how terrible the new illiterate American Protestant sects are. They make people assume that everyone else is as stupid as they are.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:31 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I mean, I went to Wheaton College, a pretty damn conservative Evangelical Protestant place, and I had a class called Literature of the Bible that was all about examining a religious text as something written and looking at the choices made by authors in order to render that writing beautiful or suspenseful or dramatic or etc.
    posted by shakespeherian at 1:35 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


    And this is why I can't shut up about how terrible the new illiterate American Protestant sects are. They make people assume that everyone else is as stupid as they are.

    Incidentally, it's a similar argument that people in the Iraqi Shia world have against Muqtada al Sadr, the man had no formal schooling (particularly in Aristotle) and therefore has no grounds for issuing fatwas. He's said to be going back to school since 2008, but meanwhile his movement wanes as does his enthusiasm for wild militancy as he actually studies the texts and does some comparative/contextual reading in school.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:38 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Sorry, let me clarify: the vast majority do not consider their religious texts solely as interesting and worthwhile objects of study, they are also considered to be sacred and special above and beyond all other texts. Is anyone here prepared to deny the elevated status a religion holds for its own texts?

    He's said to be going back to school since 2008, but meanwhile his movement wanes as does his enthusiasm for wild militancy as he actually studies the texts and does some comparative/contextual reading in school.

    That is complete nonsense. Here's a snippet from earlier this year:
    Baha al-Araji, head of the Sadr-affiliated Ahrar Bloc in parliament, was visibly upset at a news conference in early December 2012, due to the lawsuit Maliki won against the oil surplus dividends clause. That day he said, "Maliki is responsible for starving the Iraqis." He also expressed his support for the proposal of his leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, which included providing $233 to every citizen and around 40,000 jobs for unemployed youth. Immediately following the decision, Sadr’s supporters took to the streets protesting against Maliki in the capital city of Baghdad, as well as in Najaf — Sadr's stronghold — and cities in the central and southern Euphrates regions. The Sadrists chanted angrily condemning Maliki, saying that he is attacking their leader. Those scenes churned up old memories of the long quarrel that had formerly persisted between the two sides.
    How is al-Sadr losing popularity? And where in the world did you hear that he's moderated his politics because of Aristotle -- where is your source?
    posted by tripping daisy at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2013


    if life were only like this...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:15 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This is true for some religious folks, sure, but all?

    Definitely not all. There's a wide variety of relationships with texts.
    posted by Miko at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2013


    There is not "[anyplace science] just cannot go" nor "[any aspects of reality] better explained by religion than by current scientific theories", but both miss the issue.

    The question is : Is religion inherently evil bad?
    The answer is seemingly : Yes, religion is bad, but so is fucking with people doing good stuff.

    You're definitely right for pillorying Christianity or Islam for their right-wing adherent's activities. You're welcome to denigrate the neutral adherents whose prejudices provide cover for the bad guys too. You should probably shut up when people who actually do real good from an informed perspective of the world claim those affiliations however. People like Jimmy Carter simply don't provide cover for the shit heads because their morality is so informed by the real world that it doesn't really differ from yours, even if they claim it's their christianity, satanism, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a weird or silly reason for doing what reality compels any sane moral system to consider to be the right thing.
    posted by jeffburdges at 6:55 PM on May 20, 2013


    You should probably shut up when people who actually do real good from an informed perspective of the world claim those affiliations however. People like Jimmy Carter simply don't provide cover for the shit heads because their morality is so informed by the real world that it doesn't really differ from yours, even if they claim it's their christianity, satanism, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a weird or silly reason for doing what reality compels any sane moral system to consider to be the right thing.

    First, I will not thank you to allow me to speak freely because that is a right I claim without permission.

    Second, Jimmy Carter no longer provides cover for shitheads because he has left his church over their treatment of women. That's the difference between a religious nationalist and a person who sees moral principle as something beyond what can be found in one holy book or institution.

    As he puts it:
    The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.
    When Tanizaki and others leave the institutions that have codified misogyny, homophobia, and other exclusionary thinking -- or eliminate those traditions entirely from their institution -- I'll be glad to celebrate their liberation with their followers. But they get no points while the falsehoods are still repeated, or for continuing to support those institutions with excuses, money, and attendance. And, since the first step would be to admit that their holy books are not holy and shouldn't be followed to the letter, I'm not going holding my breath waiting for that day.
    posted by tripping daisy at 8:40 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


    And the 2013 award for terrible evangelism goes to...

    everyone in this thread!

    Congratulations! We're all winners!
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The religious do not consider their own holy texts "interesting and worthwhile objects of study." They consider their own holy texts to be the directly inspired (or even directly written) words of God, which is, by sole virtue of that baseless assertion, superior to all other thought and philosophy. If that wasn't the case religion would just be another part of philosophy (which is where I place it).

    Then you'd better explain why my friend who went to a Seminary had to take an entire years' worth of Scripture study.

    With all due respect, Tripping Daisy, I suspect you are thinking with a particular prejudice about "what religious people are like and how they think" which is ultimately muddying the waters of this discussion, and - I think you'll find - is affecting your own ability to really understand what people are trying to tell you. Because firstly, not only are you incorrect that every single religious person believes the holy text to be "divinely inspired", but secondly, even many of the ones who do nevertheless believe that they are also "interesting and worthwhile objects of study". As a matter of fact, many mainstream Christian denominations actually ENCOURAGE their followers to engage in personal Bible study, and a few minutes' perusing the catalog of any Christian bookstore can prove to you this is the case (as you will find a myriad of different books devoted to aiding them in that quest).

    I'm sorry, but you're giving the appearance of being yet another "lolchristians amirite" naysayer, and that is not really going to help your cause in this discussion. If you wish to not appear thus, perhaps re-examining the source of some of your beliefs about religious people - and some reflection upon whether some of those beliefs may be unfair generalizations - is in order.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


    How is al-Sadr losing popularity? And where in the world did you hear that he's moderated his politics because of Aristotle -- where is your source?

    Well, let's see, he "dissolved" the Mehdi Army after ordering it to stand down and it split between those that obeyed and didn't, then he left the country for seminary in Qom and hasn't been back much for five years after years of refusing to leave Iraqi soil, and most recently his anti-Maliki, anti-federalist bloc failed to oust Maliki and the Federalists in the April 20th election. In Shia majority provinces, religious parties like his took fewer seats with small, independent parties picking up support.

    I don't think Sadr is down and out by any means, but he's definitely been trying to appear temporate and build his scholarly credentials (perhaps to ward off criticism from the Iranian clerics or even gain their support despite his previous calls for home-grown shia action) and his moderate rhetoric has caused rifts in his supporters and allowed his power to wane since its peak.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:18 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I should add, I don't know what Sadr's motivation is behind the tempered language. Did he really take to heart the ethical rationalism he found from studying Aristotle in Qom? Is he trying to preserve his own hide by talking the talk until he consolidates enough power to make a push? Is he trying to win friends in Iran by using the jargon of the trade? I don't know.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:48 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Why is it, do you think, that Junia got regendered male and was given an invented name by the west and not the east, by the way? And does the east have the deal where they make sure to keep her understood as a companion to0 apostles, rather than being an apostle herself?

    [yay!! I've been dying to know whether the east got as tied up about Junia as the west did, but I didn't have the faintest idea where to start looking]


    I do not know very much about this particular issue, but it appears to be something that a few translators in the west here and there rather than a concerted effort by the western church. What is clear is that the first instance of St. Junia being described as a man did not occur until a few centuries after the East-West schism of 1054. Remarkably enough, the feast day of St. Junia was just a few days ago on May 17.

    St. Junia is an apostle in the eastern church.

    Basically, am I right to be hung up on the word "apostle" when referring to people other than the first twelve?

    The word comes from the Greek αποστολος meaning "one who is sent forth", previously in the context of a warship but in the Christian context, it is one who is sent on a mission to evangelize. We know of Junia from Romans 16:7. The key phrase is Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις. ("Junia" and "of note among the apostles" in bold)

    As I mentioned above, "apostle" can have a few meanings of varying breadth. I think the usual sense is The Twelve who were actually in Jesus' cohort and are named in the Gospels. Beyond that, there is the Seventy, of which Junia is considered to be one. Then there are a few other apostles such as Paul and Barnabas.

    In the eastern church, there are no apostles who are not in the Bible, although some are called isapostolos (ἰσαπόστολος) or "equal to the apostles". Presently, we call ourselves as being part of the apostolic tradition, which means tracing lineage to an apostle and teaching what is apostolic. For example, my priest traces his line of laying-on-of-hands to St. Andrew*, but if he started teaching heresy such as "Jesus was just a guy", he would be taking himself out of apostolic succession.

    *(clergy of the Roman church trace their lineage to St. Peter).
    posted by Tanizaki at 3:07 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Except you're understandably defining your particular denomination's claim to apostolic succession to be the correct one. The are churches equally "in the apostolic tradition" where women do preach and celebrate sacraments.

    No, not equally.

    If a person were to make a serious inquiry into finding the apostolic church, I think they can only come to a handful of choices: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Oriental Orthodox. While my research lead me to EO (and I think I am correct), I think one could honestly and with much study arrive at the conclusion of RC or OO. By contrast, one could not do this research and arrive at the conclusion that the Southern Baptist Convention was the apostolic church and to their credit, this is not a claim that is seriously made by most Baptists (Landmarkism has been almost entirely rejected by Baptists)

    However, as I explained in my last comment, to be in the apostolic tradition is not merely to be able to trace a clerical lineage to an apostle. Doctrinal continuity is equally required. If a cleric teaches doctrine that is not apostolic i.e. Marcionism or Arianism, he is no longer in the apostolic tradition.

    By the way, which of these "apostolic" churches did you have in mind when making your reply? When answering, please bear in mind that the great majority of Protestant denominations think that apostolic succession is stupid and not necessary. Only a few claim it at all, and among those who do claim it, there are internal division about whether it is claimed. For example, among Lutherans.
    posted by Tanizaki at 3:20 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


    "If a person were to make a serious inquiry into finding the apostolic church, I think they can only come to a handful of choices: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Oriental Orthodox. While my research lead me to EO (and I think I am correct), I think one could honestly and with much study arrive at the conclusion of RC or OO."

    Don't forget Methodists! Though if you don't think Anglicans count for doctrinal continuity, you probably wouldn't think we do with our big tent, even if we pointedly do not have strong feelings on the matter exactly.

    That Wikipedia article by the way is an amazing rabbit hole to run down.
    posted by Blasdelb at 4:08 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


    By the way, which of these "apostolic" churches did you have in mind when making your reply?

    Old Catholics. (The Union of Utrecht specifically, if you want to insist on having recognition from Rome or one of the Orthodox churches.)

    That Wikipedia article by the way is an amazing rabbit hole to run down.

    I kind of like how denominations that theoretically do not care about apostolic succession have gone out of their way to recover it. Just in case, I guess.
    posted by hoyland at 4:29 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Then you'd better explain why my friend who went to a Seminary had to take an entire years' worth of Scripture study.

    The chances that it's also taught in seminary that Christianity is just one idea out of thousands of similar ideas about how we got here, how we should act, and what constitutes morality is fairly close to zero unless we're talking about a Unitarian style school, and I usually have no quarrel with Unitarians or the Ba'hai or the Buddhists.

    As a matter of fact, many mainstream Christian denominations actually ENCOURAGE their followers to engage in personal Bible study, and a few minutes' perusing the catalog of any Christian bookstore can prove to you this is the case (as you will find a myriad of different books devoted to aiding them in that quest).

    What mainstream denominations encourage reading non-Christian religions as seriously as the Christian ones? I think you're mistaking my point. I have no problem with religious studies. I do have a problem with every religion assuming, without any basis in rational thought, that one particular religion is more valid than another or even no religion at all. There are strikingly few religions that claim that all attempts at understanding God are equal. When that point is left out, a very dangerous situation develops when someone claims to know exactly what God wants, and others begin to believe them. Not only does this give them a mechanism to discard basic humanity, but also to dehumanize anyone who does not interpret God's commandments exactly as they do.

    I'm sorry, but you're giving the appearance of being yet another "lolchristians amirite" naysayer, and that is not really going to help your cause in this discussion. If you wish to not appear thus, perhaps re-examining the source of some of your beliefs about religious people - and some reflection upon whether some of those beliefs may be unfair generalizations - is in order.

    "lolchristians?" There's nothing funny about it. I have seen families and lives torn apart by ideas because people were made to believe that those ideas meant eternal life or eternal damnation and, crucially, they were told those ideas could not be questioned because they came directly from God. I don't find it funny at all that centuries of misogyny and persecution of non-conforming social groups are somehow dismissed by claiming that the earlier followers were just reading it wrong. I don't find it funny that women are told by their church to stay in abusive relationships because being half beaten to death may be bad, but getting a divorce is worse. I don't find it funny that abstinence, which has been shown to be completely ineffective compared to a complete class on sexual behavior, is still taught because of the delicate sensibilities of certain religious groups. I don't find it funny that the Catholic Church would prefer people to die of AIDS than to use condoms. What institutions outside of religion continue to promote those types of ideas?

    The special place religion demands for itself above all other philosophy is responsible for a lot of strife and destruction in this world. The very least you could do as an institution is take responsibility for it, and the best you could do is admit that there is nothing that makes Christianity or any other religion more sacred or valuable than any other thought that comes out of person's head. What you have is simply a set of ideas. They aren't revelations, or commandments, or direct communications of unassailable divinity. They're just ideas, so why insist that the rules of the universe do not apply to your creation theory or your assertions? Why can't you admit that what you have is just one collection of ideas out of thousands of others?
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:32 AM on May 22, 2013


    "The chances that it's also taught in seminary that Christianity is just one idea out of thousands of similar ideas about how we got here, how we should act, and what constitutes morality is fairly close to zero unless we're talking about a Unitarian style school, and I usually have no quarrel with Unitarians or the Ba'hai or the Buddhists."
    Seminaries do not work that way. Christian seminaries almost exclusively do their damndest to expose fresh faced seminarians to secular philosophy, the kind of critically historical readings of the Bible that I talked about upthread, and ecumenical/interfaith ideas. While the brittle faith that come with an ignorance of these things might work institutionally for fundamentalist parishioners, even for fundamentalists that does not work for clergy. One of the many things that is likely invisible to you from the outside is that in the Western world there are likely at least as many ex-pastors as serving clergy from the burnout, the extraordinary stress of the position, marital stress, celibacy, as well as loneliness, and this is a big problem across denominations. Priesthood being one of the very few careers that can end from a simple change in perspective, and as this is catastrophic for both priests and their churches, denominations are really really sensitive to making as for damn sure as is possible that they do not ordain pastors who might be sensitive to it and add to the incredibly destructive turnover. There is a very good reason why students have drilled in to their heads the idea that if going to seminary hasn't challenged their faith then they haven't taken it seriously enough. This necessarily involves a thorough education in the various things that often lead people to conversions to make sure they aren't convincing to seminarians.

    Also, outside of the more ridiculous of Independent Baptists, Chick tract crazies and schismatic Catholics, Ecumenism within Christianity and interfaith dialog outside of it are seen as inherently good and ends in and of themselves. While only really the Unitarians take the principle to the extreme of being cautious about stating their own beliefs, just about all Christian churches both take pains to emphasize similarities as well as mutual heritage.
    "They're just ideas, so why insist that the rules of the universe do not apply to your creation theory or your assertions?"
    You are arguing with people who are not present here, or pretty much anywhere else on metafilter. In the meta this thread inspired none of us could think of an example of anyone coming forward as a creationist in the history of metafilter.
    "The special place religion demands for itself above all other philosophy is responsible for a lot of strife and destruction in this world."
    This seems like the thesis of the take all comers fighty evangelizing you want to do in this thread, but it is really only very tangentially related to the thread itself and religious evangelism doesn't really work well on metafilter anyway. Maybe we should take it to chat or get back to the Red Letter folks?
    posted by Blasdelb at 2:51 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Also,

    Q: How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: The following statement was issued: "We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb (or light source, or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted--all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence."
    posted by Blasdelb at 4:53 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


    I think you're mistaking my point. I have no problem with religious studies. I do have a problem with every religion assuming, without any basis in rational thought, that one particular religion is more valid than another or even no religion at all.

    Oh, I think I got your point, alright. And apparently you are confusing "a study of one's religion," which you said that Christians didn't do, with "comparative religious study," which vanishingly few people do anyway.

    So now it looks not only like you've got a definite agenda here, but rather that you're moving the goalposts. If what you want is for every religious person to do a comparative study of all other religions, then you're asking a hell of a lot of people. If you are asking for the faithful to stop being oppressive to other faiths, then a lot of other members of the faithful already agree with you, and they wish their fellows would knock it off too.

    If you're just here to grind an axe against Christians and how stupid they are, though, at least come out and admit it.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Good talk, guys.
    posted by shakespeherian at 6:37 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Oh, I think I got your point, alright. And apparently you are confusing "a study of one's religion," which you said that Christians didn't do, with "comparative religious study," which vanishingly few people do anyway.

    I don't say that Christians don't study their own religion, Christians admit that they don't when they are asked. I didn't make up the fact that many religions excuse domestic violence to protect religious ideals:
    One mid-1980s survey of 5,700 pastors found that 26 percent of pastors ordinarily would tell a woman being abused that she should continue to submit and to "trust that God would honor her action by either stopping the abuse or giving her the strength to endure it" and that 71 percent of pastors would never advise a battered wife to leave her husband or separate because of abuse
    And yet you continue to pretend that these facts do not exist, and that they shouldn't apply to your institution. It's mind boggling.

    To the point about the equality of creation ideas, Blasdelb perfectly illustrates the mindset of someone who cannot imagine an equitable approach to religious thinking, so it's just better to mock it instead.

    just about all Christian churches both take pains to emphasize similarities as well as mutual heritage.

    And which churches promote Greek mythology, or Sufism, or Wahhabism as equal ideas to Christianity? I know you don't want to address the judgement fused into the DNA of religions by their sacred texts, but that won't make them go away. You can't say that you believe that Christ said the only way to Heaven is through him, or state the fact that the Bible repeatedly recommends death for non-believers, and then claim that the bible isn't inherently exclusionary. Circling back around to the start of this thread, that's why the RLC can't represent socialist principles. Exclusion and judgement of others is undoubtedly a central theme of Abrahamic religions, and certainly part of other religions too, and if you're going to throw out the majority of the text to try to fit in, why pretend that it's still a religion, or that the text is still sacred?
    posted by tripping daisy at 8:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "If a person were to make a serious inquiry into finding the apostolic church, I think they can only come to a handful of choices: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Oriental Orthodox. While my research lead me to EO (and I think I am correct), I think one could honestly and with much study arrive at the conclusion of RC or OO. By contrast, one could not do this research and arrive at the conclusion that the Southern Baptist Convention was the apostolic church and to their credit, this is not a claim that is seriously made by most Baptists (Landmarkism has been almost entirely rejected by Baptists) "

    They can also come to Anglican, which has a serious claim to apostolic succession. And also ordains women and gays.
    posted by klangklangston at 8:34 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Socialism is exclusionary, no?
    posted by No Robots at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2013


    It's trivial to strike at "Christians" when you paint them with such a broad brush, building on selective and scattered references as descriptive of the whole. I join tripping daisy in condemning the worst examples of Christian practice: the exclusionary, ignorant, cruel, smug, and politically nefarious. However, I could never extrapolate that into a war against religious belief and/or practice itself. That seems silly. I am capable of making distinctions between denominational traditions, and in addition, making distinctions among individuals whose Christian practice takes place either within, partially within, or without those denominational traditions. I can't understand why people launch themselves with such energy and vitriol at such ill-defined targets, in a process of continuous straw-man creation and destruction, and make the mistake of conflating parts with wholes. Because of the basic clumsiness of the arguments and fuzziness of the assumptions, this strategy remains almost comically unable to shift anyone's perspective on their own practice or that of others.
    posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


    I don't know that there's much juice left in the actual thread topic, now, but this is incredibly deraily.
    posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It has killed the discussion that was going on. Predictably. So we can hear yet another person rail on about how utterly right they believe themselves to be. It is such a drag.
    posted by Miko at 10:06 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I can't understand why people launch themselves with such energy and vitriol at such ill-defined targets,...

    It often turns out that they, or someone they love, has been seriously hurt, with "religion" as the basis and claimed justification. In America the religion is likely to be Christianity.

    There's plenty of philosophical ways and reasons to disagree with religion, but the anger often comes from pain.

    (This really is continuing a derail, but if someone as aware as Miko generally is isn't aware of this I figured it was worth mentioning.)
    posted by benito.strauss at 10:11 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


    It often turns out that they, or someone they love, has been seriously hurt, with "religion" as the basis and claimed justification. In America the religion is likely to be Christianity.

    Oh, of course I'm aware of it and I fully agree. It almost always turns out to be the case. I suppose the aspect of it I can't understand is that people sometimes get stuck at the stage of blaming "religion" (or "Christianity") broadly writ, for these problems, which are of course also psychological, personal, interpersonal, institutional, political, etc., and often intersect with mental illnesses, social pressures, abuses, poverty, shelteredness, demographics, geography, disempowerments, etc. There's an oversimplicity to this perspective that tends to shove all those complicating factors aside, and it's frustrating to see that people often get bogged down in its somewhat appealing comforts.
    posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    They can also come to Anglican, which has a serious claim to apostolic succession. And also ordains women and gays.

    Perhaps that claim could be made, but I really think such a person would have to explain how they dealt with the church's formation in King Henry's desire for a divorce. Another issue would be doctrinal continuity. When someone tells me that he is Episcopalian/Anglican, I truly have no idea what he believes. What does he think the Eucharist is? Does it have the Real Presence? It is going to matter whether or not he is Low Church or Anglo-Catholic.

    I hasten to add that in the Roman and Eastern churches, one's sexual orientation is not a grounds to be barred from holy orders but they must remain chaste to the same extent as a heterosexual priest. Women are out of the question, though.
    posted by Tanizaki at 10:37 AM on May 22, 2013


    I hasten to add that in the Roman and Eastern churches, one's sexual orientation is not a grounds to be barred from holy orders but they must remain chaste to the same extent as a heterosexual priest. Women are out of the question, though.

    I've lost track of what the current state of affairs is, but the Vatican was most certainly trying to bar gay men from becoming priests. (Which is fairly ironic, given that gay men are over-represented in the priesthood and there's a priest shortage.)
    posted by hoyland at 11:09 AM on May 22, 2013


    [Miko, I think I could make some useful responses to your comment, but memail me if you're interested in hearing them as they would be a derail in this thread.]
    posted by benito.strauss at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Perhaps that claim could be made, but I really think such a person would have to explain how they dealt with the church's formation in King Henry's desire for a divorce. Another issue would be doctrinal continuity. When someone tells me that he is Episcopalian/Anglican, I truly have no idea what he believes. What does he think the Eucharist is? Does it have the Real Presence? It is going to matter whether or not he is Low Church or Anglo-Catholic.

    This isn't why Rome doesn't recognize Anglican ordination, though. I mean, they're still pissed about Henry VIII and whatnot, but, per Blasdelb's Wikipedia link, the objection is technical and not really theological. That the Catholic Church is forever making plays for Anglicans should probably suggest they find the Anglo-Catholic wing rather less far afield than you do.
    posted by hoyland at 11:15 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    ou can't say that you believe that Christ said the only way to Heaven is through him, or state the fact that the Bible repeatedly recommends death for non-believers, and then claim that the bible isn't inherently exclusionary.

    almost everything I know about Christianity, I picked up from the Narnia stuff. I believe it's in the final book, The Last Battle, where Aslan's deciding who gets to go to heaven and who goes to hell. He surprises a few of the "righteous" by sending them to hell, having seen through their various deceits. But he also surprises a few of the supposedly "condemned" -- those who never accepted Aslan as their savior, who indeed fought against him in the great battle. Except, as Aslan put it, by their character etc, they revealed that they were in fact serving him all along, they just didn't realize it.

    I believe this speaks to how Christ could A. be the only way to Heaven (assuming it exists), and B. non-exclusionary.

    As for the Bible recommending death for non-believers, I suspect there's nothing about that in any of the red-letter portions.
    posted by philip-random at 11:23 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "almost everything I know about Christianity, I picked up from the Narnia stuff."

    There is a, ummm, prequel that is pretty interesting. The term d'art though, if you want to get stuffy and excessively academic in another rabbit hole, for such a servant of Aslan is 'Anonymous Christian.'

    "As for the Bible recommending death for non-believers, I suspect there's nothing about that in any of the red-letter portions."

    ...or any other portion, much less repeatedly. There are indeed, when you think about it, a lot of things you can't find any meaningful biblical support for and this is one of them, but trolls who find themselves at a loss to cite a damn thing gonna troll.
    posted by Blasdelb at 3:37 PM on May 22, 2013


    "Perhaps that claim could be made, but I really think such a person would have to explain how they dealt with the church's formation in King Henry's desire for a divorce. Another issue would be doctrinal continuity. When someone tells me that he is Episcopalian/Anglican, I truly have no idea what he believes. What does he think the Eucharist is? Does it have the Real Presence? It is going to matter whether or not he is Low Church or Anglo-Catholic."

    That you truly have no idea what they believe is not evidence that their beliefs are out of apostolic succession; that's an argument from ignorance. I reply with an appeal to authority: In 1922, the Patriarch of Constantinople believed that Anglicans were vested with apostolic succession.
    posted by klangklangston at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    MetaFilter: In 1922, the Patriarch of Constantinople believed that Anglicans were vested with apostolic succession.

    /I love facts like these. MeFi is just the best place on the 'net for finding them.
    posted by benito.strauss at 4:56 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Backwater itinerant preachers are almost always economically populist, social conservative and not without a touch of mania.

    Jesus caught fire, and so did Muhammad. If the Battle of Milvian Bridge went the other way, we'd be wondering what did Mithras really mean?

    This debate is about 300 years past it's experation date. We already have far better exponents of humanism: humanists. No eye-plucking to avoid sin required.


    I'm a secular humanist, and that sounds BORING, and that's why the left is losing. We need backwoods preachers and snake handlers and prophets and manic rock and roll poetic madmen. It doesn't matter what message they espouse as long as they do it with FIRE AND BRIMSTONE, and the left needs some of that to counter the emotional appeal of the right.
    posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2013


    the objection is technical and not really theological.

    Apostolic succession has a technical aspect. Either you have it or you don't. You cannot be a little bit pregnant.

    I reply with an appeal to authority: In 1922, the Patriarch of Constantinople believed that Anglicans were vested with apostolic succession.

    /I love facts like these. MeFi is just the best place on the 'net for finding them.


    Actually, that fact was found on Wikipedia. If our friend klang had an understanding of the theology beyond that level, he would know that the Patriarch of Constantinople is not an "authority" because the eastern church knows no infallible pope. The fact that the eastern churches do not accept the claimed apostolic succession of the Anglican communion can be seen in the way in which it accepts converts. An Anglican priest cannot just flip churches and still be a priest; he needs to under the eastern mystery of holy orders as if he had never been a priest in the first place, and he might not even be eligible. (for example, divorce would be a bar to holy orders). Similarly, lay Anglicans are generally accepted by chrismation (although possibly baptism, depending on the bishop). The reason is that the Anglican sacraments are considered deficient because of the lack of apostolicity. And, an Anglican would never be permitted to serve communion in an eastern church. (barring some extreme emergency such as being on the verge of death as an oikonomia.
    posted by Tanizaki at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "Apostolic succession has a technical aspect. Either you have it or you don't. You cannot be a little bit pregnant."

    The objection is actually based on an inferred difference in "intent," as a reason why the technical apostolic succession is insufficient. The theology there seems a post hoc justification.

    "If our friend klang had an understanding of the theology beyond that level, he would know that the Patriarch of Constantinople is not an "authority" because the eastern church knows no infallible pope."

    If you were more interested in being correct than being snide, you'd recognize that the Patriarch is certainly an authority on Eastern Orthodox doctrine and dogma; that there is no singular authority does not mean that there are no authorities.

    Further, that argument — that there is no infallible pope, ergo no weight to the decision — cuts both ways. As the Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops declared regarding apostolic succession of priests from Catholicism wishing to be ordained in the Orthodox churches, "It should be noted, however, that until such time when the practice of the Orthodox Church will be unified, these cases will be decided by each Autocephalous Orthodox Church."

    Finally, to address your previous comments — Apostolic continuity has been maintained within the Anglican Church even during the schism with Catholicism, and your theological deficiencies are your issue, not the Anglicans'.

    ("While the Thirty-nine Articles and the Homilies rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, at the forty-first meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States of America (ARC/USA), on January 6, 1994, the bishops assembled affirmed "that Christ in the eucharist makes himself present sacramentally and truly when under the species of bread and wine these earthy realities are changed into the reality of his body and blood. In English the terms substance, substantial, and substantially have such physical and material overtones that we, adhering to The Final Report, have substituted the word truly for the word substantially..." The bishops concluded "that the eucharist as sacrifice is not an issue that divides our two Churches.")
    posted by klangklangston at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


    If you were more interested in being correct than being snide, you'd recognize that the Patriarch is certainly an authority on Eastern Orthodox doctrine and dogma; that there is no singular authority does not mean that there are no authorities.

    You know that patriarchs have been deemed heretics by ecumenical councils, right? Pope Honorius is the most notable one but there are others. What you seem to not understand is that authority in the eastern church is from the bottom up, not the top down. If you start some quote mining from the Church Fathers, we can make you an honorary Orthodox.

    your theological deficiencies are your issue, not the Anglicans'.

    I frankly do not understand what point you are trying to make here. If you wish to say that (some) Anglicans claim apostolic succession, yes, I agree that is a true statement of fact regarding their claim. Not all Anglicans claim it, though, such as the "low church".

    This was my point in my statement that when a person says he is Anglican, I have no idea what he believes. It is not an "argument from ignorance". Rather, it is a statement of the varying dogmatic stands on key issues within the Anglicans. I used the example of the Eucharist as an example, which you did not address. Some Anglicans claim the Real Presence, some no presence at all, and some something in between. According to you, which would be the apostolic teaching?

    At least as far as the Roman position goes, you have placed undue weight in the ARC/USA declaration. The Roman view of the Anglican eucharist was made clear in the papal bull of Apostolicae Curae: On the Nullity of Anglican Orders in 1896. Lest you think that times have changed, this teaching was affirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II (headed by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger) in 1998. ("With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given:...the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations") Both pronouncements carried the weight of infallibility. That, I hope is needless to say, preempts an American "dialogue".
    posted by Tanizaki at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Can we not have another talk about how Eastern Orthodox is the only Christian tradition with claims to historicity?
    posted by shakespeherian at 6:40 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


    "You know that patriarchs have been deemed heretics by ecumenical councils, right? Pope Honorius is the most notable one but there are others. What you seem to not understand is that authority in the eastern church is from the bottom up, not the top down. If you start some quote mining from the Church Fathers, we can make you an honorary Orthodox."

    That was Meletius IV. Do you believe he was a heretic or that his opinion is invalid for any particular reason? Or do you believe his election didn't place him in a position of authority within the church?

    "I frankly do not understand what point you are trying to make here. If you wish to say that (some) Anglicans claim apostolic succession, yes, I agree that is a true statement of fact regarding their claim. Not all Anglicans claim it, though, such as the "low church". "

    That you could do the same research and come to the conclusion that the Anglican Church, e.g. Church of England or Episcopalian Church have legitimate claims to apostolic succession, and that such (valid) claims are not inherently predictive of dogma.

    "I used the example of the Eucharist as an example, which you did not address."

    I did, in fact, address it, though you seem to have misunderstood.

    "Some Anglicans claim the Real Presence, some no presence at all, and some something in between. According to you, which would be the apostolic teaching?"

    My position would be that apostolic succession does not guarantee any dogmatic point in particular; apostolic succession comes from a line of ordination from Peter. The idea that you can't tell what a given person believes based on their professed denomination would not seem tied purely to the Anglicans; Catholics don't necessarily believe in papal infallibility.

    "At least as far as the Roman position goes, you have placed undue weight in the ARC/USA declaration."

    That's a non sequitor. That the Roman Catholics believe Anglican ordination invalid is entirely irrelevant to the point that the Roman Catholics believe that the Anglican eucharist is substantially the same as the Roman Catholic one.
    posted by klangklangston at 7:01 PM on May 22, 2013


    Perhaps that claim could be made, but I really think such a person would have to explain how they dealt with the church's formation in King Henry's desire for a divorce. Another issue would be doctrinal continuity. When someone tells me that he is Episcopalian/Anglican, I truly have no idea what he believes. What does he think the Eucharist is? Does it have the Real Presence? It is going to matter whether or not he is Low Church or Anglo-Catholic.

    Here's a good start.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:38 AM on May 23, 2013


    Or do you believe his election didn't place him in a position of authority within the church?

    You seem to misunderstand how the patriarchate works. Patriarchs are not considered sources of authority in faith and dogma by virtue of their office. They do not have universal jurisdiction, unlike the Pope of Rome of the Latin church who claims universal jurisdiction. The patriarchs' job is largely administrative.

    If you want to know, "what does the eastern church believe about X?", there is no one guy you can go to. You have to look to how the church acts as a whole. In the context of what the church thinks of Anglican sacraments and orders, you need to look at how the church interacts with Anglicans. If you do, what you see is that Anglicans are not admitted to communion, that an Anglican priest who converts is treated as if he were never a priest in the first place, and the laity are received by chrismation (or baptism, depending on oikonomia). All of this behavior is inconsistent with an acceptance of Anglican orders and sacraments. If you think this practice is consistent with an acceptance of Anglican orders and sacraments, please explain why you think so.

    You understand how ecumenical councils worked, yes? It was not the case of the councils handing down edicts for the church to follow. Rather, the council announced the beliefs and dogma that the churches had expressed. It is bottom-up, not top-down, as I have explained before in this thread.

    My position would be that apostolic succession does not guarantee any dogmatic point in particular; apostolic succession comes from a line of ordination from Peter.

    This is where your position would be wrong. Continuity from an apostle (not necessarily Peter) is a necessary condition but not a sufficient position. Continuity of teaching is also required. If that is lost, the apostolic succession is lost. A good test for apostolicity would be if St. Peter or St. Andrew were to show up at the church, would they listen and be surprised?

    Catholics don't necessarily believe in papal infallibility

    They do if they wish to be within the church. If they hold otherwise, they have removed themselves from the church. The Romans are quite clear on this point. We all know what a cafeteria Catholic (or Orthodox, or Anglican, or whatever) is. I frankly think things would be a lot better if people placed as much emphasis into practicing the precepts of their faith as they did in identifying themselves as members of a particular denomination.

    That's a non sequitor. That the Roman Catholics believe Anglican ordination invalid is entirely irrelevant to the point that the Roman Catholics believe that the Anglican eucharist is substantially the same as the Roman Catholic one.

    No, it is as relevant as it gets. I provided an infallible papal bull regarding Rome rejection of Anglican order and sacraments and you said, "well, some bishops in America had a chat". In the question of, "what does the Roman church say about X?", the pope of Rome is the final authority, and I have provided it.

    Here's a good start.

    For reasons discussed above, it really isn't.
    posted by Tanizaki at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2013


    >Catholics don't necessarily believe in papal infallibility

    They do if they wish to be within the church. If they hold otherwise, they have removed themselves from the church. The Romans are quite clear on this point. We all know what a cafeteria Catholic (or Orthodox, or Anglican, or whatever) is. I frankly think things would be a lot better if people placed as much emphasis into practicing the precepts of their faith as they did in identifying themselves as members of a particular denomination.


    But, as I gave an example above, you can not believe in papal infallibility and still have your ordinations recognised by Rome. (That's roughly what distinguishes Old Catholics. They were sort of starting to schism pre-Vatican I, but that's when they left.)

    Or you can be Hans Küng, who I note is still a priest, so perhaps you should maybe restrict yourself to commenting on people's participation in your own denomination.
    posted by hoyland at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2013


    But, as I gave an example above, you can not believe in papal infallibility and still have your ordinations recognised by Rome.

    Of course. Actually, a Roman priest can believe anything (or be a total atheist) and still have his ordination recognized. This comes from the Roman understanding of ordination. Under Roman doctrine, when one is made a priest, an ontological change takes place and you are a priest for life no matter what you do, say, or believe. When a priest is described as being "defrocked", that only means that his congregation has been taken away and he cannot celebrate sacraments within the Roman church. However, he is still a priest.

    This is why there is such a thing as episcopi vagantes. That defrocked priest or bishop can set up his own church that is outside the Roman church but his sacraments are still considered to work by the Romans. Specifically, they are valid but illicit.

    What are your thoughts on the distinctions between validity and licitness of sacraments as described by the Romans?
    posted by Tanizaki at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2013


    For reasons discussed above, it really isn't.

    You wanted to know what an Episcopalian believes and I gave you a resource, if you're going to complain that Episcopalians are all of the cafeteria type (but not so of the others!) then this conversation is beginning to look more and more like a "no true scot" one way lecture. Of course if you are going to go down the "totality of teaching" path then you are already headed in that way anyway.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:55 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Here is Salem Goldworth Bland's critical rundown of the dominant forms of Christian religion:
    Certainly, every great historic form of Christianity has been tried by history and found wanting. As much of primitive Jewish Christianity as refused to merge in the large Catholic Christianity of the Greco-Roman world dried up into an unfruitful, bigoted, and eccentric heresy and perished….Greek Christianity emphasized doctrine and tore itself by doctrinal disputes into a shattered, helpless welter of vituperative sects, powerless to spread the Gospel, powerless to withstand the Mohammedan,—the shame and tragedy of Christian history….Latin Christianity emphasized the organization and became the enemy of freedom and progress which, with few exceptions, every Roman Catholic people has had to fight and dethrone to escape intellectual and moral decay and death….Teutonic Christianity has emphasized freedom and the rights of the individual. Like Islam, it has been a fighting faith. And judgment has fallen on it in its loss of unity, its bitter and wasteful sectarian wrangles, and the ferocious strife between labor and capital, the outcome of which may be one of the great tragedies of history.
    Here is Constantin Brunner's vision of the way forward towards a non-religious Christianity:
    If Christianity is to become what it wants to be, it must renounce the desire to know anything that pure Judaism in Christ neither knows nor wishes to know: it must renounce symbols, dogmas, articles of faith, liturgy, worship; it must want to know nothing of creation, the Fall, redemption and justification, heaven and hell, the incarnation of God, the Three Persons of the Godhead, the single Personality of God; it must not hold on to a single item of religion's superstition. If Christianity is to come about, Christ must be the Master, revealing to the heathen that they are but men (Ps. 9:21).—Our Christ, p. 373-4.
    The advent of global non-religious Christian democracy is inevitable.
    posted by No Robots at 9:29 AM on May 23, 2013


    Of course. Actually, a Roman priest can believe anything (or be a total atheist) and still have his ordination recognized.

    Sorry, my comment made very little sense in context. I misread what was going on. Old Catholic ordinations are viewed the same way by the Roman Catholic Church as Orthodox ordinations (at least as far as I know). Old Catholics are not Roman Catholics, which is where I was in some other conversation for that paragraph.

    You're still stuck trying to push Hans Küng out of the Church, though. He's not been defrocked (much to the indignation of Catholics on the internet) and is on the record as opposing papal infallibility. (He's not had a parish since like the late 1950s/early 1960s because he was teaching in Tübingen. See also Benedict XVI, who I don't think had a parish between, again, the late 1950s and when he became archbishop.)
    posted by hoyland at 10:05 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "Continuity from an apostle (not necessarily Peter) is a necessary condition but not a sufficient position. Continuity of teaching is also required. If that is lost, the apostolic succession is lost. A good test for apostolicity would be if St. Peter or St. Andrew were to show up at the church, would they listen and be surprised?"

    No, that's prescriptive question begging. As to the test of Peter or Andrew, there is simply no denomination on earth that has not made decisions that would surprise them. Assuming there are, is again question begging.

    "They do if they wish to be within the church."

    Old Catholics are Catholics, and do not believe in the infallibility of the Pope.
    posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It's trivial to strike at "Christians" when you paint them with such a broad brush, building on selective and scattered references as descriptive of the whole

    I'm striking at people who demand special privileges and treatments of their codified superstitions, and pointing out that it is impossible to build a system of equality on the foundation of the texts of many mainstream religions. Christians are the easiest example of the Abrahamic faiths, which are just behind Hinduism in the competition for institutionalized inequality.

    That seems silly. I am capable of making distinctions between denominational traditions, and in addition, making distinctions among individuals whose Christian practice takes place either within, partially within, or without those denominational traditions. I can't understand why people launch themselves with such energy and vitriol at such ill-defined targets, in a process of continuous straw-man creation and destruction, and make the mistake of conflating parts with wholes. Because of the basic clumsiness of the arguments and fuzziness of the assumptions, this strategy remains almost comically unable to shift anyone's perspective on their own practice or that of others.

    There is no conflation happening. I don't care if you choose to follow a religion. What I am saying is that pretending that Abrahamic religion can be a foundation for true equality is logically impossible. Not only do those texts demand death for non-believers, but they also codify the subjugation of women to men, slaves to slave-owners, and so on. (Though I do give credit to the New Testament for showing that God changed his mind on a few of those subjects.)

    Look at this thread. Tanizaki cannot stand any claims that another Church has apostolic tradition. And why is that important? Well, you'd have to ask Tanizaki on his personal views, but one of them is the transmission of grace through the laying on of hands, which is basically a claim that a person is more likely to know God's truth if someone who already knows it touches you on the head. Can you think of any other ideology that is this obsessed over supernatural superstition? Having a lucky team jersey is one thing. Believing that knowledge of God can be passed through a multi-generational game of tag is another.

    The cause of this is in the nature of religion itself. If there is a claim that God commands everything in some specific text, portions of the text are hard to throw away because it casts doubt on the claims of the rest of the text, and that's all religion is: a claim that certain worldviews are divinely inspired. Since religions stay around for so long, they end up piled high with alien thinking that is no longer relevant to the current generation. To remain a religion, they can't simply celebrate new ideas and admit that older ones were inaccurate if God is to remain infallible. They either have to weasel out of the original definition with long-winded word games, or they simply excise them from the text and claim they discovered the "correct" translation.

    And yes, I certainly have a bias. I believe that science and secular humanism is a view of reality based on the merit of skepticism and mutually observable results, while most religion is little more than an argument from ultimate authority if it is based on sacred texts. Due to the nature of how they approach problems, secularism arrives at the correct answer more accurately and in less time because it is not concerned about protecting the reputation of any particular worldview. Changing my view of abortion or LGBT rights does not involve checking on the social mores of ancient Palestine, because the social mores of ancient Palestine are likely irrelevant. And even if they offer some insight, it's often offset by contradictory information and contradictory translations.

    The translation problem is not a small one. God is unable to communicate their will in a clear manner. God is also unable to clearly anoint the "winner" of the endless political squabbles inherent in any institution, so there are as many denominations as you care to take the time to look up. Unsurprisingly, each one claims to be the "legitimate" branch without providing anything different than yet more claims to authority or superior scriptural knowledge.

    As an example, here is the main article on RLC today: Why "Evangelical" Is Worth Saving:
    Today, a new generation of Evangelicals is rising. We are a generation that was birthed in a time when perhaps those who have hijacked the term Evangelical are at their worst. We are the generation that has seen the rise of the Tea Party Movement, The corruption of Evangelical Leaders, the “Liberal” Evangelical movement and so many other distortions of our faith. We have been caught in the middle of this all. But God has begun to cause the blinders to remove from a generations eyes. He is causing us to see what it truly means to be Evangelical. What does it mean to be Evangelical, by the way? Very simply put, “Evangel” is a word that means Gospel or Good News. An Evangelical is someone passionate about the Gospel of Jesus. The Good News that God has sent His Son to die for the Sins of all who will call on the name of Jesus. The Good News that God has brought a Kingdom to this earth that is full of light, holiness, love, and peace. The Good News that the enemy, Satan, has been defeated. The Good News that Jesus Christ is King. That is what it is to be an Evangelical, and yet that is far from what the word means today.

    But the word is important. It is so simple and yet packed with so much meaning. There is no better term that describes what this generation believes better. We are passionate about the Gospel and we think it’s of utmost importance. Far more important than any political or social agenda.
    And there's the problem in a nutshell: "We are passionate about the Gospel and we think it’s of utmost importance. Far more important than any political or social agenda." Not only is the sacred text more important than other texts, it's even more important than having a "political or social agenda." There is nothing about acceptance of other faiths or other worldviews. And there is still a comic aversion to the word "liberal." The claims that the RLC movement could adhere to the values of equality in socialism are improbable, and almost impossible.
    posted by tripping daisy at 9:34 AM on May 25, 2013


    You say

    There is no conflation happening.

    And then you say

    pretending that Abrahamic religion can be a foundation for true equality is logically impossible. Not only do those texts demand death for non-believers...

    As if religions are texts, texts are participants, religions are participants, participants are texts, texts are religions, and participants are religions.

    And you say

    Look at this thread. Tanizaki cannot stand any claims that another Church has apostolic tradition

    As if Tanizaki represents all religious people in this thread.

    Sorry, it's shallow.
    posted by Miko at 11:33 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


    This used to be such a nice thread.
    posted by shakespeherian at 11:45 AM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


    As if religions are texts, texts are participants, religions are participants, participants are texts, texts are religions, and participants are religions.

    As if religions are not based on texts, and participants shouldn't (or don't?) read the text, and participants don't practice their religion based on their reading of their sacred texts...

    As if Tanizaki represents all religious people in this thread.

    Tanizaki represents a well read adherent, and even he is hung up on historical apostolic claims that imply all other churches are inferior and thus excluded from "true" Christianity.

    Just look at the second commandment, which is claimed to have been written directly by God. How can inclusion begin with "You shall have no other Gods before me" for anyone with a different belief system?
    posted by tripping daisy at 6:26 PM on May 25, 2013


    As if religions are not based on texts

    So what do you mean by "based on?" I personally recognize a long continuum between "I live and behave as if this text is the literal truth" and "I am part of a tradition which has included this text and I find some degree of inspiration from or wisdom in it." In fact Christianity existed before a text existed, so I'm not even sure that Christianity, broadly defined, is based on a text.

    and participants shouldn't (or don't?) read the text

    There are certainly plenty of people who don't find the reading of religious texts important to their practice. And there are also some faiths in which at least some people shouldn't read some texts.

    and participants don't practice their religion based on their reading of their sacred texts...

    And here, the de facto situation is that many don't. As we've agreed in this thread, many don't refer to a text at all or consider it to be very important, and many are selective about what they take to be important in their texts. In fact, only a fraction of religious people practice their religion in a way that is based solely on a text.

    Tanizaki represents a well read adherent,

    an adherent of what, exactly? He's an adherent of one particular corner of the large and complex and multifaceted world of religious belief, even of Christian belief, and he's extreme in his orientation to it. He doesn't represent anything except a conservative interpretation of his own denomonational theology. He doesn't represent me or, I imagine, a lot of other believers in the thread. All you can prove by discussing what he believes is that he claims to believe it. You really can't extrapolate about "religion" from this data point.

    You've begin by assuming that all religious people do things you find stupid, and then lambasted religious people for doing stupid things. Well, all religious people don't behave the way you imagine they do and don't indulge in the things you find stupid. You fail to recognize quite a bit of reality in the actual religious practice of real people, even though this thread is chock full of examples. there are things you are pretty sure you hate about Christianity, but there is a lot you don't know about how individual Christians go about their practice, and you're in such a rush to prove how terrible they are that you are failing to notice the many people who have nothing to do with these things you hate. So it seems silly. It's as though you haven't given it much thought at all.
    posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


    So what do you mean by "based on?" I personally recognize a long continuum between "I live and behave as if this text is the literal truth" and "I am part of a tradition which has included this text and I find some degree of inspiration from or wisdom in it." In fact Christianity existed before a text existed, so I'm not even sure that Christianity, broadly defined, is based on a text.
    Okay, let's call the text a major part of Christian tradition. My point is that there is not a long continuum between "these words are sacred" and "these words are not sacred."
    And here, the de facto situation is that many don't. As we've agreed in this thread, many don't refer to a text at all or consider it to be very important, and many are selective about what they take to be important in their texts. In fact, only a fraction of religious people practice their religion in a way that is based solely on a text.
    The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles.
    Yet, from the same poll*:
    The research also uncovered a significant disconnect in belief versus behavior. While 66% of those surveyed agreed that the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life, 58% say they don’t personally want wisdom and advice from the Bible and about the same amount (57%) read it fewer than five times per year.
    I think my problem is that I don't see how it's possible to claim that a text is the inspired word of God and that it shouldn't be paid attention to, which seems to be a fundamental paradox that religions are now trying to embrace. In my opinion, the pursuit of this modernization continues to attach some truly awful ideas to more general explorations of morality while avoiding serious criticism of the abandoned text.

    *The poll is nationwide and is not restricted to Christians
    an adherent of what, exactly? He's an adherent of one particular corner of the large and complex and multifaceted world of religious belief, even of Christian belief, and he's extreme in his orientation to it. He doesn't represent anything except a conservative interpretation of his own denomonational theology. He doesn't represent me or, I imagine, a lot of other believers in the thread. All you can prove by discussing what he believes is that he claims to believe it. You really can't extrapolate about "religion" from this data point.
    If a sect holds all religious thought and literature as guides equally valid worldviews -- native traditions, animism, satanism, polytheism, atheism -- then as I said, I have no quarrel with their institution. But the number of wholly accepting sects are vanishingly small compared to the exclusive sects of religions. Of course there are always exceptions, as with every institution, but even if there's one enlightened despot among fifty dictators, I don't know of anyone who celebrates authoritarianism or pretends that the sliver of exception is representative of the whole instead of the reverse.
    You've begin by assuming that all religious people do things you find stupid, and then lambasted religious people for doing stupid things. Well, all religious people don't behave the way you imagine they do and don't indulge in the things you find stupid. You fail to recognize quite a bit of reality in the actual religious practice of real people, even though this thread is chock full of examples. there are things you are pretty sure you hate about Christianity, but there is a lot you don't know about how individual Christians go about their practice, and you're in such a rush to prove how terrible they are that you are failing to notice the many people who have nothing to do with these things you hate. So it seems silly. It's as though you haven't given it much thought at all.
    I don't view religious people as evil or stupid. I view the institution of religion as deeply flawed because it makes it too difficult to detach exclusionary and outdated ideals from largely accepted ideals about morality because of unsupportable claims about sacredness and divinity. I don't think it can be claimed that an ideology is rational if it requires the suspension of rationality when it comes to one particular tradition or another. That's why I consider the vast majority of religions as exclusionary, because they do not grant the same suspension of rationality for other faiths in the same way that they provide it for their own. It's an inherently flawed way to construct a community if the goal is to be completely inclusive.
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:03 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


    That's why I consider the vast majority of religions as exclusionary, because they do not grant the same suspension of rationality for other faiths in the same way that they provide it for their own. It's an inherently flawed way to construct a community if the goal is to be completely inclusive.

    What I learned from this thread:
    1. The tradition of rubricating the words of Jesus in the Gospels only dates back about a century,
    2. There is a naked guy running through Mark, and the inexplicable presence of the naked guy in terms of the narrative of the text is a sign that likely the naked guy comes from eyewitness reports,
    3. The Eastern Orthodox church, despite being for many reasons an organization I'd never consider joining, never had any truck with the "Junias" nonsense that the West fell into, and
    4. The only way to be inclusive is to believe nothing. Inclusivity and featurelessness are synonyms.
    The More You Know ♒★
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


    The only way to be inclusive is to believe nothing.

    The only way to be inclusive is to have a standard that doesn't make special exceptions for one belief system over another. If you know of a major religion that claims it is only equal to other religious traditions, I would be interested to read about it.

    Inclusivity and featurelessness are synonyms.

    That is simply nonsensical. A democracy can include everyone participating equally with their vote and collectively describe a moral viewpoint without any judgement or even observation about what their personal views on God are. When those moral viewpoints begin to change, the law can be changed to reflect that change without having to argue about what someone claims God has commanded. (They still do, but it's not a requirement. My vote counts just as much as yours regardless of what either of us believe.)

    In fact, that feature is probably the best part of Democracy and one of the reasons it is the most inclusive system of government.
    posted by tripping daisy at 2:32 PM on May 26, 2013


    Just look at the second commandment, which is claimed to have been written directly by God.

    I thought this discussion was about the "red letter" quotes which are claimed to have been spoken by Jesus of Nazareth? Why are you bringing the Old Testament into this?
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:41 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "The only way to be inclusive is to have a standard that doesn't make special exceptions for one belief system over another. If you know of a major religion that claims it is only equal to other religious traditions, I would be interested to read about it."

    Unitarians, Bahaiis.
    posted by klangklangston at 5:02 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


    So this isn't about Christians who follow The Word Of Plinkett?
    posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:51 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


    xkcd.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2013


    I thought this discussion was about the "red letter" quotes which are claimed to have been spoken by Jesus of Nazareth? Why are you bringing the Old Testament into this?

    Because the debate is whether or not the RLC can be as equitable as a secular form of socialism, and I think the answer is no because of their attachment to mainstream Christian ideology. Besides that, Christ commands the same submission to one true God:
    One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
    Not only did God directly write an instruction to worship only him, but he also sent his son (or however Trinitarians view this thing) to say that loving God is far more important than loving your neighbor, or yourself.

    (As an aside, when God writes something down, at what point is it safe to ignore what he said? I have experienced a lot of apologetics, but ignoring the 10 commandments something new.)

    Unitarians, Bahaiis.

    Baha'is are a bad example of an inclusive church:
    With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahá'ís follow an administration they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as efforts that are contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Schisms have occurred over the succession of authority, but any Bahá'í divisions have had relatively little success and have failed to attract a sizeable following. The followers of such divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated.
    Using the next piece of Baha'i sacred text, they have forbidden same sex relations as "satanic deeds" and thus denied same-sex marriage as a cause of sin:
    Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy Tongue.
    However, with the right attitude, you can get straight and get holy:
    To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.
    Here we find another popular religious claim: those who believe in God can be on the right path, but those who do not believe cannot attain goodness:
    The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Daypsring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws… Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be author of every righteous deed
    I like everything I have read so far about the Universalist Unitarians, but with a total nationwide flock of 210,000 I don't think calling them a major religion is realistic.
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:51 PM on May 27, 2013


    flagged as "missing the point."
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:26 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


    NYT: Computer Network Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Jewish Lore
    The idea is to harness technology to help reassemble more than 100,000 document fragments collected across 1,000 years that reveal details of Jewish life along the Mediterranean, including marriage, medicine and mysticism.
    [...]
    “In one hour, the computer can compare 10 million pairs — 10 million pairs is something a human being cannot do in a lifetime,” said Roni Shweka, who has advanced degrees in both computers and Talmud and is helping lead the effort. “It’s going to be a very powerful tool for every researcher today that’s going to work on one fragment. In a few seconds, he’ll be able to find the other fragments, like finding the needle in the hay.”
    [...]
    Another developing technology is a “jigsaw puzzle” feature, with touch-screen technology that lets users enlarge, turn and skew fragments to see if they fit together. Professor Choueka, who was born in Cairo in 1936, imagines that someday soon such screens will be available alongside every genizah collection. And why not a genizah-jigsaw app for smartphones?
    posted by Golden Eternity at 5:16 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


    That project didn't go so well the last time.
    posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:27 PM on May 27, 2013


    My point is that there is not a long continuum between "these words are sacred" and "these words are not sacred."

    Yeah, you're just wrong about that. Your position has zero nuance. Sure, argue with the people whose theological positions you have a legitimate argument with, but you just look dumb when you frame your opponent as "the institution of religion" or "religious people." Too broad by half. Don't cut yourself with your bright sword.
    posted by Miko at 6:51 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


    So, I believe nearly nothing. I mean, I am as close to an honest-to-[uncomfortable silence] nihilist as you can find among people who still use crazy words like "I" and "am." Like, my friends make fun of me with references to the nihilists from Lebowski all the time. And even I think that td's idea of what religion is about, as he's presented it on this thread, is just so dumb. And I'm not one to use that "is" word lightly.

    What's funny, though, is that his understanding-why-religion-is-interesting fail makes me think he doesn't have much of a grasp of why extra-religious methods of understanding might be useful or good, either. If I had to guess, he's someone whose relationship to science is more of the "I wear a tshirt that says 'stand back, I'm trying science!'" type, and less of the "I know what research is because I've done it" type. When he talks about rationality and the suspension thereof, as if rationality were something easily defined that can effortlessly be used to establish a foundation for knowledge, it becomes clear that the problem isn't that he doesn't know what religion is, the problem is that he doesn't know what science is.

    I blame the new American protestant sects for the spread of this really lame idea of scientific practice, religious institutional practice, and religious belief. But I pretty much blame them (and the patriarchy) for everything, so...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:13 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


    "Baha'is are a bad example of an inclusive church:"

    You know, one of the frustrating things about your comments is that you're a dishonest interlocutor. For the position you stated, "If you know of a major religion that claims it is only equal to other religious traditions, I would be interested to read about it," the reply that Baha'is aren't perfectly inclusive is a non sequitor.

    Secondly, as an example of an inclusive church, the Baha'is are a pretty good one — that doesn't mean that they're perfectly inclusive.

    Third off, I don't get the feeling you understand Baha'is — not only do you move the goalposts (or think Baha'is should recognize atheism as a religion) but you don't grasp the underlying panentheism of Baha'ullah (and Baha'i practice). I'm not a Baha'i, but I know enough about the religion to know that you're just spouting off like a dick about whatever religions cross your path.
    posted by klangklangston at 10:13 PM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


    My point is that there is not a long continuum between "these words are sacred" and "these words are not sacred."
    Yeah, you're just wrong about that. Your position has zero nuance.

    It's not my position. What is the grey area between "divinely inspired" and "not divinely inspired"?

    Sure, argue with the people whose theological positions you have a legitimate argument with, but you just look dumb when you frame your opponent as "the institution of religion" or "religious people." Too broad by half. Don't cut yourself with your bright sword.

    There is such a thing as the institution of religion, right? I don't think there's any other way to describe religions, or people who accept religious ideology as religious people. If you want to disagree with my criticism of religious thinking, then do so, but claiming that religions have nothing in common and religious thinking has no further implications is only a contrarian assertion.

    What's funny, though, is that his understanding-why-religion-is-interesting fail makes me think he doesn't have much of a grasp of why extra-religious methods of understanding might be useful or good, either. If I had to guess, he's someone whose relationship to science is more of the "I wear a tshirt that says 'stand back, I'm trying science!'" type, and less of the "I know what research is because I've done it" type.

    Please take this opportunity to explain how a personal experience with God can be turned into a falsifiable assertion that can be replicated and observed by an objective third party.

    When he talks about rationality and the suspension thereof, as if rationality were something easily defined that can effortlessly be used to establish a foundation for knowledge, it becomes clear that the problem isn't that he doesn't know what religion is, the problem is that he doesn't know what science is.

    Well, we can get into the word dance if you like, but let's test your assertion with a thought experiment: Let's say you're in charge of some important project, and you have to choose between two candidates for a position with life-or-death consequences. One candidate informs you that they can hear God talking to them, and that they have decided to base their future decisions on those conversations, but you will never know what those conversations are. Your other candidate has the same qualifications, but claims that their future decisions will be based only on the communication they have with their colleagues. Whom do you pick?

    If rationality wasn't easily defined then you wouldn't have already found your answer.

    As far as our ability to reason not being a source for establishing a foundation of knowledge... well, I'd construct a reasonable counter-argument, but it probably wouldn't go anywhere, eh?

    You know, one of the frustrating things about your comments is that you're a dishonest interlocutor. For the position you stated, "If you know of a major religion that claims it is only equal to other religious traditions, I would be interested to read about it," the reply that Baha'is aren't perfectly inclusive is a non sequitor.

    I included atheism as a worldview that should be equally respected and included, and the Baha'i do not accept atheists or believe that they could do any good -- even if they performed good deeds -- because atheists to not accept the Baha'i conceptions of God. My point that they are not inclusive still stands, but I'm sorry I muddied the waters with more than their rejection of atheist and agnostic worldviews.

    Secondly, as an example of an inclusive church, the Baha'is are a pretty good one — that doesn't mean that they're perfectly inclusive.

    That's the whole point I'm trying to make. The vast majority of religions cannot be inclusive, because the nature of having a sacred text implies exclusivity, and because most religions demand worshipping God in a particular way that excludes those who don't practice in exactly the same way. Unitarians are the closest thing, as I have said, but they are hardly a major religion.

    It's not because religion is inferior by definition: there could be inclusive religions. I'm saying the way that the institution of religion works typically prevents that from being the case.

    Third off, I don't get the feeling you understand Baha'is — not only do you move the goalposts (or think Baha'is should recognize atheism as a religion) but you don't grasp the underlying panentheism of Baha'ullah (and Baha'i practice). I'm not a Baha'i, but I know enough about the religion to know that you're just spouting off like a dick about whatever religions cross your path.

    Of course I grasp the underlying pantheism of Bahau'llah. You don't understand the details: if you stray from their precise conception of God and start a competing sect, you're excluded. If you're an atheist or an agnostic, you are excluded. If you're gay and you want to be married, you're excluded.

    Bahau'llah didn't say that the old covenants of all religions are irrelevant or equal. He said that specific older covenants are equal, but now they are "lesser" covenants, and the new greater covenant is unity and accepting his specific conception of God and his new definition of God's laws.
    The following is the opening paragraph of the Most Holy Book:

    The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof, hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.”

    Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u'llah, p. 264-266
    That doesn't make his religion inclusive of all worldviews. In fact, it only means Baha'i are another liberalized religion that still retain elements of homophobia as well as the exclusion of dissidents and non-believers.

    Is it a step in the right direction? Sure. As inclusive as socialism that is unconcerned with religious affiliation? Definitely not.
    posted by tripping daisy at 12:18 AM on May 28, 2013


    tripping daisy: What is the grey area between "divinely inspired" and "not divinely inspired"?
    That would be the spectrum of "divinely inspired but flawed by humanity's touch".
    There is such a thing as the institution of religion, right?
    No, but there are such things as institutions of religion.
    posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 AM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


    You guys, stop.
    posted by shakespeherian at 4:55 AM on May 28, 2013


    You Can't Tip a Buick really nails it. I've been in too many of these conversations to really bother repeating it, but it's quite true that most self-described devotees of SCIENCE! and rationality set in opposition to religion have just as shallow a grasp of science as they do religion. There's still the childlike enthusiasm for explanations, an overconfidence and unwillingness to ask questions that real scientists almost never display, and in most cases, not much direct experience from the world of science itself.
    posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    shakespeherian, your repeated attempts to moderate this thread are more distracting and annoying than what you are complaining about.
    posted by spaltavian at 6:07 AM on May 28, 2013


    [Further meta-discussion should go to MeTa or the contact form.]
    posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:13 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Please take this opportunity to explain how a personal experience with God can be turned into a falsifiable assertion that can be replicated and observed by an objective third party.

    Science and technology studies have really come a long way since Popper, you know.

    Or, possibly, don't know...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:43 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Please take this opportunity to explain how a personal experience with God can be turned into a falsifiable assertion that can be replicated and observed by an objective third party.

    You can't play chess on a backgammon board.
    posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Using the next piece of Baha'i sacred text, they have forbidden same sex relations as "satanic deeds" and thus denied same-sex marriage as a cause of sin

    I think you are mixing self-imposed dogma with intolerance. Yes, many religions consider several actions by their adherents as sins or evil or demonic or whatever their term of art is for things you shouldn't do. An intolerant religious group would say that anyone who commits these acts are damned forever. A tolerant group would say, yes, these things are bad and shouldn't be done, but if you do them you aren't damned, you just need to stop doing them to prevent your damnation. Very few religious groups actually fall into the first group, most that wish to have any expansion in their numbers take the latter form, forgiving sins so long as the person takes to their path of righteousness. It seems like a minor difference, after all it's still "we're the chosen ones", but that back door is an open one.

    Unitarians, Bahaiis.

    Incidentally, it's not the "Unitarian" part of Unitarian Universalism that's the tolerant part. There are Universalist trinitarians, Universalist muslims (who are after all also unitarian), Universalist poly-theists, and Universalist non-theists. Universalism is just a belief set that tends to say that there is "something" beyond our understanding and we can't really say that someone is "wrong".
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:47 AM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


    That's not exactly accurate about universalism. Even to Unitarians, it started out meaning that nobody is damned, all are saved, regardless of how they lived their lives or what they believed. That has become generalized and extrapolated to mean that all individual worldviews are fine and that a universal aspect of the human condition is the construction of such a worldview - but the doctrine about there being no damnation is the root of universalism.

    There are a lot of Christian UUs, by the way.
    posted by Miko at 8:03 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Even the Pope has, at least, some strong Universalist leanings.
    posted by Blasdelb at 8:07 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    There are a lot of Christian UUs

    That would make them trinitarian Unitarians no? There are also a lot of agnostic Unitarians too!

    Relatedly, do you know how to get Unitarians to move out of your neighborhood? You burn a question mark in their front yard.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Returning to the subject of Unitarian jokes, I'd say my bulb is Byron...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:42 AM on May 28, 2013


    There was a Bible Church in Chapel Hill, NC across the street from a Unitarian Universalist Church. The Bible Church didn't have enough parking in their main lot, so in an attempt to be good neighbors, they printed up some signs that said "NO BIBLE CHURCH PARKING" and posted them various places nearby, including parking lots for nearby apartments and for the UU Church.

    A friend was giving a tour of the neighborhood one day when the signs were still up and said, "Over here we have the Bible Church, and across the street we have the No Bible Church."
    posted by straight at 9:21 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The vast majority of religions cannot be inclusive, because the nature of having a sacred text implies exclusivity,

    To be clear about Roman Catholicism (which is the only faith I have any active experience of), you're not fully RC until you've A. been Baptised, B. taken First Communion, C. been Confirmed. No doubt, this is based on some sacred texts.

    I never got Confirmed. Because I wasn't interested. It seemed silly to my then fifteen year old consciousness. Was I thus excluded? It never felt that way. In fact, if anyone was doing any excluding, it was me.

    So please correct me if I'm wrong. Are you arguing (in the case of RC-ism), that everybody who chooses not to go with the faith is thus excluded from it? That's an awfully thin (and twisted even) definition of exclusion. To me, exclusion is that clique I so desperately wanted to be part of Grade 8-9, but I never had a chance ... for some never explained reason.
    posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Brief notes about Baha'is:

    1) They believe that goodness flows from God and that atheists can be good because God is good and goodness flows from God.

    2) They don't believe in Satan or "satanic" acts — that's a mark of a bad translation. Baha'ullah goes to great lengths to describe that all as metaphor.

    3) Their conception of having achieved goodness/godliness comes from emulating the life of Abdul Baha, which is mostly concerned with acting with compassion for all. The legalistic strictures are pretty unimportant to the practice.

    4) Comparing texts from 150 years ago to an imaginary, idealized socialism is more about one's hobbyhorse than any desire to engage critically with the religious texts.
    posted by klangklangston at 9:41 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    You know, even with all the nitwit irruptions, this thread really has been a gift that keeps on giving. I'm going to have the hardest time not reading about the Ba'hai all day...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:22 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    pardon: Bahá'í.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 AM on May 28, 2013


    One of the big reasons I'm not a Baha'i is the orthography.
    posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


    One of the big reasons I'm not a Baha'i is

    I had a friend who tried to be Bahai way back when, as he really dug their inclusiveness, their seeing the light in all the world's religions. Except at some point it dawned on him that his new "friends" basically believed that ... "Yes, all religions offer a piece of the puzzle. But only we have put the puzzle together. Thus we are the one truth faith." (or words to that effect)

    Which gets us to the main problem with all faiths. People.
    posted by philip-random at 11:15 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Blasdelb: Even the Pope has, at least, some strong Universalist leanings.
    Or at least he takes to heart the sermon of the Good Samaritan. It's probably more accurate to say that Jesus was somewhat UU-compatible than actually a UUtarian (especially since he predates UU by ~2,000 years).
    posted by IAmBroom at 10:31 PM on May 28, 2013


    That would make them trinitarian Unitarians no?

    Oh, absolutely not necessarily. I mean, there are frankly probably some Trinitarian Unitarians, even though it was once oxymoronic, because there are now so many former Catholics among the Unitarians and Unitarians often retain components of belief from other faiths they may have participated in. But self-identifying as Christian does not necessarily imply Trinitarianism (that's one contribution the early Unitarians made).

    There are lots of everything Unitarians. Lots of agnostics, a fair number of Buddhist/Eastern-leaning folk, a bunch of nontheists, a bunch of Jewish and formerly-Jewish people. Since it's non-creedal it is capable of taking just about everything in, and it does, but some people are surprised at how many individuals within what is well known as one of the most liberal denominations still consider themselves to be Christian. There is a Christian Fellowship group within the American UUA, the faith has a couple of centuries of Christian roots which yield up a tremendous amount of theological writing based on Christian thought, and the liturgy is still bascially a mainline Protestant liturgy.
    posted by Miko at 6:51 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


    In fact, before I joined the church I'm with now, we checked out another local Unitarian church that's entirely Christian in practice.
    posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on May 29, 2013


    That would be the spectrum of "divinely inspired but flawed by humanity's touch".
    That is another attempt at edge cases. A tiny minority of religions claim their sacred elements are errant and fallible. There are few (if any?) footnotes in demanding non-conforming groups to be excluded that state, "This is probably what God intended."
    Science and technology studies have really come a long way since Popper, you know
    Give us some examples. Don't hold back.
    An intolerant religious group would say that anyone who commits these acts are damned forever. A tolerant group would say, yes, these things are bad and shouldn't be done, but if you do them you aren't damned, you just need to stop doing them to prevent your damnation.
    What could be more intolerable than telling someone else that they are going to be punished for an eternity, or even simply excluded from the community, for not accepting God exactly as directed?
    So please correct me if I'm wrong. Are you arguing (in the case of RC-ism), that everybody who chooses not to go with the faith is thus excluded from it? That's an awfully thin (and twisted even) definition of exclusion. To me, exclusion is that clique I so desperately wanted to be part of Grade 8-9, but I never had a chance ... for some never explained reason.
    I'm saying that Roman Catholicism cannot be as inclusive as an unaffiliated political system, and that the reasons for its exclusionary practices apply broadly to religions.
    Brief notes about Baha'is:

    1) They believe that goodness flows from God and that atheists can be good because God is good and goodness flows from God.
    I'd like to see your source on that. Baha'i are forbidden from marrying atheists (or anyone who refuses the specific Baha'i vows) according to "Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" which was reaffirmed by the Universal House of Justice in 1985:
    The sincerity with which the sacred verse is spoken is a matter for the consciences of those who utter it. According to the explicit text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, both the bride and groom must, in the presence of witnesses, recite the prescribed verse; this is an essential requirement of the marriage ceremony. Thus if a Bahá'í is marrying a non-Bahá'í and this person for any reason refuses to utter this verse, then the Bahá'í cannot marry that person.
    And according to Baha'u'llah:
    For instance, the Universal House of Justice, if it be established under the necessary conditions - with members elected from all the people - that House of Justice will be under the protection and the unerring guidance of God.
    Additionally, Baha'i are instructed to shun anyone who opposes "the Manifestation of God":
    He has heard nothing against the character of Mrs ... and does not doubt in many ways she may be a very commendable woman. However, this does not change the fact that in view of her inhered convictions about Bahá'u'lláh it is best for the Bahá'ís, including yourself, not to associate with her. That which is in the heart of those who have actively opposed the Manifestation of God is spiritually unhealthy, and although we in our limited human understanding cannot always see the wisdom of shunning them, the Master has instructed us to do so, and for our good, and the good of the Cause, we must obey this instruction.
    I think their exclusionary treatment of non-believers and Covenant breakers is abundantly clear.
    2) They don't believe in Satan or "satanic" acts — that's a mark of a bad translation. Baha'ullah goes to great lengths to describe that all as metaphor.
    Satanism is the way they describe the "lower nature of man" and it's not a bad translation. That's the word that Baha'u'llah used.
    3) Their conception of having achieved goodness/godliness comes from emulating the life of Abdul Baha, which is mostly concerned with acting with compassion for all. The legalistic strictures are pretty unimportant to the practice.
    Again, where is your source? Why are you making shit up?
    Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, in his Most Holy Book (the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, also known as his book of laws), first ordains the institution of the House of Justice and defines its functions. The institution's responsibilities are also expanded on and referred to in several other of Bahá'u'lláh's writings including in his Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh. In those writings Bahá'u'lláh writes that the Universal House of Justice would assume authority over the religion, and would consider matters that had not been covered by himself; he stated that the members of the institution would be assured of divine inspiration, and have the regard for all peoples and safe-guard their honour.
    From their website:
    The Universal House of Justice is the international and highest governing body of the Faith. It was endowed by Baha’u’llah with the authority to legislate on all matters not specifically laid down in the Baha’i scriptures. In this way, the Universal House of Justice keeps the Baha’i community unified and responsive to the needs and conditions of an evolving world.
    It functions just as the Vatican does for Roman Catholics. Why would you claim that their legalistic structures are "unimportant?"

    (As a special bonus, the leaders elected to the House of Justice's supreme body can only be men. So much for equality, but if you want to avoid the problem with more appeals to grey areas, you probably want to start here, though Juan Cole has since left the official Baha'i community.)
    4) Comparing texts from 150 years ago to an imaginary, idealized socialism is more about one's hobbyhorse than any desire to engage critically with the religious texts.
    How would you know? I think it's fairly clear that you haven't done any serious reading on the Baha'i faith. And as far as "imaginary, idealized socialism" there are plenty of examples of socialist constitutions that firmly establish gender equality, sexual orientation equality, and inclusion of all religious and non-religious practices without exceptions. Even Iraq promoted those principles in their constitution in 1970, though it was obviously not followed.
    posted by tripping daisy at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2013


    Correction: the Iraqi constitution did not promote sexual orientation equality.
    posted by tripping daisy at 10:41 AM on May 29, 2013


    Somehow I left this part of my response out:
    1) They believe that goodness flows from God and that atheists can be good because God is good and goodness flows from God.
    If man has not this knowledge, he will be separated from God, and when this separation exists, good actions have not complete effect. This verse does not mean that the souls separated from God are equal, whether they perform good or bad actions. It signifies only that the foundation is to know God, and the good actions result from this knowledge. Nevertheless, it is certain that between the good, the sinners and the wicked who are veiled from God there is a difference. For the veiled one who has good principles and character deserves the pardon of God, while he who is a sinner, and has bad qualities and character, is deprived of the bounties and blessings of God. Herein lies the difference.

    Therefore, the blessed verse means that good actions alone, without the knowledge of God, cannot be the cause of eternal salvation, everlasting success, and prosperity, and entrance into the Kingdom of God"
    Baha'i appear to disagree with the idea that good can come without knowledge of their version of God.
    posted by tripping daisy at 11:15 AM on May 29, 2013


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