Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Yes, it really is something new!

[T]he consistent line taken in the various texts that make up the New Testament and that came to be affirmed with growing force as representative of emergent “proto-orthodox” Christianity was a rather exclusive one: believers were to abstain from the worship of any of the deities of the Roman world except the one God of biblical tradition and God’s Son, Jesus. To judge from the frequent complaints about the matter by pagan observers and critics noted in an earlier chapter, it does seem that at least most Christian believers did so. In the dominant sort of early Christian teaching, believers were to base their religious life entirely on their relationship with this one deity and their participation in Christian conventicles. Matching their exclusive worship practice was what we can term an exclusive religious identity. In this, I submit, we have a new kind of religious identity that is very different from what was typical of the Roman period.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 89

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One and one only

To be sure, participation in Isis worship, for example, comprised a noteworthy exercise in voluntary religiousness. So, to reiterate the point, in that feature it was partially analogous to the sort of voluntary religiousness involved in becoming a participant in Christian circles. But the analogy breaks down precisely in the demand placed upon all Christians that they must make their Christian commitment the exclusive basis of their religious identity. In short, early Christianity was the only new religious movement of the Roman era that demanded this exclusive loyalty to one deity, thereby defining all other cults of the time as rivals.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 86

<idle musing>
Modern christians could learn from that example; far too many worship and the shrines of nationalism and materialism as well as the altar of YHWH : (
</idle musing>

Monday, April 24, 2017

The emperor cult

But it is also very important to emphasize that the cults of the emperor were not in competition with, nor did they displace, the traditional gods and their worship in the various lands of the empire. Throughout the Roman period, even in the eastern areas, for example, where emperor cults emerged with particular enthusiasm, people in the various cities of the East also continued their traditional rites focused on their ancestral deities. That is, both in Rome and in other areas of strong Roman influence as well, traditional gods and their worship continued to be prominent. So, participation in emperor cults was simply one facet or layer of what we might regard as the religious identity of devotees. It certainly did not replace the ethnic/religious identity of people, and also it did not become typically the primary religious identity of most people who took part in emperor cults.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 82

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Worship the emperor!

[W]e should not write off emperor cults as simply political and not genuinely religious. To do so would be to impose distinctions that simply were not appropriate for that ancient setting. For a least some of those who took part in emperor cults, there probably was a genuinely religious sentiment, at least in a sense that they would recognize, even if it was not distinguishable from their admiration of Roman power. Granted, however, it was also not at all bad for your career prospects or social status to be seen to be participating in and, even more so, to be involved in promoting emperor cult.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 81–82

<idle musing>
Indeed. There are two main problems in studying the ancient world: (1) We import our anti-supernatural, mechanistic materialism, closed box, cause and effect viewpoint—explaining away anything that doesn't fit; and (2) expecting things to be nice and neat, cut and dried. Real life isn't that way today, why should we expect it to be that way then?!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Radical God

So, the difference between early Christianity and the larger religious environment went beyond simply preferring one particular deity among the others, and beyond an exclusivist worship practice. There were also different notions about what the term “god” (Greek: theos) meant, or at least for Christians there was a distinction between “gods” and the one God (ho theos = literally, “the god”). The early Christian notion posited one utterly transcendent deity who could not be compared with the many traditional gods at all and could not even be comprehended fully, so great was this God. And yet, and with equal emphasis, Christians maintained that this one deity, not some subordinate being, was the sole creator of all things and also sought to relate to the world and humanity in redemptive love, such that even the humblest of individuals could be recipients of this love and could be adopted into a filial relationship with this God.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 65–66

<idle musing>
I'm not sure we can fully comprehend how radical an idea that was.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tell me again about that deity's feelings toward you

The notion that there is one true and transcendent God, and that this God loves the world/humanity, may have become subsequently so much a familiar notion, whether or not it is actively affirmed, that we cannot easily realize how utterly strange, even ridiculous, it was in the Roman era. When ancient pagan thinkers spoke of human “love” for a god or gods, they typically referred to an eros, not an erotic love in our sense, but a desire for association with the divine or the sublimely beautiful qualities represented by the deity. When they referred to the attitude of the gods toward humans, they sometimes posited deities of particular cities or peoples as kindly disposed toward them in these cases using the Greek term philia, depicting a kindness and friendly quality. The Greek term early Christians preferred, however, to depict their God’s love, and the love that they were to show as well for God and others, even their enemies, was agapē and its cognate verb agapaō. These words appear very infrequently in pagan texts of the time but copiously in early Christian texts. For example, in the New Testament, agapē appears some 143 times, and the verb agapaō 116 times.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 64

Monday, April 17, 2017

No mere philosophical construct

In philosophical traditions, an ultimate and radically transcendent deity was often postulated, but you did not typically engage that transcendent deity directly. For example, you did not usually sacrifice to this deity or implore it directly. Instead, the same philosophers who posited the lofty views of a transcendent deity were content for the worship of the traditional, lesser deities to continue and, indeed, typically took part in this themselves. But the early Christian stance was that the one, true, and radically transcendent God was, nevertheless, also available to a direct relationship with people. Christians believed that you could pray directly to this God and hope to be heard. You could worship this God directly and know that it was welcome. Indeed, prayer and worship directly to this one God was typically urged as the only proper and legitimate worship in Christian circles. In contrast to the practice and views of the pagan world, including specifically philosophical traditions, Christians were to treat the many other deities of the time as unworthy beings, and the worship of them as idolatry.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 63

<idle musing>
Personally, I find that very liberating! All the lesser divine beings are subservient to and must obey the one God—and we are allowed direct access to this same deity. That's Good News.
</idle musing>

Friday, April 14, 2017

Don't be so sure!

In a recent survey of religions of the Roman world, however, the authors opine that early Christian exhortations to religious exclusivity likely reflect many or even most Christians of the time taking a more relaxed attitude toward sacrifices to the pagan gods. Maybe. But, again, I find this sort of confident assertion puzzling. For I think that there is scant evidence for the assertion that the majority of Christians were quite so indifferent to the demands of their faith. Otherwise, how would we explain that it was the “orthodox” vision of Christian exclusivity that proved successful numerically against other version of Christianity that may have tolerated a less exclusive stance?— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 57–58

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Graduation of a mentor

I found out yesterday that one of the most formative mentors in my life as a thinking Christian had died—Dennis Kinlaw. He was 94. While I was at Asbury College, he was the president there; he "retired" for the first time in the fall of 1982 and taught for two semesters at Asbury Seminary immediately following that. I took every class he taught. A few of us even managed to cajole him into teaching a semester of Biblical Aramaic and a semester of Syriac.

Sitting at his feet and learning was a joy. His lectures were full of rich bibliography; my notes are sprinkled with books to read—many of which I have read and others I should read. His knowledge was huge and not just limited to Semitics, either. He had studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and University of Edinburgh, Scotland before getting his PhD in Semitics from Brandeis.

One of the classes he taught was a theology class. While other classes were reading popular introductions to theology, he had us reading Brunner, Calvin, and Wesley. I like to tell my Calvinist friends that I've probably read more Calvin than most Calvinists have. (As an aside, one told me last November at AAR/SBL that if I'd read any Calvin, I probably had most of them beat!) He also taught an Old Testament Theology course, which was especially fun. He taught it one other time after that, 10 years later. That version was recorded and then turned into a book, Lectures in Old Testament Theology, which, while a bit dated now, is still great.

One of his favorite phrases about a book was, "You owe it to yourself to read this." I love that phrase and have used it many times to describe a good book.

I could go on for a long while about all I learned from him—and from his students who were also among my professors at both Asbury College and Seminary, but I have other things to do, as do you. I'll close this short musing with a link to the official Asbury University blurb.

The real atheists revealed

I repeat again that converted pagans had no precedent or established justification for withdrawing from the worship of the gods of their families, cities, and peoples. Furthermore, when we add in the sort of rhetoric that is reflected in texts such as Paul’s letters, in which the various gods are all collectively referred to as “idols” (that is, illusory and deceptive beings) and their worship is designated “idolatry” (that is, pointless and even sinful), we can readily imagine the tensions, offense, and outrage that seems often to have resulted.

Indeed, the exclusivist stance of early Christianity was so odd, unjustified, and even impious in the eyes of ancient pagan observers and critics that they often accused Christians of being atheists, just as Jews had been labeled previously!— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 56

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Keeping chaos at bay

[P]articipation in the reverencing of household gods (the Lares dometici) was expected of all members of the Roman household. It was considered an important expression of solidarity with the others of the household in securing its continuing safety and welfare. Likewise, participation in the honoring of the tutelary deities of one’s city in sacrifice, processions, and other rituals was an important expression of solidarity at that level. For at least many in the general populace, these city gods were guardians against such risks as plague, fire, or other disasters. So, refusal to participate in the reverence due these deities could be taken as a disloyalty to your city and as a disregard for the welfare of its inhabitants. Further, there were gods believed to uphold and legitimate the larger Roman imperial order. Indeed, in the case of the goddess Roma, there was a deity that embodied the Roman order. So, to refuse to worship these deities could be taken as a deeply subversive action or at least a disregard for the political order. To repeat the point for emphasis, when pagan converts withdrew from the worship of the gods that they had formerly worshipped, this was a particularly acute matter, much more objectionable than Jews’ refusal to worship any deity but their own. The latter was an ethnic peculiarity, but that gave no justification for non-Jews to shirk their inherited responsibilities to their own gods.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 54–55

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What are they thinking?!

Having adopted the new stance demanded by their conversion to Christian faith, they were to withdraw particularly from making sacrificial offerings to the gods of their household, their city, and the empire, and now were to practice the exclusivity in matters of worship that was expected of members of the ekklēsia. These newly converted Gentile Christians would have seemed to fellow pagans, however, to be making an abrupt, arbitrary, bizarre, and unjustified shift in religious behavior. This total withdrawal from the worship of the many deities was a move without precedent, and it would have seemed inexplicable and deeply worrying to many of the general populace. In their eyes, people other than Jews simply had no right to do this, and, no doubt, it would have drawn a lot of objection and even harassment, perhaps especially from the families and closest acquaintances of Christian converts. It would have seemed to the general public a kind of religious and social apostasy, an antisocial stance.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 53–54

<idle musing>
What in the world could they possibly be thinking?! Why, the social fabric will be rent asunder by their neglect of the gods! The empire is sure to suffer setbacks because of them! Feed them to the lion!

Think about that for a minute. What would your family do if you suddenly refused to offer sacrifice to the lares and penates who keep your family and household safe? It would be like you were spitting on your ancestors and parents, saying they don't exist anymore!

Needless to say, that isn't the best way to ingratiate yourself to those in power... In fact, it's almost like they don't care about impressing and influencing those in power! Maybe we could learn something from them?
</idle musing>

Monday, April 10, 2017

They have an excuse. What about you?

The difference and distinguishing feature of the early Christian stance agains “idolatry” is this: In the eyes of ancient pagans, the Jews’ refusal to worship any deity but their own, though often deemed bizarre and objectionable, was basically regarded as one, rather distinctive, example of national peculiarities. Whether residents of Roman Judaea or in their many diaspora locations, Jews were commonly thought of, and thought of themselves, as a distinct people, an ethnos, a “nations” in that sense. The wider Roman-era public was well aware of, and generally accommodated, the ethnic diversity that made up the empire.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 52–53

Friday, April 07, 2017

Not a compliment!

As noted, our word “idol” comes from the Greek term eidōlon, a term that in ordinary Greek usage could connote something that is a mere phantom. Obviously, this was not a term used to refer to the gods by those who worshipped them!— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 50

Thursday, April 06, 2017

A mere phantom—or even less

Christians were expected to avoid taking part in the worship of any deity other than the one God of biblical tradition. I discuss the inclusion of Jesus as effectively corecipient of early Christian reverence later in this chapter. Given the ubiquitous place of the gods and their rituals in Roman-era life, however, it would have been difficult for Christians simply to avoid all such rituals without being noticed. Christians likely often also had to refuse to join in the worship of the various divinities and so had to negotiate their relationships carefully, especially, no doubt, those involving family and close acquaintances.

This refusal to reverence the many gods that was demanded of early Christians would have included refusing to offer worship to household divinities, to the tutelary deities of cities, to the traditional gods of the various cities and peoples of the Roman world, and even to the deities that represented the empire itself, such as the goddess Roma, and who conferred legitimacy to Roman rule. Indeed, Christians were expected to treat all the many deities of the Roman world as “idols,” from the Greek term eidōlon, meaning “image” or “phantom.” That is, Christians were to treat all the various traditional gods as beings unworthy of worship, as false and deceptive entities, or, even worse, as demonic beings masquerading as deities.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 49–50 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
And you thought you had problems with your in-laws or parents! That's nothing compared to walking into the house and not acknowledging the shrine of the lares, and then announcing that they were less than gods, in fact were evil semi-divine beings! I'm sure that went over well . . . NOT!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Worthy? Of course!

It is also important to underscore the point that all deities were deemed worthy of reverence. To deny a deity worship, and that typically meant sacrificed, was effectively, to deny the god’s reality. Individual pagans of that time did not feel it obligatory to reverence each and every deity, but, in principle, all gods were entitled to be reverenced. So, the people of the Roman period generally found no problem in participating in the worship of various and multiple deities.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 47

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Gods, gods, and still more gods!

In addition to such “high” deities, there were also lesser and other divine beings that, nevertheless, figured regularly in religious practices. In Rome, for example, these included beings called Lares that functioned as guardians over various settings. The most common were domestic Lares of each household (Latin: Lares domestici), which represented spirits of family dead who had been elevated to a special kind of spiritual existence on account of their goodness and/or importance. These spirits protected the family, and all members of the household were expected to reverence them daily in offerings and prayers at the Lararium, a small altar typically placed in the Roman house. But there were also protective Lares of bridges, crossroads, and other sites, and even Lares Augusti, seen as guardians of the Roman state. In comparison with the more well-known gods, the Lares typically had more restricted spheres of power, but they likely figured much more frequently in the day-to-day ritual life of people.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 46

<idle musing>
And the Christians refused to worship them! Can you imagine?! Why, that would be just as bad as if a person refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance! Seditious! Rebellious! A threat to the social order! Away with them! They are a treasonous bunch! Feed them to the lion!
</idle musing>

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gods, gods, everywhere are gods, blocking the scenery...

To turn now to a brief survey of the religious character of the early Roman Empire as context in which to view early Christianity, the first thing to note is the sheer plurality of divine beings to which people directed various kinds of reverence. It was “A World Full of Gods.” Indeed, there were deities of various kinds and various spheres. There was, for example, the traditional Roman pantheon of deities presided over by Jupiter, who was often identified as and with Zeus, the chief deity in the Greek traditional pantheon. But, in addition to these gods, by the time of the earliest Christianity the Romans had adopted or allowed other deities as well that originated from various parts of the empire. There was a virtual cafeteria of Roman-era deities from the many nations. And, as in a cafeteria, you did not have to restrict yourself to any one or any number of gods. Indeed, any such exclusivity was deemed utterly bizarre.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages. 44–45

<idle musing>
Reminds me of "the thousand gods of Hatti"—a phrase used to describe the number of deities the Hittite Empire had in their pantheon. In the ancient world, you literally could not turn around without bumping into a deity. They were more ubiquitous than fire hydrants are in modern cities.

And those crazy Christians said that they weren't really gods, which was bad enough. What was worse is that they refused to offer anything to them. It's one thing to say they don't exist, but it's another thing altogether to say that they were actually evil spirits bent on destroying humanity.

Those early Christians. They were crazy. Or, they were correct. Take your pick, but realize that if they were correct, you need to watch out for the deities you are worshiping in your own life. God brooks no rivals.

Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Troublesome creatures!

[P]agans demanded specifically that Christians should worship the traditional gods. Recall that pagans such as Celsus were willing to tolerate Christians and their other various objectionable features, if only they would worship the traditional gods. But Christians were noted as typically refusing to do so, declaring that they worshiped only the one biblical deity and, still more offensively, that everyone else ought to do likewise. Granted, Christians deployed various arguments, including philosophical ones, to justify their stance and to mitigate thereby the negative reactions that it generated. Also, to be sure, the pagan demand to worship the traditional gods was intended to secure and promote social and political unity as well as what we would call “religious” conformity.

But I insist that at least we use the term, it was for non-Christians fundamentally a religious issue.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 44 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
My, those Christians were troublesome creatures, weren't they!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Keep your head down and watch your back

Likewise, ritual practices of at least some forms of “traditional religions” of various peoples seem as much or more to do with keeping potential spirit-dangers at bay and avoiding offending them, rather than “worship” and adoration of, and a positive relationship with, a deity as conceived, for example, by Christians. That is, in many cases, “religious” ritual practices can be intended to placate deities or even to avoid their attention altogether. Also, the ritual practices of various traditional peoples were obviously meaningful for them, but it would be a bit misleading, even cultural imperialism perhaps, to say that those who performed these ritual practices typically aimed to express or obtain some sort of “ultimate meaning.”— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 39–40

<idle musing>
In other words, try to keep them out of your life as much as possible! The last thing you want is for the gods to notice you! That's a sure way to have a miserable life. Of course, you want to keep your personal deity, variously called genius, δαιμῶν, dLAMMA, happy. Pour a bit of a libation to the ground before you take a drink, leave a portion of your food for them, throw that salt over your shoulder, things like that. You want your personal deity to run interference for you with the more powerful deities.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bring on the atheists!

Among the particular features that distinguished Christianity from traditional “pagan” religious practice and from the many other new religious movements of the time was the firm insistence that there is only one “true and living God,” and the demand that its adherents had to drop all worship of any other deity. Arguably, early Christianity represented not simply belief in one particular deity among many but, actually, in some respects a different kind of religion.… [E]arly Christianity was so different that many Roman-era people recoiled from Christian beliefs and practices, accusing Christians of rank impiety and even atheism.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 37–38

Monday, March 27, 2017

Consider the cost

Indeed, in light of the social and, increasingly, the political consequences of being a Christian in these early centuries, one might well wonder that the movement grew and why people became Christians. But, obviously, those who did so under those circumstances had strong reasons. There must have been things about early Christianity that made it worthwhile to become an adherent in spite of social harassment and potential prosecution. So, not only was early Christianity different in some key respects, but also participation in Christian faith must have offered things that attracted converts and compensated for the considerable social costs incurred in becoming an adherent.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 35

<idle musing>
Obviously not a bunch of snowflakes. Jesus said to count the cost, and they did. Would that we were as diligent in our pursuit of God as they were...
</idle musing>

And this is discipleship?

Instead of serious discipleship we have virtual fan clubs revolving around the mega-church leader. Seldom is worship an encounter with the awesome God; it has become an occasion for cheap thrills and continuous festivity dubiously called ‘praise and worship’.—Simon Chan, target-“_blank”> Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, page 9

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Thought for a rainy Sunday afternoon

If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.—Evagrius the Solitary (of Pontus)

Friday, March 24, 2017

It's just a little request

Indeed, despite all the alleged stupidities of Christians, Celsus expressed a willingness to tolerate them, if only they would honor the gods and follow the polytheistic customs that everyone else, excepting, of course, Jews, affirmed. By their refusal to do so, Celsus contended, Christians, questioned the validity of the gods upon which the social and political order rested and so were guilty of impiety and, at least impolicitly, of promoting sedition. If masses of people followed the Christians in their madness, Celsus declared, this would provoke the wrath of the gods and the social and political order would fall into anarchy and chaos.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 31–32

<idle musing>
He's not asking for much, is he? Just compromise a little bit and we'll accept you—even though you are a bit strange. But, to compromise on that one point is to destroy the entire foundation of Christianity.
</idle musing>

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A clear and present danger

[W]hatever the particular offences that prompted the actions against various foreign cults in Rome, none of them constituted a threat to the worship of the traditional deities, New cults were typically seen as additions to the cafeteria of deities and religious groups of the Roman world. Not even Jews were such a threat. For, although there were Jewish texts of the time that expressed disdain for the pagan gods, there is no indication that Roman-era Jews actually attempted seriously to persuade the non-Jewish population to abandon their deities. That Jews themselves typically abstained from worshipping the gods was viewed by pagans as an ethnic peculiarity. But early Christianity—because it was programmatically transethnic in its appeal, and more aggressive in attacking what it called “idolatry”—was a new and more serious danger.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 25

<idle musings>
Well, there are no worries that the church will upset the current culture, are there? The church is too busy endorsing the current radical individualism, nationalism, and materialism to be a prophetic witness and represent any danger to the current regime(s). Maybe I should rename this post Not a Clear and Present Danger : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Demetrius the silver smith was right (Acts 19)

Those Christians who withdrew from worshipping the gods obviously ceased sacrificing to them and ceased frequenting their temples, and that had economic consequences for various people. In addition to gifts made to the temples, for example, as thanks for a god granting a petition, there were local craftsmen who sold various items to those who frequented the temples, such as miniature images of the gods and ex voto objects, which were items purchased and then given to the temple to express thanks for favors from the gods. Then there also were others who raised and sold sacrificial animals on license from temple authorities, and still others who produced food for these animals. In short, the ancient temples represented a significant sphere of economic activity, and so any denunciation of the gods, any withdrawal from their worship, or even the threat or prospect of this would have been seen as threatening to the many with vested interests in the various components of the operations of temples.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 24

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Economic interests

Furthermore, it is interesting to note Pliny’s claims that there were numerous Christians in Pontus at that point in various towns and villages, and that the growth of Christianity was having a markedly negative effect on the institutions devoted to the traditional deities and the economic activities associated with them. Of course, Pliny may have been exaggerating a bit. But it seems to me quite plausible that the social and economic effects of Christian withdrawal from the worship of the gods, or simply the fear of such effects, may have been at least one cause for the denunciation of Christians to Pliny and likely to other local officials.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 23–24

<idle musing>
Nothing like a hit to the pocketbook to get your attention. . .
</idle musing>

Monday, March 20, 2017

A bit of perspective, please

Pliny clearly thought that being a Christian was in itself sufficient grounds for his punitive actions, even execution, although the obstinacy of some Christians in the face of Pliny’s demands and threats gave him further justification.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 22

<idle musing>
And you thought it was getting harder to be a Christian in the U.S.? Put it in perspective. It's not a death sentence—not even close.
</idle musing>

Friday, March 17, 2017

Unique from the beginning

The term used both by Tacitus and by Seutonius to characterize Christianity, “superstition” (Latin: superstitio), connoted then religious beliefs and rituals they deemed excessive, repellent, or even monstrous. The basic point to underscore here, however, is that both writers refer to Christians and their religion as different, and objectionably so, and not as simply one type of Roman-era religious option among and like others.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 22

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Proto-orthodox and the facts

In the social rough and tumble of religious rivalries of the first two or three centuries, these “proto-orthodox” or “catholic” Christians seem to have won out, and well before Constantine and the subsequent influence of the state in matters of religion. That is, the proto-orthodox or catholic Christians were simply more successful at winning adherents in that earliest period, and their success did not depend then upon state support. We have to recognize that precisely in the crucial first three centuries the Christian tradition did begin to cohere around certain practices and beliefs, and that “proto-orthodox” Christianity emerged as the mainstream version that shaped subsequent Christian tradition.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 12

<idle musing>
And he comes out of the corner swinging! He's right, of course, but that doesn't stop people from positing Constantine as the "real" founder of Christianity. Never mind the facts, presupposed reconstructions take precedence! Besides, conspiracy theories sell books, and that's what's important, right? Never mind the truth, we want income! And the truth withers and dies—and then people wonder why alternative facts are preferred. Duh! You train people to believe in conspiracies and then expect mere facts to change their minds?

You still reap what you sow. We've been sowing a wind for a long time now and we're starting to reap the whirlwind. Take a look at this about the less than desirable effect of the loss of a Christian influence when it comes to prejudice. Mind you, it's from The Atlantic, not exactly a bastion of pro-Christian thinking!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The marketplace and truth

But neutrality, with its deep skepticism, and the marketplace of ideas, with its collective search for truth, make strange bedfellows. What progress toward truth can there be if it is impossible to pronounce on the truth? The [Supreme] Court’s response is to equate survival in the intellectual marketplace with the truth, thereby treating the marketplace of ideas not as a metaphor, but as reality. The value of an idea, like any other commodity, is defined by its performance in the marketplace; that idea which survives the competition is, ipso facto, the truth. Popular acceptance or, as Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes states in his Abrams dissent, “the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” becomes the test for truth.

Such a marketplace metaphor definition of truth, however, is not without its difficulties. To begin with, it does not make sense when applied to empirical and scientific knowledge; there are many beliefs, such as astrology, that are scientifically false, yet popular. And when applied to ethics or politics, where the truth that emerges can be identified with the best answer for society at that point in time, the extreme relativism of a marketplace-defined truth is unlikely to be acceptable.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 254

<idle musing>
That's the end of this book. Sorry to end it on such a sour note, but that pretty much defines where we are as a society right now. The marketplace is our god. Not just economically, but in our ethics, social policy, and international policy. It's a variation of might makes right. All we've done is substitute economic muscle for the sword. Of course, we use the sword to enforce that economic might.

So much for an ethic based on the Sermon on the Mount. You don't get rich giving to those who ask and not charging interest or asking for it back! At least not economically rich. But there are other forms of riches of which the economically rich know not.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The fine print

An Econ [totally rational human being] will read and understand the fine print of a contract before signing it, but Humans usually do not. An unscrupulous firm that designs contracts that customers will routinely sign without reading has considerable legal leeway in hiding important information in plain sight. A pernicious implication of the rational-agent model in its extreme form is that customers are assumed to need no protection beyond ensuring that the relevant information is disclosed. The size of the print and the complexity of the language in the disclosure are not considered relevant—an Econ knows how to deal with small print when it matters. In contrast, the recommendations of [the book] Nudge require firms to offer contracts that are sufficiently simple to be read and understood by Human customers. It is a good sign that some of these recommendations have encountered significant opposition from firms whose profits might suffer if their customers were better informed. A world in which firms compete by offering better products is preferable to one in which the winner is the firm that is best at obfuscation.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 413

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from this book—a very relevant book that you should take the time to read. I was only able to skim off the top in these excerpts. The book itself fills in the details.
</idle musing>

Monday, March 13, 2017

Yet more truths from a bygone era

[John] Milton and [John Stuart] Mill both illustrate the humanist assumption that greater freedom of debate promotes discovery of truth. But the humanist defense of toleration consisted of more than just this assumption. The humanists were unwilling to protect that they knew—or at least believed—was false. Thus they permitted debate on adiaphora [nonessentials], but not on the fundamentals of faith. In addition, the humanists were concerned that discussion take place in a rhetorically appropriate environment. Irrational debates, they maintained, were no more likely to foster truth than censorship. The humanists’ exclusion of “false” beliefs from protection is exemplified by Milton, the oft-presumed herald of contemporary freedom of speech and press, who would have banned Catholicism because it conflicted with “known” truths.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, pages 246–47

<idle musing>
Amazing how knowing the backstory on something changes the light in which you see it, isn't it? If your audience doesn't know the history of an idea, you are free to twist it into whatever form you want. Therefore educating people is scary for those who wish to rework ideas.

Of course, education where people are required to read the sources, as opposed to the interpretation of them by those with an agenda (right or left), is truly scary. The value of a Liberal Arts degree!
</idle musing>

We're seeing it now

In a nation of Econs [people who only are rational], government should keep out of the way, allowing the Econs to act as they choose, so long as they do not harm others. If a motorcycle rider chooses to ride without a helmet, a libertarian will support his right to do so. Citizens know what they are doing, even when they choose not to save for their old age, or when they expose themselves to addictive substances. There is a hard edge to this position: elderly people who did not save enough for retirement get little more sympathy than someone who complains about the bill after consuming a large meal at a restaurant. Much is therefore at stake in the debate between the Chicago school and the behavioral economists, who reject the extreme form of the rational-agent model. Freedom is not a contested value; all the participants in the debate are in favor of it. But life is more complex for behavioral economists than for true believers in human rationality. No behavioral economist favors a state that will force its citizens to eat a balanced diet and to watch only television programs that are good for the soul. For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes therefore presents a dilemma for behavioral economists. The economists of the Chicago school do not face that problem, because rational agents do not make mistakes. For adherents of this school, freedom is free of charge.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 412

<idle musing>
And we're seeing the results of this mindset now. Problem is that it's about as far from the Sermon on the Mount as you can get, to say nothing of the moral code in the Old Testament. It's individualism allowed to run rampant at the cost of society. Nietzsche's superman will win and the rest of us will be toast.

If that's the world you want, you are in serious danger of getting it. Just remember, you might not be the superman you think you are. what then? To whom will you turn?
</idle musing>

Friday, March 10, 2017

Advice from 500 years ago on how to converse

He [Acontius ca. 1520–1566] describes how to conduct a conversation with those in error. His advice to the speaker includes the following: the speakers’ tone and words should be conducive calm debate; speakers must adapt themselves to what the person, time, and place demand; they must begin with their audiences’ presuppositions, not their own; and they should be very careful never to misrepresent their opponents’ position. Common to all these various strategies is the assumption that it is not enough for the speech’s contents to be true. Speakers are also obligated to foster an environment in which their listeners are capable of understanding the truth. This means that speakers should eschew all verbal abuse. They must do so not only for the sake of their interlocutors, but also out of concern for the nonparticipating spectators, who are affected by a speaker’s abusive language. As some onlookers will identify the means of debate with the argument itself, improper means will come to be equated with erroneous doctrine, even if the doctrine itself is true. Hence, some will presume a mean-spirited presentation to be prima facie evidence of error.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, pages 129–30

<idle musing>
Good advice even now, isn't it? If only! Some of this reminds me of Covey's Seven Habits: seek first to understand, then to be understood, specifically. Again, if only!

Perhaps it boils down to a lack of respect for the other person. Perhaps we don't really believe the other person is worth respect, be it because of their social or economic standing, or maybe education level. Whatever the cause, they are still made in the image of God and worthy of respect. Jesus died for them as much as for you. Reread C.S. Lewis's essay "Weight of Glory" for a quick refresher course on what the image of God implies.
</idle musing>

Rational? Not so much

The assumption that agents are rational provides the intellectual foundation for the libertarian approach to public policy: do not interfere with the individual’s right to choose, unless the choices harm others. Libertarian policies are further bolstered by admiration for the efficiency of markets in allocating goods to the people who are willing to pay the most for them. A famous example of the Chicago approach is titled A Theory of Rational Addiction; it explains how a rational agent with a strong preference for intense and immediate gratification may make the rational decision to accept future addiction as a consequence. I once heard Gary Becker, one of the authors of that article, who is also a Nobel laureate of the Chicago school, argue in a lighter vein, but not entirely as a joke, that we should consider the possibility of explaining the so-called obesity epidemic by people’s belief that a cure for diabetes will soon become available. He was making a valuable point: when we observe people acting in ways that seem odd, we should first examine the possibility that they have a good reason to do what they do. Psychological interpretations should only be invoked when the reasons become implausible—which Becker’s explanation of obesity probably is.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 411–12

<idle musing>
With all due respect to libertarians, this is why it is a doomed philosophy. People are not rational beings. They are easily manipulated and swayed—as this book makes eminently clear. The wolves will always try to feast on the sheep. Unfortunately, far too often the wolves are the ones in authority. And that is the reason the prophets of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible spoke out against the authorities so strongly.

It might also be the reason Jesus didn't get along so well with the authorities, either. When was the last time a person in authority took the Sermon on the Mount as their modus operandi? Right.
</idle musing

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Erasmus vs. Luther on free will

[Erasmus, answering Luther on free will] If everything is the result of necessity, Erasmus asks, “what could be more useless than to publish this paradox to the world?” If God rewards and punishes us for actions beyond our control, for which He alone is responsible, the “what a window to impiety would the public avowal of such an opinion open to countless mortals!” People would not better their conduct, arguing instead that they were not responsible for their wrongdoings. They would stop loving a God who moves them to evil, only to punish them later. Most people, only too willing to sin, would use Luther’s views to justify their own evil inclinations.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 69

Mountain? Molehill? Which?

Any aspect of life to which attention is directed will loom large in a global evaluation. This is the essence of the focusing illusion, which can be described in a single sentence
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 402

<idle musing>
Which is why we tend to make mountains out of mole hills. Why we obsess of things that are not important. Why we need to take a step back and take the time to get a little perspective on things. But we rarely do...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

March, the windy month

Yesterday afternoon, the waves were crashing over the breakwater in breathtaking beauty. Wind speed? Only about 40 MPH with gusts up to 65 MPH!

Today is calmer; windspeed? About 18 MPH with gusts to 56 MPH : )

Who's the heretic?

[H]eresy manifests itself in the iniquitous deeds of those leaders of the Church who, while preaching the philosophy of Christ, teach nothing by their example but avarice, eagerness for pleasures, passion for war—all things “which are an abomination to Holy Scripture and are rejected even by the philosophers of paganism.” We must especially beware, Erasmus writes, of those wicked churchmen who “hide human lusts under the authority of God’s law and under the appearance of piety.”—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 67

<idle musing>
OK, where do we even begin on this one? I'm afraid that a very large number of well-known christian leaders would fall under Erasmus's charge of heresy! He has the audacity to require leaders to actually live a Christ-like life! Why, that's ridiculous, right? Right? (Be sure to shred your Bible before you agree...)
</idle musing>

Real value

Beyond the satiation level of income [his 2011 research showed that to be $75,000], you can buy more pleasurable experiences, but you will lose some of your ability to enjoy the less expensive ones.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 397

<idle musing>
And the less expensive ones are the ones that usually matter more. What kind of value can you put on watching a sunset (or sunrise) over the lake? It's free, yet I'll wager that if you are busy climbing the corporate ladder, you rarely see one. Jesus was right in the Sermon on the Mount—Solomon's clothing is nothing next to the clothing of nature.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Heresy? What is it, really?

For Erasmus, however, heresy requires more than fundamental doctrinal error. He defines heresy as not simply error, “but the obstinate malice which for the sake of any advantage is disturbing the tranquility of the Church by perverted doctrine.” Thus besides (1) the perversion of doctrine, heresy presupposes (2) persistence in error, (3) the search for personal advantage, (4) the presence of “malice,” that is, the intention to do evil (as opposed to the lesser sin of stultitia, foolishness), and, finally, (5) disturbance of the Church’s tranquility. Erasmus deems only persons guilty of all five sins full-fledged heretics.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 66

<idle musing>
We throw the word around far to easily, don't we? I guess that's easier than taking the time to actually examine what the other side might be saying. Sad isn't it?
</idle musing>

False hope

Many unfortunate human situations unfold in the top right cell. This is where people who face very bad options take desperate gambles, accepting a high probability of making things worse in exchange for a small hope of avoiding a large loss. Risk taking of this kind often turns manageable failures into disasters. The thought of accepting the large sure loss is too painful, and the hope of complete relief too enticing, to make the sensible decision that it is time to cut one’s losses. This is where businesses that are losing ground to a superior technology waste their remaining assets in futile attempts to catch up. Because defeat is so difficult to accept, the losing side in wars often fights long past the point at which the victory of the other side is certain, and only a matter of time.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 318–19

Monday, March 06, 2017

Orthopraxy and Erasmus

For Erasmus, the philosophy of Christ is found “not in ceremonies alone and syllogistic propositions but in the heart itself and in the whole life.” “In this kind of philosophy,” he writes, “life means more than debate, … transformation is a more important matter than intellectual comprehension.” Although Erasmus never compromises on doctrinal essentials, he consistently laments doctrine’s overshadowing of Christian morality: “You will not be damned if you do not know whether the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son has a single or a double principle, but you will not escape perdition unless you see to it in the mean time that you have the fruits of the Spirit, which are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, moderation, self-control, and chastity.” Much of Erasmus’s criticism of the scholastics drives from their preference for theological dexterity over piety. More important than scholastics subtleties, Erasmus argues, is a “pure and simple life.”—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 52–53

Semper reformandum? Not so much

Animals, including people, fight harder to prevent losses than to achieve gains. In the world of territorial animals, this principle explains the success of defenders. A biologist observed that “when a territory holder is challenged by a rival, the owner almost always wins the contest—usually within a matter of seconds.” In human affairs, the same simple rule explains much of what happens when institutions attempt to reform themselves, in “reorganizations” and “restructuring” of companies, and in efforts to rationalize a bureaucracy, simplify the tax code, or reduce medical costs. As initially conceived, plans for reform almost always produce many winners and some losers while achieving an overall improvement. If the affected parties have any political influence, however, potential losers will be more active and determines than potential winners; the outcome will be biased in their favor and inevitably more expensive and less effective than initially planned. Reforms commonly include grandfather clauses that protect current stakeholders—for example, when the existing workforce is reduced by attrition rather than by dismissals, or when cuts in salaries and benefits apply only to future workers. Loss aversion is a powerful conservative force that favors minimal changes from the status quo in the lives of both institutions and individuals.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 305

Friday, March 03, 2017

Violence and Erasmus

Yet if speech is linked to godliness, why do so many churchmen advocate the use of force, its opposite, to bring men to God? Erasmus acknowledges the contradiction inherent in the use of violence to achieve religious ends. Christ, Erasmus states, never resorted to violence: “Christ, as he preached to all, coaxed no one to himself with flatteries or human promises, nor did he compel anyone with force, although he was omnipotent.” (Ausgewählte Werke, 254, lines 7–9).—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 48


Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be. We also tend to exaggerate our ability to forecast the future, which fosters optimistic overconfidence. In terms of its consequences for decisions, the optimistic bias may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases. Because optimistic bias can be both a blessing and a risk, you should be both happy and wary if you are temperamentally optimistic.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 255

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The role of emotion

Cicero writes that “every one must acknowledge that of all the resources of an orator far the greatest is his ability to inflame the minds of his hearers and to turn them in whatever direction the case demands. If the orator lacks that ability, he lacks the one thing most essential.” (Brutus 80.279). Cicero even advises the orator to prefer emotion to reason. Thus, the hearer should be “so affected as to be swayed by something resembling a mental impulse or emotion, rather than by judgment or deliberation. For men decide far more problems by hate, or love, or fear, or illusion, or some other inward emotion than by reality.” (De oratore 2.42.178).—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, pages 20–21

<idle musing>
Unfortunately, we're seeing the truth of this today. . .from both Right and Left. Rational discussion of the type this book discusses seems to have become either rare or unheard of. That saddens me.
</idle musing>

The best laid plans...

When forecasting the outcomes of risky projects, executives too easily fall victim to the planning fallacy. In its grip, they make decisions based on delusional optimism rather than on a rational weighting of gains, losses, and probabilities. They overestimate benefits and underestimate costs. They spin scenarios of success while overlooking the potential for mistakes and miscalculations. As a result, they pursue initiatives that are unlikely to come in on budget or on time or to deliver the expected returns—or even to be completed.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 252

<idle musing>
Been there, done that. Many times : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A bit of historical perspective and definition

Under a regime of tolerations dissenters depend on the approval of, or at least the voluntary inaction of, superior authority. By contrast, liberty is not granted by, but held independently of any granting agency. The humanists did not call for religious liberty, the very concept of which first appeared at the end of the seventeenth century.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 7

But of course I'm right!

Professional controversies bring out the worst in academics. Scientific journals occasionally publish exchanges, often beginning with someone’s critique of another’s research, followed by a reply and a rejoinder. I have always thought that these exchanges are a waste of time. Especially when the original critique is sharply worded, the reply and the rejoinder are often exercises in what I have called sarcasm for beginners and advanced sarcasm. The replies rarely concede anything to a biting critique, and it is almost unheard of for a rejoinder to admit that the original critique was misguided or erroneous in any way.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 234

<idle musing>
Indeed! I've read far too many of them. . .
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tolerance does not mean acceptance

[H]umanists counseled toleration of heretics, temporarily, so that the heretics might be persuaded of the truth or so that the bloodshed that would ensue from trying to suppress them might be avoided. Here, toleration does not connote acceptance. Consistent with the Latin root of the word “toleration—tolerare: to bear, to endure, to put up with—the humanists’ toleration of heretics suggested moral disapproval.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 6

Reject it!

You surely understand in principle that worthless information should not be treated differently from a complete lack of information, but WYSIATI [what you see is all there is] makes it very difficult to apply that principle. Unless you decide immediately to reject evidence (for example, by determining that you received it from a liar), your System 1 [subconscious mind] will automatically process the information available as if it were true. There is one thing you can do when you have doubts about the quality of the evidence: let your judgments of probability stay close to the base rate. Don’t expect this exercise of discipline to be easy—it requires a significant effort of self-monitoring and self-control.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 153

<idle musing>
How relevant! This is how marketing/advertising—and propaganda!—work. And it's also why they are so effective. We are naturally lazy thinkers, so our minds go the way of least resistance. : (
</idle musing>

Monday, February 27, 2017

Humanism (as in the Humanities)

I read an older book recently, recommended via the Classics e-list and obtained via Interlibrary Loan (love that service!—your tax dollars at work!): Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration. It's not what you think (unless you've studied the Middle Ages); classic humanism is where we get the word Humanities; it's all about becoming more fully a well-rounded human, knowing how to think. Anyway, we'll be excerpting from it for a bit here; even though it was written in 1996, it is still extremely relevant. Here's the first snippet:

The humanists did not accept the rationalism of the Enlightenment; they were deeply religious men who believed in divinely revealed truths. Nor were the humanists religious individualists, à la liberalism. Unlike liberal advocates of religious liberty, the humanists did not place the right to conscience at the center of their defense of religious tolerance.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 4

<idle musing>
Oh, I forgot to mention, liberal here doesn't mean what it does today. Liberal was the word used for those who advocated such radical ideas as freedom of religion, rule by the people, and repudiated the divine right of kings. A bit of historical perspective is always nice : )
</idle musing>

The big splash

In today’s world, terrorists are the most significant practitioners of the art of inducing availability cascades. With a few horrible exceptions such as 9/11, the number of casualties from terror attacks is very small relative to other causes of death. Even in countries that have been targets of intensive terror campaigns, such as Israel, the weekly number of casualties almost never came close to the number of traffic deaths. The difference is in the availability of the two risks, the ease and the frequency with which they come to mind. Gruesome images, endlessly repeated in the media, cause everyone to be on edge.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 144

<idle musing>
Good to keep in mind, isn't it? But we tend to forget that we have a higher risk of getting hit by a random driver while in the crosswalk than of being killed by a terrorist. And an even smaller risk that the terrorist is not already a U.S. citizen with a rifle...
</idle musing>

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thought for a Sunday morning

It is God’s elusiveness, His freedom, and gracious character, which make prayer meaningful.—Standing in the Breach, page 91

Friday, February 24, 2017

Perceptions and the reality

• Strokes cause almost twice as many deaths as all accidents combined, but 80% of respondents judged accidental death to be more likely. • Tornadoes were seen as more frequent killers than asthma, although the latter cause 20 times more deaths. • Death by lightning was judged less likely than death from botulism even though it is 52 times more frequent. • Death by disease is 18 times as likely as accidental death, but the two were judged about equally likely. • Death by accidents was judged to be more than 300 times more likely than death by diabetes, but the true ratio is 1:4 The lesson is clear: estimates of causes of death are warped by media coverage. The coverage is itself biased toward novelty and poignancy. The media do not just shape what the public is interested in, but also are shaped by it. Editors cannot ignore the public’s demands that certain topics and viewpoints receive extensive coverage. Unusual events (such as botulism) attract disproportionate attention and are consequently perceived as less unusual than they really are. The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectation about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 138

<idle musing>
Especially in today's political climate it is important to be aware of these facts. Both sides are guilty of emphasizing things, making them appear bigger than they are. The difficulty is checking the facts to see which ones are being goosed and which ones are real.&thinsp. .

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do that aside from researching the statements. : (
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the playbook

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact. But it was psychologists who discovered that you do not have to repeat the entire statement of a fact or idea to make it appear true. People who were repeatedly exposed to the phrase “the body temperature of a chicken” were more likely to accept as true the statement that “the body temperature of a chicken is 144º” (or any other arbitrary number). The familiarity of one phrase in the statement sufficed to make the whole statement feel familiar, and therefore true. If you cannot remember the source of a statement, and have no way to relate it to other things you know, you have no option but to go with the sense of cognitive ease.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 62

<idle musing>
An important thing to remember in these days of "alternative facts"! By the way, the body temperature of an adult chicken is 105–107ºF according to the University of Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture. . .
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It requires effort

The nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body, and effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose. When you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose level drops. The effect is analogous to a runner who draws down glucose stored in her muscles during a sprint.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 43

<idle musing>
Maybe that's why some people avoid thinking as much as they avoid physical exercise?!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Don't overreach!

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond that budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try. You can do several things at once, but only if they are easy and undemanding. You are probably safe carrying on a conversation with a passenger while driving on an empty highway, and many parents have discovered, perhaps with some guilt, that they can read a story to a child while thinking of something else.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 23

Monday, February 20, 2017

Are you sure of that?

We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 14

Friday, February 17, 2017

What about intuition?

Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it. Good intuitive judgments come to mind with the same immediacy as “doggie!”— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 12

&t;idle musing>
Indeed! Intuition is that subconscious flash of memory because you've prepared yourself by study and practice. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut—no matter what the person marketing the latest gimmick might tell you!
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What are you thinking about?

People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness. In turn, what the media choose to report corresponds to their view of what is currently on the public’s mind. It is no accident that authoritarian regimes exert substantial pressure on independent media. Because public interest is most easily aroused by dramatic events and by celebrities, media feeding frenzies are common.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, pages 8–9

<idle musing>
We're starting a new book today, Thinking, Fast and Slow. It's quite timely, as you can see, even though it has been out for a while. I hope you enjoy the ride and find it enlightening. I certainly have as I read it.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Israel as the divine image

In the book of Isaiah, corporate Israel is often compared to a statue. In some cases, she is a damaged image that must be smelted and recast (Isa 1:25; 48:4–10). At other points, her sensory organs malfunction (Isa 6:9–10)—she is described as having eyes but unable to see, and having ears but being deaf. Her restoration, likewise, is described in terms of the opening of her eyes and ears and the animation of her sensory organs: “the eyes of those who see will not be smeared over, and the ears of those who hear will be attentive. The heart/mind of the hasty will discern knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak” (Isa 32:3–4; see also Isa 35:5–6). When restored, corporate Israel is clothed with luminescent garments (Isa 62:1–3) and is said to be a crown of splendor and a royal diadem (Isa 62:3). Finally, there are several texts in Isaiah which refer to Israel as “the work of Yahweh’s hands” (Isa 29:23; 60:21; 64:7), the same phrase used in Isa 2:8, 37:19, and 41:29 to denote the divine statue who is made by human artisans. The contrast between Israel as the work of Yahweh’s hand and the divine statue as the work of human hands seems intentional.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 210–11

<idle musing>
I'm convinced. Of course, I was basically of that opinion before, but this has just confirmed it.

That's the final post from this book. Tomorrow we'll start another book, but a bit different. Stay tuned. .&thinsp.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mirrors and distortions

For a somewhat different look at the last three weeks, read this Here's the final paragraph, which alone is a good reminder. But you really should read the whole thing. It's a reminder not to drink the Kool-Aid™:
Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.

A word of caution

We must keep in mind that neither the mīs pî pīt pî nor the wpt-r marked the original creation of the god. Rather, it was thought to be the means by which a particular divine manifestation of a pre-existent god was brought into being. If, for example, a statue of Ea was commissioned, the mīs pî pīt pî was believed to be the means by which Ea was manifested in the form of his divine statue. His initial creation, however, had been accomplished already by the primordial gods at the beginning of time.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 205 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
An important—and often forgotten—distinction.
</idle musing>

Monday, February 13, 2017

Not to be identified as the same

It was here in Gen 3 that we saw a significant departure from the pīt pî and the wpt-r, the rituals by which a divine image was enlivened in Mesopotamia and Egypt, respectively. In the comparative rituals the opening of the eyes and the subsequent transformation of the statue into a divine manifestation were the expressed purpose of the rite. In Eden, however, the opening of the eyes, although it did result in divine likeness, brought also nakedness, judgment, expulsion and, eventually, death. If the Eden author drew from the pīt pî and/or the wpt-r in writing his own account of human creation in order to make a subtle comparison between humans and divine images, as I have tried to demonstrate, he has redefined the term. As in Gen 1, bəṣelem ʾelōhîm is intimately related to the divine but it is not God’s equal. Unlike the divine statues in the Washing of the Mouth and the Opening of the Mouth, in Gen 2:5–3:24 the deity and its images were clearly distinct.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 204

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hard questions

We must consider when, in ancient Israel’s history, the metaphor of kinship would have been a fitting analogy for the divine-human relationship. If the analogy had been applied to Elohim and Israel, one might argue it was a product of the premonarchic tribal league, which was structured according to kin relations with Yahweh as the divine paterfamilias. Alternatively, it could have been written during the monarchy or divided monarchy, in which case the filial language would have reflected the older kinship traditions established by the premonarchic tribal federation. The exilic and postexilic eras could also be potential contexts for the composition of Gen 1:26–27, that is, if it had been Israel, rather than humankind generally, who had been created in the image and likeness of Elohim. The story would have been a powerful and comforting message of hope that sought to reestablish the kinship relationship Israel once enjoyed with her divine kinsman, Yahweh. The problem, however, is that the “royal son” of God in Gen 1:26–27 is ʾādām, not Israel. That is, Gen 1:26–27 is an account of human origins. It is hard to accept, thus, that Gen 1:1–2:3, and especially Gen 1:26–27, would have been written in the 6th century B.C.E. Would an exiled Israelite have composed an account in which all of humanity, including Israel’s captors, the Babylonians, was created in the image and likeness of their God? Could we expect the exiled Israelites to accept such a story?—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 185

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

LIberal Arts education

Really good article/review over at the New York Review of Books. Well worth your time to read, but here's a nice snippet:
That’s the conventional wisdom [that a Liberal Arts degree doesn’t net a job], but it’s probably wrong. In a recent survey of business leaders, nearly all of them said they valued clear thinking and communication skills in job applicants more than the particular undergraduate majors of job candidates; 80 percent agreed that “every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences”; and three quarters said they would recommend liberal arts education as “the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.” (Hart Research Associates, It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (April 10, 2013), available at
Indeed! If you know how to learn, which is what a Liberal Arts education is all about, then you are better equipped for just about any field. Sure, you'll need more training, but the nasty secret is that no matter what your degree is, you'll need further training! Just an
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Why use the image of a divine image?

Rather than assuming that P used ṣelem to describe humanity because Israel was no longer engaged in the worship of divine images, and it was, therefore, no longer a derogatory term, the author may have chosen his terms precisely because the manufacture and worship of divine images in Israel was widespread. The application of these terms to humans in relationship to the deity would have surely captured the attention of his audience. If so, then Gen 1:1–2:3 would most certainly be relevant to preexilic Israelites, when the production and worship of ṣəlamîm was widely practiced, as is well attested in the Iron Age archaeological re- cords of Israel and Judah. This observation is not, of course, evidence for a preexilic date for Gen 1:1–2:3, and I have noted above the dangers in dating a text by its content. However, it does suggest that the application of ṣelem to human beings could have been not only an appropriate choice in the Preexilic Period, but an ingenious one: ṣelem in Gen 1:26–27 may have been a double entendre, referring both to a statue and a son.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 184–85 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Don't get me started on the problems of dating by content… Anyway, makes sense to me!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Royal son

Undoubtedly, the biblical author was familiar with the mythological literature of his day, but what his sources of influence contained, whether they were written and/or oral, the delineation of these sources within the present text of Genesis 1, and their place of origin—whether Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan, and/or ancient Israel—is, regrettably, beyond our present knowledge. What we can say with reasonable certainty is that the author was familiar with Near Eastern creation and royal traditions and that he incorporated selected aspects of these traditions in writing his own distinctive account of creation. The result was a text that, unlike other creation accounts from the ancient Near East, presented the creation of the world in a seven-day schema, which credited Elohim alone with the creation of the world, and which described humankind, on some level, as like a “royal son” of God.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 181

Monday, February 06, 2017

If x = y, then a...

X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology, the mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r) may have influenced Y (Gen 1:26–27) positively with respect to a (ṣelem), in that a (ṣelem) in Gen 1:26–27 reflects the idea that king was the royal-divine son created in the god’s image. However, X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology and creation myths, mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r) may have also influenced Y (Gen 1:26–27) negatively with respect to a (ṣelem), in that Y’s democratization of ṣelem to humanity in general may be a reaction against an aspect of X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology) in which kings alone bore the identity of royal-divine son. Y (Gen 1:26–27) could also be reacting to the idea of a ṣelem in X (mīs pî pīt pî) as a divine manifestation and hence redefining it as a living human being.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 181 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Follow that? Read it again just to be sure. I think she's onto something here…
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The rise . . . and fall

[B]oth the pīt pî specifically and the wpt-r were rituals of animation, bringing the images to life. By the end of each rite, the statues were considered divine manifestations. Adam, however, was instantaneously enlivened at his creation by the breath of Yahweh. When he rebelled, not only was his position as caretaker and watchman of the garden forfeit, but his life was as well. By the end of the story, he and his wife are no longer royal figures in the garden of God but mortals, now in decay, void of glory, forced to live out their days in pain and toil isolated from the divine presence.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 177 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Who else?

At this point, we must inquire as to the nature of the author’s knowledge. Did the Eden author have only a general awareness of the manufacture of divine statues and of the ritual means by which they were created, or is there any indication in Gen 2:5–3:24 that he knew the mouth-washing and mouth-opening texts firsthand? The connections among the mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r, and Gen 2:5–3:24, discussed above (§§4.7, 4.8), do, I contend indicate a historical relationship. They suggest that the Eden author not only knew how divine statues were made but understood the ritual means by which they were activated. Unlike our analysis of the relationship between the mīs pî pīt pî and the wpt-r, in which we had no explicit evidence of contact between the two sources, there is one feature of Gen 2:5–3:24 in particular that indicates that the Eden author had personal knowledge of the pīt pî (and/or the wpt-r), as Dick argued for Second Isaiah (§1.3). As discussed already in §4.7.1, the creation and then placement of the first human in a sacred (temple-) garden is unparalleled among human creation stories from the ancient Near East. The Sumerian and Babylonian accounts set newly created humankind in the cities where they were assigned the tasks of building shrines and digging canals. Who, in the ancient Near East, was animated and fed in a sacred garden? Whose eyes were opened as a means to divinity? In other words, because Adam is animated, placed/installed and fed in a sacred garden, possibly crowned with glory, and through the opening of his eyes he becomes like God (ʾelōhîm), his creation seems to be more closely aligned with the creation of divine images in the mīs pî pīt pî than with the humans that we see, for example, in the Sumerian stories of “Enki and Ninma ” and the “Song of the Hoe,” and in the Babylonian Atraḫasis Epic and Enūma Eliš, despite Adam’s creation from the dust of the ground in Gen 2:7. When viewed in their current context and as a whole, Gen 2:8–14, 15, 25, and 3:5, 7, recall the rituals for the creation, animation, and installation of a divine image from Mesopotamia and Egypt. The fact that we do not have an overt reference to the mouth-washing or mouth-opening ceremonies in Gen 2:5–3:24 should not prevent us from asserting the possibility, although not the certainty, of an historic relationship among the texts.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 175–76

<idle musing>
Yes! I agree! And it puts a whole new light on the imago dei, doesn't it? The author(s) knew what they were doing! We need a "thicker" theology of what it means to be in the image of God, and this helps. Now I just need time to read The Imago Dei as Human Identity. . .
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Like, not "to be"

Although the serpent was correct that Adam and Eve’s eyes would be opened and they would become like ʾelōhîm, his promise that they could disobey Yahweh and live was a lie. In the mouth-washing and mouth-opening rituals, the animation of the sensory organs, including the opening of the eyes, was a necessary part of the process by which the statue was transformed into the divine. In Genesis 3, the opening of Adam and Eve’s eyes did result in god-likeness (Gen 3:22), but this particular likeness to God was prohibited. Unlike the divine statue in Mesopotamia, which became an ilu by means of the mīs pî ritual, and the Egyptian mummy which was transformed through the wpt-r into a manifestation of Osiris, humans were not created to be gods. This is perhaps the most significant difference between the creation of a divine statue according to the mīs pî pīt pî and the wpt-r and the creation of humans in the Eden story.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 169 (emphasis original)

Monday, January 30, 2017

The similarities continue

In Ps 8:6, however, man is not said to be clothed with glory and honor but crowned (ʿṭr) with them. With his choice of the verb ʿṭr, the psalmist emphasizes the focal point of the kābôd and hādār as the area above the shoulders surrounding the head, precisely where signature elements, divine symbols, and the melammu were located on Mesopotamian deities and kings.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 164

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of The Image of God

Eisenbrauns just received a review of the book we've been excerpting, The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden. The whole review is worth reading, if you can get your hands on it. Below is the final paragraph from the review, with which I heartily concur:
In final analysis, the Image of God in the Garden of Eden is required reading for any modern student of the biblical creation narratives and of biblical conceptions of the image. McDowell has elucidated many aspects of the narrative and made crucial observations in her reading of the symbolic world inhabited by its ancient author and audience. She succeeds also in her general robust contextualization and close reading against the backdrop of image animation conceptions in ancient Southwest Asia, and I look forward to seeing the future development of and reaction to her work.—Cory Crawford, assistant professor of classics and world religions at Ohio University, in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 8 (2016): 215–29

The role of humanity in the garden

Regarding ʾbd and šmr, however, the only other place in the Hebrew Bible aside from Gen 2:15 where these verbs appear together is in Num 3:7–8, 8:26, and 18:5–6, where they describe the duty of the Levites in guarding and ministering at the tabernacle. Thus, the use of ʾbd and šmr to describe Adam’s work in the garden of Eden suggests that he functioned not only as an administrator of the kingdom but also, on some level, as a royal priest of Yahweh’s “sanctuary” in Eden.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 141

<idle musing>
I wonder if it is stretching it too much to say that we are Levites, but the priestly office is reserved for Christ? Probably; especially so because in Num 18:5–6, the Levites do the ʾbd while the sons of Aaron do the šmr. Nice thought, too bad the grammar doesn't allow it : )
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 26, 2017

It's there!

I concluded above that ṣelem and dəmût in Gen 1:26–27 were used to describe the creation of humankind because the author was likening the divine-human relationship to that of father and son. In doing so, he was also redefining ṣelem: the divine is not manifest in a human-made statue. Rather, ṣelem denotes a living human being. A close reading of Gen 2:5–3:24 reveals that, although the terms ṣelem and dəmût are absent, the themes of kinship, kingship, and cult are present in the Eden story, as well.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 138

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

And so it begins

USDA science researchers ordered to stop publishing news releases, other documents, and EPA told to freeze all grants and contracts. Because the truth might damage profits for the big corporations—and that is far more important than the health of the American people!

After all, isn't that what government is supposed to be about? Defending the rights of the corporations to rape and pillage the land so they can make their purses fatter?

Darkness is the way of lies. And lies always lead to death.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


And they said it couldn't happen here...
via Jim West

Those pesky little prepositions

[T]he nature of the divine-human relationship as it is presented in Genesis 1 has three major components that are intimately related to one another: kinship, kingship, and cult. At some level, humans seem to be members of the divine species, which implies “biological relationship,” metaphorically speaking, to God, and specifically, sonship. Genesis 1 uses the terms ṣelem and dəmût to express this intimate, filial relationship, similar to the way they are used in Gen 5:1–3, where Adam begets a son, Seth, “in his own likeness and after his image.” But clearly, ʿādām is not a divine being, as indicated by the prepositions and in Gen 1:26–27.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 136–37

Monday, January 23, 2017

Yes, but with a careful distinction

We must keep in mind, however, that humanity (ʿādām) is nowhere described in the Hebrew Bible explicitly as “Yahweh’s son.” However, the use of selem and dəmût to define the God/father-humankind/son relationship in Gen 5:3, the comparison between the plants and animals as made “according to their kinds” versus man who is made “in the image and according to the likeness of God” in Gen 1:11–27, and the connection between the Israelite king as the son of Yahweh and ʿm as Yahweh’s appointed king over creation in Genesis 1 may suggest that Gen 1:26–27 is defining the divine-human relationship in terms of sonship while at the same time carefully avoiding the divinization of humankind. This theory is supported not only by the biblical evidence, presented above, but it may also be reinforced by the hymn of Tukulti-Ninurta I, introduced in chapter 3, in which the Assyrian king is designated as the ṣalmu of the god Enlil.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 134

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The sacred balance

"Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14 NIV

Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον (original Greek)

<idle musing>
My translation: Pursue, chase after, peace with all and holiness, without which (holiness) no one—nobody, no matter how important or unimportant in the world's eyes—will see the Lord.

That's a tough balance, though. Being at peace with all is easy if you let holiness go, but how can you be holy without being a jerk about it? That's the sacred balance—and that's where love comes in. Not a mushy, anything goes, feel good love, but a love that genuinely cares and nurtures and hopes on behalf of others in a sacred holiness—as modeled in Jesus.

Did you know that the we have many times more ancient copies of the Gospels than we do of the rest of the New Testament? That says something about the early church and their priorities. They lived in an anti-Christian environment—far more anti-Christian than anything the U.S. has seen. Yet they lived a life of peace and holiness. May we recapture that!

Even so, come Lord Jesus! Not to "rapture away" your church, but to fill it with you that we might light the way to a better and restored world.

footnote: I'm still Premillennial, but I also believe that we can experience a good bit more of the Kingdom of God here than most either (a) believe or (b) have experienced so far!

Just an
</idle musing>

Friday, January 20, 2017

According to their kind

In total, the phrase “according to its/their kind” is repeated 10 times in these 7 verses alone (Gen 1:11–12 and 1:21–25). Clearly, the author is emphasizing the creation and reproduction of each species according to its own distinctive type or class. Thus, the ancient audience may have been surprised when they heard or read the next two verses in which the creation of humans is described not as “according to his kind,” as they might have expected, but as “in the image of” and “according to the likeness of” Elohim. This juxtaposition of the oft-repeated “according to its/their kind” with “in the image and likeness of God” suggests that the author was drawing a sharp distinction between humans and the other created beings. However, it also implies that just as the plants and animals were created according to their own type, humans were made, at some level, according to Elohim’s kind, although not literally born of God. The author could have said that God made humans according to his (God’s) kind using lə + mîn, as he did with the plants and animals, but he did not. Rather, he expressed human similarity to the divine with ṣelem and dəmût. Thus, it seems that being created in the image and likeness of God is both comparable to being created “according to God’s kind,” but is distinct from it. In other words, humans are not divine, nor are they members of the heavenly host. They are their own category, type, or species, which is defined by being created in the image and likeness of God. However, at some level, humans belong to the divine class or species, that is, humanity’s kind or type is God.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 132–33

<idle musing>
Pretty amazing thought, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 19, 2017

But not gods

The biblical author avoids explicit birthing language like that which appears in the mīs pî and the wpt-r texts to describe the ritual creation of a divine image, and even distances ʾādām from Elohim by describing them as made in the image (bəṣalmēnû) and according to the likeness (kidmûtēnû) of God, rather than asserting that humankind is the image and likeness of the divine.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 131