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Bartholomew
07-30-2009, 11:24 PM
Ruv Draba made an interesting comment in one of the other threads here, about how none of the holy books really examined the metaphysical in a fashion useful for modern culture (I'm paraphrasing and injecting my own perspective; he may have been going for something different) and that none of the holy books really came up to the standards of a good scholastic textbook.

I thought about this for a while, and went and re-examined some of the big-name holy texts. The Pali Canon, which I obviously favor, is written in an outmoded fashion, is confusing in its organization, and it addresses certain issues that were a problem in the Buddha's day, but no longer are a part of our society. The Bible has similar problems, and while its organization is better than the Pali Canon's, it is organized quaisi-chronologically, leaving someone with moral questions in need of a very well put together index. And like the Pali Canon, much of the guidance it gives is just not applicable to our modern society. The Koran faces very similar problems, as do the works of Confucious, the Tao Te Ching, the Lotus Sutra, etc. Every holy book I've ever read is confounded by what I percieved to be organizational problems, the problem of an ever-changing society, and issues of translation (from which this new thread stems.)



Why can't a holybook be more like a textbook?

The Buddha, if injected into a literate society, would probably have loved such an idea. I won't speak for God or Jesus, but they haven't objected to the tens of thousands of reference Bibles in existence, so I will happily assume that this is an idea that, at the very least, they don't [I]hate.

So what should go into the Ideal Holy Textbook? How would it be best organized? If it encompasses multiple religions, how does it deal with conflicting ideas? At the end of revisions, the editors want the book to be usable for spiritual purposes AND for use in a modern classroom. How would you do it, what would you include, and what wouldn't you?

Ruv Draba
07-31-2009, 06:33 AM
I was a little shocked to see this topic when I checked in today but you're right... it is an interesting question. I'm just not sure that it benefits from having my name on it. :)

I have to admit that I don't know what makes a book holy. For me, the sacred is anything shrouded in taboo, and taboo is what we construct from fear and ignorance. So in my eyes, making a book holy already does a disservice to understanding and compassion.

I believe that I know what a good help book looks like though. For me it's a book that offers verifiable insights and practical advice, that's sensible of its own scope and limits, that's written authoritatively with testable credentials, solves meaningful problems, that's well-organised and written from a reader's perspective.

What I would like to see in religious books is based on my concern that they are stretched far beyond their original scope, edited and re-edited to meet political ends, and cherry-picked for insight and inspiration that in fact may never have been intended, for which the author may not be qualified and which is often taken out of context anyway. They're also used to found institutions which seem to do more or less whatever they like.

So here's my list of things that religious books seldom tell you, which I think they ought:


Who actually wrote it, where, when, and what their qualifications are
Why they wrote it, and for whom
Why such a book is thought necessary and what the authors think of the other religious books aimed to fill that place
Who sponsored it, reviewed it, edited it, endorsed it and what their qualifications are
Why any editing occured, what changes were made and who approved them
How the authors think that the book should be used. How they think it shouldn't be used
How they went about gathering and assembling the thought they put into it. From whence that thought derived, who validated it and how
Any problems that occurred in the collection of information, including inconsistencies, disagreements and missing information
Matters that the authors don't themselves don't fully understand, questions they know they can't answer
Advice to future editors about what is acceptable to change and what is not
Advice to future readers on what to do if some of the text seems inconsistent, irrelevant or contrary to emerging knowledge
An instruction to founders of religious institutions on how to form their charter: what principles the institutions must adhere to, what services they may and may not perform, what policies they should adopt, what customs are mandatory, what are optional, how they may and may not organise themselves, and what authorities officers and the laiety may or may not claim as their own.

As to the order, I don't have a strong preference but I do think that the Anthology of Memoirs, Myths and Rantings format so popular in religious books is a shabby way to organise things, and organising it chronologically is little better. People get lost. Perhaps a better way is to do it by key topic, with a Troubleshooting section in the back, along with scholarly appendices citing sources and revisions.

Life and death being as complicated as they are, I certainly think that Reference and Tutorial editions would also be handy.

All that mightn't get me to convert to a religion, but it would certainly gain my utter respect for the faithful. In the meantime though, I have to question why, if religious books are divinely-inspired, they're so infernally unfocussed, diabolically disorganised, and fiendishly unaccountable for the quality of their pronouncements.

semilargeintestine
08-02-2009, 08:31 AM
Ruv Draba made an interesting comment in one of the other threads here, about how none of the holy books really examined the metaphysical in a fashion useful for modern culture (I'm paraphrasing and injecting my own perspective; he may have been going for something different) and that none of the holy books really came up to the standards of a good scholastic textbook.

I thought about this for a while, and went and re-examined some of the big-name holy texts. The Pali Canon, which I obviously favor, is written in an outmoded fashion, is confusing in its organization, and it addresses certain issues that were a problem in the Buddha's day, but no longer are a part of our society. The Bible has similar problems, and while its organization is better than the Pali Canon's, it is organized quaisi-chronologically, leaving someone with moral questions in need of a very well put together index. And like the Pali Canon, much of the guidance it gives is just not applicable to our modern society. The Koran faces very similar problems, as do the works of Confucious, the Tao Te Ching, the Lotus Sutra, etc. Every holy book I've ever read is confounded by what I percieved to be organizational problems, the problem of an ever-changing society, and issues of translation (from which this new thread stems.)



Why can't a holybook be more like a textbook?

The Buddha, if injected into a literate society, would probably have loved such an idea. I won't speak for God or Jesus, but they haven't objected to the tens of thousands of reference Bibles in existence, so I will happily assume that this is an idea that, at the very least, they don't [I]hate.

So what should go into the Ideal Holy Textbook? How would it be best organized? If it encompasses multiple religions, how does it deal with conflicting ideas? At the end of revisions, the editors want the book to be usable for spiritual purposes AND for use in a modern classroom. How would you do it, what would you include, and what wouldn't you?

Actually, the Torah is a textbook. The Torah--at face value--is nothing but a law book. Hence the name Torah, which means both "teaching" and "law." The chronology of the Torah is not always linear, because the juxtaposition of the stories does not necessarily focus on when in time they happened, but how they relate to the rest of the story. The entire point of the Torah is to tell the Jews how to live. The fact that it is also the history of our people is a secondary aspect.

In addition, the Torah addresses not only issues that were relevant in the time it was given (1313-1273 BCE), but also issues that have come up since. The Torah is eternal, and thus encompasses everything that was, is, and will be. Because it is a living, breathing text, it is able to absorb events and issues that arise as we go.

An example of this is the Holy Sabbath. We are forbidden from doing work on the Sabbath. There are 39 categories of "work" that we are forbidden from doing. When this started, there were no cars, no computers, no Electrolux stoves, etc. However, because of the way it was written, it is very easy to see how these laws apply to all of these modern inventions.

A Jew's life is spent studying this "textbook" so that we can bring G-d into every aspect of our lives and live according to His will. The misunderstanding that it's just a history book is nothing more than ignorance to the subject (which is not unexpected). Read in the original Hebrew, there are multiple levels to each word--and even each letter--in the Torah, most of which involve subjects much deeper than what appears in the plain meaning; however, at the basic level, it is a book of laws.

semilargeintestine
08-02-2009, 08:49 AM
Here are answers to your questions re: the Torah.




Who actually wrote it, where, when, and what their qualifications are

G-d dictated it to Moses on Mt. Sinai in 1313 - 1273 BCE, um...it's G-d

Why they wrote it, and for whom

It was "written" before the universe was created as a blueprint for the world--in a more relative way, it was written to show people how to live and that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of everything; it was written for the Jews

Why such a book is thought necessary and what the authors think of the other religious books aimed to fill that place

It is necessary because it was created to give to Israel. It is our covenant with Him. There is nothing else that can take its place, and anything that tries to is meaningless.

Who sponsored it, reviewed it, edited it, endorsed it and what their qualifications are

Not applicable. Moses wrote down exactly what G-d told him to.

Why any editing occured, what changes were made and who approved them

No editing occurred. They say that the Bible was canonized, or whatever; however, this just means that the books of the Prophets and Writings were finalized, since there were many of them. The Torah itself was not changed at all. Aside from this being the religious belief, we have Torah scrolls from 2500 years ago that are written verbatim the way they are written today. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate this back another 600 or 700 years when it was actually finished by Moses (we can trace the generations back to the prophets, which then can be traced back to Moses, so it's really not that difficult).

How the authors think that the book should be used. How they think it shouldn't be used

G-d tells us how to use it and how not to use it.

How they went about gathering and assembling the thought they put into it. From whence that thought derived, who validated it and how

As above, G-d is the author.

Any problems that occurred in the collection of information, including inconsistencies, disagreements and missing information

The only problems that occur are in modern disagreements over what some of the passages mean.

Matters that the authors don't themselves don't fully understand, questions they know they can't answer

There are many aspects to the Torah we do not and will not know. The ones who do know are forbidden from saying.

Advice to future editors about what is acceptable to change and what is not

"All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deut. 13:1). We do not add or subtract from the Torah, not even a single letter. Hence, our Torah's are exactly the same as the scrolls found from 200 BCE.

Advice to future readers on what to do if some of the text seems inconsistent, irrelevant or contrary to emerging knowledge

Any lack of understanding is a limitation of the student, not the teacher. If we do not understand something in the Torah, it is not because it is flawed--it is because we are not at a high enough level to grasp the true meaning. Reading the Written Torah without the Oral Torah will reveal many difficulties and seeming inconsistencies and problems. This is because the Oral Torah was given at the same time as the Written Torah, and passed down from generation to generation until it was codified into the Talmud during the Babylonian exile for fear of losing it. It is necessary to read them both together in order to really understand it, and Jews spend their entire lives doing this. It is impossible to read the Written Torah once or even a few times and understand everything that is going on.

An instruction to founders of religious institutions on how to form their charter: what principles the institutions must adhere to, what services they may and may not perform, what policies they should adopt, what customs are mandatory, what are optional, how they may and may not organise themselves, and what authorities officers and the laiety may or may not claim as their own.

I would not advise anyone to found any religious institution. They should rather spend the time trying to understand the Holy One, Blessed Be He, who is One.


As to the order, I don't have a strong preference but I do think that the Anthology of Memoirs, Myths and Rantings format so popular in religious books is a shabby way to organise things, and organising it chronologically is little better. People get lost. Perhaps a better way is to do it by key topic, with a Troubleshooting section in the back, along with scholarly appendices citing sources and revisions.

As to this: the Torah is not a chronology of events. It is written in a historical narrative for a reason, but not to give a time line of events. Worrying about the chronology is pointless until you understand what's going on. It is more important to understand the meaning of the words than to understand why this section is placed in a certain place instead of where it belongs chronologically.

JoNightshade
08-02-2009, 09:03 AM
What semilargeintestine said. Also, I think the idea of a holy book as a textbook sort of misses the point, in the case of the Bible. People nowdays - and always - have always been in search of a "book of answers." Just boil it down simply, give it to me straight, tell me what I need to do to make my life and everyone else's better.

In essence, what you're looking for is a self-help book. Everything arranged for the convenience of the person reading.

I can only speak in terms of the Bible, since I haven't read/studied other holy books, but the Bible is NOT meant to be a self-help book. It's not, first and foremost, about making our lives better or helping us get good grades or having inner peace or whatever. It's about God. How we interact with him, how we ought to worship him, what pleases him, what does not please him. It's about HIM, not us.

Another point - I think it's fallacious to think of "The Bible" as a single book. In fact, it's a collection of holy writings. I think if you take each one individually you will see a much more concrete sense of purpose and clarity. I like that there are so many different books in the bible because each one seems to speak to different types of people. (Because God doesn't speak to everyone in the same, identical way.) Some books are like textbooks (ie the laws) and some are poems and some are histories and some are letters. Personally, I don't like textbooks, and self-help books drive me crazy. Histories speak to me much more clearly. I find the old testament stories quite applicable, even in today's world.

Final point... Regarding the New Testement, I think many of the letters and books fulfill quite a lot of Ruv Draba's wish list items. :)


Who actually wrote it, where, when, and what their qualifications are
Lots of the NT books say this explicitly. Others are easy to figure out.
Why they wrote it, and for whom
Many of them were letters written to specific people or churches.
Why such a book is thought necessary and what the authors think of the other religious books aimed to fill that place
This one seems clear.
Who sponsored it, reviewed it, edited it, endorsed it and what their qualifications are
Okay this one I have no idea.
Why any editing occured, what changes were made and who approved them
Hm, I don't think the NT has this, but it does sometimes say "I dictated this to X, here's my signature."
How the authors think that the book should be used. How they think it shouldn't be used
NT writers, particularly Paul, make distinctions between WHAT GOD SAYS, like written in stone, and what their personal opinions are based on God's truth.
How they went about gathering and assembling the thought they put into it. From whence that thought derived, who validated it and how
There are also mentions in the new testement of where information comes from. In one of the gospels the author says who he got the information about Jesus' birth and childhood from. Other times they say they saw an event themselves or had it told to them by another disciple.
Any problems that occurred in the collection of information, including inconsistencies, disagreements and missing information
Not so much this. Although Paul does address, explicitly, disagreements between teachers and churches, and then gives his authoritative answer.
Matters that the authors don't themselves don't fully understand, questions they know they can't answer
I believe there are more than a few times when the author refers to things as a "mystery" or beyond human comprehension.
Advice to future editors about what is acceptable to change and what is not
Basically NO CHANGES ARE OKAY. ;)
Advice to future readers on what to do if some of the text seems inconsistent, irrelevant or contrary to emerging knowledge
I think the NT assumes this will not happen. IE, it's written in a manner that is quite broad and applicable to many situations. For instance, the section regarding which meats are okay to eat (all is permissible but not all is beneficial) is often used today in reference to Christians and secular media - what books/movies/whatever are okay to watch.
An instruction to founders of religious institutions on how to form their charter: what principles the institutions must adhere to, what services they may and may not perform, what policies they should adopt, what customs are mandatory, what are optional, how they may and may not organise themselves, and what authorities officers and the laiety may or may not claim as their own.
Actually I think the NT is pretty clear on this one. It specifies who can be in leadership, what ceremonies should be kept, and what leaders can/cannot do.

AMCrenshaw
08-03-2009, 12:50 AM
I'd think God would write Ruv's book if He didn't think Ruv would write it.


AMC

semilargeintestine
08-03-2009, 12:52 AM
I'd think God would write Ruv's book if He didn't think Ruv would write it.


AMC

As I said, He already has.

AMCrenshaw
08-03-2009, 12:55 AM
He already has.

Ruv Draba's book = self-help
The Bible shares many common features of Ruv Draba's book
but not enough to be a self-help book?


AMC

semilargeintestine
08-03-2009, 12:59 AM
He already has.

Ruv Draba's book = self-help
The Bible shares many common features of Ruv Draba's book
but not enough to be a self-help book?


AMC

The Bible only appears to not be enough of a self-help book if you don't actually read it, or you only read it with a cursory viewpoint in English. It is written in Hebrew, with multiple layers to every single letter. It is also accompanied by an oral tradition that has been unchanged for 3000 years. It is the combination of these two Torahs that one finds exactly how one should live his or her life. It is much less difficult for a non-Jew, as there are only 7 rules for them to follow, which are stated expressly in plain text. The rest of it is for Jews.

AMCrenshaw
08-03-2009, 01:08 AM
As to this: the Torah is not a chronology of events. It is written in a historical narrative for a reason, but not to give a time line of events. Worrying about the chronology is pointless until you understand what's going on. It is more important to understand the meaning of the words than to understand why this section is placed in a certain place instead of where it belongs chronologically.

And why can't you have both? I think knowing as best as possible the facts can give you a pretty good idea of the context, including prevalent symbolism and metaphor-- when you have a floating context (what I think we find now when we submit to a Holy Text is that our interpretations are dependent on our present contexts rather than past ones, which pomos might argue is true anyway), one that more or less adapts to the presence of your reading, we can mistake 'timelessness' for ooziness, or simply a lack of a firm place to stand.

Which is why freethought might also maintain that beliefs not be influenced by authority, tradition, and dogma -- these things can steer and essentially trap interpretations of a text into a single context, where the is only one Correct Answer to a mythological question.

On the other hand, understanding a time period's grouping of histories (chronologies, art, form of government, etc.) can, I think, not only yield present interpretations, but also provide with more firm-footing and still a place to go (and the freedom to do so).


AMC

semilargeintestine
08-03-2009, 01:13 AM
And why can't you have both? I think knowing as best as possible the facts can give you a pretty good idea of the context, including prevalent symbolism and metaphor-- when you have a floating context (what I think we find now when we submit to a Holy Text is that our interpretations are dependent on our present contexts rather than past ones, which pomos might argue is true anyway), one that more or less adapts to the presence of your reading, we can mistake 'timelessness' for ooziness, or simply a lack of a firm place to stand.

Which is why freethought might also maintain that beliefs not be influenced by authority, tradition, and dogma -- these things can steer and essentially trap interpretations of a text into a single context, where the is only one Correct Answer to a mythological question.

On the other hand, understanding a time period's grouping of histories (chronologies, art, form of government, etc.) can, I think, not only yield present interpretations, but also provide with more firm-footing and still a place to go (and the freedom to do so).


AMC

The chronology of the Bible serves to provide context, but that is not the book's primary purpose. You ask why we can't have both, but that assumes that the book was written by man, which it wasn't. The book is the way it is because that's how G-d wanted it written. We know why the passages are juxtaposed the way they are thanks to the Oral Tradition. I'm sure Moses probably said a few times, "Why am I writing this out of order?" to which G-d responded with His answer.

AMCrenshaw
08-03-2009, 01:16 AM
You ask why we can't have both, but that assumes that the book was written by man, which it wasn't. The book is the way it is because that's how G-d wanted it written.

I apologize, but how can we discuss this point? It's circular (the book was written by the central character of the book who in the book tells us or it is inferred he wrote it) and relies on belief in the book (the character and the author) to really engage it.

AMC

semilargeintestine
08-03-2009, 01:19 AM
I apologize, but how can we discuss this point? It's circular (the book was written by the central character of the book who in the book tells us or it is inferred he wrote it) and relies on belief in the book (the character and the author) to really engage it.

AMC

Well, ignoring all the prophecies given in the book by G-d that have come true and the mountain of other evidence, it's up to you whether or not you want to believe it or not. Fortunately, it's kind of like gravity. Believe it or not, that's just the way it is.

AMCrenshaw
08-03-2009, 01:37 AM
Fortunately, it's kind of like gravity. Believe it or not, that's just the way it is.

Definitely kind of.


AMC

Ruv Draba
08-03-2009, 05:22 AM
In essence, what you're looking for is a self-help book. Everything arranged for the convenience of the person reading.Yes! Why would an author not arrange a book for the intended audience?


I can only speak in terms of the Bible, since I haven't read/studied other holy books, but the Bible is NOT meant to be a self-help book. [...] It's about God. How we interact with him, how we ought to worship him, what pleases him, what does not please him. It's about HIM, not us. Really? Who is it written for? And how do you know?


I think it's fallacious to think of "The Bible" as a single book.I agree. I think of it as an anthology. To treat it as the writing of a single author could easily do one's head in.


I think if you take each one individually you will see a much more concrete sense of purpose and clarity.Ur... No, sorry. I don't. Some contributions are more clear on purpose and intent -- the Gospels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel), for instance... though their intention isn't stated, it's fairly clear from context that they're intended to evangelise the thinkings and deeds of a teacher, and record those thinkings and deeds for posterity. Or Corinthians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_epistles). They're collections of letters of encouragement and advice. Whoever edited and collected them offered no evidence that they're from the same author or that they're not pseudepigraphic, but if we add a bit of historical context then there's some sense to them.

But other literature like Genesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis)or Revelation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis) make no sense to me at all. I'm not sure why they were written, by whom or for whom. I am pretty sure though that they weren't written for me, or written by anyone I'd respect. :)


Regarding the New Testement, I think many of the letters and books fulfill quite a lot of Ruv Draba's wish list items. I agree in part -- see above.



Advice to future editors about what is acceptable to change and what is not
Basically NO CHANGES ARE OKAY. ;)Except that translators interpret, and editors decide what goes into the collection and often how it shall be rendered in different translations. The Muslims have been somewhat careful about this -- they insist that the only authentic Qur'an is written in Arabic in direct copy.




An instruction to founders of religious institutions on how to form their charter: what principles the institutions must adhere to, what services they may and may not perform, what policies they should adopt, what customs are mandatory, what are optional, how they may and may not organise themselves, and what authorities officers and the laiety may or may not claim as their own.
Actually I think the NT is pretty clear on this one. It specifies who can be in leadership, what ceremonies should be kept, and what leaders can/cannot do.Despite which, Christianity has had millennia of confusion and disagreement over this very topic. I'm hardly an expert on whether it's clear but I'd say that the leaders of Christian sects have demonstrated that it's not.

Ruv Draba
08-06-2009, 02:08 AM
I'd think God would write Ruv's book if He didn't think Ruv would write it.
Dude, I'll get to it as soon as I finish writing up God's Performance Review.

ColoradoGuy
08-06-2009, 02:15 AM
Despite which, Christianity has had millennia of confusion and disagreement over this very topic. I'm hardly an expert on whether it's clear but I'd say that the leaders of Christian sects have demonstrated that it's not.
Exactly, both with the big stuff, like the nature of God, and the details, such as the proper date for Easter.

Ruv Draba
08-10-2009, 03:07 PM
And why one book? And why in one tongue, given to one people? And not just one people but typically some particular person or a little clique and given in private? And why not input on all the editorial decisions subsequently taken? And why not re-authorise such editions?

And why not a version for children? And another version for (say) judges and lawmakers? Why not address particular bits to men and women separately? And why not write in a consistent voice?

And why not a picture-book form? One that could cross language barriers? And why not include exercises at the end of every theory chapter? Why not revision notes?

And why not a periodic check to see how it's going, and periodic revisions to suit emerging questions? And why dictate it and rely on hand-transcriptions until someone thought to invent moveable type and the originals were all gone? Why not publish billions of them -- e.g. write numbered excerpts on every leaf of every tree...

Would you really trust an author who can't organise, write, edit, illustrate, or translate, doesn't understand marketing, publishing or the basics of teaching, doesn't write for its audience, won't maintain editions and won't sign its work?

Gehanna
08-10-2009, 08:06 PM
Standardization of The Word? What point would it serve? Adam and Eve could not follow even a single Divine Instruction. I do not think of myself nor any of you as being above fallibility or having the capacity within the self to be fully compliant with any Holy Text… not even if it were written in recipe fashion.

The Word is perfect as it is.

Gehanna

Ruv Draba
08-10-2009, 11:22 PM
Standardization of The Word? What point would it serve? Adam and Eve could not follow even a single Divine Instruction. I do not think of myself nor any of you as being above fallibility or having the capacity within the self to be fully compliant with any Holy Text… not even if it were written in recipe fashion.Let me get this right... 'I'm gonna write a help book, but I know you guys won't follow it so I'm gonna write it badly?'

How well would that work in the publishing industry? :D

semilargeintestine
08-11-2009, 12:04 AM
Standardization of The Word? What point would it serve? Adam and Eve could not follow even a single Divine Instruction. I do not think of myself nor any of you as being above fallibility or having the capacity within the self to be fully compliant with any Holy Text… not even if it were written in recipe fashion.

The Word is perfect as it is.

Gehanna

Actually, Adam and Eve were given three commandments, and they broke two of them. Not off to a good start...

Dawnstorm
08-11-2009, 10:17 AM
How well would that work in the publishing industry? :D

Ever read a how-to book on writing? Ever been to a management seminar?

This sort of text works like a charm.

Ruv Draba
08-11-2009, 02:41 PM
Ever read a how-to book on writing? Ever been to a management seminar?

This sort of text works like a charm.Hrm.. You're right! Obscure, badly-organised faith-based exhortations are big business! Why ruin a good thing? :)

More seriously, I think that sacredness actually works against the relevance and accessibility of texts over time. I think it gets so that it's not just the ideas that are revered but the expression and organisation too. The books themselves become precious -- even if they're mass-produced and highly-edited, even erroneous copies. Perhaps as texts lose relevance and meaning, people are increasingly afraid to mess with them in case the lose the good bits. Or perhaps the symbolic or mystical significance begins to dwarf the importance of the content.

Then there's a sort of vicious cycle in which sect divisions (that may have originated with a confusing text in the first place) may not agree on edits that could re-unify their faith -- because control of the sacred texts is power itself.

Can one imbue new editions of holy texts with reverence? I suppose one must somehow, because new editions do come out occasionally, and new religious movements have to legitimise their texts too. How does it occur? I'm not sure.

In fairness too, religious texts do have companion editions and some are quite well-organised, accessible and relevant. Some may even be more useful than the originals. But if they're not written by the original authors then getting them authorised can be difficult -- then there's the politics and mystical significance to worry about too.

I dunno -- you'd think that the reincarnation religions would have solved the problem of re-authorising new editions. :D

I suppose that my secular humanist answer won't surprise anyone: don't have holy texts at all. Have good texts -- the best you can write, but works in progress. Draw on the best material you can find -- even if it's not originally from your mother creed (recognising that ancient religions used to steal shamelessly, and most now deny that they ever did). Include tradition and custom and art to capture the spirit of the thing; include science to capture the sense of it. Set up charters for the management of the thinking, the editing and the teaching. Make your claims modest rather than extravagant. Admit ignorance. Do your best job and let your successors improve on it.

It's not very sacred I admit, but would it really do a worse job than genocidal wars over doctrinal interpretation?

Gehanna
08-11-2009, 05:24 PM
I don't see what the problem is. I don't have any difficulties with Jehovah's Word. Honestly, I do not understand why a person is not able to find what they need. I tell you this because I am able to find what I need. In fact, I am currently learning from The Book of Jonah, again.

Jonah said to God, "I do well to be angry, even unto death."

Can you imagine! There he is, all puffed up and behaving poorly. Who couldn't relate to that? Have any of you never been angry before? Have any of you never made a fool of yourselves? As for me, I am a daily fool. Fortunately, Jehovah loves me and I love Him.

Think about the possibility of being able to meet the people of The Bible in Jehovah's Eternal Kingdom. To communicate with them and hear of their stories first hand! That excites me to no end!

The Bible is a record of the lives of my Holy Family members. These men and women were human beings same as me. They experienced the realities of this earthly life. How could I not learn from them especially when their realities were much more terrible than mine? They are the ones with the most experience who left for us a record to refer to. A self help book, extraordinaire! They, who were before us in the flesh, have left behind the greatest textbook for living life that there is.

Gehanna

semilargeintestine
08-11-2009, 05:46 PM
I relate more to Eliyahu. He stood on a mountain and basically told G-d the other guys were saying bad things about Him, and He better show them something or else. B-A-L-L-S.

ColoradoGuy
08-11-2009, 06:02 PM
I don't see what the problem is. I don't have any difficulties with Jehovah's Word. Honestly, I do not understand why a person is not able to find what they need.
That's the main purpose of this room -- to listen to others and do your best to understand.

I share Ruv's concern with the inherent plasticity of received religious texts, especially those which have been translated multiple times. And, I'm enough of a post-modernist to think that the words written are not always the words that are read.

The founder of my own religious tradition was an enthusiastic 17th century tanner named George Fox. He delighted in arguing with Puritans, and knew his Bible backwards and forwards. He also, way back then, cautioned Quakers to realize, when they read the Bible, that the passage of time and translations had undoubtedly altered some words and meanings.

I write these things not to convince you of their truth, but to explain my viewpoint. That's the purpose of this particular corner of AW.

semilargeintestine
08-11-2009, 06:10 PM
As long as people refrain from insulting each other, it's a great idea. It's when you can't figure out how to get someone to agree with you so you start attacking them personally that things go south.

My problem with the Puritans is the same problem I have with the Karaite Jews. The concept of sola scriptura sounds great, but inevitably it leads to thousands of different interpretations of the same thing and people finding passages to justify just about anything they want.

Gehanna
08-11-2009, 06:13 PM
I know the purpose of this forum which is why I said that I do not see what the problem is.. meaning I do not understand. All I can do is share my viewpoint as I attempt to understand others.

Gehanna

ColoradoGuy
08-11-2009, 07:19 PM
I know the purpose of this forum which is why I said that I do not see what the problem is.. meaning I do not understand. All I can do is share my viewpoint as I attempt to understand others.

Gehanna
I see -- thanks for your clarification. Let me explain my own view, which is the mainstream one for my religious group (unprogrammed Quakers). We view the Bible as a useful book, full of insights, many of which ultimately come from God, but only in the sense that there is "that of God" in everyone, including the original authors. But there are many other sources of this insight. So, although we respect the Bible, we do not necessarily venerate it above other sources. That being said, Quakers are in many ways a motley, disorganized bunch, so you will hear other opinions about this.

ColoradoGuy
08-11-2009, 07:24 PM
As long as people refrain from insulting each other, it's a great idea. It's when you can't figure out how to get someone to agree with you so you start attacking them personally that things go south.

My problem with the Puritans is the same problem I have with the Karaite Jews. The concept of sola scriptura sounds great, but inevitably it leads to thousands of different interpretations of the same thing and people finding passages to justify just about anything they want.
I think the Puritan's view of the Bible was pretty mainstream for the day. Fox's difference with them was largely over matters of doctrinal authority and the notion of the elect. Fox believed God freely extended Himself to everyone, that He was already inside everyone if we looked inwardly to find Him. It's a mystical viewpoint, really.

semilargeintestine
08-11-2009, 07:29 PM
I'm sure it probably was. But what happens when you deny any official interpretation of a book that not only requires it, but mentions its existence is you get a huge spectrum of beliefs. I'm not as familiar with the Puritans, but take the Karaites for example. They completely deny the existence of the Oral Tradition, which is the interpretation of the Written Torah (we have much of it written down now in the Talmud). Their interpretation of the kosher laws regarding meat and dairy mixtures for example range from cheeseburgers are fine to no animal or dairy products can tough whatsoever. And according to them, both are equally valid.

I think it's okay to question things if it warrants it, but in this instance it is really a case of denying something because its contents don't fit the lifestyle you (not YOU, but the Karaites and I guess the Puritans to an extent) want.

ColoradoGuy
08-11-2009, 07:41 PM
I agree -- once personal interpretation of sacred texts is allowed, and all interpretations are equal, all manner of mischief can follow. There has always been a tension with this issue within Protestantism generally, not just the Calvinism of the Puritans. In the Christian tradition, it is interesting that often a reforming movement claims that what they are really doing is returning to the purity of earlier Christianity, and, by implication, earlier readings of Biblical meaning. My understanding is that similar things have happened among Jews?

ColoradoGuy
08-11-2009, 07:42 PM
I'm afraid I have to run off and do some work. I hate it when work interferes with AW.

semilargeintestine
08-11-2009, 07:56 PM
It was much more prevalent in the Second Temple period. I'm sure you've probably heard mention of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Essentially, the Pharisees maintained the Oral Tradition that was given to us along with the Written Torah. The Sadducees, on the other hand, completely denied the existence of the Oral Tradition, holding that only the literal interpretation of the Written Torah was valid.

Not to make it a long story, but a few examples of the major differences would help. The Oral Tradition tells us how to make a Mezuzah, how to make Tefillin, how to make Tzizit, how to slaughter animals, how to keep the Sabbath, etc. Because they denied its validity, the Sadducees did not put up Mezuzahs, their Tzizit varied, their slaughtering practices were different, and they often did not wear Tefillin--although some of them did, which makes no sense because the literal interpretation of the Written commandment does not say how to make it or put it on.

The Sadducees were certainly a sectarian group, but they were not without influence. In fact, they played a big role in the Priesthood and on the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court of law). Eventually, however, the Pharisees were able to dwindle the Sadducees' numbers down until they were pretty irrelevant. The Karaite Jews maintain that they are from that sect, and there are only a couple thousand of them I think in the world.

ETA: I should add that the event probably most responsible for their end was the destruction of the Second Temple. Since their involvement was primarily Temple-based, its absence made them pretty irrelevant.

Pharisaic Judaism is what we know as Rabbinical Judaism, which is the Judaism practiced today by Orthodox Jews. Unfortunately, our generation also has sectarian groups, but we call them Reform and Conservative. While Reform Judaism rejects the Divine nature of the Torah, and therefore views the commandments as non-binding and almost entirely optional, Conservative Judaism is harder to pin down. Some of them are almost Orthodox, while some of them are practically Reform. The Conservative/Masorti Movement, however, follows the Reform stance and rejects the Divinity of the Torah. Because of today's PC society though, we can't call those sects heretical without being viewed as prejudice even though the core of their belief system (as general movements, not necessarily every individual who ascribes to them) is definitely heresy.

Ruv Draba
08-12-2009, 01:17 AM
I do not understand why a person is not able to find what they need. I tell you this because I am able to find what I need. In fact, I am currently learning from The Book of Jonah, again.But minds are very different things from person to person. It's the natural tendency of my mind to constantly reorder what it thinks it knows. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but for me anything other than philosophical neatness and precision is next to insanity.

Given time, all human thought naturally tends toward becoming a junkpile. It takes people like me with a semantic OCD to keep it orderly, rearrange things, revisit and revise them. I only need to look at the ToC of a book like the Bible and think: What an unholy mess!

Some people have to correct spelling and grammar; for me it's meanings, arguments, concepts and associations.

In the arts we can appreciate a book for how it makes us feel and how it provokes us. But in the sciences a book is only as good as what it does.

When I look at a text like the Bible as art, I can relax. It's stuff... an endeavour.. idle thinking, perspectives, emotional outpourings, creative urgings. A work in progress that regrettably, custom and superstition have prevented from developing further. I can browse, admire, grin, cheer, wince... I'm an atheist who delights in religions. Religions produce some of our very best art. They enrich my world. As historical art and philosophical fragments I have no problems with the Bible.

But when I look at the Bible as instructional science on how to live, I want to scream and tear my hear out. 'Unfit for Purpose' my orderly little mind screams. 'Unauthorised! Unreferenced! Ambiguous! Ignorant! Narrow! Non-authoritative! Irrational! Inconsistent! Incomplete!'

It's just cos you're an atheist, you might think. A poor benighted heathen... but as Colorado Guy points out, some Christians think the same. Actually, I'd suggest that a growing proportion of Christians are thinking it. And I read... a lot. And think a lot outside traditional boxes... So it might not be me.

I don't want to see Christianity done away with; I'd like to see it thrive and develop... So refreshing the texts might be part of that.

But it's not a purely Christian problem. Islam's definitely wrestling with it. The Hindus probably are too, and in the original post Bartholomew points out that it's a problem in Buddhism as well. It doesn't take too long for a religion to outgrow its seminal texts -- a few generations seem enough if the Council of Nicea is any indication.

In the sciences we're awfully unsentimental. We hug our favourite texts one last time and then retire them in favour of better truths. A generation later, kids are laughing at them and I'm old enough now that it makes me wince when they do -- though I used to do it myself. It's probably harder in religion because that sentimentality is more than just fondness for faithful dog or an ageing horse... the texts are closer than family.

I don't have an answer, but I do think that there's a problem.

Ruv Draba
08-12-2009, 01:55 AM
Aside from the organisation and scope which I've talked about already, here's the problem I have with using ancient texts to guide our lives:

They're written for a world resembling rural Afghanistan.

It's a world where the average life-span is 45, where all but the elite are illiterate, where planned parenthood is unknown, where family is everything and tribal identity is inseparable from personal identity. Where everyone knows everyone -- friends and enemies. Where in a war you might kill six people personally and recognise two of them. Where you're probably born a farmer and you're at the mercy of weather and pests, where breaking a limb may cause your family to starve, where women face death every time they deliver a child, and where you've had to bury two of your own infants before the age of three. Where there's not much notion of career, or the luxury of spending the first twenty years of your life being educated, and where your superannuation and aged care are vested in your children. Where there's no point asking questions because they don't have answers anyway -- you just want some simple, story-based rules to live by, a simple way to claim justice for you and your family, and some comforts for when the inevitable disasters occur.

That world is emphatically not the world we live in today. We can watch how difficult it is for tribal Afghanis to accommodate the pace, complexity and nuances of today's world. The gulf is enormous.

Tribal Afghans are a very poetic, devout, philosophical and artistic people. Culturally, they could have written any or all of the ancient texts that we frequently turn to in the West. Yet do we turn to them for advice today?

Perhaps sometimes we should, but not in all matters.

AMCrenshaw
08-12-2009, 02:01 AM
I don't have an answer, but I do think that there's a problem.

I've opinions (not answers) and I agree there's a problem. I personally get along with Christianity because the Bible isn't the only book I've read about it. In fact reading outside it allows me to appreciate the artistic qualities of the text; spirituality, for me, is hardly about "how-to" but rather about "what's the meaning of my existence" (and I believe the former comes to be clearer as the latter is wrestled with)-- and sometimes we need to tackle what is existence from a variety of standpoints. Scientific, philosophic, artistic. Tradition in this manner gives us a wealth of information, knowledge, wisdom, but it can restrict us to a particular mindset too. Let me slow down and be slightly poetic. For me, it's restriction, but I've come to learn that others find things in places I can't even see.

That said, I don't believe any single tradition possesses all the answers to the questions I ask, including science which is traditional only that it's tradition to do away with inaccurate tradition. Isn't that natural?

In the end, I think most religions develop when they disagree, when it's okay to disagree, when religions communicate with each other and the outside world, when they do refresh their texts (Buddhism, imo, is excellent at making their texts more accessible, understandable, and relevant -- here I'm thinking about thich naht hanh and the dalai lama and how much they have added to the Buddhist canon in the last 10 years alone) and are accountable for their actions and the actions of their leaders.


AMC

ColoradoGuy
08-12-2009, 02:35 AM
Ruv, I understand you points about the Bible, and religious texts generally. Yet most people are not as tidy and orderly as you say you are. And, after reading your posts for many months, I'd have to agree with your self-assessment -- you're one orderly guy.

For myself, I think the Bible, with all its wonderful chaos, disorganization, and internal inconsistencies, can easily serve as a guide to how to live because it is about people -- what they do to one another and how they relate to the world and the cosmos. You do not find it useful in that way, but many do. Since I see God in every person, reading about people struggling with the notion of God is reading about God.

The Bible is, I think, a living text, enriched by the layers and layers of interpretation over the millennia. It grows. Fundamentalist theology is another way to view the text, of course -- that it is immutable in its meaning. I don't think that way. I'm also not an originalist regarding the US Constitution, which is not surprising.

Ruv Draba
08-12-2009, 03:19 AM
For myself, I think the Bible, with all its wonderful chaos, disorganization, and internal inconsistencies, can easily serve as a guide to how to live because it is about people -- what they do to one another and how they relate to the world and the cosmos. You do not find it useful in that way, but many do. Since I see God in every person, reading about people struggling with the notion of God is reading about God.I think it's truer to say that I find it unsuitable as a philosophy or science-of-life text. As an artbook I think it's fine -- and in that regard the chaos doesn't bother me one bit. I can open to a random page and get thoughts and provocations, or find something uplifting and stimulating -- or occasionally be horrified. I can read randomly or chronologically or use it as a quotations text but either way I'll end up thinking. But if I want to use it to research (say) the specific question of how a writer should try to balance a desire to write good literature with a desire to be famous, then I find it very hard going. If it was a book I loved then I might enjoy taking days to find the info, but it's not. I read the Bible like I shop at a crowded supermarket -- know what's in each aisle, know what the range of products are, get in, grab what I want and get out again. Voice, imagery, organisation make the experience one for me to endure rather than enjoy.

Actually, I found that Hindu and Buddhist texts had a lot more to say about fame in any case. I found a Gideon-style bedside Buddhist text in a Shinto hotel at which I was staying in Japan, and it said clearly: "Don't try to be famous." Which struck me as odd -- Western culture is steeped in a scramble for glory that dates from the Old Testament and continues through the tribal traditions of the Celts and Franks, and comes right through the colonial era to today.

"WTF?" I'm thinking while I'm leafing through this volume. "Are they saying 'just be humble' or 'don't be ambitious' or..."

It took me months -- years -- to work out what they were arguing and why. I came to the conclusion that relying on others' opinions to shape our sensibilities does our heads in. People will celebrate and applaud anything if it's packaged and promoted. Chasing fame compromises our morality and integrity -- not the fame itself, but chasing it. I found that really helpful to quell some angst I had as a young scientist. Until then I'd been very confused about being useful vs being famous.

The Buddhist version of that was far clearer for me than the Christian version -- or what of it I could find. There's a Christian admonishment against hubris, and another about lifting God above all things and that may do a similar job but since I don't believe in God I don't really believe in hubris either, and regardless it's not clear exactly how it applies -- some people are insanely vain in their celebration of God... I needed a practical, humanistic argument to clarify it for me.

Actually, for me the final piece of the puzzle came from Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhartha_(novel)). It's a fable with a moral: if you want to be useful and live peacefully, just row your bloody boat. :D

Not that it would likely happen, but if a Christian ever came to me asking about fame I'd say: "Actually, go read some Buddhist thought. Then go go read Siddhartha. Then go back and see if there's Biblical support for the same ideas. It might be faster and more useful than hunting through the Bible alone."

But I take your point, CG. A too-orderly, too-pedantic mind can be a handicap. So can my skeptical obsession to test everything before I'll accept anything... People who are happy to live in conceptual chaos and apply the rule then work out what it means later may get a much better deal from some religious tracts. But there are costs in doing that too.

And regardless, I can't actually change the architecture of my mind, except at the margins. So all I can conclude is that whomever the Bible might've been written for, it wasn't for me. And because of its conceptual structure, the ideas-architect in me just twitches to.. improve it. (Why isn't there a section on fame?)

Which is what's bringing me to post in response to Bartholomew's provocative questions. (That plus he put my name on the subject-line. Apparently I'll own whatever wisdom this discussion produces. :tongue :tongue :tongue)

Gehanna
08-14-2009, 06:04 AM
Ruv Draba,

You wrote:
"It's just cos you're an atheist, you might think. A poor benighted heathen..."

For what it is worth, that did not cross my mind. I respect your opinions because they do not appear to stem from mindless reactions to negative emotive motivators.

Gehanna

semilargeintestine
08-14-2009, 06:17 AM
...

All I'll say is that if you open a Tanakh and think you're reading chaos, you aren't understanding what you're reading. That's not meant to be insulting, just a fact. You can't read it in isolation. It was written down with an oral tradition that is essential to understanding what is going on. Without it, it's almost impossible to understand past the very basic, literal level--which is not always the point.

Ruv Draba
08-19-2009, 09:41 AM
All I'll say is that if you open a Tanakh and think you're reading chaos, you aren't understanding what you're reading. That's not meant to be insulting, just a fact.A devoted and otherwise decent Christian once told me that the Bible was impenetrable to a 'natural man' -- which I read as Christian supremacist code for 'unreformed heathen'. That one comment was sufficient for me to terminate that part of the discussion.

Its absolutely true of ancient literature that it's difficult to understand because it's lost the original cultural context. It's an argument that the texts should be kept up to date, but to my mind it's not an argument for supremacism.

Mac H.
08-19-2009, 11:00 AM
Aside from the organisation and scope which I've talked about already, here's the problem I have with using ancient texts to guide our lives:

They're written for a world resembling rural Afghanistan.
That's the main problem I find trying to figure out how to interpret what would have been very simple rules for the time.

For example:

"If one man's ox hurts another's so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox

Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his."
Seems like a reasonable rule - not how I would have arranged society, but I'm sure it was a pretty workable rule.

But what does it mean in modern times?

If my car crashes into yours and I destroy yours .. should compensation be limited to half the value of my car ? After all, even though the 'goring'/car accident was my fault I wasn't known for being a bad driver.

What if I drive a $2,000 wreck and you drive a $100k Rolls Royce? Or what about the other way around ?

What about how I should act towards neighbours?


"If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." If we seriously argue that this law should be followed, then my only choice is to put them to death myself. The rules don't say ".. except if the legal system followed at the time doesn't agree, in which case you shouldn't put them to death".

I don't put them to death, I'm admitting that I don't think that law should be followed. Arguing that they should be put to death but only by other people seems like a cop-out.

Mac
(PS: Clearly I'm not arguing the law should be followed.)
(PPS: If you think ancient rule books are hard to follow, try following ancient physics and maths books.

'The Sand Reckoner' is unreadable even with a translation.)

semilargeintestine
08-20-2009, 02:00 AM
A devoted and otherwise decent Christian once told me that the Bible was impenetrable to a 'natural man' -- which I read as Christian supremacist code for 'unreformed heathen'. That one comment was sufficient for me to terminate that part of the discussion.

That's what I would have done, but that's not quite what I meant. I didn't say it was impenetrable to a natural man (whatever that is), but that you probably weren't understanding it if you perceived it as chaos. That doesn't mean you can't understand it, just that you didn't.

As far as the NT goes, I don't understand that either if it's any consolation. ;)



Its absolutely true of ancient literature that it's difficult to understand because it's lost the original cultural context. It's an argument that the texts should be kept up to date, but to my mind it's not an argument for supremacism.

It may be ancient, but it is up to date. Like I said, you can't simply read it alone and in English. It's pretty much useless that way.

semilargeintestine
08-20-2009, 02:46 AM
That's the main problem I find trying to figure out how to interpret what would have been very simple rules for the time.

For example:
Seems like a reasonable rule - not how I would have arranged society, but I'm sure it was a pretty workable rule.

But what does it mean in modern times?

If my car crashes into yours and I destroy yours .. should compensation be limited to half the value of my car ? After all, even though the 'goring'/car accident was my fault I wasn't known for being a bad driver.

What if I drive a $2,000 wreck and you drive a $100k Rolls Royce? Or what about the other way around ?

You're misapplying that law. It's not so simple as all that.

As far as the cars go, the answer depends on the circumstances. Was it an accident? Did you do it on purpose? Were you driving the car in a normal, reasonable manner? Do you own the car or are you borrowing it? Do I own the other car or am I borrowing it? All of this needs to be determined before I can tell you the answer based on Jewish law.



What about how I should act towards neighbours?

There is a complex set of laws about how to act towards your neighbour and how they should act towards you depending on the situation.

If we seriously argue that this law should be followed, then my only choice is to put them to death myself. The rules don't say ".. except if the legal system followed at the time doesn't agree, in which case you shouldn't put them to death". [/quote]

Actually, you can't put them to death yourself, and the system is set up in such a way that it is almost impossible for someone to be executed. The Jewish courts hardly ever put anyone to death, and it was a rule that if they executed more than one person in 70 years, they were a bloody court and should be disbanded.



I don't put them to death, I'm admitting that I don't think that law should be followed. Arguing that they should be put to death but only by other people seems like a cop-out.

No, you're following the law by not doing so. You can't take the law into your own hands (except in a few select circumstances, and this isn't one of them).



Mac
(PS: Clearly I'm not arguing the law should be followed.)
(PPS: If you think ancient rule books are hard to follow, try following ancient physics and maths books.

'The Sand Reckoner' is unreadable even with a translation.)

You're following the law whether you think you are or not. Jewish law is not just about oxen and homosexuals and idol worship. The Torah discusses things we even use today, such as statute of limitations, torts, court proceedings, arbitration, etc. Those concepts are over 3,000 years old and have been used by Jewish courts since the Torah was given.

Ruv Draba
08-20-2009, 12:50 PM
There's another problem with finding meaning in disorganised and barely relevant texts, and that's what I call the 'tea-leaf' effect.

Not everyone can do it, but a lot of people can train themselves to read tea-leaves as a form of divination. If you're an imaginative person with a strong sense of symbol, you can drink a cup of loose-leaf tea (no tea-bags or strainers), swirl around the dregs and see shapes in the bottom of the cup. It's much the same sort of thing as seeing shapes in clouds, but you have to interpret the shapes you see so you need the sort of writery-mind that can find stories in symbols, and connect stories to problems -- the sort of mind that can make stories from tarot and I-ching and the like. I've always been good at it and while it'd be romantic to attribute it to my gypsy ancestry I think that more likely it's just that I'm an intuitive introvert. I bet tonnes of other writers can do the same. :D

My point here is that if you can do it with tea-leaves you can also do it with books -- any sort of book. In fact there's a form of divination called bibliomancy in which you open a book at random for advice relevant to a problem. If we believe that a book is sacred it lends special weight to any tea-leaf reading that we may do with it. And a book is different to tea-leaf reading in that you can find the same meaning in the same place every time. After a while, you may become convinced that the meaning you found is the intended meaning.

Books are different from tea-leaves in that when they were written they had an intended audience and an intended message, but there's still a level of tea-leaf reading in believing that the audience was you and the message was relevant to your circumstance. We have many historical examples of tea-leaf reading resulting in people doing exactly what they wanted to do anyway -- even when those were not good things to do.

Weighed against tea-leaf reading is the question of whether a book is useful to me in my own context. It's possible to so change myself that I can find use in any book, just as it's possible to never take a decision without I first read my tea-leaves. But if I do that then I'm not the person who wanted the help in the first place; I'm someone else. If I don't recognise that, then I may also fail to recognise that my book only became helpful to me after I changed who I was. In my arrogance I may therefore think that my book will help everyone regardless.

It's arrogance because it demands that those people first change to conform to my standards before they can be helped. Insistance that my sacred book is a panacaea is often just insistance that everyone change to be just like me.

I still enjoy reading tea-leaves for amusement, but when I look for wisdom I assess the credibility of the writer, the relevance of the material, the intimacy with which it presents it, and the self-interest with which it was put together and promoted. High credibility, relevance and intimacy and low self-interest draws my attention. In my experience, many holy books are low on credibility, relevance and intimacy, and their promotion is loaded with tribal self-interest.

There are a few religious books around that don't presuppose tribal adoption before they're useful, but I find them quite rare.

semilargeintestine
08-20-2009, 04:51 PM
Not quite sure where you're going with that. What is that a response to? If you're trying to compare the Bible to tea leaves, something is seriously wrong.

Ruv Draba
08-20-2009, 06:53 PM
Not quite sure where you're going with that. What is that a response to? If you're trying to compare the Bible to tea leaves, something is seriously wrong.I'm not sure what it's a response to, Semi. Maybe it's a blanket response to people telling me that not only must I read their favourite book, I must be schooled in what I should discover from said book and how I should discover it. That's a bit like frying a cockroach and then serving it up as a delicacy with tasting notes.

My personal thought is that the best books stand on their own merit. The best writing, the best thought, the best communication takes into account the reader and the circumstance. If it doesn't do that then it's not a very clever book. I suppose I wonder: if it's not a clever book then why is it a sacred book?

ColoradoGuy
08-20-2009, 08:44 PM
I'm not sure what it's a response to, Semi. Maybe it's a blanket response to people telling me that not only must I read their favourite book, I must be schooled in what I should discover from said book and how I should discover it. That's a bit like frying a cockroach and then serving it up as a delicacy with tasting notes.

My personal thought is that the best books stand on their own merit. The best writing, the best thought, the best communication takes into account the reader and the circumstance. If it doesn't do that then it's not a very clever book. I suppose I wonder: if it's not a clever book then why is it a sacred book?
One view of how a text behaves is that the reader brings the meaning to it, that the most important part of the exchange is the reader's encounter with the text. Until that happens, the text is just lifeless words. (Consider the I Ching (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching).) I doubt you share that viewpoint, but it is a perfectly valid way of textual interpretation.

Ruv Draba
08-20-2009, 11:31 PM
One view of how a text behaves is that the reader brings the meaning to it, that the most important part of the exchange is the reader's encounter with the text. Until that happens, the text is just lifeless words. (Consider the I Ching (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching).) I doubt you share that viewpoint, but it is a perfectly valid way of textual interpretation.Literarily I have a different view, as you rightly guessed. :) But philosophically, I'm amenable. If we seek moral guidance but the meaning comes from within us, why one book and not several? Why not all books? Why not tea-leaves or all the observations of our lives? Or conversely if a book purports to hold all the answers and hold them best yet it's badly-organised, ambiguous, vague, contradictory and has little literal relevance to one's life how to avoid the tea-leaf effect?

semilargeintestine
08-21-2009, 05:34 AM
I'm not sure what it's a response to, Semi. Maybe it's a blanket response to people telling me that not only must I read their favourite book, I must be schooled in what I should discover from said book and how I should discover it. That's a bit like frying a cockroach and then serving it up as a delicacy with tasting notes.

My personal thought is that the best books stand on their own merit. The best writing, the best thought, the best communication takes into account the reader and the circumstance. If it doesn't do that then it's not a very clever book. I suppose I wonder: if it's not a clever book then why is it a sacred book?

Still not sure what you're referring to. You certainly aren't talking about the Torah, because not only do we not care if you read it, but we don't want you to unless you want to adopt its principles in your lifestyle.

ColoradoGuy
08-21-2009, 06:09 AM
It's arrogance because it demands that those people first change to conform to my standards before they can be helped. Insistance that my sacred book is a panacaea is often just insistance that everyone change to be just like me.
Of course none of the people who might make those demands are here in this forum -- an important point, I think.

There are a few religious books around that don't presuppose tribal adoption before they're useful, but I find them quite rare.
I don't think that's fair -- a book can be useful in many ways that do not require a religious conversion

ColoradoGuy
08-21-2009, 06:13 AM
I'm not sure what it's a response to, Semi. Maybe it's a blanket response to people telling me that not only must I read their favourite book, I must be schooled in what I should discover from said book and how I should discover it.
Again, since none of those people are here in this forum, this strikes me as a bit of a strawman -- you're arguing against people who are not here.

That's a bit like frying a cockroach and then serving it up as a delicacy with tasting notes.
I think the conversation goes better if we not compare what some of us regard as sacred texts to fried insects.

Ruv Draba
08-22-2009, 03:09 AM
Of course none of the people who might make those demands are here in this forum -- an important point, I think.I don't know whether they are or not, but does it matter? I think that all of us have probably encountered something of this in one way or another.

'My book is a panacea but you're unworthy of it unless you first join my tribe' is a very common belief. It's also the tribal supremacist version of a much more respectful belief: 'My tribe finds this book extremely useful, but it might not be useful outside my tribe'.

For me, this cuts to the heart of the problem. Many tribes and perhaps most want their sacred texts to be universally sacred -- even elevated above other texts. But in making that claim they then have to explain why their books are so often dismissed as irrelevant outside their tribe. Historically, the most popular answer has been to assert the moral inferiority of outsiders rather than question the original premise. Unfortunately, once we have that, we also have a case for coersive conversions, persecutions and general disrespect.

The tradition of your own faith has suffered from that, CG, as has Semi's, and mine, and I suspect that most folk here have seen or suffered it somehow. So whether this forum represents the persecutors, it certainly includes the persecuted and their heirs.

But in fact I think that the panacea premise is very common in human thought. It'd utterly surprise me if we -- some of us -- are not also persecutors sometimes -- in spirit at least, if not in deed. There's a deep, historical hole in the narrative of human thought -- every ideology seems to see itself as a victim in a struggle against persecution, yet all that persecution must come from somewhere, so who's creating it all?

http://fc05.deviantart.com/fs43/f/2009/106/c/3/blame_by_donnyhood.jpg
(Image: Donny Hood, Deviantart)

And more constructively, what's the answer? How does one simultaneously hold a text to be sacred while limiting one's ability to prosecute holy wars on those who disagree?

As a rationalist I could have argued that no books should be sacred. (After all, for me they're not... ) But I'm not arguing that here. Rather I'm suggesting that if we want sacred books but don't want holy wars, then our sacred books need to be more humble in their scope; more open to the idea that there might actually be good outside their purview.

Otherwise, what's the alternative? That we have secular social compacts in which we pretend to respect other beliefs, but privately hold to scriptures that tell us we mustn't. Is that sustainable, d'ye think?


a book can be useful in many ways that do not require a religious conversionLiterarily, historically, sociologically... definitely. I have great respect for religious texts in those regards, and I've cited one example already where I've found the writing of other faiths personally useful. But to the extent that it's the holiness of the book that's helpful rather than the advice, my counter-challenge is tea-leaves.


I think the conversation goes better if we not compare what some of us regard as sacred texts to fried insects.Hrm.. Maybe so, and sorry for my unfortunate comparison. :D

In my defense, peoples of the Amazon jungle happily eat grilled cockroaches, and I've chowed down on witchetty grubs myself. In retrospect I'd have found tasting-notes useful but if they're considered essential then I'd have to ask what the heck it was they were feeding me -- which I think was my point.

Wasn't there a Penn and Teller program in which the hugely suggestive effect (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9J1b3MqiX8) of tasting-notes was exposed? My thought is: if tasting-notes are mandatory to appreciating holy wisdom then they're probably suspect. True wisdom, wisely expressed, should stand on its own merits. And ideally, for me at least, good texts should supply readers with repeatable tests of their veracity and relevance.

semilargeintestine
08-23-2009, 08:46 AM
My only problem with what you've said is that you seem to lump Judaism into the "you must first join my tribe in order to benefit from my book" philosophy when it is clearly quite the opposite in reality.

I leave tomorrow for Israel, so if I don't respond, it's because I'm out of the country for two and a half weeks.

Ruv Draba
08-23-2009, 12:28 PM
My only problem with what you've said is that you seem to lump Judaism into the "you must first join my tribe in order to benefit from my book" philosophy when it is clearly quite the opposite in reality.Semi, it's complex and I've tried to avoid provoking you while still expressing my viewpoint. I realise though that not talking to you directly about Judaism while talking about ancient texts is a kind of provocation for you in itself, so let me try and lay it out for you.

Other than the Old Testament part, I haven't read enough of your holy-books to comment on their organisation or presentation. At some point I probably will read them, but knowing me it'll likely be driven by a specific enquiry rather than a desire to evaluate Judaic literary tradition.

In my opinion, the Old Testament is not well-organised, scholarly nor written to be easily accessible nor accountable to modern reader. It may be that the rest of the Judaic texts are beautifully-organised and modestly-scoped with line-notes, scholarly citations, an editor's preface and attribution pages but if they were it would shock me because the OT certainly is not.

My concerns about divinely-inspired texts being infernally disorganised and unaccountable apply to any text that isn't at least as good as a modern writer could produce. It's a curio to me: if omniscient divinities dictated these texts then why did they write with the weak scholarship and all the cumbersome literary devices of ancient authors?

My commentary about tasting-notes apply to any text that requires religious indoctrination to make sense of it. My concern that we must join the tribe before we can understand the book is simply the circularity of that argument: tribes often base the legitimacy of their beliefs on the quality of their texts, so if the texts can't be read independently of adopting tribal beliefs then it seems a circular argument. CG has expressed concern that I was putting up a straw-man argument just to debate it, but I wasn't. Rather it's a rebuttal of a 'sacred therefore uncontestible' argument that was put to me by PM here once.

You've said that this is not true for Judaism and I accept that, but the implication then is that outsiders are free to assess Judaism on the organisation, literary quality and content of its texts. This is an important point for me, because I believe that religions can't be accountable only to their dogma; they should be accountable for their dogma, just as scientists and economists and doctors and sports coaches are. Among the things for which we can hold religious dogma to account are its organisation, the quality of its writing, the quality of its editing, the scholarship in its thought, the significance and verifiability of its prophecies, the morals of its myths, the accuracy of its histories, the way it treats women, the way it treats dissidents inside its faith, the way it treats outsiders, and the impact of its teachings on the health and well-being (physical, psychological, social) of its adherents and their neighbours.

Religions have traditionally enjoyed the privilege of not being accountable for their thought, and through that unaccountability, perpetrating whatever they wanted on anyone whenever they had the power to do so. Every religion has suffered this some of the time, and most have perpetrated atrocities when they could. But we live in an increasingly crowded world jostling other tribes and full of growing differences inside our tribes. I think that such a privilege was never a good idea, but it's especially dangerous now.

Please accept my best wishes for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip to Israel. I hope I may one day visit too.

Gehanna
08-25-2009, 07:01 PM
Ruv Draba said:

Religions have traditionally enjoyed the privilege of not being accountable for their thought, and through that unaccountability, perpetrating whatever they wanted on anyone whenever they had the power to do so. Every religion has suffered this some of the time, and most have perpetrated atrocities when they could. But we live in an increasingly crowded world jostling other tribes and full of growing differences inside our tribes. I think that such a privilege was never a good idea, but it's especially dangerous now.

Would this be anthropomorphism? Is it not that people have traditionally used religion as a means to avoid accountability for their thoughts and actions?

What atrocity can occur without a person choosing to perform it? And, what does it matter whether a person or groups of people act due to mindlessness or even after much deliberation when an atrocity could not occur at all without a person or persons performing it?

Accountability belongs to people. Let us point fingers at ourselves, not ideas.

Gehanna

semilargeintestine
08-28-2009, 07:20 PM
My trip is being postponed. What seemed like a pretty horrible experience actually worked out for the better, thank G-d.


Semi, it's complex and I've tried to avoid provoking you while still expressing my viewpoint. I realise though that not talking to you directly about Judaism while talking about ancient texts is a kind of provocation for you in itself, so let me try and lay it out for you.

It's not a provocation really. You just say religion, and I assume you mean Judaism as well. From this part of your post, it seems to me that you really don't lump it in there. That's what I gathered anyway. Correct me if I'm wrong.



Other than the Old Testament part, I haven't read enough of your holy-books to comment on their organisation or presentation. At some point I probably will read them, but knowing me it'll likely be driven by a specific enquiry rather than a desire to evaluate Judaic literary tradition.

That will only lead you to disappointment. It's not really a system where you can look for one specific answer without needing to know a bunch of other stuff to truly understand it. If you have a specific question, you can either ask me or a Rabbi (if I don't know the answer, I'll ask a Rabbi myself for you).



In my opinion, the Old Testament is not well-organised, scholarly nor written to be easily accessible nor accountable to modern reader. It may be that the rest of the Judaic texts are beautifully-organised and modestly-scoped with line-notes, scholarly citations, an editor's preface and attribution pages but if they were it would shock me because the OT certainly is not.

I don't know anything about the Old Testament. The Jewish Bible is not the Old Testament, it is the Tanakh--and no, they are not the same thing. The Old Testament is a Xtianised version of the Tanakh, but that is the only similarity.

The Tanakh is not supposed to be easily accessible to everyone in and of itself. It was not designed to be taken isolated from the Oral Torah. Both were given at the same time, and until recently (with the reform and parts of the conservative movement) were simply part of the greater "Torah." You simply cannot really understand the Tanakh without the Oral Torah. The text is not necessarily in chronological order, certain things are metaphor and certain things are literal, certain passages are written solely because of the letters that make up the words because they have special significance (obviously the Hebrew, not the English), etc. Without the Oral Torah, I don't see how the Tanakh can even make sense outside of a basic level; even then, parts of it make no sense.

As far as what you're looking for, look at almost any Jewish version of the Tanakh. Look at the Stone Edition Chumash or the Artscroll Tanakh with Rashi. Here is an example (in English) from Deuteronomy with the Rashi commentary:


1. You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying, and ignore them1,2. [Rather,] you shall return them to your brother.

1. and ignore them: by covering one’s eyes, pretending not to see it.

2. You shall not see… and ignore them: Heb. לֹא-תִרְאֶה וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ [lit., “You shall not see them… but rather, you shall ignore them!” What it really means is:] You shall not see them and ignore them [i.e., ignore your brother’s animals straying]; that is the simple meaning of the verse. Our Rabbis, however, explain that [although the verse clearly means that one must not ignore them, nevertheless, the verse is alluding to] situations when one is, in fact, permitted to ignore them [for example, if he is a kohen , and the animals have wandered into a cemetery, where kohanim may not enter, or if he is an honored sage, and it it is beneath his dignity to lead animals or carry packages in public places-he may “ignore” them, and he is not obligated to return them to his brother]. — [Sifrei 22:45, B.M. 30a]


Rashi is the foremost Torah scholar, and his commentary is studied the world over by Jews. Note the references to other legal texts and passages in the Oral Torah (Sifrei 22:45 refers to the Midrash, while B.M. 30a refers to a tractate and page in the Talmud).

In addition, the books also have footnotes with explanations and other references to relevant Rashi or other scholars with differing or agreeing opinions. The Talmud too is exactly the same--it has the text, the commentary, and the footnotes with references and explanations.

It's not that this stuff isn't there, you're just not reading the right books.



My concerns about divinely-inspired texts being infernally disorganised and unaccountable apply to any text that isn't at least as good as a modern writer could produce. It's a curio to me: if omniscient divinities dictated these texts then why did they write with the weak scholarship and all the cumbersome literary devices of ancient authors?

It's only weak scholarship if you're reading the OT or a version of the Tanakh without the commentary and in isolation from the Oral Torah. The text has a very elaborate design that requires knowledge of the Oral Torah and Biblical Hebrew to actually understand. Taken in isolation and in English, I can see very easily how one would get the impression that it is a silly, poorly organised book.



My commentary about tasting-notes apply to any text that requires religious indoctrination to make sense of it. My concern that we must join the tribe [I]before we can understand the book is simply the circularity of that argument: tribes often base the legitimacy of their beliefs on the quality of their texts, so if the texts can't be read independently of adopting tribal beliefs then it seems a circular argument. CG has expressed concern that I was putting up a straw-man argument just to debate it, but I wasn't. Rather it's a rebuttal of a 'sacred therefore uncontestible' argument that was put to me by PM here once.

You don't have to be a Jew to understand it, you just have to be able to learn with the appropriate texts. Unfortunately, non-Jews aren't really permitted to study large chunks of the Torah because they are completely irrelevant to them and are only for Jews.



You've said that this is not true for Judaism and I accept that, but the implication then is that outsiders are free to assess Judaism on the organisation, literary quality and content of its texts. This is an important point for me, because I believe that religions can't be accountable only to their dogma; they should be accountable for their dogma, just as scientists and economists and doctors and sports coaches are. Among the things for which we can hold religious dogma to account are its organisation, the quality of its writing, the quality of its editing, the scholarship in its thought, the significance and verifiability of its prophecies, the morals of its myths, the accuracy of its histories, the way it treats women, the way it treats dissidents inside its faith, the way it treats outsiders, and the impact of its teachings on the health and well-being (physical, psychological, social) of its adherents and their neighbours.

I addressed most of this above. I have also addressed the verification of its prophecies. I would ask you to point to me a prophecy in the Tanakh that did not occur (unless it is a future one...if it is about something that hasn't happened yet, obviously it hasn't been fulfilled; however, the only thing I can think of like that are the prophecies regarding Moshiach; the other category would be negative things that could have happened to the Jewish people sans repentence, but because of their t'shuvah, they did not--however, the prophecies regarding the land, the Jewish people, anti-Semitism, the return to Israel, the Temples, etc. have all come true).

As far as morals, I doubt you would argue that the Tanakh is a moral text.

As far as history, some of it has been proven as accurate, and some of it has yet to be proven; however, none of it has been disproven (if you want to discuss the age of the universe, we can start another thread because that is a complicated issue that has a very satisfying explanation I think--most of my scientific friends love it). Much of the hulabaloo about the "inaccuracies" in the Tanakh are actually misunderstandings of the text. Rather than just point them all out, I'll just ask you to bring up issues you have if you can think of them.

As far as the treatment of women, if you think the Tanakh views women negatively, then you haven't actually read it. The woman is viewed as the crown of the family, as the spiritual rock for the husband, and as the role model for the children. Without women, we would be lost. Avraham wanted to place the hope for the Jewish people on Ishmael--it was only because of Sarah that he changed his mind and turned to Isaac. There are many examples of this.

In addition, women are given equal status to men in the Tanakh, and there are many laws that protect those rights. I'm curious to know what you think is the mistreatment of women in the Tanakh. I'd be happy to answer your concerns, because I can guarantee you they are baseless.



Religions have traditionally enjoyed the privilege of not being accountable for their thought, and through that unaccountability, perpetrating whatever they wanted on anyone whenever they had the power to do so. Every religion has suffered this some of the time, and most have perpetrated atrocities when they could. But we live in an increasingly crowded world jostling other tribes and full of growing differences inside our tribes. I think that such a privilege was never a good idea, but it's especially dangerous now.

Judaism is a religion based on logic and scholarship. We spend our lives studying the laws and the texts. Arguments that are not based on some sort of logic or scientific basis are dismissed. In fact, even the revelation at Sinai was done so that there would never be a question. G-d revealed himself to the Jewish people as a whole--more than 3,000,000 people were present that day.

I'd also remind you that the Jewish people are one of the few who have not "perpetrated atrocities" on people from other beliefs. Indeed, even the war against the Cana'anites in the Tanakh was not based on Jewish superiority; in fact, G-d Himself tells us not to think that it is based on our merit that they were to be conquered--rather, it is because of their wickedness, and the Jews were just a tool to that end (and not a very good one, since we failed to eliminate them completely as commanded).



Please accept my best wishes for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip to Israel. I hope I may one day visit too.

I'll accept your wishes in December when I actually go. It's a long story, but now I will get to stay longer, fly on a better airline, and have a better trip. Baruch Hashem, it all worked out for the best.

Ruv Draba
08-30-2009, 09:05 AM
Hey Semi -- welcome back, or rather welcome not-gone. :)

A few comments around the edges...

I accept that the Tanakh might be confusing except with scholarly notes. (In my experience some religious books are heinously difficult even with scholarly notes.:tongue)

To the best of my knowledge there are no religious prophecies specific enough and surprising enough to be worthy of scientific remark. All the religious prophecies I know of are either vague, trivial, self-fulfilling, scattershot prophecies, or as yet unfulfilled. It's hard for a skepic like me to be impressed by such stuff; for me at least it damages the integrity and credibility of the history and any advice. If I were writing a standard for religious books I'd insist that there should be no prophecies unless they're specific enough to be tested scientifically, significant enough to be remarkable, and outside the ability of devotees to cause to occur.

Your position that Jewish people are innocent of persecution is controversial and not always accepted, even by people like me who wish Israel and Jewish people only well. Rather argue with you over it, I'll simply state that fact. If you want to discuss further, I'd suggest that P&CE might be a better forum.

semilargeintestine
08-30-2009, 08:49 PM
Hey Semi -- welcome back, or rather welcome not-gone. :)

Thanks. :D Wish me a good trip in December.



A few comments around the edges...

I accept that the Tanakh might be confusing except with scholarly notes. (In my experience some religious books are heinously difficult even with scholarly notes.:tongue)

'tis true, even with the Tanakh. If it was easy to understand, we (Jews) wouldn't be arguing about it for most of our adult lives.



To the best of my knowledge there are no religious prophecies specific enough and surprising enough to be worthy of scientific remark. All the religious prophecies I know of are either vague, trivial, self-fulfilling, scattershot prophecies, or as yet unfulfilled. It's hard for a skepic like me to be impressed by such stuff; for me at least it damages the integrity and credibility of the history and any advice. If I were writing a standard for religious books I'd insist that there should be no prophecies unless they're specific enough to be tested scientifically, significant enough to be remarkable, and outside the ability of devotees to cause to occur.

There are plenty. There is a prophecy that says that the land of Israel will be a wasteland when the Jews are not living in Israel. It is true that there have always been a small number of Jews living in Israel, but after the Roman expulsion and exile, the country turned into exactly that--a wasteland. In fact, that is the exact terminology used by Mark Twain to describe it when he visited, and it was the term used by the Muslims living there. After the first aliyah not long before the creation of the State of Israel, agriculture picked back up, and it is now a major industry in Israel. If you want, I can show you some of the pictures. Pretty much the entire northern part of the country is green now. That's just one.



Your position that Jewish people are innocent of persecution is controversial and not always accepted, even by people like me who wish Israel and Jewish people only well. Rather argue with you over it, I'll simply state that fact. If you want to discuss further, I'd suggest that P&CE might be a better forum.

You can state anything as a fact, but that means nothing without evidence. We don't have to argue the issue here, but if you're referring to what I think you are, I'd suggest you are probably misunderstanding history (hopefully) or intentionally misrepresenting it (which many people do, but I doubt you would just from our conversations here). I'll just state that as fact, and I actually have the evidence to support it (evidence = actual history).

ETA: That last part isn't a dig at you, it's a dig at people who will speak as if they are quoting history, when in fact they are just repeating BS they have heard from other people. The world we live in is one where someone can propose an alternate version of history, and it is put on the same level as what actually happened (two other examples of this are the Holocaust and the moon landing).

AMCrenshaw
08-30-2009, 09:48 PM
There is a prophecy that says that the land of Israel will be a wasteland when the Jews are not living in Israel. It is true that there have always been a small number of Jews living in Israel, but after the Roman expulsion and exile, the country turned into exactly that--a wasteland. In fact, that is the exact terminology used by Mark Twain to describe it when he visited, and it was the term used by the Muslims living there. After the first aliyah not long before the creation of the State of Israel, agriculture picked back up, and it is now a major industry in Israel. If you want, I can show you some of the pictures. Pretty much the entire northern part of the country is green now. That's just one.

Is that a self-fulfilling prophecy (that is, actually calling it a "wasteland")?


AMC

semilargeintestine
08-30-2009, 10:16 PM
Is that a self-fulfilling prophecy (that is, actually calling it a "wasteland")?


AMC

Let me apologise and clarify something first. The word used in the Hebrew is שְׁמָמָה. That can mean desolation, desolate, waste, wasteland, or barren. In Mark Twain's essay, he describes Israel as


...some miles of the desolate country, whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds, as silent, mournful expanse. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.

So he used the term desolation, which is the same word for wasteland in Hebrew. Regardless, his description of Israel is not flattering. In fact, he says


No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bound the approaches to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mournful, dreary and lifeless. I would not desire to live there. As I said. Visit Israel today, or look at some of the pictures. That is certainly not the case anymore (since the mass return of Jews to the land).

Ruv Draba
08-30-2009, 10:54 PM
There is a prophecy that says that the land of Israel will be a wasteland when the Jews are not living in Israel.I think that this is one of those prophecies that's more self-fulfilling than specific, significant and surprising enough to warrant scientific study. A comparable example is when an exiting boyfriend says to his ex-lady 'You'll never be as happy with another guy as you were with me'. That could be true if (for example) he was her first love.

We know why Israel's agriculture is so strong. Israel built a socialised, first-world agronomy as one of its first planks in nationhood -- a triumph in application and dedication. It's hard to imagine though that any other nation would have had the motive to do that in just that place, but if they'd done the same thing then I'd expect the same outcome. And of course, Jews had a prophecy that they were working to fulfill, and the people who gave the land to the Jews also knew of the prophecy. As a scientific study, it's contaminated.

That just leaves what happened with the Romans. I'd remind you what they did to Carthage. Not exactly an eco-friendly bunch, our Romans. To demonstrate that any wastage was unusual for the place and era you'd have to bring some evidence.


You can state anything as a fact, but that means nothing without evidence.The fact I'm referring to is that there are well-read, moderate, good-willed people all around the world (of which I'd number myself) disturbed and perhaps even appalled by Israel's conduct at times. Every time you make the claim, you're provoking comment. Being me, I'm perhaps more likely to comment than others, but you should be aware that that's a consequence of making the claim.

semilargeintestine
08-30-2009, 11:04 PM
I think that this is one of those prophecies that's more self-fulfilling than specific, significant and surprising enough to warrant scientific study. A comparable example is when an exiting boyfriend says to his ex-lady 'You'll never be as happy with another guy as you were with me'. That could be true if (for example) he was her first love.

We know why Israel's agriculture is so strong. Israel built a socialised, first-world agronomy as one of its first planks in nationhood -- a triumph in application and dedication. It's hard to imagine though that any other nation would have had the motive to do that in just that place, but if they'd done the same thing then I'd expect the same outcome. And of course, Jews had a prophecy that they were working to fulfill, and the people who gave the land to the Jews also knew of the prophecy. As a scientific study, it's contaminated.

That just leaves what happened with the Romans. I'd remind you what they did to Carthage. Not exactly an eco-friendly bunch, our Romans. To demonstrate that any wastage was unusual for the place and era you'd have to bring some evidence.

I fail to see why others would be unable to cultivate the land, and not for lack of trying, without Divine intervention. But, we'll likely not come to an agreement on this. How do you explain the prophecy regarding the two Temples?



The fact I'm referring to is that there are well-read, moderate, good-willed people all around the world (of which I'd number myself) disturbed and perhaps even appalled by Israel's conduct at times. Every time you make the claim, you're provoking comment. Being me, I'm perhaps more likely to comment than others, but you should be aware that that's a consequence of making the claim.

The are well-read, moderate people all around the world who deny the Holocaust.

Ruv Draba
08-31-2009, 08:31 AM
I fail to see why others would be unable to cultivate the land, and not for lack of trying, without Divine intervention. But, we'll likely not come to an agreement on this. How do you explain the prophecy regarding the two Temples?Two points in response:

I don't have to explain away every example. It's the job of people who claim the extraordinary as objective proof of faith to demonstrate that it really is extraordinary. To do that they need to be reasonably well-read in the frauds and delusions frequently found in other religions and spiritual practices. I won't shove such education down your throat, but if you're interested please let me know and I'll direct you to suitable debunkery web-sites.

Nonetheless I'll look at another prophecy if you want -- but before I do, I'll ask you to do something for me first:

Please nominate a set of minimal objective criteria under which you'd forever disbelieve the basic religious tenets of Judaic faith. In other words, under what objective circumstances would you throw away forever your belief in a god who's participating in your life, and dismiss any suggestion that Jews were somehow divinely favoured and that Judaic morality is supreme? Rather than being elaborate about it, I'll ask you to supply the minimum circumstances in which you'd agree that your faith is actually wrong. I'd also ask that the circumstances must be natural and objective -- i.e, something that anyone could observe, regardless of their faith.

You may not have such criteria and if so, no problem. But please understand that if that's so, I won't waste any more time arguing the truth of fundamentalist Judaism with you. Whatever I say, you'll just dig up something else. My response will dissatisfy you and it will go on forever.

If you have such criteria though, I'll be genuinely interested in what they are. I haven't met many fundamentalist or conservative theists who are willing to entertain objective doubt. Rather, I think they play with subjective doubt.


The are well-read, moderate people all around the world who deny the Holocaust.Please avoid aggressive rhetoric, Semi. I doubt you really believe that such people are well-read or moderate, and neither do I.

semilargeintestine
08-31-2009, 06:23 PM
Two points in response:

I don't have to explain away every example. It's the job of people who claim the extraordinary as objective proof of faith to demonstrate that it really is extraordinary. To do that they need to be reasonably well-read in the frauds and delusions frequently found in other religions and spiritual practices. I won't shove such education down your throat, but if you're interested please let me know and I'll direct you to suitable debunkery web-sites.

Actually, the burden of proof is on you. I have no desire to "prove" to you that it is the truth. I know it is, and that's all that I need. You are the one who seeks to point out its shortcomings and failures, so you are the one who needs to do so. You mentioned prophecies as proof that it is fiction, and I gave you a number of them that have happened. So now you have to either prove they didn't (which you won't do, because they did), admit that they did but say you it doesn't mean anything (which is fine), or just change the subject (also fine).



Nonetheless I'll look at another prophecy if you want -- but before I do, I'll ask you to do something for me first:

Please nominate a set of minimal objective criteria under which you'd forever disbelieve the basic religious tenets of Judaic faith. In other words, under what objective circumstances would you throw away forever your belief in a god who's participating in your life, and dismiss any suggestion that Jews were somehow divinely favoured and that Judaic morality is supreme? Rather than being elaborate about it, I'll ask you to supply the minimum circumstances in which you'd agree that your faith is actually wrong. I'd also ask that the circumstances must be natural and objective -- i.e, something that anyone could observe, regardless of their faith.

You may not have such criteria and if so, no problem. But please understand that if that's so, I won't waste any more time arguing the truth of fundamentalist Judaism with you. Whatever I say, you'll just dig up something else. My response will dissatisfy you and it will go on forever.

If you have such criteria though, I'll be genuinely interested in what they are. I haven't met many fundamentalist or conservative theists who are willing to entertain objective doubt. Rather, I think they play with subjective doubt.

Perhaps we should then turn our discussion to more trivial matters then. At one point in my life, I truly felt that if there was a Higher Power, it either didn't care or didn't have the ability to care. That changed a couple of years ago when I just happened to be in Israel (I went for a free trip, not to find religion--in fact, I was positively certain I would not). The story is interesting, but probably meaningless to someone who isn't religious (although I am assuming here, which can only lead to bad things).

Needless to say, there is nothing that could cause me to throw my faith away. I have come to the truth with nothing more than G-d's help. I was not convinced by another person--they didn't have time to even try. Although my father is Jewish, I myself am a convert (my mother is technically Jewish, but the lineage is questionable at best, so I converted to remove any doubt).

Before death, a Jew recites the Shema: Hear O Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One. During the Roman rule, there were laws passed that made Torah study and almost all aspects of Jewish life illegal. There was a man named Rabbi Akiva who didn't start learning Hebrew until he was 40, yet became one of the greatest scholars in Jewish history. He stood up to these laws. He was arrested along with his students and tortured to death. As they were doing so, he joyously sung the Shema. His students cried out to him, asking how he could sing so joyously in the face of certain death.

His response was, "All my life, I strove for the level of dedication to sanctify G-d’s name with my very life. Now that I have the opportunity, I joyously perform it!”

Does that make him superhuman or something? No, it makes him a Jew. We are commanded to sanctify His name, and do so even if it means death. And, just like R' Akiva, I would gladly give my life to sanctify G-d's name. So no, there is nothing that could cause me to cast away my faith.



Please avoid aggressive rhetoric, Semi. I doubt you really believe that such people are well-read or moderate, and neither do I.

I was just responding in kind. I would also respond exactly the same way about the people you mentioned.

ColoradoGuy
08-31-2009, 07:03 PM
. . . Please nominate a set of minimal objective criteria under which you'd forever disbelieve the basic religious tenets of Judaic faith. In other words, under what objective circumstances would you throw away forever your belief in a god who's participating in your life, and dismiss any suggestion that Jews were somehow divinely favoured and that Judaic morality is supreme? Rather than being elaborate about it, I'll ask you to supply the minimum circumstances in which you'd agree that your faith is actually wrong. I'd also ask that the circumstances must be natural and objective -- i.e, something that anyone could observe, regardless of their faith.

In general, I don't think it's fair to ask any poster in this forum for proof of anything. That's not our purpose here. Our discussions are about listening and understanding, not convincing. For example, in various threads I explain my beliefs, but I do not expect to convince you of their merits.

By all means give opinions -- respectfully, of course. But let's not demand anything of anybody. What we write here is a gift to the others in our small band of readers -- the gift of explanation.

Ruv Draba
08-31-2009, 10:06 PM
By all means give opinions -- respectfully, of course. But let's not demand anything of anybody. What we write here is a gift to the others in our small band of readers -- the gift of explanation.
Quoted and noted. :) Also agreed.


You are the one who seeks to point out its shortcomings and failures, so you are the one who needs to do so.It might look like that but it's actually not. To understand rocks, a geologist goes around hitting them with a hammer. To a geologist, rocks are rocks. There are no sacred rocks; there are just rocks. If a tribesman brings a sacred rock to a geologist to be admired, he'll hit it with a hammer. That might be a bit insulting. It's generally not a good idea to bring sacred rocks to geologists.

But I should also acknowledge that geologists go looking for rocks to hit with a hammer, and they may well hit your sacred rocks some day too. Thought crosses tribal boundaries and always has. Tribes can't say 'this is my thought -- you can't hit it with a hammer'. Texts get appropriated; ideas get copied. Everyone pinches from everyone. Jews don't just use Jewish science -- they use gentile science too. In the same way, gentile scientists will happily take Jewish thought and hit it with a hammer.

Of all the rocks I'd like to hit with a hammer though Semi, Judaic rocks are very low on my list. I grew up in a field of 'Christolite', y'see, and I've hammered the living crap out of most of what I found there because it came readily to hand. They're not quite Judaic stones, I know, but geologically they're related. I've formed a geological view about Judaic stones and you might not like that view, but it's good enough for my purposes. Unless there's some good reason for me to have to whale on Judaite with a hammer, I don't actually want to -- at least, not until I find a pressing query I want to answer.

My question to you about doubt was enough to prompt CG to make a moderatorial post, so I'd better clarify it. One is either willing to hammer one's own stones or one is not. Some religious people are willing to do it; some ain't. If you'd said that you were willing then I'd have grabbed a hammer and whaled away with you, because thumping stones with a hammer is a life's passion of mine. There's nothing I enjoy more than whacking a stone with a buddy who enjoys the same. But in telling me that you don't doubt, I think you've also told me that thumping Judaite with a hammer is unproductive for you. Which means that I'm back to being bored about Judaite. I've got nothin' to discuss there; nothing to ask, nothing to answer, nothing I feel a pressing need to understand or explain.

Thank you though for your very eloquent story about faith.


I was just responding in kind.Actually I don't believe that we were having the same conversation. In my world, Jews are morally accountable to the rest of humanity for their behaviour. For me that's a fundamental tenet of what it means to be human. If we care about one another, we have concern for our impacts and my definition of 'human' is something like 'apes who care about each other'.

But I suspect that in your view, Jews are morally accountable only to their traditions and God -- and good is expected to flow from those things in time. This is another conversation that I can't pursue with you because we lack the common ground to pursue it. But unlike the one above, this time I deeply regret that I can't. I feel enormous compassion for you that you should struggle to make that belief work. I realise that it can't be easy. I understand why someone would want to believe such a thing, though I myself don't.

I also feel a deep sadness because in my mind are volumes of stories about how such an approach to belief destroys people and damages lives. This makes me worry for you, and for anyone else who believes such a thing. On the other hand, I have no common ground on which to discuss my concerns with you. All I can do at this point is wish you well and hope that I will never have to add your story to my list.

semilargeintestine
08-31-2009, 10:35 PM
Quoted and noted. :) Also agreed.

Me three (since I asked for proof too).



It might look like that but it's actually not. To understand rocks, a geologist goes around hitting them with a hammer. To a geologist, rocks are rocks. There are no sacred rocks; there are just rocks. If a tribesman brings a sacred rock to a geologist to be admired, he'll hit it with a hammer. That might be a bit insulting. It's generally not a good idea to bring sacred rocks to geologists.

But I should also acknowledge that geologists go looking for rocks to hit with a hammer, and they may well hit your sacred rocks some day too. Thought crosses tribal boundaries and always has. Tribes can't say 'this is my thought -- you can't hit it with a hammer'. Texts get appropriated; ideas get copied. Everyone pinches from everyone. Jews don't just use Jewish science -- they use gentile science too. In the same way, gentile scientists will happily take Jewish thought and hit it with a hammer.

Of all the rocks I'd like to hit with a hammer though Semi, Judaic rocks are very low on my list. I grew up in a field of 'Christolite', y'see, and I've hammered the living crap out of most of what I found there because it came readily to hand. They're not quite Judaic stones, I know, but geologically they're related. I've formed a geological view about Judaic stones and you might not like that view, but it's good enough for my purposes. Unless there's some good reason for me to have to whale on Judaite with a hammer, I don't actually want to -- at least, not until I find a pressing query I want to answer.

My question to you about doubt was enough to prompt CG to make a moderatorial post, so I'd better clarify it. One is either willing to hammer one's own stones or one is not. Some religious people are willing to do it; some ain't. If you'd said that you were willing then I'd have grabbed a hammer and whaled away with you, because thumping stones with a hammer is a life's passion of mine. There's nothing I enjoy more than whacking a stone with a buddy who enjoys the same. But in telling me that you don't doubt, I think you've also told me that thumping Judaite with a hammer is unproductive for you. Which means that I'm back to being bored about Judaite. I've got nothin' to discuss there; nothing to ask, nothing to answer, nothing I feel a pressing need to understand or explain.

I misunderstood what you said. I'm willing to let you hammer all you want. I thought you were asking me if I would ever give up my faith. I am willing to let you question it, but that is because I have absolute faith. If you can ask a question I cannot answer, it will force me to learn more and understand my faith better. I welcome that very much. Hopefully ColoradoGuy will be okay with it as I am inviting it. Hammer away. :)




Actually I don't believe that we were having the same conversation. In my world, Jews are morally accountable to the rest of humanity for their behaviour. For me that's a fundamental tenet of what it means to be human. If we care about one another, we have concern for our impacts and my definition of 'human' is something like 'apes who care about each other'.

But I suspect that in your view, Jews are morally accountable only to their traditions and God -- and good is expected to flow from those things in time. This is another conversation that I can't pursue with you because we lack the common ground to pursue it. But unlike the one above, this time I deeply regret that I can't. I feel enormous compassion for you that you should struggle to make that belief work. I realise that it can't be easy. I understand why someone would want to believe such a thing, though I myself don't.

I believe in accountability to others. It is a primary component of Jewish faith that we must seek forgiveness from the people we have wronged. G-d does not grant us forgiveness for sins against man until we have first sought forgiveness from those we have wronged. However, G-d is the True Judge, and if it comes down to hurting a non-Jew's feelings or following the word of G-d, the non-Jew will have to deal with it.

People may not like that the Jews are G-d's people, but that doesn't make it true nor does it mean we must apologise for it. In today's society, we are taught not to hurt anyone's feelings, even if it means compromising our beliefs in order to abate tension. As I have stated in other threads, a huge source of anti-Semitism throughout the millenia has been our unwillingness to do this. We're unwilling to water down our beliefs to cater to the egos of man, and that pisses people off. We're good at that. :D

For me, the fundamental tenet of being human is to serve G-d. Part of serving G-d is getting on with your fellow man, but only insofar as it does not affect your ability to serve G-d.



I also feel a deep sadness because in my mind are volumes of stories about how such an approach to belief destroys people and damages lives. This makes me worry for you, and for anyone else who believes such a thing. On the other hand, I have no common ground on which to discuss my concerns with you. All I can do at this point is wish you well and hope that I will never have to add your story to my list.

The difference is I have no desire to damage any one else. I simply want to preserve my way of life. If people stopped taking steps to eliminate my way of life and all who live by it, there would be no problem. I have no problems with anyone who has no problems with me (or anyone who is at least able to keep them private).

Ruv Draba
09-01-2009, 12:40 AM
I'm willing to let you hammer all you want. I thought you were asking me if I would ever give up my faith. I am willing to let you question it, but that is because I have absolute faith.Thank you! If I ever feel the need to hassle someone about the strength of their Jewish faith, you'd be the first person I think of. :) But as I mentioned, I don't have any pressing questions about Judaism specifically, though that may change as I pursue stuff.


I believe in accountability to others. It is a primary component of Jewish faith that we must seek forgiveness from the people we have wronged. G-d does not grant us forgiveness for sins against man until we have first sought forgiveness from those we have wronged.I have great respect for that teaching, though I'd phrase it differently to fit with how I think.


We're unwilling to water down our beliefs to cater to the egos of man, and that pisses people off. We're good at that. :DWell, I'm on your side there too. If it comes to a choice between working something out and tippytoeing around feelings, I'll generally bring out the hammer. :)


For me, the fundamental tenet of being human is to serve G-d. Part of serving G-d is getting on with your fellow man, but only insofar as it does not affect your ability to serve G-d.That's interesting and now I do have a question -- does that ever come into conflict for you? If so, how? Do you see it coming into conflict for other Jews? How do they resolve it?


The difference is I have no desire to damage any one else. I simply want to preserve my way of life.Understandable. Did you know that some military doctrines teach that the primary motivation for war is to preserve one's way of life? I think that this is a point of difference between peaceful-until-provoked and peaceful-even-if-provoked. Many cultures exercise the former. It's very hard for them to exercise the latter.

A related question: do you believe that the right to live a certain way is a fundamental human right? In other words, would you accord that right to others, even at cost to your own way of life? Here I'm not evaluating Judaism or your own morality. It's actually a separate question which I'm tucking in because you mentioned it.

I'll declare my own answer here: I don't believe that the right to live a certain way is a fundamental human right. I believe that there's a right to live however we can, a right to think and a right to revere as we see fit -- provided that we don't hurt others in exercising those rights. I don't extend that right to 'living a certain way'... I believe that if we want to sustain our lives, we must sometimes adapt. A guarantee of lifestyle is not accorded by nature and therefore it's not an entitlement of man. (That begs a separate question of what sort of lives it's reasonable for us to seek, and how much we can/should interfere with one another but I won't open that one at the moment.)

semilargeintestine
09-01-2009, 01:10 AM
Thank you! If I ever feel the need to hassle someone about the strength of their Jewish faith, you'd be the first person I think of. :) But as I mentioned, I don't have any pressing questions about Judaism specifically, though that may change as I pursue stuff.

If you ever do, you know where to look. :)



I have great respect for that teaching, though I'd phrase it differently to fit with how I think.

It's not so important to me that people align themselves with the Jewish view of it so much as the general concept of responsibility for actions.



Well, I'm on your side there too. If it comes to a choice between working something out and tippytoeing around feelings, I'll generally bring out the hammer. :)

Me too. I see no point in being an apologist, and I would hope that no one else would either. Personally, I think that just leads to more problems.



That's interesting and now I do have a question -- does that ever come into conflict for you? If so, how? Do you see it coming into conflict for other Jews? How do they resolve it?

It doesn't come up too much, but sometimes it does. When I became religious, I was pretty much engaged. The problem is, that girl was Catholic. That's a big no-no. So basically, I had to break up with her. I felt really bad about it, and I think I screwed her up a bit; however, I did what had to be done. Knowing it was the right thing helped me get over it pretty quickly.

I actually know a friend who has experienced a serious conflict that could have had potentially terrible consequences for his family. I'll try to be brief, but a little background is necessary.

I'm assuming you are aware of the different Tribes in Judaism. As of right now, we have three. A Jew can either be a Levi, a Kohein, or a Yisroel (basically just a Jew who doesn't descend from Moses or Aaron since we are unsure of who comes from what tribe). A Kohein is basically the Priestly family. They have a number of restrictions placed upon them to keep them ritually pure, for they are the ones who serve in the Temple and purity is a must for Temple service. One of the big issues is impurity by being around death. The absence of life causes an impurity that can only be removed by a way that will not come about until the coming of Moshiach, so Kohanim have to be very careful to not become impure by being around death. As such, they are not allowed to be near or even in the same building as a dead body or a dismembered organ.

My friend works for a medical company doing part of the business end. His work schedule requires him to work on Fridays, which is fine in the summer when the Sabbath doesn't start until 7 o'clock. However, in the winter, when the Sabbath starts at 4pm, it is a problem. He almost lost his job because he had to leave early every week. He offered to make up every hour he missed with two hours, but they refused. He essentially had to threaten a lawsuit in order for them to negotiate with him.

They decided to put him in another building on a different shift so that he would get out at 3pm every Friday. Great. Unfortunately, when he went on a tour of the building, he discovered they had an active cadaver lab. My friend is a Kohein. To make a long story short, one of the great authorities on Jewish law decided that because it is his livelihood, he is allowed to be in the building; however, he can only be there while working, and his family cannot visit him (the kids and wife take on the status of the father), nor can he go back to the building for any reason other than work. If the rabbi had ruled that it wasn't allowed, he would have had to quit his job, and his family would have been screwed.

For me, I just can't work Fridays during the winter because of the Sabbath. Luckily, I have an understanding employer, so it is not a big hassle. If it came down to it though, I would quit my job before I would violate the Sabbath, as would any good Jew. G-d comes before job.



Understandable. Did you know that some military doctrines teach that the primary motivation for war is to preserve one's way of life?

I'm sure they do. Jewish law forbids war unless it is Biblically mandated or in self-defence. Even in self-defence, we are required to try and end it peacefully (part of the reason Israel keeps making concessions when they know it won't make a difference).



A related question: do you believe that the right to live a certain way is a fundamental human right? In other words, would you accord that right to others, even at cost to your own way of life? Here I'm not evaluating Judaism or your own morality. It's actually a separate question which I'm tucking in because you mentioned it.

I think that the right to live is a fundamental right. I think that there is a specific way that man is permitted to live, and anything outside of that is unacceptable. The Torah is a way of life for Jews, but it also outlines the way Gentiles are supposed to live. The rules regarding Gentiles are very general, and allows all sorts of freedoms, including beliefs, politics, etc. If everyone followed the requirements, the world would be a very peaceful place. The various nations of the world would have their respective beliefs, and no one would feel the need to persecute another because of a difference in beliefs--we'd all have the same core values.

The difference between Judaism and other religions is that by wanting everyone to follow the Torah, Judaism isn't asking people to give up anything except immoral behaviour (e.g., murder, stealing, etc.)--they can keep their beliefs and their kings and their culture. A Torah life equals peace, because no one is forced to do anything except be a good person.



I'll declare my own answer here: I don't believe that the right to live a certain way is a fundamental human right. I believe that there's a right to live, a right to think and a right to revere as we see fit -- provided that we don't hurt others in exercising those rights. I don't extend that right to 'living a certain way'... I believe that if we want to sustain our lives, we must sometimes adapt. A guarantee of lifestyle is not accorded by nature and therefore it's not accordable by man.

The only change I would make there is that I believe people have a right to live a certain way so long as it does not hurt others in the process.