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knight_tour
02-11-2010, 12:34 AM
I am constantly amazed at things that no person would believe at all in modern society, but they are fine about believing it in an ancient one. This double standard makes no sense. One obvious example is if any woman were to tell someone today that she was pregnant, no modern person would believe for a second that a deity did it.

The one that really kills me though is this. We all know that all writing about history or news or politics is biased. It doesn't matter whether we are conservative, libertarian, or liberal, we all take everything we read on such subjects with a large grain of salt, even from those newspeople in our own political spectrum. However, for some reason the same people who reasonably recognize the agendas in modern writing or television are somehow clueless about it when it comes to the same types of writing in ancient times. They'll say that the bible is completely true, ignoring the fact that the people in those times had even more reason to have a big agenda than Americans do today. The Jews were living in a land occupied by a hated enemy. Of course they would agitate in any way they could to try to undermine the Roman occupiers. I would think that any reasonable person would take the bible's writings with at least as much skepticism as we take any modern reporting.

ColoradoGuy
02-11-2010, 02:55 AM
I understand your point. But I think we need to be wary of the fallacy of presentism, the notion that people in the past thought and behaved just as we do. Certainly there are some human behavioral traits that transcend time. But there are others that do not. For example, people in classical times, when the Gospels were being compiled, thought it very fun to watch one person kill another in an amphitheater. As the saying goes: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

ChristineR
02-11-2010, 04:05 AM
Well, you're missing another key point.

The oldest surviving Christian writings are the (authentic) letters of Paul. Paul says almost nothing about Jesus' actual life and concentrates on the mysticism.

The Gospel of Thomas may be older, but it's just a collection of sayings.

The Gospel of Mark is next, and Mark doesn't even mention Jesus' childhood and birth.

The Gospel of Matthew gives a long genealogy of Jesus to prove he was descended from King David through his father, Joseph.

The Gospel of Luke gives a (different and completely incompatible) long genealogy of Jesus, but points out that Jesus wasn't actually descended from his father.

Mark is the easiest to date, about 70 AD (the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem). Matthew and Luke appear to have been written as alternatives to and improvements of Mark, so at least seventy years after Jesus was actually born.

So in all likelihood, the young woman never claimed to be a virgin, or if she did, no one believed her. Most likely the idea that she was a virgin came from a combination of the Greek distaste for the physical world and the Septuagint's use of "virgin" for the Hebrew word for young woman.

Even then we have some anti-Christian writing which makes it clear that no one except Christians took it seriously. So what really happened is that after years of being repeated and refined, a whole generation of people grew up with the story and took it seriously.

blacbird
02-11-2010, 05:04 AM
I am constantly amazed at things that no person would believe at all in modern society, but they are fine about believing it in an ancient one. This double standard makes no sense.

It's irrelevant that "it makes no sense" to you, at this time in human history. Belief systems two thousand years ago were very different from today. After the decline of the Classical Greek culture, the rebirth of analytical thought in the Western World didn't really happen until the Renaissance. Even as late as 1692, a particular town in "civilized" Massachusetts executed 19 people on convictions of witchcraft.

caw

knight_tour
02-11-2010, 05:33 PM
Well, you're missing another key point.

The oldest surviving Christian writings are the (authentic) letters of Paul. Paul says almost nothing about Jesus' actual life and concentrates on the mysticism.

The Gospel of Thomas may be older, but it's just a collection of sayings.

The Gospel of Mark is next, and Mark doesn't even mention Jesus' childhood and birth.

The Gospel of Matthew gives a long genealogy of Jesus to prove he was descended from King David through his father, Joseph.

The Gospel of Luke gives a (different and completely incompatible) long genealogy of Jesus, but points out that Jesus wasn't actually descended from his father.

Mark is the easiest to date, about 70 AD (the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem). Matthew and Luke appear to have been written as alternatives to and improvements of Mark, so at least seventy years after Jesus was actually born.

So in all likelihood, the young woman never claimed to be a virgin, or if she did, no one believed her. Most likely the idea that she was a virgin came from a combination of the Greek distaste for the physical world and the Septuagint's use of "virgin" for the Hebrew word for young woman.

Even then we have some anti-Christian writing which makes it clear that no one except Christians took it seriously. So what really happened is that after years of being repeated and refined, a whole generation of people grew up with the story and took it seriously.

I agree with you, except for the part where you said I was missing a point. My point was that people have always written with a slant or agenda, yet most theists I meet today seem to act as if there was no such thing for these particular writings.

To ColoradoGuy I would say that the concern about 'presentism' should not apply to the idea that all writing on such subjects contains bias. Many things would of course change over the centuries, but this is not one of them. I guess my main point is that I wish people today were a little more skeptical in their reading of these texts, but a great many people simply are not.

knight_tour
02-11-2010, 05:37 PM
It's irrelevant that "it makes no sense" to you, at this time in human history. Belief systems two thousand years ago were very different from today. After the decline of the Classical Greek culture, the rebirth of analytical thought in the Western World didn't really happen until the Renaissance. Even as late as 1692, a particular town in "civilized" Massachusetts executed 19 people on convictions of witchcraft.

As I've said before, no change in belief systems has anything to do with the fact that there will be bias or agendas in any political or religious or historical writing. That will never change, regardless of how anything else changes. I don't have a problem with such bias existing; my problem is with people asserting that there is no such bias or agenda, and thus claiming that this particular writing is to be completely and unreservedly believed. Not all theists do this, but a great many do.

III
02-11-2010, 07:41 PM
Regarding the apostles and early church, I think their bias went far beyond wanting to agitate their Roman overlords. Thousands of them, including all the apostles, willingly endured disenfranchisement, torture, and execution for the sole purpose of spreading their message that Jesus had done miracles and risen from the grave and appeared to them. They were hated by the Jewish community and Rome alike, but the writings of the early Christian fathers demanded that Christians respect, love, and pray for their rulers and their enemies, not that they stir up political dissent.

When Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine it wasn't part of his agenda to break the back of big hospitals, it was to help everyone. That's what I see in the gospels - spreading the good news of love and reconciliation throughout the world.

ChristineR
02-11-2010, 08:52 PM
I agree with you, except for the part where you said I was missing a point. My point was that people have always written with a slant or agenda, yet most theists I meet today seem to act as if there was no such thing for these particular writings.

To ColoradoGuy I would say that the concern about 'presentism' should not apply to the idea that all writing on such subjects contains bias. Many things would of course change over the centuries, but this is not one of them. I guess my main point is that I wish people today were a little more skeptical in their reading of these texts, but a great many people simply are not.

I didn't really phrase it very well, I'm sorry.

You said that no one would believe that a pregnant girl was really a virgin. I don't think they did believe it. What they believed was the collection of stories that grew up around this one person. But I think there is a tendency to believe a story that's told in a certain way.

For example, say you see a dead person brought back to life. Immediately you begin to wonder if he was really dead, and you start asking questions. Who said the man was dead? How long has he been dead? It turns out the man was a good friend of the miracle worker, and the only people who actually knew he was dead were his sisters, who told everyone they knew. Hm.

On the other hand, you hear story about a dead man brought back to life. You ask the same questions. "Oh no," your correspondent tells you. "They brought in a doctor, the body was carefully examined. There's no doubt--he was dead!" But, as it happens, the incident took place a hundred years ago and all the principles are dead.

Which incident are people more likely to take seriously?

knight_tour
02-11-2010, 11:06 PM
ChristineR,
The point I wished to see debated was strictly related to the general idea of the wrongness of putting complete faith in any piece of writing, no matter when it was written. The examples I gave were not meant to be anything other than the first examples that popped into my mind. I meant the Roman occupation as only a single example of the pressures on society that lead to people having an agenda in what they agitate for. The idea is that there are many reasons why people have a bias in what they write, and what they are is not really important at this point. The important thing is to understand that all such writing should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. People are generally not doing this (being sceptical enough) with the Bible or the Koran and other such writings. I agree with you that it is very unlikely that Mary ever claimed to have been impregnated by god. But the story was later manipulated to make such a claim. That was what I meant. People made such claims because it supported an agenda, not because it was the truth. I am not blaming those people for doing that; after all that is what people continue to do and will always do. What I do object to is people today being willing to view any piece of writing as if it is perfect truth.

Ruv Draba
02-12-2010, 03:29 AM
Cultures go in and out of periods of vesting absolute authority in figures or writings. Grandiosity and power play a part -- the Caesars of Rome, or the God-Kings of Egypt were at times, considered absolute powers. Education plays a part too -- guys like Socrates were less believing of the supremacy of pagan deities than average Greek punters. Uncertainty and troubles may play a part too -- beliefs in the infalliblity of the Christian primates go back to the Middle Ages. And it's not just a religious trait. Even today, some people see certain secular writings as infallible -- Das Kapital, Mao's Little Red Book, or Darwin's On the Origin of Species are all books that some readers will thump as their authority.

Some people are very uncomfortable without the idea of an absolute authority to sort out true from false, good from bad, right from wrong. In particular, people whose temperament is punitive (i.e. the bad deserve punishment; the good deserve reward) begin to worry greatly if there's no absolute frame to hang their policy on -- without an absolute frame, punitivism may collapse into injustice and chaos may ensue.

Also bear in mind that the more media we have, the more opinions we see. It's only when opinions are divided that questions of evidence and credibility come into play -- and we use very different standards for evidence and credibility than folk once did.

small axe
02-14-2010, 02:29 AM
The point I wished to see debated was strictly related to the general idea of the wrongness of putting complete faith in any piece of writing, no matter when it was written.

I'd probably agree with Ruv Draba. 'Also bear in mind that the more media we have, the more opinions we see. It's only when opinions are divided that questions of evidence and credibility come into play -- and we use very different standards for evidence and credibility than folk once did. '

I think a common misconception about the Past is "those people were thinking like primitives" or "primitive to believe those myths" ... when in fact they were as INTELLIGENT as we are. BUT ... they didn't have a cultural focus towards "science" as we do. Was there any established alternative to "sacred text" in Judea in 30 AD among the common, illiterate villagers? (Certainly among the Romanized and Hellenistic elites there were, but these guys were also worshipping MULTIPLE pagan gods AND their shabby Emperors as "divine" too ... so not the sort of role-models to pristine reason we'd like! Good building roads and palaces ... still taking baptism baths in steaming bull's blood!) :)

Today, every crackpot with access to the internet can be an "expert" or a "wingnut" ... (ah, I saw the adoring looks in your eyes as you gazed towards me ... I blush with modesty! :D )

But in ancient times, WRITING was far rarer, and those who were educated to write ... wrote with AUTHORITY (Imperial or Sacred authority ... or at least were trusted to be the guys keeping count of supplies or trade goods or Imperial records)

If you read Scripture, even JOSEPH is suspicious of Mary's claim to being a pregnant virgin (whatever sort of "pregnancy" or "virginity" she was claiming to him) ...

But you also have Paul writing letters to folks saying aproximately 500 people can be called to witness that the dead Jesus was Resurrected and Alive; that's a man understanding that his readers might reasonably expect EVIDENCE, and offering to be tested on his evidence.

Some might say that such things could be added later. Who can argue that ... but it is a mere ASSUMPTION, based on mere materialist bias. Lazarus wasn't "really" dead, the demon-possessed were "really" merely schizoid, and holy visions were "really" either lies, or ergot mold hallucinations ... etc. ???

Revisionism can be brought into play, always.

There's perhaps a difference between "double" standards and merely different standards.

In 2000 years, WE'LL seem like the "ignorant primitives" ... if we've left anything alive on planet Earth to look back and consider us.

Just my two cents. Render unto caesar what was caesar's.

knight_tour
02-14-2010, 02:55 PM
I'm not sure why the 'ignorant primitives' thing comes in, as it isn't something I considered in the least. I am solely concerned with the fact that many modern people seem completely willing to believe these ancient texts are fully honest and true, while these same people would never believe such a thing about any such piece of writing other than their chosen religious tracts.

Who could possibly believe anything about, say, the Lazarus story? What people wanted or needed from these stories changed dramatically as circumstances changed, such that earlier they may have had no agenda other than to try to paint Jesus as one of any number of influential holy men of his age, only later to want to make him out to be a Messiah. Once they need to do that, they need 'evidence' to support such a claim, and that would mean manufacturing any number of such 'miracles' as the Lazarus story. I am not saying that there could not have been an incident where a supposedly dead man came back to life, as modern medicine can explain this quite well, and it could be that this happened. Whether it was truly associated with Jesus or not is beside the point. The fact remains that people still had agendas, even back then (I say 'even' quite sarcastically), and thus we have no idea whatsoever whether stories like Lazarus were to some degree true or whether they were fabricated to fit the need. I don't really care actually; what I care about is some consistency amongst supposedly educated people today. They should not be willing to see bias in all other writing except for their own personal religious texts.

Roger J Carlson
02-22-2010, 11:11 PM
Well, I've got a question. Would a rant about how idiotic it is that anyone could not believe in God be an acceptable topic for this forum?

If I may quote Macallister's post in another thread here:

Guys, honestly, what part of "You don't get to criticize, attack, berate, editorialize, or otherwise make value judgments about what someone else believes here (Full Stop)" is so very hard to understand? Because, frankly, I'm about done explaining it. If you just can't wrap your heads around what on earth I can possibly mean, then this is clearly not the room for you.

ColoradoGuy
02-22-2010, 11:56 PM
Well, I've got a question. Would a rant about how idiotic it is that anyone could not believe in God be an acceptable topic for this forum?:
It would depend upon how it was presented. If you want to, put one up and see how it flies. Regarding this thread, quite a few folks have weighed in, stating how they think the OP's formulation is simplistic and shallow.

As you may have noticed, I'm fairly tolerant of what some may regard as rants. As you also may have noticed, sometimes the result is that the poster makes of fool of him/herself. Leaving those foolish statements up, along with the replies to them, can serve a useful function.