Conversation with an Atheist Friend (06)

30 04 2009
The repute and reality of being a Roman emperor
Image by howard_riches via Flickr

And further….

Me: give me some references

Friend: isn’t that your job?

Me: Nothing like this comes to mind.

Friend: but my point is that he was supposedly performing lots of miracles, and had crowds.

Me: We have the discovery at Oxyrhynchus of thousands of letter if this is what you mean but that’s in Egypt. I don’t know of such records for Judea. Besides the letters were pretty sporadic. The guys who wrote these records down almost certainly wrote at a time when people who were there were alive. Your point is also a good one about the Romans. What they were obsessive about was good history. SO… if four (and possibly more) different records are circulated to people who are still alive and then the movement gains momentum to the point where the empire is Christianized, this says something. How does it take root in a history obsessed society if it is historically crappy?

Friend: but it didn’t take root until the 4th or 5th century!

Me: Rome wasn’t built in the day.

Friend: it just looks like a political movement.

Me: We know for sure that several Roman Emperors tried to kill people off on mass – that’s got to slow things down a little. Nero for one. There must have been a significant number of Christians to feed the hungry lions. And still regroup after. The problem in all this – and I’m not trying to be smart in saying this – is that the Kuhnian discussion I began with about enlightenment optimism is very important. I am not anti-science in the least. There just has to be level headed realization that no one is objective as they think and questions must be asked like this – if God really wanted to prove he existed what might he do? Put his fingerprints all over the world in terms of order… yes but this will be dismissed as rubbish… no proof at all… you just think this because you have an un-evolved sense of complexity and probability. But why does evidence look good to one person and bad to another? It is because they are functioning within a paradigm to look for what fits and to discard what doesn’t – you and me both. Like the broad generality about religion being evil and causing evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up. I heard a statistic the other day (from an official source) that conservative Christians give more money to the poor than their counterparts and that if everyone in the US gave as much blood as these people they’d be turning people away. Sure when it becomes an ideology in the hands of divisive or greedy people it gets distorted, but the same could be said of any ideology throughout history – whether political systems or football supporters, or whatever. All this proves is that we have evolved follow a pack mentality – Kuhn again!

Friend: I find it hilarious that evangelicals are now in bed with post-modernists. You are so far out on a subjectivist limb, that you can’t climb down. You know, it’s fine to admit that you can’t ARGUE about this stuff. You can just throw your hands up and say, “You just gotta believe me, because I just believe it, OK?” And I can say, “Huh?” As Dennett says, there are many reasons why people SAY they are christian.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Understanding Faith (04)

24 11 2008
Julius Caesar Bust

Image by iirraa via Flickr

Today’s entry is where I put in a plug for knowing something about the culture behind the NT. Here is where I mention that many Christians feel really comfortable with the current Scholarly focus on Judaism. And why not? Those who read the Bible are familiar with Judaism through the OT and the controversies of the NT. Jesus, Peter, Paul… they were all Jews. So of course we’ll feel at home with this! But there is another context, which we don’t feel so at home in… i.e. the Graeco-Roman world. But let’s not forget that Paul (at least) was also very connected to this world. He had to be if he was going to be a missionary. So the Graeco-Roman world is relevant to the context into which Paul was writing. Therfore it must be of some importance for us who read the NT today! This will be something I will come back to in future entries. For now though, we need a quick lesson into the fabric of Romans society in the first century. The Roman world was literally held together by relational exchange A ↔  B. As Richard Saller says in his exceptional little book Patronage in the Early Empire, “The Romans could hardly conceive of friendship apart from reciprocal exchange.” In fact from the Emperor all the way down to the lowest citizen it was reciprocal exchange which held everything together. And so fides (the Latin word for faith) has been defined as “”confidence” (fides) and, especially (in a more derivative sense of fides), the “good faith” or “trustworthiness” that inspires confidence.” Whenever the Romans thought about a relationship they thought in terms of two way exchange (A ↔ B). When we talk then about “faith” or “grace” as exchange words because they are used in relationships, this is therefore not a big jump. Rather, the culture of the day confirmed that this was a logical way for people to see things. Now we are ready to tackle pistis Christou which we’ll do next entry.

Bruce Lowe

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