Friday, February 24, 2006

The Battle for God: Part Three

Okay, we're through the Jews and Muslims, and back into the Christian part of the book, about which I am far more knowledgeable.

Page 55: (this is still from the Muslim section) The Shias, traditionally, viewed that the Word of God contained illimitable truth. "Fresh insight was always possible, and no single interpretation could suffice." This view is equally applicable to the Christian canon, but I would like to place limits on the "illimitable" nature of divine truth. Truth is required to be without falsehood. Anything that is not true, that is contradictory with the truth, is therefore false. The illimitable divine truth must, therefore, by internally consistent. If there is a fresh insight which contradicts other, established doctrines, they cannot both be true, so one must be rejected.

Page 66: I hadn't quite realized how esoteric my beliefs were until she started to discuss the doctrine of communion. The whole, "in, with, and under," concept with which I was raised is completely lost on her.

Page 67: Here I am disagreeing with John Calvin rather than Armstrong. Calvin argued that the Scriptures are the divine equivalent of baby talk. Our minds are too feeble to comprehend the majesty of God, so he has delivered it in baby talk, which must then be interpreted, and cannot necessarily be accepted as literally true. (For example, "I'm going to EAT these widdle toes!" is baby talk that one hopes is not literally true.) I argue that the baby talk argument unnecessarily limits God. An omniscient creator God is capable of constructing a revelation which is both and simultaneously so simple that the most feeble-minded of his creatures can understand it, but so complex that the greatest genius cannot plumb its depths. He can make such a revelation that is literally true, but still comprehensible. If one accepts the active management of God over his revelation, he can provide new translations to meet the changing needs of the time, and guide those who need it to a version that most suits what they need to hear.

Page 68: Armstrong argues that Copernicus introduced subjectivity into modern life. By demonstrating that one's perspective was not reliable, Copernicus forced people to rely on science and expertise for their views. It seems to me that this should have precisely the opposite effect. Why, if one's perspective cannot be trusted, should the perspective of a human expert be more trustworthy? It seems that introducing such subjectivity would make one rely more on the spiritual, not less.

Page 75: In reference to the witch hunts of the colonial period, Armstrong states, "[the witch hunts] showed that a cult of scientific rationalism cannot always hold darker forces at bay." This is a beautiful dichotomy, isn't it? A distinction used by all religions and philosophies to explain atrocities. The good that is accomplished is tabulated fully into the column of achievements, yet the evil is ascribed to the actions of those who are not fully consistent. The Crusades were either the natural result of Christian piety, or they are the worldly corruption of a pure faith. The genocide of the Tasmanian aborigines for museum specimens was the result of a misinterpretation of Darwin's theories. The Gulag Archipelago was denounced by Kruschev as the result of the mad reinterpretation of Stalin. People who otherwise ascribed to the cult of scientific rationalism, so soon as the committed atrocities, were no longer behaving rationally.

Page 79: Armstrong seems to contradict her thesis at this point, when she says, "One faith was conceived as irrational, and the inbuilt constraints of the best conservative spirituality were jettisoned, people could fall prey to all manner of delusions." In my words, without a solid foundation in real history, without a logical basis for faith, fundamentalism occurs. This is precisely the reverse of her thesis that it was the modern combination of logos and mythos that led to fundamentalism.

More is coming when I have read more... Yes that is a threat.


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