Christians Dancing

In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich writes that (p.58):

From a Roman perspective, Christianity was at first just another “oriental” religion coming out of the east, and, like others of similar provenance, attractive to women and the poor. It offered direct communion with the deity, with the promise of eternal life, but so did many of the other imported religions that so vexed the Roman authorities. In fact, there is reason to think that early Christianity was itself an ecstatic religion, overlapping the cult of Dionysus.

The Roman Empire looked east, to the “Orient”. Almost everything of significance was came from that direction where most of the other great empires, societies, and cities were to be found: Persia, Greece, Alexandria, etc. Jews and early Christians, to the Roman mind, were perceived as Easterners. A practice like circumcision made Jews stand out in Rome, but in the East there were other religions and ethnic groups that did the same thing.

Jews and Christians, along with Stoics and the worshippers of Dionysus, Isis, and many others — they were all hard to tell apart. Before the Romans came to power, the Greeks developed a worldview of everyone who wasn’t Greek was therefore a Barabarian. In the ancient world, it was only the ruling authorities of the empires that eventually became concerned about sorting people into the proper box and labeling them accordingly.

So, if you vaguely looked like or did anything approximating the behavior of some known group, that is who you’d get lumped with. Simply refusing to eat Pork because you were a vegetarian could get you accused of being a Jew. At times, being Jewish had great advantages and so large numbers converted to Judaism. And at other times, some other identity was preferable. Ancient people were often taken at their word. If you claimed to be a member of a particular religion, ethnicity or nationality, you’d likely be treated as such.

It wasn’t usually a matter of deception, though. Most ancient people had fluid and overlapping identities. The distinction between one group and another was often rather fuzzy. The various populations were constantly intermingling, borrowing traditions from each other, incorporating foreign elements into their religions, and otherwise shifting their identities and cultures as social and political conditions changed.

Ancient people didn’t think in modern terms. But there was beginning to be changes. With the rise of colonial and expansionist empires during the Axial Age, the greater contact put greater emphasis on identity. This can be sensed most clearly in the late Axial Age when religions like Christianity arose. If you were in the growing Roman Empire, how a group defined themselves and were perceived became increasingly important. This is why, “The obvious parallel between the Christ story and that of pagan victim gods was a source of great chagrin to second-century Church fathers” (p. 58). Paul, as a Roman citizen, was particularly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Roman authorities and within Roman society.

This was a challenge. It was obvious to everyone involved that Christianity had borrowed heavily from diverse religious and philosophical traditions. There was nothing unique about early Christianity. There were thousands of small cults like it. The worst part about it, from a Roman perspective, is the stark similarities and connections to Eastern groups. And how could it be denied. The first Christians were themselves Jews who were from the East.

The Jews had spent centuries mixing up various oral traditions with elements of nearby religions before writing any of it down. Then the Jews became heavily enmeshed in Greek culture. In the centuries immediately prior to Christianity, many Jews were worshipping pagan deities, including the ancient practice of conflating deities. Yahweh, for many Jews and non-Jews alike, had become identified with Zeus and/or Dionysus, the relation between those two Greek gods laying the ground work for the relationship between Yahweh and Jesus. Ehrenreich briefly quotes from Robert M. Price’s “Christianty, Diaspora Judaism, and Roman Crisis” and here is the passage she quoted from:

What about the challenges of Diaspora assimilationism? There surely was such a thing as Jews taking attractive features of Gentile faiths and mixing them with their own. My caveat is just to say that wildly diverse Judaism already existed back in the Holy Land. And I would say the mythemes later assimilated from Hellenistic Mystery Religions were able to gain entry because they answered to elements already present in Judaism, perhaps all the more attractive once they had become forbidden fruit in the wake of Javneh. In other words, when the family next door celebrated the death and resurrection of Osiris or Adonis this might appeal to a Jew who was dimly aware that his grandfathers had celebrated pretty much the same rites in honor of Baal, Tammuz, or even Isaac, years before.17 2 Maccabees 6:7 tells us that Antiochus converted large numbers of Jews to the worship of Dionysus. One suspects it was no arduous task, given that some Greek writers already considered Jehovah simply another local variant of Dionysus anyway. The Sabazius religion of Phrygia is plainly an example of worshipping Jehovah as Dionysus. The Phrygian Attis was another version of Adam, his mother and lover Cybele a cognate form of Eve. No wonder the Naasene Document identifies the resurrected Jesus with both Attis and Adam. No wonder we have Jewish sarcophagi from this period depicting both the menorah and the symbol of the resurrected Attis.18

The temptations and challenges of the Diaspora only served to increase the diversity of ancient Judaism, a diversity directly reflected in emerging Christianity, which demonstrably partakes of Jewish Gnosticism,19 Zoroastrianism,20 the Mystery Cults, etc. As Rodney Stark has shown, Diaspora Jews remained a major and continuous source of new Christian converts on into the fifth century.21 Christianity would have been, Stark very plausibly surmises, the ideal assimilation vehicle, since the “new” faith allowed one to retain the cherished ethical monotheism of Judaism yet without keeping up the walls of purity rules that separated one (arbitrarily, as it seemed, and as it would seem again to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Reform Jews) from one’s neighbors. It seems to me that adherence to Christianity (the “true Israel”) would also have been the natural way of clinging to traditional elements of popular Judaism upon which Orthodoxy had frowned but which, as Barker shows, had never died out. I suspect that such Christian-leaning Jews eyed emergent Rabbinic Javneh Judaism as a modern product and viewed it as most pious non-Pharisaic Jews had always viewed the stricter party of the Pharisees (and the Essenes). It would have been entirely natural for Christianizing Jews, hanging on to cherished “underground” mythemes, etc., to have viewed themselves as the real Judaism, the old-time religion. We have, again, been too eager to take the Rabbinic claims to pedigree and originality at face value. Perhaps one more piece of evidence that this is a proper way to view matters is the otherwise odd fact that many Christians continued to attend synagogue for centuries, alongside church, often to the great consternation of their bishops. This implies that the synagogue-attenders viewed the defining label for their religiosity as Judaism, not as a new, split-off religion. Their Christianity was Judaism in their eyes, even if Christian bishops (like Chrysostom) and Jewish Rabbis alike bemoaned the fact.

That fascinates me endlessly. It was such a different world. Monotheism had yet to become monolithic because monotheism itself was a rather fuzzy concept. Sure, you could believe there is one true god, but which god and how many forms could he take. In practical terms, there is no absolute distinction between monotheism and polytheism. Even the Jews often referred to their god using a word that was plural, Elohim. There was a polytheism within Judaism that was very much within living memory of many ancient Jews. And it seems a cultural memory of this continued into the early centuries of Christianity, which maybe explains why there came to be so many violent purges by the heresiologists who gained power. In order to make Christianity into a new religion, they had to annihilate the last remnants of the old time religion. They were never entirely successful, but not for a lack of trying.

An area of struggle was the ecstatic tradition of Christianity. That is part of Ehrenreich’s focus in her book. What has dancing and related practices meant to humans over the millennia. We modern Westerners, especially Americans, don’t associate dancing with the Christian tradition. But there has been a long struggle about this within Christianity itself. And this struggle has taken many forms. One site of struggle has been the dancing so typical of carnivals and festivals. These ecstatic forms of religiosity have sometimes been included within Christianity, at other times they were merely tolerated, and at yet other times they were forbidden. There is evidence that in early Christianity dance was considered by many as a normal expression of worship and devotion. But it isn’t entirely clear what kind of dance it was. Ehrenreich discusses this in great detail (pp. 65-66):

Most of what Christians of the first and second centuries actually did together—whether they even possessed a standardized form of worship, for example—is unknown to us today, but the general scholarly view is that “church services were noisy, charismatic affairs, quite different from a tasteful evensong today at the parish church.”20 They met in people’s homes, where their central ritual was a shared meal that was no doubt washed down with Jesus’ favorite beverage, wine.21 There is reason to think they sang too, and that the songs were sometimes accompanied by instrumental music. 22 Justin Martyr, a gentile convert who died at the hands of the Romans in 165 CE, once wrote that children should sing together, “just as in the same way one enjoys songs and similar music in church.”23 Very likely, Christians also danced; at least this is how the historian Louis Backman interpreted various statements of the second-century Church fathers. Clement of Alexandria (150-216 CE), for example, instructed the faithful to “dance in a ring, together with the angels, around Him who is without beginning or end,” suggesting that the Christian initiation rite included a ringdance around the altar. At another point Clement wrote that in order to invoke the “zest and delight of the spirit,” Christians “raise our heads and our hands to heaven and move our feet just at the end of the prayer—pedes excitamus,” where, according to Backman, pedes excitamus is “a technical term for dancing.”24

So Christians sang and possibly danced, but did they dance ecstatically, as did members of the old Dionysian cults? The evidence for ecstatic dancing, such as it is, hinges on Paul’s instruction, in his letter to the Corinthian congregation, that women should keep their heads covered in church (1 Cor. 11:5). This may represent nothing more than a concern that Christianity remain within the normal pagan and Jewish bounds of gender decorum. After all, Paul did not want women prophesying or even speaking in church, despite the fact that he worked with women as fellow proselytizers and had at one point proclaimed that “male and female are one in Christ.” An alternative explanation for the head-covering rule, proposed by the theologian E. S. Fiorenza, is that the women of Corinth were becoming a little too exuberant for Paul’s tastes.

It seems that during their ecstatic-pneumatic worship celebrations some of the Corinthian women prophets and liturgists unbound their hair, letting it flow freely rather than keeping it in its fashionable coiffure, which often was quite elaborate and enhanced with jewelry, ribbons and veils. Such a sight of disheveled hair would have been quite common in the ecstatic worship of oriental deities.25

Roman women spent hours on their tight coiffures, leaving the long, unbound look to the worshippers of Dionysus, Cybele, and Isis. If we know one thing about Paul, it is that he was greatly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Romans, and hence as little like the other “oriental” religions—with their disorderly dancing women—as possible.

This may seem like a rather tenuous inference, but the association between hair-tossing and ecstatic practice is widespread and was well established in the ancient world.

All that we know of early Christianity, along with most other early religions, is a fading memory of what came before. It was that fading memory that was written down and typically written down by those who were attempting to eliminate the traces of that memory. All that we can be certain of is that modern Christianity probably has little if any resemblance to early Christianity, in either substance or form.

 

* * *

Dance of the Savior

The Round Dance–text and commentary
by Michael Howard

Singing with the Savior: Reconstructing the Ritual Ring-dance in the Gospel of the Savior
by Erik Yinglin

The Evolution of Sacred Dance in the JudeoChristian Tradition
by Jade Luerssen

Greek Dance: An Ancient Link — A Living Heritage
by Athan Karras

Jesus as Lord of the Dance
From early Christianity to medieval Nubia

by Paul Dilley

Radical & Moderate Enlightenments: Revolution & Reaction, Science & Religion

Biblical historicism and anthropogenic global warming, these are two of the most important issues. They clearly portray the two sides of religion and science, belief vs fact.

I don’t want to get complicated with this post as it would be easy to do so, or at least I don’t want to waste the space explaining the detailed background (something I’ve done many times already). Trying to explain the history, demographics, and psychology behind it all is complex. For my present purposes, I simply want to use these examples to show a trend.

* * * *

I’ve observed many trends in recent years. The trends in biblical studies and climatology interest me because they are so symbolic. Their symbolism allows for a deeper trend to be seen, a trend that I perceive as including or causally related to these many diverse trends.

Over the years, I’ve become aware of how the general public has become increasingly supportive of liberal views, especially what in the past had been considered liberal or even radically leftwing: drug legalization or decriminalization, health care reform with public option or single payer, better government regulation, decreasing inequality, etc.  Oddly, the majority of Americans support these liberal positions even as they label themselves as ‘conservatives’.

So, liberalism has become the new conservatism, by which I mean it is the new public opinion status quo and it is the conservative inclination to defend the status quo. As the old guard of reactionary conservatives dies off and as the younger moderate conservatives come to defend the former liberalism (specifically 20th century liberalism), this will free up the liberal-minded to take on new liberal positions which will be partly defined by the direction in which the leftwing leads.

Nonetheless, the shift isn’t clear. It’s not about liberals defeating conservatives. What is going on is more profound. The very notions of liberalism and conservatism are shifting.

No one can know where to the shift will ultimately lead. If anything, the shift is best understood in terms of something like Spiral Dynamics. Liberals defend science and conservatives defend religion, but not necessarily for intrinsic reasons. Rather, it’s the historical circumstance that puts these two political movements in defense of these two social institutions.

* * * *

Two events got me thinking. First, I was having one of my standard debates about climatology science with a conservative. Second, I was looking at biblical studies books from these past few years. The first is irrelevant other than giving my thinking context for the second.

The book that really got me thinking is a book I haven’t even read, but I did read several very in-depth Amazon.com reviews and the author is someone I’m very familiar with through his other work. The book in question is Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and the author is Bart D. Ehrman. Even some of the reviewers who agreed with the author’s conclusion didn’t agree with his way of defending it, instead some even thought he had fallen into the traps of apologetics that Ehrman had previously criticized.

Most interestingly, some reviewers noted that it seemed Ehrman was on the defense. This is a new event in biblical studies. Belief in a historical Jesus has been the academic consensus, given that most biblical studies academics are believers and those who aren’t believers are typically former believers. Biblical studies is the only academic field that is so dependent on belief, as both a starting and ending point. The field itself and many if not most academics in it began with apologetics, Ehrman included.

Another academic that began with apologetics is Robert M. Price. Like Ehrman, Price went from believing apologist to non-believing scholar, the apologetics having led to the academic study which in turn led to doubt. The difference between Ehrman and Price is that the former couldn’t let go of the last remnant of biblical literalism (i.e., belief in a historical Jesus) and the latter could let it go. Price, although often a fence-sitter holding no allegiance to a single theory, has gone even further in recent years. He once held to the historical position until he looked at the mythicist position in detail, but Ehrman apparently has refused to look at it in detail and prefers to protect his beliefs by dismissing out of hand anything that would challenge it. The irony in this is immense considering Ehrman is one of the most well known enemies of apologetics.

Anyway, none of that is my concern here. All that interested me is how it has become clear that the table has turned. Mythicists are no longer on the defense and instead historicists are. The arguments and criticisms presented by mythicists has become an insurmountable challenge, as demonstrated by the increasing number of mythicist scholars – besides Robert M. Price, there is: G.A. Wells, Alvar Ellegard, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, D.M. Murdock, etc. Add to this the Gnosticism scholars and the disagreement with academic consensus keeps growing.

* * * *

Consensus is an interesting thing in academia.

As I pointed out, biblical studies is the only academic field so fully dominated by believers. The contrast with climatology is immense. Conservatives agree with the biblical studies consensus despite the lack of evidence and conservatives disagree with the climatology consensus despite the surplus of evidence. Their criticisms of science are inconsistent and self-serving. They aren’t being anti-intellectual out of principle (as Richard Hofstadter pointed out, no one is ever anti-intellectual about all issues). Conservatives simply realize that in certain cases the facts contradict their beliefs and so they pragmatically prioritize the latter, even as giving lip-service to the former.

Belief and fact are two very different worldviews. We have lived in a world, despite all the changes, that has remained held in check by ancient beliefs. However, we are finally coming to a point when those ancient beliefs are being challenged.

This is tremendous. Even many non-believers have been unwilling or undesirous of challenging the belief in a historical Jesus. Almost everyone wants a historical Jesus, just as long as it is their preferred version – for example: God born in human form to save mankind, travelling philosopher, enlightened wisdom teacher, failed apocalyptic preacher, political revolutionary, etc. To challenge this belief is to challenge a core assumption of all western civilization.

* * * *

There is one historical detail I will add as my concluding thought. I add it partly for the simple reason that it comes from another book I’m reading: Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan Israel. As I said, I want to avoid the complexity to the extent I can, but I feel compelled to give a brief view of it.

There was no single Enlightenment (the reason for why there is no single classical liberalism, i.e., liberalism prior to the 20th century; also, why there still is no single liberalism; and, furthermore, why there is no single conservatism). Radical Enlightenment, according to Israel, began in the 17th century with Spinoza; and the proponents of the Radical Enlightenment (such as Paine) led to the reformist progressive liberals and paved the way for socialism. The moderate Enlightenment was a reaction to the radical Enlightenment and led to what Corey Robin calls ‘reactionary conservatism’.

I bring this up to clarify a point. We all are children of the Enlightenment, liberals and conservatives alike. This relates to Hofstadter’s observation that no one is absolutely and consistently anti-intellectual, at least not any modern post-Enlightenment person. The point that is clarified by Israel’s book is that the moderate Enlightenment proponents were wary of reason even as they respected it. They wanted the positive results of reason, but they also wanted to make sure reason was subjugated to religious belief, to hierarchical authority, and to social order. They didn’t want to destroy the aristocracy, just re-create it so that it would be less oppressive and more meritocratic. Both sides argued for reason, although one side argued more radically.

As such, we are still fighting the battle between the radial Enlightenment and the moderate Enlightenment. Should faith be subjugated to reason? Or should reason be subjugated to faith? Should we follow reason as far as it will go? Or should we withhold reason when it gets too close to what we deem fundamental?

For the first time in American history, the radical Enlightenment may be getting a foothold in public opinion and hence in mainstream society. Religion has never been weaker and science has never been stronger.

* * * *

If my observations are correct, this will be an earth-shaking shift and American society will never be the same again. Most people don’t notice the changes, not even most experts in their respective fields. That is the nature of such changes. They go below the radar for they can’t be understood within the present context. It’s a paradigm shift. The ideas planted centuries ago may be finally coming to fruition or at least experiencing a major growth spurt.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the proposed shift will make those on the left happy. It’s not to say that it will make anyone happy. We will all be challenged by it. The precise results can’t be predicted.

Re: The Roaming Noam by R.M. Price

http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/zblog/2011/09/the-roaming-noam/

Come on, Mr. Price. I expect more from you. I normally respect your ability to analyze, but this is weak sauce. The problem with this essay is that it’s obvious that you know almost nothing about either anarchism or Chomsky. Your arguments here are so simplistic as to almost be entirely meaningless.

“Yet I can’t help thinking he is seeing a conspiracy where none exists. He is an anarcho-syndicalist and therefore despises any form of government (and all give plenty of reasons to do so!), and this is inevitably going to mean he is going to barrage them with criticism no matter what they do, for existing at all.”

Chomsky backs every single fucking claim with endless cited facts. That is the precise reason he is so impressive. The same reason that impresses me about you in terms of biblical criticism is what impresses me about Chomsky’s views on politics. The guy knows in vast detail what he is talking about. Chomsky never theorizes in the abstract. He is almost boring in his absolute dependence on often tediously careful explanation of facts. Chomsky’s brain is a virtual library of historical and political facts.

No, he won’t criticize the government no matter what they do. Only someone completely ignorant of Chomsky’s political views could make that statement. He isn’t an anti-statist in the way some anarchists are, especially anarchists on the right. In fact, I’ve heard anarchists on the right claim he isn’t an anarchist because he doesn’t advocate the absolute and immediate revolutionary abolishment of the state. Chomsky is a gradualist. He believes the government is necessary in our present situation. He thinks that social democracy, especially democratic processes and institutions, needs to be strengthened first. After that happens, he thinks people can begin to experiment with alternatives. The more our government can be made into a democracy then the closer we as a people can move toward implementing direct democracy. Ultimately, that is all that anarchism means: direct democracy, i.e., active civic participation of all citizens within their communities (and workers within their places of work).

“He aims his thunderbolts from an empty heaven of pure theory that is never sullied by no-win situations and lesser evils. He does not propose an alternative type of government, but merely wishes there were a vacuum, and he would try to prevent human nature from filling it, as it did in the beginning and would do again.”

It’s almost as if you are describing someone who is the complete opposite of Chomsky. It’s true that Chomsky doesn’t propose a single alternative to our present government. If he did so, he wouldn’t be an anarchist. The very core idea of anarchism (or, at least, anarchism at its best) is that there is no single solution for all people in all situations. Instead, he proposes many possible alternatives. Read more of or listen more to Chomsky and you’ll learn about some of these alternatives he has proposed. He talks, for example, about anarcho-syndicalism and worker-controlled factories which is an alternative that has been successfully implemented in different places.

Anyway, as another commenter pointed out, arguments based on ‘human nature’ tend just to be projections and rationalizations. I would, however, not dismiss all such arguments. It’s just I would only trust arguments about human nature that are based on a very detailed analysis of all available research on psychology, sociology and anthropology (such as Fukuyama’s ‘The Origins of Political Order’). Anarchists’ argument against state governments is based on the fact that humans have spent most of their evolution in conditions that didn’t involve state governments, i.e., state governments aren’t the natural environment in which human nature evolved. Just because humans can be forced to submit to state governments by destroying all other alternatives isn’t a very good argument for it being ‘human nature’.

“I found it remarkable that Chomsky admitted both that this is the freest society in the world and that it had been necessary to sacrifice that freedom temporarily to survive during WW2. Doesn’t that tell him anything? Like maybe that government isn’t necessarily so bad? And that occasional control over human behavior (which is what any government is, after all) isn’t necessary only when Hitler looms?”

You’re setting up a very strange double standard. If you perceive Chomsky as having not considered the complexity of human society, he is righteously judging from an attitude of abstract theory. And if you perceive him as admitting to the complexity of human society, he is wrong because you perceive he has hypocritically betrayed his supposedly pure theory position. Chomsky can’t win for losing.

As I said, Chomsky is a gradualist. He accepts that our present society isn’t perfect. So, he understands that imperfect solutions are required as we move toward better solutions. If someone attacks you, then sure defend yourself. But once the immediate threat is taken care of, then try to change the situation that created and/or allowed the threat to happen. The problems caused by state governments sometimes have to be taken care of by state governments, but that isn’t in anyway a justification for why state governments are supposedly a good thing and why they should continue indefinitely.

“I loved what Chomsky said about the Superbowl and other popular idiotic entertainments, how they are mere distractions to give the cows some cud to chew on instead of thinking about anything important. And yet I think Dostoyevsky rings truer: people want such bread and circuses, because they shun the burden of real thought, responsibility, and decision. There is not some secret cabal that keeps them hypnotized. No such thing is necessary (alas!).”

You didn’t present any real argument here. I suppose from an anarchist view that a society is healthier when people play sports rather than watch others play. This is similar to how anarchists think it’s better to democratically make our own decisions than to watch other people make decisions for us, better to participate in politics than watch politics as if it were a spectator sport. All societies have sports, but not all societies have spectator sports. Most societies throughout history, in fact, had participatory sports rather than spectator sports.

So, it’s not about bread and circus. The theory of bread and circus was invented by the Romans. The Romans only needed to do that because they had an oppressive military empire which required a submissive population. Societies that don’t require submissive populations also don’t require bread and circus. This isn’t an issue about people shunning burdens. If you give people freedom to make their own choices, most people are glad to make their own choices. But if you oppress and propagandize people enough (along with bread and circus), you can make them passively accept your making decisions for them. It comes down to a choice of authoritarian rule of an elite or democratic participation of all. You apparently prefer the former and Chomsky the latter. I agree with Chomsky’s preference.

“My guess is rather that the choice of news has more to do with the Family Feud model–what do the average viewers want to hear about? Surely that is the reason there is time wasted with sports “news” daily. In other words, I suspect a lot of what Chomsky attacks comes from the ground up, from the grassroots, not from the top down. And that is far more depressing.”

Your argument fails because it is based on a guess rather than on evidence. Anyone who has studied the mainstream media in any detail knows that it doesn’t operate on grassroots bottom-up model. All you have to do is compare public opinion to what is seen on mainstream media.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/black-and-white-and-read-all-over/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/npr-liberal-bias/

“Conspiracy theories are the most optimistic theories around! They centralize and simplify our problems. They are demythologized versions of the Christian belief in Satan. […} The problem is much more complex than that, and so is any possible solution. Same thing with secular conspiracy theories. They are imaginative schemes to find a scapegoat with a single face. They tend to absolve us of collective guilt and the complicity of our institutions as a whole. If you blame the Ku Klux Klan for our race problems, you are avoiding the much, much larger problems of institutional racism. (Not that the KKK deserves any mercy or even patience!)”

The problem is you haven’t even begun to understand the complexity of Chomsky’s position. You criticized him for not having a simple alternative solution and now you criticize him because you think he does have a simple answer. It’s that strange double standard again.

Chomsky doesn’t need to imagine any schemes or scapegoats. Everything he talks about is backed up with facts which is more than can be said about your arguments here. Chomsky is doing the complete opposite of trying to absolve us of collective guilt and complicity of our institutions as a whole. It’s you who have defended such institutions against Chomsky’s criticisms. As for collective guilt, you’ve proposed that society always is or should be run by a ruling elite. How can there be collective guilt if the average person is just a sheep going with the herd? Dealing with collective guilt would require individuals to take responsibility in their participation in society, a possibility that you consider impossible or undesirable.

Chomsky is the type of person who sees there is plenty of blame to go around. He would blame the KKK, institutional racism, and all the rest of society as well (including himself and everyone else). But he would make sure that any blame given is based on actual evidence of responsibility. Chomsky has absolutely no desire to blame just for the sake of seeking a scapegoat.

“You might wonder what Noam Chomsky thinks about 9/11. Surprisingly, he does not believe there is anything to the conspiracy theories. But this turns out to be the exception that proves the rule, since he suspects the Bush administration purposely fueled such conspiracy theories in order to distract the public from other nefarious actions the administration was performing! Nevertheless, the “Truther” movement seems Chomsky-esque to me.”

It would seem you are being paranoid in seeing conspiracy theories where there are none. Presidential administrations that use conflict to distract the public, you don’t say!?! Surprise, surprise. That isn’t exactly a conspiracy. I think it’s what is called commonsense. Politicians like to distract and manipulate people with rhetoric and emotional persuasion. Why does this common everyday political behavior seem like a conspiracy theory to you?

Chomsky-esque, huh? WTF! You’d first have to know what Chomsky stands for before you could make intelligent claims about what is ‘Chomsky-esque’.

“And it reveals the peculiar perversity of hate-America conspiracy theories. This is one of those rare instances where we do have an actual sinister conspiracy: Al Qaida”

Well, I’d say that your comment reveals the peculiar perversity of love-America ignorance. This demonstrates how simple your political understanding is compared to Chomsky. Chomsky knows more about Al Qaida and the history behind it than you will ever know in your entire life.

“I was interested to hear from Chomsky, in answer to a simple question, that he gets his information about what is really going on in the world, not from the sold-out propaganda mills of the American news media, but rather from newspapers in other countries—which, presumably, are as objective as the day is long. Somehow, though working within societies that are anything but free, whose newspapers are not just de facto but de jure propaganda arms of the controlling juntas, these papers and broadcasts tell the unvarnished truth.”

Now that is just plain beyond stupid. I’ve nearly lost all respect for you at this point. Maybe you should stick to biblical criticism, Lovecraft and comic books.

You really just don’t get it.

Chomsky reads a little bit of everything. He checks out the mainstream media and the alternative media, US media and foreign media. He obsesses over the diversity of journalism in a way that verges on obsessive-compulsive behavior. The reason he reads so much from so many diverse sources is because no single source or single country can be trusted to present the whole truth. That is the fucking point. If you only read US newspapers, you are no better than the French person who only reads French newspapers. It is true, as I understand it, that Chomsky ignores tv reporting because it is so mindlessly superficial and usually empty of information. He prefers reading newspapers and other sources of articles that present more detailed and factual views.

Also, he doesn’t just read all of this. He cuts out the important articles and he files them. He does this every single day and has been doing it for decades, endless files of categorized facts. This is why the guy is able to back up his arguments with so many facts.

“It reminds me of the college freshman who learns just enough anthropology to become convinced of Cultural Relativism, which he construes to mean: everybody is right except for the United States. “My country, wrong or wrong.””

My God, you didn’t actually just compare Chomsky to a college freshman. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Anyway, Chomsky has never *NEVER* claimed that America is always wrong. That is why I appreciate and respect Chomsky. He doesn’t make black/white arguments based on empty speculation and simplistic analysis.

“Don’t get me wrong: I am far from trying to pretend everything is right with America, especially with her government and her policies. Far from it! I am by now pretty cynical. But nobody (e.g., Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan) is going to get me to believe that theocratic, nuke-toting Iran is harmless and that America ought to be spelled with a “k.””

That is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. Chomsky doesn’t argue that Iran is harmless any more than he argues America is always wrong. Did you actually listen to Chomsky or did you just make up all this bullshit after smoking a bunch of pot?

You are free to have your own opinion. However, as I’m fond of saying, you aren’t free to have your own facts. If you’re going to criticize someone like Chomsky who has been writing detailed analyses for decades, you should at least try to understand his basic position before dismissing him.

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
This relates to the connection between Gnosticism and the Gothic.  Many Horror writers study religion and spirituality.  Some even practice it or are members of churches.  Some horror writers go so far as giving up their horror for religion… such as Anne Rice’s conversion.  Most Christian horror writers find a middle-ground because Christian theology gives plenty of space for the horrific… especially Catholicism.

A Biblical scholar I enjoy is Robert M. Price.  He is very well respected as a Biblical scholar, but he is also an expert on Lovecraft and writes horror himself.  Not surprisingly, he is very knowledgeable about Gnosticism.

Some other examples I’ve heard of:  Russell Kirk wrote ghost stories, but he was more famous for his influential political theories.  Charles Williams is best known for his horror novels (or supernatural thrillers as  T.S. Eliot described them), but he also wrote widely on many nonfiction subjects.

Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp have both been highly influenced by religion and spirituality.  They’ve both studied diverse topics, but I do know that they were highly attracted to Buddhism.   As far as I understand, both had done spiritual practices such as meditation and so their interests aren’t merely in the abstract.

Access_public Access: Public 2 Comments Print Post this!views (93)  

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

Thinking about it, Catholocism and Buddhism are good religions for horror writers. Catholocism obsesses about original sin, evil, and demons. Buddhism has strong tendencies towards world-denial in their idealization of non-being and I’ve heard that they traditionallyhave rituals for funerals but not for weddings.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

There is another connection between the Horror genre and the traditional world religions. Both are a bit wary of sexuality and often don’t portray it in the most positive light. I won’t generalize too much about horror and sexuality, but I will say that it seems common for people (especially sexually attractive girls)to bekilled in horror movies after making out. And then there are dark writers such as Kafka where sexuality is almost entirely absent.

I don’t feel up to speculating why this connection exists. I do know that Crisp and Ligotti have spoken disparaging about sex (and procreation)on more than one occasion. In fact, Ligotti has written a lengthy treatise that revolves around this and relatedsubjects. Ligotti is more articulate in his philosophizing, butone of the more amusing quotes about sex is from Crisp (in an interview with Martin Roberts):

“…I am interested in the erotic potential of sexual unfulfillment.”

I enjoy Crisp’s self-deprecating humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at.

Who Is Number One? by R.M. Price

A writer I often enjoy is Robert M. Price.  I discovered him by way of studying Christianity as he is a biblical scholar, but his interests are greater than just Christianity.  I also learned he is a major fan of Lovecraft and the horror genre.  He is a very learned guy with a fairly wide grasp of many subjects from comic book superheroes to philosophy. 

I can’t say I agree with all of his political positions, but I always pay attention to what he has to say.  For this reason, I have his monthly essay column on e-mail notification: Zarathustra Speaks.

This month’s article is “Who Is Number One?”  He eventually posts his articles to his website, but since it’s not posted yet I’ll share it here because it is a truly great piece.

Let me just point out some quick commentary.  Price mentions Ligotti who is a fiction writer, but I’m not sure if Price is aware of Ligotti’s own non-fiction writing that touches upon the same issues in this article. 

Ligotti points out how some Existentialists try to make the seeming pointlessness of life in to a heroic endeavor such as with the story of Sisyphus.  I don’t remember Ligotti’s full argument offhand, but he basically sees this ploy of heroism as a way of not facing up to one’s true situation.  Blaming the gods can simply distract us from the rock that is before us.  However, it seems that Price is aware of this in his using The Prisoner as the larger context of his argument.  Number 6 discovers he is number 1.

Ligotti would take it a step further.  We can’t blame anyone else, but if we turn to ourselves we only discover there is nothing substantial there.  I suspect Price might have a similar view or at least would understand such a view.  The main difference between these two thinkers is that Price is more focused on the social and political.

 – – –

Who Is Number One?

Robert M. Price

I’ve just finished watching the new version of The Prisoner. I loved the original masterpiece of Patrick McGoohan, which aired first in 1966, with a mere 17 episodes. Co-creator McGoohan had wanted the series to last only seven weeks, but he knew he could not sell a package with so few episodes. The new Prisoner, by contrast, did have just six episodes, but for some reason they decided to broadcast two at a time, back to back, and on three nights straight. The individual episodes seemed to me to suffer slightly by being cobbled into what the viewer expected to be coherent two-hour episodes. In other words, there appeared to be drastic theme-shifts right in the middle of each two-hour program. But this did not prevent the new Prisoner from being complex and properly mysterious, albeit a bit tedious at times.

The original Prisoner was a major influence on me when I saw it back in 1967 (the first showing in America), and again the very next year, and then several times after that. There were Prisoner fan associations, but I could not join them because The Prisoner itself had taught me to make a fetish of individualism. Thus I would not, could not, join a group that would want someone like me as a member! Remember, too, what Kierkegaard imagined: the paradox, the absurdity, of a preacher against discipleship—who attracted disciples every time he spoke! But really there was no contradiction. I learned from The Prisoner that I had to march to the beat of my own drum, however amateurishly played, rather than memorizing the lines that were fed me by the catechists of church, society, peer group, or state.

The Prisoner originated as an allegory of reading: McGoohan was sick of playing British secret agent John Drake on Danger Man (Secret Agent in US circulation) and so he resigned, refused to do any more seasons, much to the dismay of his producers. But one of them, George Markstein, approached him with the plot for a new series, The Prisoner, which was so intriguing to him that it lured him back to television. In fact, in the opening sequence, when the hero arrives in his bald, bespectacled superior’s office and slams his fist down on a note with “I resign” scribbled across the envelope, the man was none other than George Markstein. Art imitated life. McGoohan had resigned abruptly from Markstein’s TV show but got “hijacked” into “The Village” (=t he new TV show). John Drake had stormed out of British Intelligence, so they spirited him away to a resort hotel of a maximum security prison. Patrick McGoohan had angrily quit his TV series, so the producers transferred him to another one!

Creator McGoohan’s own experience of free choice made less than free by both temptations and preferences reminds me of the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods in Hades to shoulder a huge boulder up to a mountain peak, from whence it must always fall right back down. Then he had to descend the mountain carefully to retrieve the great rock and begin again. It was a doomed effort, but Albert Camus saw in it the invulnerable stolidity and even the triumph of Sisyphus who performed his hard labor (impossible to shirk) with the transcendence of inner distance and triumph. He refused to make it easier for himself by imagining there was after all some hidden purpose, that the gods must know best. He did not succumb to what we call the Stockholm Syndrome, coming to side with one’s oppressor rather than oneself: “I must have deserved it, I guess!” Sisyphus was a true man, a free man, because he did not kid himself that he deserved it, that a guy could get used to such stony crucifixion. He would betray himself if he became inured to the pain, if he accepted the justice of it. Think also of Ivan Karamazov who could never rejoin the Christian church as long as doing so would require him to acquiesce in the unexplained, unjustified culpability of a God who could and had allowed the suffering of innocent children. If I join up with him, I have to become a spin-doctor for a deity whose misdeeds I dare not recognize as such anymore.

McGoohan’s parable faithfully reflects the doomed irony of the human lot in that it realizes that, as in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (how I hate that title!), or the guests of the Hotel California, “we are all just prisoners here of our own device.” That is, we devised our own captivity (I think some listeners never understand the idiom). What we have here is an existential dilemma well posed in the implicit debate between two postmodern voices. Neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan wrote of the Law of the Father, by which every person becomes an individual subject (i.e., with thoughts, subjectivity, a viewpoint of his own), paradoxically, by being subjected to society’s norms and beliefs and values. You’re your own distinctive mix of the elements, but you do not start out like God, the Autogenes, self-begotten without origins or influences. Did you choose your genes? Did you choose your family environment? The period of history in which you live? The customs you must observe else be branded with the label “deviant”? One first becomes an individual, Lacan says, in the Mirror Stage in which one recognizes his or her own image among the legion of other humans surrounding oneself: “Oh! I get it! I am one of them! What they do, I can/will do!”   

What an odd and striking thing! Being a “prisoner” of defining rules is the precondition for becoming an individual insofar as one transcends them. And this is where the opposing voice of a pair of neo-Nietzcheans, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, comes in. They are keenly aware of the danger of inauthenticity, allowing (as Heidegger would say) das Mann (John Q. Public) to define one’s existence, prescribing one’s attitudes and behaviors as if one were a robot to be programmed. One must take responsibility for one’s own destiny, one’s own beliefs. And this means repudiating the stable and safe self society has provided in what Rush calls “the mass production zone” where “opinions are provided, the future predecided.” Rush again: “Everybody gotta elevate from the norm.” Amen, say Deleuze and Guattari, urging a Dionysian policy of ecstasy, of insanity as measured against the hobgoblin consistency of the Borg hive-mind.  

The schizo “produces himself as a free man, irresponsible, solitary, and joyous, finally able to do and say something simple in his own name, without asking permission; a desire lacking nothing, a flux that overcomes barriers and codes, a name that no longer designates any ego whatever. He has simply ceased being afraid of becoming mad” (Deleuze and Guattari quoted by Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, pp. 96-97)

Think of the policy of the old USSR, sending political dissidents to insane asylums since they must be crazy if they denied “reality” as defined by the State. (“That’s All-State’s stand, tovarish!”) Massimo Pigliucci publicly once called me insane because of my political preferences. It seemed transparently clear to him that our country must obey the dictates of the United Nations because it’s the closest thing we have to a Star Trek style world government. Maybe the patients are running the asylum. But Deleuze and Guatarri contend that all psychoanalysis is coercive insofar as it seeks to reimpose the Law of the Father upon an inchoate psyche where it did not at first “take.” Psychoanalysis wants to write a script for the self and see to it that the patient sticks to it.

The major book of Deleuze and Guattari is Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. In it they argue for a new persona, that of the “schizo,” defined (or rather undefined) as we have just seen. Schizoid man will dare, as Paul Feyerabend (Farewell to Reason and Against Method) said, to pursue all manner of trajectories whether their mutual consistency yet appears on the horizon or not. He will rejoice and desire at a pre-symbolic level, like children and primitives, heedless of the narratives others would use to define him, the rules they would use to confine him. Real selfhood can and must reject the imposition of the coin-value-stamp as assigned by society: those who behave and obey are good, those eccentrics are bad (and here we mean heretics, not criminals, only thought criminals, not those who harm and despoil others). If I read my friend and colleague Tom Flynn right, he would side with Deleuze and Guattari here, which is why he rejects all catechism, all elevations of anything as “sacred,” and all rites of passage where society, again, stamps its likeness on the new-minted coin.

Don Cupitt sums up the dilemma:  

the conservative will say with Freud and Lacan: ‘There has to be culture, and it has to be the one we’ve got; for without culture desire is formless and chaotic.’ At the far opposite extreme, thoroughgoing utopians like Deleuze and Guattari will say: ‘There does not have to be a culture at all. Culture is fascistic! Flee from it, be a nomad and let your body be de-territorialized, a body without organs; for the differentiation, scaling and hierarchizing of the body is always carried out for the purpose of binding it.’ [See 1 Corinthians 12:14-26] (Don Cupitt, The Long-Legged Fly: A Theology of Language and Desire, p. 115)

It ought to be clear that, no matter how long and deeply entrenched, our socio-moral order is a construction of the imagination maintained by universal acquiescence, sharing of the beliefs upon which it is based. Here I must recommend, for the millionth time, The Social Construction of Reality by Peter L. Berger and Thomas V. Luckmann, as well as a subsequent salute/sequel to that book by John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. Also Thomas Ligotti’s great story “The Mystics of Muhlenberg,” which I had the honor to be the first to publish, in Crypt of Cthulhu, # 51). The new Prisoner brings this theme into prominence by introducing the element that the seeming reality of the Village is “only” a shared dream (much as in The Matrix), generated and sustained by “dreamers,” foremost among them the comatose wife of the reigning Number Two. When and if she awakens, the fabric of reality in the Village begins to unravel, sink holes opening in the ground and opening only on an Abyss. She is like Lord Dunsany’s sleeping god Mana Yood Sushai. As long as he remains asnooze, the dream of our world continues on. God forbid he should one day awake! But really we are the dreamers, the hypnotized and self-hypnotized, since it is our tacit consent that keeps the “lusion” going. That’s why the Soviet Union fell: one day everyone, both citizens and soldiers, simply stopped taking it seriously. That, I think is what John and Yoko had in mind when their billboards proclaimed: “War is over if you want it.” And yet it is not quite so simple. Those who believe in war will savage those who do not (a fact the present US administration seems unable to grasp). So, instead of discarding it, we must learn to see what Reinhold Niebuhr called “the relevance of an impossible ideal.” Again, listen to Cupitt: 

Deleuzian nomadism is in danger of being a flight into daydreams. Against it, we have decided that culture is necessary to bring the self into being, and to give desire form. There has to be culture to give us embodiment, but the precise terms of the concordant between desire and culture are not immutable. They can be changed, and culture could be made much less oppressive than it is. [Cupitt, p. 126] 

Gay marriage would be one obvious way of loosening things up: still a species of social order, not license, but more open. The principle requires much more thought and application, the balance ever liable to shift (as Aristotle already saw).

We catch an important echo (whether studied or spontaneous) with Deleuze and Guattari; their “schizo” ideal echoes in two Prisoner episode titles: “The Schizoid Man” in the original series, “Schizoid” in the new one. But Patrick McGoohan was nowhere near as optimistic as Don Cupitt. And the new Prisoner follows McGoohan here. We can never escape or authentically accept the restriction of our freedom at the hands of—ourselves! Remember: when the prisoner unmasks Number One in the final episode, he stares into his own cynically cackling visage! He flees the Village, believing he has set in motion its destruction, only to arrive back home where it instantly becomes clear that he has always lived in the Village. The Village is as wide as the world, the social world as defined by human beings. It is impossible to be a self apart from that programming–and that is the tragedy! A bad thing, not a good one. Our inborn thirst for freedom can never be satisfied, and thus it should be no surprise that the “angry young man” eventually accepts the position as Grand Inquisitor when the old one retires. As in the new version of The Prisoner, Six must eventually become Two. But as the original version tells us, this is only because he has always been One. 

So says Zarathustra.

Thomas Verenna: Character and Scholarship

The blogger hambydammit on his blog Life Without a Net posted a book recommendation of Thomas Verenna’s new book Of Men and Muses (here).  I’ve left a few comments:

 – – –

I understand he is a friend and so you obviously have a different kind of relationship with him than others who’ve known him from online. Even so, I think it’s unfair of you to imply that only one person ruined his credibility. I’ve seen him around in many discussions and he has a way of irritating all kinds of people and let me say it has nothing to do with being smarter than everyone else. He apparently lacks certain practical interpersonal skills.

I originally knew of him through his alias and didn’t know his real name. I accidentally came across his blog without realizing who he was and he acted like a righteous know-it-all. He seemed unable to admit when he didn’t know something. That isn’t to say that he isn’t intelligent. I generally agreed with much that he said, but he just had such a disagreeable personality… or at least that is how he seems online… maybe he’s more easygoing and friendly in normal life.

Anyways, I won’t judge his scholarship based on his personality. I’ll check for some more reviews of his book and see what others think. His name is well enough known in the onine biblical studies community and so publicity shouldn’t be a problem. This book will be the test of whether his scholarship can actually stand up to criticism.

 – – –

Sounds like you have a balanced attitude. I have a couple of responses to Verenna.

First, many people have criticized him of making dishonest and misleading statements (from plagiarism to claiming he knows what he doesn’t). I can’t verify many of these criticisms, but in my own dealings with him he does seem to lack humility and an openness to new perspectives. He certainly doesn’t take criticism well and practically invites people to dismiss him in his own dismissal of others.

Second, I do give his scholarship a chance as Robert M. Price reviews his work positively. I respect Price, but I mistrust Verenna’s using Price as a reference for his own views. Verenna dismissed out of hand the work of D.M. Murdock all the while admitting he had never read her work, but in the same discussion throws out the name of Price. The problem is that Price changed from criticism to praise once he read Murdock’s work and even wrote an introduction to one of Murdock’s books. Verenna’s attitude toward Murdock (who has more respectable credentials than he does) demonstrates an intellectual sloppiness not to mention an unfounded righteousness that is just plain annoying.

So, I’m mixed. He does have some intelligence and there is potential that he might add something worthy to the discussion of biblical studies. For me, the jury is still out. I’ll keep my eyes out for further book reviews before deciding whether to buy this book.

 – – –

I generally agree with your attitude.  I’m not a fan of web drama and haven’t directly been involved with the conflicts involving Verenna, but it seems that Verenna himself wasn’t shy about web drama and at least in the past was a willing partner to some of the conflict.

I tend to ignore criticisms if I only hear them once or only from one person.  However, the criticisms of Verenna involve large numbers of people in very extensive discussions on respectable forums.  It’s hard to ignore.

Even so, I still would’ve not given much credence to it all if he didn’t act the way he did in the discussions I had with him.  I judge him on my personal experience (when I didn’t even know who he was and so I wasn’t judging him based on any preconceived biases about his character).  It isn’t ad hominem.  He in fact dismissed authors he himself admitted to having not read.  So, that much would seem to be a fact.

It is clear to me that he does (unless he has remedied the situation by further study) lack knowledge about certain issues he speaks about authoritatively (and so that fairly places doubt on his scholarship in general).  If he hasn’t read Murdock, he shouldn’t claim to have a worthy opinion.  Both Price and Murdock have more credentials than he does, and Price respects Murdock.  None of this is ad hominem or mere web drama.  This is a fact, but I’m open to this fact being revised (by either his recanting his uninformed judgment or else by informing his judgment on this matter).  I truly hope he has studied further since I last interacted with him, but in order for that to happen he’d first have to humbly admit he lacked knowledge about it.  Personality issues only rub me the wrong way when they influence a person’s intellectual ability.

Valid criticisms can’t be ignored as just web drama.  It’d be much easier to ascertain the worth of Verenna’s scholarhip if he himself had originally ignored (rather than fed) the web drama.  His scholarship is mired in web drama because of his own actions.  As a counter-example, Price has managed to remain above the fray of web drama and his scholarship is clearly respectable partly for that very reason.

However, it does appear that Verenna is trying to become more respectable.  I wish him well in that endeavor.  Maybe this book is a step in that direction.  If his scholarship is worthy, then I’m more than happy to consider his viewpoint.  So far, I’ve looked around at the book reviews and haven’t seen any in-depth analysis of what he writes about.  He does seem to have a few people who strongly support him and so I’m hoping one of them will go into more detail.  I look forward to seeing more discussion.

 – – –

I understand your perspective.  I don’t care that much about the web stuff other than I tend to look at multiple viewpoints when researching a subject.  It’s basically impossible to do a web search about multiple perspectives without coming across web drama.  I mostly avoid web drama and it was an accident that I came across Verenna’s blog.

I’m more interested in the questions than specific answers.  At the same time, I’m interested in how questions are asked and how answers pursued.  Specifically about Verenna, I am extremely curious about the subject he writes about and my views aren’t too far off from his.

I guess that I’m just not sure at the moment what his scholarship offers in respect to the scholarship of others.  There are quite a few active authors who write about mythicism and who are critical of literalism.  Is he adding new insight… if so, precisely what insight?  Or is he writing for laymen and so bringing clarity to a complex subject?  Either insight or clarity is worthy, but a little of both would be wonderful.

I would buy his book right now, but I’m not as yet prepared to spend the money and time on it.  Sadly, I can’t read everything that catches my attention.  I truly am hoping that his book sparks discussion because then I could better see what he is bringing to the table.

NT Scholarship and Discussions: limits, failings

I often find myself attracted to intellectual discussions because it is a good way to engage new perspectives and learn new info.  However, it almost always ends up more frustrating than satisfying.  There are two factors to this that I’ve observed recently in terms of New Testament discussions.

First off, there are categories of people that just don’t see eye to eye… nor even want to try most of the time.  There are: believers, atheists, agnostics, spiritual seekers, philosophers/theologians, scholars, curious bystanders, and of course trolls.  Excluding the troll category, I find myself a mix of all of these

An even more basic division are those who want to debate (whether apologists, intellectual, or troll) and those who seek meaning.  New Testament studies discussions attract mostly the former type.  It consists of people arguing over the validity of some ancient reference or the proper translation of a word.  It is rare for people to look at the big picture to see how it all fits together because nobody can agree to even a basic set of facts and premises.  This is why mythicists have such a hard time because their position isn’t very convincing when you argue over a single detail.  You have to enter the mindset of an ancient person and get at their fundamental perception and understanding of the world.  In order to do this, it helps to step outside of ancient texts and engage other types of info from diverse fields (such as ethnology and comparative religion).  However, to want to seek out a larger perspective one has to be a meaning seeker and not just an intellectual debater.

This brings me to the second factor New Testament studies isn’t primarily about meaning.  Most of the discussion is about how Christianity and the scriptures developed rather than why.  This is because considering why can’t as easily be answered, and it would require New Testament scholars (of the academic and armchair varieties) to step outside of their comfort zones.  I’ve noticed scholarly types (and those who like to consider themselves as such) tend to stake out a territory.  This happens on an individual level and within an entire field of study.  Many scholars defend their field from the intrusion of scholars from other fields… even sometimes going so far as to say an authority on history or ancient languages aren’t worthy of commenting on New Testament because that isn’t their specialty (even if they spent their whole life studying the New Testament scholarship).  The scholars that dismiss the scholarship of other fields usually do so out of ignorance.  Academia has a way of creating tunnel vision.

Robert M. Price talks about this problem (http://www.atheistalliance.org/jhc/Pricejhc.htm).  He is a good example of someone who seeks a broader understanding in order to resist getting trapped in the lowest common denominator of scholarly consensus.  He writes about higher criticism, theology, apologetics, literary theory, comparative religion, and mythicism… along with unscholarly subjects such as Lovecraft’s horror writing and superheroes.  More importantly, he refuses to identify entirely with any given theory.

Price is on the Jesus Project.  I have some hope that the Jesus Project may open up the New Testament field.  I was reading Richard Carrier’s view on it in his blog (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/12/jesus-project.html)  It sounds like the project is trying to get past the biases of past New Testament scholarship.  No scholar is being rejected because their theory isn’t consensus opinion, and the participating scholars will actually judge eachother’s theories based on the the strength of the scholarship.  Gee golly!  What a concept!  Carrier has another blog where he discusses the problems of the field in reference to a book he is writing about historicism (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/09/ignatian-vexation.html).  He points out how New Testament scholars don’t follow the standard practices of historians in other fields.  This is probably because the field has been controlled by apologists for centuries now.  Interestingly, Carrier’s opinion about older scholarship (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/04/history-before-1950.html) disagrees with the opinion of Price (in the link from the above paragraph).

However, the Jesus Project doesn’t go far enough for me.  I’d like to see some similar project about early Christianity that included scholars from all relevant fields: historians from other fields, ancient language expterts, literary theorists, comparative religionists, comparative mythologists, folklorists, archaeologists (including archaeoastronomers), anthropologists (including ethnologists and ethnoastronomers), astrotheologists, experts on ancient theology and philosophy, and New Testament higher critics.  I’d only exclude apologists if they lacked appropriate objectivity.  The basis of this project would be determining standards across fields in order to encourage discussion.  I can dream.