Friday, March 30, 2007

The Fatal Flaw in the Classical View of God

The “classical view of God” refers to the view of God that has dominated Christian theology since the earliest Church fathers. According to this theology, God is completely “immutable.” This means that God’s being and experience never changes in any respect. God is therefore pure actuality (actus purus), having no potentiality whatsoever, for potentiality is a power to change which, as I just said, is ruled out in classical theology. God is therefore also timeless (sequence-less), for “before” and “after” signifies some sort of change which, again, God is incapable of. Finally, God is “impassible” in classical theology, meaning that God is “above” experiencing emotion. To experience emotion God would have to be affected by something outside of himself, but this is impossible if God has no potentiality for any change. All these things were thought to be implied in the belief that God is “perfect.”

I’m currently working on a book (The Myth of the Blueprint) in which I’m trying to prove that this eternally-the-same conception of perfection has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. (I’m also trying to show how this fed into a strand of fatalism that corrupted the early church’s understanding of free will, but that’s for a later blog). This concept of perfection comes to full fruition in a man named Parmenides, but it gained its most influential advocate in Plato who followed on Parmenides’ heels. In the Republic Plato argues that the gods must be unchanging, for all change can only be for the better or for the worse, and what is perfect cannot be improved or diminished. So, what is perfect must be completely unchanging. The argument is repeated ad nauseum by later Greco-Roman philosophers and then repeated by many early church theologians.

Think about this argument for a moment. Do you see any problems with it?

Imagine a person walking around in a very upbeat mood but who then encounters a friend who is despairing over the recent death of her child. Do you think the grief of the friend would alter the mood of this person? Wouldn’t it be grotesque if this person remained “immutable” in their upbeat demeanor while interacting with her grieving friend? Isn’t it the case that the more perfect this person was, the more deeply they’d be affected by their grieving friend? If they were in fact a perfect person, they wouldn’t be improved by this encounter, and they certainly wouldn’t be diminished by it. But they would be changed by it – precisely because they’re perfect.

This is the fatal flaw in Plato’s argument, and the fatal flaw in classical theology. The eternally-the-same and affected-by-nothing conception of perfection is completely non-relational and impersonal. It could perhaps be applied to timeless principles, but not to a personal being. Yet, from the earliest times Christian theologians applied this line of reasoning to the God of the Bible. (Actually, a Jewish philosopher named Philo who wrote around the time of Christ had already been trying to do this, and many of the early Christian theologians were simply following his lead.)

If we instead think of perfection in personal terms while acknowledging that God is perfect, the last thing we’d conclude is that God is completely unchanging, devoid of potentiality, sequence-less, or devoid of emotion. Instead, if we think of perfection in personal terms, the picture of God we get is one in which he is deeply affected by his relationships with those he creates. Of course, God’s character and nature is eternally-the-same, but his experience of his creation would be perpetually changing as he relates to perpetually changing people in a perpetually changing world.

Is this not exactly the picture of God we get in the Bible? Where in the Bible is there any hint that God’s experience of the world is unchanging and non-sequential? The God of the Bible is continually acting and responding. He plans, and then alters plans in response to new situations. He rejoices, grieves, gets angry, becomes disappointed, etc… While his sense of time is radically different form ours – as you’d expect from a being who has always existed – he nevertheless relates to humans in sequence (how else can one being relate to another?).

Most important, out of unfathomable love, the God of the Bible became a human being. Talk about God having a capacity to change and to be deeply affected by another! To me, one of the most shocking – and disappointing – mysteries of history is how bright Christians, who were taught to look to Jesus to know what God is like (e.g. Jn. 14:7-9), ended up asserting that God is immutable, devoid of potential, non-sequential, and impassible. I believe it’s time to lay this misconstrued Greek concept of perfection to rest.

Greg Boyd

(original post)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bono's Speech at the NAACP Awards

Thanks to my brothers at The Pub for doing a posting that made me aware of this speech.

Bono won an award at the NAACP's award show because of his work in Africa and with It is a very inspiring and provoking speech, and I would recommend that everyone see it and take notice.

Luke 6:20-36
And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Government That Can't Remember

There are a lot of disputed things about the United States government...from plans of war to domestic policy. Most things seem more like a popularity contest too, than trying to be an upstanding, lawful, and generous nation. But one thing is clear. Everytime anyone from this administration is asked anything about their actions in office...they can't recall those situations or any details.

Bob Schieffer, from Face The Nation, points out this seeming memory loss about everything the administration is responsible for...curiously enough...especially with the individuals who are directly responsible for something done.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sony PS3 helps medical research

Just read a few articles about a project done by Stanford University connected with their "Folding@Home" project. Folding@Home basically allows bits of data to be sent to people's computers (who are willing to install their software) to use their computer's processing power for research during the times that you aren't actually using the computer for something at home.

This project takes that idea a step further by utilizing the Sony PS3's processing abilities and its network capabilities. So, if you install the Folding@Home application on your will analyze bits of data while you aren't playing games, but have left the PS3 on.

Folding@Home on the PS3

Folding@Home info on Wikipedia

Folding@Home for the PS3 will be available for download on March 23.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Birthday Posting

It is my birthday today and I feel that I should post something.

I just wanted to thank all my Celt brothers and sisters (Trevor, Abby, Mary, and Darin) that I had a very wonderful St. Patrick's Day wife and daughters who sang happy-birthday to me over the sister-in-law and nephew who baked me a nice German-chocolate friend Chris, who came to visit...Josh and Jason who both phoned me...and my parents who left me a clever e-card. It was a nice and quiet birthday.

I actually played bass for the worship team at church this morning. Many of the people that attend there were away for many of the musicians are also away. It was a nice blast from the past to play bass. I haven't done that for years.

Well...happy belated St. Patrick's Day to everyone!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Monsanto again covering their tracks

Monsanto, just like with the effects to both cows and humans with their bovine growth hormone, has covered their tracks concerning their genetically engineered corn. Apparently it causes liver and kidney problems in rats.

GMO corn causes liver, kidney problems in rats: study

It is worthwhile to eat organically grown food, as well as whole foods...rather than all the processed and GMO foods in the American diet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Troubled by "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"?

This is a repost of Greg Boyd's commentary on the issue.
[ link ]


Concerned about “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”?

Here’s Greg’s Top 20 Objections
to Cameron’s Documentary

On March 4th the Discovery Channel aired James Cameron’s much celebrated documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” The documentary basically gives a new spin on an old discovery. In 1980, a first century tomb was discovered in Talpoit (a southern suburb of Jerusalem) that contained 10 ossuaries (that is, boxes that contained the remains of people). Six of the ossuaries have names etched on them: “Jesus, son of Joseph,” “Maria,” “Mariamne,” “Matthew,” “Judas, son of Jesus,” and “Jose” (a diminutive of Joseph). The documentary argues that it’s not coincidental that these names all correspond to figures in the New Testament. Beyond the obvious associations of Jesus, Joseph, and Judas “son of Jesus,” Cameron’s documentary argues that “Maria” is Jesus’ mother, Mariamne is Mary Magdalene who was supposedly included in the tomb because she was Jesus’ wife, and Matthew and Jose are supposedly Jesus’ brothers (or, alternatively, Matthew could have been buried in the family tomb because he was simply so close to the family).

Now, I will confess up front that I found this documentary to be so incredibly weak I couldn’t justify putting in more than about 40 minutes of extra research to rebut it. So, frankly, what follows is pretty much off the top of my head. But I offer it because I know some Christians may be losing some sleep over it when, in fact, they shouldn’t be.

So, here are my top twenty reasons for why this documentary shouldn’t be of any concern for Christians.

1. The “Jesus tomb” ossuaries were discovered over 25 years ago, yet throughout this time hardly any scholars – including the leading experts in archeology and the vast majority of non-Christian scholars – have concluded that the odds this tomb contained the remains of Jesus and others mentioned in the New Testament to be a hair’s breath above zero. That alone has got to tell you something.

2. The names on these ossuaries are all among the most common names for first century Jews. This is one of the main reasons the vast majority of scholars find the alleged correspondence between these six names and the names found in the New Testament to be nothing more than an insignificant coincidence.

3. It’s not even certain the name “Jesus” in this tomb is really “Jesus.” A few scholars think it may more likely refer to the name “Hanun.”

4. The documentary made much of the fact that Mariamne (“Mary”) is followed by “mara” on her ossuary. This was interpreted in Cameron’s documentary to mean “master” or “teacher,” which in turn was used to support linking this Mariamne with Mary Magdalene. Now, the only evidence that Mary Magdalene was regarded as a teacher comes form a fourth century Gnostic document. This is extremely poor evidence, to say the least. Even more importantly, most scholars argue that “mara” is simply an abbreviation for “Martha.” If this is the case, this ossuary may have contained the remains of two different women (possibly sisters) since we know that ossuaries often contained more than one person’s remains.

5. The association of Mariamne with Mary Magdalene is problematic for another reason: Mary was called “Maria” (not “Mariamne”) in the Gospels and early centuries of Church history. We don’t find Mary Magdalene identified as “Mariamne” until the fourth century - and that in quasi-gnostic work. This is about as tenuous as historical evidence gets. It’s the same kind of evidence cited in The Da Vinci Code to suggest Mary was married to Jesus, which this documentary also espouses. If someone is going to build a case relying on this sort of lame “evidence,” they could just as easily (and ridiculously) argue that Mary was married to Philip, since one Gnostic text from this same time period (the Acts of Philip) suggests this. The bottom line is that appealing to non-historical works that are centuries removed from the people and events they talk about puts one on very thin ice.

6. The inscriptions on these ossuaries are in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. One has got to wonder why? This may suggest that, if this is in fact a family tomb (see below), it is a multi-generational tomb, and this significantly damages the thesis of Cameron’s documentary. It’s also significant that the Mary whom this documentary identifies as Mary Magdalene has her inscription in Greek, while Jesus, who is supposed to be her husband, has his inscription in Aramaic. This is not at all what we would expect if, in fact, these two were man and wife. In my humble non-expert opinion, the variety of inscriptions, combined with other factors (see below) indicates that this most likely was not a family tomb. And if it wasn’t a family tomb, the statistical argument this documentary relies so heavily on (which is weak in the first place) is shot to pieces.

7. Speaking of inscriptions, it’s significant that they were all done in a very sloppy, careless manner. Jews typically collected the remains of a buried person and put them in ossuaries a year or more after they died. If Jesus’ family and friends had a year to plan his entombment, wouldn’t they have taken a bit more care inscribing his name on his ossuary? In fact, since dignitaries were usually given ornate ossuaries (cf. the ossuary of Ciaphas the High Priest), wouldn’t we have thought Jesus’ ossuary would be a little more ornate than the others? As it stands, Jesus’ ossuary is perfectly ordinary.

8. Only wealthy families could afford family tombs, but Jesus’ family was poor.

9. As I mentioned earlier, two of the ossuaries identify the person whose remains it contains by associating them with their father (that is, Jesus son of Joseph and Judas son of Jesus). Now, this was a common practice among Jews from Judea. In the area around Galilee, however, people were identified by their hometown. Unfortunately for the documentary’s thesis, Jesus’ family was from the area around Galilee, not Judea. Hence we would expect an ossuary containing the remains of the biblical Jesus to read, “Jesus of Nazareth” (as the Gospels record it), not Jesus “son of Joseph.”

10. Family tombs were customarily built in the family’s hometown. So, if Jesus’ family could have somehow acquired enough money to purchase a family tomb (see #8) we would expect it to be in located in Nazareth, not a suburb of Jerusalem (Tolpoit).

11. The documentary struggles trying to fit Matthew into its thesis that the Tolpoit tomb is the lost tomb of Jesus, for there’s not one shred of evidence that Jesus had a brother by this name. The documentary tries to argue for this possibility, however, by noting that the genealogy of Mary in Luke (ch.3) is “consistent with” her having had a son named “Matthew,” since we find variations of “Matthew” in her family tree. This is true, but it would also be true for any number of genealogies of other first century Jewish women. Remember, “Matthew” (and variations of it) was a very common name. Not only this, but there’s no evidence I know of that supports making an appeal to the names of ancient relatives even relevant. Did Jewish families generally look into their very distant past when deciding names for their children?

12. Perhaps realizing that the case for Matthew being Jesus’ brother is pretty weak, the documentary entertains the possibility that Matthew was Jesus’ disciple mentioned in the New Testament (and the traditional author of the Gospel bearing his name). Now, one might immediately wonder why Matthew would have been included in Jesus’ family tomb instead of other disciples who (according to the Gospels) seemed to have a closer relationship with Jesus (e.g. John). But even more importantly, this concession completely screws up the documentary’s thesis that this was Jesus’ family tomb. For once we grant that one of the ossuaries contains the remains of a non-family member, we undermine any grounds we might think we have for identifying any of the ossuaries as belonging to family members. In other words, if Matthew might not have been a family member, why should we feel compelled to conclude that Maria or Mariamne or Jose were family members? Maybe they too were just close friends of the family? And once we’ve come this far, it’s clear we no longer have any grounds for identifying this as a family tomb in the first place! In fact, since “Jesus” was an extremely common name among first century Jews, I don’t see why we should even feel compelled to accept that the Jesus who is the “son of Joseph” is the same Jesus who is identified as “the father of Judas.”

13. The only brother of Jesus the Gospels tell us anything about is James. We also learn about this brother of Jesus from two references to him in Josephus’ writings. Why isn’t his ossuary in the tomb? About three years ago a person claimed to have found a first century ossuary that had inscribed on it, “James, the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Some scholars think it is authentic, others not. I suspect it is, but whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that, whether authentic or not, it it wasn’t in the Talpoit tomb. Nor could it have come from the Talpoit tomb, since it’s a different kind of ossuary and contains a different kind of inscription compared to the ossuaries in this tomb. So whatever we make of the James ossuary, the point stands that the absence of James in the Talpoit tomb is evidence that this was not the tomb of Jesus’ family.

14. The DNA sample from the Jesus ossuary didn’t match the DNA from Mariamne’s ossuary, suggesting further that this was not a family tomb. Amazingly, the Cameron documentary tries to use this fact to prove that Mariamne must have been the wife of Jesus! This is as arbitrary a leap of faith as I can imagine. Why Jesus’ wife? Why not Jose’s or Matthews or Joseph’s wife? Or, why not simply suppose she was a family friend, like the documentary admits Matthew may have been? Then again, why assume this was a family tomb in the first place?

15. In the Gospels, no one except hostile witnesses (see Jn 6:62) identified Jesus as “the son of Joseph.” In fact, he’s identified as “the son of Mary” (Mk 6:3), which is very unusual and possibly significant in its own right. First century Jews were usually identified by their father, not their mother, even after their father was dead. (It was an intensely patriarchal culture). The fact that the Gospels report Jesus being identified by his mother plausibly suggests that Jesus’ own town folk didn’t buy Mary’s story of the virgin birth. In any case, it’s extremely unlikely Jesus’ friends and followers would have buried him with the inscription “son of Joseph.”

16. Concerning the ossuary containing the remains of “Judas, son of Jesus”: folks, if Jesus had an son, he would have been held in high esteem in the early Church and we most certainly would have heard about him. As it stands, there isn’t so much as a hint that Jesus had a son (or a wife for that matter).

17. If this tomb included the remains of Jesus and his family, it would have instantly become a shrine and devotees would have made pilgrimages to it. We know of shrines and pilgrimages to much lesser Jewish and Christian figures in the ancient world. Yet, there’s not one shred of historical evidence so much as referring to this tomb.

18. Now, perhaps the reason why there was no shrine constructed on this site is that it was a ‘secret” tomb. But why then does the tomb have a symbol drawing attention to itself on its entrance? Additionally, if this was a secret tomb, it means Jesus’ family and friends were intentionally covering up the truth about what happened to Jesus. Is there any evidence Jesus’ family and friends were devious? And what motivation would they have had to carry out this deceptive act?

19. If the remains of Jesus were in the Talpoit tomb, the “resurrection appearances” of Jesus would have to have been of a purely “spiritual” nature (like hallucinations). Unfortunately for this thesis, the Jews of this time had no conception of a disembodied resurrection. Also, the Gospels uniformly report a physical resurrection (e.g. Lk 24:39).

20. Finally, if the remains of Jesus were in this tomb, the Gospel’s empty tomb stories have to be judged to be completely fictitious. But a) there are many strong arguments supporting the general historical reliability of the Gospels, and b) how are we to imagine the earliest disciples passionately preaching a fictitious message they know will invite persecution (which it did)? Is there any evidence the earliest followers of Jesus were this deceptive (for they intentionally preached a lie) and stupid (for they got themselves killed for it)? I know of none. Indeed, I can’t think of a historical hypothesis that is more implausible than this one.

So what do I think about Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus? As fiction it’s right up there with the Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The only sad thing about all this is that Cameron and his cadre seem to be thinking they’re actually doing bona fide historical work. They’re not.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ann Coulter Calls John Edwards a Faggot

Ann Coulter, because she is such a 'quality' person with such a 'quality' opinion, called John Edwards a faggot this last week:

I think that she should be treated like Donald Trump treated hopeful Derek on "The Apprentice" last night after he used the term "white trash" toward himself even, not that he hadn't been making derogatory comments about others the whole time though:

Ann Coulter, you need to shut your bigoted and slanderous mouth.