Hobo Jake and a Counterfactual Universe.

Philip Jenkins’ Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years looks like a really good book judging from the sample I had Amazon send me; I’ll probably wind up getting the whole thing. Here are a couple of piquant excerpts from the part I read:

Looking back at its long history, Egypt’s Christians only knew state favor for a fleeting interval, and a similar story could be told of Syria, that other ancient center of the faith. From 542 to 578, the greatest leader of the Monophysite church was Jacobus Baradaeus, whose nickname refers to the rags he wore to escape the attention of imperial authorities constantly on the watch for this notorious dissident. Translating his name as “Hobo Jake” would not be far off the mark. Instead of living in a bishop’s palace, he remained ever on the move, wandering from city to city. He roamed between Egypt and Persia, ordaining bishops and priests for the swelling underground church. His career, in other words, looked far more like that of an early apostle than a medieval prelate, and there were many others like him. Numerically, Jake won far more converts than Paul of Tarsus, and he covered more ground. The heart of the Christian church never left the catacombs, or if it did, it was not for long.

[…]

We can imagine a counterfactual universe in which the schism between Rome and the East occurred in the fifth century, not the eleventh, and papal Rome never recovered from subjection to successive waves of barbarian occupiers. By 450, much of the old Western empire was under the political control of barbarian warlords who were overwhelmingly Arian Christians, rather than Catholics. Perhaps the papacy might have survived in the face of Arian persecution and cultural pressure, perhaps not. In the East, meanwhile, the Monophysite Roman Empire would have held on to its rock-solid foundations in a faithfully united Eastern realm that stretched from Egypt to the Caucasus, from Syria to the Balkans. This solid Christendom would have struggled mightily against Muslim newcomers, and conceivably, they would have held the frontiers.

Later Christian scholars would know the fundamental languages of the faith — Greek, Coptic, and Syriac — and they would have free access to the vast treasures surviving in each of those tongues. Latin works, however, would be available only to a handful of daring researchers willing to explore that marginal language with its puzzling alphabet. Only those bold Latinists would recall such marginal figures of Christian antiquity as Saints Augustine and Patrick. In contrast, every educated person would know those champions of the mainstream Christian story, Severus of Antioch and Egypt’s Aba Shenoute. In this alternate world, the decisive turning point in church history would have been not Chalcedon, but Second Ephesus, which we today remember as the Gangster Synod, the Council That Never Was. And the One Nature would have triumphed over the noxious errors of the Dyophysites, the Two Nature heretics.

I know some historians look down their noses at alternate history, but I love it, and I find this example particularly stimulating. Down with Latin, up with Greek, Coptic, and Syriac! Long live Severus and Aba Shenoute!

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    In two pieces cut those who acknowledge the two natures!

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    My object all sublime
    I shall achieve in time:
    To make the punishment fit the crime,
    The punishment fit the crime!

  3. John Cowan says:

    That Baradaeus looks to me like it might be underlyingly bar-Addai.

    Well, Greek comes out ahead either way. The New Testament is in Greek, after all, and so the central issue is “Which way does the Greek church go?” If it becomes miaphysite, Egypt becomes an integral part and Rome is marginalized; if dyophysite, Rome becomes an integral part (at least for the next six centuries) and Egypt is marginalized. In either case the Assyrian Church of the East is ultra-marginalized: in one case because it is dyophysite, in the other because it is the wrong sort of bees dyophysite.

    When the Pope celebrates or concelebrates the Mass in Greek, guess what he leaves out.

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    So the Armenian language (not to be confused with the languages used by Arminians) get slighted again. I note with some amusement that Jenkins has not adopted the word-choice tic of the faction he claims to counterfactually boost by using the label “miaphysite” rather than the deprecated “monophysite.” Perhaps in his counterfactual “monophysite” would not have taken on pejorative baggage, I suppose.

    (Separately, the notion that the isolated and Arian-besieged Vatican over the course of the 5th-through-7th centuries would have fervently held out for the strict dyophysite position rather than been more flexible as was ultimately needed to retain good relations with the East and perhaps have a miaphysite Belisarius come to their aid seems a bit fanciful.)

  5. I read Wikipedia biography of Hobo and it follows that no way Egyptian and Syrian churches would dominate the Christian world. They managed to be at each other throats even when in opposition to Chalcedony.

    Also, I thought what the moniker Baradaeus reminds me of and, of course, it is ElBaradei. But because I know no Arabic, I have no way to embark on etymological research…

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    In the preview where he talks about his choice of terms Jenkins does acknowledge that “Monophysite” has limitations but is used in prior popular histories whereas “Miaphysite” is unknown outside academic theological writing (he’s wrong about that point), so to be fair it’s not like he completely overlooked the terminological issue even if one might think his resolution of it debatable.

    Separately, at least to judge from the preface, he’s taking the easy line that which position ultimately emerged for contingent historical reasons as dominant and thus “orthodox” is largely the result of secular powers (emperors and whatnot) meddling in ecclesiastical affairs. There’s some of that but it’s equally striking that for a number of centuries it was often to the contrary secular rulers who most deeply appreciated the negative practical side effects of the Chalcedonian/non-Chalcedonian divide and kept hoping that the schism could somehow be resolved via some mutually acceptable compromise position which they would then charge their court theologians with devising. The Henotikon of Zeno was an early entry in this genre but there were many more, and it turned out that for whatever contingent historical reasons it was difficult and ultimately impossible for pragmatic secular rulers to impose their own preferences in this regard on the hardcore ecclesiastics insistent on resisting compromise on seemingly abstruse matters.

  7. John Cowan says:

    I think the two positions are quite consistent. On the one hand, the Emperor (or whatever) will support whichever position seems stronger; on the other, he rarely cares which one it actually is. The absence of religious warfare, that’s the thing. But when the Empire becomes weak (as the post-Roman Goths were weak), tolerance looks good as long as the fighting stays local.

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just as to “down with Latin,” the so-called Tome of Leo which found favor at Chalcedon may have been drafted in Latin back in Leo’s barbarous Western homeland, but it arrived in Chalcedon translated into Greek, as it would have to have been to have any chance of persuading most of the not-necessarily very-literate-in-Latin divines there assembled.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    My object all sublime

    Best sung to the tune of Pinky & the Brain:

    My ˈobˈject sublime
    I shall achieve in time:
    To ˈmake the ˈpunishˈment
    _ Fi-it the-e crime,
    The punishment}3
    The punishment}3 fit the crime, crime, crime, crime,
    Crime, crime, crime, crime,
    Criiiiiiime!!!

  10. he’s wrong about that point

    Not very wrong; you’d find a lot of people who recognized “monophysite” even if they couldn’t define it before you ran into somebody aware of “miaphysite.”

  11. @D.O.

    Also, I thought what the moniker Baradaeus reminds me of and, of course, it is ElBaradei.

    Indeed, later borrowed into Sindarin: A Elbereth Gilthoniel…

  12. Charles says:

    Let Julian stay out of Iraq and live ( and rule) to a ripe old age: problem(s) solved.

  13. Richard Hershberger says:

    I know “Miaphysite” from Diarmaid McCullough’s history of Christianity. This is aimed at the general reader as contrasted with academics, but the sort of general reader interested in a doorstop of a book on the subject. I have known “Monophysite” since college, which was, um…, not recent.

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    To refine my point, my own experience has been that over the last few decades “miaphysite” has become increasingly common as an endonym for (English-speaking) members of the churches in question (with “monophysite” being rightly or wrongly perceived as a pejorative exonym) and is used as such by them in internet-type discourse about religious matters. If you live your life without having much occasion to encounter members of the churches in question talking about their own perspective on the subject, I accept that it may remain a quite obscure term. No doubt quite a lot of popular historical works that mention the “monophysites” as part of a larger historical survey of Christianity are written by authors who have never knowingly met or communicated with an actual living miaphysite and don’t think that any handicap in their ability to pontificate on the subject.

    I’m not reflexively on the side of those who say you always have to go with the group’s own preferred name for themselves (maybe esp where there’s some dispute about whether the 21st century monophysites should be taken as speaking authoritatively for their 5th century predecessors?) when the exonym has long been standard in general writing. But my original comment was motivated by the notion that if there’s anytime you really ought to use the endonym over the exonym it’s probably when you’re writing a fantasy in which the group in question ends up as historical winners rather than historical losers.

  15. Good point.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Miaphysite” is morphologically peculiar: after all, we don’t talk about miapolies or miarchy or miagamy. Or mia- anything, really, apart from Farrow and Ow.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    David E.: The monicker is chosen to evoke a particular famous phrase of St. Cyril of Alexandria, viz. μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη (transliterated: “mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene”). Cyril died slightly before the two rival councils (of 449 and 451) that resulted in conflicting outcomes supporting rather divergent viewpoints, but holders of both of those viewpoints generally expressed confidence that Cyril, properly interpreted, was on their side of the conflict.

  18. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    David E: At the risk of spoiling the joke, you’ve got me hunting them – there’s also Sma and Mi!

  19. John Cowan says:

    The blessed word miaphysitism at LH in 2014. “When I establish the Church of Hat you shall be patriarchs all.”

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    I dare say there are some among us who would prefer to be matriarchs. Lady patriarchs, possibly? Or (to avoid all tiresome controversy), simply archs?

  21. ə de vivre says:

    I’ve also noticed a mono > miaphysite turn. I think it’s part of a recognition by historians of Christianity that much of their inherited terminology comes from the point of view of Roman diaphysite apologists. There’s a similar move to abandon “Nestorian” as a label for Antiochene diaphysite churches and instead use “East Syriac.” It’s not the most elegant term, but is far less misleading. Nerstorius is a much more important figure in Chalcedonian polemics than he is in the development of East-Syriac christology.

    Vaguely apropos: I cringe whenever I see English-language books on Buddhisms refer to “Hinayana” Buddhism, which is very much a derogatory exonym for non-Mahayana schools. “Abhidharmika” seems to be prevailing in academic works as a replacement (at least when you mean more than just Theravada), but whenever I see a very ecumenical-posturing writer use “Hinayana,” it makes we wonder if they’ve got a more sectarian ax to grind than they’re letting on.

  22. John Cowan says:

    I believe that Hanlon’s Razor applies here, plus Gould’s Law of Textbook-Copying.

    In any case, are any Sarvāstivādin (or Ghu knows what else) Buddhists still standing, or at any rate currently embodied?

    In any case, I’m sure our Hat (Red or Yellow as may be) meant to mention matriarchs as well.

  23. ə de vivre says:

    Theravadins are the only ones still around. The argument in favour of “Abhidharmika” is that the issue at hand for Mahayana-versus-the-rest is whether everything lacks self-existence (Maha…) or only pretty much everything we interact with in everyday life (the rest). Theravadins, Sarvastivadins, Pugalavadins, Sautrantikas, &c have (had) some system of abhidharma to systematize the things that do have self-existence (though they didn’t necessarily agree on what those are). Popular candidates include: past, present, and/or future, time and/or moments thereof, space, individual instances of substanceless qualities, persons (but not selves!).

  24. J.W. Brewer says:

    I agree that “Hinayana” is a useful parallel, but there (although maybe I haven’t read the relevant books and there’s context I’m missing) I don’t know how much my assumption would be “author maybe has concealed sectarian ax to grind” as opposed to “author is probably defaulting to the same terminology used in the intro/popularizing books on the subject they first read X decades ago without thinking very hard about it.” Again, in lots and lots of discourse contexts “using by default the lexical items you first acquired when you first encountered their referents earlier in your life without thinking very hard about it” is the optimal strategy or at least a reasonable one. But being able to recognize when you may be in a context where that’s not the right strategy and being more consciously reflective about choice of terminology is a better approach is itself a skill that may be useful to acquire.

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Hinayana” also makes me wonder by analogy (for all the Russian historians here) whether “Menshevik” was actually an endonym, or a pejorative slur imposed on them by the Bolsheviks? (Of course it could have started as a slur but then been adopted as an endonym, ironically or otherwise, because that’s certainly a thing that happens sometimes.)

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    I appreciate John Cowan’s pointer to the 2014 thread. By the end of it I exhibited a more subtle grasp of some of the terminological fine points than I had at the beginning, but I had forgotten most of it again in the intervening years.

  27. ə de vivre says:

    Re. concealed sectarian axes: This suspicion is more about my own cynicism than anyone’s bad faith. I think what stands out to me is that a lot of popular presentations of Buddhism in the West are so strongly ecumenical, and downplay intellectually rigorous activity in Buddhism (the Zen patriarchs may have promoted a teaching without words, but they sure wrote like they were fluent in Yogacara book-learnin’), that to see a transparently sectarian term like “Hinayana” pop up gives me whiplash. But, as they say, “If you meet Hanlon on the way, slash his throat.”

  28. It still amazes me how seriously some theologians, whether Christian, or Buddhist, or otherwise, have hisorically taken thse disputes. It’s not merely the intense belief that certain questions are meaningful to start with, but the absolute certainty that only very specific sophistry answers to them are correct. They “prate about an elephant not one of them has seen” indeed.

  29. Меньшевики is endonym and is no more pejorative than “minority” in a legislature. It sucks to be in minority, but it’s not a disgrace. There was of course some Whorfian kvetching about how this moniker reduced mensheviks influence, but I never saw an example that it really mattered. Mensheviks together with SRs were pretty successful as a sensible social-democratic party during Provisional government. It says something, though, that in theory a sensible left-wing party SR were actually terrorists. But then again, Sinn Féin counts as a relatively reasonable party.

    the absolute certainty that only very specific sophistry answers to them are correct

    Brett, you are in a position to tell us whether this is at all similar to the attitudes of string theorists. What amazes me is how we seem to get no deeper into this then Borges. He was a genius, of course, but so much time has passed.

  30. PlasticPaddy says:

    Has anyone suggested that the continuation of theological arguments by other, more robust, means, and the gleeful participation of large portions of society in the ensuing carnage, is at least in some cases a form of mass hysteria, like the comparatively harmless St. Vitus’ dance?

  31. It still amazes me how seriously some theologians, whether Christian, or Buddhist, or otherwise, have hisorically taken thse disputes.

    That’s presentism in its purest form. The disputes that seem so vital to us today will seem just as pointless in a millennium or two; does the thought that people of the future will smirk at you make you say “Oh well, I guess my passionately held views are unimportant and I won’t bother to do anything about them”? You will never even begin to understand the past (and thus the present, because the present is dependent on the past) unless you put away such comfortable amazements and accept that the passions of the past are just as meaningful as your own, even if they don’t make sense to you. (The same applies, for that matter, to the passions of people in other countries, and even to your nearest and dearest.)

  32. In other words, your absolute certainty that they were wrong is just as silly as theirs that they were right.

  33. D.O.: In general you’re right about Mensheviks and their influence, but you’re missing the point here:

    Меньшевики is endonym and is no more pejorative than “minority” in a legislature. It sucks to be in minority, but it’s not a disgrace.

    They were not in a minority in general; they had more support than the Bolsheviks. They lost one vote on a minor procedural matter and Lenin gleefully labeled them losers, “minority people”; it was no better founded than Trump’s nicknames for his opponents, and I suspect it caught on because Lenin was the only true political animal in the whole bunch. One of the most frustrating things about studying the period is the realization that the Mensheviks were better people and had better ideas, but they were head-in-the-clouds intellectuals who would try to argue philosophy with someone who was hitting them with a brick and had no clue how to achieve or wield power, whereas the brutal bully Lenin knew exactly how to do those things and was always ready to hand bricks to people who wanted to beat up political enemies, even if he was too squeamish to use them himself.

  34. Lars Mathiesen says:

    We have consensus, you will see the light in time, they suffer from mass hysteria.

  35. Exactly.

  36. PlasticPaddy says:

    @lars
    Since you are echoing my phrase “mass hysteria” I did not intend it to refer to (however passionately held) religious views but to the deplorable acts of violence some individuals (or mobs) indulged in, using these views as justification.

  37. LH, I am not sure that we are in disaggrement. My point was that Mensheviks in general didn’t resist this designation and used it themselves. It’s true that they were not in permanent minority, but unless I misremember social-democratic party split soon after the fateful congress and the question of minority/majority was moot.

  38. Sure. I just wanted to make clear that the name was no more objective than “Lyin’ Ted” or “Sleepy Joe.”

  39. Stu Clayton says:

    “Dishonest Don”. “Vicious Drag Queen”.

    I fear most of you ladies and gents have led sheltered lives, so won’t be that familiar with the latter phenomenon. How it takes me back to age 13 in the El Paso bars ! In the shortest time, I myself earned a black belt in spiteful patter. The only requirement is to be chock-full of resentment and dissatisfaction – and of yourself, natch.

  40. @D.O.: There is, I think, an important difference between theological discussions of the nature of the Trinity and string theorists studying theories that are not relatable to the physics of the real world. The former is based on trying to explicate something that is contradictory (“The Three are One”) in a plausible-sounding way. The latter is, if nothing else, a reasonably well-defined mathematical exercise.

    I have mentioned here before (although I it took me a little while to find it, since Google site searches for “completely regular” and “intrinsic characterization” turned up lots of linguistic material using those phrases) that around the middle of the last century, topologists basically gave up on solving some of the obvious remaining problems in their field—the simplest being the intrinsic characterization of products of normal Hausdorff spaces—because they were too hard and no progress was being made. Instead, they turned to classes of problems that, while frequently of less general interest, were amenable to systematic methods of solution and consistent improvement over time.

    String theory is in a similar situation. On the one hand, it is a very useful model theory of what quantum fields theories—and quantum gravity theories, in particular—can look like. So it has provided quite a bit of qualitative information, since there are regimes of string theory in which things are simple enough to produce exact or near-exact calculational results. Most notably, it has been used to show that the arguments that black hole evaporation had to involve nonunitary “information loss” were fallacious. On the other hand, while string theory is a theory of quantum gravity, it is not, as presented, the right quantum theory of gravitation as it actually exists. In particular, superstring theory naturally lives in eleven dimensions, seven of which our world does not have. There have been attempts to make those other seven dimensions too small to observe, but the mechanics of such “compactification” are generally inconsistent, and even if they somehow worked, there are too many possible compactified geometries* to make it possible to draw useful conclusions about the nature of four-dimensional physics, based on what might be known about an underlying eleven-dimensional string theory.

    This is where the similarity to pure mathematics comes in. A lot of theoretical physicists have continued to work on string theory, simply because it is something to work on, an area in which it is consistently possible to generate new results. If there were prospects for making real progress in understanding realistic quantum gravity (rather than merely an analogous theory like superstring theory), people would be working on the realistic theories instead; unfortunately, nobody has had any good ideas how to approach real-world quantum gravity. Things have not been helped by the fact that there has not been any new data since the 1970s that really challenged the structure of the standard model of particle physics. (The last four decades have been largely a matter of confirming the predicted structure, except for the discovery of neutrino masses and mixings. However, even adding those to the neutrino sector turns out to be a trivial extension of the old standard model, and the general structure of the massive neutrino sector had been worked out long before neutrino oscillations were discovered. Neutrino masses might have been unexpected, but they were easy to implement.) What new data about fundamental physics there has been has largely come from cosmology, such as observing the accelerating expansion of the universe; however, attempts to tie that to the way we understand particle physics have been, at best, inconclusive.

    * An article in the New York Times science section, appearing in the early days of online news, gave the estimated number of possible compactifications as “10500,” since at that stage, their routines for processing print copy into digital Web pages had not been programmed to handle superscripts. (And I had completely forgotten that in that thread, John Cowan had already demonstrated that it was possible to display superscript characters in comments.)

  41. John Cowan says:

    author is probably defaulting to the same terminology used in the intro/popularizing books on the subject they first read X decades ago without thinking very hard about it

    That’s what I meant by Gould’s Law. Wikipedia s.v. Eohippus:

    In most early books about mammal evolution, Eohippus is described as being “the size of a small fox terrier“, even though in real life Eohippus was probably the size of a larger dog breed such as a Labrador retriever. This arcane analogy was so curious that Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about it in which he concluded that Henry Fairfield Osborn had described it that way in a widely distributed pamphlet. The reasons for this comparison are unclear, but Gould proposes that Osborn, a keen fox hunter, could have made a natural association between horses and the dogs that accompany them.

    The essay is “The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier Clone”, reprinted in Bully for Brontosaurus. He also noted that in some of the books, particularly high school textbooks, the meme had mutated from “fox terrier” to simply “fox”.

    We have consensus

    I’ve always wanted to know what the plural of “I am firm, you are stubborn, he is a pigheaded fool” is. Thanks!

  42. Brett, thank you, but I was more interested in a sociological point. Given that no experimental evidence to support some theories exists or forthcoming, do string theorists argue passionately about the details or they work peacefully and cooperatively. From your calm account it follows that they probably are not going to begin riots.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, Osborn, “the only man capable of strutting while sitting down”. One simply did not disagree with him while he was alive.

    It still amazes me how seriously some theologians, whether Christian, or Buddhist, or otherwise, have hisorically taken thse disputes.

    On the Christian side, this is really easy to explain.

    One of the fundamental assumptions of Christianity is that it’s possible to go to hell for believing wrong things. Logically, then, finding out what the right things are is not a mere matter of life and death. Moreover, to convince someone of something wrong is infinitely worse than murdering them; therefore, such people must be stopped by absolutely any and all means out of compassion for their potential victims who are in danger of suffering nonstop forever.

    This motivation is lacking in string theory, or indeed science and mathematics in general.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    On the Christian side, this is really easy to explain

    Quite. Given the premises, the seriousness inevitably follows. It is vacuous for someone who proclaims that he doesn’t accept the premises to say that he doesn’t feel that the seriousness is warranted. We knew that already.

    I’m not sure that the motivation is altogether lacking in science. Nobody seems to have died from erroneous beliefs about string theory, but many have died from erroneous opinions about infectious diseases; and not only from their own erroneous opinions, either. The issue seems to be quite topical.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    Good point, but at least the infinity aspect is absent still.

    (“This motivation is lacking sub specie aeternitatis“…)

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t think infinity is necessary to the logic (the more so as it is unimaginable, except perhaps to those so spiritual or so intellectual as to pose little danger of violence to their fellows): all that is needed is the belief that something is more important than life and death. Most people believe this, or at least would like to imagine that they did.

    Of course, it does not logically follow from the fact that an issue is more important than life or death, that one is therefore justified in enforcing the correct view by inflicting death on the misguided. There is … a gap in the reasoning there.

    All I am concerned to defend is the point that to accuse (say) religious zealots of “hysteria” because you don’t share their zeal is just an instance of the ever-popular Fundamental Attribution Error.

    It may of course be intended as an argument of the form: these premises sometimes lead to behaviour I regard as insane: therefore, these premises are insane. Again, some gaps in the logic seem apparent.

  47. I don’t think we have to go any further into the past then the middle of 20th century to see how mass histeria, collective salvation, and believe that there are more imporant things than life and death play nicely together.

  48. David Eddyshaw says:

    Undeniable.

    Mass hysteria is never anything but bad (though it diminishes culpability); but a belief that there are more important things than life and death need not (and thank God, rarely does) entail a belief that one is thereby permitted or mandated to perpetrate genocide.

    As I say, most people believe that there are more important things than life and death, or at least wish they did. The questions are “what things?” and “whose life?”

    At least some of the architects and perpetrators of Soviet oppression evidently truly believed themselves to be doing evil that good might come of it, where their concept of “good” is at least humanly recognisable; they are a better match for the misguided wagers of holy wars than the Nazis, and I agree that the resemblance is disturbing – or would be, if I had any interest in defending any of them.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    This motivation is lacking in string theory

    In Chomskyan grammar, on the other hand, at least the rhetoric does get ratcheted up to comparable levels.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    On reflection, I suppose I should have simply stated my position at the outset as:

    “Kindly do not patronise me by implying that I am mentally defective. I would have you know that I am morally defective.”

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Chomskyan grammar

    The Chomskyans have seen the Truth. They are naturally impatient with infidels, and hard on backsliders. This is understandable, given their premises …

    Oops.

  52. @David Marjanović: I don’t think that your argument is entirely satisfactory. I agree that to the early Christians, the overall stakes must have seemed incredibly high, that it was of illimitable value to understand Jesus’s message correctly. However, that does not explain why certain particular questions were deemed important or even meaningful.

    Consider the question: Did Jesus have two natures, one human and one divine, or only one nature that was both human and divine? There is no a priori reason why this should be considered a sensible question at all. By the most straightforward reading of the question, it is trying to draw a distinction without a difference. The best possible answer one could hope to get is one that narrowly defines Jesus’s “nature” in such a way that one of the options applies and the other does not. But even believing the question can be usefully answered that way, it does not entail that knowing the answer should be important to the survival of anyone’s soul after death. And finally, there are no criteria by which anyone could determine which such questions were worth answering, or even answerable in principle. Why was no one concerned with addressing: Was Jesus’s divine nature rightsideup or upsidedown?

    @D.O.: There are a small number of string theory partisans (and even smaller numbers of partisans of other proposed quantum gravity ideas), who are convinced that their theory has to be the right one. However, the vast majority seem to recognize that the real situation is essentially as I outlined. There were probably more string theory partisans twenty years ago (as well as more people working on string theory), but the realization that there was no nice way to go from eleven to four dimensions probably dissuaded many of them

  53. Stu Clayton says:

    the realization that there was no nice way to go from eleven to four dimensions probably dissuaded many of them

    I would just have subtracted seven, but I guess that was not on the cards.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    The last volume of Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem trilogy supplies the true, horrific, answer.

  55. Stu Clayton says:

    Now that I have your ear, Sir, honesty obliges me to say something in connection with Proofs and Refutations, which I am currently reading. I must bow my head in slightly irritated shame at having scoffed at your remark that it took a long time to read, because it made you “think”.

    “Think” is only a small fraction of the exertion required to read a long essay in which the footnotes are easier to understand than the exposition. It’s all very rewarding, of course, but my receptors for that style of Anglophonic concept-tuning (“monster-barring, exception-barring”) have long atrophied. Only charity towards the Ancient Ones keeps me on track.

    BTW, the man was born and bred a Lipschitz. It’s his own fault if people think he’s some obscure Greek writer. Only after WW2 did he change to Lakatos. During the war he took on other names for good reasons.

  56. Brett, I guess you are coming to the Christological question from a wrong direction. It was decided early on that Jesus was both a human and god and a single entity. This seemed to be contradictory. They tried to remove the contradiction by devising some logical model were this was possible. The words that were used in the process (nature, substance) were part of the attempts to recast the main question in a manner that seemed answerable. Actually, 20th century physics went through a similar debate about wave/particle duality. Why the participants believed that the correct answer is a key to salvation is a more complicated question. Part of it probably because of the believe that salvation can be achieved only within the Church and the church has to be unified to do that. This is how far my very limited knowledge can lead me without screaming “they were bloodthirsty idiots!”

  57. Yes, “they were idiots” is generally a useless approach to trying to deal with the past — better to just ignore it.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    Why the participants believed that the correct answer is a key to salvation is a more complicated question.

    I’d say they believed that every wrong answer was at least potentially a key to damnation…

  59. SFReader says:

    My favorite Ken Macleod quote:

    My father, sitting at the breakfast table, peered at me over his copy of the Manchester Guardian.

    ‘The Russians have sent a rocket into space,’ he told me. ‘Way up in the sky, going right around the world.’ He traced a circle in the air with his forefinger.

    I felt disturbed by this. The Russians were in my mind a vague, vast menace. They had done something unpleasant and unfair to a friend of my father’s, an old gentleman whose photograph was framed above the fireplace: Karl Marx. The Russians had distorted him. Whatever that was, it sounded painful.

  60. J.W. Brewer says:

    In response to Brett’s entirely sensible question (i.e. even assuming Christian premises isn’t such-and-such super-technical question immaterial), there’s a fairly short book published back in the Nineties by a retired (already retired at the time — he’s apparently still alive and now aged 93) Episcopalian bishop, which made what I thought at the time a pretty good attempt to explain why the abstruse-seeming Christological controversies of the 4th & 5th centuries had concrete practical consequences in terms of adequately accounting for how the incarnate Christ could efficaciously provide salvation to human beings. He holds the Chalcedon-was-right-and-here’s-why position, so he may not have adequately addressed the miaphysite position as considered in the most nuanced and charitable light. (As best as I recall he stops at Chalcedon and does not address the further even more recondite controversies settled in the sixth and seventh centuries.)

    https://www.amazon.com/Cruelty-Heresy-Affirmation-Christian-Orthodoxy/dp/0819215139

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    I’ve often thought someone should write such a book; if I’d thought a bit more deeply, it might have occurred to me that someone probably had. Looks interesting. Thanks.

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    Apparently Imre Lakatos made his final name change in honour of

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%A9za_Lakatos

    One can see why:

    In August 1944 supporters of Lakatos and Horthy, armed with one tank, overthrew the German-installed government of Döme Sztójay. Lakatos’s military government stopped the deportation of Hungarian Jews, with acting Interior Minister Béla Horváth ordering Hungarian gendarmes to use deadly force against any deportation effort.

  63. attempt to explain why the abstruse-seeming Christological controversies of the 4th & 5th centuries had concrete practical consequences in terms of adequately accounting for how the incarnate Christ could efficaciously provide salvation to human beings.

    That is one of the goals of the Jenkins book this post quotes from. Do check it out if you’re interested.

  64. John Cowan says:

    Mass hysteria is never anything but bad

    That seems a tad strong. The mass hysterias over Elvis and the Beatles were at least morally neutral, and to the proprietors of public venues they were a blessing.

  65. Stu Clayton says:

    Venues and parties look like opposing concepts: comings and goings. But they mostly overlap. Isn’t that odd.

  66. Elles sont venues, elles sont parties…

  67. I don’t have access to Jenkins’ book at the moment, but I found a review by Richard Rubenstein and reply by Jenkins in a theological journal. And I will be damned if they are not about as much flabbergasted about the matter as we are.

    Two excerpts. First, from the book itself on reasons of popular passions

    (i) Dissident views were considered anti‐Christian and a service to the devil.
    (ii) The Old Testament urged a state‐supported struggle against false religions.
    (iii) Christians, still ‘at war with the world’, were used to violent conflict, persecutions, and martyrdom.
    (iv) Widespread paganism remained a threat to Christian religious hegemony in the Levant.
    (v) Recently converted Christians feared a relapse to the old faiths.
    (vi) Most important, people generally believed that tolerating religious errors would anger God and bring about various ‘forms of worldly catastrophe: famine, drought, plague, floods, and earthquakes, or defeat in war’.

    As Rubenshtein notes, neither of these covers why this specific topic was such a tinderbox. In his own words ” Why did some Christians feel so outraged by the idea that God could suffer and die, while others were equally outraged by the idea that, as Jesus was a man like us, his manhood and godhood must be distinct characteristics?”

    The best reply form Jenkins

    The answer, I believe, lies in theories of honor. Different schools of thought believed that their own Christology was best suited to exalting the figure of Christ, and they responded with ‘outrage’ at any contrary view. Woe betide anyone who perpetrated the dreadful crime of stealing one of the titles due to God – by arguing, for instance, that Christ was in any way less than God, or (in other circumstances) that the Virgin Mary deserved anything less than the glorious title of God‐Bearer. Such a denigration was, literally, fighting talk, and the behavior of the Egyptians at second Ephesus suggests how violently the resulting passions could run.

    In other words, the Christ personality was so central to the cult that his nature was the cross to die on (sorry for this attempt at witticism, couldn’t resist, but as malapropism it already exists)

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    … en parlant de Michel-Ange.

    It sounded better in English.

  69. >>I don’t have access to Jenkins’ book at the moment, but I found a review by Richard Rubenstein and reply by Jenkins in a theological journal.

    Richard Rubenstein wrote a great book on the topic – “When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome.”

    He’s also a professor of Conflict Resolution – so he knows a bit about arguments 😉

  70. David Marjanović says:

    theories of honor

    Oh. Yes, that seems like it explains a lot.

  71. David Eddyshaw says:

    That [mass hysteria is never anything but bad] seems a tad strong. The mass hysterias over Elvis and the Beatles were at least morally neutral, and to the proprietors of public venues they were a blessing.

    Well, good consequences can flow from bad things (which do not thereby become good things.)

    However, I concede that although the mass hysteria of a Beatles concert is surely recognisable as the same kind of phenomenon as the mass hysteria of a Nuremberg rally, the contrast rather proves your point. I hereby officially amend my statement from “bad” to “not good.”

    Mass hysteria over Elvis is, of course, different. That is both natural and clearly a moral positive.

  72. David L says:

    how the incarnate Christ could efficaciously provide salvation to human beings

    I assume the word ‘efficaciously’ is significant here. Many are the tales of sinners applying for salvation but complaining later that they applied on a Sunday but salvation didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon, and it wasn’t as effective as they imagined it would be. Leading to two-star reviews. “Disappointing, will try Mary Baker Eddy for salvation next time.”

  73. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    I don’t follow what’s so puzzling about Christology being a focus of theological dispute in Christianity.

    Brett may be begging the question when he writes that:

    theological discussions of the nature of the Trinity [are] based on trying to explicate something that is contradictory (“The Three are One”) in a plausible-sounding way.

    This statement seems to suggest the Trinity is intrinsically a silly contradiction that silly theologians are conducting rhetorical exercises about.

    Needless to say, that has never been what Christian theologians themselves believed and still believe. Here are the most directly relevant passages of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    234. The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”.

    251. In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance”, “person” or “hypostasis”, “relation” and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, “infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand”.

    463. Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings “the mystery of our religion”: “He was manifested in the flesh.”

    464. The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.

    If one believes that Trinity and Incarnation are the central mysteries of the faith, that they have been revealed, and that they are key to salvation, it does not seem particularly puzzling to be concerned with articulating their revelation in the precisely correct way. The ensuing debate did end up in hair-splitting over terminology and unseemly power struggles between rival church leaders, but that also seems pretty unsurprising.

    In any case, there’s an ongoing theological dialogue that aims at mending historical terminological splits between Christian churches. I seem to gather that’s a decently successful endeavor because all surviving churches actually occupy a fairly narrow range of Christological positions, and all agree that most ancient Christological heresies are heresies indeed, either because they recognize Christ’s divinity too little to have an orthodox view of the Trinity (e.g., adoptionism, Arianism) or because they recognize his humanity too little to have an orthodox view of the Incarnation (e.g., docetism, Apollinarianism).

  74. J.W. Brewer says:

    Draw your own analogies to intense theological polemics that seem impenetrable or pointless to outsiders, but here’s a link to selected pages (with another link to the whole thing) of Delmore Schwartz’s VERY heavily annotated personal copy of Finnegans Wake. https://mobile.twitter.com/BeineckeLibrary/status/1257474602000924673/photo/1

  75. there’s an ongoing theological dialogue that aims at mending historical terminological splits between

    That’s in the other threa– oh, sorry, carry on.

  76. John Cowan says:

    Mass hysteria over Elvis is, of course, different. That is both natural and clearly a moral positive.

    Or as one particular venue owner is said to have said, “There wasn’t a dry seat in the house.”

    Venues and parties look like opposing concepts: comings and goings.

    In English, however, parties are divisions, per the Latin meaning of partire (cf. partition), first political or military, then simply between the invited (and the gatecrashers) and the uninvited. I suppose the transition from the older part as in Moses parting the waves to the newer part as in “Parting is such sweet sorrow” (that is, from ‘split’ to ‘split up’) is natural enough, though in other Romance languages both senses are still in live use.

    I assume the word ‘efficaciously’ is significant here.

    So it is, but not quite as you’d think. Efficacious grace, also called irresistible grace, is the kind where God either saves you or he doesn’t, for his own reasons, and you have nothing to say about it. Prevenient grace is God making an offer of salvation which each soul can either accept or reject.

    annotated personal copy of Finnegans Wake

    That reminds me: what am I to do with my father’s two annotated personal copies of FW? Copying them is prohibitive, transcribing them even more so. My father was a FW scholar in a small way, specifically his published articles “The Law at FW” and another (whose title I forget) arguing that Shem and Shaun had a shadowy third brother Japhet, also known as Jeff.

    my attempt to access it has been logged

    But what they don’t give you is a link to the 57th precept of the Rule of St. Vidicon, namely “Firewall logs thou shalt not read, neither do anything to them, for they are as vast as the sky and bear neither on security nor performance.”

    D.O.: Your link is Auraria Library specific, but anyone else can just replace “aurarialibrary.idm.oclc.org” in the URL with “sci-hub.tw”. Solve the captcha, and it’s “pass, France, and all’s well”.

  77. Stu Clayton says:

    Efficacious grace, also called irresistible grace, is the kind where God either saves you or he doesn’t, for his own reasons, and you have nothing to say about it. Prevenient grace is God making an offer of salvation which each soul can either accept or reject.

    This puts me in mind of a contrastive pair of classificatory notions that Sloterdijk wheels out from time to time: “demand religion” and “supply religion”. As far as I understand what he means, a “supply religion” merely spreads its wares and leaves it to the shopper to take or leave them. A “demand religion” is moralizing and proselytising – it demands that you do this and that on pain of hellfire vel sim.

    Efficacious grace fits in with a demand religion, prevenient grace with a supply one.

  78. The term “irresistible grace” will forever be associated in my mind with the movie Hardcore, for the scene in which George C. Scott’s character explains Calvinism to the prostitute he has taken on as his assistant/sidekick. Roger Ebert opened his review of the film thus:

    “The man is played by George C. Scott, the girl by Season Hubley. They have moments in the movie when they talk, really talk, about what’s important to them and we’re reminded of how much movie dialogue just repeats itself, movie after movie, year after year. There’s a scene in “Hardcore” where the man (who is a strict Calvinist) and the prostitute (who began selling herself in her early teens) talk about sex, religion, and morality, and we’re almost startled by the belief and simple poetry in their words.”

  79. J.W. Brewer says:

    I did not intend by using the word “efficaciously” to evoke or imply any sort of Calvinistic baggage or a specific contrast with, I suppose, “preveniently.” It is as if I thoughtlessly used a linguistics-related word that happens to have some sort of specific technical meaning in Chomskyan theory without intending to introduce that baggage into the discourse. I regret any inconvenience.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    Calvinistic baggage

    Cheek! I’m a highly respectable Calvinist.

  81. J.W. Brewer says:

    Impedimenta Calvinistica, to switch to the decent obscurity of a learned language?

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah. OK, then.

    Thinking of this question of the difficulty for outsiders of understanding what matters to insiders, I was just now reminded of the time that Jerry Rawlings invited Louis Farrakhan to Ghana. This was controversial for local Muslims. I remember talking to a Ghanaian Muslim about it, and asking him what the objections were; I was expecting to hear about the extremely unorthodox (you’d have thought) doctrines of the Nation of Islam, but in fact what he said was “They don’t do the ablutions properly.”

    I’d been expecting him to think of the question in terms of doctrine (revealing my own Calvinist baggage, to coin a phrase); but for him it was not about doctrine but about community, and in this case behaviour showing that you didn’t really belong to the community you claimed to.

  83. Same in Russia: the problem with the Old Believers was that they used two fingers rather than two fingers plus thumb to make the sign of the cross and chanted alleluia after the psalmody twice rather than three times. Nothing to do with doctrine.

  84. J.W. Brewer says:

    Deviations from right praxis can inter alia be taken as easily-assessed indicia of likely deviations from right belief, but it is probably true that the notion of a sharp division between inward belief and outward praxis, although reasonably common in some-but-not-all flavors of Protestant Christianity, is an odd and marginal one in a broader global perspective. In the Old Believer case, you can at a minimum turn the dispute about what to do with ones fingers into a dispute about the nature of the Church and how authority and tradition work therein, i.e. who via what process gets to either fix or change the conventions about what to do with ones fingers. And that is at least potentially a dispute about doctrine.

    Did David E. press the conversation with his interlocutor further, i.e. to see whether or not the fellow assumed that anyone who did the ablutions wrong was likely to be wrong about other stuff as well (even if it wasn’t worth investigating further to identify specific other instances of wrongness once you saw the ablutions were done wrong) versus the fellow charitably assuming that the NOI had no other defects but the ablutions were a dealbreaker?

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    Like the great majority of actual Muslims (and Christians) he had almost no interest in doctrine as such at all. He certainly did regard the ablution thing as a dealbreaker. It may well be significant that traditional West African Islam is, if not exactly monolithic, pretty uniform in doctrine and praxis: virtually all Maliki-school Sunni. So he wouldn’t have come across weird Muslims with odd foreign ways at all.

  86. And that is at least potentially a dispute about doctrine.

    Well, sure, pretty much everything is potentially a dispute about doctrine, and of course the Holy Synod could keep you up all night explaining the doctrinal significance of the fingers. The point is that Russians in general (aka православные люди, ‘Orthodox people’) didn’t give a damn about doctrine and couldn’t have told you much about it beyond Christ being the Son of God and Mary being his Mother (and if you pried into it much beyond that, you’d very probably discover appalling heresies — folk belief was fond of the idea that this world was evil and created by Satan); they cared a lot about crossing yourself in front of icons. Compare and contrast with the average 17th-century New Englander.

  87. The whole passage from Macaulay is worth reading, but the final bit is relevant to this thread (he’s talking about 17th-century country gentlemen):

    For there was one institution, and one only, which they prized even more than hereditary monarchy; and that institution was the Church of England. Their love of the Church was not, indeed, the effect of study or meditation. Few among them could have given any reason, drawn from Scripture or ecclesiastical history, for adhering to her doctrines, her ritual, and her polity; nor were they, as a class, by any means strict observers of that code of morality which is common to all Christian sects. But the experience of many ages proves that men may be ready to fight to the death, and to persecute without pity, for a religion whose creed they do not understand, and whose precepts they habitually disobey.

  88. John Cowan says:

    From the same LTA post:

    It is not easy for a generation accustomed to find chivalrous sentiments only in company with liberal studies and polished manners to image to itself a man with the deportment, the vocabulary, and the accent of a carter, yet punctilious on matters of genealogy and precedence, and ready to risk his life rather than see a stain cast on the honour of his house. It is however only by thus joining together things seldom or never found together in our own experience, that we can form a just idea of that rustic aristocracy which constituted the main strength of the armies of Charles the First, and which long supported, with strange fidelity, the interest of his descendants.

    Well. Macaulay talks as if such gentlemen were extinct in his day, but that is just his English parochalism. He would have found them in profusion in 19C Scotland, and the exact converse in learned 20C Welsh postmen.

  89. David Marjanović says:
  90. Owlmirror says:

    Will this version of my comment be permitted?

    The term “irresistible grace” will forever be associated in my mind with the movie Hardcore, for the scene in which George C. Scott’s character explains Calvinism to the prostitute he has taken on as his assistant/sidekick.

    As with so many film scenes, this is now on Youtube — although I note that the uploader titled it: How Not To Explain Calvinism, and the description has a link to a book inspired by the scene, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, by Richard J. Mouw.

  91. Owlmirror says:

    Hm. That clip has 9 comments total. A slightly shorter version has 22,816 comments! Electric Boogaloo, indeed.

    (NB to DM: Not “Electronic”)

    (TL;DW for everyone: The woman says that she believes in reincarnation and prompts the man to state his own beliefs; the man explains Dutch Reformed TULIP.)

    Ah, and the script to Hardcore is online. Search for “plexi-glass” to find the start of the scene.

  92. David Marjanović says:

    (NB to DM: Not “Electronic”)

    That was deliberate, to emphasize that it’s just on the Internet anymore.

  93. NIKI
    If you see anything from the inside it makes sense.

    That is a very profound truth (and the follow-up is hilarious).

  94. I suspect that reading the script for Hardcore, it would sound very stodgy. However, there is something about the performances by George C. Scott and Season Hubley* that makes their discussions seem so real and important to their characters. They portray an authentic human connection. If anyone is interested in that scene, it is certainly worth watching the whole film, both to get the context and to experience more of their characters’ interactions and development.

    * Season Hubley changed her first name from “Susan” to make it more distinctive for Hollywood.

  95. I watched it and was duly impressed, and perhaps sometime I’ll get the chance to watch the movie.

  96. Owlmirror says:

    I’d have so many things to argue about with what Jake says, I’d have trouble knowing where to begin.

    This might be an interesting one:

    Jake says:

    That’s Predestination. If God is omniscient, if He knows everything — and He wouldn’t be God if He didn’t — then He must have known, even before the creation of the world, the names of those who would be saved.

    “Just out of curiosity, what if God came and literally told you that almost everything else that you believe about him is true: he exists, he made all things, including heaven and earth, and so on and so forth, and he knows all things past and present … BUT he doesn’t actually know the entire future. Predestination is false. Keeping in mind that getting into heaven means staying on God’s good side, would you be willing to alter your definition of God to include this less-than-total-omniscience? Or would you actually insist that if this demiurge doesn’t actually know absolutely everything, he doesn’t meet your standards for being God, and you would rather go to hell than worship him?”

  97. There is no point in arguing with fundamental religious tenets. If Dutch Calvinists believe in total omniscience and predestination than that’s it. I am not at all convinced that God knew on the first day what he was going to create on the second one.

  98. I am not at all convinced that God knew on the first day what he was going to create on the second one.

    God’s all, like, I just try to let the cosmos flow through my mind and create itself, ya know?

  99. Owlmirror says:

    There is no point in arguing with fundamental religious tenets. If Dutch Calvinists believe in total omniscience and predestination than that’s it.

    I am not 100% certain that what people call their fundamental beliefs actually are, and the question I posed would help figure it out (if it got answered — I suspect most devout Calvinists would change the subject).

    Also, a recent Pew survey about American beliefs about God.

    And on the other side (well, one of the other sides) of the ecclesiastical divide, most US Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation.

  100. I think part of understanding the Calvinist doctrine of predestination is understanding what Calvinism and Lutheranism were reactions against. Luther’s idea of salvation was developed in such a way as to make the selling of indulgences not merely immoral but impossible. The problem he faced was that if Purgatory exists, then it is hard to make an argument that indulgences would not work, provided one also believes in a merciful God. (Of course, if God does not listen to the entreaties of those who pray for other souls to be released from Purgatory, that resolves that particular issue, but it implies a lack of divine compassion and mercy that seems even more at odds with Christian teachings). So Luther rejected the very existence of Purgatory.

    But then he faced another problem—the very problem which the Catholic Church had originally introduced the concept of Purgatory to address: What happens to people who are just barely good enough to get into heaven? How are they distinguished from people who led almost perfectly saintly lives? Purgatory was introduced to differentiate between the two; if somebody lived well enough to avoid permanent damnation, they still had to serve a certain length of time in Purgatory, doing penance for the sins of their lifetime. Luther got around this by making the condition for salvation something that he thought had to be “all or nothing”—Christian faith. Either somebody believes in the righteous power of Jesus, or they do not, with no middle ground.

    Calvin was not so solely obsessed with the problem presented by Purgatory, but it was also a concern for him. Calvin, however, came up with a different explanation for why salvation was an “all or nothing” proposition. Calvin’s idea was that humans are ultimate either good or evil. There are two fundamentally different kinds of souls, and God knows in advance which way each soul he created will go. It may take time for a soul to find their ultimate level of goodness or wickedness, but God, having formed every individual soul, ultimately knows which category each soul belongs to.

  101. That’s good, it’s like knowing the reason for the infield fly rule (“The rule exists solely to prevent the defense from executing a double play or triple play by deliberately failing to catch a ball that an infielder could catch with ordinary effort”).

  102. David Eddyshaw says:

    Either somebody believes in the righteous power of Jesus, or they do not, with no middle ground.

    This is good Catholic doctrine, in fact; the souls in Purgatory are saved already. Their suffering is not what saves them.

    Calvin’s doctrine is not about there being two kinds of people at all. Since the Fall, there is only one kind: evil.
    Predestination as a doctrine is about God’s foreknowledge, rather than different kinds of people.
    Incidentally, I would think that the great majority of (perfectly orthodox) Christians do not believe in predestination, and while I disagree with them (obviously) I can’t say that I’ve noticed any tendency on their part to suppose that this diminishes God in some way.

    Absolutely no mainstream Christian school teaches that you get saved by attaining some particular level of goodness: on the contrary, the doctrine is that you can’t attain such a level, no matter how hard you try.

  103. John Cowan says:

    it is hard to make an argument that indulgences would not work, provided one also believes in a merciful God.

    Actually it’s very easy, given the understanding of Purgatory as, well, purgatorial. When we have made a proper act of confession (“I did it”), confession (“I am sorry for it”), we receive absolution (“I forgive you”), and are then free of the guilt of sin. But there remains hard work ahead, purging our souls of the stain of sin, the defects in our character that made us behave badly. Since God is just, all who are free of the guilt of sin have the opportunity to do the work of cleansing ourselves of the stain, either here or in Purgatory. As C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape explains, “Pains he [the saved soul] may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure.”

    It’s obvious then that we cannot buy off our own self-repairs with money, and indulgences are not going to work. Such, at least, are the modern views of the Catholic churches. What their views were, and how generally it was understood, in Luther’s time is more than I know.

    (I came to a personal understanding of all this through thinking about what counts as an apology and what does not, and eventually realizing that the justice of God (if there is a God) is restorative justic rather than punitive justice.)

    they still had to serve a certain length of time in Purgatory

    The length of time is definitely uncertain, because people are different and some are more deeply dyed sinners than others. It is, however, bounded by the Day of Judgment. Note, however, that everyone in Purgatory is saved for sure and certain: all will go to Heaven in the end.

  104. David Marjanović says:

    if He knows everything — and He wouldn’t be God if He didn’t —

    That’s such a newfangled concept. Ancient Grome (where Classical was spoken) worshipped deities that were barely even superheroes by modern standards – not one of them was omnibenevolent like Superman, for example.

    So Luther rejected the very existence of Purgatory.

    …as he had to anyway, because it isn’t in sola scriptura.

    Purgatory was introduced to differentiate between the two

    I’ve read a completely different story: at some point in Antiquity, someone prayed (over a long timespan) for a dead relative to be released from hell and admitted into heaven, and reported, from dreams, that it was working stepwise. The church took dreams about the divine so seriously that it couldn’t simply dismiss that, and came up with the idea that the hell in the dream was something similar but different. And that’s why you can and indeed should pray for the dead, which is otherwise wholly futile.

    Absolutely no mainstream Christian school teaches that you get saved by attaining some particular level of goodness: on the contrary, the doctrine is that you can’t attain such a level, no matter how hard you try.

    I confirm this from Catholic religious instruction.

  105. @David Marjanović: The development of the doctrine of Purgatory was complicated, and the oracular dreams you describe may have been part of the process. However, the Catholic Church asserts, probably correctly, that Christians had been praying for the dead since the earliest days of the religion (and even before). Only in the eleventh century, with the rise of logical Scholasticism, did the hierarchy deem it necessary to resolve the logical conflict in how they had been viewing the afterlife, by introducing Purgatory. After about a hundred years, the Catholic teachings on Purgatory were promulgated from the Second Council of Lyon. However, much of the substantive debate about the issue at that council were kept out of the official records, probably because it was recognized that Purgatory was one of the issues that Scotch the reunification of the eastern and western churches that the coucil was hoping for.

  106. If you believe in future-scient God, no Purgatory is necessary for the prayer for the dead to work. Before assigning somebody to Hell or Heaven God already knows that the person would be prayed for and makes adjustments.

  107. David Eddyshaw says:

    If you believe in future-scient God

    As God created time (bog-standard Christian doctrine) it seems to me that this is a no-brainer (but then I am a Calvinist, of the kind that regards a mere five [TULIP] points of Calvinism as a bit on the agnostic side.)

    The tricky bit comes when you come to relate this to how time-bound creatures communicate with and attempt to understand a time-transcendent God. I think it’s fair to say that there is room for disagreement on the details.

    I’ve long suspected that if the early Fathers had had a coherent notion of space-time a lot of these issues would have been less puzzlling to them. But then, why should we expect, a priori, that a creator God would be comprehensible, anyway? (Personally, I have enough trouble understanding human beings. And let’s not talk about cats.)

  108. Owlmirror says:

    because it was recognized that Purgatory was one of the issues that Scotch the reunification of the eastern and western churches that the coucil was hoping for.

    I seem to recall seeing, or inferring, that one of the doctrinal disputes between East and West was over soteriology — Eastern churches holding that Jesus redeemed humanity, and that was enough for everyone, whereas the Western church held that while, yes, Jesus redeemed humanity, but no, dammit, redemption is not sufficient; salvation is separate and is only granted by the grace of faith and works . . . or something like that.

    I may have misunderstood! But not as much as those who got all excited when Pope Francis said that Jesus had come to redeem everyone, including atheists! But of course (per the Western church), redemption alone is not enough for salvation, and Francis was not suddenly preaching universalism.

  109. Owlmirror says:

    As God created time (bog-standard Christian doctrine)

    Are you quite certain about that? God putatively created all things, but is time a thing that needs to be created?

    And are you sure it’s articulated in doctrine that time is a thing that needs to be created? I know that theololgians like to talk about God being “outside of time and space”, but that could just be common belief.

  110. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Owlmirror:

    No, this is not a point of difference between Eastern and Western Churches; and no orthodox Christian tradition believes in salvation by works (there are differences about whether you can describe a faith which produces no actual works as a meaningful saving faith, but everyone involved in the discussion is at pains to maintain that works won’t save you, and have no saving effect in themselves.)

    It’s been a point of Protestant polemic that Catholics teach salvation by works, but it’s not actually true.

    The question of whether all people will be saved is actually orthogonal to this. Universalism has tended to be a view more associated with Protestants than Catholics, because of the Catholic doctrine that the Catholic church basically is the Christian Church, which makes nulla salus extra ecclesiam at least a logical view. Protestants, by definition, don’t accept the premise …

    Calvin himself, incidentally, thought that most people would be saved (unlike, one suspects, most Calvinists) on the grounds that God is both powerful and compassionate, so why wouldn’t they be? It is (as CS Lewis remarks) quite possible that there is a Hell, but that no human being is actually in it.

    On time being created, yes, I’m pretty sure. Whether people follow through the somewhat dizzying implications, I don’t know. Bear in mind that most Christians have minimal to no interest in doctrine and may well entertain opinions much at variance with orthodoxy if they ever think about these matters at all. Personally, I find doctrine interesting. Most Christians don’t at all. Most of the time that doesn’t matter a bit: Christian life is not about the doctrines. Where it does matter is when it leaves Christians vulnerable to the sort of deceit which has led so many of them to support Trump. At the back of that there lie some deep and damaging heresies.

  111. David Marjanović says:

    If you believe in future-scient God

    As God created time […] it seems to me that this is a no-brainer

    Is it? To me it seems like this runs into issues with the meaning of “everything” (not unlike “can God create a stone that” bla bla, or rather “can God make 1 + 1 = 3”). Perhaps omniscience “only” means to know everything that is knowable in principle? That might even exclude the outcome of quantum-physically random events.

  112. John Cowan says:

    God putatively created all things, but is time a thing that needs to be created?

    If you think that time transcends the universe, you have to concede that the questions “What happened before/after the universe began/ended?” make sense, and even I, though utterly agnostic about creators and creation, don’t think those make any sense. Even in Newtonian absolute time, the notion of a time before the beginning of time is absurd. “It is a sin to hold that the fact that God cannot do the impossible is a limitation on His powers.” (Aquinas)

    As an alternative, there is logarithmic time, in which there is no zero point. I have just been reading a fairly accessible paper on the consequences for physical law — though it may for all I know be complete bollocks.

    Surprisingly, per the paper the difference between linear and logarithmic time is hard enough to detect that we supposedly have not made any observations that could affirm or contradict it (at least as of 2016).

    It is a major plot point in Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax triptych that his parallel-universe Neanderthals don’t have any religious feeling; when they hear about Big Bang theory, they consider it just a projection of the sapiens sapiens tendency to believe in a Creator. Logarithmic time is not explicitly mentioned, though. (On the other hand, they also used to think that the purpose of the chin in H. s. s. fossils, which were all they had to work with, was to keep us from drooling on our chests. This is probably a parody of some particularly absurd scientific story we used to tell about Neanderthals, but I don’t know what.)

    Impedimenta Calvinistica, to switch to the decent obscurity of a learned language?

    I’m not sure that being called luggage is any better than being called (a) baggage. Wiktionary defines impedimenta in English as ‘equipment intended for an activity that serves as more of a hindrance than a help’, and gives an 1852 citation: “On the plains they [presumably Canadian First Nationals] will have horses dragging travoises, dogs with travoises, women and children loaded with impedimenta.” (By the way, etymologically it’s unclear that the derogatory sense of baggage has the same origin as the other senses: there is a good chance it is connected with Arabic bagiy ‘prostitute’.)

    It’s been a point of Protestant polemic that Catholics teach salvation by works, but it’s not actually true.

    Works-righteousness is also alien to all branches of Judaism, though the Orthodox emphasis on orthopraxis makes this confusion easier to understand. (On the Jewish view, all Christians are deeply antinomian anyway.)

    the Catholic church basically is the Christian Church

    We discussed this on the last theology thread, and the Catholics affirm only that salvation through the Catholic church (nice use of capitals) is the only approach that they are sure leads to salvation.

  113. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The natural numbers as defined by Peano’s axioms don’t have to exist for arithmetic to work — everything we do with numbers is just the consequent of a syllogism.

    “Every” inductive sets contains elements labelled 1 and 2 (specified thus and thus) and supports an operation labelled addition (specified thus); and 1+1 = 2 using that definition. The question is just if an inductive set exists, but all results using finite numbers can be proved for any inductive set and they are valid regardless of whether the natural numbers “actually” exist.

    It would be trivial (and uninteresting) to change the label of the successor of the successor of zero to be 3, or even to change the definition of addition. We don’t need God for that. Changing the laws of logic so that addition as currently specified, operating on 1 and 1 as currently specified, gives a different result from the one currently denoted by 2 — would basically mean replacing the whole universe with something else, and it is very unlikely that such a new universe would contain humans who could say “but yesterday it was 2”.

    Cue Douglas Adams.

  114. Owlmirror says:

    If you think that time transcends the universe, you have to concede that the questions “What happened before/after the universe began/ended?” make sense, and even I, though utterly agnostic about creators and creation, don’t think those make any sense.

    My readings in cosmological hypotheses are not that great, but my understanding is that time is dimension, dimensions are directions, and directions can branch, therefore eternal inflation is logically possible. Also directions can loop around, therefore closed-timelike-curves are logically possible, which means causal loops are logically possible.

    So from the perspective of those inside the observable universe, as we are, a branching-off-point or loop-connecting point might well look like the “beginning” of time.

    Whether any of the speculations involving the implications of these logical possibilities are physically possible, let alone are testable, is way beyond my capabilities to answer.

  115. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Impedimenta” may perhaps have different semantic scope (perhaps including some pejorative overtones) as borrowed into Engilsh than it does in Latin, but the “decent obscurity” disclaimer was supposed to signal the reader to take it with its Latin semantics and overtones not its English ones.

  116. It may be just my totally un-scientific mammal brain, but to me, the fact that we can trace our universe to a determinable starting point makes it more likely that something went before it, even if our observations cannot go back beyond the big bang, and the fact that our universe expands makes it seem likely that there is something beyond that it expands into, even if it’s impossible for us to reach that beyond. Time is a measure of change and movement, and I don’t see why change and movement shouldn’t exist outside of our universe.

  117. Owlmirror says:

    Calvin’s doctrine is not about there being two kinds of people at all. Since the Fall, there is only one kind: evil.

    This is something I’ve been trying to understand for a while, and discussions with believers tend to break down when definitions are brought up, but:

    Does “evil” here mean (what I would think would be the common usage) “deliberately and with full awareness causing harm to many others” or does it mean something more like “inherently offensive to God”? Or something else?

    I think at least some believers switch between one meaning and the other, and/or conflate them.

  118. David Eddyshaw says:

    Reasonable point: I was indeed slipping into an in-group usage. “Evil” meaning “inherently offensive to God” is close, though there is the implication that even if you don’t in fact habitually go round pushing grannies off buses (a Glaswegian cultural touchstone of pure evil) you can’t actually take any personal credit for the fact: with different personal circumstances or history or a different hormonal makeup you’d act no better than the people you feel comfortably morally superior to: you wouldn’t do any better in their shoes. The only person whose moral culpability you are in any position to assess is yourself (if you dare.)

    The theological point is that nobody at all deserves to be saved; but the context is not that this is because God is vindictive or unreasonable, but that people really don’t deserve it.

    It’s a harsh doctrine, and many actual Christians close their eyes to it; but the issue is of course not whether it’s comforting, but whether it’s true.

    It’s interesting that atheist criticism of Christianity of the Dawkins type usually focuses on objections to the intellectual coherence of the religion (i.e. Christians are stupid); a more effective attack would focus on Christian morality *(Nietzsche saw this.) I suspect that this doesn’t happen as much as one might expect because the critics of Christianity often don’t see any particular need to bone up on what Christians actually do believe, as it’s all evidently nonsense anyway. To be fair, Christians themselves can be less than forthright about these matters, and many who with complete sincerely claim the name don’t in fact subscribe to the core doctrines any longer. This doubtless contributes to the impression of moving the goalposts you’ve had when debating with Christians.

    *I don’t mean Christian hypocrisy (of which examples are not lacking), or instances of Christians acting in ways plainly contrary to “Christian values” (like voting for Donald Trump.) Distressing as such things are to proper Christians, they aren’t arguments against Christianity as such.

  119. John Cowan says:

    We don’t need God for that.

    Per Aquinas above, even God does not suffice. “1 + 1 = 2” is false in all possible worlds (under our understanding of the terms), therefore impossible, and God cannot do the impossible.

    I have seen an argument that persecuting Jews on religious grounds is itself works-righteousness, but I don’t know where I saw it and can’t reconstruct the argument. I know there’s a Danish hymn, and not an obscure one, attacking w-r, but I don’t know how to find that either.

  120. The theological point is that nobody at all deserves to be saved; but the context is not that this is because God is vindictive or unreasonable, but that people really don’t deserve it.

    I’m not a believer, but I have no problem with the doctrine that people don’t deserve salvation. Even a cursory look at human history shows us in a very unflattering light. In fact, to me it’s a reasonable question why, if there’s a god, that god doesn’t just spray us with divine Raid and let the planet carry on unsullied. I can’t see that Bach, Chartres, and the rest of the usual suspects trotted out as counterweights can justify all the bad stuff.

  121. Maybe I’m a natural Calvinist.

  122. David Eddyshaw says:

    You mustn’t be so hard on yourself …

  123. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I meant for changing the labels we use. If I hold up one finger and one finger more and you call that three fingers, who am I to say you nay?

    The relevant Luther sermon is titled Om den dobbelte retfærdighed in its Danish translation, and “works” are gode gerninger. That did not let me identify the hymn, however. (I found a number stressing that God’s grace suffices for righteousness, but not a direct attack on works).

  124. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nobody doesn’t like works …

    BTW, it’s perfectly orthodox to say that God can’t do things which are logically impossible. Although we nowadays have a rather more open-ended concept of logic(s) than the Schoolmen did, this doesn’t affect the basic issue.

    It’s similarly entirely acceptable to say that God can’t know the logically unknowable: though, of course, this is not going to be quite the same thing if the potential knower is presumed to be intellectually infinite and transcendent. Gödel did not believe that undecidable problems don’t have solutions: only that there is no logically possible way to arrive at them within the system. Again, though, the basic point remains valid.

    The words “omnipotent” and “omniscient” are only meaningful if interpreted with caveats to prevent logical paradox. Applying them to God doesn’t magically alter that. It’s a fact about language.

    All this was old hat (sorry) to mediaeval theologians.

  125. Surely no one deserves eternal damnation, either. Or is it Christian doctrine that we’re not good enough for Heaven, but we are evil enough for Hell?

  126. David Eddyshaw says:

    Yes it is. I did say it was a harsh doctrine. How harsh depends on what you believe about Hell. I gather that the Church of England officially disbelieves in it altogether. I myself think that’s a combination of cultural cringe and (extremely understandable, indeed admirable in its way) wishful thinking, though better people (better morally and intellectually) than I disagree.

    The (scanty) descriptions in the Bible strike me as being clearly intended as metaphorical, but can hardly be meant as positive. Though it also reminds me of another CS Lewisism (actually discussing the concept of Purgatory, that we were talking about before):

    Just as there may be pleasures in Hell, (God shield us from them); there may be something not at all unlike pains in Heaven (God grant us soon to taste them).

  127. John Cowan says:

    The idea that most Christians have about Calvinists (insofar as they have any; DE is of course correct about the non-doctrinal nature of most believers) is not merely that works without faith are dead, it’s that good works without faith are in fact bad works, and that the non-Christian who saves thousands of Jews is doing evil thereby, just as much as the Christian or non-Christian who slaughters thousands of Jews. Naturally, this is hard for most people to swallow.

    Another question that comes to my mind is why a TULIP-God bothered with a universe at all. Why not just create human souls and send some to Heaven and the rest to Hell forthwith, since nothing that they do or that happens to them in-universe can affect the particular judgement on them?

    Nobody doesn’t like works …

    Of course not. The hymn attacks works-righteousness, the idea that doing good (or even just doing well) is sufficient for salvation. There are plenty of people who believe it is, some of them calling themselves Christians.

    pleasures in Hell

    I think they were summed up by Sartre, and more explicitly by Orwell:

    There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always— do not forget this, Winston— always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.

    If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.

    Surely no one deserves eternal damnation, either.

    And here’s Le Guin on the other side of the question:

    “For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”

  128. @David Marjanović: The Peano* Axioms are not actually enough to prove that there are not additional elements that are “greater than infinity.” The natural numbers are merely the standard model of Peano Arithmetic. Of course, although they were not explicitly recognized as nonstandard models of Peano Arithmetic at the time, it was things like the transfinite ordinals developed by Cantor that Kronecker was criticizing when he said, “Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk.”

    @John Cowan: That paper on logarithmic time is not total crackpottery. The idea is not inherently unsound; however, I think the author (who does fluid physics in an engineering department and is probably not well versed in tests of fundamental physics) underestimates how well the temporal structure of physics is actually understood and how precisely it has been tested. Since his paper has not been been published in a journal or—more importantly, actually—posted to the arXiv, it appears to have gone unnoticed by the fundamental physics community. However, having read over it, I can hazard about half a dozen guesses for experiments that have probably already falsified his ideas—measurements of the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron, spectroscopy of dysprosium ions, measurement of the fine structure of iron lines in distant quasars, decades-long phase-coherent timing of glitchless pulsars, etc. Several figures of merit for tests of temporal relativity are at the level of parts in 10²⁰.**

    Works-righteousness is also alien to all branches of Judaism….

    I don’t know what you mean by this, but it is surely not correct. Non-Hebrews are not elect, but the Righteous Among the Nations are still considered blessed for their works. There is no particular notion of an afterlife in Judaism, and so the only things that the Jews get by being the Chosen People are the Land of Israel and the right to worship in God’s preferred way. The House of Jacob has been given a demanding list of commandments to obey, with no reward except to please God by obedience. The ritual laws are obeyed (to quote President Kennedy on a different topic, but making a similar moral point) “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Non-Jews cannot please God in the same way, but they conversely cannot displease God as badly either.

    And when it comes to Reform Judaism, there is not even the expectation to believe in that level of theological differentiation between Jews and gentiles. The Reform liturgy allows congregations, at their discretion, to use prayers that do not even claim that the Jews are the Chosen People. At a fundamental level, most Reform Jews are actually deists, and plenty are atheists.

    @J.W. Brewer: The OED defines impedimenta as

    With plural agreement. Things which impede or encumber progress; baggage; travelling equipment (of an army, etc.).

    However, the entry looks like it probably has not been touched since 1899. Merriam-Webster gives two senses:

    1. appurtenances, equipment
    2. things that impede

    In reality, I think that many usages actually contain shades from both meanings, and the two senses can easily be confused. Both dictionaries apparently trace the earliest use to this 1600 quotation: “Enclosing the impedimenta or baggage in the mids, for safetie and securitie.” However, the OED attributes it to its sole sense, while Merriam-Webster says it belongs to its sense 1.

    The one time I can find that I used the word impedimenta, it was strictly in the sense of “appurtenances, equipment”:

    Now, surrounded by panicked folk who could offer only the meanest material aid, she fumbled in a hidden pocket, concealed beneath her heavy garments. Lyka ran her hands over a collection of her most valuable possessions. Orbs of wood, stone, and metal; crystals, carvings, and mummified remains—the compartment contained her mystical impedimenta. Each talisman carried within it powers such as were rarely seen in this late age, but unfortunately for Highbank, the time had come when such eldritch forces were again revealed.

    * Peano was also a linguist, apparently, with particular interest in historical Romance linguistics. He was also one of the earliest developers of Interlingua as an international auxiliary language.

    ** The number in that superscript is supposed to be “20”; however, the superscript 2 and superscript 0 come from very different parts of the Unicode scheme. The superscript 2 was already present in extended ASCII and is located at U+00B2, where as the superscript digits except for 1, 2, and 3 are located at U+207X. So the heights of the superscripts in various fonts are not the same for all the digits.

  129. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JC:

    Calvinists don’t believe that good deeds are bad, nor that it is preferable to do bad than good, nor (even) that it doesn’t matter what you do. They do believe that doing (objectively) good deeds is not necessarily a sign of virtue in the doer (and certainly no guarantee); but that is surely not a far-fetched standpoint, and you don’t have to be a Calvinist (or indeed a Christian) to think of ways this can happen.

    I believe that the orthodox answer to why God created the universe is that we don’t know; it is, in particular, unorthodox to assert that he had any need to. The specific question you refer to is by no means a problem for Calvinists alone: Paul himself addresses it (or not, as you may think) in Romans 9:22ff, where Paul has an imaginary objector say that God is surely unjust to condemn some and save others when the decision depends on the very way that God himself made that person in the first place. Paul’s response to me looks uncomfortably like “Suck it up, Sinner”, but then I’m not an Apostle. For what (little) it’s worth, I think it”s a pseudoproblem engendered by a time-bound creature trying to see matters from the standpoint of eternal transcendence without the necessary add-ons.

  130. The last temptation is the greatest treason:
    To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

  131. @David Eddyshaw: Job (in chapters 38–39) gets the essentially universal non-answer to the question of why there is unjust suffering from God himself: that it is fundamentally beyond human ken.

    Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

  132. David Eddyshaw says:

    Peano’s Interlingua was not the same as the language which now goes by that name: his language is also called Latino sine flexione, and does what it says on the tin.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latino_sine_flexione

    He introduced it in a bravura article which starts in Latin and changes each time a new feature is explained until it finishes in Interlingua.

  133. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    Job (as I am hardly the first to say) is wonderful. It transcends language. Job’s comforters are almost always absolutely orthodox, and what they say is perfectly true. Much of what they say could be straight out of the Psalms. A fair bit of what Job says is borderline blasphemous. When God appears, he doesn’t answer any of Job’s completely valid complaints, but declares him righteous because he was truthful, and (astonishingly) declares that only Job has spoken of God rightly. He tells the (perfectly orthodox) comforters to ask Job’s forgiveness. Job is satisfied. Nothing of what God says to him explains this: he’s satisfied because he’s seen God. The language is breathtakingly beautiful, but everything that matters in the book happens in the spaces between the words.

  134. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re impedimenta (wikipedia)
    “Impedimenta [Bonnemine] is the matriarchal wife of chief Vitalstatistix, leader of the village wives and the best cook in the village. She is often disappointed with the other villagers (calling them barbarians) and wishes Vitalstatistix was more ambitious. Consequently, she zealously defends and flaunts every privilege due to her as first lady of the village, such as skipping the queue at the fishmongers. She frequently says she wants to go back to Lutetia and live with her successful merchant brother, Homeopathix — the one member of the family her husband openly dislikes. ”
    Re predestination, I find the majority Methodist view more appealing: “Most Methodists teach that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for all of humanity and that salvation is available for all; in theology, this view is known as Arminianism.[8][nb 2] This teaching rejects the Calvinist position that God has pre-ordained the salvation of a select group of people. ” (wikipedia again)

  135. Job’s comforters are almost always absolutely orthodox, and what they say is perfectly true. Much of what they say could be straight out of the Psalms. A fair bit of what Job says is borderline blasphemous. When God appears, he doesn’t answer any of Job’s completely valid complaints, but declares him righteous because he was truthful, and (astonishingly) declares that only Job has spoken of God rightly. He tells the (perfectly orthodox) comforters to ask Job’s forgiveness. Job is satisfied. Nothing of what God says to him explains this: he’s satisfied because he’s seen God. The language is breathtakingly beautiful, but everything that matters in the book happens in the spaces between the words.

    That may be the best short exegesis of Job I’ve seen.

  136. David Marjanović says:

    Per Aquinas above, even God does not suffice. “1 + 1 = 2” is false in all possible worlds (under our understanding of the terms), therefore impossible, and God cannot do the impossible.

    Supposedly it’s a widespread belief in Islam that God can absolutely do the impossible. He made 1 + 1 equal 2, and he can change that. I’m sure there are Christians who agree. (But I had no idea of the theological tradition on this, even though I’m not surprised Aquinas of all people took the other position.)

    Or is it Christian doctrine that we’re not good enough for Heaven, but we are evil enough for Hell?

    It’s even Catholic doctrine.

    a more effective attack would focus on Christian morality

    Indeed, in justice here on Earth, I find “deserve” to be a rather useless concept that quickly leads to absurdities. (…I haven’t even read any Le Guin, unfortunately.) And I think (but can’t be bothered to search for references right now) that a number of atheists has attacked both “everything good comes from above, but the evil that men do is all on themselves” and “the Devil made me do it”.

    But there’s an evident reason for why atheists don’t argue against Christian morality more often: the point isn’t whether Christianity is immoral, the point is whether it’s true. To argue it can’t be true because it’s immoral would just be a fallacious argument from consequences.

    (Nietzsche saw this.)

    But then, the less said about Nietzsche’s own morality, the better…

    So the heights of the superscripts in various fonts are not the same for all the digits.

    The point must be that ² and ³ (found on the German keyboard layout) are designed to stand next to lowercase letters, in particular m.

  137. Arguably, given that God is supposed to be the source of both truth and goodness, religion is a special case where showing it to be immoral also proves it to be false.

  138. David Eddyshaw says:

    From the point of view of a Christian, a cogent demonstration that his/her religion was in fact immoral would (one hopes) cause him/her to abandon it. It would indeed also be taken as an actual factual disproof, as TR implies: the most fundamental fact about God from a Christian standpoint is that God is good.

    I can see that the whole issue might be felt to be beside the point by an atheist of the beyond-good-and-evil school, but presumably an atheist with a concern for good public ethical hygiene ought to feel it a duty to undermine worldviews likely to lead to immorality, on principle. Though I suppose he might scruple to do so by using an argument that he thought invalid even though his target thought it was convincing. Atheists get hung up about these ethical things. (It was we who invented propaganda, after all.)

  139. @TR: That’s why the only logically consistent god is Sithrak the Blind Gibberer.

  140. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think Gnosticism addresses that issue more plausibly: the Creator is not malicious, merely a sort of incompetent cosmic middle manager. “Cruel” implies a sort of active interest which is obviously just a projection on the part of the devotee onto a universe which is actually simply indifferent. Blatant anthropomorphism, frankly.

  141. David Marjanović says:

    Arguably, given that God is supposed to be the source of both truth and goodness, religion is a special case where showing it to be immoral also proves it to be false.

    Euthyphro’s Dilemma*: is something good because God likes it, or does God like it because it’s good? Has God created good & evil, so they only exist by reference to him, or is there an external standard that is not created?

    There are American fundamentalists who take the former position and call it Divine Command Theory.

    * Of course not. The original version is “is it pious because it pleases the gods, or does it please the gods because it is pious”.

    Atheists get hung up about these ethical things.

    I’d rather say scientists do. 🙂

  142. Owlmirror says:

    From the point of view of a Christian, a cogent demonstration that his/her religion was in fact immoral would (one hopes) cause him/her to abandon it. It would indeed also be taken as an actual factual disproof, as TR implies: the most fundamental fact about God from a Christian standpoint is that God is good.

    Several thoughts:

    1) How are we defining good, here? If “evil” means “inherently offensive to God”, then “good” means “not inherently offensive to God”. What am I supposed to do with that?

    2) As an aside, I was bitterly outraged to find that Thomas Aquinas’ argument for God being “good” was based on a definition of “good” really only applicable to abstractions and inanimate things; conformation to an essence (a good triangle has perfectly straight lines that meet at single points; a good knife has a sharp edge). God’s essence is existence, so God is a “good” abstract thing. I certainly hope that that is not the sense of “good” being used.

    3) If “good” is meant more typically (helping and being kind to people; having good will and good actions towards others), is God’s being “good” assumed, or concluded? For most humans, we conclude that a person is good based on their actions towards others, but in the case of God, religion does seem to take the stance that God’s goodness is assumed despite God’s alleged record of actions, rather than goodness being concluded based on those actions.

    4) I realize this is a decade old and second-hand, but at least one Calvinist, by report, did not abandon Calvinism on realizing that he could not think of God as being good (typical definition). I remembered him from an earlier comment, and asked if he still thought that way:

    Comment #379, by Sastra:

    As far as I know, yes. I knew him back in the chatrooms, and he’s still on one of my debate listservs. An interesting person, with a rather oddly admirable kind of integrity. He used to defend Biblical Inerrancy on Ferril Till’s list and was argued out of the position on the basis of the evidence — admitted he was wrong. Still believes the Bible divinely inspired, though.

    He thinks that the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is the correct one. And when it was successfully pointed out that this particular interpretation of God makes God a monster, instead of changing his theology or waving his hands, he accepted his fate. He could not worship or admire such a God and was thus perforce one of the unregenerated. He scorns the happy-clappy sort of liberal Christianity that gladly reforms God into a benevolent humanist image.

    Was raised in the Salvation Army — in Scotland. That combination was apparently not grim enough. Calvinism without election is pretty hard core.

  143. Reminds me of Konstantin Leontiev:

    From this time he recognized as sinful his life of the previous years and all his immoralistic writings and became converted to the most ascetic form of Byzantine and monastic orthodoxy. But his aesthetic immoralism remained in substance unchanged—it only bowed down before the rule of dogmatic Christianity.

  144. David Eddyshaw says:

    Euthyphro’s Dilemma

    Well, you can deduce that I don’t subscribe to the view that Good is Good entirely because God commands it from the fact that I presented “God is good” as a meaningful proposition about God rather than a tautology.

    I’m basically with Aquinas in denying that there is such a thing as an abstraction “Goodness” in the first place, so the paradox as usually framed is incoherent.

    However: the paradox obviously does capture something worth discussing; my response would be along the lines that, firstly, “good” in the relevant sense has to mean “good” in relation to human beings (it seems pointless to ask a question like “is sand ‘good’?” in a universe without any inhabitants.) It also entails the further question “good for what?” There is no single concept underlying all uses of “good.” So the question is really about the nature of God’s interaction with people (and people-analogues elsewhere in the universe, if there are any.) To say he is good implies that he wishes us well; what “well” means for human beings is a tough philosophical question whether you believe in God or not, so it has no particular place in a discussion specifically about Christianity and I don’t presume to answer it.

    So the specifically Christian part of the problem that remains is “Why on earth do you think God wishes humanity well?” (the Sithrak question.) I think the Christian answer is entirely bound up with Incarnation (which we are specifically told is paradoxical, and that our language to describe it can only be pushed so far, so there is nothing we can do about that.) We think we know about the character of God because of the character (and actions) of Jesus.

    Paradox (incidentally) is going to arise with any religion that purports to have time-bound created beings in communication with an infinite eternal transcendent God; in Christianity, at least, the paradox is up-front. Muslim polemicists sometimes attack the intellectual basis of Christianity on this very point, not altogether unreasonably; but the problem actually exists within Islam, though less overtly (the orthodox Islamic position on the Koran is that it is uncreated and eternal, which would seem to imply not dissimilar paradoxes.) I don’t know what the traditional Jewish response to such questions is, but the issue must surely have been addressed. Some Hatter may well know.

  145. David Eddyshaw says:

    at least one Calvinist, by report, did not abandon Calvinism on realizing that he could not think of God as being good

    At first blush, that seems morally wrong to me; but I suspect that in fact the man needs help (and not necessarily pastoral help, either.)

    The poet William Cowper (author of my all-time favourite English hymn) spent long periods convinced that he personally was not of the elect, and therefore damned. (One suspects that the friendship of the relentlessly upbeat John Newton may not always have been quite what he needed.) It looks from here very much like clinical depression, misinterpreted into religious categories by the unfortunate Cowper.

    Incidentally, the belief that you as an individual believer can actually know for certain whether you are elect – or not – is by no means a necessary consequence of Calvinism, and many Calvinists specifically deny this. The idea that you can know for certain that you are saved has tended to arise historically in the usually strongly non-Calvinist movements which lay a lot of stress on choosing Jesus, with a strong tendency to interpret the emotional rush concomitant on commitment as authenticating the choice and confirming that you are in fact saved. It ain’t necessarily so … and in particular, the idea the euphoria is evidence of salvation has the deeply evil twin that depression is evidence of damnation.

  146. John Cowan says:

    Dr. Johnson didn’t say it was evidence, but he was a depressive, and Boswell recorded this conversation:

    Mr. Henderson, with whom I had sauntered in the venerable walks of Merton-College, and found him a very learned and pious man, supped with us. Dr. Johnson surprised him not a little, by acknowledging with a look of horrour, that he was much oppressed by the fear of death. The amiable Dr. Adams suggested that GOD was infinitely good.

    JOHNSON. “That he is infinitely good, as far as the perfection of his nature will allow, I certainly believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole, that individuals should be punished. As to an individual, therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned.” (looking dismally.)

    DR. ADAMS. “What do you mean by damned?”

    JOHNSON. (passionately and loudly) “Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.”

    DR. ADAMS. “I don’t believe that doctrine.”

    JOHNSON. “Hold, Sir, do you believe that some will be punished at all?”

    DR. ADAMS. “Being excluded from Heaven will be a punishment: yet there may be no great positive suffering.”

    JOHNSON. “Well, Sir; but, if you admit any degree of punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict no punishment whatever. There is no infinite goodness physically considered; morally there is.”

    BOSWELL. “But may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of death?”

    JOHNSON. “A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemency with which I talk; but I do not despair.”

    MRS. ADAMS. “You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer.”

    JOHNSON. “Madam, I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some on his right hand and some on his left.” — He was in gloomy agitation, and said, “I’ll have no more on’t.”

    — If what has now been stated should be urged by the enemies of Christianity, as if its influence on the mind were not benignant, let it be remembered, that Johnson’s temperament was melancholy, of which such direful apprehensions of futurity are often a common effect. We shall presently see, that when he approached nearer to his awful change, his mind became tranquil, and he exhibited as much fortitude as becomes a thinking man in that situation.

    It is also Catholic doctrine that no living person knows who is damned and who saved, thanks to the doctrine of confession in articulo mortis. Consequently, those lists of famous but damned people that teaching nuns used to (or so I am told) come out with are in fact heretical.

  147. Incidentally, the belief that you as an individual believer can actually know for certain whether you are elect – or not – is by no means a necessary consequence of Calvinism, and many Calvinists specifically deny this.

    Good for them! The smugness of those who are convinced they are among the saved is surely one of the most offputting features of such varieties of religion.

  148. David Eddyshaw says:

    [modulo my own belief system:]

    On pure commonsense grounds, it seems to me that an individual who is seriously concerned that they may be damned is (by that very token) very unlikely to be so. I would have thought that it would be much more to be expected of a damned individual (if there are any such) that they would give the matter absolutely no thought at all.

    [modulo Richard Dawkins’ belief system:]

    Nobody is damned! What are you talking about?! Wake up, sheeple!

    [So either way, you’re OK! Keep taking those tablets!]

  149. David Eddyshaw says:

    The smugness of those who are convinced they are among the saved is surely one of the most offputting features of such varieties of religion.

    There is (I should say, before the Inquisition drops in unexpectedly) a non-evil version of this. Dieu me pardonnera, c’est son métier. (My own view.)

  150. That’s different. Smug conviction is one thing, cheerful acceptance quite another. Compare libertarians vs. anarchists, often confused by the confused.

  151. David Eddyshaw says:

    That’s different

    You betcha.

  152. As St. Paul almost said, to the confused all things are confused.

  153. Sunday school teacher: “Now boys, once you’re saved you’ll never have any doubts again.”

    Me: “Never doubt anything?”

    Teacher: “No, Rodger, you’ll never be able to doubt anything again.”

    I immediately began wishing earnestly that I’d never be saved. My prayers were answered.

  154. David Eddyshaw says:

    to the confused all things are confused.

    I expect it’s in one of those modern translations the Young People like. (What’s wrong with the good old Vulgate, I’d like to know?)

    [Happily, your Sunday School teacher was quite wrong. But how do you know you weren’t saved? He may have pulled a fast one on you.]

  155. Owlmirror says:

    I am reminded of this modern response to Job:

    “Hell Is the Absence of God”, by Ted Chiang

    I once asked another Calvinist what he thought about this story (which seems to me to be somewhat Calvinist), and his response was:

    Yikes, what a story. I can’t figure out what the message is, but is is pretty darn depressing (but still fascinating.) I think there are some definite Calvinist overtones.

    I’m curious to see if anyone concurs.

  156. David Eddyshaw says:

    I remember the story from Ted Chiang’s collection (I speak here as one so perceptive that I didn’t see the twist in Arrival coming even though I’d read the short story. It’s a gift, I guess.)

    It doesn’t seem to me to have anything much to do with Calvinism particularly, or even with Christianity; more a sort of reductio of the idea that love is only “really” love if it’s completely disinterested. As you’d expect with TC, it’s very well done, but it doesn’t seem to me to have anything very much to do with anything recognisable as real-life Christian love of God. God is not picky when it comes to who he chooses (just look at the Church.)

  157. Rodger C says:

    But how do you know you weren’t saved?

    Good point. But I’ve certainly never Been Saved by his standards, because I never had the required psychological crises in the correct order.

  158. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are required psychological crises? Why was I not told?
    (I’ve had lots of psychological crises. I should be OK if I can meet the ordering criteria.)

  159. David Marjanović says:

    you can deduce that I don’t subscribe to the view that Good is Good entirely because God commands it

    That was very clear; I only meant to make sure it is mentioned that there are self-described Christian theologians who do take that view.

    “good” in the relevant sense has to mean “good” in relation to human beings (it seems pointless to ask a question like “is sand ‘good’?” in a universe without any inhabitants.) It also entails the further question “good for what?” There is no single concept underlying all uses of “good.”

    I’m with you there.

    people-analogues elsewhere in the universe, if there are any

    People in the Star Trek sense.

    the orthodox Islamic position on the Koran is that it is uncreated and eternal, which would seem to imply not dissimilar paradoxes

    The argument has been made that the Koran is the analogue not of the Bible, but of Jesus: as Jesus is begotten, not created, so the Koran is spoken, not created, and both are preexisting & eternal.

    the usually strongly non-Calvinist movements which lay a lot of stress on choosing Jesus

    Calvinism is more like the anecdote about young Putin trying to join the KGB: he was sent home with the words “not you seek us out, we seek you out”.

    (Which they did a decade or so later, and the rest is history.)

    It is also Catholic doctrine that no living person knows who is damned and who saved

    Only one way: it is considered certain that all canonized saints (insofar as they ever existed) are indeed saints, i.e. in heaven right now and forever, as proved by the miracles they have worked after their deaths. It is also considered certain that that list is not exhaustive, and that nobody is known to be in hell – I had never heard of lists of damned people; such lists are definitely heretical.

    Yikes, what a story. I can’t figure out what the message is

    I took it as simply demonstrating that, given certain premises, eternal life in the absence of God need not be the eternal version of an atheist’s life on Earth and could instead be a quite horrifying prospect, no less than eternal fire & brimstone. It does require a divine jerkass, though.

    the required psychological crises in the correct order

    Like the Five Stages of Grief, which don’t always come in the canonical order (or number) either?

  160. And when you’ve passed through all the crises, you get the message SALVATION UNLOCKED.

  161. David Eddyshaw says:

    Only one way

    Like most Catholic doctrines (including all the ones that really matter) that’s based on the Bible, and mainstream Protestants would happily agree. (No human individual is stated to be in Hell in the Scriptures. Admittedly, absence of evidence …)

    However, it’s Catholic teaching that you can’t actually know yourself that you will be saved (until you die), I think, which I expect is what JC had in mind. In practice, it probably makes less difference than you’d think; trusting God completely to forgive you rather than give you your just deserts differs from smug assurance that you are saved mainly in whether you are deep-down attributing God’s mercy to the fact that you’re just too damn pretty to go to hell – or not.

    People in the Star Trek sense

    Indeed; and I thought about just saying “people”, but I think the Star Trek-ish concept of “people” is probably not nearly imaginative enough. Star Trek aliens generally seem to be rather more human than I would would expect to be the Galactic Norm (and not just in appearance.) In fairness, if I could write plausible non-human aliens I wouldn’t be writing Star Trek scripts anyway, and the viewers would probably just get bored if I did. No human interest …

    the required psychological crises in the correct order

    My own experience probably would satisfy Rodger C’s teacher, in fact; but actually

    (a) it’s quite easy to retrofit your (quite genuine) psychological crises into the approved template, even without realising that that is what you have been doing (“Oh, so that is what I was actually feeling …”)

    (b) I am pretty sure that the great majority of (perfectly genuine) Christians even in churches which make a big deal of conversion “experiences” have actually grown up within that particular church culture and never experienced anything like a cataclysmic “conversion”; and why would they? why would they need to? Psychological Crisis Envy?

  162. Owlmirror says:

    Well, my own response to that “Yikes” about Chiang’s story at the time (which I still stand by):

    Of course […], the story isn’t Christian at all — Jesus isn’t mentioned, and in the universe of the story, isn’t necessary for salvation. But the story is monotheistic, and doesn’t “feel” Muslim or Jewish or Catholic — there is no religious hierarchy, no priests or imams or rabbis that can intercede with God or provide any particular additional knowledge of God, no religious rituals or prohibitions or fasts or feasts or concepts of ritual purity and contamination. But there is a God, and angels (with Hebrew names, I note, and some of whom are “fallen”), and a heaven or hell that one enters immediately upon death, and resides there permanently.

    It’s a monotheistic theology stripped of all ornament (which makes me think strongly of Protestantism), to its bare essentials, more or less, which in turn reminds me of all of religion summarized as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind”.

    As we see, there’s also something like grace as an undeserved gift, in the light from heaven that gives you that perfect love of God, but as the finale makes clear, not even loving God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind brings salvation — only God’s ineffable will does. Which is precisely what made me think of Calvinism.

    […]

    in thinking about it, I think I have figured out what the message might be. Of course, I’m an atheist, so this reflects that perspective:

    The message is what Ethan evangelizes; a plea for terminological consistency and honesty.

    Words have meanings. We may argue over their definitions, but we do at least try to give reasons for why those words may have a different definitions in different cases.

    And that goes for words used by theologians as well; words like “good” and “evil”; “just” and “unjust”; “kind” and “cruel”; “merciful” and “merciless”. These terms are descriptions of human actions and intents. Using them as presuppositional theological labels is inconsistent, and unfair.

    The universe may be configured as you believe, with a God that made it, and a heaven and hell the destination for all who die. God may condemn most to hell and raise a few to heaven, for reasons having nothing to do with how those condemned or raised act.

    We humans may have been “created” [in whatever sense that may mean] such that we cannot easily (or at all) by our own ability meet the terms of being permitted to enter heaven after death. But that lack of ability is no more “evil” or “depravity” or “sin” than our inability to see radio waves or x-rays, or hear infrasound or ultrasound, or taste or smell certain chemicals. If “evil” has any meaning that we can understand, it means something like causing intentional unnecessary harm to others [and I suppose each of those definitions can be argued over as well]. Not being able to have true faith in Jesus Christ, or not being able to love God, is not intentional, and does not harm other humans, and certainly cannot harm God.

    And by the same reasoning, God is not just, God is not kind, God is not merciful. God may be the power that runs the universe, but whether the powerful are described as “good” or “evil” depends on how they behave towards those who are weaker — and everyone is by definition weaker than God, in the story, as in most theology.

    God, and his will, may well be incomprehensible, but cannot consistently or with fairness be described as good.

  163. Owlmirror says:

    (No human individual is stated to be in Hell in the Scriptures.

    Well, there’s that rich man in Luke 16:19-31. You could argue that that’s just a parable, but I don’t think it can be argued that it’s a parable that’s in favor of universalism

  164. David Eddyshaw says:

    God may condemn most to hell and raise a few to heaven, for reasons having nothing to do with how those condemned or raised act.

    I haven’t explained myself very well. I don’t believe any of that. The “few” part seems to have no particular warrant; Calvin himself thought most people (at least) would be saved, and I can see no reason to disagree. God is great, God is merciful: why would he only save a few?

    It’s emphatically not Christian doctrine that deeds have no bearing on salvation; that is antinomianism, which is a serious heresy. Paul himself goes out of his way to deny that his doctrine has antinomian consequences (obviously an accusation at the time, and one often levelled at all Christians nowadays by Muslims.)

    I don’t think I’ve been sufficiently careful above to say that what I’ve been asserting is not (as I understand it) Calvinism in particular, but (what I understand to be) simple mainstream Christianity: God will forgive you for any conceivable sin; and: there is nothing that you can do to earn his forgiveness. That’s it. (Obviously this means nothing if you don’t believe in sin and/or that there is no need for you to be forgiven; God may forgive you anyway, though. It’s none of my business.)

    The “Calvinism” bit is (for me) simply a consequence of God knowing the end from the beginning; as he is transcendent and outside time, my entire timeline is present to him. He knew from the beginning what choices I would make, how I would act. I don’t know any of this, and God hasn’t given me any mystical foreknowledge of how it will all turn out: I’m time-bound, and all this, which God sees all together, I progress through minute by minute, hour by hour, making my choices; God knew them beforehand; I can’t. In particular, it would be an entirely illegitimate deduction from the doctrine that this gives me some privileged place in the here and now: that would be an illusion, caused by a confusion between my own time-bound experience and my imagining of how things look to God. My imaginings are wrong; I am not able to see the world like that.

    My Calvinism is not about me at all; it’s a doctrine about the transcendence of God, which has significance for me because it affects how I think about God; it ought not to affect my own behaviour at all, in terms of how I act towards other people. If it does, it’s because I’ve made a potentially very serious doctrinal error.

    you could argue that that’s just a parable

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’d do. However, I’m not in fact a Universalist (though I do think it is possible that nobody will go to Hell.) All I am concerned to say in this is that Universalism is quite compatible with Biblical literalism.

  165. David Eddyshaw says:

    And that goes for words used by theologians as well; words like “good” and “evil”; “just” and “unjust”; “kind” and “cruel”; “merciful” and “merciless”. These terms are descriptions of human actions and intents. Using them as presuppositional theological labels is inconsistent, and unfair.

    This is a serious concern for Muslim theologians. As God is transcendent, application to him of a term like “merciful”, which we understand in terms of human behaviour, is in principle illegitimate, and moreover runs the risk of limiting God by the analogy with human qualities. However, we have to use some terms, if we are going to talk about God at all; we must (inevitably) use terms appropriate to humanity, but we must always remember that they are strictly inappropriate.

    There is an Arabic technical term for this usage, which unfortunately I can’t remember (and proves to be hard to google up …)

    The doctrine of Incarnation means that for Christians the problem is more tractable.

  166. Owlmirror says:

    There is an Arabic technical term for this usage, which unfortunately I can’t remember

    Is it possible you’re thinking of the Islamic terms for apophatic theology?

    Hm, that might not be right.

    Per Ta’tili:

    In Islamic theology, taʿṭīl (Arabic: تَعْطِيل‎‎) means “divesting” God of His attributes. It is a form of apophatic theology. Taʿṭīl is the polar opposite of tashbīh (anthropomorphism or anthropopathism), the ascription to God of physical characteristics or human attributes such as emotion. Both taʿṭīl and tashbīh are considered sins or heresies in mainstream Islam.

    The corrective doctrine against taʿṭīl is tathbīt (confirming God’s attributes), and the corrective against tashbīh is tanzīh (keeping God pure).

  167. David Eddyshaw says:

    No, it wasn’t that.

  168. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time once again to play Guess That Muslim Theological Term!

  169. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’ll know it when I see it.

  170. Euripides, Bacchae 501-502 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):

    PENTHEUS
    Why, where is he? To my eyes he is invisible.
    DIONYSUS
    He is by my side; thou art a godless man and therefore dost not see him.

    ΠΕΝΘΕΥΣ
    καὶ ποῦ ᾽στιν; οὐ γὰρ φανερὸς ὄμμασίν γ᾽ ἐμοῖς.
    ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΣ
    παρ᾽ ἐμοί· σὺ δ᾽ ἀσεβὴς αὐτὸς ὢν οὐκ εἰσορᾷς.

    E.R. Dodds ad loc.:

    Vision demands not only an objective condition—the god’s presence—but a subjective one—the percipient must himself be in a state of grace.

  171. David Marjanović says:

    it’s Catholic teaching that you can’t actually know yourself that you will be saved (until you die)

    Yep.

  172. Owlmirror says:

    If Bob has an invisible and inaudible friend, Alice, who can nevertheless speak to and be seen by Bob, then Alice’s independent existence should be nevertheless demonstrable by Alice relaying information that Bob does not already know beforehand through Bob.

    /justsayin’

  173. I think we’re all familiar with the atheistic/scientistic take on the issue.

  174. ə de vivre says:

    There was an 18th century Ottoman poet (whose name I’ve forgotten) who promoted innovation in literature with an argument to the effect that every variety of beauty, like all Good Things, corresponds to an attribute of God. But because God cannot, by definition, be exhaustively qualified, there are infinite potential forms of beauty, and so by creating something that is beautiful in a novel way, you are making God more present to the world than he was before. I’m sure some of the words I’ve used are just inexact enough for my reconstruction of the argument to be heretical, but I leave it as an exercise to the reader to identify the heresies and correct them.

  175. Owlmirror says:

    Calvin himself thought most people (at least) would be saved, and I can see no reason to disagree. God is great, God is merciful: why would he only save a few?

    The trouble I have with this is that Calvin, and those who accepted his reforms, seemed to think that faith and correct doctrine was absolutely necessary (for salvation? for not enraging God?), such that having and publishing the wrong doctrine was worth killing for. The council of Geneva condemned Michael Servetus to be burned alive for rejecting Trinitarian orthodoxy (and for rejecting infant baptism). Calvin himself “only” wanted Servetus to be beheaded.

    Are you sure that Calvin thought most people would be saved, rather than most (orthodox) Christians?

    If correct faith and doctrine are necessary for salvation, then it logically follows that most people are damned, because most people did not and do not have the same faith and doctrines. They can’t all be right . . .

    If correct faith and doctrine are not necessary for salvation, then why have faith and doctrine at all?

  176. David Eddyshaw says:

    Are you sure that Calvin thought most people would be saved

    Yes; though I don’t know how firm a grasp he had of world religious demographics. Certainly not “a few”, anyhow.
    Please note for future reference that in describing myself as a “Calvinist” I do imply that I attribute infallibility to Calvin, that I agree with all his opinions about everything, or indeed that I think he was a particularly nice person (he was a particularly clever person, though.)

    Faith as such can’t be correct or incorrect; the question is “faith in what?” Faith is held to be necessary for salvation (but see below.)

    Correct doctrine is definitely not necessary for salvation. The classic example, arguing among those who accept Biblical literalism, is the thief on the cross; the man didn’t have a lot of opportunity to acquire correct doctrines, nor is he recorded as having come out with any approved form of words at all. I have in fact seen vigorous attempts to sidestep the plain meaning of the text on the part of those who do think correct doctrine is necessary for salvation. They are unedifying (and remind me of an attempt I once saw to “prove” that the wine at the wedding in Cana must have been non-alcoholic, because otherwise that would be Bad.) Again, various individuals who were long dead before Jesus was born are held to have been saved (in all mainstream Christian traditions), so it is clearly possible to make the grade WRT saving faith without even knowing the name of Jesus.

    I don’t want to go all wet and Episcopalian on this issue, and as I say, I am not in fact an Universalist. But the logic of my own position makes it perfectly clear that attempts to second-guess God in determining whom God will save by imposing any sort of human condition as absolutely essential can’t be substantiated from the Bible, so Christians have no warrant for believing them (I believe this is also, ultimately, the Catholic position.)

    Doctrine matters because false doctrines interfere with our relationship with God, which is what Christians (and Muslims and Jews) think it’s all actually about. False doctrines need not mean that you don’t have a relationship with God, or that God can’t save you; but Christians believe that they have a continuing ongoing relationship with God, and that it’s therefore likely to cause problems if one’s concept is seriously wrong. I might, for example, think that a particularly effective way to get God to grant my prayers was to make large donations to a megachurch, or that God shows that he really loves people by making them rich (this is a very popular heresy in the USA.) On the other hand, even if I had such profoundly unBiblical notions of God, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t know him at all. If I thought my wife was a Martian*, it’s quite possible that we could still have a fulfilling relationship on many levels … still, it would be a problem.

    *She’s not. Not that I have anything against Martians. Some of my best friends …

  177. David Eddyshaw says:

    Eurgh. In the third sentence, that should read

    … I do not imply …

    (Probably divine retribution for pomposity.)

  178. Bathrobe says:

    At one stage, Hat used to ban (or at least discourage) discussion of nonlinguistic issues from LH.

  179. David Eddyshaw says:

    I attempted at one stage to (as it were) autoban on such matters; I’m uneasy myself about potentially abusing the patience not only of Hat Himself but of my fellow-punters, and I did wonder if ReligionHat might be a more appropriate forum. I’m certainly not concerned to proselytise (a gift I most definitely lack.) But I think it’s legitimate to talk about anything (Hat permitting) so long as it doesn’t get ad hominem. Or (worse), boring. It’s not boring to me (evidently) but YMMV.

    It seemed discourteous not to reply to Owlmirror, who has been making points which certainly merit as good a response as I can manage. I’m happy to stop for tea, though.

  180. Bathrobe says:

    If Hat had wanted you to stop he would have said so. I was merely commenting that topics of discussion seem to be broader than they were at some time in the fuzzy past.

  181. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s just that it’s now become clear that everything is Language …

  182. Stu Clayton says:

    I attempted at one stage to (as it were) autoban on such matters

    Farn Farn Farn auf der Autobahn.

  183. It’s terrifying that I know exactly what Stu is referring to.

    I wish I were younger.

  184. Owlmirror says:

    (Bacchae, Line 795)

    θύοιμ᾽ ἂν αὐτῷ μᾶλλον ἢ θυμούμενος πρὸς κέντρα λακτίζοιμι θνητὸς ὢν θεῷ.

    (Coleridge)
    I would rather do him sacrifice than in a fury kick against the pricks; thou a mortal, he a god.

    (T. A. Buckley)
    I would sacrifice to the god rather than kick against his spurs in anger, a mortal against a god.

    ==========================

    (Acts 26:14)
    πάντων δέ καταπεσόντων ἡμῶν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἤκουσα φωνὴν λαλοῦσαν πρός με καὶ λέγουσαν τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ Σαοὺλ Σαούλ τί με διώκεις σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα λακτίζειν

    (KJV)
    And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

    (NIV)
    We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

    ===========================

    (Some Greek versions of Acts have at verse 9:5 a bit about kicking against pricks/goads, and some translations reflect this; other versions do not, and other translations in turn reflect this absence)

    I wonder, is kicking against goads/pricks/spurs a common dehumanizing idiom in Greek with regards to a subordinate rejecting [putatively rightful] domination, or is it more restricted to theological language; a worshipper and a God? And is the idiom meant to invoke a pack or draft animal being driven, or rather instead a horse being ridden?

  185. PlasticPaddy says:

    Pindar’s Odes, Pythia 2.94 and surrounding lines.

    φέρειν δ’ ἐλαφρῶς ἐπαυχένιον λαβόντα ζυγόν ἀρήγει· ποτὶ κέντρον δέ τοι λακτιζέμεν τελέθει ὀλισθηρὸς οἶμος· ἁδόν- τα δ’ εἴη με τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ὁμιλεῖν.

    There is another common theme between Euripides and Acts, the prison door opening by itself. For more, see http://www.christianorigins.com/euripidesluke.html.
    The author of that post seems to think that these are indeed commonplaces and not “cogs”.

  186. John Cowan says:

    it is considered certain that all canonized saints (insofar as they ever existed) are indeed saints, i.e. in heaven right now and forever, as proved by the miracles they have worked after their deaths.

    True. I wasn’t thinking about the canonized.

    It is also considered certain that that list is not exhaustive

    Well, extremely probable. “There may be, and undoubtedly are, innumerable saints unrecognized and uncanonized.” That’s what All Saint’s/Hallow’s Day is about: it recognizes the unrecognized.

    I think the Star Trek-ish concept of “people” is probably not nearly imaginative enough. Star Trek aliens generally seem to be rather more human than I would would expect to be the Galactic Norm (and not just in appearance.)

    Well, there’s the Horta (Ms. “No-Kill-I”), and one of her hatchlings (there were 18,000 eggs, but surely not all hatched), Ensign Naraht, later Lieutenant Naraht, who goes about the Enterprise with a universal translator strapped to his carapace and his rank stripes painted on it.

  187. John Cowan says:

    Hat used to ban (or at least discourage) discussion of nonlinguistic issues from LH.

    There’s no point nowadays. We are, after all, Hattics. When the occasional Hittite stumbles across this place, they eventually expose their true nature by Hitting, and the Hat has often said that Hitting (verbally) is what the few people who get banned from Hattiland get banned for. And though the Internet is infested with Hittites these days, they think we’ve been extinct for almost 4000 Internet-years, and so we fly, as they say, under the Huwasi stones.

  188. At one stage, Hat used to ban (or at least discourage) discussion of nonlinguistic issues from LH.

    Only to the extent they seemed likely to lay waste the territory. I greatly enjoy discussion of religion, and even politics (though that’s more likely to make me bilious), as long as it’s civil; in particular, I enjoy DE’s exposition of his Calvinist views on things, because I (raised a Lutheran) had ignorant views on Calvinism and I am learning a lot. Or, as the man himself said:

    But I think it’s legitimate to talk about anything (Hat permitting) so long as it doesn’t get ad hominem. Or (worse), boring. It’s not boring to me (evidently) but YMMV. It seemed discourteous not to reply to Owlmirror, who has been making points which certainly merit as good a response as I can manage.

    Boredom is a great sin, and this blog is my attempt to combat it. JC’s point about Hattics, Hittites, and Hitting is also well made.

  189. John Cowan says:

    Boredom is a great sin

    Not always. Here’s Tolkien to Lewis, after Lewis had complained about Tolkien’s (overly nit-picky, per Lewis) criticisms of one of Lewis’s (insufficiently, per Tolkien) scholarly works:

    But I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge. (It is an Inkling’s duty to be bored willingly. It is his privilege to be a borer on occasion). I sometimes conceive and write other things than verses or romance! And I may come back at you.

    It’s true, though, that Hugo Dyson greatly preferred conversation to readings at Inklings meetings, and Christopher Tolkien remembers him shouting, “Oh, God, not another elf!” during Tolkien’s readings from the Lord of the Rings. Dyson was a Shakespearean and one of those British scholars who published little but thought much and taught many. He was Tolkien’s neighbor and the person, with Tolkien, who helped Lewis convert to Christianity.

  190. @John Cowan: Most informed accounts agree that Dyson said, “Not another fucking elf!” (although it might conceivably have been somewhat milder “bloody”). Supposedly, the vulgarity was part of the reason Tolkien was so offended.

  191. John Cowan says:

    I should add that I have nothing against Hittites. Indeed, if a Hittite were to walk into an American bar and order wa-a-tar, he would pronounce it [ˈwaːdr̩] like many another American and be served at once, though after that things might get more difficult.

    I myself, though fully merged for LOT=PALM and THOUGHT=CLOTH (but not LOT=THOUGHT), pronounce water with the latter vowel. I’m not sure how to account for this. Except for wal- and war- words, which get THOUGHT-ish vowels for other reasons, I can’t find any other exceptions to the general rule of LOT=PALM in wa- words in my own speech: consequently I wash (LOT=PALM) in water (CLOTH=THOUGHT).

  192. David Marjanović says:

    attempts to second-guess God in determining whom God will save by imposing any sort of human condition as absolutely essential can’t be substantiated from the Bible, so Christians have no warrant for believing them (I believe this is also, ultimately, the Catholic position.)

    Yes, which is why nobody is believed to be certainly in hell.

    Farn

    That’s “fern”, though usually a homophone of fahren which rarely stays disyllabic.

    Boredom is a great sin

    That’s how I learned the word insipidity lo these halfscore years ago.

  193. I’m going to use maturity as my go-to euphemism from now on, inspired by DE’s characterization of Latin literature in the new thread.

  194. John Cowan says:

    I should also that people who Hit, rare as they are, usually aren’t actually Hittites: an overt reproof or two is enough to stop their insults / ad hominems. It’s the ones who are also invincibly ignorant who expose themselves as veritable Hittites. I find that when I reread a thread, the few people whose (many) comments I skip over are almost always the banned ones.

    As for the epithet, it’s not surprising that Christopher elided it.

  195. David Marjanović says:

    Not to be confused with the hittistes, the unemployed in pre-Spring Algeria which officially had full employment, so the people leaning against the walls (hit in local Arabic) all day said it was their job to prop the walls up.

  196. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Ghana, Nkrumah used to talk of the “veranda boys” (though I think with more of an implication that they were idle rather than unfortunate.)

Speak Your Mind

*