Thesaurus Followup.

We discussed the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae a few years ago, but the NY Times has a nice piece by Annalisa Quinn that provides a useful update and has some great illustrations:

The first entry, for the letter A, was published in 1900. The T.L.L. is expected to reach its final word — “zythum,” an Egyptian beer — by 2050. A scholarly project of painstaking exactness and glacial speed, it has so far produced 18 volumes of huge pages with tiny text, the collective work of nearly 400 scholars, many of them long since dead. The letters Q and N were set aside, because they begin too many difficult words, so researchers will have to go back and work on those, too. […]

The poet and classicist A.E. Housman, who died in 1936, once referred to “the chaingangs working at the dictionary in the ergastulum [dungeon] at Munich,” but the T.L.L. is now housed in two sunny floors of a former palace. Sixteen full-time staffers and some visiting lexicographers work in offices and a library, which contains editions of all the surviving Latin texts from before A.D. 600, and about 10 million yellowing paper slips, arranged in stacks of boxes reaching to the ceiling.

These slips form the heart of the project. There is a piece of paper for every surviving piece of writing from the classical period. The words, arranged chronologically, are given in context: they come from poems, prose, recipes, medical texts, receipts, dirty jokes, graffiti, inscriptions, and anything else that survived the vicissitudes of the last two thousand years.

Most Latin students read from the same rarefied canon without much contact with how the language was used in everyday life. But the T.L.L. insists that the anonymous person who insulted an enemy with graffiti on a wall in Pompeii is as valuable a witness to the meaning of a Latin word as a poet or emperor. (“Phileros spado,” reads one barb, or “Phileros is a eunuch.”) […]

About 90,000 of the slips represent uses of the word “et.” In order to grasp every possible shade of the word’s meaning, the researcher who wrote the entry read each of the passages in which it occurred and sorted them into categories of usage, like a scientist cataloging specimens. It took years. “Et,” an apparently simple word that usually means “and,” can also mean a range of slightly different things, including “even,” “and also,” “and then,” “and moreover,” et cetera.

“You have to know about all kinds of texts: Roman law and medicine and poetry and prose and history,” said Marijke Ottink, an editor at the T.L.L. She has been working on the word “res,” which means “thing,” on and off for a decade. […]

Some assignments are more coveted than others: Josine Schrickx, an editor, said she would like to write the entry for the word “thesaurus.” In Latin, it means “treasury.” On the horizon, however, is “non,” which means “no.” With nearly 50,000 slips, it is a source of anxiety at the T.L.L. “I don’t know how to deal with a word on that scale,” said Adam Gitner, a researcher. “And that does frighten me.”

The complicated conjunction and adverb “ut” also looms. Mr. Butterfield said that it is “the sort of infernal business that would make Sisyphus and Ixion smile kindly on the job satisfaction they got from their daily toil,” referring to figures from classical mythology forced to labor in pain for eternity.

The dictionary is not only difficult to produce, but also to use. Written in Latin, entries are made up of “dense print in numbered columns, subdivided by capital Roman numerals, then capital letters, then Arabic numerals, then perhaps more Arabic numerals, then lowercase letters, then — if you’re still on the trail — Greek letters,” said Mr. Butterfield. But the difficulty in using the T.L.L. was “an essential hurdle of scholarship,” he added; it was “a tool that is without parallel in understanding how Latin was deployed.”

I’ve quoted a fair bit because the Times has a notoriously strict paywall, but if you haven’t hit your limit this month, do click through for the images. At the MetaFilter post about it, people link to other notoriously unending projects like the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (it “was founded in Berlin in 1904 to produce a comprehensive alphabetical catalogue of all fifteenth-century printed books, and has now, after 115 years, got as far as the letter H”) and the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles, which “was begun in 1948, and five thousand-odd pages later is still on the letter A” [!].

And for lagniappe, there’s a very silly Word of the Day project that uses a generative language model to produce absurd definitions, e.g.

webster, n. a government official or other person who attempts to determine words of a foreign language.

unkwatch, n. the time each month during which it is customary to review your spelling, spelling etiquette, onomastics, and grammar and punctuation.

Enjoy!

Comments

  1. What a distinctly old timey projects. When people wanted to produce a definitive account of something ages ago they had little choice but start at the beginning and move painstakingly from one subject to another, because when the book is printed it is fixed and immutable. Nowadays it is possible to start quickly with rough sketch online, refine it to include the main points and then spend infinite amount of time on infinitesimal corrections.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles, which “was begun in 1948, and five thousand-odd pages later is still on the letter A” [!].

    No surprise there – it’s the default vowel, the outcome of a megamerger.

    Nowadays it is possible to start quickly with rough sketch online, refine it to include the main points and then spend infinite amount of time on infinitesimal corrections.

    “Erst der Computer verdient es, Schreibmaschine genannt zu werden.”
    “Nothing before the computer deserved to be called ‘writing-machine’ as typewriters are in fact called.”

  3. No surprise there – it’s the default vowel, the outcome of a megamerger.

    No surprise? None at all? Yeah, there are a lot of Sanskrit words beginning with a-; in my Monier-Williams they go up to p. 126. Out of 1332 pages. I leave it to you to calculate the likely finishing date if a- has taken them over 70 years.

  4. John Cowan says:

    I think the key is the word encyclopedic: there’s probably an enormous amount of detail on specific usages. Historically classicists have used dictionary for such a work and call what the rest of us call a dictionary a lexicon, as in the names of Liddell & Scott’s various works. The editors probably added encyclopedic to the title in order to clarify it.

  5. AJP Crown says:

    For them to take 150 years to assemble this book – no mention of computers, only bits of yellowing paper piled to the ceiling – seems absurd. It’s not very German, they should pull themselves together.

  6. I’m not really sure I understand what kind of book this is. It seems to me that this is not so much a dictionary in the ordinary sense as something that approaches an annotated concordance of all Latin texts from a certain period?

    Although I can how it might be interesting to understand all the ways that the Romans used a word like “populus”, I’m afraid I don’t understand what would be accomplished by anyone’s going through 50,000 slips with examples of “non”.

  7. Do you consider the OED equally pointless? It has comparable aims and coverage, and comparably immense piles of slips that are gone through to separate shades of meaning.

  8. Stu Clayton says:


    Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
    And each new shade a writing-down of lines.

  9. John Cowan says:

    Hat: But the OED doesn’t print all those slips: definers work hard to summarize them into senses and to select just the significant examples of each sense. But when dealing with a language with a fixed corpus, a totalizing approach is feasible. “Annotated concordance” is a little over the top, but not very: the annotations are basically just the source document and a location in it.

    Per this 2010 article in India Express, there are more than 1 crore (1,00,00,000) slips, and as of then only 7 lakh (7,00,000) had been edited and published.

  10. I don’t see that I said it was pointless.

    As I said, I didn’t quite understand what kind of book this is. It says in the article “there is a piece of paper in the T.L.L. archive for every time a word shows up in a text from the classical period.” The authors of the OED couldn’t have had anything like that for English, so not exactly comparable coverage.

    Did someone spend years writing the entry for “and” in the OED? As far as I know they may have, but I would be really surprised.

    What I meant was — did the people who spent years going through examples of “et” come up with any greater understanding of something, or did they do it just so they can say they were thorough? If they had halved the number of slips of paper and spent only half the time, would the result have been any worse?

  11. Stu Clayton says:

    did the people who spent years going through examples of “et” come up with any greater understanding of something

    Read the sentence about “et” in the passage quoted above from the article:

    # “Et,” an apparently simple word that usually means “and,” can also mean a range of slightly different things, including “even,” “and also,” “and then,” “and moreover,” et cetera. #

    You’ve snapped up what you think is a trivial word, and are shaking it like a terrier. It may be that you don’t have the wide reading experience required to understand this matter.

    Another possibility is that you are indulging in pretend-innocent bluster and distraction. That used to get more traction before Trump overdid it and spoiled the game.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    Et.

    The more-or-less equivalent Kusaal word ka means “and” about as often as not, but it also

    links clauses in narrative with the specific implication that the events are proceeding in sequence, with regular (meaningful) dropping of tense marking: English equivalent: zero;

    introduces subordinate clauses which correspond to serial-verb-type constructions, but different subjects from the main verb, or different polarity: English equivalents: “to”, “that”, “which”, “who”;

    sets off foregrounded elements before the main clause: English equivalent: change of word order or intonation;

    can replace ye “that” introducing subordinate purpose clauses or content clauses (some verbs are particularly fond of this construction, but there is always the possibility of using ye instead, unlike the case with all the other uses above.)

    If the particle lɛɛ follows the clause subject, ka means “but.”
    Ka is followed by tonal changes of the type that mark clauses as subordinate even when it does mean “and” and is introducing a coordinated main clause; however it is not followed by such tonal changes when it replaces ye “that” before a (subordinate) content clause.

    Non-contrastive personal pronoun subjects are omitted after ka in coordinating function if they have the same reference as the subject of the preceding clause, and also when ka follows a foregrounded nominalised clause expressing time which has the same subject. If a pronoun is used, it forces an implication that the subject has changed.

    Ka cannot mean “and” linking noun or adverb phrases: “and” in such cases must be .

    ————————
    ————————

    My impression is that the syntax of Latin et is rather more convoluted, but not all languages can be as straightforward and logical as Kusaal.

  13. Stu Clayton says:

    Those very properties militate against wide adoption of Kusaal. They would make it difficult to waffle effectively.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Where there’s a will …
    The human spirit is indomitable.

  15. Did someone spend years writing the entry for “and” in the OED? As far as I know they may have, but I would be really surprised.

    Yes. And “set,” and “put,” and all the apparently simple little words that turn out to be impossibly difficult when you try to define them.

  16. Stu Clayton says:

    Many learners of English cannot understand the differences between “very” and “too”, as in “very hot” and “too hot”. I’ve thought about this off and on over the years, but haven’t found a simple way to explain the difference. You can get all high-flown and linguistic-categorical, but such an explanation is intelligible only with prior understanding of the difference, and thus is a scam.

    Sometimes I imagine that the native languages of the learners may not have this particular verbal distinction – two short adverbs. The ideas get conveyed by other means, maybe ?

    Othertimes I wonder whether this verbal distinction in English is all that important – apart from its being part of the language.

  17. This is a constant problem with Chinese speakers — they say “very hot” when they mean “hot” and “too hot” when they mean “very hot.” I taught English in Taiwan and never got very far trying to correct it.

  18. Stu Clayton says:

    Could it be that they think “hot” means “warm”, and that “very” and “too” express intensity or degree (which they do, in a sense!) ? That would explain the productions you quote.

    The German warm extends far into the area we call “hot”. To this day I have to catch myself before carelessly saying es ist heiß heute. It can be 100 F in the fucking shade and people still say es ist sehr warm heute.

    Weather just can’t be heiß. And I just can’t accept that warm and “warm” are not identical in use-meaning.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not a problem in the Ultimate Human Language, where the two concepts are typically expressed with quite different constructions:

    Li tʋl hali [bɛdegʋ].
    It be.hot up.to [greatly].
    “It’s very hot.” (usually with ellipse of the actual adverb.)

    Li tʋl n galisida.
    It be.hot CATENATOR exceed:IMPERFECTIVE.
    “It’s too hot.”

    This sort of construction with verbs meaning “exceed” is typical of West Africa in general.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Now that I think of it, you do hear people in West Africa saying “It’s too hot” in English to mean “very hot.”
    I wonder if the confusion is in fact due to the fact that the English constructions are so similar formally, whereas the constructions in local languages tend to be quite different? [EDIT: Which I’ve just noticed is in fact exactly what Stu has already suggested.]

    Speculating yet further beyond any facts actually known to me, could that be true of Chinese? How do you say “It’s very hot”/”It’s too hot” in Sinitic languages, O Sinophone Hatters?

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    The German warm extends far into the area we call “hot”.

    David Niven, talking about filming on location for Paper Tiger, in Malaysia:

    It’s a lovely part of the world, terribly hot. It was 137 degrees – it’s 100 miles north of the equator – in August. 97% humidity. And we had 14 nationalities in the crew and actors. Germans, Japanese, Americans, English, everything. Spanish cameraman, Malays, Indian – unbelievable. And two or three lovely limeys.

    One was from Battersea. I can’t say his name. He’d never been out of England. Not to the Isle of Wight!
    He appeared in this terrific heat with a sweater on and a cap!
    And he looked round and he said to me
    “Turned mild, hasn’t it, David?”

  22. John Cowan says:

    English equivalent: zero

    Or and in naive narration: We did this, and we did that, and Susan said, and Peter fought, and Lucy cried, and ….

    I’ll add something about Chinese adjectives vs. stative verbs here later: it’s complicated.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Or and in naive narration

    The situation in Kusaal is a bit more complicated: narrative is carried forward by clauses introduced by ka with perfective verbs without tense marking, while in formal style clauses which lack ka are tense-marked in the great majority of cases; they typically mark asides, flashbacks, descriptions etc. Informal style is the same in the way the narrative thread is carried by tense-unmarked ka-clauses, but differs in that many clauses without ka also lack tense markers: this is pretty much equivalent to the “narrative present” of informal English narration: “So I say … and he says …” and found in similar genres of narrative, likewise characterised by vivid spatial deictics, for example: “So I say to this man …”

    But you’re absolutely right, of course, in your implication that English “and” is every bit as protean and syntactically complex as ka. And as interesting

  24. On a potentially interesting but entirely nonlinguistic note, the physical sensations of warm and hot in the human body are actually completely different. The sensation of warmth is one we are all readily familiar with, but heat triggers a separate sensation, which is a combination of cold and pain.

    The cold aspect is mostly unnoticed, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the pain sensation is stronger, and it typically drives an immediate response from the person experiencing it, drawing back from the heat so as not to get burned. Secondly, it is unusual to expose part of the skin to extreme heat without exposing nearby areas to less intense heat. So one typically feels warmth over a larger region, with the cold/pain sensation limited to the very hottest spot. The large region of great warmth tends to obscure the cold sensation.

    In fact, the only way I have been able to reliably and clearly experience the cold/pain sensation is by dipping an extremity in a hot spring (one where the water is well below boiling, but also far too hot to immerse the whole body safely). There was a sharp change in temperature between the limb that was out in the air and the hand or foot underwater, which would let me feel a definite cold sensation alongside the pain. (You should not do this, of course, unless you are familiar with hot springs and what heat levels are actually dangerous, nor probably should you test this without someone else present to assist you if needed. The pool where I remember getting the clearest combined cold and pain sensation was also too small to fall into, an additional safety factor.)

  25. Lars Mathiesen says:

    ObDanish: hed is not used any more, the sun is 6000 degrees varm.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    Doing my best without knowing any actual Chinese, I see that Wiedenhof’s Mandarin grammar lists tài “too” as an adverb that can precede an adjective in just the same way as hěn “very”; however, there is the complication that when hěn precedes a predicative adjective (which is basically a stative verb in Chinese) it very often seems “bleached” and seems to contribute nothing much to the meaning at all. This seems to be something of an open issue in Mandarin grammar, and the papers juha linked are largely about that.

    Matthews and Yip’s Cantonese grammar suggests that the situation there is similar: though taai “too” occurs before adjectives in the same slot as words for “very”, predicative adjectives normally have some sort of preceding modifier, hóu “good”/”very” by default; but they say “its meaning is much weaker than English very.”

    So (making due allowances for the fact that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about) it looks like in (some) Sinitic the usual “very” and “too” constructions are formally identical, unlike in Kusaal; but they are very different in semantics, in that the default “very” is usually just a sort of placeholder when it occurs before a predicative adjective.

    I think this supports Stu’s theory.

  27. PlasticPaddy says:

    I have been following the discussion of too/very conflation with unease. It is true that too/very can have identical syntax and share some semantic similarities (both are subjective and either not or only roughly quantifiable). But there is a semantic acceptability/non-acceptability axis to which very is orthogonal and to which too is aligned. Example: This curry is too spicy vs. This curry is very spicy. Surely the Chinese can communicate non-acceptability without a long circumlocutory disambiguation of their too/very word.

  28. John Cowan says:

    (Well, it took me so long to write this, what with one thing and another, that much of it is now already covered, but here it is anyway: hopefully it will amuse and to some degree instruct.)

    Long and long and long ago, when the Yellow Emperor invented the Chinese language, there were no adjectives, only stative verbs, and the two categories are still very close, but there are still some grammatical differences. Verbs in Chinese can of course be used as sentence predicates, but they can also be used in relative clauses to make noun modifiers. Both these things are true of adjectives as well, showing their basic verb-like nature, but the constructions are a bit different. (Confusingly, many English-language sources use the term stative verb solely for adjectives.)

    In modern Mandarin, a relative clause is constructed by placing it before its noun (like all modifiers) but separating them with the particle de. There is no relative pronoun normally; it has to be glorked from context. Furthermore, a relative clause doesn’t have to have a following noun, in which case the antecedent (postcedent?) also comes from the context: thus chī de from chī ‘eat’ is a tiny noun phrase which can mean ‘those that eat’ or ‘those that are eaten’. Such a NP can be equated with some other NP by connecting them with the copula shì (which in His Yellowness’s day was just a demonstrative pronoun), as in Tā shì nán de ‘He is male [lit. a male one]’. So there are three relevant constructions: an ordinary subject-predicate sentence, a modifier-modified NP using de, and a copulative sentence using a relative-clause-based NP.

    So what’s the difference? If the verb in the subject-predicate sentence is an adjective, it needs an adverb of degree before it. The weakest and most bleached adverb is hěn, which means ‘very’ when it precedes an ordinary verb, but is entirely neutral when preceding an adjective. However, omitting hěn before an adjective is not, as many sources say, ungrammatical; it is simply incomplete. If someone says Zhèi běn zìdiǎn hǎo ‘This-CLF dictionary is good’, the implicature is that it is being contrasted to another dictionary which is not good (example due to Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington), so semantically adjectives carry a kind of comparative force along with them that ordinary verbs do not have and which is neutralized by the adverb of degree.

    Therefore ‘It’s hot’ is Hěn rè. If you actually want to say ‘It’s very hot’, you need to use a more intense adverb of degree like hǎo, zhēn, fēicháng, roughly ‘very’, ‘really’, ‘extremely’ before the verb. (When used with ordinary verbs these degree adverbs are kicked up a notch in intensity.) Alternatively another degree adverb like tài ‘too’ can be used, as David notes. In negative sentences with an adjective predicate the adverb is replaced by one of the three negators of Chinese, in this case , whereas with ordinary verbs the adverb remains intact and the negator is bùshi, lit. ‘not is’.

    What about the other two constructions, the attributive and the copulative? Simple adjectives (those of one syllable and the colloquial ones with two syllables) can omit de in the relative clause, so this is a second test for adjectivehood but not for non-adjectivehood. The copulative construction with final de is the same for ordinary verbs and adjectives.

    As for the two linked papers, the first seems to remain bewildered about the need for the adverb of degree. The second is written in the GG [Generative Gobbledygook, or alternatively Ghastly Generative] framework, and I didn’t even try to read it: arse [sic] longa, vita brevis.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    The first paper is sensible but doesn’t really add anything substantive to the observation that adjectives and verbs behave somewhat differently in Mandarin; the second is, alas, a fairly typical specimen of of what Chomskyites do when looking at languages other than English: the object is to show how, despite appearances, they do after all conform to the Great Master Plan:

    Mandarin does not counterexemplify the universal generalization that comparatives are the marked member of the positive/comparative opposition; on the contrary, its proper analysis actually depends on the idea that comparative-form adjectives involve extra structure.

    This may very well be true, in fact, but I find it difficult to care, having no particular attachment to the idea that there are exceptionless non-trivial universals out there in the first place.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever actually learnt anything actually useful from a descriptive point of view from a linguistic paper with lots of lambdas in. But then, the authors of such papers would regard language description as a very poor relation to the One True Linguistics which will reveal to us the very structure of the mind itself, if we only believe.

    @Plastic:

    This is not at all an attempt to suggest that Chinese speakers can’t easily and robustly distinguish between the senses of “too” and “very” in Chinese; all I’m wondering is whether the fact that the apparently most closely corresponding constructions look as if they match well in Chinese and English, but in fact have significant differences when you look more deeply, might account for problems for Chinese learners of English.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    It’s not very German, they should pull themselves together.

    You know about the BER, right?

    (They should put a dynamo into the tomb of Frederick the Great. Should be enough to accomplish the Kohleausstieg, the exit [from] coal [as a source of energy] that is supposed to be completed by 2038.)

    This is a constant problem with Chinese speakers — they say “very hot” when they mean “hot” and “too hot” when they mean “very hot.” I taught English in Taiwan and never got very far trying to correct it.

    Ah, they translated hěn as “very”.

    Weather just can’t be heiß.

    …What?

    Maybe the people you’re talking to are trying to stress that they’re still fine?

  31. Stu Clayton says:

    What isn’t said in my venue:

    Das Wetter soll heute heiß werden.
    Der Tag wird heute heiß.
    [Except metaphorically maybe – police, demonstrators etc]
    Es wird heute heiß.

    What is said:

    Das Wetter soll heute sehr warm werden.
    Der Tag wird heute sehr warm.
    Es wird heute sehr warm.
    Es wird ein heißer Tag heute.
    Gestern war einer der heißesten Tage des Jahres

    Seems like heiß is not applied in predicative position to Wetter and Tag in these stock phrases.

  32. Stu Clayton says:

    Compare and contrast with what Lars Mathiesen wrote above:

    # ObDanish: hed is not used any more, the sun is 6000 degrees varm. #

    I wonder if he means “not any more in predicative position”, or “not any more at all at all”.

  33. @Stu: Es wird heute heiß is something I would say, including when talking about the weather. It’s just that I don’t often have the opportunity to say that in Northern Germany 😉

  34. PlasticPaddy says:

    @de
    Thanks. I suppose I was hoping that the use of too to mean unacceptable was accomplished by Chinese speakers using means invisible in writing (facial gesture, wrong stress accent, etc). I heard a German once use “wahrscheinlich” (=probably) to mean “Yeah, right” by pronouncing it as WAHR-scheinlich with rising pitch and the indicated wrong stress. I was told Bulgarians have a mood to suggest “I am reporting this, but I do NOT believe it to be true”.

  35. If we’re thinking about the same category in Bulgarian, it only means “I haven’t experienced it myself, I’m only reporting what I heard”, and “I don’t believe it’s true” is only a possible implication. What Bulgarian uses for this is the old Slavic perfect (l-participle plus “to be”), which has become the basic past tense in most other Slavic languages. This formation in Bulgarian is usually explained as having arisen under influence of the Turkish mood formed with -mış- that has a similar function.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Bulgarian has reinterpreted a large part of its tense system as evidentials on the model of the Turkish ones. It has even created new forms to fill the gaps.

    What isn’t said in my venue:

    These are all unremarkable to me. We’ve uncovered an unexpected place for regional variation!

  37. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm, stu
    In fact the segregation of warm and hot seems to me less in German and Dutch than in English. For example for “hot drinks” you have both “heisse Getränke” / “hete dranken” and “warme Getränke ” / “warme dranken”. But maybe not in Stu’s venue.

  38. Finländare says:

    Finns have trouble with “warm” and “hot” not just because of the general weather conditions but also because when speaking English hot food for them is never “hot” (kuuma) but rather warm (lämmin). Kuuma would imply that the food is too hot for consumption.

    The weather on the other hand can be kuuma or even tosi kuuma (very hot), but this is usually the case abroad.

  39. Do Finns love snow the way Russians do?

  40. Stu Clayton says:

    We’ve uncovered an unexpected place for regional variation!

    Why unexpected ? Cologne and environs are just as liable to be pliable as any other venue on the menu.

    If I hadn’t been obliged to fret over this heiß/warm distinction (for certain phenomena) ever since I’ve been in the country, and to be careful what I say, I might be inclined to write it off as mere imagination. But it’s MY imagination, so I is gonna stick with it.

    For example for “hot drinks” you have both “heisse Getränke” / “hete dranken” and “warme Getränke ” / “warme dranken”. But maybe not in Stu’s venue

    There is something resembling a distinction here, but it’s nugatory, imprecise and unreliable. At Jahrmärkte in the winter the “Heisse Getränke!” signs are everywhere, meaning Glühwein, hot chocolate and prolly tea and coffee. On a menu you might see warme Getränke, which means tea, coffee and maybe even hot chocolate for the kids.

    Remember that in the bathtub you turn on the Warmwasser, not the hot water.

  41. I wonder what temperatures were meant in Revelation 3:16

  42. Stu Clayton says:

    Well, neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, as the man says. What I’ve always wondered is what Mr. John had got against lukewarm. Maybe it’s just a metaphor. They didn’t have refrigerators and insulated coffee mugs back then, so I imagine pretty much everything was lukewarm.

  43. Mormons are not supposed to drink “hot liquids,” which was apparently Joseph Smith’s attempt to give a biblical-sounding description of tea and coffee. Today, this is usually interpreted as forbidding caffeine (just like Mormons are not supposed to consume alcohol).* This was parodied on 30 Rock, when the hick character, Kenneth, said his sect proscribed the drinking of hot liquids, because hot was “the devil’s temperature.”

    * When I learned this, I found the caffeine prohibition hard to reconcile with the behavior of one of my Mormon classmates, who seemed to consume greater quantities of non-diet cola than anyone I had ever met. Later, he was excluded from our high school graduation ceremony, because he turned up for the practice run-through that morning drunk as a skunk.

  44. January First-of-May says:

    Maybe it’s just a metaphor. They didn’t have refrigerators and insulated coffee mugs back then, so I imagine pretty much everything was lukewarm.

    I suspect that nearly everything that wasn’t hot (they did have boiling, after all) would’ve been what we would call “room temperature” (about 15-25°C), i.e. cold for a drink by our standards (…depending on the weather, I guess).
    Lukewarm would have to be at least 30°C (the sources I found suggest 35-40°C, which seems slightly higher than I would’ve expected), and, I suspect, wouldn’t have been especially common back then.

    I agree that lukewarm drinks taste worse than either hot or cold, so I never really had any problem with this particular metaphor.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    would imply that the food is too hot for consumption

    Being unusually sensitive, that is the case for me: hot is too hot. Also applies to washing my hands – and to showers, where cold is likewise too cold.

  46. Robert Benchley may have been out of fashion for, oh, the last half-century or so, but I still enjoy his humor, and this quote from his 1921 squib “The Dying Thesaurus” is very apposite to this thread (and in fact was inspired by the news that the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was in danger of being abandoned for lack of funds — you can see the whole thing here):

    Just think what it would mean to have a complete history of every word in the Latin tongue from earliest times right plumb up to the Middle Ages. You may think perhaps that the history that you have is complete enough, but does it bring the thing up to the Middle Ages? Suppose, for instance, that a dispute were to arise some night at dinner over the history of the word agricola.

    “I’ll bet you two seats to the Follies,” you might say to your brother-in-law, “that the word agricola used to be practically interchangeable with the masculine demonstrative pronoun hic. Agricola means ‘farmer,’ and so does hic, or, as it has come down to us in English, ‘hick.'”

    One word would lead to another, or perhaps to something worse, and the upshot of the whole thing would be a hurried reaching for your vest-pocket history of Latin words and phrases. And what would be your chagrin to find that the volume began with the First Punic War and gave absolutely nothing previous to that period that you could rely upon!

    We are a thorough people and we demand that our history of the Latin tongue shall be thorough. As the popular song-hit has it: “If our thesaurus ain’t a real thesaurus, we don’t want no thesaurus at all.” That’s the way the rank and file of Americans feel about it. Home life is the basis of all our national institutions and there is nothing that contributes to its stability like a good book for reading aloud.

    “What shall it be to-night, kiddies?” says the father, drawing up his chair before the fireplace in which stands a vase of hydrangeas, “the story of how mensa came to have its feminine ending?” “Oh, no, Daddy,” lisps little Hazel, “read us about the root verbs which are traceable to the Etruscan influence on the early Latin language. You know, Daddy, the one about the great big prefix, the middle-sized prefix, and the little baby prefix which went ‘huius, huius, huius‘ all the way home.”

    And so the father read the old, old story of how the good fairy came and told ad, ante, con[tra], in, inter, ob, post, prae, pro, sub, and super that some day they would grow up and govern the accusative and how it all worked out just as the good fairy had said. And all the little children fell asleep with smiles and post-toasties on their faces.

    (I learned from that last link that Post Toasties are much older than I had thought — they “were originally sold as Elijah’s Manna (c. 1904) until criticism from religious groups (and consequent loss of sales) led to a change of name in 1908” — and, sadly, that they were discontinued a few years ago.)

  47. drunk as a skunk

    Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol either. I have it on a good authority that when some of them want to do it, they come indoors and say that God cannot see there. Probably adding heresy to sin or whatever such things are called in places where God is called Allah.

  48. I’ve heard even better reasoning.

    The Prophet, pbuh, prohibited drinking of wine in Holy Quran.

    But what did he say about vodka?

    Nothing?

    Then it’s surely allowed…

  49. As I recall, Post Toasties were sweeter than Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which was the reason that my mother and one if my brothers preferred them.

    Robert Benchley seems to have been an interesting guy, although I confess that up to now I had known next to nothing about him, except that one of my wife’s cousins married his son and was the mother of Jaws author Peter Benchley.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    When I first came across actual Kellogg’s cornflakes, I thought they must be better in some way than the imitations I had been eating.

    No, they’re sweet. Turns out there’s sugar in them.

    Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I want Frosties. But more often I want just corn and maybe salt. Half-sweet cornflakes are just annoying.

    I had no idea of Post Toasties, but it turns out the Post they’re named after is the mysterious founder of Post (City), Texas, which I knew about because of the Triassic fossils found in the area! Postosuchus for example is basically a crocodile trying to be a tyrannosaur (and pretty good at it).

  51. Checked Wiki article on Post, Texas and it’s astonishing.

    The land belonged to John Bunyan Slaughter, as it was on his U Lazy S Ranch.[4] In 1906, Slaughter sold it to Charles William (C. W.) Post, the breakfast cereal manufacturer, who founded “Post City” as a utopian colonizing venture in 1907.

    I can’t believe these names.

  52. Article on C.W. Post is even more ridiculous.

    After a brief stay in Independence, Kansas, Post returned to Springfield, where he remained for over a decade working as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machinery. During this interval Post invented and patented several farm implements, including a plow, a harrow, and a hay-stacking machine.[3]

    How can you patent a plow?

    Isn’t it like patenting a wheel?

  53. January First-of-May says:

    How can you patent a plow?

    Isn’t it like patenting a wheel?

    I’m sure that there are plenty of patents for both plows and wheels; they just have to be sufficiently different from the common version to be patentable.

  54. I googled to check whether it’s true and…

    the Australian patent office has — quietly — revoked the patent it granted, in the year 2001, for the wheel. The patent office had awarded Innovation Patent #2001100012 to John Keogh of Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia. Keogh’s application called his invention a “circular transportation facilitation device.”

  55. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t believe these names.

    Texas. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Later on in the article, it is confirmed that the newspaper had the obvious name: Post City Post.

  56. Ha!

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol either. I have it on a good authority that when some of them want to do it, they come indoors and say that God cannot see there.

    I doubt whether any Muslim actually believes this argument ….

    SFReader’s point about vodka is, oddly enough, not completely implausible. There was at one time a perfectly orthodox opinion in parts of Muslim West Africa that the prohibition does indeed specifically relate to wine, and not (for example) to the traditional millet beer of the Sahel and Savanna.

    Much more of Islam than most people realise is open to interpretation, in the sense that the Qur’an (a short enough work that memorising it in its entirety is a common objective of traditional Muslim education) does not begin to cover even all the areas that all mainstream Muslims regard as normative (like the daily prayers, for example.) All of that is from the Hadith, the traditions of the other sayings of Muhammad. There is a whole Islamic science of investigation devoted to weighing the relative reliability of the evidence for the authenticity and accurate transmission of such sayings, which although it doesn’t work like Western textual criticism is complex and far from arbitrary; different schools of thought exist within mainstream Islam as to how far human reasoning itself should be trusted in elucidating these matters, and what exact role (for example) should be given to argument from analogy where the tradition is silent or unclear.

    This means that entirely devout and sincere Muslims can come to different conclusions about many aspects of correct Islamic behaviour; this is quite different from hypocritically paying mere lip-service to the tenets of one’s religion (a habit found in all religions that actually have any tenets to pay lip-service to.)

    It is also why there is no “party line” among all Muslims about things like the proper treatment of non-Muslims. No human being can speak for all Muslims. This is convenient for right-wingers trying to stir up hatred of Muslims, who can pretend that an eccentric (but not simply invented) opinion is actually mainstream; they hope that when normal Muslims are asked about it, they will reply (rightly) “well, yes, that is a possible interpretation, but actually the matter is quite complicated …”

    There are, of course, powerful groups within Islam trying to close down this variety; they have no title to claim for themselves a unique infallible interpretation, and much of what represents itself in our day as the only Muslim orthodoxy has about as much claim to represent all Islam as Southern Baptists do to represent all of Christianity.

  58. John Cowan says:

    ad, ante, con[tra], in, inter, ob, post, prae, pro, sub, and super

    He left out circum, per, propter. Furthermore, prae should be praeter (which of course is derived from it); prae itself takes the ablative. In addition, in, sub and marginally super take the accusative when referring to motion; when referring to location, they take the ablative.

    There really should be a mnemonic for ad, ante, circum, contra, inter, ob, per, post, praeter, pro, propter, which are the ones you simply have to memorize. Come to think of it, I wonder if prepositions in -ter always attract the accusative for some reason, and if so, what reason? It’s the same PIE suffix as in al-ter and o-ther as well as the Greek comparative ending.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    I suspect there’s no mnemonic because the German equivalents of most of these also take the accusative.

  60. Many learners of English cannot understand the differences between “very” and “too”, as in “very hot” and “too hot”.

    Many native speakers of English seem to use “too” to mean “very” after “not”. “Not too hot” can mean “not very hot”.

  61. Many adjectives can take meaning of “very”.

    In Colloquial Mongolian, adjective “aimaar” (“scary”) plays this role.

    Aimaar huiten – very cold (literally “scary cold”)
    Aimaar goe – very nice (literally “scary nice”)
    Aimaar ineedemtei – very funny (literally “scary funny”)
    Aimaar mundag – very capable (literally “scary capable”)

    English has “scary smart” which is getting close, but not quite there.

  62. “The Royal Family itself were not frightfully kind to Mark Phillips. It was said to me that Prince Charles dedicated his brother by marriage ‘Haze’ since he was thick and thick – hardly any going on,” Kay said.

    https://www.ibtimes.com/prince-charles-insisted-watching-uncomfortable-medical-procedure-earning-him-gruesome-2840520

  63. PlasticPaddy says:

    Frightful has lost the meaning of scary for me, and I think that meaning is obsolete. You could also say terribly kind or horribly kind. Both of these words retain more scariness than “frightful”.

  64. It was just an example of semantic bleaching common, I believe, to all languages.

    In Japanese, it’s sugoi/sugoku すごい・すごく ‘dreadful, horrible, terrible, terrific, weird, gruesome’ and hidoi/hidoku ひどい・ひどく ‘cruel, harsh, hard, inhuman, merciless, outrageous’ + corresponding adverbs, eg. すごくおいしい sugoku oishii ‘awfully delicious’.

  65. January First-of-May says:

    Russian has страшно and ужасно, both of which can still mean “scary”, but are also used as intensifiers.

    I agree that English “terribly” and “horribly” (and for that matter “awfully”) are probably the same thing; it must be a cross-linguistic metaphor.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    ужасно

    There’s a Czech book Úžasný svět dinosaurů; I was told it just means “the wonderful world of the dinosaurs”.

  67. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jan FoM
    Is uzhas(no) related to awe(some, full)? I think Vasmer rejected (or maybe accepted but later authors rejected) the idea this was a borrowing from Germanic. What I find strange is that *agaz > ME awe (via ON agi) but a +*gaisijana > ME agast. There are two related or very similar Proto-Germanic words and I do not see why the g has a different English reflex in the two cases and why we don’t get e.g., aye and ayast.

  68. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re beer in Muslim West Africa, more or less the same thing happened in Eastern Europe as Orthodox Christianity expanded north and thus out of the wine-producing latitudes into the beer-producing latitudes. Should the tradition of the Holy Fathers that the faithful are to refrain on the stricter fast days (such as the weekdays of Lent) from drinking “wine” be considered to apply to beer? Is beer a variety of wine, or a variety of bread? Opinions differed!

  69. David Marjanović says:

    The Catholic approach to Lent since the Second Vatican Council has been that people should give up whatever is at least mildly luxurious to them. When I was little, that meant in practice “no dessert on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday”.

    I do not see why the g has a different English reflex in the two cases

    There’s no front vowel in *agaz, and at least no umlaut in agi, so w is not so surprising. Aghast hasn’t contained a front vowel since *ai monophthongized, and its g is at the beginning of a stressed syllable, so g instead of w is expected.

  70. John Cowan says:

    The h is of course from ghost, a bad imitation of Dutch gheest surviving since the Holland printers came to England.

  71. More urgent question is whether it is fine to use beer in the communion.

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have been the victim of Malta regularly used in communion when I lived in Nigeria.
    Those American missionaries have a lot to answer for.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malta_(soft_drink)

  73. David Fried says:

    D.O. This reminds me of the Talmudic opinion that beer may be substituted for wine for all ritual purposes in beer-drinkingng countries like Babylonia.

  74. J.W. Brewer says:

    There was a controversy amongst the heterodox in the 13th century about whether it was possible to use beer instead of water for baptism. The Vatican took the “no” side. https://taylormarshall.com/2013/04/baptism-by-beer-13th-century-practice.html

    Dr. Eddyshaw’s terrifying anecdote from Nigeria puts me in mind of the late Dr. Luther’s famous quote that he would rather drink blood with the Papists than wine with the Zwinglians, because it suggests that Luther had failed to foresee the full range of other possibilities.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Malta

    Its main use appears to be to get children used to the taste of beer, because otherwise most of them would never like it when they grew up.

  76. Wow. Only on LH one can make a humorous (and even not so humorous) suggestion and be rewarded with such juicy tidbits.

    Luther quote surprises me. Doesn’t wine (or whatever substitute) supposed to turn into blood? I mean, Luther probably knew that it doesn’t happen literally, but figurative sense collides with the quote big time.

  77. @D.O.: One of the BIG issues of the Protestant Reformation was whether literal transubstantiation occurred during mass. Did the wine and host physically become the flesh and blood of Jesus? Protestants generally said no, that it was metaphorical, but Roman Catholic dogma insists on a literal change of substance.

    Luther, and just about everyone else who thought about the question critically, concluded the Roman Catholic claim was absurd. After all, it does take much to notice that it you vomit* after taking communion, what you throw up is still a cracker, not meat. I have always sort of imagined that the doctrine of transubstantiation must have arisen partially by accident; whatever metaphorical weirdness happened at that Passover seder in ca. 33 got gradually taken too seriously, and people were eventually talking about wine actually turning into blood.

    * Wasn’t there a comment by John Cowan about the word vomit the other week? Google can’t find it for me

  78. Luther, read Matthew 22:29

    My personal interpretation – all food and drink consumed by a person turns in the end into flesh and blood. That’s the point of eating.

    Call it miracle of transubstantiation, if you will.

    Now the only thing we have to establish is that flesh and blood of Christians is flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

    Vaguely recall some lines which can be interpreted that way.

  79. John Cowan says:

    Mr. Eddyshaw, y’all. Obviously he has too much inverted pride to tell you this himself, but the evidence is Out There.

    vomit

    I was saying that an American doctor would be unlikely to use such a blunt word in a journal article (although certainly much more likely than puke, say).

    all food and drink consumed by a person turns in the end into flesh and blood

    Some, but not all, unless you have remarkably efficient bowels. Still, “Whatever Miss T. eats / Turns into Miss T.”

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Did the wine and host physically become the flesh and blood of Jesus? Protestants generally said no, that it was metaphorical, but Roman Catholic dogma insists on a literal change of substance.

    Ah, no. Catholic dogma says it’s literal, except that the properties of bread and wine remain; Lutheran dogma says Jesus is Really Present in the bread and the wine; Zwingli said the Eucharist was just a memorial.

  81. When I was growing up as a little Lutheran, I thought Lutheranism was the opposite of Catholicism; eventually I came to realize it’s Catholicism Lite (Now with Less Pope!).

  82. the doctrine of transubstantiation must have arisen partially by accident

    No pun intended?

    Who was it–Rabelais?–who, asked during his orals whether it was valid to baptize with soup, said, “With your soup, no; with the refectory’s soup, yes.”?

  83. Do Finns love snow the way Russians do?

    Well, we love it in a way, not necessarily the same one.

    Over here in the warmest bits of 60° north it must be in part due to the fact that November and December are simply miserably dark in the absense of snow; today it’s been dark as Mordor save for peoples’ Xmas lights since 4 pm, I bet they don’t have this problem in most of Russia (besides St. Petersburg at least).

    Much more of Islam than most people realise is open to interpretation

    In a corollary to LH’s last comment: years ago I used to wonder that a Reformation of Islam should be surely about due soon; but by now I’ve realized that’s it’s been Protestant from the start and the thing most suspiciously missing from its sectarian ecology is an analogue of Catholicism.

  84. John Cowan says:

    November and December are simply miserably dark in the absense of snow

    Astronomical sunset in NYC today is at 4:28 pm, and because of the buildings most of the street level will be dark before that.

  85. 15:14 here, though that’s not the point. Consider next the fact that a good double-digit percentage of the population of the Helsinki region are junantuomia: have grown up someplace further north where permanent snow cover usually arrives already in November. Probably most of the Finnish-speaking population has at least one parent who did. There will be some romanticization of snow as a result, probably different from what can be found in Russia though.

    (I actually have one Finnish-speaking great-grandparent who moved down here already in the 19th century, but that’s quite rare really; and even he settled in what was then countryside.)

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    [Islam] has been Protestant from the start

    There isn’t the same idea of individual interpretation of the scripture (I don’t think: an actual Muslim should be explaining this, not me.) It’s the believing community that has the role of interpretation (unbelievers have no locus standi in this; the habit that some non-Muslim controversialists have of picking texts out of the Qur’an in order to tell Muslims what their religion “really” teaches cuts no ice with Muslims, and I don’t blame them: it’s a fatuous way of arguing even when not positively disingenuous.)

    There is the same emphasis that the believer stands before God without any intermediary; an Imam is not a priest. There is therefore no magisterium; expert interpreters of the scriptures are not set apart from laity like bishops, and there cannot be anything like a Muslim “pope.” Marshall Hodgson makes an interesting case that the historical development of Islamic states has been systematically affected by how this affects the relationship between religion and military power.

    Islam is by no means a monolith, and there are important strands within it which don’t fit my neat outsider’s description. My experience of working among and with Muslims is pretty much entirely confined to Sunni Muslims, and I know even less about Shi’a traditions (of which there are several.)

    There is, of course, also a strong mystical tradition within Islam, about which I know nothing worth saying; in West Africa the Sufi brotherhoods have become a good bit less mystical and more like practical mutual-aid societies.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    Over here in the warmest bits of 60° north

    Guessing educatedly

  88. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re the problem of what discipline ought to be prescribed for someone so impious or unfortunate as to vomit up the Body of Christ, it turns out that either this was a recurrent issue in seventh-century Irish monasteries or someone in that milieu with too much time on his hands had thought the issue through even without an immediate pressing need to do so.

    https://twitter.com/CarolineWazer/status/1201563417783492610

  89. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever drunk liquor with a dead weasel in. I would probably have noticed, even in my student days. But it’s good to think ahead. Special fast. Check. Got it.

    It obviously wasn’t all beer and skittles and illumination being a seventh-century Irish monk. All that and Vikings too …

  90. John Cowan says:

    There isn’t the same idea of individual interpretation of the scripture

    There is: ijtihad, or the application of individual judgement to the interpretation of Islamic law. Its opposite is taqlid, or following the interpretations of others. In Sunni Islam, the scope of ijtihad was relentlessly narrowed up to the 10C (CE), to the point where later scholars believed it had been abandoned, but that turns out not to be the case: there was always a trickle of cases.

    Since the beginning of the 19C, ijtihad has been the domain of liberal and reformist Sunnis, Sufis, and (perhaps surprisingly) Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, who use it to impose their highly stringent view of the law on others. These last groups have a problem, of course: the leaders want to exercise their opinions, but expect taqlid from the members. Traditional despotic regimes in Sunni countries despise ijtihad, as they want no religion but official religion. Per contra, Islamic law in Indonesia now fully accepts ijtihad as a way of adapting Islamic law to modern circumstances. Shi’a Islam has always accepted ijtihad, at least in principle.

    Of course, to become a mujtahid (someone qualified to exercise ijtihad) you have to already know quite a lot of Islamic law and all its sources, while still maintaining your reasoning powers and independence of mind. The Shi’a add that you must also be a morally worthy person to be a mujtahid. There’s a Jewish story:

    “Rabbi”, said the student, “I must leave you. I can no longer accept your teaching. In fact, I have become an apikoros.” This term is etymologically ‘Epicurean’, but usually means ‘freethinker, skeptic’ to its friends and ‘unbeliever, heretic’ to its enemies.”

    “An apikoros! …. Tell me, how long have you studied Talmud?”

    “Ten years, Rabbi.”

    The rabbi sighed heavily. “Ten years…. And already an apikoros!”

    this was a recurrent issue in seventh-century Irish monasteries

    I spent quite a bit of time in my teens reading Irish penitentials in translation and commentaries on them, though not for any practical purpose.

  91. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ijtihad was what I had in mind in talking about different schools of thought within Islam differing on the role of reason, argument from analogy, etc. It’s rather different from the Protestant idea of each individual believer being qualified to read and understand the scriptures as interpreted to him/her by the Holy Spirit; ijtihad is a technique for experts.

    There are historical reasons for the idea being treated with wariness in many parts of the Islamic world, to do with the persecution of religious scholars by Muʿtazilites (basically, rationalists) under the Abbasids:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%CA%BFtazila

    It’s a sort of mirror image of the popular imagination of the mediaeval Church persecuting rationalists. It casts a long shadow.

  92. So “vodka is allowed, because it wasn’t mentioned in Quran” argument is actually ijtihad?

    And the guy who came up with it was not a drunkard, as I thought, but mujtahid ….

  93. David Eddyshaw says:

    He might find himself being accused of being a drunken Muʿtazilite if he wasn’t careful.

    Also, the argument would not stand if there were Hadith bearing on the issue with good isnad; or of course if there was already established ijma’.

    I hope this clarifies the matter.

  94. David Eddyshaw says:

    On reflection, the opinion that vodka is forbidden by analogy with wine, despite there being no mention of it in the Qur’an or Hadith and there being no prior consensus on the issue in the community of believers, is ijtihad (which also, of course, is how it came about that serious Muslim jurists might differ about millet beer.)

  95. John Cowan says:

    Ijtihad was what I had in mind

    Typical Yank, me: can’t pick up on hints, gotta have it spelled out for him, or he’ll spell it out for you.

    qualified to read and understand the scriptures as interpreted to him/her by the Holy Spirit

    The prophethood of all believers, in fact. Islam holds that by speculative reasoning (wujub al-naz’ar) one can and must arrive at the truth about God, rather like Vatican I declaring that, as a matter of faith, faith is not necessary for a knowledge of God. However, the mainstream view is that the requirement for al-naz’ar kicks in only when the naive not-yet-believer is in the presence of a prophet or a sacred book; Mu’talizites take the view this this is an obligation on everyone.

    persecution of religious scholars by Muʿtazilites

    I think (though I am no mujtahid on the Decline and Fall of the Abbasid Empire) that this is an injustice to the Mu’talizites. They were opposed to conventional religious scholarship because they thought it was dogmatic; the caliph, because he had proclaimed himself imam and didn’t want corporate Islamic scholarship he didn’t control. My enemy’s enemy is not always really my friend, and the mihna, the Abbasid Inquisition (which lasted only 15 years) tarred the Mu’talizites with their bloody brush.

  96. I think (though I am no mujtahid on the Decline and Fall of the Abbasid Empire) that this is an injustice to the Mu’talizites.

    Same here (though my Abbasid studies are a couple of decades back now).

  97. David Marjanović says:

    15:14 here

    Here in Berlin too, BTW.

    or someone in that milieu with too much time on his hands had thought the issue through even without an immediate pressing need to do so.

    That was clearly happening a lot.

  98. Vatican I declaring that, as a matter of faith, faith is not necessary for a knowledge of God

    Next, let us call this statement KG(1), then define KG(N+1) as the statement declaring that as a matter of faith, faith is not necessary for knowledge of KG(N); for a limit ordinal α, define KG(α) as the statement that, as a matter of faith, faith is not necessary for the knowledge of KG(β) for any β < α…

  99. David Eddyshaw says:

    as a matter of faith, faith is not necessary for a knowledge of God

    This is not a peculiarity of Catholicism; it’s mainstream Christianity, and indeed not confined to Christianity, as people have already pointed out.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_theology
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_grace

    However, it’s not in fact good news for unbelievers: the conclusion is that (almost) everybody is in a position to know enough to be culpable for not being a believer, even if they’ve never been exposed to Christian teaching.

    I must say that this has always struck me as a particularly difficult doctrine to swallow: despite St Paul’s explicit statements to the contrary, it has never seemed to me that somebody setting out to deduce God’s nature from creation would arrive at anything like the Christian concept of God; more like the Gnostic. This may (paradoxically) itself be a pampered modern view, mind: the argument seems to have had a lot of traction for most people in the past, judging by its persistence and appeal to people from very different traditions. Maybe it’s a distinctively modern thing to think of God as sort of celestial social worker who owes us all a good time; subsistence farmers probably think differently about such things. (I wouldn’t know.)

    The upside of such doctrines is that they prevent believers from signing up to such an esoteric notion of God’s moral character that it doesn’t correspond to unbelievers’ concepts of good and evil at all; when that happens, they should be asking themselves who they’re actually worshipping. The notion that you can only have valid ethical insights if you’re a believer is profoundly anti-Christian.

  100. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think this is where Catholic and Protestant ideas on the matter officially diverge:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invincible_ignorance_(Catholic_theology)

  101. David Eddyshaw says:

    I spent quite a bit of time in my teens reading Irish penitentials in translation and commentaries on them

    Respect! I was only mildly moody at times. In hindsight, I don’t think I really did being a teenager right at all.

  102. A Portrait of the Irishman as a Young Penitential:

    —But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical torment to which the damned are subjected. The torment of fire is the greatest torment to which the tyrant has ever subjected his fellow creatures. Place your finger for a moment in the flame of a candle and you will feel the pain of fire. But our earthly fire was created by God for the benefit of man, to maintain in him the spark of life and to help him in the useful arts, whereas the fire of hell is of another quality and was created by God to torture and punish the unrepentant sinner. Our earthly fire also consumes more or less rapidly according as the object which it attacks is more or less combustible, so that human ingenuity has even succeeded in inventing chemical preparations to check or frustrate its action. But the sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury. Moreover, our earthly fire destroys at the same time as it burns, so that the more intense it is the shorter is its duration; but the fire of hell has this property, that it preserves that which it burns, and, though it rages with incredible intensity, it rages for ever.

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’ve always thought that Joyce had fun writing that. That is probably one of the more tolerable bits. The preacher’s just warming up (so to speak) at that point …

  104. PlasticPaddy says:

    Reading Hebrews 10:26-31 one can only conclude that the intended recipients of the letter had tried the patience of a saint, or if the author was actually Priscilla, that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This is a lesson to those of us who are not saints to forebear from writing such letters.

  105. David Eddyshaw says:

    You are doubtless familiar with the internal evidence that the thirteen extensive chapters of Hebrews were written by a woman (if not Priscilla), viz Heb 13:22.
    I believe modern linguistics has called some of the assumptions underlying this argument into question, however.

  106. Stu Clayton says:

    The Cloude of Unknowing
    Is heavy going.

  107. David Eddyshaw says:

    Got as far as the prologue when it was pressed on me by a pious relative; took seriously the author’s impassioned declaration that the book was not intended for people like me; stopped. I thought he probably knew his own business.

  108. David Marjanović says:

    I must say that this has always struck me as a particularly difficult doctrine to swallow: despite St Paul’s explicit statements to the contrary, it has never seemed to me that somebody setting out to deduce God’s nature from creation would arrive at anything like the Christian concept of God; more like the Gnostic.

    It’s a “God of the gaps” argument; as the gaps have been shrinking at exponential speed, there don’t seem to be any things left nowadays that are most parsimoniously explained as “this is a miracle” – not life, not the universe, not consciousness, nothing. My religion teacher said this whole approach had been wrong-headed all along, and God was above being proved by Puny Humans. He never brought up the fact that Catholic doctrine continues to condemn fideism as a grave error, but then it seems he wasn’t a fideist: he once mentioned he had “God experiences” all the time, like… seeing the sun shine in a forest. 😐

    But then, reasoning from creation to a creator only ever was an argument for the bare minimum of at least one deistic creator, and arguing from first principles just strands us all on Gaunilo’s island.

  109. David Eddyshaw says:

    I put my links the wrong way round for the point I was trying to make; what I was interested in was not so much the argument from creation to the existence of God (which I’ve just today discovered was elaborated by no less a person than Al-Ghazali himself, as we were talking about Muslim scholars) but the the argument from creation to the moral character of God (which is what Paul is mainly on about.) Hence my comment about Gnosticism, in which the universe is the work of a sinful (or at least incompetent) Demiurge.

    Personally, I have never come across an argument from creation to the existence of God that struck me as anything more than an intellectual caprice (at best.) They might have some apologetic value, I suppose, if any of them were robust enough.

  110. David Marjanović says:

    which is what Paul is mainly on about

    Ah, I didn’t know the context – this is one of the many Bible verses that are only ever quoted in isolation.

  111. I was only mildly moody at times.

    My parents were eminently reasonable people who did nothing I didn’t like without very good justifications, and since I was reasonable myself, the only path to individuation (since I was too smart to do stupid things knowing they were stupid) I was left with was refusing to do sensible things. I still have to force myself to brush my teeth as a by-product of this; it has never become simply habitual.

    As for the penitentials, my only motive for reading them was curiosity.

    fideism

    Martin Gardner was raised a Methodist, but became an atheist as a young man. However, he decided that being a fideist, specifically believing in God, an afterlife, and prayer, made him happier than if he was an atheist, so he believed in them. I sometimes envy him his mental flexibility.

  112. Martin Gardner was a complex and interesting fellow. As I just commented elsewhere, he was to Michael Shermer as Jefferson Airplane was to Starship.

    I, by the way, don’t believe that any arguments for theism are valid, and the same goes for any arguments for atheism, because human language is evolved to deal with existing (or non-existing) things and not with the ground of existence, which is ex hypothesi not a “being.”

  113. David Eddyshaw says:

    believing in God, an afterlife, and prayer, made him happier than if he was an atheist

    He can’t have been doing it right.

  114. To me, frankly, an afterlife seems like the sort of thing that sounds like a great idea till you actually get it.

  115. Stu Clayton says:

    Though afterbirth is pretty disgusting, we live as if it were a great idea.

  116. John Cowan says:

    he was to Michael Shermer as Jefferson Airplane was to Starship

    I guess what that means depends on your views of Airplane vs. Starship, like “I will give your proposal the consideration it deserves” or from the other viewpoint “If you will lend me the money, I will be forever indebted to you.”

  117. I suppose the comparison primarily reveals what I think about Starship, which for me was a matter of aaaarghhh the Seventies.

  118. Starship, which for me was a matter of aaaarghhh the Seventies.

    Yeah, there were a lot of good things in the seventies, but the Starship wasn’t one of them.

  119. Starship, stricto sensu, is from the 1980s (post “Nuclear Furniture”), which I think is part of the joke

  120. Well, Jefferson Starship, lato sensu, dates from 1974. But whatever. At this point we seem to be flogging a dead octopus.

  121. To me “Starship” means Jefferson Starship — I always forget they eventually dropped the Jefferson. I had pretty much stopped paying attention by then. (Come back, Jack and Jorma!)

  122. John Cowan says:

    He can’t have been doing it right.

    “I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days.” —Ezar Vorbarra, who spent his whole life deliberately doing evil things for the best of reasons

  123. David Marjanović says:

    teenager

    I don’t metamorphose. I’m a direct-developer.

    so he believed in them

    That’s something I’m completely unable to empathize with. I can’t convince myself of anything by just claiming it’s true, and I have no idea how other people do that. Like… I might as well overcome gravity and all of Newton’s laws of motion by sheer force of will, the way Superman does.

  124. David Eddyshaw says:

    Are we not all paedomorphs?

    I’m surprised to learn that about Martin Gardner; perhaps he meant it in some Pickwickian sense; kindly-disposed atheists (and, alas, not a few Christians) are quite often under the horrible misapprehension that religious belief is a sort of autosuggestive technique for helping you through the day, like Mindfulness with better literature. Such a mistake might lead to curious mental contortions, I imagine.

    If he was really doing it with his eyes wide open I would regard that as highly discreditable to him, and I would be sorry to believe it of him.

  125. I think in all those years of working as Humpty Dumpty’s assistant, the Good Egg’s queer way of expressing himself may have rubbed off on Gardner.

  126. David Eddyshaw says:

    I was wondering along those lines, a bit. An excuse for linking

    https://xkcd.com/1860/

  127. Stu Clayton says:

    I can’t convince myself of anything by just claiming it’s true

    You’re doing it right there in that sentence, which is a claim. You may prefer to think of it as a description rather than a claim, but that’s a common failing. To say descriptions and claims are not the same is yet another claim masquerading as a description.

  128. David Marjanović says:

    Are we not all paedomorphs?

    Well, we’ve truncated the development of our faces, while accelerating and overshooting that of our legs. It’s complicated.

    (And yes, I’m definitely paedomorphic in some mental respects. But I got there straight.)

    You’re doing it right there in that sentence, which is a claim.

    …I didn’t claim I never claim anything. I claimed I never believe something because I’ve claimed it. ~:-|

  129. As David E. knows perfectly well, religion means different thing to different people. There are cultural Christians (Muslims, Jews, etc.) who are not much interested in more abstract and philosophical matters of their religion or simply are part of the community for community’s sake. It smacks of cultism to say that they are wrong kind of believers.

    Speaking of future omelets, when Mark Liberman talked about linguists being firmly on the fence of whether meaning is something inherent in the utterance or a reflection of speakers intent, I didn’t realize he discussed Humpty.

  130. I don’t think M.G. would have characterized his beliefs as religious per se. But take belief in God as a token of the rest. What he did, I think, was to stop forcing himself not to believe in God, and not to worry that there was neither empirical evidence nor rational justification for such a belief.

  131. Not believing in God requires no effort whatsoever, like definitionally but also practically. If you’re forcing yourself not to believe in God what that really means is that you do believe in God despite trying or wishing not to. It’s the old “don’t think about elephants” problem.

  132. John Cowan says:

    Exactly so. He started out not wanting to believe in God, but found that it made him unhappy to do so.

  133. J.W. Brewer says:

    I saw Jack (now aged 75) and Jorma (now aged 78) play live a few weekends ago and they were in good shape. (They knew each other and first played together as teenagers back in the late ’50’s, long before either of them made it out to San Francisco.) But there’s no potential Airplane for them to come back to. Grace retired from live performance decades ago and everyone else is dead.

  134. Jefferson Starship is in my mind strongly associated with one of the most batshit insane – and therefore best – things put on TV in the 70s, and i’m referring of course to the Star Wars Holiday Special. In all honestly, the presence of a then-mainstream rock band is one of the more conventional elements of a production that also featured Harvey Korman as a cross-dressing space TV chef, DIahann Carroll as a hologram erotic fantasy of an elderly Wookiiee, and my personal favorite, Bea Arthur delivering an absolutely stunning torch song to the patrons of her cantina. Oh and like half the cast is very clearly coked out of their minds. There’s also juggling. And honestly Jefferson Starship killed it. 10/10

  135. I saw Jack (now aged 75) and Jorma (now aged 78) play live a few weekends ago and they were in good shape.

    Glad to hear it!

    But there’s no potential Airplane for them to come back to. Grace retired from live performance decades ago and everyone else is dead.

    Yes, I was aware of that. My parenthetical was rhetorical.

  136. Perhaps Gardner meant that the universe can’t be such as to make us miserable if we understood it. A disputable proposition, but defensible. At any rate I’d like to know exactly what he said about it, and when.

  137. Perhaps Gardner meant that the universe can’t be such as to make us miserable if we understood it.

    I’ve never understood ideas like that; why would the universe care about the misery or happiness of one species temporarily infesting one of uncountable billions of balls of rock, dirt, and gas wandering around in its vast emptiness? I mean, I care about humanity, but I’m human; the universe isn’t.

  138. J.W. Brewer says:

    Speaking of the Airplane, last Friday was the 50th anniversary of that glorious moment in Boomer cultural history when Marty Balin got knocked out cold on stage by one of the Angels he had imprudently antagonized.

  139. David Marjanović says:

    Perhaps Gardner meant that the universe can’t be such as to make us miserable if we understood it.

    “There is no Cthulhu, therefore God”?

  140. John Cowan says:

    Gardner himself in a 1983 interview:

    People think that if you don’t believe Uri Geller can bend spoons then you must be an atheist. But I think these are two different things. I call myself a philosophical theist in the tradition of Kant, Charles Peirce, William James, and especially Miguel Unamuno, one of my favorite philosophers. As a fideist I don’t think there are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. Even more than that, I agree with Unamuno that the atheists have the better arguments. So it is a case of quixotic emotional belief that is really against the evidence and against the odds. The classic essay in defense of fideism is William James’ “The Will to Believe”. James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.

    It makes the atheists furious when you take this position because they can no more argue with you than they can argue over whether you like the taste of beer or not. To me it is entirely an emotional thing.

    He further says that he thinks the problem of evil is the strongest argument against God; that an impersonal God is not really God, just nature; that God’s justice implies survival after death; that offering thanks and asking for forgiveness (as opposed to petitionary prayer in the material sense) is the only reasonable attitude of a creature to the Creator, and many other interesting points. He praises not only James but Peirce (good on him!), Kant, and Unamuno, and the New Mysterians (bad on him!), though he is only a contingent mysterian, I think, not an essential one.

    Note that he does not say the belief in God is justified, only that it is not unjustified. I suppose if I had an emotional need to believe there was life on Jupiter, I would believe it too even without justification. As things are, I believe there either is or isn’t life there, but I don’t believe there is, and I don’t believe there isn’t, an attitude which infuriates both jovians and antijovians.

  141. David Eddyshaw says:

    People think that if you don’t believe Uri Geller can bend spoons then you must be an atheist

    Only if they believe that if you are not an atheist you must be stupid, gullible, or self-deluding (the Dawkins position.) That is not so much an argument as mere invective.

    I think the problem with Gardner’s position is that it makes faith essentially entirely independent of reason. It’s not a question of finding “proofs” of God inadequate (as I do myself), but an a priori declaration that proof is quite irrelevant to the issue, because faith and reason belong in completely disjoint domains, and to suppose otherwise is essentially a category error. This is (to put it mildly) not the traditional Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) position.

    [At this point I have, on reflection, deleted a powerful sermon, which despite its unassailable correctness and greatly improving tone, belongs on ReligionHat rather than LanguageHat.]

  142. David Marjanović says:

    James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.

    In that case, though, where do we stop?

    At truthiness?

    At trumpiness?

  143. David Eddyshaw says:

    What DM said. Very much so.

    Trump’s taste in Christianity (he does have such a thing) is in fact quite revealing. He is of the school of Norman Vincent Peale.

    Trump’s Christian supporters (a scandal, in the Biblical meaning of the word) greatly skew towards those who in practice (even if not in preaching) subscribe to the doctrine that Christ came to make us comfortable.

  144. I think Gardner (or William James) would say that it is not irrational to believe in a tenet that is not merely untested but only one that is fundamentally untestable. That there is life on Jupiter is a belief of the first type; Gardner would assert that belief in a god (one that is consistent with what we have learned from scientific inquiry) is of the second type. Or, at least, the existence of such a god is untestable until one dies, after which point it is not possible to pass along any information gained to those who are still living.

    The positivist tradition took a different approach—that questions about topics (“metaphysics”) that cannot be answered by experimental observation are intrinsically meaningless. I tend to think that both viewpoints are mistaken; Is there life after death? is a question that does have an answer, even if it is an unknowable answer. More importantly, both philosophical threads are replete with individuals (perhaps most famously, Karl Popper—although he would have objected to being called a “positivist” for separate reasons) who have tended to pronounce certain questions to be empirically unanswerable—because they themselves were not clever enough to figure out how to study them properly. I think this is also the fundamental error of mysterianism; I do not personally know know how to study the qualia of conscious existence in a scientific manner, but I think that within a century or two, people will figure out how to do it.

  145. Separately, in regard to Norman Vincent Peale, I actually associate him less with his famous The Power of Positive Thinking and more with this ditty by the Chad Mitchell Trio.

  146. It’s hope against hope. You know that facts are against you, but the hope refuses to die.

  147. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think Gardner (or William James) would say that it is not irrational to believe in a tenet that is not merely untested but only one that is fundamentally untestable.

    That seems rather different from what I supposed. I’m not sure quite what it means to believe in something fundamentally untestable, though; the concept makes me go all Wittgensteinian. Meaningless!

    I would say that that historical Christianity (as opposed to autohypnotic happiness techniques) is in principle refutable: if the bones of Jesus were to be unequivocally identified, for example, Christianity ought to be abandoned as a (highly pernicious) delusion.

    In practice, it’s hard to imagine how this could ever work out in the real world; even so, it is important for my own understanding of what Christianity is, that it be refutable in principle: reason and faith do not live on different branes, as it were.

    Of course, the current of theology to which the Bultmann demythologising project belonged long since came to the conclusion that this kind of Christianity is in fact no longer rationally tenable at all anyway, even without any clinching bones, and attempts ingeniously and bravely (I mean it, I’m not being snide) to rescue something of abiding value from the wreckage. I don’t agree, given their premises, that there is anything there worth saving which could not be found much less problematically elsewhere, but that may very well simply reflect the fact that my own personal history never led me to the degree of cultural commitment to Christianity which these men had.

  148. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    Chad Mitchell Trio

    … for which, much thanks.

  149. @David Eddyshaw: I could be wrong about William James’ views on the matter of testability in principle. I have not studied any of his works, so I only know about his ideas from reading commentary by later authors (such as Gardner). I do agree that any type of Christianity whose theology is premised on the particular life and deeds of a historical Jesus is theoretically subject to empirical verification. More generally, I think any religion that Gardner would have felt was rationally warranted would have to be something fairly close to deism.

  150. January First-of-May says:

    Ever since I first heard of it (…very possibly on LH), I’ve really liked the idea of ignosticism – which can be roughly summarized (in the version that I know of) as “we cannot meaningfully discuss the existence, and/or nonexistence, of a deity when we have not yet entirely agreed on what a deity even is in the first place”.
    (And of course it is not too hard to define a deity such that it can be easily proven to exist, and probably not much harder to define it such that it can be easily proven not to exist. But such definitions do not usually refer to the kind of deities that people believe in – at least, under that terminology.)

    In addition, as previously discussed, the existence, and/or nonexistence, of some versions of deities is in principle unverifiable and unfalsifiable; in those cases, it is of course very much possible and acceptable to believe, and/or not believe, in such a deity, just as one can believe, and/or not believe, in, say, the continuum hypothesis.

    …Perhaps Gardner, with his emotional reasons, would rather have said that one could believe, and/or not believe, in such a deity the same way as one could believe, and/or not believe, in the axiom of choice (with the implication that both are very convenient things to believe in).
    I don’t have Gardner’s emotional reasons, so I’m closer to the nonbelieving side (though now that I just accidentally found out that ietsism is a thing, I like that option as well), but it is certainly a sensible (if possibly unusual) opinion to have (at least, as long as the emotional reasons are actually there).

  151. That is not so much an argument as mere invective.

    Sorry, sorry, you want room 12A!

    faith and reason belong in completely disjoint domains

    Or, as Gould puts it, non-overlapping magisteria. “Religion tells us of the Rock of Ages, science of the ages of rocks.”

    In that case, though, where do we stop?

    Wherever we please, provided (as Samuel R. Delany said in another connection) we do not contradict what is known to be known.

    In the summer of 1645 Richard Baxter became chaplain to a regiment of cavalry [in Cromwell’s New Model Army], and he found that every heresy was represented in its ranks. But the error which he was called upon to controvert most often was that the civil magistrate had no authority in matters of religion, and every man had therefore a right to believe and to preach what he pleased . “If I should worship the sun or moon like the Persians”, said a soldier who may have been temporarily stationed in a public-house, “or that pewter pot on the table, no one has anything to do with it.”

    —J.R. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts Of The Seventeenth Century 1603-1689

    deleted a powerful sermon

    I wish you had not, as I would have liked to read it. The act of silencing oneself is always a drastic one, and the threat to do so is a powerful lever (not that I accuse you of doing so).

    Christ came to make us comfortable

    An understandable view if you consider yourself afflicted.

    tended to pronounce certain questions to be empirically unanswerable

    Arthur C. Clarke divided the failures of earthly prophecy into two classes: failures of nerve and failures of imagination. Philosophers are subject to both: I especially think of Kant saying that Euclidean geometry (sc. as applied to the real world) was an a priori truth.

    I do not personally know know how to study the qualia of conscious existence in a scientific manner, but I think that within a century or two, people will figure out how to do it.

    Or perhaps (as I think) they will reject the idea of qualia as illusory. We do not, for example, have a developed theory of how it is that while ordinary things are attracted to one another by gravity, phlogiston is repelled from all other things by levity. (Srsly.)

    You know that facts are against you

    Not really; if they really were facts, there would be no issue.

    “The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion… Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable— the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”

    “That we shall die.”

    “Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. … The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

    what it means to believe in something fundamentally untestable

    Is the doctrine of the Trinity testable?

    the bones of Jesus

    Presumably there would have to be an inscription on them, something like “These are the earthly remains of the Jew Joshua of Galilee, son of the virgin Miriam, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended to the dead”, with or without the addition of “On the third day he rose again.”

    It’s curious that there seems to be no heresy, ancient or modern, that accepts the Resurrection but rejects the Ascension. Nevertheless, the Ascension stands on the word of only one witness, if we accept that Acts and Luke had the same author. Would Christianity really be lost if those works were lost, or if the bones were found to be those of a 70-year-old and lame Jesus who lived the rest of his life in utter obscurity? I don’t know.

    my own understanding of what Christianity is

    That seems to agree with Tolkien, who convinced Lewis that the Jesus story was a myth, but a myth that was in fact also historical (which is, of course, the utter opposite of demythologization):

    The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. […] There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

    Perhaps Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia” will be less inaccessible to you than usual. Frye, who was not only a Christian but a minister, said similar things in his books on the Bible and literature. I forget who it was that said that behind the bravado the Heathen Barbarians are always sad, because their only hopes are earthly and subject to disappointment, but undoubtedly (given the structure of this screed) a science fiction or fantasy writer. My guesses would be Tolkien, Tom Shippey, and Jean Lorrah.

    Random thought: the trilogy His Dark Materials is really a polemic against Calvinism, not Christianity as a whole.

  152. My guesses would be Tolkien, Tom Shippey, and Jean Lorrah.

    Chesterton? I seem to think.

  153. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wish you had not [deleted a powerful sermon] as I would have liked to read it.

    You are very kind; however, said sermon is the all more powerful for being abscondite. And I did it for a good reason (I think.)

    Although our host is exceptionally tolerant, I am disinclined to abuse his tolerance by expounding my (utterly correct) political and religious opinions in detail here; we all discuss issues here in a tolerant and friendly manner, I think in part because we share a great deal in the way of fundamental axioms, so we can disagree without talking past each other: at least we agree on the rules of the game. (Also because we’re frankly all very nice people, of course.) I think expatiating on issues where we base our opinions on fundamentally incompatible first principles is a different matter; I try (mostly) to keep my comments about religion and politics, rather than expressing religion or politics. There are many interesting meta-issues to talk about, much of it indeed linguistic, in a broad sense; that’s why Comparative Religion is fascinating and worth studying even if you are an adherent of no religion at all.

    As my friends and relations can testify (with a groan) I am not in the least shy to talk about these things in general; it just seems to me that to do so here would be a sort of genre mistake. I am dimly aware, also, that it can get a tad … boring

    Presumably there would have to be an inscription on them [bones]

    Quite so; it’s almost impossible to imagine a plausible scenario. But I think the fact that categorical disproof is not logically impossible is significant because of what it says about the kind of belief we’re talking about. It’s a thought experiment.

    Is the doctrine of the Trinity testable?

    Good question. I think I’d take it not as a refutable statement but as a sort of template for understanding the disparate bits of evidence for the nature of God adduced by Christianity. A sort of executive summary. I’ve always been rather taken by the form of the so-called Athanasian Creed: its positive assertions are throughout qualified by statements forbidding what would be perfectly usual consequences of those statements if the positive assertions were made of any other entity (“and yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being”); the language is the best that we can do, but it is inadequate, and only valid within circumscribed limits. It reminds me of the Dirac delta function, which basically doesn’t exist (no such function is possible), but comes in very handy so long as you keep it under an integral sign, where it is perfectly tame. (I will one day work this into a sermon, just as soon as I find the right congregation for it.)

    Chesterton? I seem to think.

    It does sound pretty Chestertonian.

  154. Well then, a fantasy writer. I am vindicated either way.

  155. January First-of-May says:

    Or perhaps (as I think) they will reject the idea of qualia as illusory. We do not, for example, have a developed theory of how it is that while ordinary things are attracted to one another by gravity, phlogiston is repelled from all other things by levity. (Srsly.)

    We kind of do, though; phlogiston is presumably repelled because it has negative gravitational mass, which implies that it is probably actually the absence of something, much like how coldness is the absence of heat. (It turns out to be the absence of oxygen.)
    Compare the electron holes, which also behave as if they had negative mass, for vaguely conceptually similar reasons.

    [EDIT: of course this might not count because it would make “levity” just a specific case of gravity when dealing with negative mass. But there is no reason to provide a separate force when we can just make it a mathematical extension of the known one.]

    I do believe that eventually what we call “qualia” would receive an explanation that classifies them into an already-established branch of science, possibly even to the extent of no longer having any explicit distinction between “qualia” and whatever they get bundled with; I am not necessarily convinced that the result would be “haha, how silly the 20th century ‘scientists’ were for not knowing of X and talking about ‘qualia’ instead” (where X is whatever the actual explanation turns out to be).

    It’s curious that there seems to be no heresy, ancient or modern, that accepts the Resurrection but rejects the Ascension.

    I’m actually surprised about this; it would seem to have been an extremely obvious idea. But it does seem that all the theories rejecting the Ascension [that I could find on Wikipedia, at least] appear to also reject the Resurrection.

    (I am admittedly counting the swoon hypothesis as rejecting the Resurrection.)

  156. David Eddyshaw says:

    the trilogy His Dark Materials is really a polemic against Calvinism, not Christianity as a whole

    Really?
    I’ve never read it; the impression I get from all the discussion is that it’s anti-Catholic, or at least anti-clerical. Are we Calvinists now going up in the world to the extent that we have supplanted the wicked Church of Rome with its famous Inquisition as the archetype of intellectual oppression? (About time, if you ask me, after all the effort we’ve put in …)

    (Given the low level of general knowledge among book/film reviewers about religious matters, I can easily believe that you might be right, though.)

  157. John Cowan says:

    I am disinclined to abuse his tolerance by expounding on my (utterly correct) political and religious opinions in detail here

    Whether that would indeed be an abuse is not for me to say, but Hat has said that the only true abuse here is abusing the other punters, and indeed the bone-hammer (< OE b­án-hamor, but often changed by folk etymology) that he keeps behind the bar is the final enforcer of that principle. Consequently this is an environment that selects for niceness consistent with the expression of strong opinions on many things, not to mention that “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” which you Scots may soon be called upon to exercise. (There’s an opinion for you.)

    Comparative Religion is fascinating and worth studying even if you are an adherent of no religion at all

    I agree entirely, which is why the ill-informed may sometimes mistake me for a dogmatist when I am only explaining other people’s dogmas.

    them [bones]

    …them bones gonna walk around…

    I am dimly aware, also, that it can get a tad … boring …

    Fortunately here we have the scrollbar, the space bar, and the mouse wheel for those who think so. I often mousewheel past Read’s contributions when reading old LH posts.

    the Athanasian Creed, [whose] positive assertions are throughout qualified by statements forbidding what would be perfectly usual consequences of those statements if the positive assertions were made of any other entity

    I have heard it said that every phrase is meant to exclude one or another specific heresy, and therefore its wording is contingent on the actual history of Christianity.

  158. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s curious that there seems to be no heresy, ancient or modern, that accepts the Resurrection but rejects the Ascension.

    Surely the obvious problem for such heretics would be the natural question: “OK: then where is Jesus just now, then?”

    The alternative is presumably that the Resurrection was just temporary; but that wouldn’t be the history-altering event that Christians claim the Resurrection to be. “Mere” temporary return to life is an often-claimed miracle. The sneer of Bishop David Jenkins that the traditional understanding of the resurrection as a real physical event was merely believing in a “conjuring trick with bones” is not nearly as intellectually daring as he presumably imagined it to be; where he was deviating from historical orthodoxy was the assumption that you can have the Resurrection without any need for any embarrassing “conjuring trick”, and thus rest secure in a religion which is basically all about maintaining a godly state of mind without risking Richard Dawkins being rude about your gullibility. This is again essentially the Martin Gardner position.

    There wouldn’t seem to be a lot of point in adopting such a heresy before Richard Dawkins had even been thought of. Much more enjoyable to be a Gnostic (of the libertine sort, rather than the ascetic, of course.)

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    Fortunately here we have the scrollbar, the space bar, and the mouse wheel

    True enough; but that is no excuse for provoking the need to use them. Prevention is better than cure …
    One must also consider all those poor wasted electrons.

  160. Although our host is exceptionally tolerant, I am disinclined to abuse his tolerance by expounding my (utterly correct) political and religious opinions in detail here

    As JC says, I have no problem with opinions expounded at length, only with abuse of other commenters. It seems unlikely anyone here assembled will either abuse you for your (utterly correct) opinions or feel abused by them; I myself enjoy exposing myself to the details of other people’s belief, and can expatiate upon (say) proto-Shi’ite tendencies if the occasion calls for it without myself taking a position one way or the other upon the Hidden Imam. I can’t tell you the dates of the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation, but I know the difference. At any rate, expound if you like and don’t if you don’t; this is, as I have said before, Liberty Hall.

  161. John Cowan says:

    And, as was established the last time we talked about “Osculated Imams and Secret Caliphs in Media [sic] (or Bielefeld)”, here at the Hat everyone who is not against us is with us.

  162. It is clear to me that Jesus after resurrection did indeed die in physical sense. But the disciples didn’t worry, because Jesus told them that it is only his body that would die.

    And so there has to be some place where Jesus was buried for real after Ascension.

    Maybe some archaeologist will even find it some day.

  163. David Eddyshaw says:

    So there is after all a heresy which accepts the Resurrection but denies the Ascension! Let the record show that it was first recorded here. LH has its place in church history assured.

    SFReaderism.
    I feel privileged to share a forum with an honest-to-goodness heresiarch.

  164. I think Esephreterism is a more respectable piece of heresionymy.

  165. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think that the Grand Heresiarch himself has some claim to determine the matter. We moderns eschew the regressive mediaeval practice of assigning heresionyms from a position of (question-begging) orthodoxy.

    Igorism, perhaps?

  166. And there are zero Google hits for it.

    In any case, I don’t think the logical underpinnings of Esephreterism are as bad as you think, David E. After all, many have died, or “died”, and come back to life, and Lazarus was raised from the dead, or “dead”, as many have been. But Jesus, being himself the One God, resurrected himself. That’s unique as far as I know. Odin hanged himself on a tree as a sacrifice to himself, but in the end (after finding the the runes “down below”, whatever that means) he climbed down still alive. It is not said in Hávamál that he was dead at any time in the process. If the Resurrection were temporary, it would still be an enormous self-bootstrapping miracle.

  167. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is, of course, the practical problem that any heresiarch worth his salt will be strongly disposed to call his heresy orthodoxy; this might conceivably lead to some confusion.

  168. Not the first my heresy either.

    Used to invent five major heresies before breakfast.

    But my heresiarch days are mostly over now, because I stopped reading Bible every day

  169. David Eddyshaw says:

    Good point. Can’t be a proper heretic unless you know exactly what you’ve decided to deviate over. Accidental deviation doesn’t count and can’t be claimed as prior art.

    Seems a pity to give up on it when you’re evidently a natural, though. And kids these days aren’t prepared to put in the hard work involved in heresy startups. I blame the Internet. Five minutes after they’ve decided that there must be two Holy Spirits they’re on to another lolcat.

  170. David Eddyshaw says:

    But Jesus, being himself the One God, resurrected himself.

    Even so, if this was a temporary revivification, it falls far short of what is needed for the position that the Resurrection holds in mainstream Christianity. The believer is taken to be united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection, which is not to a resumption of the old life but to a qualitatively different “new” life. This union is not thought to be merely metaphorical, but to have real spiritual consequences. (Paul sets all this out at the beginning of Romans 6.)

    In claiming that you could have these spiritual consequences without the prior “conjuring trick with bones”, David Jenkins was basically following the traditional Bultmannite line. In putting it in a way calculated to cause maximum offence to traditional believers he was presumably either merely attention-seeking, or (more likely) had spent so long in his bubble with fellow-demythologisers that he actually never realised how contemptuous of the groundlings he sounded. Nevertheless, he was quite right in pointing out that it is the spiritual consequences of the resurrection that matter in the life of the believer. (He differed from the mainstream of historical Christianity in that, like Martin Gardner, he believed that religion is something that happens all inside the believer’s head, in a place where refutation is logically impossible in principle and one is safe from a Dawkins’ sneers.)

    Igorism thus has major consequences for Christian doctrine.

  171. denies the Ascension

    No, just denying literal understanding of Ascension.

    Because after leaving his mortal body, Jesus Christ did ascend to his father in heaven.

    Where else you think he went?

    And he left his mortal body behind as all of us will some day.

  172. David Eddyshaw says:

    As with Marxism, and Calvinism, it appears that the originator of Igorism in fact did not himself necessarily espouse all of the doctrines associated with his name by his followers (or opponents.)

    (No doubt some would say the same of Christianity,)

    By the way, the Quaternitarianism alluded to above arose from a misunderstanding of the filioque clause; this happened because Kids These Days don’t speak proper Latin any more. And lolcats.

  173. The article “Swoon Hypothesis” should also mention D. H. Lawrence’s “The Man Who Died.”

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