Small Bites

Steak requires small bites and you, my friend, nudge me to be the carnivore of mental cuisine.  I started with my conclusion in answering your initial concerns about Romans.  As you know, I picked Romans because its attribution is agreed upon by skeptics and its worth to the Christian community is considered great.  My conclusion was that I was in love.  I might not be thinking straight, but I could and should still engage my intellect to answer your honest and challenging questions.

Although we both tend to write in spurts, we’ve agreed to a dialogue – – not a serial monologue.  So I’ll do my best to answer, even in this asynchronous manner.  It isn’t just that we are friends.  I think you provide better reasons for atheism than most others that I’ve read.  Better reasons deserve answers.  To others who are more strident, I’ve learned to hold my tongue.  I’m growing out of my passion for argument and I’d rather just listen, and hopefully understand.

The first problem I have is this:  the problem.  I agree with you that critical thinking, even amongst the intelligentsia (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an example) is in decline.  You’re quote concerning Paul (I encourage readers to review it in context) was this:

I think it’s fair to say that Paul was a victim of The Problem in the same way that we all are, but that in itself doesn’t nullify or invalidate his claims any more than it does ours. He was probably more subject to it than modern scientists because a) many of us are aware of it and there’s no indication he was, and b) he was raised in a culture of certainty and faith. Let’s look at some of his claims.

Small bites Pascal, small bites.  Why do I think that Paul understood the problem better than we acknowledge?  I’ve been looking for a description of the phenomenon that assumes we think better than our ancestors because of science.  Modern arrogance is all that I can come up with, but that isn’t quite right.  You are the furthest from arrogant.  But – – I do think that you are providing too much credence to the scientific method – – not well articulated until the 16th century CE by Francis Bacon and not enough acknowledgment that rhetoric and logic existed far before that.

Was Paul a Roman citizen fluent in classical Greek?  Yes.  Could he discuss the philosophy of the Epicureans (so much more than eat, drink for tomorrow we may die…) with them?  According to his travelling companion and putative author of Luke/Acts – – yes.  What is there to be said for training at the feet of the greatest rabbi of his day, Gamaliel the Elder?  For me, interested in Jewish law, but not even a neophyte I can only say that study was and is part of the culture.  Why do you say Paul was unaware of confirmation bias?  Didn’t his conversion drastically alter rather than confirm his path?  I’ll go on to look at the claims you enumerate next.

One more word about the problem.  Lack of critical thinking does not seem big enough to me to explain poverty, injustice, rape, murder, neglect, envy and all of the horrors of men.  Where were the critical thinking skills of Stalin’s acolytes as he purged tens of millions of his countrymen.  Is lack of critical thinking, innumeracy, and confirmation bias an adequate explanation for real life problems?  I say no.

Pascal

–1:16

9 comments

  1. The passage attributed to Gamaliel in Acts 5 is remarkably neutral, or even a bit accommodating, to a new sect of Judaism that seemed to put observance of Torah on a shelf, such that it resembles the quote of Josephus who is purported to say, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man…” In other words, it is very likely that words were put into the mouth of both Gamaliel and Josephus by self-serving Christians later. If this were the case, then the book Acts, written for (after 70 CE) and passed around by the network of churches founded by Paul, could very well have made a claim that Paul was mentored by Gamaliel to give him a little more street cred. Certainly Paul himself never made such a claim in the seven epistles most scholars agree were written by him.

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    1. Welcome! I appreciate your intelligent comment and acknowledge that the authorship of Luke/Acts is less settled than that of Romans. I hope to learn more as I read NT Wright about the gospels balanced by David Fitzgerald in Nailed.

      If Acts is reliable, then Paul claimed Gamaliel as his rabbi and teacher in chapter 22. Does Acts have to be written by Luke to be reliable? No. But it has to be true. If Luke/Acts does not speak to historical reality, then I am indeed wasting my time. Many people better than I have wasted time on noble, but untrue ideas. I could be the next in a long line. My four cornerstones of faith are these: supernatural (one is possible), scripture (as reliable and useful), savior (who Jesus is to me), and saints (how Christ-followers should love others, and why). So – – scripture is important to me. I have found in it a reason to love others well.

      My point about Jewish rabbinical culture in the first century was this – – they were not naive to the problems of truth and logical fallacy. The study of a rabbi and his disciples was rigorous. In many ways I think that our distracted modern society needs the attention that Russell calls to rhetoric and logic more than the ancients did.

      Very glad that you’re here.

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      1. It is not my agenda to dissuade you from accepting Acts of the Apostles as correctly depicting the history of the early Church, but it is clear to me that the book is really the “Acts of Paul” with some preliminary material about some of the original twelve. The work contains some material found in Josephus’ “Jewish Antiquities” written three decades after Paul is executed, yet leaves off with Paul’s house arrest in Rome, and fails to mention the destruction of Jerusalem, as though a ploy to portray the work as being written during his lifetime. Taken together with the fact that James, the actual leader of the Church at the time, is almost entirely erased from the book, (except, most notably, when he suddenly stands up at the Council of Jerusalem and makes his ruling) what I see is a work that blatantly promotes Paul and exonerates the Romans.

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  2. What would Paul say? Paul would say that Paul was a mess. What did the gospels record? That Jesus had more to say against Pharisees in their smug self-righteousness than against the marginalized sinners of his day. Was the New Testament written to placate mighty Rome? I’ve read that many times. But how could a clear-eyed reading of the work suggest that? Jesus said to Caesar’s delegees, “I am the King of Kings.”

    Paul deserves attention only as much as he points to Christ. Russell quickly moved from Romans to the gospels, and it was a fair and appropriate move. I can’t consider one without the other. I am only broadly familiar with Josephus and how he once opposed the Romans and then joined them. With my incomplete understanding of the history of his loyalties, would it be appropriate to question his motives too? And if he wrote after Paul’s death, who sourced whom? Back to my first point. Paul was a mess and only started to become less messy when he encountered Christ. My friend Russell offers that it was probably a seizure. I’m not too sure.

    I was a mess and only started to become less messy when I encountered Christ. And the journey continues.

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    1. Paul once said that he became all things to all men, that some might be saved, yet when Peter, who was practicing that aphorism and reclining at table with gentiles at Antioch, got up and moved to the Jewish table when James and company arrived (lest he cause the Torah adherents to stumble), Paul took it to be a hypocritical action and condemned Peter loudly. This was too much even for Barnabas, who took Peter’s side in the controversy. Paul’s ego was sufficiently damaged that he wrote Barnabas off and departed, having no further contact with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Later, to the church at Colossae, he wrote that his sufferings were redemptive for the body of Christ, which seemed to point to his own belief that he was a kind of Jesus clone. That’s the kind of mess Paul was. I need not go into his views on womenfolk to compound things. And yet, after the Romans sacked Jerusalem, Paul and his network of gentile churches was the only game in town. The victors write the orthodoxy.

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      1. Please forgive my delayed reply. I’m excited to be back to the blog this morning. I shared your impression about Paul and Peter. I’ve often commented that I like Peter more, would rather share a beer with him, but am sadly more like Paul. I like Peter so much that I spent a year tracing his life through the gospels, Acts, references in Paul’s letters, and to the epistles that bear his name. It was hard for me to confront the scholars who said he wrote nothing at all. In truth, I’m still processing it.

        Your presentation of the view that winners write the history is organized and convincing. I’m not here to advocate for Paul, but to advocate for Jesus. I don’t believe in sainthood described by Rome’s first church. Interesting – – the first pope of that Roman Catholic Church was Peter.

        And yes, you and I will need to compound the discussion – – what about the womenfolk? I won’t avoid hard scripture, and I must defend my view that scripture has helped me to love and respect the largest (non)-minority of the human race. I like the way you think. You clearly have a nuanced understanding of scripture – – were you once, are you still a Christ follower?

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        1. My parents are from the Philippines, but became American citizens. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. The scandal with priests having sex with young boys was too much for me, especially when the Vatican covered things up by making it an offense worthy of excommunication for the boys to come forward and testify.

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