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29 Apr 11:51

CFP Deadline May 15: Religious Studies Indiana University-Bloomington "50 Years after Schempp: History, Institutions, Theory"

The Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington is hosting a conference entitled “Religious Studies 50 Years after Schempp: History, Institutions, Theory” the weekend of September 27-29, 2013.

Fifty years ago the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision in Abington v Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). While the case before the Court concerned the constitutionality of mandatory Bible reading in Pennsylvania public schools, the opinions in the case have come to be understood as the authorizing texts for the academic study of religion in public colleges and universities across the U.S. and beyond. 

The years following the Schempp decision witnessed a flourishing of departments of religion in public colleges and universities and an intense conversation about the appropriate approach to the academic study of religion in the U.S. context. Now, fifty years later, the anniversary of the decision provides an occasion for an appraisal of Schempp’s role and for a broader assessment of the past, present, and future of the field of religious studies. 

We invite proposals for papers across the disciplines of religious studies. While Schempp provides a focal point for the conference, we invite conferees to propose 20-minute paper presentations that consider the broader history and phenomenology of the study of religion in the multiple locations in which such study takes place, private and public.

Applicants are invited to send a proposal with a title, a 300-word abstract, and a two-page CV to the following address by May 15, 2013. Applicants may submit their materials as Word attachments. Send to: Professor David Haberman, with a cc copy to

29 Apr 11:49

Things I Wish I’d Said

by Larry Behrendt

images (1)Theological claims are not open, as far as I can tell, to any empirical test. Belief is not like sudoku; it is like love.


Amy-Jill Levine

29 Apr 11:48

Little Brothers, Total Noise and Trickster

by Misha Lepetic

by Misha Lepetic

"At the end of the day, someone is going to be right."
~Brian Williams, NBC Anchor

NEW-YORK-POST-bag_menBecause terrorism in the United States is an (astonishingly) infrequent phenomenon, the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon demands of us to make "sense" of it. But at the same time, it is this infrequency that tempts us to draw grandiose conclusions about What It All Means and How Everything Is Different Now. This species of sensemaking should be considered distinct from, say, the kind that goes on in societies that are frequently targeted. Within the context of Pakistan's 652 bombings in 2012, Rafia Zakaria considers a primary purpose of  journalism to be the enactment of "rituals of caring, made so repetitious by the sheer frequency of terror attacks; …in preventing the normalization of violence and senseless evil, they keep a society human." Mercifully, this is not the case here. We probably have the luxury of a few months until the next attack, so let us ponder what the Boston Marathon bombings "want" to tell us.

Were we offered a weary reminder of the racism that always seems to be lurking just below the surface of American society? Indeed. Further proof of Americans' abiding ignorance of geography? Check. A prime opportunity for yet another efflorescence of conspiracy theorists? Yawn. Please tell us something new.

Actually, in the case of Boston, conspiracy theory is a pretty good place to begin. The deepest conceptual failure of conspiracy, as an ontological mode, is its presupposition of a larger, unifying order. Since a benevolent conspiracy is not a conspiracy but really just a miracle – and a conspiracy that is indifferent to us is, by definition, impossible to discern – the fact that conspiracies are also evil is entirely redundant. The goal of identifying (and then wallowing in) a conspiracy, is not so much about the subsequent pursuit of justice, as it is about the reassurance that the world is not chaotic; that however you might detest its presence and seek to escape its influence, there is a deliberate design.

The problem is originary: we are sensemaking creatures. In this light, conspiracy is only our most extreme indulgence of that bedrock behavior. The only thing better than every thing meaning something, is if the meaning of every thing belongs to the same something. But confronted with the immediacy of the Boston bombings, the need to quickly interpret – or, more accurately, create – some kind of meaning is difficult to resist, and technologies, old and new, for better or worse, stood ready to lend a perhaps dubious hand.


Philosopher Rick Roderick, in a 1993 lecture entitled "Habermas and the Fragile Dignity of Humanity" makes a brief, telling aside: "in the late 20th century, we are in a situation where interpretation has never been more difficult." Citing television as an example of an object that resists interpretation, he goes on to assert that:

Orwell was a pie-eyed optimist…Orwell's vision of a horrible future – a boot stomping on a human face forever – is a utopian image because he assumed there would be resistance, and human faces. Both of which may turn out to be false. 1984 is not a book that scares me anymore.

Of course, Orwell's worldview in 1984 was shaped by the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and little else, since tuberculosis had claimed him by 1950. Conflict was mostly militarized, explicit and even formalistic; claims of social control were predicated upon the ongoing existence of such wars. Authority physically manifested itself in the form of Franco and later Stalin – whom Orwell found particularly odious – and the accompanying state security apparatus. Resistance was to be rubbed out mercilessly, through surveillance, interrogation and betrayal not only of individuals, but of language itself. But resistance still existed as an oppositional force.

For Roderick, born the year before Orwell's death, this kind of explicit resistance had been subverted. Consider the advent of television: as a one-way broadcast medium, television was the perfect conduit for the population-wide, normalizing activities of post-war consumer culture: material prosperity, entertainment and advertising. This is what Roderick means when he thinks of television as "closed" to interpretation; it is a fundamentally Foucauldian view. And he was largely right, at least while the near-monopolistic broadcast model remained ascendant. But in the same way Orwell could not have anticipated the utter dissolution of resistance as he conceptualized it, pre-Web commentators ought to be excused for not anticipating the way in which commercial communication technologies created the conditions for the collapse of those very same models.

CNN_BaghdadHowever, one didn't have to wait for the advent of the Web to see television threatened. Television had already sowed the seeds of its own collapse with the rise of cable and the 24-hour news cycle. Pioneered by CNN, which launched on June 1, 1980 (you can watch the utterly banal first minutes of CNN's life here), its insatiable appetite for news was not without unintended consequences. Two years prior to Roderick's comments, CNN had had a watershed moment in its coverage of the first Persian Gulf War, when it was the first network to provide a live feed of the pre-invasion air war. Decisionmakers found themselves laboring under the so-called "CNN effect:" the always-on nature of cable news artificially increased the pace of decisionmaking, and put politicians and even the military in a constant, reactive crouch. While the extent of the effect is debatable, 24-hour cable news should nevertheless be seen as a touchstone in the progressive tightening of feedback loops between those reporting and those making the news. This performative action of the former upon the latter – that is, the idea that "we journalists are performing journalism all the time, and therefore you decisionmakers must be performing decisions all the time, too" – has been further exacerbated by the rise of dozens of competitors to CNN. Which, only logically, leads us to ask whether there is enough news to keep up with the demands made by these entities.


The Boston bombings provide one answer. The yelling about How Everything Is Different Now has generally revolved around social media's decisive insertion into this system of loops, and how social media has brought in a third constituency, namely, everyone else (that is, everyone who has a internet access and the savvy to use and exchange information on said social media platforms).

For a good while CNN's coverage of Boston consisted of false leads, idle conjecture or stupefied filler, later provoking this absolute drubbing from Jon Stewart. The networks in general saw their thunder stolen by Twitter, and Reddit and 4Chan mounted their own crowdsourced "investigations". People were tracked down, identified and terrorized through their Facebook pages. A Saudi student, injured by and running away from the blast, was apprehended by a "citizen" and declared virtually guilty by the New York Post and Fox News. An already-missing student fingered by Reddit's "Redditors" – themselves anonymous – fared better only because he had committed suicide in the Providence River sometime prior to the Marathon itself. For its part, the New York Post's pièce de résistance of yellow journalism included a photo allegedly lifted from one of the Reddit pages.

Finally, the Tsarnaev brothers were identified by the FBI not through any state-owned surveillance apparatus but from footage captured by a Lord & Taylor department store's security cameras. It's worth noting that there are only 60 CCTV cameras in Boston that are controlled by the police – for now. It was an army of Little Brothers that did the job instead, with varying degrees of effectiveness, but, it must be emphasized, with no lack of enthusiasm.

Fake_dzokharBut things got even messier. As the manhunt progressed, NPR and many others  began retweeting the Boston Police Scanner, to the point where the Boston Police Department politely asked them to stop, in fear of giving away tactical positions. For their part, the BPD were afraid that they had a real psychopath on their hands, since they had retweeted sentiments such as "I will kill you all as you killed my brother" from what turned out to be a fake Twitter account (which, in a bizarre act of faux posterity remains up).

How do we make sense of this mess? As a way forward, I cite James Gleick's clear-headed commentary in New York Magazine, who in turn references David Foster Wallace. If there ever was a keen observer of our culture, it was Wallace. In his guest editor's introduction to The Best American Essays 2007, he intimates a society immersed in an ever-accelerating

…rate of consumption which tends to level everything out into an undifferentiated mass of high-quality description and trenchant reflection that becomes both numbing and euphoric, a kind of Total Noise that's also the sound of our U.S. culture right now, a culture and volume of info and spin and rhetoric and context that I know I'm not alone in finding too much to even absorb, much less to try to make sense of or organize into any kind of triage of saliency or value. Such basic absorption, organization, and triage used to be what was required of an educated adult, a.k.a. an informed citizen—at least that's what I got taught. Suffice it here to say that the requirements now seem different.

Total Noise is a total nightmare for Wallace, who was the apotheosis of the close reader. It is represents the sheer impossibility of being able to judge the value of anything, of no longer being able to understand what difference any difference might ultimately make. The limitation of Wallace's perspective is that it doesn't take into account the purposive nature of all that noise. It may, in the aggregate, be noise, but every squawk was created for a reason. Every speck of noise was shot off into the ether of cyberspace on the tiny rocket engine of someone's agenda. Some of these reasons, such as the installation of the Lord & Taylor security camera, were incidental, and others, such as the fake Tsarnaev account, channeled the trickster.

Tricksters are not fools. Both may be Jungian archetypes, but let us be clear on the difference. As Helen Lock writes:

The trickster, however, is not playing. He is not confined to his own sphere of activity, "playing the fool," he is a trickster in the world at large. He actually is immoral (or at least amoral) and blasphemous and rebellious, and his interest in entering the societal game is not to provide the safety-valve that makes it tolerable, but to question, manipulate, and disrupt its rules. He is the consummate mover of goalposts, constantly redrawing the boundaries of the possible. In fact, the trickster suggests, says Hyde, "a method by which a stranger or underling can enter the game, change its rules, and win a piece of the action" (204). Unlike the fool, the trickster aims to change the rules of the "real" world; he is the lowly outsider who is at the same time powerful enough to transform and reconstitute the inside, or indeed to obliterate the existence of "sides." …The trickster pushes the limits of the unorthodox in order to transform reality—and as such is distinct from, in many respects the opposite of, the fool.

In this sense, trickster is present in the creators of fake Twitter accounts, and, no matter how well-intentioned, the witch-hunters of Reddit. And, at the same stroke, the Tsarnaevs themselves squarely occupy this role. They may have not thought through their attack, or rather its aftermath, but they were not, in the Jungian sense, fools. Look at what, all together, they have wrought. Gleick, in his commentary, "found the ecosystem of information in a strange and unstable state: Twitter on the rise, cable TV in disarray, Internet vigilantes bleeding into the F.B.I.'s staggeringly complex (and triumphant) crash program of forensic video analysis. If there ever was a dividing line between cyberspace and what we used to call ‘the real world,' it vanished last week."

Evil-bert-and-bin-ladenOf course, the Tsarnaevs' goal was not to rewrite any information landscape but to kill and maim as many people as possible. But as far as individual bits and pieces go, there is very little that is unprecedented. About ten years ago, I was empaneled on grand jury here in New York City, and one of the indictments we handed down was based on incidental security camera footage – exactly the same sort that proved to be the Tsarnaev brothers' undoing. Regarding the thin membrane separating cyberspace from reality, connoisseurs of the Evil Bert meme will recall how Bert wound up alongside Osama bin Laden on posters handed out at a 2001 demonstration in Bangladesh. And Twitter accounts updated by real fugitives while on the run, such as software entrepreneur and accused murderer John McAfee,  quickly spawn their own fake counterparts.

Nevertheless, if there is anything new to be gleaned from this, it is the speed with which it is happening. Boston perhaps set a new record for the sheer amount of information generated, of whatever quality. And the media is indeed indispensable to anyone willing to set off a pressure cooker full of nails. As anthropologist Scott Atran writes in Foreign Policy, "their threat can only match their ambitions if fueled way beyond actual strength. And publicity is the oxygen that fires modern terrorism…Terrorists are directly responsible for violent acts, but only indirectly for the reaction that follows… the media is increasingly less a public service devoted to this task than a competitive business that believes it best succeeds through sensation, which violence privileges."

But even this is a mischaracterization of the kind of media landscape that has established itself. When has media ever solely, or even primarily, been about public service? And now, when barriers to entry to participating in – or simply obfuscating – the media landscape have been all but removed, what phenomena will we witness when the next terrorist attack visits our shores?

PhotoHere, then, is a proposed scenario. On the occasion of the next bombing, likely at a public event, there will be some, as-yet undefined critical mass of Google Glass users present (sorry, critics, it's coming), along with whatever competitor products have been released in the meantime. Uploading video and audio in realtime, they will be guided by members of Reddit, InfoWars, Anonymous or some similar happy-go-lucky vigilante network posing as a social media community. They will likely already have personal drones in the air at the event (no need to order online – the availability of personal drones is demonstrated by the accompanying photo, which  was taken today at the Barnes and Noble on 86th and Broadway). A manhunt fueled by hashtags, hacked DMV databases, or disabled smart-city traffic light systems will take place. Moving quickly enough, it may outrun not just the media but law enforcement itself. Digitally distributed vigilantism will become the story itself. At worst, we will see the world's first social media-sponsored lynching. (See Patrick Farley's unfinished web-based graphic novel "Spiders," begun around 2002, for a possible future war created by such nicely messy, embryonic growth).

None of these things might come to pass. It is far likelier that what will actually transpire will be stranger still, and much more ambiguous. But one thing is certain: we have come a long way from fearing a society of command-and-control repression (à la Orwell or the conspiracy theorists), or a society of normalized self-policing, which is what Roderick and Foucault envisioned. As a result of our desire to live in a world of which we can make sense, we have created one in which the trickster is ascendant. And the trickster does not play sides.

29 Apr 11:45

Biological metaphysics?

by Rishidev Chaudhuri

by Rishidev Chaudhuri

IMMUNE-SYSTEMTo my mind, the most fascinating biological systems lie in the uncanny interstices between the physical and the intentional, between systems that can be understood as purely material objects, in the mould of physics or chemistry, and those that seem to require some notion of self (and other) or intentionality or that use complex regulatory loops to maintain themselves as some sort of consistent entity. For example, how should we make sense of the immune system which, on the one hand, seems obviously physical (and hence avoids the debates associated with consciousness) and yet seems to contain at least a primitive notion of self and other, that maintains representations of and long-term memories about its environment and that seems to regulate in a way that feels teleological (or most easily understood this way). These systems challenge us theoretically partly because they are fiendishly complicated, typically consisting of many interacting parts and levels of interactions. But more than this, these parts and levels of interactions seem to form a consistent whole in a way that, say, a gas in a box doesn't, and in doing so they elude our theoretical frameworks. It's not that we know what a good theoretical description would look like and haven't found it yet1. Instead we seem to lack the right level of general principles of understanding and organization. At some point the principles we use to understand physical bodies (energy, entropy, conservation laws and so on) seem to break down, but the principles that we use to understand other subjects in the world (desires, goals, representation and such) don't yet hold. Thus these are material collections that are simultaneously coherent entities, inextricably embedded in the world and insensible without it. At the risk of sounding like one of those Continental metaphysicians whom physicists are always raising their eyebrows at, much of what is exciting about this realm is that it hints at new metaphysics, new categories of making sense of what a system is, what a meaningfully describable entity is, and so on. And reassuringly, these theoretical projects are anchored in the study of physical systems; this doesn't guarantee truth but does provide a set of constraints that nudge speculation in interesting directions.

One direction we might proceed in emerges from taking seriously the mathematics that partially helps make sense of these systems (as it develops) rather than simply treating it as a descriptive tool. Few people still believe that mathematics gives us access to a Platonic realm that links the mind to things in themselves, and yet mathematics seems to offer something more than a set of logical consequences drawn simply from definitions. Somewhere in between, there's a plausible case to be made that mathematics helps clarify and reveal something about the categories that allow our minds to make sense of the world (in addition to creating new ones and perhaps new forms of understanding). This suggests that we could use mathematics the way a psychoanalyst uses projection or free association: we gaze upon what we have produced in making sense of the world and this makes conscious to us the underlying conceptual structures we used. Such an endeavor is somewhat fraught, and is reminiscent of the enthusiasm for chaos theory, catastrophe theory, complexity and all the other late 20th century programs that seemed to promise a universal framework within which to understand complex systems and then, despite many individual successes, fell short. But we have no choice but to push our theoretical frameworks in these ways and perhaps the falling short is a lesson suggesting modesty rather than retreat. Indeed a number of the ideas from these frameworks are important advances, and ideas like feedback loops, strange attractors and catastrophes have been influential in the modern theoretical toolkit. Complex biological systems need more mathematization, not less, and the attempt to conceive of new mathematical forms to account for these systems is still ongoing (though perhaps less programmatically than before). Stretching these forms beyond the scientific and attempting to draw broad theoretical conclusions (for example, about the nature and types of entities we can usefully speak about) is bound to be prone to over-generalization and false trails, but this is true of any attempt at theoretical advance.

Another possible direction is to allow concepts to trickle down from the realm of the Subject. We undeniably relate to subjects in ways very different from objects; even leaving aside the ethical realm, we grant subjects a certain unity of self, and ascribe intentions and internal states to them. Perhaps these concepts can be stepped further down the chain of being. This is even more fraught than generalizing from mathematical structure, of course. It hints ominously at a return to a dubious vitalism that seems to have been theoretically exhausted. And, at a more popular level, it drifts close to a fluffy New-Ageiness and a tendency to confuse sloppy thinking with profundity. Yet these rejected views of the world do contain within them a meaningful lament, and understanding systems as purely instrumental objects throws away a whole realm of being and of theoretical possibility. It has also been a long time since we took subjects very seriously; perhaps it has been long enough that we can return and start to reanimate matter, though hopefully with the accumulated wisdom of the intervening years. After all, the way we relate to objects has extended further and further into the ways we relate to subjects. Both modern science and philosophy have destabilized the subject to an extent that it is unlikely to return in its full grandeur and everything from post-structuralism to neuroscience encourages us to see the self as a contingent and fragmented multiplicity. Theoretically, we rarely speak of subjects as coherent essences and in most of the sciences we shy away from "anthropomorphizing people" (as Morgenbesser is reported to have said of Skinner). So maybe it's possible to let the categories we use to understand subjects leak back into inanimate matter (albeit transformed), much as we previously let bodies rolling down inclined planes, swinging pendulums and collections of gases diffuse up into the realm of subjects. Of course the selves and intentions we might project onto complex biological systems are not ultimately real. But then the selves we use to understand each other probably aren't real either, and yet are essential to our world.

This is all very speculative, but it at least vaguely suggests a theoretical program; this program is already being carried out implicitly (by scientists, with all the benefits and dangers that implies) and would benefit from being dragged into the light. We live in a world increasingly flooded with multi-level measurements of complex biological systems, and our reaction to this data deluge wavers between Promethean enthusiasm and bafflement tinged with fear. In the midst of all this it is good to pay more than lip-service to the idea that we will need new foundational frameworks to progress and to give ourselves permission to occasionally chase thoughts that hover on the edge of the nonsensical.


1The answer doesn't seem to be to write down an approximate Hamiltonian for the immune system, for example.
29 Apr 11:42

You lying sack of…

by jonnyscaramanga

I can’t remember now what chain of idle Facebook clicking led me to this video, but I’m glad I found it. This is Gerri Di Somma, pastor of Carmel:City Church, as well as Carmel:Christian School, Carmel:Bookshop, and other subdivisions of Carmel:Centre. For some reason, his organisation is obsessed with colons, possibly because he is full of shit.

(Jargon translator: “praying in the Holy Ghost” means praying in tongues)

I want you to know that knowledge never helped me. Counsellors never helped me. The banks never helped me. Medical science never helped me. When I was confronted with a major crisis in my life, it was praying in the Holy Ghost that helped me.

This is fascinating, because my family was on holiday with the Di Sommas in 1999 when Gerri was faced with a cancer scare. Unless by “I prayed in the Holy Ghost”, Mr. Di Somma actually means “I underwent surgery”, then I’m afraid my recollection of events is rather different.

Our families were holidaying together in South Africa, partly to attend a conference at Rhema South Africa, where Gerri had previously been a lecturer at the Bible school. While we were in Johannesburg, Gerri went for a medical and discovered that a mole on his face was cancerous.

My mum told me in hushed tones that this was happening, but that we wouldn’t be telling the congregation back home about it because we didn’t want them to worry. Then Gerri went into hospital and had the mole removed. By a doctor. A doctor who, presumably, used her knowledge of the same “medical science” the pastor now claims never helped him.

What’s most interesting is that Gerri Di Somma is as big an advocate of the Word of Faith doctrine of positive confession as anyone I’ve ever known. In fact, I’ve never known anyone else apply it so rigidly and with so little concession to common sense.

Positive confession is almost entirely based on a peculiar interpretation of Mark 11:24.

Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

According to the Word of Faith, whenever you pray for anything in accordance with God’s Word, your prayer is answered immediately. Of course, God exists in the spiritual dimension and we in the physical, so receiving the manifestation of this answer to prayer can take time. It is the believer’s responsibility to see this manifestation take place. “Don’t blame God for your failure to receive” was an expression I heard more than once.

This meant that, as soon as you prayed for something, you had to talk (and act) as though it had already happened. Anything else would be a) saying that God didn’t keep his word, and b) displaying a lack of faith which would prevent the manifestation from occurring.

Following from this, Di Somma never allowed any member of his family to say they were sick. I once missed a Sunday because of flu, and I received a card from his daughter saying that she’d experienced some symptoms too, but “I will not let the devil lie to me”. I dutifully returned to the church band the following Sunday, and spent the entire service crouching on the stage because I was too ill to stand up.

So on this holiday in Johannesburg – the same one where Gerri had an operation for cancer – his wife went down with a virus, and Gerri wouldn’t allow her to take any painkillers. Only sick people take painkillers, and she was the healed of the Lord. My mum ended up sneaking her an aspirin before bed.

But you know what, I am confident that Gerri would pass a polygraph test about this. I spent enough time with him and his family (including his youngest daughter, who frequently went off-message) to be certain that he believes his own drivel.

That doesn’t stop this being a dangerous and irresponsible sermon. If you’ve got a problem, don’t do anything about it! Just hole yourself up in your room and pray in tongues! In fact, he only uttered one phrase that I agree with:

You need to understand that I stand before you not as a man of knowledge.

Amen, pastor.

Related posts:

29 Apr 11:40

“The One and the Only God”

by larryhurtado

I’ve just finshed reviewing a new book much worthy of attention for any of us interested in earliest Christianity and the religious environment in which it sprang forth:  Darina Staudt, Der eine und einzige Gott:  Monotheistische Formeln im Urchristentum und ihre Vorgeschichte bei Griechen und Juden, NTOA/SUNT 80 (Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012).

This is a survey-analysis of the use of several “forms” (fixed expressions) used in ancient texts that figure in discourse about gods:  εἷς θεός (“one god”), μόνος θεός (“only god”), and οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι πλήν (“there is no other”).  The main purpose of her study is to trace the background and possible influences upon the way in which “monotheistic” language is used in early Christian sources, and also how the risen/exalted Jesus is so readily incorporated into what we may call “God-discourse”.  She doesn’t really address the latter question about Jesus-devotion until the final four pages of her conclusion, and I’m not sure that this is adequate.  But she has contributed a valuable study of the history and usage of these expressions, showing how in various texts they were used to signify different things.

The evidence surveyed is impressively wide, commencing with the “pre-Socratics”, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Roman-era writers, and then into OT, Jewish texts of the Hellenistic-Roman period, Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, the NT, the Apostolic Fathers, and subsequent Christian usage.  Throughout, she draws upon previous scholarly studies and contributes her own observations, guided by her concern to trace development and identify particularities of usage.

The basic conclusions are these:  (1) The “one god” expression derives from two “roots”, OT usage (esp. Deut 6:4) in the 7th century BCE and early Greek philosophical usage  (esp. Xenophanes), although this early Greek usage seems to have had little take-up or effect subsequently until the Hellenistic period, (2) especially as used in “pagan” Greek circles, “one god” isn’t a declaration of “monotheism” but instead essentially a way of praising a particular deity, an “elative” sense; (3) the “only god” expression seems to derive from OT/Jewish usage (traced back to the 5th-3rd centuries BCE) and expresses an “exclusive” claim that the biblical deity is the only rightful recipient of worship; (4) the “there is no other (god)” phrasing derives specifically from Deutero-Isaiah and is a more explicit and polemical expression of the uniqueness of the biblical deity.

One of the interesting features of her study is the variation among authors/texts.  For example, Philo (a Diaspora Jew in Alexandria) used both the “one God” and “only God” expressions, whereas Josephus (another Jew writing in a Diaspora setting) uses these expressions less frequently and more selectively, appearing to distance himself somewhat from the “only God” expression (which he tends to place on the lips of Jewish rebels in his account of the Jewish war against Rome).

NT writers used the “only God” expressions only seldom, preferring the “one God” expression.  She proposes that the reasons for this are that the latter more readily allowed for the inclusion of Jesus with God (“the Father”) in earliest Christian worship and belief.  Nevertheless, we see the influence of the exclusivity of ancient Jewish tradition in that earliest Christian belief and devotional practice admitted Jesus uniquely and no other, producing a distinctively “binitarian” version of “monotheistic” belief/practice.

29 Apr 02:53

Adam and Eve All Over Again << Kate Cooper (kateantiquity)


Adam, God, and Eve, detail from Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (ca. 1500)

On Friday, a friend gave me a copy of a fascinating document, Men and Women in Marriage, a report by the Church of Engalnd’s Faith and Order Commission, which is aimed at informing debate over family relationships in the UK. (As the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill makes its way through Parliament, many religious organizations in the UK are reviewing their formal teaching on this subject.)

As a historian who has published quite a bit on the history of Christian marriage over the years, I was surprised by what the document includes, and what it leaves out.

Most surprisingly, the document does not actually define marriage. What separated marriage from a civil partnership conferring a family relationship in legal terms? In the Roman and Jewish law which supplies the context for understanding New Testament writings (New Testament authors wrote in a context where some of their readers were answerable to Jewish law and others to Roman law, so both must be taken into account), marriage was first and foremost a relationship designed to confer legitimacy on a man’s children by one (or in the Jewish case more than one) woman, and to give the child’s mother and/or other care-takers a legal claim to demand protection and resources from the father. So in ancient terms, modern heterosexual marriages not aimed at reproduction would be perceived as representing failure or fraud.

It was not until the fifth century that Christian writers such as Augustine began to defend marraige against the fourth-century theology of virginity as the only perfect expression of the Christian life. With this, came the idea of Christian marriage as a spritual discipline, which had value even if the partners did not intend to have children. (For more, see Chapter Four, ‘Such Trustful Partnership’, of my The Fall of the Roman Household.) So what is a ‘marriage’, as opposed to a ‘partnership’? It is as difficult to know what the difference means now as what it meant two thousand years ago.

In the 1990s, scholars maintained a heated debate about how the ancient and medieval Churches understood same-sex emotional and sexual intimacy. Most controversial are the adelphophilia liturgies of the ancient and medieval churches which were made famous by the Yale Professor and Catholic activist John Boswell in the 1990s. Scholars still argue whether these liturgies should be understood as ‘same-sex unions’ or ‘blood brotherhood rituals’. (In a justly famous review of  Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Brent D. Shaw argued for the latter interpretation.) Whatever their precise meaning, it is clear is that they offered a frame-work for blessing a pledge of affection and loyalty made between two men.

Strangely, another difficulty in understanding the New Testament and early Christian sources is that they reflect an understanding of male and female biology that was very different to our own – women’s ‘inferiority’ was understood to reflect the teachings of ancient biology, which saw women’s sexual organs as a defective or undeveloped version of their male counterparts, and women as developmentally arrested men, rather than as developmentally complete members of a different sexual type. A recent article by Jane Shaw in the Church Times, Men, Women, and Difference, explores how an understanding of this context might inform our reading of biblical arguments about what is ‘according to nature’ or ‘against nature’.

The Men and Women in Marriage document seems to reflect still another history, the anger of African Christians (most of them men I suspect) over having been ordered to give up polygamy by Christian missionaries a century ago. At least some African clergy feel that offering support to the men and women on either side of the Atlantic who want to sacralize their same-sex partnerships would somehow be Britain’s final insult to the African church.

I can’t claim to be certain, theologically speaking,  how historical insights should inform the modern debate. But for my own part, I’m on the side of the kids. When so many children are growing up in one-parent homes, why would anyone make it harder for two people to establish a stable, permanent bond between the parents of a loving family? Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

29 Apr 02:20

The Spaceships of Ezekiel Fraud << Mike Heiser (PaleoBabble)

I’ve blogged before (here and here) about how what the biblical prophet Ezekiel saw was not a UFO or flying saucer. From time to time I get email (or comments here) about how I’m wrong because of the “research” of Joseph Blumrich, a pseudo-scientist who blessed the world in 1974 with his pseudo-scholarship in The Spaceships of Ezekiel. For some reason I’ve recently gotten a good bit of such interaction, so I thought I’d add something to my previous posts on Ezekiel’s vision.

One of the reasons so many people have (and still do) think Blumrich’s book is worth referencing is that he claimed (and so his followers are fond of repeating) that he was a NASA engineer. He wasn’t. As Jason Colavito demonstrated a long time ago, documentation exists from the U. S. State Department that shows the State Department could find no evidence that Blumrich was affiliated with NASA. Frankly, it wouldn’t matter if Blumrich was an engineer. His ideas are based on desperate and uninformed misreadings of the biblical text anyway. We know what Ezekiel saw because his descriptions mirror ancient Babylonian iconography that we can look at today because of archaeologists. The imagery is no mystery, nor is its meaning.

So, once again, the uncritical thinkers in the ancient astronaut orbit (and I do mean orbit) were duped by a “researcher” that lied to them. You have to wonder how many times this has to happen before some of these folks wake up. The ancient astronaut theory is primarily supported by industrious but duplicitous researchers offering fraudulent research to an emotionally and psychologically primed audience. It’s actually pretty sad.

Technorati Tags: Bible, Blumrich, engineer, Ezekiel, flying, NASA, saucers, UFOs

28 Apr 22:44


by (Nancy B.)
Palestinian Authority Tourism and Antiquities police on Thursday seized 900 artifacts as they were being smuggled out of Bethlehem, police said. Bethlehem police chief Alaa al-Shalabi said they received a tip-off from the Ministry of Tourism that a man from Jerusalem was smuggling the antiques out, which are illegal to own or sell under Palestinian law.

The suspected was detained at the scene, where police found 830 metal coins from the Byzantine, Roman and Islamic area, as well as 70 works of pottery dating back to the Cannanite area, among other antiques, al-Shalabi said. Police also found a ceremonial coffin from the Roman period that is estimated to be over 3,500 years old. The coffin formed part of the Roman burial tradition, he said.

Under Palestinian law, antiques and artifacts belong to the Palestinian Authority for the preservation of heritage and culture.
28 Apr 22:43

Still waiting for the ID revolution

by PZ Myers

Hey, boys and girls, does anyone remember the IDEA clubs? IDEA was short for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, and the plan was that they’d form all these advocacy groups at universities all over the country, and from there, take over the world! It was going to be a REVOLUTION…one driven by dishonest, conservative Christians who wanted to roll back the progressive agenda and install a devout theocracy in its place.


The IDEA club is where Casey Luskin got his reputation as a diligent little gerbil for the cause. He was one of the founders of the model organization at UC San Diego, which is highlighted on the main IDEA Center club page. Amusingly, it’s a dead link now.

Likewise, if you read the various blurbs on that site, there are ever-shifting numbers of these clubs around: they claim a high of 35 worldwide, and have a pull-down menu listing them all, but you will click in vain — it doesn’t work, and the links go nowhere. Elsewhere, they say they’ve got 25 active clubs, but at the bottom of the page there are a collection of links to them…they’ve got 10. All of them lead to empty placeholder pages on the IDEA center site, except one, which futilely tries to take you to a defunct Geocities site.

It’s a dismal and empty virtual ghost town. Visit it and listen carefully and you might hear the sad sighs of creationists long gone, and maybe occasionally the cackling, triumphant laughter of a rational human being passing by to gaze on the fading works of intelligent design, and gloat.

Meanwhile, the Secular Student Alliance has been booming, with 378 groups. The links actually work on their page.

Make the comparison. It’s clear where the momentum lies.

28 Apr 22:41

Doctor Who Review: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

by IGPNicki

journey to the centre of the TARDIS

Doctor Who Review: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

The Doctor must rescue Clara who is lost somewhere in the depths of a badly damaged TARDIS.

Best Moment: I did enjoy the library. And I loved the scene when Clara is finally reunited with the Doctor and punches him because he has zombies on the TARDIS.

Verdict: What a mess. I know a lot of die-hard Who fans will love it for getting a tour of the TARDIS, but honestly, this episode is a total mess. The Doctor and Clara are separated. How? How did this happen? I thought maybe I had missed something. Now I realise there was no explanation, it just happened. Very clunky storytelling. The ending was cheap. They hit the reset switch. Why? Because the writers didn’t know how to handle the ending? We know it will turn out that Clara will remember the Doctor’s name, that much is obvious, so why hit the reset switch? It cheapens the whole episode.

Not that the episode could have seemed less cheap. The journey through the TARDIS was disappointing. Sure, there were a few nice head nods here and there, but not one single pre-Matt Smith TARDIS control room? Aren’t they filming An Adventure in Space and Time? Shouldn’t they have some of that older stuff to hand? And no roundels. What’s up with that?

Going back to the story, I didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about the whole salvage storyline. It had it’s mild Alien references. And of course there was the “surprise” that the android isn’t an android at all, but I can’t say these characters added anything to the story except to make the TARDIS very upset.

The zombies I liked better. They were filmed weirdly and I even liked the explanation for them. They at least served to bring a bit more tension to the episode, although it made for some very odd scenes when a zombie is pursuing Clara and Jenna-Louise Coleman’s expressions seems to flit from fear and then a split second later to wonder as she finds some new interesting part of the TARDIS to go in. Literally, I think at one moment she goes from fearful to an excited smile in the space of a second. And it’s not necessarily Coleman’s fault, I think it was just seriously crappy direction.

It’s as though the Doctor Who writers were more interested in showing off the TARDIS than actually creating a decent episode. As for the mystery that was Clara… I was hoping we might get another small tidbit regarding this, given Clara’s assumption that the TARDIS doesn’t like her. Yet, alas, nothing. Instead we got that Clara, after randomly opening a page of a book about the Timewar, learns the Doctor’s true name.

A lot has been made of this whole Doctor’s name business. But do we want to know his true name? I for one don’t. We’ve already seen with Star Wars what happens when you delve into the background of mysterious characters a la Anakin Skywalker and Boba Fett. I just hope Steven Moffat is smarter than that.

28 Apr 22:37

Last Call for Carnival Links for April 2013

by Phillip J. Long

Carnival is Coming!

The March 2013 Biblical Studies Carnival will be hosted by Jacob Cerone at ἐνθύμησις.

This is a “call for links” to blogs of interest published in April 2013. Email the links to Jacob (jacobncerone at or leave a comment with a link. What are the blogs you read this month which contributed to the discussion of biblical literature theology, and culture? What posts made you think more deeply? Send the links to Jacob and look for his Carnival around the first of May.

I am also looking for more volunteers for the 2013 Carnival Season, August through the end of the year are open. Jeff Carter is up for May (due June 1) at his blog, ThatJeffCarter Was Here. Please email me (plong42 at and pick your month! Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.

Edited: fixed Jacob’s email

28 Apr 22:35

The Greatest Religious Joke of All Time (Emo Philips)

by DisposableSoul
Emo Philips:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.

I said, "Don't do it!"
He said, "Nobody loves me."
I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
He said, "A Christian."
I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"
He said, "Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."
I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over. 
28 Apr 18:31


by Dr. Jim



8:50:                    OPENING COMMENTS

Session 1          RELIGION AND OTHER EXERTIONS: (aka no pain, no gain).               

9:00-9:30             From the Ancient to the Modern: Examining the Relationship Between Athletics and Religion through Time
Taylor Grant, University of Calgary

9:30-10:00           Westernization of Yoga: The West’s Devotion to Lycra and the Mat
Keightley Bertram, University of Calgary,

10:00-10:30         S&M and a goddess?
Lilian Marshall, University of Manitoba


                            15 Minute Break


Session 2A        ARCHAEOLOGY                                                               

10:45-11:15         Exotic to Local: Exploitations of Raw Copper Material Resources in the Near East from the Bronze to the Iron Age
Elsa M. Perry, The University of Lethbridge

11:15-11:45         Hydrological Wonders of the Iron Age II period: Judah and Israel
Ariel Pollard-Belsheim, University of Lethbridge

11:45-12:15         Fighting Words: The Attempt to Authenticate the James Ossuary Inscription
Laura Shuttleworth, University of Lethbridge


Session 2 B       THE NAZI BOOT                            

10:45-11:15         “Broken-in Horse” or “Fiery Stallion”: Christian Fundamentalism and Resistance in Nazi Germany
James Forbes, University of Lethbridge

11:15-11:45         Legalized Mass Murder: German Racial Hygiene, Anti-Semitism, and Eugenics
Krista Conrad, University of Lethbridge

11:45-12:15         Defying Dehumanization: Anticipating the 614th Commandment amidst Nazi Terror
Jenae Dunlop, University of Lethbridge


Session 2 C       RELIGIOUS CHANGE AND RETENSION                

10:45-11:15         Ecstatic Power: Examining the Rise of Pentecostalism through the Lens of Durkheim, Marx and Weber
Ron MacTavish, U of Lethbridge

11:15-11:45         Mu shu kyo for Young Japanese People
Marina Umeno, University of Lethbridge

11:45-12:15         The Family Analects: Interpreting Confucianism in Diasporic Chinese-Canadian Writing
Mimi Lin, University of … Continue reading

28 Apr 18:29

The Surprises Will Never Stop

by eyeonicr

Great catchupIn Circular RNAs Increase Cell Bio-Complexity (5 April 2013) Jeffrey Tomkins makes the arguement we’ve seen so many times even in the last week: something has been found to be biologically functional, therefore “bio-complexity” has increased, therefore design, therefore God.

The specifics are thus not hugely important. DNA can code for a variety of “RNAs” as well as just proteins – the function of these “circular RNAs” is apparently to act as a sponge for another RNA type, microRNAs. It doesn’t strike me as something that would be all that difficult to evolve, I have to say. Here’s a slightly more detailed summary, if you’re still interested.

Tomkins concludes his article by saying:

One prominent molecular biologist, Erik Sontheimer, proclaimed in an interview with Nature editors over the discovery, “You just wonder when these surprises are going to stop.” The answer is, they probably won’t—because scientists have only begun to scratch the surface in discovering the complexity of the cell which has been engineered by an omnipotent and all-powerful Creator.

The alternative explanation is that the surprises will never stop because biology has had billions of years to come up with anything and everything possible, but you already knew that. Tomkins, meanwhile, really needs to come up with something new.

Filed under: Daily (pseudo)Science Updates, Great 2013 catch-up, Quick DpSU's Tagged: Complexity, Creationism, DNA, Evolution, ICR, Jeffrey Tomkins, RNA, Science, Skeptic, Skepticism
28 Apr 17:05

Facebook Gun Rights Theology = Sheer Stupidity

by Joel


They call it “A Word from our Creator about Gun Rights”

Guess they didn’t read Luke 11:22.

Please note the subject of Luke 11:21 is Satan whereas is is the peaceful Jesus who is the subject of 11:22

28 Apr 17:04

Quote of the Day: Alford North Whitehead

by Joel

“The misconception which has haunted philosophic literature throughout the centuries is the notion of ‘independent existence.’ There is no such mode of existence; every entity is to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the universe.” ― Alfred North Whitehead

HT – AZ via the FB

28 Apr 17:04

Autopsy of a deceased church

by Ann Fontaine

Thomas Rainer, writing at he blog, notes 11 signs that a church is dying:

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

Here are the first 2 signs that the church is passing away:

1. The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.

2. The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Read the rest here.

28 Apr 17:03

Can Anyone Convince These Five Creationists That They’re Deluded?

by Hemant Mehta

Enjoy this episode of a BBC series called “Conspiracy Road Trip” focused on Creationism. The premise is that five Creationists are taken to America to be convinced of evolution by people who know something about it (including Jerry Coyne):

Great line at the 47:28 mark:

“I don’t want to be the person that’s like… nothing you show me is gonna change my mind… but then, at the same time, I’m like, it can’t… It really can’t… Because the faith that I have, if I start accepting all of this [evolution], I’ve got to accept that everything else is a pile of crap…”

Yep. That’s kind of the idea…

(Thanks to Richard for the link!)

28 Apr 12:06

When a Gospel of Servanthood and Suffering Stands in the Way of Equality and Justice

by Libby Anne



Question: What if the wife is the victim of the husband’s hostility?

Answer: There is no “victim” if we understand that we are called to suffer for righteousness. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” I Peter 2:21 Christ was not a victim! He willingly gave His life for us. “By whose stripes you were healed . . . likewise you wives . . . ” I Peter 2:24; 3:1 Christ’s life teaches us how to suffer.

While I couldn’t find a firm citation for the image above, I’m fairly certain it comes from Bill Gothard’s material (let me know if you know otherwise). With that out of the way, let’s look at some context for the verses cited here:

I Peter 2: 18—3:7

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

When I saw this image and looked up the text to refresh my memory on it, I thought of a recent article in Prodigal magazine. It was called “The Lost Art of Servanthood (A Letter to My Feminist Sisters),” and it hit on all of these same points, literally arguing that if Christ calls his followers to be servants, fighting for equality should be out of the picture. And thinking about this, I realized that there are two Christian doctrines that can easily stand in the way of any attempt to reach equality or justice—servanthood, and suffering.

The Bible over and over extols its readers to be servants, and proclaimed that the man who is least in this world is greatest in the next, and that the person who is greatest is the one who makes himself the servant of all. The Bible also praises Christ’s suffering and declares that his followers will suffer for their faith—and that they should rejoice for it. Further, some verses talk about becoming pure through suffering. The passage above is a perfect example of all of this.

And don’t think that this interpretation is limited to Gothard or the Prodigal article. Sure, these ideas aren’t usually taken as far as Gothard takes them, but they’re extremely prevalent in Christianity, especially in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Here’s another example from a recent post on another Christian blog:

Satan doesn’t want you to take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. He wants you to have your crowns now, your best life now. He wants you to have the promotion now,after all, you deserve it. He wants you to have the biggest and best of everything – after all, it’s all about you! . . . Good crowns come to those who wait. Exaltation comes to those who are humiliated, first.

The entire article that the above quote comes from is about a woman who gave up her dreams of stardom—she was a very good singer and could have gone professional, at least from the way she tells it—to become a pastor’s wife, something she had long loathed the idea of. In her piece she doesn’t say she has found that she loves being a pastor’s wife—far from it!—but rather that she has realized that her place is to serve, and to take up her cross and accept humiliation, and to wait till the next life for happiness and fulfillment.

When calls to be willing to suffer and to take the role of a servant are aimed at those who are in charge, those who are privileged, the possibilities are revolutionary. But it’s something else entirely when those same calls are aimed at those who are not in charge, to the underprivileged and the marginalized. I grew up in an extremely conservative environment where the elevation of servanthood was spoken of as revolutionary, but in terms of “servant leadership,” not in terms of the privileged abdicating their power; similarly, “traditional” gender roles were preached as handed down by God and the gospel of servanthood and suffering was used to enforce these roles—to inform women that their role serving their husbands was actually the greater role, and the more valued.

As I see it, the trouble with making ideas like servanthood and suffering revolutionary is that in the Bible these ideas were not only aimed at the powerful, but at those without power as well. Notice that the passage quoted at length above calls slaves to be obedient to their masters, even to those who are harsh and beat them without cause. Sure, Philemon is called to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ—whether that meant to free him is something I’ve heard debated—but Onesimus was also commanded to obey and serve his master regardless and without condition.

Another thing I noticed growing up in a conservative Christian environment is that this doctrine of servanthood and suffering allows Christian leaders to conceal the significance of their positions of power by giving them a way to symbolically point to the lowest in the hierarchy and say “those are the greatest in the kingdom of God” without actually doing anything to correct the power imbalances and inequalities. In some situations, the idea that those who suffer and are of lowly status are noble and close to God can actually take the edge off of the need to help correct inequality and bring justice to the suffering, both here and elsewhere. While it is an extreme example, this is well illustrated in the image with which this post began, stating that there is no such thing as being a “victim” because suffering is what we are called to.

The more I think about it the harder I am finding it to find anything good at all in the emphasis and value Christianity places on servanthood and suffering. Sure, it can make the marginalized feel that their marginalization will pay off the long run, but it seems to me that these ideas are naturally set up to defend the status quo and against radical movements to obtain things like equality and justice. And I see that as a very, very bad thing.

Of course, I’m coming at this from the perceptive of a young adult who no longer believes in God but grew up in an conservative evangelical home. If I still considered myself a Christian, I would probably be spending time right now with some books and a concordance, trying to find an eloquent way to challenge these narratives from the inside and create a doctrine of servanthood and suffering subversive after all. And so I will put the question to you, my readers: If you consider yourself a Christian and a feminist, what do you do with servanthood and suffering? 

The rest of you are more than welcome to snark at the image up top.

28 Apr 12:04

Open Access Journal: Oqimta: Studies in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature << Charles Ellwood Jones (AWOL: The Ancient World Online)

by (Charles Jones)
[First posted in AWOL 8 August 2013, updated 29 February 2020]

Oqimta: Studies in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature
ISSN: 2308-1449
Oqimta is a digitized research journal devoted to all spheres and types of talmudic and rabbinical literature – Halakha and Agada
The articles in this journal undergo academic appraisal and redaction, and are published in the accepted languages for Judaica research.
Oqimta will be appearing once a year, in digitized form, and is available free of charge to the reading public. Articles that have completed the publication process will be uploaded to the site prior to the finalization of the issue, and can be found on the "In Publication" page.
We are pleased to present the inaugural issue: Oqimta 1 (5773 [2013]) containing thirteen articles. We take this opportunity to invite you to subscribe to our mailing list (see subscribe), and to send us your submissions (see Instructions for Authors).

Tzvi Novick
Ritual and Rhetoric among Jews, Christians, and Samaritans: Two Comparative Observations (Heb.)
פתח קובץ Summary

Haim Weiss and Mira Balberg
"Raise My Eyes for Me": Gazing at Old Age in a Talmudic Narrative (Heb.)
פתח קובץ Summary

Shana Strauch Schick
פלוני היינו תנא קמא - איכא בינייהו: The Evolution of a Talmudic Formula
פתח קובץ Summary

Yosef Marcus
The 'Sefat Emet' Commentaries on the Talmud (heb.)
פתח קובץ Summary

Menachem Katz
"Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai" as an ideological debate – from the Sages in the Tannaitic Period to the scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums (Heb.)
פתח קובץ Summary
28 Apr 12:04

Paging Dr. Asimov

by Steve Wiggins

Who remembers Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots? Plastic “robots” in the boxing ring trying to knock each other’s block’s off was a form of entertainment for kids of the ‘60s before such things as humanoid robots actually existed. So when Boston University’s alumni magazine had an article about dancing robots, I had to see what was up. As regular readers will know, I’ve been exploring some of the problems with reductionism lately. This idea, that humans and animals are just fleshy machines, breaks down when we try to design robots that can do some of the most basic of human activities. Sometimes we dance and we don’t know why. Apart from Wall-e’s dance with Eve, robots have trouble getting the concept. Graduate student John Baillieul notes that this isn’t about “some high school guy who had trouble getting a date, so you get a robot. The ultimate goal is to understand human reaction to gestures and how machines may react to gestures.” Having actually been a high school guy who never even got to the prom, I’m wondering how depressed our robots get when the fem-bots all look the other way.

Rockem Sockem

The reductionistic outlook suggests that we can eventually program robots to respond as humans would, responding fluidly to situations, allowing them to over-ride their “instinct,” which, the article implies, equals programming. We have no idea what instinct is. It is something all biological creatures have, from the heliotrope following the sun to the human dancing her heart out. Do we want machines to replicate our most intimate emotions? Even our most reliable chip-driven devices sometimes freeze up or rebel. My car has recently got the idea in its mechanistic brain that the right-hand side rearview mirror should be rotated as far to the right as possible. We bicker about this all the time when I get in to drive. Well, machines know best. They, after all, are the shape of the future.

So programming robots so that they can react in real time to non-verbal cues, like all sentient beings do, is a desideratum of our mechanistic Weltanschauung. Notes Rich Barlow, the article’s author, “bats, for example, camouflage their motions so that they can sneak up on insect prey, a fake-out familiar to anyone who’s tried to swat a pesky fly.” My question is who is the pesky fly in this robot-human scenario? Who acts irrationally and unpredictably? Isn’t our instinct to smash the fly a result of our annoyance at it landing, yet again, on our sandwich with its dirty feet? And what is that stupid dance that it does when it’s all over our food? Reductionism must, by definition, reduce instinct to the level of a kind of genetic programming. Even this aging blogger, however, knows what it is to dance without knowing why. He also knows what it feels like when your date goes home with somebody else, something to which he’s not convinced that we want robots calculating an “instinctual” response.

Filed under: Animals, Consciousness, Current Events, Higher Education, Just for Fun, Posts, Robotics, Science Tagged: Boston University, instinct, reductionism, Rich Barlow, Robotics, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Walle
28 Apr 03:03

A Process Response to Crockett & Robbins’ New Materialism

by Austin Roberts
As part of the Homebrewed Christianity blog tour for Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism by Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey Robbins, it was suggested that I write a post in response to just one of the chapters. However, as I read the book I became more and more interested in the connection between the New Materialism and Process Theology. As such, I will be using this opportunity to engage various parts of the book from the perspective of one shaped by the process-Whiteheadian tradition. As a Claremont student, I learned from John Cobb, Marjorie Suchocki, Philip Clayton, Monica Coleman, and Roland Faber – not to mention my good friend Tripp Fuller, process evangelist extraordinaire! This fall I will be heading to Drew University to work with Catherine Keller for my PhD in Theological and Philosophical studies. Clearly my interests are tied to process theology, although I am very interested in exploring the connections between process and radical theologies. Keller and Faber have both done great work to do just this in various publications that bring together Whitehead with Badiou, Deleuze, Butler, Derrida, etc.

All of that goes to say that this new and exciting book from Robbins and Crockett resonates with my current academic interests even though they do not directly engage process theology. On the other hand, both of the authors are very influenced by Deleuze, who was himself influenced by Whitehead. Both Keller and Faber are poststructuralist process theologians working to re-energize the process tradition, largely by reading Whitehead through Deleuze. As such, I am curious to know more about how Crockett and Robbins respond to such a project as radical theologians – no doubt with great appreciation, but I’m sure they have some concerns as well. Is there room at the Radical Theology table for 'radical process theologies', especially in light of the fact that they claim in the book that Radical Theology (as with process theology) is not merely one school of thought but is made up of multiple streams of thought? The New Materialism certainly has some interesting points of connection to the process tradition that I would like to highlight in this post, and indeed, the authors admit that some forms of Radical Theology are informed by the process tradition (xvi). While there are differences between the two schools of thought to be sure, I’m more interested in the common ground between them and will concentrate on some of those in this post. I will not be able to go in depth here and must assume some familiarity with process thought, but I do hope that this provides a short overview of some points of contact I discovered between Crockett and Robbins’ proposals in this book and process theology in general.

First of all, this book reminded me of John Cobb’s prolific work in quite a few ways.  The ability to tackle such a wide variety of key issues with such intellectual intensity is something that Cobb shares with Crockett and Robbins.  With economist Herman Daly, Cobb has written extensively on developing alternative economics in response to the ecological crisis that is informed by a very particular (Whiteheadian) philosophical perspective. I fully expect that Cobb would also be very interested, perhaps even applauding the bold nuclear energy proposal made in chapter 7 of Crockett and Robbins’ book. With biologist Charles Birch, he has written a great deal about the need to rethink science in ways that are nonreductionist as far too much mainstream science tends to be – and of course, this is by way of Whitehead as well. He has collaborated with other philosophers and theologians to develop new ways to think about a truly democratic politics in confrontation with American imperialism and corporate capitalism. He also maintains a deep and respectful conversation with his close friend Thomas J. Altizer, the theological grandfather of the current resurgence of Radical Theology who essentially put Death of God theology on the map decades ago. In his own way, Cobb calls for a secularizing theology from his perspective as a process theologian that is primarily concerned with material existence in this world – a notion that certainly resonates with Radical Theology.  In fact, I believe that all of Cobb's work that I just listed would resonate to a great extent with Crockett and Robbins' New Materialism.

To get a little more specific, it seems to me that Cobb’s Whiteheadian-process metaphysics has a number of interesting connections to the New Materialist ontology developed in chapter 8 of Crockett and Robbins’ book, which is informed by Hegel and Deleuze. Like process theologians, their ontology is nondualistic (118), nonreductionist, pluralistic (though not atomistic), and emergentist (119). And like Whitehead, they see matter as “not really matter at all but matter-energy” (xx).  Cobb regularly explains process metaphysics in almost identical terms to illustrate Whitehead’s central notion of actual occasions, which are more like energy - thus moving away from more static notions of matter or substance. Crockett and Robbins again sound very much like Whitehead when they write, “…we can approach an understanding of being as an irreducible multiplicity that is nevertheless not atomist…Being is the becoming or evolution of space and time and takes the form of energy” (114). And again in the following similar quote: “…spacetime is nothing but an evolving system of relationships” (116). They also join Whiteheadians in their concern to bring philosophy into closer contact with the natural sciences (118) and by rejecting a sharp line between living and nonliving, organic and inorganic things (119). Finally, Crockett and Robbins agree with Whiteheadians in their perspective on thinking/minds/consciousness as “an emergent property” that cannot be subjected to either a traditional dualism or hardcore reductionism (132).  These are not insignificant points of connection between the New Materialism and Process Theology!

On religion, process thinkers like Cobb would have much to agree with Crockett and Robbins on as well. While taking the critique of religion by the masters of suspicion seriously, process thinkers can strongly agree with the authors when they assert that "with the New Materialism, religion might become a source of empowerment and political mobilization…the revolutionary potential is found not by ridding the world of religion but by thinking religion otherwise” (25-26).  Both groups of thinkers, radical and process, also agree that the significance of Jesus has much more to do with material existence in this world, standing in opposition to all exploitative systems such as neoliberal capitalism, than with another world after death. In other words, both are "secularizing theologies" (Cobb's idea explained in his book Spiritual Bankruptcy). Although Cobb is unapologetically committed to theism, unlike Radical Theology, it seems to me that his process framework addresses many of the concerns of materialist critiques of religion in general and theism in particular. For example, Crockett and Robbins write “we do not oppose religion, but we do oppose fanaticism and fundamentalism, including the fairy-tale expectations that a God or gods will rescue us from our predicament and punish the evildoers while rewarding the righteous” (xvi). Process theologians could not agree more with this statement as they do not affirm a form of theism that has room for an interventionist God or even a final eschatological cleanup of the mess we have made of the earth.  Responsibility thus falls back upon human beings rather than placed entirely upon a supernatural and omnipotent being.

I hope this post is useful to those who find both process and radical theologies of interest.  I will continue to explore the various points of contact between these two schools of thought (likely on this blog in the near future) which to me seem to be the most fruitful and interesting conversations going on in theology today.  While representatives of radical and process theology have started conversing more in recent years, I hope that we can deepen this discussion as some of the misunderstandings between them are dismantled and bridges are built.  Crockett and Robbins have done much to do just that by writing this great book.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to review this fascinating text and recommend it to all who find these issues interesting.

Click here for a list of other great bloggers on the HBC blog tour for this book!
28 Apr 03:03

what John Piper sees when women teach

by David Hayward
what john piper sees when women teach cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

“What John Piper Sees When Women Teach” by David Hayward

A few weeks ago I did a cartoon and commentary called Too Bad Women Teachers Have Bodies. I also wrote a post called John Piper and Women Who Teach in which I critique an interview of Piper. My cartoon and post make reference to his ideas about the offensive presence of women’s bodies in the teaching role.

I like the way Rachel Held Evans puts it:

“Piper is essentially arguing that so long as he does not have to acknowledge my humanity, so long as I keep a safe distance so he is unaware of the pitch of my voice and the presence of my breasts, he can, perhaps, learn something about the Bible from me.”

For Piper, it is important how a man feels when a woman is teaching. I listened to this short podcast asking Piper if he would use bible commentaries written by women. His response is if a man “feels like she is gaining authority over him, then it’s wrong and should stop.” Piper is concerned about what is happening when “an active authority is being exerted on a man from a woman”. There’s something that changes when it’s personal “woman on man” directly and personally face to face. He says, “When I am directly pressed upon by this woman in an authoritative way… should I be experiencing that? And my answer is no… That is contrary to the way God made us”. He uses the analogy of a drill sergeant who gets in your face:

“‘Hut one! Hut two! Keep your mouth shut private! Get your rifle up here! Turn around like I said!’ I don’t think a woman ought to be doing that to a man because it’s direct, it’s forceful, it’s authoritative, it compromising something about the way a man and a woman were designed by God to relate.”

When asked if it’s okay to quote from a woman’s bible commentary during a sermon, he says it’s okay to quote her because…

“… I’m not having a direct, authoritative confrontation… she’s not looking at me and confronting me and authoritatively directing me as ‘woman’. There’s this interposition of this phenomenon called ‘book’ and writing that puts her out of my sight and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood. Whereas if she were standing right in front of me and teaching me as my shepherd week in and week out, I could not make that separation…”

Obviously, Piper has an issue with women’s bodies. Some might argue that his statements are being taken out of context and he’s being targeted for making a few careless assertions. But I disagree. These ideas are deeply influenced by his theology which can be read or watched, for example, in his sermon, “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle,The Value of a Masculine Ministry, where he blatantly says,

“God made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”

I like how Rachel Pietka writes about it in her Christianity Today article, “Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing?”:

“Specifically, women would do well to consider Piper’s ethos. What kind of person fixates so intently on women’s bodies and insists on their removal from his sight? What kind of person recommends subservience in women, dominance in men, and so quickly equates authority with force? What does his implied affinity with an era that notoriously oppressed women say about his character?”

(Tomorrow on The Lasting Supper we are having a Potluck Hangout called “Can I Be Feminist and Spiritual?”. Right on course with this topic! You are invited to join the community and participate if you want.)

28 Apr 03:01

Matt and Jenna on the Truth about Clara, the Finale and More!

by The Doctor Who Team

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman

The current series has already given us some terrifying new monsters, familiar foes and even a journey to the centre of the TARDIS. But now Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman reflect on what adventures are in store and what they were like to create…

Next week’s episode is The Crimson Horror, written by Mark Gatiss. It sees the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax and features Dame Diana Rigg and her daughter, Rachael Stirling.  It’s the first time the pair has worked together on screen and they play two Victorian ladies who share a dark secret…

‘I loved working with Diana Rigg,’ Jenna reveals. ‘ I loved the way she operated and carried herself… It was great to sit back and watch how mother and daughter worked and their dynamic together.’ Matt agrees, adding, ‘It was an intriguing and creative experience watching mother and daughter work together… Dame Diana has had such an illustrious career and Rachael is a great actress.’

The following week the Doctor becomes embroiled in a Nightmare in Silver. The episode is written by Neil Gaiman and features new look Cybermen. Matt’s not giving much away but he does tell us, ‘I think they’ll surprise a few people…’ Neil Gaiman has confirmed his brief was to make the Cybermen scary again so we look forward to their return with a degree of excited trepidation!

The finale has the intriguing title, The Name of the Doctor, and Jenna lights up as she discusses it. ‘The finale story is such a fantastic idea; it’s epic and huge and filled with drama. It was really exciting to sit down and read the script,’ she enthuses.  ‘There are little bits and pieces which Steven planted a couple of years ago.  It’s just really clever and a crucial moment in the Doctor’s life that you get to explore with the best baddies!  I really think they are going to become another Moffat classic!’

Matt agrees about the ‘baddies’, a brand new enemy known as  the Whisper Men. ‘They’re truly terrifying!’ he tells us, before dropping a couple of hints about what else we can expect from the adventure.  ‘With the 50th this is going to be by far the biggest year in the history of the show.  And the finale is just the start.  It focuses on a pivotal moment in the Doctor’s life and the life of his companion…’

We can at last confirm that the finale will also solve the mystery around ‘the impossible girl’. Having remained tight-lipped about Clara, is Jenna looking forward to being able to talk about her character’s enigma? ‘I am, I can’t wait!’ she admits. ‘All I can say is that Clara hasn’t just met the Doctor three times before…’

Matt nods, but won’t be drawn into saying anything more about the finale. We press him and he finally relents. ‘It’s a complete game changer,’ he concedes with a smile, ‘…and it all starts now!’

Check out images for The Crimson Horror, Nightmare in Silver and The Name of the Doctor and don’t forget, the first of these adventures, The Crimson Horror, is on BBC One this Saturday - 4 May at 6.30pm.

28 Apr 03:00

What is it about James McGrath that gets to @AIGKenHam

by Joel
Coat of arms of James McGrath.

Coat of arms of James McGrath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any casual student of human behavior will recognize that straw man arguments and other logical fallacies usually indicate the presence of either an untempered or irrational mind. Such is the case with the latest assault posted by Ken Ham on his Facebook wall (of persecution). James and others have responded to the clear indication that Ham has some sort of unhealthy fascination with the good (and real) Doctor McGrath. As the latter has shown, Ham has a demonstrated in a very unstable response revealing it is not AIG who is getting to McGrath, but the other way around.

What I found odd with people like Ham, Hambone, and 범죄자, is the constant refrain of “I’m winning” and “You are so deluded you’ll never hear the truth.” And yet, it is quite possible to use the same mindset on them, the same verses on them. Why? Because any such misuse of Scripture to prove the other person too deluded to understand anything, Gospel truth or otherwise, is subjective nonsense — because it amounts to little more than the childish taunt of “I know you are, but what am I”. So, when I read a statement from Ham stating he is clearly getting to someone, all I can think of is R. Girard and mimetic desire – and how such statements betray a certain hidden facet of Ham’s desire. He desires nothing more to be what McGrath is, to be a Christian like him.

I pity Ham.

I read James McGrath.

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28 Apr 02:30

postmodern stairway to heaven

by David Hayward
postmodern stairway to heaven cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

“Postmodern Stairway to Heaven” by David Hayward

28 Apr 02:30

Answers to ‘controversial’ questions

by Fred Clark

Q: Why was the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing read his rights?

A: Because he was arrested and charged with a crime.

If you don’t understand that, then I don’t know how to help you understand it.

Perhaps you could ask Timothy McVeigh if he thinks that being tried under the law, instead of being tried outside of it, meant that prosecutors didn’t take his case seriously. Ask Timothy McVeigh if he thinks being read his rights meant that prosecutors were soft on terrorism.

Go ahead and ask Timothy McVeigh those ques …

Oh, wait.

Got a better idea?


28 Apr 02:30

Pew Quiz on Science and Technology

by Jimpithecus
The Pew Trust quizzed 1000 randomly-selected people about general knowledge of Science and Technology and then invited people interested in the report to take the quiz, themselves.  The quiz, as well as the report is here. The results tend to be all over the map and only one of them has to do with the history of the earth.  I think that if you structured a quiz around that topic, the results would be much worse. 

For the quiz, almost 80% of people knew that the main role of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to the cells, while only 20% of those quizzed knew that nitrogen makes up most of atmospheric gas.  The only prehistorically-based question: "The continents have been moving over millions of years and will continue to move" was good, with 77% of people correctly answering it. The sobering take-away message, though, is that if you got all of them right (I did), you did better than 93% of those quizzed.  I wonder how people would do on the Dinosaur quiz (yesterday's post)?
28 Apr 02:21

Diocese of Manchester requests gay friendly bishop

by Jim Naughton

Here is some good news. The Telegraph is reporting, that the Diocese of Manchester in the Church of England has requested a bishop "who can establish 'positive relationship' with gay Anglicans and non-worshippers."

The story continues: "In Manchester a formal 'statement of needs' drawn up by the diocese’s Vacancy in See committee and formally submitted to the Crown Nominations Commission - the panel responsible for the appointment - said it was important to note that the diocese is home to one of Europe’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered communities' ”.

Bishops Alan Wilson and Nick Baines are among those whose names have been mentioned for the vacancy, according to the story.

Hat tip Thinking Anglicans.