Friday, August 28, 2009
Sellers as Dr. Stragelove
There is a film I would like to recommend concerning the current healthcare crisis. No it's not "Sicko" by Michael More (although that is an excellent one to see). But my healthcare movie is "Dr. Stangelove" staring Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers (he really does play five parts in the film). It also has a host of other stars including Keenan Wynn, George C. Scott and several other old actors from the 60s. The film was the first major picture by Stanly Kubrick, who made "2001 a Space Odyssey," "Full Mettle Jacket," "Spartacus."
Its a hilarious film, in the great tradition of 60's style sarcasm and satire, the whole thing is a total farce, but acted in deadly serious earnest. It was 1964,the the height of the cold war, height of the arms race. Filmed in black and white, with man hand held shots it has the look an early 60s documentary. In fact the producer tells as story that the film began as a serious drama but he and Kubrick kept laughing as they put paranoid right sing thinking into the mouth of the general who goes nuts and sends the order to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear bombers. Finally they realized it was a comedy. The changed the General's nate of Major General Jack Ripper, who is concerned that communists are stealing our precious bodily fluids, and orders the a mission for a B52 to drop a nuclear warhead on the USSR. The President in the war room and all his advisers tell the Soviets about the rogue bomber, the Soviets tell them they have dooms day device and if the bomb is dropped it will set off every warhead in their arsenal, thus destroying the world.The U.S. Military helps the Soviet shoot down the few bombers that connect be recalled. One bomber makes it through. The head of the joint chiefs of staff, George C. Scott, is concerned that we have a "doomsday machine gap." AT that time in history there was much talk about "the missile gap." this is the kind of thinking Carl Sagan latter mock with his analogy about the basement filled with gasoline we are arguing about who has the most matches.
The one B52 piloted Slim Pickens does actually make it through. The bomb is stuck in the hanger and Pickens jumps on it to force it out of the bombay. As he falls to his death the rides the bomb like a bronco, waving his stetson in the air and shouting "Yeeeeehaaaaaaa!" There is then a serious of nuclear blasts, one mushroom cloud after another, as the doomsday device is ignited. The movies ends with the President and joint chiefs listening to Dr. Strangelove, refugee from the Nazis who keeps addressing the President as "mine Fuhrer," then saying "o sorry Mr. President" and who keeps fighting his arm which seems to have a life of its own, either zig hieling or trying to choke him. Strangelove discusses a plan to save some elements of humanity in the deepest mine shafts, it would only a hundred years before they go back to the surface. The scene fades out into the credits with Geogre C. Scott declaring, "We must not fall into a mine shaft gap." The Russian ambassador sneaks a small camera in his watch and takes a picture of the big war room board, and sneaks off hopeful of making it back and surviving in a Russian mine shaft. They others discuss the next cold between mine shafts.
The basic theme of the movie is: "the people in charge at the top don't know anymore about what's going on than I do, but they are willing to blow up the whole damn world to make us all think they know."
this film is the best symbol of the health care crisis because exactly the same kind of thinking dominates the medical care crisis and the Republican's response to Obama's plan that dominated the cold war. The insurance companies have manipulated the situational so long that health care now has nothing to do with helping people, but we are going to pretend it does and get very angry and enraged when someone proposes a change. No at the top really knows what they are doing, although Obama has tried to find out, but they are willing to let the system fall apart to make you think they know what's going on.
What's going on is you are going to die if you get sick. The silly irate angry red necks are so easily manipulated. The people who want power tell them, "Obama is going kill Granma. We need to stop this health care thing becuase those evil tax and spend democracies will kill grandma." So the red necks go the meeting and shout their stupid little heads off "I don't trust you you evil liberal tax and spend democrat blah blah" guess what? The present system is going to kill Grandma. Grandma will die if she get's sick, we don't need death panels to make that happen, it's going to happen now. That's the nature of the system. Its' not there to help anyone.
when my Mother began acting funny in the head the doctor said it was Alzheimer's and nothing we could do and just give her vitamin e and Ginco. She got worse and died and never got tested, never got any treatment or help because the insurance company wouldn't go for it. she paid into it all her life and when she got sick it didn't do her a bit of good. That's what's going to happen to Grandma if we don't get Obama's plan.
I have Medicaid. But guess what? I can't use it because the only doctor who takes it and who is anywhere near me is either the one that has 400 people waiting in line on any given day, or one who is about fifty miles away, and that's in Dallas Texas,a major metro area. One of the many lies the Republicans have told about Obama's plan is that there will be long lines, people waiting forever. Gee guess what? that's the way it is now, especially if you aren't rich.
As the President said, that's the ticking time bomb that is going to undermine our ability to work off the deficit. How quickly we forget! Remember just about a year ago were all scared to death that the banks were going to fail we were going to be in knee deep in Great Depression II and nothing we could do about it. Obama didn't bail us out alone but he did preside over the major part of it. Now we don't want to trust him or follow through with the things elected him to do because we are scared they cost too much. But if we don't do something soon it's going to cost a lot more.
the Republicans are just like the guys who were willing to blow up the world to stay in power. They are willing to allow the whole system to collapse and come down around their ears in order to screw Obama so they can get back in.
The scene where Pickens rides the bomb to ground zero is very apt in temrs of this medical crsis. That's just what's happening now in terms of the economy and the society. A bunch of idiots are riding on the bomb in one last futile and totally unnecessary blaze of glowry displaying their ignorant redneck cultre as they go.
My Brother is a fine poet. I have published a book of his peotry. Everyone says it's really good but no one will buy a bopy. It hasn't sold a copy and no one will write a reader review. Please do so someone!
Not religious poetry it's everything poetry. Highly literary.
come on look at it and see that's it's good!
I have a sample website for his poems here: you can find several examples on there.
Ray Hinman's poems are vibrant with the tension between light and darkness, life and death, and they are a cycle of rebirth in which corpses can blossom again. It is a world built through conversations with the dead, with the voices of the literary past, allusions to the things that have come before and constructed with a clear, conscious sense that poetry is a Craft. These poems understand the value of things like aesthetics, culture and meaning. Ray Hinman understands the poet as the modern descendent of the Shaman, treading the boundary between what is forbidden and what is allowed to guide us beyond the things that distract us and drown the spirit to the transcendent and the sublime.
Artifacts: Poetry by Ray Hinman
His book is on Amazon in Print on Demand:
buy on Amazon: Our Cities Vanish by Ray Hinman
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
About the last of the great men of my childhood. When Robert was shot my family was very shaken, we were big Democrats. But then I leaned "there's a third one." I was really never aware of him before. We kept looking to him as I looked to the Beatles to reunite "someday" for that one last great album. Like the wait for the Beatles it was never to be. I was deeply disappointed when he failed to win the party's nomination 1980. He did achieve a great deal. I followed his career in the Senate. We used him in debate whenever health care was an issue.
He did get lost in his own grief for a time and his behavior was atrocious, even as he was a great senator. But he did repent. Many Christians, affected by the Regan thing will scorn him. But he was a Catholic, he did repent of his sinful way of life. He never forsook his calling for social consciousness. He always maintained a deep compassion for suffering people.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
This quote was on Theology Web recently, it's obvously an atheist. But I can't find the url or the thread at all. nevertheless I think the quite is general enough it doesn't matter who said it. This encapsulates the basic atheist desire for scientific proof of God. I kind of like the way I answer this:
Unknown Atheist (every atheist):
Scientific evidence is not faith. Science is not faith based. Why doesn't God show Himself or give scientific evidence for His existence? because according to the skeptics, it would be pointless for God to do so, since scientific evidence is not faith, and that is what God wants us to have, faith. The demand for scientific evidence of God is a self defeating one, the lack of scientific evidence for God is actually evidence of His existence.
The questions that science poses and the questions that religious belief pose are totally different sorts of questions. There are points of overlap. Most of these stem form the ages before science really had an systematic to it, the ancient world, pre historic world. These are the days when the most sophisticated scientific knowledge was smelting and sword making, and even that was not understood in a way that we would call "scientific." In that setting it was natural (meaning logical and practical) to use religion as the explanation for the natural world. From this era when people looked to religion to make it answer questions it can't answer, we have hold over ideas (such as Genesis creation myth--which we need to learn how to read as a myth--and that means we need to learn the value in myth) that we have these conflicts.
Understanding the workings of the natural world does not require faith, it requires skills we posess, thinking skills to make systemic use of what we learn, the five senses to gather empirical data, and that means we are limited in that domain to knowledge which can be gleaned empirically.
How are we going to understand the nature of begin empirically when we can't get outside of being to study it? We can understand it from the standpoint of beings in being, but that's subjective. We can't get outside of being to understand what being is. Just supposes for the sake of argument that we believe that God is imagining the world. Our physical existence is similar to that of the "matrix" (I hate that movie) or the Holodeck on Star Treck TNG, (better) in that God is imagining the world. We are figments of God's imagination. Let's just say that for now.
How are we going to know that? We can't get outside of God's imagination because that is the part and parcel of our whole existence. We can't exist outside of that because that's what we are. How can we step outside of what we are to see what that means?
Suppose you had a big room with lots of objects and one pair of scales. Your task is to weigh every object in the room. You have only one pair of scales. how can you weigh the scales themselves?
All you can do is to find an object that feels as heavy as the scales and weigh it. That could be off by a lot, but it's the only way other than just guessing that you are going to get a true reading. Let's also assume that there are materials in the room to build another pair of scales.
That's why my post is about. It's a means of taking some kind of soundings of something that is beyond our ability to sound out. Now you assert that faith is nothing more than belief without any sort of reason just some wild leap in the darkness for no reason. That is a misunderstanding of faith. That is not what faith is. [i][b]Faith is the ability to place confidence in a partially proved hypothesis.[/b][/i]
This means there is evidence upon which faith is based. It's the evidence that amounts to the reasons why we believe. We do not believe because we are idiots or because our parents told us to or any of the other stupid ideas that atheists come up with to convince themselves that they are superior. We believe for highly personal reasons, we believe for subjective reasons.
At this point we raise one more concept that atheists can't handle. Atheist are scared to death of subjectivity. This why atheist cling to empiricism and to scientist ideologies. Because they are scared to death of the subjective. But guess what? there is no objectivity. Humans are not objective. The subject object dichotomy is a sham. There are only varying degrees of subjectivity there is real objectivity.
All scientific knowledge requires an ideological reading at some point. If you read thew works of Thomas Kuhn (No he was not a Christan he was not a creationist such ideas are stupidly idiotic but atheists have concluded that we was because I use him in arguments) if you read his works you will see that scinece turns on ideology. The paradigm is basically a just like a political ideology. When the paradigm shifts, which makes science work, the paradigm becomes like a political machine and is defended exactly like a political regime under attack. So the atheist pretense that faith vs atheism is really faith vs science is nothing more than their ideological reading. Science is not atheism an dit is no a tool of atheism any more than it is a tool of religion. Science is systematic gleaning of human knowledge about the workings of the physical world. There is nothing in that proposition that is anti-religious.
The ideology of scientific empiricism reduces knowledge and thought to a point where all counter phenomena are lost. So spiritual experience becomes a misfire of some chemical in your head. Before you know it you are not even talking about spiritual experience anymore, you've lost the phenomena. Then the reductionist pretends it never existed.
Because reductionism and empiricism are factually oriented they reduce all knowledge to facts about the world. So it is predictable that they understand belief in God adding a fact to the world. This is why they go through this stuff about "faith is not based on any evidence." Because they only accept as evidence that which supports their ideology.
God is not just anther thing in the universe. God is the basis of all that is. God is not on the list with existing things, not because there is no God but because God is transcendent of "thingness." God is not just another thing alongside "stuff" in creation. God is the basis upon which "stuff" exists.
This means God requires a different kind of evidence and different level of knowing than do scientific facts. You have to talk differently you have to read a different set of books, you have to hold a different set of epistemic priorities. Given all that God belief is backed up by a wealth of knowledge, but you have to understand that new way of understanding. Its' not reductionism. It's holistic. It's not [b][i]empiricism[/i][/b] it is [b][i]phenomenology[/i][/b]
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Atheists are hung up on empirical knowledge. Thats why so many of them (not all by many) insist that we have no info about God, you can't verify God and so forth.
but God cannot be the subject of empirical data because is not given in sense data. That's because God is not just another object along side objects in creation. God is not just another thing, God is the basis of reality. That's like a fish scientist saying "they assigned me to study this thing called 'water' but I can't find any water." he says that because it never dawns on him that its' all around him, the medium in which he lives and he's always looking through it. he can't see the water because he's looking through it.
That's sort of the case with God because God is the basis of reality, the ground of Being. "in him we live and move and have our being." When we try to look at God and see him directly we look through him because in a sense he's the medium in which we live.
The only answer to this is to search for something else. We don't look for empirical evidence of God, we look for a "co-determinate." That is, we look for the signature of God, or to use a Derridian term the "trace of God." Like the aura of a neutrino. We can't photograph neutrinos directly but we have photographed their auras that are the reaction of Neutrinos with other partials. When you see that aura you know you have one.
But the trace of God has to be the result of a subjective or intersubjective understanding. So rather than subject it to empirical means, we need allow the sense data to determine the categories under which we organize our thinking about God.
Schleiermacher was the originator of this kind of thinking (prior to Brentano who is attributed to be the inventor of Phenomenology). Here is Schleiermacher's take on God consciousness. We don't search for God in objective terms we search for "God consciousness."
Phenomenology is very important because it is the alternative way of thinking to either empirical science and hangs ups on inductive data, or deductive reasoning and hang ups on the a priori. When I say "allow the sense data to determine the categories," what do I mean? (this is very crucial to understanding every point I make on message boards):
What that means is, you have a bit of qualia, an impression of the say sense data strikes us,the way something appears to us. Let's say the desk my computer sits upon. Our tendency is to tuck it away into a neat category based upon our preconceived notions of desks. This is a bit of wooden furniture, it's function is proving a surface for writing and bit of storage for what we write. We plug in the label "made in Hong Kong" and we say "it's a cheap desk." Now we have a sub category. all that is pre set in our minds based upon our understanding of the universe vis a vie witting surfaces. But if we approach the desk phenomenologically, we don't say "o a cheap piece of furniture for holding my computer--manufactured in formerly British colony, the home of Jackie Chan, thus a Kung fu capitalist cheap desk. but we just say "there is this object that appears in my sense data, and it seems to provide uses x,y,z. So it may not be a desk at all in terms of its functionality, perhaps it would work better as a door stop. Or perhaps this door put across two saw horses would make a better desk. That's not part of my preconceived notion because it's not made to be a desk, but it might work better."
Ok that's a trivial example, so much for my understanding of desks and their place in the universe. But, when we consider other thins, things of more gravity such as empirical science and religion, or religious belief and experience, the nature of myth and religious texts, you can see how the outcome might might be a lot more significant if we do it one way as opposed to another.
The way the atheists want to to it is to demand certain things, and those things require sense data and that sense data is preconceived to belong in certain categories and to rule out other sense data. Thus they wind up asking for probability of miracles when in fact by definition a miracle cannot be probable. So they rule out any kind of miracle based upon the pre conceived category of "things that do no happen because we don't observe them so they are too improbable." Whereas in reality, since miracles are things that are impossible, but happen anyway because some higher law overrides that of probability, they are just arbitrarily crossing out the category of the possible and arbitrarily arranging their understanding of the universe to exclude the SN, then demanding that, well there's no evidence for it (because we have filed all the evidence under the preconceived category of "that which does not happen.").
Religion not Reduceable to Knowledge
Frederick Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Dispisers, and The Christian Faith,sets forth the view that religion is not reduceable to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.
In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.
What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the stary sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the life world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does"feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.
The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Platonic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical argument it is the ontological argument.
Unity in the Life world.
"Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we experience it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in in the world. As Heidegger says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arguments).
He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.
All religions seek to do three things:
a) to identify the human problematic, b) to identify an ultimate transformative experience (UTE) which resolves the problematic, and c) to mediate between the two.
But not all religions are equal. All are relative to the truth but not all are equal. Some mediate the UTE better than others, or in a more accessible way than others. Given the foregoing, my criteria are that:
1) a religious tradition reflect a human problematic which is meaningful in terms of the what we find in the world.
2) the UTE be found to really resolve the problematic.
3) it mediates the UTE in such a way as to be effective and accessible. 4) its putative and crucial historical claims be historically probable given the ontological and epistemological assumptions that are required within the inner logic of that belief system.
5) it be consistent with itself and with the external world in a way that touches these factors.
These mean that I am not interested in piddling Biblical contradictions such as how many women went to the tomb, ect. but in terms of the major claims of the faith as they touch the human problematic and its resolution.
A religious tradition is like a language, and theology is a conversation. Since God is mystical reality, beyond words, to speak of our experiences of God one must encode those experiences into cultural constructs, that makes for the differences in different religions. Traditions are like languages in that they furnish a vocabulary for dealing with such experiences based upon past experiences in an inter-subjective fashion. The point of the discussion is to mediate transformation. One moves into mediation through the conversation of theology. One is then able to come terms with mediation on a personal and experiential level as is still able to relate intersubjectively with others who have similar experiences.
The question then,is not which religion is "true," but which one best mediates transformation. For the individual who answers that question, and comes to identify with a tradition, that is the conversation to take up; join that tradition. For me its Christianity. As part of the conversation one can set up criteria for understanding the conversation, criteria such as those listed above.
How Does the Bible fulfill these criteria? First, what is the Bible? Is it a rule book? Is it a manual of discipline? Is it a science textbook? A history book? No it is none of these. The Bible, the Canon, the NT in particular, is a means of bestowing Grace. What does that mean? It means first, it is not an epistemology! It is not a method of knowing how we know, nor is it a history book. It is a means of coming into contact with the UTE mentioned above. This means that the primary thing it has to do to demonstrate its veracity is not be accurate historically, although it is that in the main; but rather, its task is to connect one to the depository of truth in the teachings of Jesus such that one is made open to the ultimate transformative experience. Thus the main thing the Bible has to do to fulfill these criteria is to communicate this transformation. This can only be judged phenomenologically. It is not a matter of proving that the events are true, although there are ensconces where that becomes important.
Thus the main problem is not the existence of these piddling so-called contradictions (and my experience is 90% of them stem from not knowing how to read a text), but rather the extent to which the world and life stack up to the picture presented as a fallen world, engaged in the human problematic and transformed by the light of Christ. Now that means that the extent to which the problematic is adequately reflected, that being sin, separation from God, meaninglessness, the wages of sin, the dregs of life, and so forth, vs. the saving power of God's grace to transform life and change the direction in which one lives to face God and to hope and future. This is something that cannot be decided by the historical aspects or by any objective account. It is merely the individual's problem to understand and to experience. That is the nature of what religion does and the extent to which Christianity does it more accessibly and more efficaciously is the extent to which it should be seen as valid.
The efficacy is not an objective issue either, but the fact that only a couple of religions in the world share the concept of Grace should be a clue. No other religion (save Pure Land Buddhism) have this notion. For all the others there is a problem of one's own efforts. The Grace mediates and administrates through *****ures is experienced in the life of the believer, and can be found also in prayer, in the sacraments and so forth.
Where the historical questions should enter into it are where the mediation of the UTE hedges upon these historical aspects. Obviously the existence of Jesus of Nazareth would be one, his death on the cross another. The Resurrection of course, doctrinally is also crucial, but since that cannot be established in an empirical sense, seeing as no historical question can be, we must use historical probability. That is not blunted by the minor discrepancies in the number of women at the tomb or who got there first. That sort of thinking is to think in terms of a video documentary. We expect the NT to have the sort of accuracy we find in a court room because we are moderns and we watch too much television. The number of women and when they got to the tomb etc. does not have a bearing on whether the tomb actually existed, was guarded and was found empty. Nor does it really change the fact that people claimed to have seen Jesus after his death alive and well and ascending into heaven. We can view the different strands of NT witness as separate sources, since they were not written as one book, but by different authors at different times and brought together later.
The historicity of the NT is a logical assumption given the nature of the works. We can expect that the Gospels will be polemical. We do not need to assume, however, that they will be fabricated from whole cloth. They are the product of the communities that redacted them. That is viewed as a fatal weakness in fundamentalist circles, tantamount to saying that they are lies. But that is silly. In reality there is no particular reason why the community cannot be a witness. The differences in the accounts are produced by either the ordering of periscopes to underscore various theological points or the use of witnesses who fanned out through the various communities and whose individual view points make up the variety of the text. This is not to be confused with contradiction simply because it reflects differences in individual's view points and distracts us from the more important points of agreement; the tomb was empty, the Lord was seen risen, there were people who put there hands in his nail prints, etc.
The overall question about Biblical contradiction goes back to the basic nature of the text. What sort of text is it? Is it a Sunday school book? A science text book? A history book? And how does inspiration work? The question about the nature of inspiration is the most crucial. This is because the basic notion of the fundamentalists is that of verbal plenary inspiration. If we assume that this is the only sort of inspiration than we have a problem. One mistake and verbal plenary inspiration is out the window. The assumption that every verse is inspired and every word is true comes not from the Church fathers or from the Christian tradition. It actually starts with Humanists in the Renaissance and finds its final development in the 19th century with people like J. N. Drably and Warfield. (see, Avery Dulles Models of Revelation).
One of my major reasons for rejecting this model of revelation is because it is not true to the nature of transformation. Verbal plenary inspiration assumes that God uses authors like we use pencils or like businessmen use secretaries, to take dictation (that is). But why should we assume that this is the only form of inspiration? Only because we have been conditioned by American Christianity to assume that this must be the case. This comes from the Reformation's tendency to see the Bible as epistemology rather than as a means of bestowing grace (see William Abraham, Canon and Criterion). Why should be approach the text with this kind of baggage? We should approach it, not assuming that Moses et al. were fundamentalist preachers, but that they experienced God in their lives through the transformative power of the Spirit and that their writings and redactions are a reflection of this experience. That is more in keeping with the nature of religion as we find it around the world. That being the case, we should have no problem with finding that mythology of Babylonian and Suzerain cultures are used in Genesis, with the view toward standing them on their heads, or that some passages are idealized history that reflect a nationalistic agenda. But the experiences of God come through in the text in spite of these problems because the text itself, when viewed in dialectical relation between reader and text (Barth/Dulles) does bestow grace and does enable transformation.
After all the Biblical texts were not written as "The Bible" but were complied from a huge voluminous body of works which were accepted as "holy books" for quite some time before they were collected and put in a single list and even longer before they were printed as one book: the Bible. Therefore, that this book may contradict itself on some points is of no consequence. Rather than reflecting dictation, or literal writing as though the author was merely a pencil in the hands of God, what they really reflect is the record of people's experiences of God in their lives and the way in which those experiences suggested their choice of material/redaction. In short, inspiration of text is a product of the transformation afore mentioned. It is the verbalization of inner-experience which mediates grace, and in turn it mediates grace itself.
The Bible is not the Perfect Revelation of God to humanity. Jesus is that perfect revelation. The Gospels are merely the record of Jesus' teachings, deposited with the communities and encoded for safe keeping in the list chosen through Apostolic backing to assure Christian identity. For that matter the Bible as a whole is a reflection of the experience of transformation and as such, since it was the product of human agents we can expect it to have human flaws. The extent to which those flaws are negligible can be judge the ability of that deposit of truth to adequately promote transformation. Christ authorizes the Apostles, the Apostles authorize the community, the community authorizes the tradition, and the tradition authorizes the canon.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Nature of Religion:
In my view Religion is an attempt to identify a human problematic, that is the basic problematic nature at the heart of being human. Having identified it, religious traditions seek to resolve the problematic nature of human life by offering a transformative experince which allows one to transcend the difficulty and to be fulfilled or feel more human or be "saved." Religious traditions also usually seek to mediate this transformation through ceremony or some sort of theological orientation. These three things make up the nature of religion:
(a) identification of the problematic
(b) Transformative power to overcome the nature of the problematic
(c) a means of mediating this transformative power.
All religions offer these things, weather the problematic be seen as seperation from nature, or imbalance with cosmic forces, re-birth through desire which leads to suffering, or moral sin in rebellion agasint God.
Transformations come in all sorts of packes too, they can be the big experince of bron agian Christianity (mediated through the "sinners prayer") or they can be the mystical experince, mediated thorugh the mass, or enlightenment, mediated through mediation, mandala, mantra and other mediation aids, or what have you.
The reason for identifying with a particular religious tradition is because one feels that this particular tradition identities the problematic better than others, and offers mediation in a more sure or certain or complete way. One must go with the tradition with which one feels the strongest connection.
For me that is the Christian Tradition, primarily because I feel that the historical connection to Jesus of Nazareth, and the unique concept of Grace mark the Christian tradition as the best mediation of the Ultimate Transformative Experience. But more on that latter.
We can draw conclusions in these matters of God's nature and that of the universe, and the relation between the two, through logic and other means. But we cannot turely know the reality of God other than or apart form mystical experience. That is to say, we experience God as the deepest level beyond words, thoughts, or images. This is because God transcends our understanding. We cannot say what God is, we can only make the most rudimentary guesses, which is all this stuff is. We cannot truly know, but we can experince. We do experince God this way; mystical experince is at the heart of all organized religion.
Mystical Theology and Religious Traditions
We seek to talk about our experiences because we are social creatures. We have to talk about our experiences of God, even though they are not in words and we even understand them ourselves. Thus we must encode them into language and for that we must masks these deeply contradictory feelings with cultural symbols from our symbolic universe. Thus all religious traditions are different, because they all involve their own cultures and are made out of their own cultural constructs; yet they all represent the same reality which stands behind them all. The details just don't' matter. One faith calls its' God "wooden" and thinks he wants virgin sacrifice hung on a tree. Another faith calls its God "Demeter" and thinks this God a she and that she wants a sacrifice of Grain from every harvest. None of this matters. the gender doesn't matter, the sacrifice doesn't' matter, not the names, not the countries, all are just meaningless details constructed out of the constructs of each naion, the symbols that are meaningful to each group. But they all represent one true reality standing behind them all. Like a prism they break down the true white light into colored details and each one fixates upon each detail; one is a "red" tradition, red is the truth. Anther is a "blue" tradition, only blue is true, but in reality, they are all just reflections of one reality which only makes real sense when it's all together and shining naturally upon the eye.
This is what I mean by the slogan I use a lot, "all gods point to 'God.'" One cannot paly the various religious traditions off against each other. The atheist who constantly harps "how do you know which God is true" doesn't know what he's asking. Because none of them are, and all of them are, because they all reflect the same reality behind all religious traditions, but a reality we can only understand in metaphor.
II. Is Belief in Salvation Unfair to Those of Other faiths?
1) Well meaning people will not be saved?
Many good and well meaning people do not feel the need to be saved. Some wonder why is it not enough to jut be good and well meaning. Surely God knows that we are well meaning, if God looks upon the heart, so why do we need to conform to the ideological strictures of a particular religious view? Wouldn't God be extremely unjust to condemn someone who was well meaning? And aren't Christians really unfair to assume that all but those who follow their views are not well meaning?2) Unfair because believers in other religious traditions will not be saved?This is an often heard objection and it is not without merit. Why should God send someone to hell for all eternity, simply because he/she was born in a culture that is not open to Christianity, perhaps has not herd of Jesus, and perhaps even at a time before there was any possibility of hearing (say before Christ came to earth). Such a person would have no chance of being saved. Closer to home, a person in another culture who is very committed to the religious tradition he/she was brought up in, why should such a person suffer eternally just for being who they are? That is basically what it amounts to, everyone is proud of their own culture, and everyone identifies with his/her own religious tradition in a very personal way. Why should someone be condemned just for being who they are, being born and raised in the culture they were born into?
B. Unjust because it implies an unjust alternative?
Since hell is eternal, and sin is finite, it seems unjust to punish someone in a manor that far exceeds the crime. Moreover, isn't the punishment unfair in the first place? Just to go to hell simply for not being a Christian, this is very unjust because it means that who the person is and what they live for, and the nature of their intension's aren't even considered. To just whisk people off to hell forever, where there is no learning process so no chance to correct mistakes, is unjust.
C.Popular misconceptions of the nature of the Gospel.
"Gospel" means "Good News." The Good News is not that people are going to hell. The Good News is that God cares and provides a way to orient our lives toward him so that we can know him in this life, and in the world to come.
1) Are there really well meaning people?
"All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." From a human perspective, relatively speaking from one human to another there are, of course, well meaning people. There are good people all around us, from a human perspective. Relative to the Divine however, no one is good, no one is capable of meriting salvation. We all have our sins, we all have our human frailties. We are all caught up in "height" (our ability through the image of God in which we were created to move beyond our human finitude and seek the good) and "depth" (our nature burdened in the sinful wickedness to human deceit).
These are Augustinian terms and they basically mean that we are both, good and bad, saint and sinner. God knows the heart, He Knows what we truly seek. God is merciful and is able to forgive our trespasses. But, if we are really well meaning toward God we will seek the truth. If we are seeking the truth than God will make it plan to us.
2) Other Religions
Paul said "To those who through persistence seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) through a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.
These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his plan to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.
In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelites to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolatry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.
3) Justice of Punishment.
Jesus himself never speaks directly of hell, but always in parables. The other statements of Hell are mainly in euphemistic passages or in apocalyptic passages such as the book of Revelation. But I suggest that for some crimes hell is deserved. The slaughter of innocent people, the disruption of thousands of lives, the Hitlers of the world, and those who rationalize the deeds through "following orders" deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions. Evil has consequences, and those who commit evil should suffer the consequences, and they will.I have no direct knowledges of what hell is. It is based upon the Greek mythological concept of Tartarus which got into Hebrew thinking through Hellenization. There is no "hell" in the Tennach or the Pentateuch ("OT"). In the Hebrew scriptures there is only mention of Sheol, or the "the grave" to which everyone goes. But in the books of Revelation it does speak of those who work inequity being "outside the Kingdom of God." I don't' believe that hell is litteral fire and brimstone, I do believe it is some state of anxiety or separation from God.
C. Knowing God.
Heb. 8:10-12 "...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man say to his neighbor 'know the Lord' for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This passage promises a "personal religion ship with God."The word for "to Know" is the Greek Term Ginosko, which means personal expirential knowledge. To give one's life to Jesus means to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said (John) "My sheep know my voice..." Personal relationship means that it is more than a set of rules, more than an ideology or a belief system, but a matter of the heart, the emotions, religious affections. IT may not be through dramatic miraculous effects (although I do believe that that is open to all Christians) but it is deeper than mere rule keeping, and does make for a satisfaction nothing else can match.God acts upon the heart. Salvation is a matter of "knowing God" not of mere intellectual asscent. What does it mean to know God? It means that being a Christian is a matter of experiencing God's love in the heart and of loving God and others. It is also a matter of being "led" by God through impressions upon the heart, and not merely a set of rules or a list of beliefs that one must check off. IT is the development of "religious affections."The excitement of knowing God is unequalized by anything else in this life.
III. Developing Personsonal Relationship with God.
A. Getting Saved.
This is very simple. God keeps it simple so all of us can do it. John tells us "...that whosoever believes on him shall be saved." (3:16). Belief is the first step. But believe doesn't just mean intellectual ascent, it means to place our faith in him, to trust him, as said above to place ourselves into his death, to express our solidarity with him.
Paul says "...That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the Dead, you will be saved, for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved....everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romas 10:9-12).
Note that the resurrection is stipulated as a criterion of belief, and notice that it also says believe in your heart. Belief is not mere intellectual ascent but is a decision of the will to trust in God. Does this mean we must believe in the resurrection to be saved? It at least means we must believe in the thing the resurrection points to, the new life in Christ, that we trust God to give us this new life and that such life is found in him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? It means, to place our trust in God and in Jesus as God's Son, as our savior.
B. The Name of Jesus
The name of Jesus then becomes our expression of solidarity with God, that we state clearly that we choose God's way, we want to change our lives and we are ready to accept God's terms for life; that we respond to the solidarity he shows us by committing to solidarity with him.In Acts 2: 38 the mob asks Peter what they must do, in response to the miracles of Pentecost and Peter's sermon on Jesus being raised form the dead. Peter tells them "Repent, and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins may be forgiven." Does this mean that baptism is a pre-requiset for salvation? I don't believe so. They were really asking a more general question than "how do I get saved." IN response to Peter's sermon they were asking in a general way "well, we curcified the Messiah, what can we do about it."
Peter tells them two things, repent (change your mind, express sorrow for sin and determine not to sin any longer) AND be baptized as an expression of surrender to God (in keeping with the Jewish custom). The key here is to repent, turn from the present course of life and follow Jesus. Baptism is something we should do. It is an expression of our faith, and a symbol that we palce our hope in God, die to the old way, it is an outward symbol of placing ourselves in solidarity with God and in Jesus death. But the important thing here is to repent. And, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."Latter in Acts when Peter takes the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time, the house of Cornelius. He tells them (Acts 10:43)"... everyone who believes in him recieves forgiveness of sins through his name." With that the Holy Spirit comes upon them while Peter is still talking. He does not tell them to be baptized, nor does God wait for that to give the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the renewing of the spirit, the "born again" experience and empowering for service to God). So here again the common link is belief, which implies a commitment of trust.Eph 1: 13 "Having believed you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance unto redemption of those who are God's possession."Romans 5 "since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access into this grace..."Therefore, "getting saved" is very simple, although it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. Just place our trust in Jesus and give your life to God. Actively determine to believe (place trust) in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, God's expression of solidarity with humanity.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I received these comments as new on a post several years (December 2007 Introducing Atheist Watch) For some odd reason people still comment on that one even though it's so old the search engine for my blog wont list it. But these comments are from someone named Bill Walker and I thought it would be good to answer them in the main section.
Our sun is one of hundreds of billions in the milky way. Our galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of galaxy. One wonders how did our creator happen to choose OUR piddling planet at that point in time to send his only son to be tortured & killed for OUR sins ?Could he not just say I forgive you ? Actually, it was my mkistake for making such poor sinful creatures You may have noticed that I don't type very well.I chave only one too big finger. Sorry about that.
This guys seems more upset with the atonement than with anything else. First things first, there's no reason to believe that God either made earth first and created a whole universe to go with it, or that he created a whole universe and then just chose one little planet to have life. There is no reason why a Christian is required to believe that there aren't millions of habitable planets with intelligent life in the whole universe. The universe may well be teaming wiht intelligent life as we see portrayed on Star Trek and in other science fiction worlds. This prospect raises questions about Jesus' atonement. Did Jesus die just for humans or for the whole universe? Should little green men be gathered at the cross? I think it's more logical to keep the atonement within the bounds of humanity. Let's wait until we meet some LGM to decide further. Theoretically I can the idea that each species (defined by what ocean it spawned in) would have its own relationship to God. I fail to see what arrangement should draw the ire of skeptics.
As for Bill's problems with the notion of atonement. I have a section on one my pages on Doxa that answers this specifically in terms of "is it unfair to God's son?" But before Getting to that let's look at the whole issue of Atonement.
This topic can get extremely complex or remain extremely simple. I am going to try and choose a middle ground, by focusing on just a few issues that usually come up in connection with the idea of Salvation.(note: all verses NIV--New International Version unless otherwise noted. This choice is based purely on personal preference. I feel that the NIV is the most elequant for a modern translation. It offers the clearest modern English while preserving the poetic beauty of the Bible. Ther are other versions that may support my readings better, or not as well, that is not a consideration in choosing the NIV).
I.The Atonement: God's Solidarity With Humanity.
A. The inadequacy of Financial Transactions
Many ministers, and therefore, many Christians speak of and think of Jesus' death on the cross as analogs to a financial transaction. Usually this idea goes something like this: we are in hock to the devil because we sinned. God pays the debt we owe by sending Jesus to die for us, and that pays off the devil. The problem with this view is the Bible never says we owe the devil anything. We owe God. The financial transaction model is inadequate. Matters of the soul are much more important than any monetary arrangement and business transactions and banking do not do justice to the import of the issue. Moreover, there is a more sophisticated model; that of the sacrifice for sin. In this model Jesus is like a sacrificial lamb who is murdered in our place. This model is also inadequate because it is based on a primitive notion of sacrifice. The one making the sacrifice pays over something valuable to him to appease an angry God. In this case God is paying himself. This view is also called the "propitiation view" becuase it is based upon propitiation, which means to turn away wrath. The more meaningful notion is that of Solidarity. The Solidarity or "participatory" view says that Jesus entered human history to participate in our lot as finite humans, and he dide as a means of identifying with us. We are under the law of sin and death, we are under curse of the law (we sin, we die, we are not capable in our own human strength of being good enough to merit salvation). IN taking on the penalty of sin (while remaining sinless) Jesus died in our stead; not in the manner of a premature animal sacrifice (that is just a metaphor) but as one of us, so that through identification with us, we might identify with him and therefore, partake of his newness of life.
B. Christ the Perfect Revelation of God to Humanity
In the book of Hebrews it says "in former times God spoke in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these latter times he has spoken more perfectly through his son." Jesus is the perfect revelation of God to humanity. The prophets were speaking for God, but their words were limited in how much they could tell us about God. Jesus was God in the flesh and as such, we can see clearly by his character, his actions, and his teachings what God wants of us and how much God cares about us. God is for humanity, God is on our side! The greatest sign of God's support of our cause as needy humans is Jesus death on the cross, a death in solidarity with us as victims of our own sinful hearts and societies. Thus we can see the lengths God is will to go to to point us toward himself. There are many verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this view. These are the verses which seem to say that Atonement is perpitational.
C. Death in Solidarity with Victims
1) Support from Modern Theologians
Three Major Modern Theologians support the solidarity notion of atonement: Jurgen Moltmann (The Crucified God), Matthew L. Lamb (Solidarity With Victims), and D.E.H. Whiteley (The Theology of St. Paul).In the 1980s Moltmann (German Calvinist) was called the greatest living protestant theologian, and made his name in laying the groundwork for what became liberation theology. Lamb (Catholic Priest) was big name in political theology, and Whiteley (scholar at Oxford) was a major Pauline scholar in the 1960s.In his work The Crucified God Moltmann interprets the cry of Jesus on the cross, "my God my God why have you forsaken me" as a statement of solidarity, placing him in identification with all who feel abandoned by God.Whiteley: "If St. Paul can be said to hold a theory of the modus operandi [of the atonement] it is best described as one of salvation through participation [the 'solidarity' view]: Christ shared all of our experience, sin alone excepted, including death in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life...Paul does not hold a theory of substitution..." (The Theology of St. Paul, 130)An example of one of the great classical theologians of the early chruch who held to a similar view is St. Irenaeus (according to Whiteley, 133).
...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Chrsit Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5)
In Short, if we have united ourselves to Christ, entered his death and been raised to life, we participate in his death and resurrection though our act of solidairty, united with Christ in his death, than it stands to reason that his death is an act of solidarity with us, that he expresses his solidarity with humanity in his death.
This is why Jesus cries out on the cross "why have you forsaken me?" According to Moltmann this is an expression of Solidarity with all who feel abandoned by God.Jesus death in solidarity creates the grounds for forgiveness, since it is through his death that we express our solidarity, and through that, share in his life in union with Christ. Many verses seem to suggest a propitiatory view. But these are actually speaking of the affects of the solidarity. "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if when we were considered God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! What appears to be saying that the shedding of blood is what creates forgiveness is actually saying that the death in solidarity creates the grounds for reconciliation. IT says we were enemies then we were reconciled to him through the death, his expression of solidarity changes the ground, when we express our solidarity and enter into the death we are giving up to God, we move from enemy to friend, and in that sense the shedding of blood, the death in solidarity, creates the conditions through which we can be and are forgiven. He goes on to talk about sharing in his life, which is participation, solidarity, unity.
D. Meaning of Solidarity and Salvation.
Jurgen Moltmann's notion of Solidarity (see The Crucified God) is based upon the notion of Political solidarity. Christ died in Solidarity whit victims. He took upon himself a political death by purposely angering the powers of the day. Thus in his death he identifies with victims of oppression. But we are all victims of oppression. Sin has a social dimension, the injustice we experience as the hands of society and social and governmental institutions is primarily and at a very basic level the result of the social aspects of sin. Power, and political machinations begin in the sinful heart, the ego, the desire for power, and they manifest themselves through institutions built by the will to power over the other. But in a more fundamental sense we are all victims of our own sinful natures. We scheme against others on some level to build ourselves up and secure our conditions in life. IN this sense we cannot help but do injustice to others. In return injustice is done to us.Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. Take an analogy from political organizing. IN Central America governments often send "death squads" to murder labor unionists and political dissenter. In Guatemala there were some American organizations which organized for college students to go to Guatemala and escort the leaders of dissenting groups so that they would not be murdered.
The logic was that the death squads wouldn't hurt an American Student because it would bring bad press and shut off U.S. government funds to their military. As disturbing as these political implications are, let's stay focused on the Gospel. Jesus is like those students, and like some of them, he was actually killed. But unlike them he went out of his way to be killed, to be victimized by the the rage of the sinful and power seeking so that he could illustrate to us the desire of God; that God is on our side, God is on the side of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, and the lost. Jesus said "a physician is not sent to the well but to the sick."The key to salvation is to accept God's statement of solidarity, to express our solidarity with God by placing ourselves into the death of Christ (by identification with it, by trust in it's efficacy for our salvation).
E. Atonement is a Primitive Concept?
This charge is made quite often by internet-skeptics, especially Jewish anti-missionaries who confuse the concept with the notion of Human sacrifice. But the charge rests on the idea that sacrifice itself is a premature notion. If one commits a crime, someone else should not pay for it. This attack can be put forward in many forms but the basic notion revolves around the idea that one person dying for the sins of another, taking the penalty or sacrificing to remove the guilt of another is a premature concept. None of this applies with the Participatory view of the atonement (solidarity) since the workings of Christ's death, the manner in which it secures salvation, is neither through turning away of wrath nor taking upon himself other's sins, but the creation of the grounds through which one declares one's own solidarity with God and the grounds through which God accepts that solidarity and extends his own; the identification of God himself with the needs and cry of his own creation.
F. Unfair to Jesus as God's Son?
Internet skeptics sometimes argue that God can't be trusted if he would sacrifice his son. This is so silly and such a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine and the nature of religious belief that it hardly deserves an answer. Obviously God is three persons in one essence, the Trinity , Tribune Godhead. Clearly God's act of solidarity was made with the unanimity of a single Godhead. God is not three God's, and is always in concert with himself.
Walker keeps speaking as though God is "torturing" someone else. But he is Jesus, so Jesus is God torturing himself, in reality. Since the Trinity is three persona in one essence, Christ (the Logos of God) was fully participating and on board in the decision making process. As a flesh and blood man Jesus in the Gospel is portrayed as getting cold feet to show the depths of the sacrifice but he did say "not my will but thine be done." That no doubt was an example to us, since his perfection would have meant he would have that attitude anyway. But the Logos was fully participating in the decision so God is torturing himself not some innocent little helpless son has nothing to do with it.
I've met atheists before who get hung up on the idea that Jesus was victimized by God. But I think it's just an excuse to stave off the conviction in their hearts that Christ died for them and they know they owe a debt but don't want to acknowledge it.
Bill comes back with a rejoinder:
Are you suggesting that the creator sends his ONLY son on a sort of Cook's tour of the cosmos to be tortured & killed by the indigenous creatures of countless planets for THEIR presumed sins ?
I don't think I said anything that would imply that the atonement is payed out again an again. I think each race has it's own relationship with God. So in other words if there are people on say the Planet Thanagar, they man not need atonement. Maybe the people on Krypton weren't fallen, and thus don't need redemption. Or maybe they did but God procured redemption in a different way for them. They are not us. Perhaps the statement of solidarity that would reach them is different than the one that reaches us the best.
What really bothers me is they we he can't seem to understand what it means to say "Jesus is the divine incarnation of the Logos, so he is the divine and thus he is part of the decision making. To put it crudely and with less astute theology, Jesus is God so it's God torturing himself. But Walker still tries to cultivate the issue that Jesus is the defenseless little boy cheated by his Dad into being tortured. that is a falsehood.
The stresses the idea for "their presumed sins." As thought "what does God know? It's not his place to say if I'm sinful or not." well yea it is. God is the only valid one who can say it. You can't say you are not sinful, you did not make the rule and do you not have all knowledge. You don't know yourself. We all think we know ourselves but we are also capable of deceiving ourselves. God is the only one who can see your heart and knows what you feel better than you do. He is perfect so he doesn't have his own flaws to get in the way, he can feel everything you feel he knows just what it's like to be you. God knows what it's like to be you better than you do.
The main thing is the solidarity notions changes the whole issue. It's not someone being punished to pay for other the sins of others, its someone sharing in the fate of others to show that God cares about us. When we return the solidarity it creates the ground of forgiveness.
I do not understand this insistence that Atheists are a 'hate group'.We are the same as christians & they are like us. We're both agreed on the non-existence of a huge number of gods created by our primitive, tribal ancestors. We atheists simply disbelieve in one or a few more than Christians. Period ! Try to wrap your mind around this.
That's a different issue. I'll answer that on Atheist Watch
Thursday, August 13, 2009
As the communities became distinct their needs became distinct from one another. The Gospels were written, not as an attempt to set in stone a history that historians were researching, but as sermons to answer the needs of the community. The Gospels are more like sermons than history books.
Cullman, The New Testament (24) "It must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than biographical considerations, were what guided the early community when it wrote down the tradition of the life of Jesus. The apostles illustrated the truth of the faith they were preaching by describing the events in the life of Jesus. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be written down. The sayings of Jesus were transmitted, in particular, in the teaching of the catechism of the early Church."
It was be a mistake to think that the situation was neat and controlled. The growth of the church was rapid, haphazard, and groups were breaking out all directions, as stated above. Under these conditions the Gospel material was less controlled, but the early transmission of it was controlled to some extent.
Luke Timoney Johson,br>
The evidence of the NT does not suggest that after the resurrection there was a long period of tranquil recollection and interpretation carried out under the tight control of a single stable community that , having forged the memory of Jesus into a coherent and consistent form, transmitted it to other lands, languages, and cultures. The evidence points in the opposite direction: there was not a long period of tranquility; the first community was from the beginning harassed and persecuted; the spread of the movement was carried out by many messengers and required flexible adjustment to new circumstances. The growth of a community's self -understanding and its memory of Jesus were mutually shaping influences."(Ibid.)
I agree with Johnson. My argument is not that the oral tradition was controlled to such an extent that they were able to pass on word for word with no changes. My argument is, rather, that they controlled it enough to bring the basic story line to a point where everyone knew this is the way it was and no one could change it. But the actual details of the wording and the pericopes and subplots were flexible and probably do show some embellishment.
Oral tradition is not just haphazard rumors spreading at random, but is a carefully controlled process. The Jews understood how to learn the words of their teachers and preserve them just as they were spoken. All oral cultures understand how to control the process.
III.Oral Tradition Trustworthy
Fewer changes if tradition is controlled
"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" (Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)
Tradition was controlled.
Neil adds in a fn: "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.
See also M. Dibelius... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being." (Ibid.).
Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans* (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus(NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):
"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated,  the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'.  In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.*
"Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(53-55)(corrosponding fn for Childton and evans")
Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:
"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism , together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching." (p. 53-54)
N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:
"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently.  (p. 112-113)**
"Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation.
"Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told.
In the Handbook of Biblical Social Values (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,
The people in the biblical world are dyadic. This means that individuals basically depend on others for their sense of identity, for their understanding of their role and status in society, for clues to the duties and rights they have, and for indications of what is honorable and shameful behavior. Such people live in a world which is clearly and extensively ordered, a system which is well known to members of the group. Individuals quickly internalize this system and depend on it for needed clues to the way their world works. . . The tradition handed down by former members of the group is presumed valid and normative. . . Group orientation is clearly expressed in the importance given to authority. (p.94-7)
- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics, and Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel on John.
- See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva. The Context Group publications are listed here.
"And the stories about Jesus were nothing if not important. Even the Jesus Seminar admits that Jesus was an itinerant wonder-worker. Very well. Supposing a woman in a village is suddenly healed after a lengthy illness. Even today, even in a non-oral culture, the story of such an event would quickly spread among friends, neighbors and relatives, acquiring a fixed form within the first two or three retellings and retaining it, other things being equal, thereafter. In a culture where storytelling was and is an art-form, a memorable event such as this, especially if it were also seen as a sign that Israel's God was now at last at work to do what he had always promised, would be told at once in specific ways, told so as to be not just a celebration of a healing but also a celebration of the Kingdom of God. Events and stories of this order are community-forming, and the stories which form communities do not get freely or loosely adapted. One does not disturb the foundations of the house in which one is living."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998) p. 113-115.]
I agree with Johnson tha the fast pace and haphazard growth of Christian communities effected the way the story was told. That does not mean, however, that it just became a runaway mythology fest divorced from the truth of the original events. We can seek to understand in what ways the telling would be affected.
(1) The story began to be told in Greek, Johnson himself points this out. Greek would mean dissemination to a wider audience. Although it might also mean changes in the shades of meaning.
(2) The story would be written down. that would be a major change and it was intended to preserve the memory. The question is then, how much change was introduced in the totally oral period? I'm sure the oral period over lapped with the written period. They didn't all just stop the oral retransmitting on the day the first author wrote the first MS. But over several decades they no longer told things orally and the early documents such as Q were no longer reproduced when the canonical Gospels included the material with other things in an impressive compendium such as the Gospel of Luke. In the famous quotation from Papias, the one in which he mentions "Elder John," he says that he prefers to hear the human voice rather than read the words on paper. That tells me that at that point (early second century, maybe 120) there was still some oral tradition hanging on, bu that written sources had totally taken over as the primary source. Thus the overlap period was pretty long, probably about sixty years.
(3) Narratival form: combining sayings lists (which preceded narratival Gospels) with a story line made it easier to remember and created a context for the sayings; that form was probably born out of the needs of communities.
One thing we can be somewhat sure of is that one way in which the story was not effected was that it didn't change dramatically. We know this because there is just one story. There is only one version of the Jesus. Myths always prliforate into many versions, but everyone knew the basic storyline was factual and could not be changed.
What we need to keep in mind is the agreements, those things that all the communities included because they all agreed they were factual.
The four faces of Jesus
by Robert K. McIvern
(Ph.D biblical studies, Andrews U.)
college and Universeity Dialoague
"Most significantly, all four Gospels share in the conviction that the most important thing to know about Jesus is the events surrounding His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. They all agree that the significance of the cross lay in who Jesus is, and that what happened there was the result of GodÂ’s will and not blind fate. All the Gospels note the link between the cross and the Passover, and that Jesus was crucified as king of the Jews, which is rather ironic, because the cross did in fact inaugurate the kingdom of God. Further, they all stress that Jesus was raised with a real body, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus provide the impetus for the missionary activity of the earliest (and latest) Christians. These concepts, and more, are shared by all four Gospels. Yet each has a distinctive view of Jesus."
As the communities became distinct their needs became distinct from one another. The Gospels were written, not as an attempt to set in stone a history that historians were researching, but as sermons to answer the needs of the community. The Gospels are more like sermons than history books.Cullman, (24)
"It must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than biographical considerations, were what guided the early community when it wrote down the tradition of the life of Jesus. The apostles illustrated the truth of the faith they were preaching by describing the events in the life of Jesus. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be written down. The sayings of Jesus were transmitted, in particular, in the teaching of the catechism of the early Church."It would be a mistake to think that the situation was neat and controlled. The growth of the church was rapid, haphazard, and groups were breaking out all directions, as stated above. Under these conditions the Gospel material was less controlled.Luke Timoney Johson,
I agree with Johnson. My argument is not that the oral tradition was controlled to such an extent that they were able to pass on word for word with no changes. My argument is, rather, that they controlled it enough to bring the basic story line to a point where everyone knew this is the way it was and no one could change it. But the actual details of the wording and the pericopes and subplots were flexible and probably do show some embellishment.Oral tradition is not just haphzard rumors spreading at random.
Oral tradition is a carefully controlled process. The Jews understood how to learn the words of their teachers and preserve them just as they were spoken. All oral clutures understand how to control the process."No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, (Stephen Neil, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)Neil adds in a fn: IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.See also ... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being."
Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. (eds.), (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):*Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently.  (p. 112-113)**In the (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,see also- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, - See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva.
The Context Group publications are listed here.I agree with Johnson that the fast pace and haphazard growth of Christian communities effected the way the story was told. That does not mean, however, that it just became a runaway mythology fest divorced from the truth of the original events. We can seek to understand in what ways the telling would be affected. Johnson himself points this out. Greek would mean dissemination to a wider audience. Although it might also mean changes in the shades of meaning. that would be a major change and it was tend to preserve the memory. The question is then, how much change was introduced in the totally oral period? I'm sure the oral period over lapped with the written period. They didn't all just stop the oral transmittision on the day the first writer wrote the first MS.
But over a couple of decades they no longer told things orally and the early documents such as Q were no longer reproduced when the canonical Gospels included the material with other things in an impressive compendium such as the Gsopel of Luke. combining sayings lists (which preceded narratival Gospels) with a story line made it easier to remember and created a context for the sayings; that form was probably born out of the needs of communities.One thing we can be somewhat sure of is that one way in which the story was not effected was that it didn't change dramatically. We know this because there is just one story. There is only one version of the Jesus. Myths always proliferate into many versions, but everyone knew the basic storyline was factual and could not be changed.What we need to keep in mind is the agreements, those things that all the communities included because they all agreed they were factual.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Skeptics make much of the fact that there is no clear evidence as to who wrote the four Gospels. This argument is almost used as an excuse to virtually write the Gospels out of existence as authoritative historical documents. Most skeptics on the net assume that the Gospels offer nothing in terms of understanding the situation of the early church, much less the events depicted in their pages. But why should the lack of knowledge as to the authors present such a barrier to knowledge of other things? We do not have to know the exact identity of the authors, because the original material comes from the community itself. Scholars no longer look to one individual as the author of any of the Gospels; instead they see the Gospels as the product of a process in which the whole community was involved; oral history, original writing, redaction (see Luke Timothy Johnson, Early Christian Writtings)
March 7 1997, "researchers say Coptic Fragments reveal lot gospel"
UK (University of Kansas) public relations site
Sayings attributed to Jesus and other figures often use metaphors of fire, nearness and life in various combinations with other images, Mirecki said. "The question is not if these are the actual words of Jesus," Mirecki said. "That's a question that can never be answered, as even the biblical Gospels contain the teachings of diverse early communities rather than the direct teachings of Jesus. All such texts have gone through the interpretive filter of early Christian editors and scribes."
Of course we have no records of those communities, no documents such as membership roles, but we can make some educated conjectures as to the character of those groups, and thus peice together an idea of the kinds of communities and what is meant when we speak of "the community as author." The upshot is that these communities, school/communizes, contained eye witnesses who bore witness to the original events of Jesus ministry and who could have check mistakes and embellishments upon the story.
I.Nature of Community
What do we mean by "community?" Surely most the early Christians lived near each other in Jerusalem. Do we mean a close nit village? Or do we mean in our modern sense of a loose collection of people who agree on something, such as the "beer drinking community" which has nothing to do with where they live? In the sense in which I use this term it is meant to imply a closely knit group, those who live in close proximity, who cares good in common, who perhaps live as a community almost like hippies in the 1960s; but in any case a group of people who live near one another, share wealth, work, hardship and belief. A grope close knit enough that they could expel those who did not agree, or who would not give in to the community rule.
The early believers formed such a community in Jerusalem, the embryonic Jerusalem church, is exclitply stated in the book of Acts.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added those being saved to them.
To this communal like setting the Apostles added teaching about the events of Jesus ministry and his resurrection.
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet. This was then distributed to each person as anyone had a need. 36 Joseph, who was named by the apostles Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
Who were the people in the community? It's clear from Luke's Account of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) that people form all over the known world heard the message. But many of them were no doubt form Jerusalem. we have a clue in the book of Luke, the final chapter, and the first Chapter of Acts where we see the fledgling community form. It is quite probable that they were made up of both disciples already following Jesus at the time of the crucification/resurrection, and the community of Bethany. The whole community of Bethany had the opportunity to become eye witnesses, and these probably make up the 500 that Paul mentions. Skeptics always ask who were the 500, this is who they were, they were the community of Bethany.
II.Eyewitness in Community
In the final chapter of Luke (24) two deiciples are walking toward the town of Emmaus, Jesus joins them but they do not recognize him. One, name Cleopus, has been thought by some to be a cousin of Jesus,' but be that as it may, they were apparently disciples because latter they realize it was him, so they do eventually recognize him. After that point they go find the eleven in Jerusalem and Jesus appears to them all while they relate the story. Then all of them march out to Bethany. why they are going to Bethany we don't know, but it was the home of the little family of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany and Martha who were Jesus' friends. So perhaps he was going to say good-bye. It is from that point that he ascends into the heavens and is gone. An angel comes and says he will return in the same the same way. The curious thing is, as they leave to walk to Bethany, there are 14 of them, the eleven, the two men (Clops and friend) and Jesus. When they get back there are 120.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olive Grove, which is near Jerusalem--a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers. 15 During these days Peter stood up among the brothers--the number of people who were together was about 120--
Of course all 120 could have been with the Apostles before they walked through the streets of Bethany.
33 That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, 34 who said, "The Lord has certainly been raised, and has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they began to describe what had happened on the road, and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 And as they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, "Peace to you!" 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 "Why are you troubled?" He asked them. "And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." 40 Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet. 41 But while they still could not believe for joy, and were amazed, He asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, 43 and He took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then He told them, "These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 He also said to them, "This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high."
50 Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. 51 And while He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven. 52 After worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were continually in the temple complex
The point is, there were a large group of eye witnesses already with the Apostles who formed the basic community. It is these same people who were together on the day of Pentecost, just a few days hense, who were overcome by the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, who started the church, who made up the first Christian community. As we see, Jesus led them through the streets of Bethany,as the risen Christ, and was transmogrified into heaven in front of all, thus making the entire community of Bethany a witness. We can only surmise that people saw him, but as they were not in their homes wathcing tv they probably did, that is very likely.
Of cousre it could be that a few more, such as Jesus mother (who we are told was there in Acts 1) were there and not mentoined with the 11, but who were all the others?
Quite probaly these others were picked up as walked to and from Bethany, after all they had to walk through the street. So the whole community of Bethany saw them, they were all witnesses. So all the people of Bethany could then testify to the fact tha they saw Jesus alive again, they saw him to up to heaven, they saw an angel come and promise his return.
Is Luke Reliable?
Of course skeptics will argue that Acts is the New Testament and the NT can't verify itself, so we cant' use it as evidence. Of course this si stupid, because any document can tell us something about itself. It can tell us about who wrote it, how they thought, what they believed and what conditions were like when they wrote. Luke is very well known for his god historicism. He includes the place names of obscure places, and the names of magistrates not known to exist otherwise, but whom archeology has borne out. He gets the titles of the magistrates right which is a small but important detail, because it is usually one of the things that those not on the scene get wrong.
Moreover, the author of Acts has no idea about a community as author argument. He could not have designed the narrative with this in mind. Of course he might have exaggerated to put all the eye witnesses in one place. But it only makes sense that among the first community would be those whom first heard Jesus preached and who followed him, and the first to hear stories of the risen Christ.
This would explain why there is only one version of the story. Myth always proliferates. There are two versions of Hercules death, about 14 versions of Inanna and Tamuz but only one Jesus story.Why? because the facts were known from the eairlest period and the eye witnesses helped to keep them straight. It's also becasue the peroid of eye witness oral transmission was only about 18 years.
the group that produced the Gospel of John calimed eye witnesses among them:
1 John 1:1"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life."
This initial group which was together after the ascension became the same group together on Pentecost and thus started the original Christian community which was filled with eye witnesses. The first chapter of Acts ends with that same group of 120 praying. The Second chapter beings "2:1 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place." From the day of Pentecost on they become the original church. So the original church was full of eye witnesses. It was these people who passed on the
Obviously these people did all sit with pen in hand to write the actual first draft of each Gospel, but they did form the basis of the story telling mechanism which passed the story on from one person to another. They were available to check the story if it got off track. Now that means if some tried to change the outline of the story, the whole group has 120 eye witnesses who could say "no, we saw him risen, we saw him ascent into heaven." This doesn't mean, of course, that we can prove every miracle or every event, but it means that we can trust the Gospels for the basic outline of the story. That's why there is only one essential story of Jesus, and there are no competing versions where he dies in other ways and in other places.
The communities multiplied, the fragmented and become multiple communities. The original community spread itself out and the growth of the movement was hap hazard. But we can see the likelihood of witnesses in other communities.
L.T. Johnson (The Writtings of the New TestamentFortress Press 1986)
"Christianity was a movement of Social groups. The social setting for the tradition is intrinsic to the nature of the movement. Acts shows how rapidly the message spread across vast geographic areas. Within seven or eight years separate communities existed in Jerusalem,Judea, Sameria, and Syria. In 20 years there were communities in Cyprus and Asia Minor; after twenty five years communities flourished throughout Macedonia, Achia, possibly Dalmatia.Thirty years after Jesus as killed there was a Christian community in Rome."(117)
Probably each one of the four Gospel represents a community. The original group that went to Bethany that day formed the basic core of the oral tradition. By AD50, just 18 years latter, there were many communities, there was a proto-Gospel being circulated which included the empty tomb story (see Koster--Ancient Christian Gospels) and by AD 70 there was a Gospel of Mark beging to circulate, and this Gosple would be fragmented into more than one version. By the end of the century the basic outline and structure of the Gospels were set in stone.