Thursday, February 23, 2017

Myths as a basis for believing in Christ

One of the things that many detractors from Christianity love to throw out there is the similarity between things from the Scriptures and other ancient religions that may have been older than what happened in the Scriptures. Recently, I've seen lots of posts about Horus or Osiris and how their stories both predates Christ's and are very similar. I've always wondered wether this is a valid criticism of Christianity, maybe they are correct in assuming that Christianity has just borrowed concepts from older religions. But, being a believer, I've always thought that there had to be another explanation.

I've wondered if the reason as to why many of the Biblical stories mirror other myths is that God has used those myths as a way of preparing the way for all peoples to have some sort of base so that they can more easily accept the truth of God. Lewis seems to think something similar as he notes in Is Theology Poetry?  

He notes that theology offers special revelation, but also a general one too. "We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story - the theme of incarnation, death and rebirth. And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find. The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when" (Lewis from Is Theology of Poetry?). Lewis points out that comparing the myths to Christianity is "like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine".

When Christ came down to earth he partly emptied himself of his glory. Lewis points out that all things come down from heaven to earth (general revelation) and in doing so they too have been emptied partially of some of their glory. That is why myths are partially correct. In and of themselves, the myths can't lead to salvation; but they can provide the basis for coming to understand the truth that leads to salvation.

I'd love to explore this topic further.

God and the Atlantic Ocean

Lewis describes how after giving a speech to the Royal Air Force an old officer exclaimed that he had no time for creeds of Christianity because they were meaningless. He believed in God and had in fact experienced him in his own life. But, the creeds and theology of Christianity felt less real than that type of experience.

Lewis compared this to seeing the Atlantic ocean in real life and seeing it on a map. Of course seeing it in real life was a more tangible experience, but the map is made from thousands of persons' experience with the Atlantic Ocean. You, as a single person, can experience the Atlantic Ocean in a one-on-one level as much as you like. But, to sail across it one will need maps. It's the same thing with Scripture and theology. You can experience God at a one-on-one level, but without a map you're going to have a lot of walks on the beach, but your not going to make it across the Atlantic.

Interestingly, he notes that the experiences we have with God at that one-on-one level are certainly exciting, but like the old officer, often nothing comes of it. "It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it... It is all thrills and no work" (Lewis, from Mere Christianity). But, when using the maps (theology and Scripture) requires work to get to God. It's relying on hundreds of people's experience with God, mapping out a way to get to God on a deeper level.

God is always in the Now

God does not experience time like man does. There is no yesterday or tomorrow for God. For God, everything happens Now. This removes the problem of God's foreknowledge and man's free will. We are free to act without God knowing what we are doing tomorrow because God is seeing our actions of tomorrow as we do them. But God sees our actions of today, yesterday and tomorrow Now. "He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for Him" (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity)

On a separate and infuriating note, I tried to explain this to Erin to no avail. She simply disagreed with me over and over again.

Sparta and Athens

(Originally written September 5, 2006)

The Classical Mind
W.T. Jones

Chapter Two: Education through Violence

Thucydides, a 5th century BC Greek historian stated, "War is a teacher who educates through violence, and he makes men's characters fit their condition" (Jones, 40).

The Peloponnesian War (Athens v. Sparta) has economic rivalry undertones with heavy ideological conflicts headlining it.

Sparta: An Athenian Estimate

Sparta was different than the rest of Greece. That difference was because of the laws written by the mythical Lycurgus.

Women were trained physically in Sparta so as to rear stronger children.

Marriage began as an illicit affair in Sparta to inspire deep longing in the man and woman. Men were punished for being caught meeting with their wife. Marriage was to be pursued only during the vigorous time in life.

Education of the young was not to be done privately (as all of Greece did) but by the Guardian class: The Paidonomos.

Homosexuality was a major part in the education of boys.

Community meals were important in Spartan society.

Sparta was not a society concerned with making money. It was a precursor of communism.

Sparta was ruled by an oligarchy (or rather, timocracy).

Sparta produced the best soldiers in all of Greece.

The warrior class ruled a large serf class.

Athens

Athens was a democracy: all the free male citizens voted at meetings to establish the final rulings of the State.

It was a pure democracy, not a representative democracy like the US.

The democracy was at times dominated by the aristocratic and wealthy families in a sort of intimidator way.

Athens expands to an empire through their vast wealth. Their 'colonies' paid tribute to Athens.

The Spartans incited revolution in the Athenian controlled tributaries.

Parmenides in his own words

(Originally written September 5, 2006)

Classics of Philosophy
Louis Pojman

Parmenides

1. [B2] There are only two ways of thing: 1) the one is and it is not possible for it not to be. 2) what is not, is not and that it is right that it is not. We cannot know what is not.

2. [B6] Nothing cannot exist. Men are born incapable of really understanding this. They believe nothing and something as things that can be considered the same way.

3. [B7] Don't let common sense or habit force us to disagree with what is true. Let reason show us it is true.

4. [B8] Everything is one. Everything is uncreated, eternal, unchanging, and indestructible. It must be whole or not at all. It is one or noting. Out of nothing cometh nothing, ex nihilo nihil fit.

The one is not divisible because it is homogenous. There is no such thing as motion. It is necessarily motionless and unchangeable because it is one. Fate has made it one. There can be no change.

The Way of Opinion

[B8] (continued) Common sense tells us there are many things and things move. But this is wrong. Man's opinions should not surges you because they are fooled by mere appearances and do not understand the one.

Notes on Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans

(Originally written September 5, 2006)

The Mystery Cults

A new religion began to emerge in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. that was starkly different then Homer's Olympian religion.

It is faintly echoed in Xenophanes and Heraclitus but did not touch the Milesians.

The new religion included the Dionysus Cult.

The Olympic Religion focused on the goodness of life on earth, but the new religion focused on redemption and the goodness of the afterlife.

The new religion aimed at creating a joyful union of god and man.

Each cult guarded their rituals as a precious secret.

The ceremonies were races, took place at night, and much to the dismay of men, involved women.

They became intoxicated, ripped animals from limb to limb, drank blood and danced to the point of exhaustion.

"The felt the spirit of god pass into their bodies" (Jones, 32). This is actually the literal translation of intoxication - 'to be filled of god'

They reveled in their happiness and freedom of all restraint.

Both the Olympic religion and the early cults were ritualistically, not morally driven.

The Pythagoreans were deeply impacted by the mystery cults.

Some of their rituals (the Pythagoreans) obviously come from the ritualism of the mystery cults: not eating beans, not stirring the fire with iron, not leaving an impression in bed when you wake up, etc., etc.

They substituted music for wine and thus intoxicated the soul, not the body.

They believed in a immortal soul and a punitive/reward based form of reincarnation.

Their moral goal was to be released from the reincarnation cycle; they did it by obtaining wisdom.

Men were classified into three groups, which corresponded with three types of people who attended the Olympic games:
1) The 'lovers of grain' were the lowest types of men. These were the men who set up booths and sold merchandise at the games
2) The 'lovers of honor' were the middle types of men. These were the athletes.
3) The 'lovers of knowledge' were the highest types of men because they contemplated the games without being trapped by vulgar wants

Science gave them access to the contemplation of the eternal truths and this would free them from the reincarnation cycle.

Rather than focusing on the practical applications or curiosity satisfaction aspect of science like the Milesians, the Pythagoreans cultivated science as a means to spiritual redemption.

Pythagorean Science

The Pythagoreans were more interested in mathematics then physics and even more interested in the application of mathematics to cosmological speculation.

The pythagoreans had a number of classifications of numbers:
1) Square numbers were the sequential odd numbers added together: (1, 1+3, 1+3+5...)
2) Oblong numbers were even numbers of the same pattern (2, 2+4, 2+6...)
3) "tetraktys' or triangle numbers were the most pleasing numbers to the Pythagoreans. This was the sums of natural integers (1, 1+2, 1+2+3, 1+2+3+4...)

The Pythagoreans developed the idea of the 'mean'

They applied the 'mean' to the Milesian theory of opposites.

They stated that the mean was the good. This led to the notion of sophrosyne (moderation) in Pythagorean culture.

The Pythagoreans believed in a primary substance, but not a material one. They believed numbers were the basic elements.

They believed the earth was a sphere.

They believed the earth and all other heavenly bodies revolved around a central fire which was hidden from because the earth rotates.

Aristotle's geocentric theory destroyed the Pythagoreans' cosmology view from taking hold.

The Pythagoreans were dualists. Believing in:
1) The limit
2) The unlimited

The Unlimited was a "boundless breath"

The Limit was a fire

Everything was composed of numbers and ratios. "Number is at the heart of the universe" (Jones, 38).

Estimate of Pythagoreanism 

Pythagoreanism was a mixture of mysticism and brilliant insight.

Their conception of the universe as a ordered system rather than a chaos was their highest achievement.

Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras and Pythagoras

(Originally written August 31, 2006)

The Classical Mind
W.T. Jones

Ch. 1 - Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Parmenides


  • Saw that Thales' philosophy suffered from the problem of change.
  • Concerned himself with analyzing the concept of change, not particular changes
  • He was a monist, believing that reality is fundamentally one
  • He added two self-evident premises:
    • What is, is
    • What is not, is not
  • Viewed all change as illusionary
  • The notion of change is self-contradictory
  • His two self-evident premises are true in tautologies (A is A) but do not remain true when he adds his whole theory to them
  • What is not, is not means that there is no nothing. There can be no object existing as nothing.
  • Nothing exists is self-contradictory
  • Through his monism and two self-evident premises, he deduced that:
    • Whatever is, is uncreated
    • Is indestructible
    • Is eternal
    • Is unchangeable
  • If things were created they were either created from nothing or out of something. There is no nothing. Thus, if things were created, they were created out of something else. Monism denies that something else exists. Thus, everything that is, is uncreated.
  • Things cannot be destroyed because destruction leads to nothing and nothing cannot exist.
  • Things that are uncreated and indestructible are obviously eternal.
  • Things that change produce nothing out of old things; thus, everything is unchanging
Zeno's Paradoxes

Zeno was a pupil of Parmenides.

He developed a paradox which showed that motion was impossible.

Aristotle's version: "Before any distance can be traversed half the distance must be traversed. These half distances are infinite in number. It is impossible to traverse distances infinite in number" (Jones, 22).

Zeno illustrated the paradox this way. 
A- Achilles
T- a Tortoise

Achilles can begin to pursue the tortoise but, he will never over take it.

Achilles is now where the tortoise began, but the tortoise has moved.

Achilles gets closer to the Tortoise but still has not taken him over. The distance becomes shorter and shorter, but some distance will always separate them.

"These contentions still worry philosophers and mathematicians" (Jones, 23).

Linehan - Why? Zeno has completely ignored concepts of space and time. He has proved something in a vacuum. We do not exist in a vacuum (or the very least not Zeno's version).

Despite the logical reasoning of Zeno, it is at odds with common sense.

The belief and trust in reason over sense perception by some Greek philosophers led to a profound skepticism.

Rationalism and Empiricism

Logical consistency vs. sense perception

Logical consistency has a number of advantages over sense perceptions:
1) It is indubitable
2) It is universal

Rationalists follow logical consistency; empiricists use sensory perception

Neither pure rationalism nor pure empiricism is satisfactory.

The Pluralists

Parmenides argument was hypothetical: if the Milesians' monism is correct, change is impossible.

Parmenides did not question Monism and that is where he failed.

Monism, at least the materialistic form the Milesians pursued, gave way as their premises were questioned. Greek pluralism was born.

Empedocles

Empedocles s the first known pluralist.

He accepted the Parmenidean thesis that nothing is created or destroyed.

He believed that reality was a plenum, a completely full world.

Pluralism replaced monism and motion occurred when two objects exchanged places.

Motion is possible in a plenum, if pluralism is true.

He believed that the many objects were combinations of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.

Each of the elements was eternal, uncreated, indestructible and unchanging.

There are two types of motion:
1) Love - a motion of uniting things
2) Strife - a motion of separating things and returning to the original element

The world prices was a constant cycle of mixing the four elements. Love is the motion here. Then, gradually, strife replaces love and the four elements begin to be separated. This process continues on and on and on.

The four elements were eternal, the things they created, the things we see, were unstable and finite.

His process anticipated the "survival of the fittest" evolutionary theory.

Empedocles called the process god and worshipped it. He denied his god any anthropomorphic qualities.

Anaxagoras

Anaxagoras was an Ionian and the first critic of Empedocles.

He was troubled by the thought of four elements miraculously coming together in some mixture to form particular things like cabbage or a lion.

He held the Parmenidean notion of change being illusionary.

He believed that:
1) The stuff of the world was eternal
2) There is a many, each one of the many is a Parmenidean one
3) There is a motion within the plenum

He denied that change, resulting in the transformation was possible and maintained that everything existing was a combination of all the stuffs in this world. The particular stuff that is dominant in each thing denotes what that thing is.

Anaxagoras denied Empedocles' two motions of love and strife and replaced them with a single motion: mind.

Mind is material; it sets all things in order.

By setting mind to make all things right he implied purpose, but contradictorily held that mind was purely mechanistic.

Mind (the motion of the world) sets up a vortex which separates the various stuffs from the elements. Eventually, the vortex will rotate wide enough so that every stuff will be separated from every other stuff.

Estimate of Anaxagoras' Theory

The theory of Anaxagoras denied the spirit of the Milesian science.

Empedocles and Anaxagoras failed to solve the basic problems of the Milesians, but they were able to articulate them better.

Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans

The life of Pythagoras is virtually unknown and his views are nearly indistinguishable from his followers.

Pythagoras was reported by Heraclitus to have been one of the most scientific men and a religious philosopher.

Pythagoras was born in Samos, but found the colony of Croton in southern Italy around 530 BC.

Croton was a religious fraternity that conducted scientific experiments. They believed that science was a major part of their worship.