Pooh, the bear of little brain

Here’s (<- link) some new scholarship in literary criticism, based on certain techniques popular in NT studies in recent years. It’s from a scholar I rather appreciate, with this assessment based largely on his “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, a very influential book also well worth a read.

 (picture from Wikipedia)

An extract:

“Clearly the Pooh books were written for a specific community with a strong sense of its distinctive identity – a closed, one might even say sectarian group which prided itself on its special insider knowledge. We can see this in features of the writings which would have baffled any outsider but provide the insider with confirmation of their special status as privy to a kind of esoteric knowledge.

The very distinctive nature of the Pooh community can be further appreciated when we compare it with other children’s literature of the period, such as the Noddy books or the Narnia books (though it may be debatable whether these were already written at the time when the traditions of the Pooh community were taking shape). Words and concepts very familiar from other children’s literature never appear in the Pooh books: the word school, e.g., is completely absent, as is the word toys, even though the books are ostensibly about precisely toys. Conversely, the Pooh books have their own special vocabulary and imagery: e.g. the image of honey, which is extremely rare in other children’s literature (not at all to be found in the Narnia books, e.g., according to the computer-generated analysis by Delaware and Babcock), constantly recurs in the literature of the Pooh community, which clearly must have used the image of honey as one of the key building blocks in their imaginative construction of the world.”

 

 

Just in case you’re about geeky as this kind of stuff as I occasionally am, here‘s more joy for you.

Courtesy of Between Two Worlds

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‘Me’ versus the Enlightenment

One topic that will be delved into further in a summer project I’m involved in is the ethics of worship.

Is it ethical to worship something? I’m not entirely sure what the definition of worship is (and for once I won’t run straight to Wiktionary.com) but I’d say it includes some aspect of humbling one-self before someone/something else. This kind of action is deemed impermissable or at least a  bit suspect or immature in modern secular culture. The Enlightenment ideal, or so I have gathered, is to be a truly autonomous agent, forging ahead in the world and charting out a brave new course for humanity. Worship is, on this view, so medieval! (and that’s an insult, for reasons yet to be fully determined).

According to my simplistic view of intellectual history, while before the Enlightenment authority was bound up in various institutions and persons such as the monarchy, Church and Deity, after, in the glorious Dispensation of Reason, it is more about the Self. Self-worship in various forms is the logical corollary of this doctrine.

The problem, however, is that modern ontologies are now materialistic. Traditional, ‘naïve’ views of the self are consequently jettisoned. But what of the easy move of locating authority in one-self (kicking it downstairs as it were) – must that too be dumped? Could even self-worship and the quest for autonomy just be superstitious nonsense?

How scarily bleak the picture when there is no real authority at all – not in a benevolent charismatic leader or the will of the people, or even in you! Of course, a bleak Weltanschauung devoid of any significant hope is not by that reason a false one – but if the materialistic view is bleak, let its apologists not pretend otherwise! And I do suggest that the fact that we do hope should not lead to us giving it up immediately but rather give us some of the personal motivation required to rigorously question materialism, to explore the possibility that there is more, that our vague hopes are in the end well founded and able to be built on – for they were in fact intended.

Now a question for you. What do you worship?

justify that! defend yourself! while I distract attention away from what I believe!

Mixing in the circles that I do and more importantly, being a denizen  of the internet, it’s not infrequently that I hear the insistence that people must (by implication, ‘will obviously be unable to’) justify their moral beliefs – particularly Christians. There is a general feeling about the place that a number of ethical claims important to the historic Christian tradition are generally indefensible. I dispute this assertion and will thrash out some thoughts on it. (This post is likely to be honed over time, so don’t be too surprised if it’s diachronically dynamic). I’m not too sure how one would go about justifying one’s moral beliefs, whether they be secular or religious in origin – but I’ve fired a mental shot gun at the target and will show you the results.

It’s popular to bash the fundies as outclassed outmoded illiterate inhabitants of a cultural and mental back-water, deserving of abuse and ridicule. Dictums that are commonly dismissed as being religious in origin include ones along the lines of ‘the unborn child has rights’, ‘some sexual practices are immoral’, ‘personal responsibility is an important factor in societal wellbeing’, ‘punishment has a retributive element’, ‘religious beliefs have a part to play in public policy discussions’, and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (oh wait, that one’s probably okay). A number of these are certainly debated within Christian circles and I’m not concerned with their truth or falsehood so much as one’s right to hold to them in the absence of arguments to the contrary, preferably without being despised.

I’m by no means an ethicist, but I think that moral beliefs should fulfil some criteria. Here are some that seem appropriate:

1) *they should be internally consistent.
2)  *they should have a grounding or basis, which accounts for their coherency.
It’s the second one that’s tricky to spell out, for most views. Secularist opponents of ‘Christian values’ are not immune to this. Start applying the ‘why’ question to some of their ethical assertions. Why should income be distributed more equally, why do people have things owed to them (e.g. a particular standard of living), why does the environment need to be protected, (why can’t I kill endangered snails if I want), why should we act in the interests of [X], …?

A similar point was illustrated to me by the stage one law paper I took. The lecturer was not a fan of ‘moralism’ and its influence on public policy at times in NZ’s past. However, many positions advocated in the course are fairly evidently influenced by moralism – just of a different persuasion. You shouldn’t hit kids ever, minority voices should be listened to particularly carefully, you should address historical grievances, you shouldn’t legislate against certain things and for others because, well it’s just obvious really that person X has right Y.

So, many claims in the area of public policy are of a moral nature and most (all?) people can’t fully justify their moral beliefs. So there is definitely some equivalence here. Yet secularists know, or claim to know, that while their own moral beliefs are ultimately justifiable in some sense perhaps simply by being obvious to the educated, traditional values are patently silly and misguided, as, e.g. they are based on the bible – an obscure religious text rejected by educated people as a source of both fact and ethics.

Perhaps the real issue is utter rejection of the possibility that the bible, or Christian beliefs in general, could be authoritative or true. The Bible can’t be used as evidence. This strikes me as bizarre and I will blog on it later (a starter: the Bible contains historical accounts – why can’t these be used as evidence?). Yet it is plausible to many people, for a host of reasons (many bad, some good) that the Bible is authoritative when speaking on ethics.  It seems to me that in the absence of good reasons to reject a set of ethics as false (e.g. inconsistency or due to being ad hoc), we’re not justified in preferring those of our own culture or intuitions above those of others to the extent of abusing them – it is likely that to the outside observer, our own ethical beliefs will be similarly counter-intuitive in their details.

Let me phrase all this another way: play nicely children, for the post-modern consensus calls into question (at least to some extent) your guiding narrative too!
But this all raises another underlying question – what do we even mean when we speak of ethics, or of what we ought to do?

upcoming posts

Here are some things I’ve partly drafted or that are rattling around my head. If I list them here, I may finish them off and get them published, here or elsewhere.

“Why the Zombie Argument has bite” – a look at an argument for a form of mind-body dualism and why I find it attractive in some ways.

“21st Century Paul – the Eutychus event rerun”  – a satirical look at how a modern-day Paul might chat with the sleepy young man Eutychus.

“Flipping Divinity / Theodicy Flipping” – a look at the ‘Evil god’ challenge

“Assorted poetry” – pretty much what it says

some stuff on molecular convergence

some stuff on evolutionary convergence and ‘typology’ in the bible – in general, links in various teleological views of history.

“platonic theology – why we’re not friends”.   [Difficulties with Platonic source of morality, Platonic law of truth (E. Steinhart), ‘Platonic-like’ scientific law (see Whewell’s ideas as contrast). Interesting ideas: mathematical platonism (e.g. Gould v Craig).  Justice – why (contra Steinhart), humanrights or egalitarianism? Why would these be the abstract Forms and how would we know?!  Steinhart says that “As an affirmative atheism, platonic atheism has the resources to beat theism at its own game.” That may sound exciting to those who realise that the standard atheisms are unsatisfying, but perhaps this attempt to mix the transcendent with the profane instead (like non-reductive naturalism wrt persons?) has the resources to show some of the weaknesses of atheism in general.]

other stuff

welcome

This is my new blog; I’ve got tired of my old one and hope this one can be a bit more polished. As I’ve finished undergrad, I’m moving up in the world and pretending to be more sophisticated.  We’ll see how long it takes for me to become embarrassed about this one.

 

This year was an interesting one (this may come out in some of the posts) and the coming years should also be interesting; hopefully less challenging, but I guess challenging times are growth times. As the cliches run, there is a need for balance here.

This blog will attempt to find some of the gems in the murky dust piles of science, theology, philosophy and perhaps occasionally economics, as I’ve either done a few papers or have an interest in these broad topics. The blog title comes from a systematic theology I’m reading, which got me thinking a little about communication. I’d like to communicate well and communicate good things – primarily Truth, I suppose. Let me know how I’m doing with that if you like.