Religion, Science, and Economics in the Contemporary World.

Matt Banever suggested we take a look at this discussion with an astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson, who advocates for the need to continue space exploration. Isaac Kramnick, in The Portable Enlightenment Reader  wrote, “If religion was the principle villain of the Enlightenment, science was its hero.”

Fareed Zakaria GPS: Neil Degrasse Tyson makes case for space

Dr. Tyson uses an economic argument to advocate for the necessity of scientific exploration and discovery. The philosophes of the Enlightenment needed no such justification, but they didn’t reject the economic motive either. Rene Descartes, the great mathematician wrote,

“I knew that the languages which one learns there are necessary to understand the works of the ancients; and that the delicacy of fiction enlivens the mind; that famous deeds of history ennoble it and, if read with understanding, aid in maturing one’s judgment; that the reading of all the great books is like conversing with the best people of earlier times; it is even studied conversation in which the authors show us only the best of their thoughts; that eloquence has incomparable powers and beauties; that poetry has enchanting delicacy and sweetness; that mathematics has very subtle processes which can serve as much to satisfy the inquiring mind as to aid all the arts and diminish man’s labor; that treatises on morals contain very useful teachings and exhortations to virtue; that theology teaches us how to go to heaven; that philosophy teaches us to talk with appearance of truth about things, and to make ourselves admired by the less learned; that law, medicine, and the other sciences bring honors and wealth to those who pursue them; and finally, that it is desirable to have examined all of them, even to the most superstitious and false in order to recognize their real worth and avoid being deceived thereby”
René Descartes, Discours de la Methode pour Bien Conduire sa Raison & Chercher la Verité dans les Sciences plus La Dioptrique et Les Meteores qui Sont des Essais de Cete Methode

 

Was religion the enemy of science during the Enlightenment? Descartes also provides us with his own observations:

“Before examining this more carefully and investigating its consequences, I want to dwell for a moment in the contemplation of God, to ponder His attributes in me, to see, admire, and adore the beauty of His boundless light, insofar as my clouded insight allows. Believing that the supreme happiness of the other life consists wholly of the contemplation of divine greatness, I now find that through less perfect contemplation of the same sort I can gain the greatest joy available in this life.”
René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

 

Thomas Jay Oord offered a long and thoughtful commentary on the current relationship between American evangelical Christians and science. You can read it in its entirety on his blog. But Oord admits, “I’m optimistic about the future of the Evangelical theology and science dialogue. But I’m not naïve to think that the dialogue will flow with ease into every Evangelical nook and cranny. Plenty of warfare has occurred and will occur.”

Will America revert to a position that science cannot be reconciled to Christianity?

Four Big Myths of the Book of Revelation by John Blake

March 31st, 2012

4 big myths of Book of Revelation

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) – The anti-Christ. The Battle of Armageddon. The dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

You don’t have to be a student of religion to recognize references from the Book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible has fascinated readers for centuries. People who don’t even follow religion are nonetheless familiar with figures and images from Revelation.

And why not? No other New Testament book reads like Revelation. The book virtually drips with blood and reeks of sulfur. At the center of this final battle between good and evil is an action-hero-like Jesus, who is in no mood to turn the other cheek.

Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, first read Revelation as a teenager. She read it again in writing her latest book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.

Pagels’ book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Her answers may disturb people who see the book as a prophecy about the end of the world.

But people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders, Pagels says.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

“There were always debates about it,” she says. “Some people said a heretic wrote it. Some said a disciple. There were always people who loved and championed it.”

The debate persists. Pagels adds to it by challenging some of the common assumptions about Revelation.

Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::

1. It’s about the end of the world

Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.

Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.

She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos in present-day Turkey.

“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”

The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.

For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.

The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.

Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.

“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”

2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil

The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.

The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satan who would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.

Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”

Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.

Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.

The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.

But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.

Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.

Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.

Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:

“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”

3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian

The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.

There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.

Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.

That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.

The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.

This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.

The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.

That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”

John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.

“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.

The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.

“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”

4. There is only one Book of Revelation

There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.

Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.

There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.

So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?

Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.

Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.

Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”

Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.

Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.

“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’

Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.

Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.

“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”

See also, Elaine Pagels’ article in The New Yorker on the book of Revelation.

Guest Blog: Michael Biral: Do religious institutions have the right to shape public policy?

Blog post:

Law is taught as something that comes from a concrete set of ideals. In America, we are taught that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were heavily influenced by the enlightenment. Our system of government was influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans. What seems to be missing is the explanation of the myths behind our laws. I believe the big idea of this course so far has been to point out that our system of law has been influenced not only by the things we can see (prior laws, thinkers, etc) but also by the things we cannot see such as religion and mythology, without these we would not have our laws. Without Myths, we would not have laws.

I feel that the Robert Cover article expands on this idea. Cover argues that the courts should take the perspective of Roger Williams when dealing with issues of religion. The state should stay out of religious matters to protect religion. This contrasts with the Jeffersonian model of religious freedom, that enacts a wall of separation between church and state. While Cover makes a compelling argument for the freedom of religion from state intrusion. it does raise some questions. Do “Antinomians” have to accept state law if they are receiving funding from the state? No one should dispute religious orders to abide by their own laws when they are living in separate communities; however, does this give religious groups the right to ignore civil rights legislation such as was the case with Bob Jones University? Cover was writing this piece at a time before social issues such as gay marriage and gay rights became hot button issues, but the article raises the question to me that, do religious organizations whom believe these acts to be immoral have the right to shape policy that will in essence make their laws, laws of the land? Is one thing for a religious group to be asked to live out their religious beliefs, but what would Cover say to those groups that try to impose their religious law on others that do not share their religious beliefs? Would those groups argue that the laws they disagree with are not valid because they ignore the nomos and narrative of religion and myth?

The Middle Ages, Renaissances and Early Modern World

[Note: Syllabus change: You will have the reading/writing day on March 8 instead of March 15. For this week’s blog, you will comment on March 6 and the new March 13 reading. The 15th will be our roundtable and no blogging will be due. This will conclude Project 2.]

Mar. 6: Medieval to Modern Dichotomies

            Shlain, 292-322.

Mar. 8: No class. Research/Writing Day

March 13: Rebellion and Reorganization

          Shlain, 323-392.

on two out of the four categories (Second Project):

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why (see instructions for the Second Project, below)
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.