Unloaded Questions; Outsider’s Test; Thank You; Smart Guy; Reason for Origen’s Universalism; Allowed This Time; Self-Acceptance

1.  Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 136:

Carnegie quotes Dr. Overstreet, who states: “It often seems as if people get a sense of their own importance by antagonizing at the outset.  The radical comes into a conference with his conservative brethren; and immediately he must make them furious!  What, as a matter of fact, is the good of it?  If he simply does it to get some pleasure out of it for himself, he may be pardoned.  But if he expects to achieve something, he is only psychologically stupid.”

This describes me in a nut-shell: I love to challenge the mindset of the status quo.  At DePauw and Harvard, I was a conservative!  In conservative Christian settings, I was a liberal.  But Dale Carnegie exhorts us to find common ground with another person and to ask her questions to which she can answer “yes”, leading her towards our point-of-view.  This is what Socrates did: he didn’t march up to a person and say “This is the way it is.”  Rather, he asked questions.

Many people who try to practice this approach don’t do it all that well, in my opinion, because their questions are loaded and ideologically biased.  “And which political party is more pro-American—the Republicans or the Democrats?”, a person once asked me, expecting me to answer “Republican.”  That’s not an effective use of the Socratic method, unless you know for sure that the person you’re asking the question will answer “Republican”!

But I think that it’s appropriate to ask people about what we consider the weaknesses in their positions, to see how they handle them.  For example: “President Obama, what do you think about all this debt?”  That’s not a loaded question.  His policy was to do deficit spending in order to get our economy out of its economic hole.  What’s his view on the debt that such a policy created?  I’m sure it has crossed his mind!  He’s a smart man!

2.  Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, page 116:

“…All religions look equally silly from the outside…Sorry!  I don’t mean to tread on anybody’s toes…Take any religious mystery, any theological proposition: expressed in ordinary terms it will read like sheer nonsense to the outsider, from the ritualistic, symbolic eating of human flesh and blood practiced by all the Christian sects to the outright cannibalism practiced by some savages.”

This is the “outsider’s test of faith” that atheists talk about.  See Ken Pulliam’s summary of John Loftus’ discussion of this test hereThe idea is that we’re supposed to step outside of our religion and take a look at it as if we were outsiders, the same way that we would evaluate a religion that is not our own.  The conclusion Loftus wants us to reach is that it’s all nonsense!

I have some sympathy for the “outsider’s test of faith”, for I’m sick of Christians who apply their razor-sharp reasoning to other religions—to show that they’re silly or irrational or immoral in comparison with Christianity—and yet they give a free pass to their own faith.  Either they say “Just have faith, for God knows more than we do” when they’re discussing the problematic aspects of Christianity, or they offer apologetic “answers” that not everyone finds convincing.

 At the same time, I’m open to a degree of mystery, so I don’t automatically blow something off just because it doesn’t make complete sense to me.  Believing in a good God with all of the evil that exists in the world is an example.

Interestingly, the “outsider’s test of Christianity” runs counter to some of the things that I’ve learned about the academic study of religion.  Not completely, mind you, for, when we apply (say) an anthropological analysis to a religion, we are acting as detached outsiders, looking at it from the perspective of a field of study.  But I was also encouraged to try to understand a religion from the perspective of its practitioners—to try to enter into their mindset.  And this would apply to any religion. 

But the “outsider’s test of faith” isn’t really about the study of religion—it’s about the evaluation of a religion to determine whether or not we should accept it.  Personally, I’m not big on getting on any high horse and pronouncing all religions as “wrong”.  Maybe they have something to teach us.  Maybe their practitioners have experienced things that many of us haven’t!  I don’t want to become a complete relativist, however, for cannibalism strikes me as cruel.

3.   Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 15:

“I give thee thanks” means exactly “I am handing over to you my thank offering” (see Pss. 52:11…; 57:10-11; 86:12; 118:21; 138:1-2). 

This just stood out to me.  Maybe it’s because the ancient Israelites had a concrete way to say “thank you” to God.  I either forget to say “thank you” in my prayers, or I say it, it feels empty, and I soon forget about it.  But the ancient Israelites offered an animal.  Rituals solidify things, in my opinion.

4.   R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 153:

But who is courageous enough to measure himself even as editor against the universality of Eratosthenes, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, chronographer, geographer, grammarian, and poet?

Smart guy!  A jack of all trades! 

You can probably tell that I’m really struggling to find interesting things in this book.  I’m sure there are people who love it.  It just doesn’t interest me! 

5.  R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 335:

The fact is that universalism in Origen’s thought is a necessary conclusion from his basic premises, and not, as it is in most modern thought, a ‘larger hope’ grounded on a strong belief in God’s love and a kindly feeling toward all humanity, however degraded.  In Origen’s view for God to fail in reconciling into their original state as pure spirits wholly obedient to his will any beings at all, even only one or two, would be for God, the single, simple, primal, unalterable One, to compromise himself with change and becoming and corruption.  This is inconceivable, and therefore all must be saved.

I don’t entirely understand this, but it addresses a question that has come to me.  Why was Origen a universalist?  Was it because he believed in the love of God for all humanity and could not conceive of a good God torturing sinners in hell forever and ever?  That’s a big reason that I’m drawn to universalism, but, in line with what I said in (2), my job in studying the ancients should be to figure out what they think, not project onto them what I think. 

Maybe I can use some of what they think to inform my own thoughts.  For example, I believe that Origen’s view that hell is a place of correction accords with my understanding of the love of God, who prefers not to throw his creation into the garbage, but deeply wants them to become righteous and reconciled with him.  But was that Origen’s reason for seeing hell as a place of correction?

According to Hanson, the answer is “no”.  I don’t entirely understand what Origen’s reason for believing in universalism is.  It has something to do with God being one, so, apparently, in some manner, God’s creation must also be one: united with him.  Origen referred to I Corinthians 15:28, which affirms that, after all things have become subjected to the Son, the Son will subject himself to the Father, making God all in all.  So all will become one, in a manner of speaking. 

Many Christians believe that God will be “all in all” because he will destroy or eternally punish his enemies, so what will be left will be subordinate to God.  And the righteous remnant will be “all” that there is!  Or perhaps the believers in eternal torment hold that the sinners in hell are subordinate to God, so God is all in all that way.  In this view, everyone will be subordinate to God, but some won’t care for their state of subordination.  But Origen held that all will be subordinated to God in reconciliation to him.

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 15:

[Mishnah Demai 4] now turns to the case of purchasing produce from someone who is not deemed trustworthy.  In certain well-defined circumstances we may believe his word that the produce has been tithed, and therefore need not tithe it ourselves…The major principles are as follows: We may believe someone not deemed trustworthy (1) in an emergency (as on the Sabbath, 4:1-2), or (2) when we have no sure way to verify his statement (4:5), or (3) when he testifies concerning someone else, and thus has no personal interest to be served by lying (4:6).  But if two men give testimony concerning each other, we suspect collision (4:6-7).

This highlights the issue of Tractate Demai.  We’re supposed to eat food after it has been tithed.  The problem was that not every Jew tithed scrupulously.  So Jews had to be careful about whom they bought their produce from.  What if the Jewish salesman of produce did not tithe mint, dill, and cummin?  You will be eating untithed produce, and God won’t like that very much!

But there are exceptions.  You can eat the possibly untithed produce on the Sabbath, perhaps because you’re not allowed to perform the business of giving it back to the seller on that day, and that may be all the food that you have.  Then, for the rabbis, there are ways to tell if a person is telling the truth, on the basis of his self-interest or the possibility of collusion.  Christian apologists use this approach when they argue that the early Christians were telling the truth about Jesus’ resurrection: they can’t think of any motive for the early Christians to lie, especially when they were suffering persecution for their faith, and so they conclude that they were speaking the truth.

7.  AA Daily Reflection, April 26: Instead of demanding that people, places, and things make me happy, I can ask God for self-acceptance.

The bad part is me to a T.  I get so bent out of shape when people, places, and things are not the way I want.  I even get bent out of shape when I look back and think of times in the past when they were not as I want.  And so I allow the problems of yesterday to spoil my today.  What I need to learn is to accept myself even when things are not as I desire—when people do not accept me, when I feel looked down on, etc.  I wish I had that kind of peace.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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