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Sunday, 14 September 2014

New Blog: Gully Heights

Otagosh has been around a while now, and its focus has primarily been on biblicist Christianity, with a perspective shaped by a failed sectarian movement. Otagosh isn't about to disappear, but as time has gone by my own concerns and interests have broadened out, and for a while now I've been tossing around the idea of a separate blog to reflect that.

The result is Gully Heights. The title is an intentional oxymoron indicating, hopefully, that it won't be taking itself too seriously. Occasionally there might be a cross-posting, but the intention is to keep the two fenced off. Items with a religious bent will continue to appear here as usual. Most New Zealand content, including perhaps a certain political twist, non-religious reviews, science and assorted musings, will now appear on the new blog.

While some of the new content will have very limited interest to many Otagosh regulars, you might make an exception for this short video in which Michelle Thaller, a NASA astronomer, explains the role of stars in the creation of our world - and you and me.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Spirit Speaketh

If you're a Christian, are you a teetotaller, or do you enjoy a drink now and then?

And if you're in the latter category, how does a tipple affect your sense of well-being?

Research out of America seems to suggest that the more religious you are, the more you're likely to turn nasty after a few wines or beers.

American Christians are admittedly a strange lot, with loopy evangelical sects parading as mainline, and huge numbers of true believers convinced that evolution is a Satanic lie. So maybe things are a bit different in more secular parts such as New Zealand and, well, almost everywhere else.

Or maybe not. Judge for yourself.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Kiwi Ecclesiastes

Behold, a sparkling new rendition of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Egad, it may even be better than Lloyd Geering's translation. The Word of Lord, just in time for the New Zealand elections on the 20th.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Satirist, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his efforts to decide who to vote for?
4 One leader passeth away, and another leader cometh: but the attempted superficial charm abideth for ever.
5 The poll riseth, and the poll goeth down, and hasteth to his place whence it arose.  
I'm not sure a lot - or maybe any - of the specifics will make much sense for our American brethren (and frankly, not much of theirs makes much sense here either), but the general thrust should be clear enough.
6 And I considered what I had thought was the result of skilful but short-sighted politics might also be partly due to actual corruption, and I threw up in my mouth a little.
Amen brother.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Waco Remembered

A correspondent writes:

I thought you might be interested in this, from the Houston Chronicle yesterday: "The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is unveiling a detailed wooden re-creation of the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993, the start of a standoff in Waco that proved to be one of the agency’s defining moments."

The writer goes on to note that Phil Arnold and James Tabor "(both with a WCG background, and an understanding of where David Koresh was coming from) tried to mediate at Waco, and the FBI ignored them with the consequences we know."

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but it was ex-WCG consultants who were called on rather than SDAs (who were more directly related to Koresh and the Branch Davidians). Was it because the SDA mullahs were too busy calling for a bowl of water so they could wash their hands of any embarrassing connection?

The World as it Seems in Texas

The latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God is out.

And if I had no other good reason to be thankful for living a very long way from Texas, this would be sufficient.

Take the page 3 cartoon for Exhibit A.

Yes, I know Texas is famously Republican, and that WCG founder, Apostle and Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong was a big fan of the GOP and luminaries like Nixon.

But is it appropriate to splash something as blatantly political as this across what is essentially a Christian publication?

Are there no Democrat supporters in the COGs?

Okay, about the same proportion as in the NRA. But there's nothing to recommend this kind of Fox News arrogance. The word that springs to mind is inappropriate.

Mr Clayton might consider selling this kind of thing to Willie Dankenbring, but I'd like to think The Journal had more credibility than Prophecy News Flash.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Pick and Mix

One of the more amusing characteristics of many conservative proof-texting books, booklets and articles is the wide range of Bible translations quoted. As a callow youth I found this highly impressive; a demonstration of the writer's depth and expertise. One moment we were in the King James Version, next in Moffatt, Rotherham, the ASV, Young's Literal or Ferrar Fenton. Each was cited when it provided the "best" translation of a verse. Best, of course, was the writer's preferred position. Very convenient.

These days you'd be hard pressed to find a copy of any of those translations. They've been replaced - for better or worse - by a new generation of versions: the NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV and (the Eternal preserve us all!) The Message. Yet the same strategy endures. The wide-eyed neophyte may well be dazzled by this apparent mastery of diverse translations, but the truth is far less profound. More often than not it's simply - to use a term that has had a good airing here recently - cherry picking. Pick the translation that best fits the point you want to make and ignore the rest (which are clearly inaccurate). Shuffle according to taste. Forget hermeneutics, this is simply apologetic sleight of hand. It's a sure sign that the writer is, far from an expert, an amateur and a dilettante.

In other words it's a bit of a con.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cherry Picking - Can it be Contained?

Cherry picking
Miller Jones has continued his series on fallacious arguments used by atheists and fundamentalists. I've already linked to part one, so here are part 2 and part 3.

My reaction to part one provoked some robust discussion here in the comments section, but while not wanting the flow to stop, I wonder if some considered response from Otagosh readers might not be welcome too over on  the GCBC blog. I also want to thank Miller (I'm not sure that's a real name or pseudonym, not that it matters) for raising the subject, and responding quite graciously to my initial comments. This is definitely a discussion worth having.

In the second of his postings Miller provides a number of excellent examples where atheist writers do indeed "bag the Bible." He goes on to list a number of citations from the Good Book, used as evidence by Atheists, where Yahweh is portrayed as a moral monster. Miller then seeks to redress the balance by identifying another set of scriptures in which this same God is portrayed in positive, moral and thoroughly ethical ways. He concludes:
Thus, if we accept all [of the] scriptural examples of God's murderous and cold-blooded nature, we must also acknowledge the over 200 references that I have cited describing a God of mercy, compassion, patience, kindness, forgiveness and unfailing love. Yes, this represents one of those glaring contradictions that atheists are fond of pointing out relative to Scripture; but it also demonstrates that there is an alternate view of God presented in the pages of the Bible...
Well, as they say, yes... but.

Yes, but you'd have to make that same concession regarding the Quran, for example. That's fine by me, but I doubt many conservative Christians will be shouting out loud hosannas and amens at that suggestion.

I guess my question to Miller is this: what is the alternative to cherry-picking the texts we like? I suspect he has a good answer, but I'm not sure he has yet articulated it clearly.

We all approach the Bible with a world of assumptions and, sadly, (despite loud assurances to the contrary in certain quarters) the Bible does not "interpret itself". Two contradictory sets of texts do not cancel each other out; they just create a mess - and a breeding ground for half-baked apologetics. Come back Marcion, all is forgiven!

Part 3 is a nicely worded slap-down to the frequent practice of "appealing to authority" to back up opinions. According to Miller, both fundamentalists and atheists do this, but he concedes that fundamentalists do this more directly (and he won't get any grief from me on that).

But will the "argument from authority" critique wash when it comes to atheism.
... the greater irony vis-à-vis the Atheist position is that they turn around and use the source/authority that they have just discredited to discredit the Judeo-Christian conception of God! They are quick to appeal to those same Scriptures to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is a homophobic, homicidal, immoral, tyrannical, vindictive and slavery affirming monster.
Bart Ehrman - atheist and biblical scholar
Again, yes - but. Only insofar as atheists aim their guns at the Bible. Okay, there are some who obsess about the Bible. Ex-members of high- demand biblicist sects (hmm, maybe we could even think of an example) might be particularly prone to this - and that would be both appropriate for them in their circumstances and understandable. But consider two prominent atheists who engage the field of biblical studies professionally, Bart Ehrman and Bob Price. Neither man fits the pattern.

Second point: obviously any good atheist doesn't believe in the existence of "the God of the Bible" any more than Jupiter Olympus. The point being made is about the portrayal of "the God of the Bible" in the Bible, and that seems to be something evidential, and not an appeal to authority.

Miller finishes by writing:
Neither side seems to be able to recognize their use of fallacious reasoning. They see it in each other, but not in themselves.

Yes, Fundamentalists and Atheists are very different from each other - it is legitimate to characterize them as being polar opposites philosophically. However, it is very clear to this blogger that both sides employ fallacious arguments to advance their viewpoints/agendas. What do you think?
 I'm interested in your perspective too. But if you've got a few minutes to spare, why not click across to GCBC and read the three posts in full, and drop a comment on Miller's blog as well.