Latest TTC course was From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity. by Bart D. Ehrman. Good course covering an interesting period: there was basically a kind of Cambrian explosion of differing forms of Christianity, eventually culled down to an orthodox core. In spite of the title, it concentrates on the first couple of centuries: Constantine and the Council of Nicea aren't covered till the last lecture,.
The Burgess-Shale-like diversity is impressive. Among them were purely Jewish followers of Jesus, expecting an imminent apocalypse along the lines of other Jewish period cults. Ebionites thought that they should obey Jewish law, including circumcision, but that Gentiles should be converted. Marcionites thought there were two Gods: a wrathful, harsh and judgmental Old Testament God; and a kind and merciful God heralded by Jesus. Manicheans took the concept further, deciding that the Old Testament God was actively evil, not just a too strict and hasty. Plus of course there were the Christian Gnostics, who believed in secret knowledge and rituals to assure salvation.
The course presents Paul as hugely important, but not exactly the Creator of Christianity: apparently most of his ideas were already floating around in the plethora of groups.
The course also goes some way to explaining the relationship and emergence of hostility between Christians and Jews. The Romans tolerated Judaism mainly on account of its great age, having a great respect for antiquity. So to justify themselves, the Christians couldn't afford just abandon Judaism completely, even those who abandoned the Mosaic law: they needed its antiquity. But if Christians were the true successors, that had to mean the existing religion was false.
It seems that in the first century or so, persecutions of Christians were mostly bottom up affairs started by local mobs, who found them secretive and suspicious, with dark rumours about their rites. Because they refused to sacrifice to the civic pagan gods, Christians would become scapegoats if their was an earthquake or catastrophe. Later on as Christian numbers grew, higher levels of Roman officialdom started to get involved and put the persecution on an official level.
One interesting question is why the proto-Orthodox view came to dominate. Scholar Walter Bauer thought that it was because the Roman church happened to be of this school: as Christianity developed they became the richest and most politically influential group and came to dominate.
However, it could also be that this view represented the best compromise between extremes: for instance between those who thought that Jesus was fully human, and those who thought he was wholly divine. This would explain some of the more tortuous theology, such as the trinity, as a tough compromise.
The course is very well-presented, told in a chatty and informative matter. Seems to be reasonably objective. Would probably be equally annoying to Protestants and Catholic/Orthodox, since it doesn't have a lot of support for either the bible or apostolic succession being terribly reliable. Worth a listen if you're interested in the subject.
What I'm Reading
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Short book by a Ghanian-American philosophy professor, advocating a kind of pragmatic approach to cross-cultural ethics.
Elegantly written, summarizes the basic issues well, and has a lot of striking examples. The actual philosophy seems a bit nebulous though: it seemed fascinating as I was going along, but as soon as I put the book down I wasn't quite sure what I'd actually learned.
Operation Become More Stoic
Seems to be working pretty well for small irritations. I'm definitely less irritable in queues and crowds than before. Not sure if it's working for the big stuff, but it's supposed to be a slow process.
Have ordered this book, though it looks a bit treacly. Not sure what primary sources to do next. Liked Seneca and Epictetus, but can't really read Marcus Aurelius in large doses.
... libertarians have gone to war against the field of climate science. They made this choice not because they dislike the process of scientific inquiry, but because they dislike the policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion.Julian Baggini New Atheist Movement is destructive (MeFi):
A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only.Pics. Pen drawings. Bathorse. Hairy pigs.
This is most evident when you consider the poverty of the new atheism’s "error theory", which is needed to explain why, if atheism is indeed the view evidence and reason demands, so many very bright people are still religious...
...if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips. Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.
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