Monday, February 17, 2014

Not Thelma and Louise

Gramma Kay and Grampa Larry visit the South Rim...

Mom and Dad are visiting Prescott, Arizona, this month. I was out of town on business all week so come Sunday the 16th we got together for a day trip to the Grand Canyon. It's less than three hours to the north of my new digs. Mom had not been there since 1955. This was Dad's first visit. It was cool and windy (it is winter even in Arizona after all) but the sun came and went often enough to make for some fine vistas.

Mom made up for her nearly 60 year hiatus by purchasing a little bit of everything in the gift shop. I finally bought a copy of Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, the Expanded 10 Year Anniversary Edition by Michael P. Ghiglieri (Author), Thomas M. Myers (Author), M.P. Ghiglieri (Editor), Kim Besom & Bronze Black (Illustrator). "They have to keep updating it," lamented the clerk who sold it to me, "There's just no end to stupid!"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Paul Was Not a Christian

A sophisticated argument, skillfully rendered...

Could key elements of traditional Christian dogma - from Augustine to Luther - hinge on a choice between nominative and genitive case when translating a key phrase in Paul's letters from their original Greek?  Does the bulk of the history of Christianity arise from distinction between the Christian notion of faith in Christ and Paul's expression the faithfulness of Christ?  Wow!  The concept rocks my world and I'm not even a Christian.

Professor Pamela Eisenbaum is a practicing Jew who teaches in a Christian seminary.  Tough duty; I imagine watching her work would be a treat. Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle is as thought-provoking as it is accessible.  A skilled writer, Eisenbaum is methodical but never plodding.  As she guides us through her challenging thesis there are moments when tells us she needs to slow down to carefully spell out a complex concept in detail.  Heed her warning and you will be rewarded.

I don't read Greek (of course neither do most Christians...okay, other than those who live in Greece I suppose) so I'll be sending this book along to some fine friends who do.  I look forward to hearing what they - a retired Roman Catholic priest and a 20-something evangelical minister - think of Professor Eisenbaum's approach to the pivotal role Paul played - whether intentionally or accidentally - in the early church.

Fun stuff. Paul Was Not a Christian should be on every Christian theology nerd's reading list.

PS I recommended the book and its author to Justin Brierley at the Unbelievable radio program and podcast.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What Sort of Heaven?

Yet another provocative episode of Unbelievable...

I wrote to the host, Justin Brierley:

I listened to the [1 February 2014] "What on Earth do we Know About Heaven" episode with great interest.

There are many troubling issues related to the concept of the Christian heaven. The issue of eternal boredom was addressed as best it could be. Other issues were missed. Will the residents of heaven be unconcerned for the fate of their friends and family members suffering eternal conscious torment in hell? If heaven is so swell why did (as many as a third of) the angels rebel against God and were cast down? [Rev. 12:3-4] If free will persists in heaven what prevents another fraction of the angels, or mankind, from rebelling again? These might make interesting topics for future episodes.

While Hemant Mehta might be accused of an untoward glibness in his approach to this heavenly topic (please forgive him, arguing with American fundamentalists [year after year] is crazy-making), it's interesting that Randal Rauser seemed to rely almost exclusively upon the extremely subjective so-called Near Death Experiences (NDE) as proof positive of the afterlife.

It is important to remember that Near Death Experiences are reported by people who did not, in fact, die. While the patient's heartbeat may have stopped (temporarily), his brain did not die or he would not have had any means by which to regain consciousness. The memories may have been created, remembered, or conflated while the patient lost or regained consciousness.

The experience called NDE is widely known, if not [fully] understood, which is why it is examined in credible peer-reviewed journals. Generally, the literature deals more with phenomenology - subjective reports of first person experience - rather than the results of scientific experiment (it being unethical to deliberately kill and then revive test subjects for research purposes). You will find that the literature that claims veridical experience during an NDE are found primarily in the less rigorous, more credulous journals.

Interestingly, near death is not required to experience an NDE [or the related Out of Body Experience, or OBE]. In addition to cardiac arrest, severe illness, or other life-threatening trauma, the NDE experience be initiated in a non-life threatening form by hypoxia, a variety of medications, [certain forms of epilepsy, intense meditation,] and electrical or magnetic stimulation of the brain.

In any case, these various neurobiological phenomena seem a weak reed upon which to base one's faith in a Christian-themed eternal hereafter.

As always, thank you again for serving up the very finest religious debate on the web.

Best regards,


PS I wrote on these topics in the course my studies. My papers feature substantial bibliographies for further reading.

And just for fun...

Image Credit:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Upstream Color

I finally have WiFi in the apartment…

So I watched Upstream Color - a disturbing and powerful film by the savagely gifted Shane Carruth – instead of finding a Super Bowl party. A few words come to mind…

angst bereft boundaries confusion control cutting danger death degradation delusion dependence despair divorce dreams drugs ennui estrangement hallucination horror hypnosis identity illness illusion insanity loss madness malaise melancholy memory metaphor psychosis relationship sadness 
violation waste water 

Whew! Next time I think I’ll find a Super Bowl party.