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Church, Churches, and Church History: Index

Recently I’ve been posting on Apostolic Succession and church history in general.  I thought about putting those posts under “Religious Miscellany“; but those posts are more general in nature, and cover religions other than Christianity.  I decided it would be worthwhile to add a new index for such posts, which are more specifically about Christianity, the Church, and church history.  Therefore, though I’ve written quite a lot about religion here over the years, this will be my most focused and specific index on religious matters.  Enjoy!

Apostolic Succession

Interlude: Complicated Ecclesiastical Terminology

More Terminology:  Churches

Names, Revisited

When is a Sacrament not a Sacrament? Validity and Liceity

Wandering Bishops

Will the Real Apostolic Succession Please Stand Up? Recognition of Lineages

Long Distance Eucharist

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 4: The Enlightenment

voltaire

On this rather elliptical path towards looking at religion as role-playing, we’ve looked at the religious milieu of the ancient Greco-Roman world, the origins of monotheism, and why it replaced paganism.  Many aspects of pagan belief remained, of course, under a (sometimes extremely thin) Christian veneer, and sometimes more or less openly as various types of folk practice and superstition.  Still, Christianity was on the whole dominant for nearly a millennium and a half after it conquered pagan Rome.  What struck a blow from which Christianity has never completely recovered, and which began the disenchantment of the world in earnest, was the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment is the period beginning at about the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th Century in which a new focus on reason and secularism began to be manifested in Western and Central European society, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.  It’s always hard to give a concise definition of a complex phenomenon such as the Enlightenment, but the following points can serve as a beginning.  The Enlightenment was characterized by

  1. An emphasis on human reason, as opposed to Divine revelation.
  2. A focus on science and the scientific method.
  3. A call for political and social equality:  that is, democracy over monarchy, the intrinsic equality of all classes and nationalities, and even the beginnings of equality between the genders.
  4. A call for political and religious liberty:  Established religions were to be opposed, freedom of religion and association were promoted, and people were to be free to change their governments if need be.
  5. A desire to put human reason and science to work in improving human society, especially by rationalistic and technocratic means.
  6. An emphasis on the individual over the collective.
  7. A suspicion of organized religion and a tendency towards Deism and anti-clericalism.
  8. Optimism and (to some extent) utopianism as to the prospects of improving society; and a tendency to view the past as primitive, superstitious, and obscurantist, and the future as the realm of glorious possibility.

I think those points are a fair outline of the Enlightenment worldview.  It’s very clear from points 1 ,2, 5, and 8 why the Enlightenment resulted in so much disenchanting of the world; but before I go on with that, I think we need to look at the context of the Enlightenment, lest we misunderstand what followed.

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Picking and Choosing: Religious Affiliation

I am continuing with my use of older essays, written in a different context, as new blog posts.  Longtime readers know I’m Catholic, but that I became so only after an extended period of studying the various world religions.  This was originally written to a friend to give a brief explanation of my thinking on why, for me, at any rate, Catholicism was the right choice.  I might not phrase everything quite the same way if I wrote this today; and the format is of an explanation to another person; but I am editing it but lightly, leaving it substantially as originally written.  I should also point out that this is strictly personal–others of other faiths will have their own reasons for why they joined the traditions to which they adhere.  This post is intended to be descriptive of myself, not evangelistic of others.

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Attaining Nibbana: Orientalism, Protestantism, and Translation

If your inclination upon reading the title of this post was to say, “What?!”, let me note that you would have been less likely to do so if I’d said, “Attaining Nirvana”.  You still might wonder what the heck that has to do with Orientalism, Protestantism, and translation–we’ll get to all that–but at least you’d recognize the word “nirvana”.  “Nirvana”, though a loanword from Sanskrit, has become sufficiently naturalized in English that we no longer need to use all the diacritical marks of proper Sanskrit transliteration (according to which it would be “nirvāṇa”), nor do we even have to italicize it (as is the proper usage for foreign words not considered to have been assimilated).  Moreover, most people have at least a vague notion of what nirvana means.  True, for most Americans not familiar with Buddhist thought, “nirvana” is more of a synonym for “paradise” than its correct meaning of “blowing out” or “extinction” in reference to finite, conditioned existence.  Still, the point is that it’s hardly an unknown word to the average modern English speaker.

What’s interesting is that we use the Sanskrit term “nirvana”.  The oldest scriptures of Buddhism are the so-called Pali Canon, which, though most closely associated with Hinayana* Buddhism, are more or less accepted in most existing branches of Buddhism.  Pali is an ancient language of India (technically, a Middle Indo-Aryan language), and it is related to Sanskrit.  The relationship of Pali to Sanskrit is somewhat like that of Italian to Latin–that is, a later language that has derived from an earlier, “classical” language.  Whether Pali derived directly from Sanskrit or not is debated, but the analogy is good enough.

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I Want Your Psycho, Your Vertigo Schtick–Lady Gaga, Open Theology, and My 1500th Post!

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Because I’ve been thinking it’s been way too long since we’ve had some Gaga here–and how better to celebrate my 1500th post?

I’m writing this as a standalone, though it has some relevance to some of my other posts on religion.  In speaking of God, one has to remember that one is always talking in terms of analogy.  However, given that we can’t help using language, we have to use analogy whether we like it or not.  The danger, of course, is too much anthropomorphism.  We have to steer between the Scylla of not being able to talk about God at all and the Charybdis of making Him appear too much like one of us.  There are different ways of plotting this course, and the one I want to talk about here is one that began a couple of decades or so ago:  open theism.

Before we can talk about open theism, we have to lay a bit of background.  The foundational religions of the West are the Abrahamic religions; and the foundational text for all of them, to one degree or another, is the Old Testament (known to Jews as the Tanakh, or often in English as the Hebrew Bible).  One of the most prominent aspects of the Old Testament is the way it portrays God.  The OT, by and large, is extremely anthropomorphic in its description of God.  He is described as having various bodily parts, and Moses is granted the favor of actually seeing Him from behind (Exodus 33:18-23).  He is depicted as having limited knowledge (Genesis 18:21) and as apparently forgetting things (Genesis 8:8, where He is implied to have suddenly remembered Noah after having forgotten about the Flood for the last forty days).  He is depicted as changing His mind back and forth (Exodus 32:8-14).  According to the Old Testament, God orders genocide with little compunction (Joshua, all throughout) and smites His own people, including innocents, for totally capricious reasons (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  Examples could be multiplied, but hopefully these are enough to get the picture of a God who is rather disturbing, who is–well, psycho.  This, for anyone past the barbarian tribesman phase, is a problem.

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