Theology Corner Ethos
Hello, and welcome to Theology corner, covering Theogical topics weekly. Coming up this week is an introduction and an exploration of the link between Theology and Philosophy.
Welcome to a new segment of Theology corner, replacing News of Note. Here there will be a weekly article on Theology of various religions, explaining aspects of them and how they work. This will not always be the usual suspects, but something that explores all in turn, even some esoteric ones. By it's very nature this will be controversial at times, but in many ways this is part of the purpose. So read here to get a broader perspective on religion, be that your own or others.
The Link Between Theology and Philosophy
This may sound like a strange topic. But think about this – Philosophy only really became separate during the enlightenment. Until then everything was theology, including some classics studded by philosophers. Aristotle and Plato were studded in the churches, incorporated into philosophy. Likewise to the mid nineteenth century philosophy frequently referenced god. The separation we see now just did not exist till then. Today of course, we get a complete separation in the intellectual discipline, but they still cross over.
An example of this is the Cartesian debate, Wether we are one or two. This has been going on since the enlightenment and still going strong, and it still references god, religious views and Classic medieval theologians when looking at the nature of the dualisitc split. Another example is of course the ideas around conciousness, something which both disciplines argue about. Here there is also a lot of crossover, especially where exactly what the value of human life is. Perhaps here we find the most variable area of both fields and of course they argue within and without and who is right. But fact is, perhaps because of that early inheritance they also share a lot of common perspectives on both issues.
Then we get to where this applies to most, believers or otherwise, Morals, ethics and values. With today’s pluralism this is a competing minefield of personal and group ethics that I cannot define here in this one little article. Here too Theology and Philosophy cross fertilise, from where the early church virtually sanctified the early stoic Marcus Aurelius and their hand-picked Greek philosophers, who then influenced the now influential medieval theologians and thinkers. This was then returned when Philosophers such as Hume and Kant started breaking out to their own purpose. Read any of their work god is still in there as the font of good in man, the source of the soul, the ultimate power. It is just that they are interpreting differently how the person navigates this. It seems that in this area the cross-polination is rather great and not a small matter – they are intertwined.
Overall, those are just some of the ways Theology and Philosophy is intertwined – they are twins that in effect share each others clothes. In this way they both illuminate the world and they both work to make it a better place through understanding. For this reason they should both be read and celebrated by those that want to think and expand their mind.
Should we Change How we See Faiths of the Book?
Books of Note introduced two books that feature some very different takes on the faiths of the book, Dessert Wisdom and The Book of Self Re-education. We largely see monotheism as a overarching institution with different ways of spreading it's message to three different cultures. And no doubt there is that element to it. But as the way that various sources from faiths of the book are put together with Zoroastrian sources as well as some older traditions you can see how some deeper, ancient elements of wisdom permeate them all. Like all religions, they are a sophisticated way of explaining the world. And like all religions they do so based on their environment and people, a land with a long, rich history of civilizations and wisdom. As we look at this and see how this has come through from the earliest days to what we have now in Judaism, Christianity and Islam we see how this world view has evolved and grown.
In a very real way the Qua'ran is a third, Arabic testament linked very closely to the Jewish old Testament and the Christian new testament. It in a way can also boast it's claim to be the purest in that it was the one recorded to writing and preserved as a book closer to it's oral inception than the others. Written down and collected within the prophets lifetime and just after this means that while not a perfect record it hasn't had as much time to change with oral interpretation and scribes re-recording it their own way. When you compare this with the old testament which had reputedly been oral for many years when the Jewish tribes were desert nomads and the fact that what we now know of as the canonical bible was set in the 3rd to 5th century BC this is a very quick transition from word to page. Perhaps a sign of the time and writing being more prevalent and important, perhaps a sign that Mohammad saw writing as a way of preserving the purity of the message.
There are, however, older threads coming in here from before the large flourishing of faiths of the book. There is a much, much older monotheistic religion coming from the Persian region known as Zoroastrianism. This religion, which can be dated back to the early and middle Bronze age, was a literate culture with just as old and hallowed traditions as Judaism. I would not be surprised if it has influenced Islams world view as much as some parts of Coptic Christianity (Which by the way, uses a different bible and cannon to the Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches). Add to this the threads that have come out the older religions and belief systems you see a whole rich tapestry that the faiths of the book inherited and made their own. It is not in isolation they evolved, they evolved with a culture, cultural area and context. A context that in many ways was there before them. You see some small evidence of this in the way that Djinn are accepted as a part of creation in the Qua'ran. You can also see it in the the way that Aristotelian physics underpins Sufi Cosmology, which also makes sense of prior influence on Sufisism from other places (possibly Coptic, possibly from philosophy itself). Another thread that heavily influenced Roman Christianity of course is Mithraisim. Imported from the Middle East by Rome it became a very popular cult among the soldiery. It was also basically monotheistic, having the Sun God Mithras and his evil counterpart rather than an entire pantheon of deities. Taking a comparison between Mithraic rituals and current Roman Catholic tradition is quite eye opening, right up to and including the date of Christmas being the same as the purported birth date of Mithra. This process no doubt happened after the third century when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, but the differences are striking. We cannot be sure of the exact date of the birth of Jesus (as well as the day of the Sabbath) it seemed it was arbitrarily linked to this to bring on board one of the biggest cults in the Roman empire, followed by much of the army. Through this it no doubt went on to influence later development with contact with other regions and places through Roman Christianity.
This all adds up to a far more complex view of the world than we see today played out in the three books and their followers. One we can and do oversimplify. The Middle East is a common melting pot of ideas that have shifted, changed and combined. A world view based on dessert and finding water, irrigation and flood. In seeing the complexity we are seeing the history of the history of the region, the complexity of the people and environments. In doing this we understand it better, and hopefully work with it as a region without the seemingly ideological and racist view many have today.
Religion, Interpretation, Practice and Public Image
Religion is a very complex and varied entity, even among the individual followers of an individual faith. Many religions, especially the older ones, have many variations. What we don't often see is the variation in many of these faiths once they becomecaricatured at the extremes, especially when a particular religion is controversial for reasons coming from outside or within. Why does this happen, and what can we do to help people respect and protect these valid paths?
The first thing to note is that this is a questions with a very complex and multi layered issue. Like opinions it is individual an issue, with each person having their own complex sets of reasons that they see things in the light they do. To understand and educate each person you need to understand them as well as understand the issues in question for each religion that is misunderstood. At a base there is a few root causes that intersect in different ways. The first is ignorance of the religion that means that they only see the publisicised extremes and scandals. That means that the nuance is the only thing seen if people inform themselves beyond the commercial news network sensationalism. This ignorance breeds misunderstanding and a belief that all co-religionists of the problem or scandal are the same.
The second one is deliberate association with an act or group of extremist followers due to bigotry and intolerance. This is the deliberate act that creates a deliberate ignorance more damaging that accidental intolerance. We then add lack of information, or access to it clouding the picture even for people who want to be able to think or understand. So we have the absaloutley basic root causes of this, which vary to so many confluences of individual causes in the individual. The cases of the religions themselves there can be problems. First off, the loudest are always (perhaps sadly) are the most visible, often the extremists and conservatives. The moderates who live, worship and do not raise their voices are not often seen till they have to rise up and defend themselves. This means that the moderate bulk is often hidden and not seen until they speak out in a crisis. Of course, there are sections of all the holy books, or any religion that can be interpreted in a bad light. Likewise, there will always be those that will use them. Combine this with the attention they receive it does not look good for the religion in question. So down to the next question, how do we deal with this both in perception and reality? First comment is that in the religions use interpretation to get around the parts that are no longer useful. This is how Judaism gets around the bronze age elements, Christianity has modernised with time and Islam ensures that it is not a 6th to 8th century religion of an area with constant clan wars. This and practicing a form of the religion that has modified with the times has kept them relevant as personal paths. There are elements of all of these that have not moved, or even reverted, of course, but at the same time the majority of the religion has moved. Christianity has moved an no longer endorses slavery or burning witches, for instance. All modern religions that have survived have done this, this is what the vast bulk of the moderate element has followed. This is part of the way this should be looked at, the interpretation of the religion has overcome those elements that make the religions seem out of place.
The other part of course is the Public Relations problems. Part of this is the high profile of the noisy majority. The other part is the ignorance and deliberate bigotry. Some of this is of course the high profile problems and scandals. The sexual abuse problems in the Catholic Church, the way that fundamentalist Islam has overshadowed the vast bulk of moderate believers. The moderate believers are all valid, following their path and not excluding others. The fundamentalists of any religion that exclude others choices make themselves invalid, and only themselves. Not the moderates. They should not be blamed. They often as much victims as the groups the fundamentalists directly target, feeling rather pressed from all sides. While in a modern news cycle this is not unexpected, same as with a population that seems to think that actually informing itself is boring, it is not a good thing.
Something we should change. The moderates just living their lives should not be harassed, sell themselves and have to do public relations to make up for the actions of a few. This is making us look bad and our path invalid only. Are we not better than this?