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John Hunt

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John Hunt last won the day on August 9

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  • Birthday February 24

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  1. I guess it's the way religions work. The founders sometimes start off with a fairly original insight, or at least a passion to seeing an old insight through, and the followers come along afterwards toning it down and stitching up the world as it was before. What the "first principles"? The point about religions, is that we’re more likely to act in the interests of others if we can believe in love as a universal principle in life than if we see it as a self-gratifying fiction. We’re more likely to be happy if we believe creation is basically good, and joyful, and continuous than if we think of it (rationally) as random, painful, and meaningless. A universe of billions of galaxies and black holes, destined for extinction, without a single particle of love, intention or spirit anywhere, which at the quantum level is absurd, an inhuman monstrosity, no meaning – apart from the meaning we bring to it, the stories we tell, the relationships we develop – okay, that may be the reality. We don’t know, and probably never will. But even a fiction of salvation is better than a despairing suicide, if you’re looking for something extra to get you through the day.
  2. The "Fall" is a very shaky concept, indeed. The Jews, who's story it is, see Genesis as a hymn to the goodness of God, not an account of original sin leading to redemption by Jesus. The idea of original sin runs counter to everything science tells us, from anthropology through sociology to zoology. It is contrary to the teaching of Jesus, the Bible, common sense, experience and morality. It’s a poisonous idea that has caused immeasurable individual and social harm down the centuries. So why do so many Christians cling to it as a cardinal doctrine? The idea was first sketched out by Paul, who hints at the death of Jesus as a sacrifice made by God on our behalf. It was extended by Augustine (354-430), a theologian of genius, the most important of the Church Fathers a few centuries later. Convinced of his own sexual guilt and shame, he projected this onto humanity as a whole, the “multitude of the damned.” Because God is wholly good, evil must come from man, and in particular, from women (he wouldn’t allow them into his house, even his sisters, who were nuns). For him Adam and Eve were real people (as they were for Jesus, eg: Matthew 19:4), and their sin of disobedience was passed on down the generations through the act of sex. In the twelfth century AD Anselm develops the idea further, into the doctrine of substitutionary Atonement, where Christ is sacrificed on the cross as a payment for our sins, so God can forgive us.
  3. Scholars say that John's gospel is the least likely to reflect what Jesus might have said. But overall, there seem to be many ways of salvation described, which is why there are so many Christian denominations - around 30,000 of them (I think comparable numbers for Judaism and Islam are more like 100). You can be saved by works (James 2:21-24); by faith alone (Galatians 2:16); only by helping the poor and needy (Matthew 25:34-46); by baptism (Mark 16:16); only if you endure to the end (Mark 13:13); just by believing (John 3:16); by keeping the law (Romans 2:13); by being born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5); by eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood (John 6:53-54); and so on… dozens of them, frequently contradicting each other (eg; in Romans 10:13 you can be saved by calling on the name of the Lord, but in Matthew 7:21-23 you won’t necessarily be); some passages say that you can never lose your salvation while others say you can – it’s a Babel of confusion, although of course that’s not God’s fault, it’s ours (1 Corinthians 14:33). The one thing he doesn’t really say is what has become the main plank of most Christian theology and practice – that he came on earth to die on a cross as payment for our sins. That’s Paul’s later interpretation. There’s no “altar call” in the gospels.
  4. Jesus is often referred to in the New Testament as “Lord” (though this can mean anything from “sir” upwards) and “Christ,” maybe not identifiable with God but indicating divinity in some form. In one of the earliest documents, in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (“Our Lord, come!” NRSV), the suggestion is that Jesus is prayed to, and Jews prayed only to God. But there may have been many Jews whose perception of God as holy and separate was not as clear as others, and who believed that the coming Messiah would be divine. At no point in the first millennium BC can you say there was a monolithic certainty amongst Hebrews or Jews as to what they believed. Jesus is also referred to frequently in the Gospels as Son of Man and occasionally as Son of God. They’re slippery terms, no more easily defined than “spirit” or “mind.” Son of man is the expression that Jesus uses most and seems most comfortable with. “Son of Man” means pretty much “mankind” (Psalm 8:4). Adam, Israel, and kings of Israel are all referred to in the Old Testament as Son of Man. Jesus frequently distinguishes between God and himself (eg: Luke 18:19; Luke 22:42; Mark 13:32). The synoptic gospels all lean in this direction. John takes a higher view (John 6:69; John 8:59), but here Jesus also raises his disciples to the same level as himself (John 20:17) and suggests a distinction between himself and God (John 14:28). In John 10:34 he says to them, “Ye are gods.” The meaning overlaps with son of God. “Son of God” is another vague phrase with multiple meanings. Adam, David, Jacob, Ephraim, angels are all called sons of God, as were other prophets around the time of Jesus. Jesus calls peacemakers sons of God (in the Greek text of Matthew 5:9). He’s also described as fulfilling the Jewish tradition of the Messiah (Hebrew for “anointed one,” the Greek term being “Christ”). The Messiah would be a great leader and obey the Law perfectly, but he is nowhere described as God, or the Son of God. “Messiah” meant someone through whom God worked in history in a striking way. The Persian emperor Cyrus is called mashiah in Isaiah 45:1, because through his actions in returning the Jews to Judah he was fulfilling the will of God, even though he may never have heard of Him. Moreover, many verses in the Gospels suggest that Jesus defined himself as “man” in the ordinary sense of all people being sons of God. He frequently distinguishes between God and himself (Luke 18:19; 22:42; Mark 13:32). This is particularly so in the first of the Gospels to be written, Mark, where there’s only one reference to Jesus as Son of God, and that of doubtful authenticity. The references increase through Matthew and Luke, a generation later. And of course there are the words on the cross: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? In Paul’s letters he refers to Jesus as “Lord” more than 200 times, which is ambiguous. “Lord” (Greek “Kyrios”) can mean “God” or “Sir,” or pretty much anything in-between. Paul never comes straight out and says that Jesus is divine. There are one or two verses that suggest it, like Philippians 2:6 or Romans 9:5 (disputed translation) but the balance is on the other side. Outside church-related institutions the overwhelming scholarly view is that the first Christians did not believe that Jesus was divine, that was idolatry – they even forbad speaking the name of God. The idea of Jesus’ divinity developed because non-Jews who believed in him as the “way” to God (and in the first century AD they were increasingly in the majority) would have assumed he was one himself. They wouldn’t have been able to understand him not being one. Anyone of considerable significance, even a great athlete, could be thought of as divine. There are examples in Acts - 14:8-13 - where Paul heals a cripple and the locals think he and Barnabas must be the gods Jupiter and Mercury. Another in 28: in Malta where Paul is declared a god because he survives drowning and heals a snakebite. .But for the first three centuries the highest status he reached was God’s Son. Sons, by definition, are not the same as their fathers. They are “begotten,” created later. It wasn’t till the fourth century AD that the phrase “Son of God” was promoted to mean “God the Son,” as coequal with God. Almost all scholars, even conservative Christian ones, would agree on that. By then, Jesus had taken on all the titles that previously belonged to emperors like Caesar Augustus – Savior of the World, Redeemer, Liberator, Emmanuel, Lord of Lords, God from God, the One who established Peace on Earth, etc. In the first century AD Jews believed that whatever form the Messiah took he was definitely going to make a difference. At the very least, the Romans would be driven out, the exiles would return, and a reign of peace would begin. At best, the dead would be resurrected, God would rule the world and judge humankind. None of these things happened when Jesus came. Few outside Palestine knew for generations that Jesus had lived at all. For these kind of reasons Jesus’ own people do not accept him as Messiah, and still regard “Son of God” as an essentially pagan idea. Today, the idea that God has a “son” is hard to take seriously, unless you’ve been brought up to think that way.
  5. Ps: I understand that the scholarly consensus is that John's gospel is the least likely to contain words that Jesus actually spoke. And the bulk of Christian scholarship, in trying to work out the exact meaning of the Greek text in the Gospels (both Paul and the gospel writers, generations later, wrote in Greek), is chasing the wrong camel, as he spoke in Aramaic. It’s a language that depends on inflection rather than a root grammatical system like Greek. “Body” and “spirit” can be the same thing, depending on emphasis. “Father” is not about gender, need not even be parenthood, but could imply universal creation. Even the Greek is often uncertain – “eternal” for instance doesn’t necessarily refer to time, it could just indicate a supreme quality. “Eternal Life” could mean “Abundant Life.”
  6. i guess we've been sacrificing to placate fearsome gods since we came down from the trees - this just happens to be the biggest sacrifice we've been able to think of. Unless we committed mass suicide.
  7. Hi Fuzzy Sums me up exactly!
  8. Particularly as the Bible itself is a bitterly-disputed selection of books out of many others over a thousand year period by flawed people (and different Churches still have different Bibles).
  9. agree, though think it's also done the opposite. And historically-speaking, for most Christians, the Bible hasn’t been all that significant. For the first few centuries AD it didn’t even exist, as such. For a millennia after that it was only available in Latin, which most people (including priests) couldn’t read, even if they were literate (which most weren’t). It was rituals, the sacraments, that were important on a daily basis. It was very much in the interests of the Church to interpret and mediate the Bible. The clergy walked in lockstep with the kings, who ruled by divine right, and in tandem they controlled the bulk of the wealth and the minds of the people. So the Bible, for them, was a problem. It’s a subversive book. Kings are overthrown, the Prophets call for justice, Jesus preaches on the evils of wealth, forgiving your enemy and turning the other cheek. Today, Christians are at the other extreme. As a whole, the Church Fathers tended to interpret scripture allegorically rather than literally. In the eighteenth century came the Enlightenment – the general idea that we could use reason to understand what’s going on, and determine our values and objectives, rather than accept divinely-ordained truth as authoritative in every aspect of our lives, whether that was administered through kings or the church. Critical analysis of the Bible began. Deists like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were key figures in founding the USA (Jefferson even produced his own version of the gospels, removing miracles, the supernatural and the Resurrection). The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth century were in part a reaction against these trends, taking the Bible as word-for-word inspired by God. Out of the Revivals, in one of the most regressive developments in Christianity, in the nineteenth century Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney and James Thornwell founded modern evangelicalism and the fantastical doctrine of biblical inerrancy. In part, to justify slavery, which they saw the Bible supporting as “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God” (Presbyterian General Assembly Report 1845) – in which, of course, they were right. So now millions of people invest a lot of time “studying” the Bible, individually or in groups, as if it were a single, coherent, divinely-given text. Ritual and the sacraments are now incidental to most non-Catholics, the Bible is central. The trouble is, in each decade our knowledge about the Bible itself increases, as does our understanding of all the relevant areas of history, archaeology, cosmology, phenomenology, neurology and so on. Today, taking the Bible literally just makes it difficult for rational people with even a minimal education to take Christianity seriously. It’s the literary equivalent of believing the earth is flat. Best to start off reading the Bible in terms of legend and allegory, myth and legend, hagiography and poetry, memoir and fiction, like many Christians did in the first few centuries. Then you can be pleasantly surprised when it sometimes aligns with history.
  10. To come clean, the company I work with publishes some books that say otherwise (along with a load of gibberish, sure). One guy we publish for instance is Bernardo Kastrup- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bernardo-Kastrup/e/B004OFGCA4?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000 https://www.essentiafoundation.org/about/ He's a lot brighter than I am. I dunno. I try to figure out what I think by putting words down on a page, to see how they look. Talk to other people, see what they think. Sometimes even end up publishing the damn stuff.
  11. I'm not wholly convinced by the "it all ends when we die" scenario - the question of whether consciousness is entirely dependent on brain activity I think is to some extent at least open. Equally, I wouldn't bet on it, either way. The traditional Christian picture of heaven and hell doesn’t work any longer, and we haven’t found anything else to replace it. We don’t even ask the question any more. We’re afraid to ask it; we’ll hopefully be remembered, sure, by family and friends, but we know there is not going to be a shrine, or a tomb, where we’re spoken to, prayed for, as still happens in many parts of the world. The dead, for us, are in the past, not the present. Our roots are shallow. And it’s tough to find a meaning and purpose in life, to deepen your roots, if it all ends when you die. We’ve lost our connection with the natural world, with our ancestors, with the sense of life as a rolling stream which continues to include us all, past, present and future. Ironically, as science starts to suggest that reality is there in so far as it’s observed, we’ve lost the sense that life is there in so far as it’s witnessed; that our life is real in so far as it’s real to others, in the relationships we had and can continue to experience. ‘I’ simply won’t exist anymore, other than maybe in people’s memories." - The universe is inhumanly vast, probably amoral, indifferent, and the only meaning in it is one we create for ourselves. And that probably is the best we can do. Which, actually, is why I'm quite attracted to older religions, like ones that honor the ancestors. Our memories are what we're left with, and pass on. Our sense of responsibility to them (and to future generations) is a better moral guide than believing in various vagrant gods. I think that in order to live, rather than killing ourselves, we need to find some kind of meaning/purpose in life. I think, as far as Christianity goes, the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God here on earth now (in so far as it's possible to know anything about what he said or whether he lived etc...) is the best there is. The Church turned all th\t upside down, inside out, and I think Christianity today is the worst of the major religions, epitomized by voting patterns in the USA. But there's still something there in the idea of the kingdom of God on earth, now, to be worked for, that is something I could commit to. But, hey, as soon as I think I'm being too much of a burden, can't look after myself, figure I'm going to lose my memory, would want the option of suicide before that actually happens, whilst I'm still aware enough to do it. The idea of being a vegetable, in a care home or on life support or whatever - that nullifies everything good that's happened to me in my life so far.
  12. I think that sums it up. Prayer works, across all traditions. I think of life crudely like a soap bubble. It materializes out of space-time foam and floats free, like a feather on the breath of God. For a fleeting second, threads of biology, history, culture are knitted together by personality. We have this microscopic moment to enjoy, and through a few simple actions hope to leave the world a fraction better than we found it. The actions are hopefully defined by love, which represents the fullest form of self-awareness that we know of. Developing this is cultivating a state of mind we call prayer. As the sacred scriptures of Zoroastrianism say, the world's oldest major religious tradition (in the sense of being "organized", in terms of beliefs and structures, so distinct from paganism, shamanism etc): Prayer is the greatest of all spells, the best healing of all remedies. Zend Advesta I guess prayer is neither an offshoot into fantasy, nor a conversation with a God out there in our own image, but is perhaps the most basic way of thinking, an internal dialogue between the two hemispheres of the brain. The right half is artistic/creative, the left more academic/logical. Both are needed to create our picture of reality. We dialogue between the two, between the God we might believe has helped bring us into being, and can help us achieve the impossible, and the knowledge that we’re just basically chimps who’ve bootstrapped themselves up out of their comfort zone. We go back and forth between the two halves to find the best course of action, questioning who we are, and where we’re going. Seeking guidance from our better self. Sitting in silence, paying attention to our thoughts, we can see them generating our feelings, our emotions. These are not physically real, they don’t “exist,” but they create our reality, they prompt our actions. They put us in touch with the creative life force behind us, behind everything. Hey, I’m hopeless at this, we all struggle with it, but it’s what being human is about. We’re messed up, confused animals, trying to get to the next step. Sometimes we even prefer our pets to other people. They don’t have our kind of problems. Mind you, it doesn't work for me....when many decades ago I lost the sense of being able to talk to God directly (or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, in my wilder moments, could never actually figure out which one it was meant to be), I lost something which I've never got back. I envy my relatives who do pray, know who they're praying to, and believe their prayers will be answered. But there's a quote from Eckhart - “Truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep the truth and let God go.”
  13. Got the email notification for this, thanks....
  14. Thanks Paul, sorry to be so dumb. John
  15. By that, Paul, you mean a notification on the site? I haven't had an email notification from the site, prompting me to look at something....just wondered if that kind of thing was possible. Without, it's something I just don't remember to do (looking at the site to see what's come in, and if there's anything specific to me).
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