The Goober Atheist: Ineffectual Nerd Edition

Years ago Richard Carrier attempted to destroy the foundation of the Christian faith by publishing his magnum opus proving definitively that Jesus never existed. And like all virgin-nerds, his work was ignored by the world of chad New Testament scholars, which lead him to resentfully hate them all. As an aside, I don’t mind atheists, but I don’t understand why you would devote several years of your life writing a book about something you believe to be pointless. In those years, Carrier could have hit the gym, learned to play an instrument, or developed a network of friends. Larry Hurtado recently received one of Carrier’s limp-wristed rhetorical punches and responded:

If you want to read a blogger going ape-shit, troll through Richard Carrier’s recent belligerent, intemperate response (here) to my posting in which I showed that his three claims that supposedly corroborate his “mythical Jesus” view are all incorrect.  It’s really quite amusing, or maybe sad.

In this long, long rant, Carrier’s repeated mantra is that his book calling into question the commonly shared scholarly judgement that Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Galilean Jew has been largely ignored by scholars.  He seems to want scholars to go through the 700 pages of that tome and engage closely every one of his claims and assertions.  He repeatedly states that he spent six years on the book on what he calls a “post-doctoral” award (which was really a fund put together by his “fans,” to use his own term).  It must be frustrating.  But Carrier doesn’t seem to handle frustration well.

I mean, geeze. I couldn’t help but remember Carrier’s other sheepish attempt at self-assertion several years back when he posted this brilliant romantic overture to…well anybody who will please listen:

So, this is experimental. I’d like to go on a date in May. And for the first time, I’m going to try a bat signal: putting a call out on my blog. I don’t know anyone else who has tried doing that, so I have no precedent to work from as to etiquette or even arguments for or against doing it. So I’m just going to do it and see what happens and document and assess. If you know anyone who might have an interest in dating me, let them know. If you might have an interest, read on.

I’ll start by making sure anyone considering this is up to speed. I am polyamorous. I currently have many girlfriends. All I consider my friends. Some are just occasional lovers. Some I am more involved with. They are also polyamorous, or near enough (not all of them identify that way, but all of them enjoy open relationships). And I will always have relationships with them, as long as they’ll have me in their life.

Many different things can be meant by the following terms, but just for the present purpose, if by a primary relationship is meant someone you live with or just about as good as live with, a secondary as someone you date regularly, and a tertiary as someone you date occasionally, all my relationships are tertiary, but only because of geography. I live just below Sacramento, California, where the rents are cheap, which means, where no one wants to live. And I’m unlikely to move anytime soon. So relationships with me, at best, are likely to be tertiary—long distance chatting with occasional being together throughout the year. Even so, I always take such friendships seriously.

Hurtado did not need to use such rhetoric to dismiss Carrier. He simply had to quote the man.

 

What I’ve Learned from Jordan Peterson

I’ve come to appreciate Jordan Petersona lot. It’s rare for me to find a recent scholar from whom I learn more than one or two important things. Peterson is an exception. 

Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned from him: 

Practically Speaking

  1. A key practice for good teaching is getting students to envision their future selves and the steps necessary to get there.
  2. There is a connection between my internal state and the orderliness of my immediate environment.
  3. Try to think of five good reasons to make any decision you make. I tried to add the opposite as well, try to find several good reasons reject an idea or not do something.
  4. Remember that you’re a loaded gun, especially around children. This makes you circumspect about your words and actions. Somebody who knows that “I’m the sort of creature who might shake a baby unless I take steps to not do that” is less likely to shake a baby.
  5. Say what you really think is true, and therefore think through what you say to see if you really think it’s true…or at least say it like it’s true so that it can be corrected and challenged. In other words, conversation can strengthen you or work as a hypothesis testing process. 
  6. In conflict with a partner (romantic, co-worker, etc), agree to say what you think the other person is saying to their satisfaction before you respond. This forces everybody to be clear and ensures everybody is on roughly the same page. 

Academically/Philosophically

  1. His paper on goal setting interventionshelped me clarify the process I use to get my students to take ownership of their educations. I used to have them do a ‘diligence audit.’ I would ask them to look at their habits as though they were a third person advisor and describe where they will take them if they continue on the path they’re on. Then I would ask them to imagine who they would like to be by the end of a semester and to write the habits that would help them get there. Finally, I would have them write what they should do to gain those habits. Peterson’s paper showed me that this practice really has helped people and his self-authoring exercise helped me aim my questions more effectively. 
  2. His insistence on cleaning your room and sorting yourself out and their inextricable link has helped me see the centrality of the Cain and Abel narrative for the whole Bible. God’s instructions to Cain were to master his sin and to improve his lot. We can suppose that those were precisely the qualities that made Abel’s sacrifice preferable. Peterson regularly utilizes that story to remind people of the importance of cleaning their rooms and organizing their habits around the good instead of around their immediate desires, but even that way of saying things fits with the idea that Cain and Abel are archetype at the bottom of the whole Biblical narrative. Jewish writers like Yoram Hazony have made this point for years. 
  3. Peterson helped revive Jung for me, particularly the idea of the archetypes. This was significant because I needed to understand the relationships between the symbolic overlay that human beings use to interpret the world and the innate nature of the world itself. A combination of Jung, Husserl, and Aristotle helped me see that. But if it weren’t for a footnote where Dallas Willard mentioned Jung, I would have never listened to Peterson after I found that paper of his, because I was prejudiced against Jung. 
  4. In Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care: A Proposal for Christian Psychology there’s a throw away line about the value of evo-psych for Christian counselors because of the information they provide about mating patterns. I didn’t dispute that and even read a lot of evo-psych over the last decade, but Peterson really helped me see how the Biblical material intersects with those claims. Whether his model of concordance is ultimately accurate is a question to consider, but it is definitely pragmatically accurate. 

Dallas Willard on Coming to Know Christ

The paragraph below remains one of my favorite from Dallas Willard’s work. The last sentence breaks the flow with its “mainly…Paul” line, but he’s attacking a stream of thought in academia with which he was all too familiar. 

If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects he did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other. You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul—who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes. (Willard. Knowing Christ Today, 67)

How I Escape the Dungeon

Everybody finds themselves in the dungeon from time to time. It’s that place where you feel like progress is impossible or meaningless, like you’ve gone too far in a wrong direction, or that there’s no such thing as the right direction. It’s so weird, because it feels like the same place no matter where you are. Sometimes, just being a person gets you down. The stresses of parenthood, the anxiety of being single, the Sisyphean task of making/spending money, the frustrations of work, feeling stuck at a job you hate, feeling like important tasks are undone, and dealing with other people. All of these together can make you feel like just getting out of bed is a chore. How do I escape? Here’s my get out of the dungeon plan, in the form of questions, when everything comes together to make me feel staying in bed all day:

  1. Have I been to the gym more than twice in the past seven days?
    For men, being strong helps you feel engaged in the world and gives you a sense of personal dominance over nature in a way that does not contradict nature. The weight room is a place where a man gains Marcus Aurelius’ mindset: “Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces…what is thrown atop the flame is absorbed, consumed by it – and makes it burn still higher. (M. Aurelius 4.1)” Being stronger is obviously useful for women, too. 
  2. Do I engage in daily exercise (push-ups, squats, calf-raises, stretches, etc) upon waking?
    There are a minimum of three exercises I try to do in the mornings, when I’m planning my life well, the list is longer and includes stretches and joint mobility exercises that vastly improve my arthritis pain. If I’m feeling down, I almost certainly stopped doing them days ago.
  3. What am I eating lately?
    If I base my diet around meat, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables I’ll feel better. If I’m eating sweets, breads, and even too much fruit, I start to feel worse. My family tree has some diabetes, so I suspect that my body just isn’t meant for sweets more than one or two days a week.
  4. How am I managing my sleep?
    If I’m sleeping 6-9 hours a night I’m feeling great. If I sleep 9 hours too many nights in a row, I start feeling more sleepy all day. But if I sleep less than 6, then I’m a wreck. Chances are, if I’m feeling down, I’m not managing my sleep well.
  5. Am I thinking about the past?
    Sometimes I think a lot about elements of my past that went poorly and I just replay them over and over. This strategy literally does nothing to improve my lot. But when focus on improving the quality of my work, of my relationships, of my knowledge, and of my skill-base now, then I start to feel better. It’s funny how whether it’s inside or out, complaining does nobody any good unless we voice it in prayer.
  6. Am I obsessing over something I cannot change?
    Many fantasize about a job they wish they had but don’t. If it’s changeable, change it. On the other hand, many have children for whom provision is necessary. Such parents cannot change their job, yet. So, they shouldn’t fantasize all day about where they aren’t (if they wish to feel good). In my case, because of the nature of my job, I’ll think myself into a funk by thinking about my job. As a teacher I want my students to choose well. It’s difficult to watch some of them choose poorly. But what I can change is the quality of my teaching, the content of my courses, and whether I teach in a manner that is pleasant for my students and myself. Others may do this to themselves with politics, economics, sports teams, and so-on.
  7. Am I taking my religious duties seriously?
    When I’m regularly participating in leisure time centered around Bible study, actively putting Jesus’ words into practice at work, in my family life, and in how I spend my money, and when I’m participating in the life of the church I feel better. There is less moral incongruity. I feel connected to the foundation of reality.
  8. Am I keeping track of my blessings?
    The old song says, “count your blessings…see what God has done.” People might think it’s cheesy or stupid, but they probably live their lives miserably. In the morning and before bed, when I think of specific blessings for which I am thankful, I feel better in between. Another step might be to declare the steadfast love of the Lord in the morning. Wake up and say, “Jesus loves me and gave himself up for me” or “God so loved the world that he have his only begotten son.” If you’re not a Christian or not religious, are you filling that psychological gap with something?
  9. What are my priorities?
    When I make my main goals in life virtue, the well-being of my family, and my health, then I tend to function more joyfully. If I make my goals financial, task based, or too far into the future, then I get down.

Jesus and Family

Many scholars suppose that Jesus had a negative view of the nuclear family that was softened by the gospel authors (or that he was inconsistent in his teaching):

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.(Luke 8:20-21)

This means something like how Matthew puts it: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
(Matthew 10:37)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
(Matthew 10:34-35)
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:18-20)

 

Now, academics are more likely to have this view than normal people, and they do tend to resent those who do not have similar degrees, so it’s not surprising that they want Jesus to be as maladjusted and lonely as they are. But that aside, must Jesus’ view of the family be so inconsistent that the gospel authors made up sayings in which he endorsed the family? I think not. For instance, Musonius Rufus, a philosopher active around the time the gospels were being written, made similar points to Jesus, but in a lengthier and more obviously consistent fashion:

A certain young man who wished to study philosophy, but was forbidden by his father to do so, put this question to him “Tell me, Musonius, must one obey one’s parents in all things, or are there some circumstances under which one need not heed them?”[1] And Musonius replied, “That everyone should obey his mother and father seems a good thing, and I certainly recommend it…

 

…Because surely all parents have the interests of their children at heart, and because of that interest they wish them to do what is right and advantageous. Consequently one who does what is right and useful is doing what his parents wish and so is obedient to his parents in doing it, even if his parents do not order him in so many words to do these things…

 

…And so you, my young friend, do not fear that you will disobey your father, if when your father bids you do something which is not right, you refrain from doing it, or when he forbids you to do something which is right you do not refrain from doing it. Do not let your father be an excuse to you for wrong-doing whether he bids you do something which is not right or forbids you to do what is right. For there is no necessity for you to comply with evil injunctions, and you yourself seem not unaware of this…

 

…If, then, my young friend, with a view to becoming such a man, as you surely will if you truly master the lessons of philosophy, you should not be able to induce your father to permit you to do as you wish, nor succeed in persuading him, reason thus: your father forbids you to study philosophy, but the common father of all men and gods, Zeus, bids you and exhorts you to do so. His command and law is that man be just and honest, beneficent, temperate, high-minded, superior to pain, superior to pleasure, free of all envy and all malice; to put it briefly, the law of Zeus bids man be good….

Now then, it would seem that Rufus explicitly says that the young should not obey their parents, particularly when the study of philosophy is on the line. But, he also says that he recommends obeying parents. He also says that obeying God is superior to obeying men (parents) but that because God wants what is best, so also to disobey parents in the name of what God wants and what is obviously and truly good, is ultimately obedience to both God and your parents who want the best for you. The point I’m making is that people, in Jesus’ era, were able to say that values existed that were greater in comparison to family, but that family was still a good. Jesus didn’t reject family, he simply reject family as an excuse for wrong-doing. Just like Rufus thought philosophy would make you wise and ultimately a good son, and  

 

Link Soup: 11/30/2017

As it turns out, communism is objectively bad. Laura Nicolae writes, “After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.”

Over at the overpriced economics blog, WSJ, we learn that moms buy trashy clothes for their daughters, apparently, because they feel less sexually attractive than they used to, “As for the girls themselves, if you ask them why they dress the way they do, they’ll say (roughly) the same things I said to my mother: “What’s the big deal?” “But it’s the style.” “Could you be any more out of it?” What teenage girl doesn’t want to be attractive, sought-after and popular? And what mom doesn’t want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.

Age isn’t just a number, but the more dissatisfied you are with aging, the more negatively you’re physically impacted by age. Self-Perceptions of Aging predict mortality.

The lectures of Musonius Rufus (30-100 ad) are online here. The site uses the Yale Translation of 1947 (you can find the pdf of that edition online with the Greek and English texts side by side, a real treat!). Recently, Cynthia King translated it and the kindle edition is fairly inexpensive. I highly recommend lectures 1-7. Here’s a great quote from lecture one:  “How true this is we may readily recognize if we chance to know two lads or young men, of whom one has been reared in luxury, his body effeminate, his spirit weakened by soft living, and having besides a dull and torpid disposition; the other reared somewhat in the Spartan manner, unaccustomed to luxury, practiced in self-restraint, and ready to listen to sound reasoning. If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it.”

I love steak. Here are fifteen recipes for marinades.

What would happen if this article title were altered to say the same about Jews or Latinos? Can My Children Be Friends with White People

Facebook is a supercharged hedonic treadmill: “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.

Apparently, smart phone use decreases satisfaction with face to face interaction. “Phone use leads to distraction, which undermines benefits of social interaction.” And smart phone users may, over time, begin to devalue time spent with friends.

Your placement on the five factor inventory might predict/be predicted (of course, not everybody reads) by your reading habits: Predicting Personality with book preferences. Based on my placement, some of what I read fits nicely. But I’m apparently somewhat of an outlier.