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the power of weakness?
Posted: 23 January 2007 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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My understanding of Sam's argument is:

Faith in propositions that cannot be tested or for which there is no objective evidence, other than mystical writings, is inherently dangerous to mankind, and even more so now in an age when weapons of mass destruction are becoming more available to those who would use them to fulfill what they believe are written instructions from God to kill heretics or wage war on infidels, for example.

My pastor delivered an excellent message that relates to this. About hating your enemies, he said "The more I hate to be wrong and the more I'm sure I'm right, the more I hate others who disagree with me, who are different. When I'm totally right and you're totally wrong, that could mean we're enemies. And we might have to kill each other for that."

Sam says essentially the same thing, and adds that religious articles of faith, taken as divine revelation, leave no room for anything but absolute conviction in being right, because they come from God, who is truth, or so the faithful believe. Harris also argues that the benefits of religion are available by other means, so faith and religion are not necessary.  He contends that faith itself is the problem, because it leads people to act on the basis of what they believe without any rational support, and historically those beliefs have been harmful because of the atrocities they have inspired.  He distinguishes faith from the object of faith, because without the first, the second is impotent as a motivator for atrocities. 

This presumes a power structure that is antithetical to the teachings of Christ, such as turning the other cheek or yielding to each other out of reverence for Him.  In a world governed by anything but these teachings, these are weak, foolish ways to live. 

However, instead of condemning faith, my pastor proceeds from this starting point, the point of weakness, to explain that God's power is made complete in weakness, that God's wisdom is foolishness to the world and that if we are to become more like Jesus, we must "surrender our right to be right". Clearly, if people lived like this, as Christ would have us live, the world would be much more peaceful.  This is because, as my pastor says, "the power of weakness is not the powerlessness of helplessness, giving up and giving in to life. No, the power of weakness means standing in the power of God released in me when I totally trust God because I'm totally helpless" and "even if I'm right, making that the issue can make me dead wrong". 

I believe this understanding is a consequence of faith, yet not just faith per se, but also the particular object of Christian faith, i.e. Jesus.  I have yet to see this principle or its equivalent derived from other faiths or outside a faith context. 

If anyone knows other ways this principle, the power of weakness, can be derived, please do so.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 12:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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If anyone knows other ways this principle, the power of weakness, can be derived, please do so.

There are dozens.  What your pastor was talking about is so close to Zen principles, for one instance, that the difference does not matter.  Simply substitute the universe for god or jesus, and you have pretty much the principles I live.

One of the things that really bothers me about christianity is it’s attitude of uniqueness.  Why do you feel your religion invented things that were in the culture hundreds if not thousands of years prior.  If you look critically at earlier systems, you will see that jesus brought NOTHING new to the party.  No unique principles at all, except for the concept of hell, without which christianity would not have survived.

Try to look at “weakness” as being right-sized and centered.  Means the same thing.  The amount of your suffering is proportional to how much control you think you should have over this moment, and inversely proportional to your acceptance of what is.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 01:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]... instead of condemning faith, my pastor proceeds from this starting point, the point of weakness, to explain that God’s power is made complete in weakness, that God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world and that if we are to become more like Jesus, we must “surrender our right to be right”. Clearly, if people lived like this, as Christ would have us live, the world would be much more peaceful.  This is because, as my pastor says, “the power of weakness is not the powerlessness of helplessness, giving up and giving in to life. No, the power of weakness means standing in the power of God released in me when I totally trust God because I’m totally helpless” and “even if I’m right, making that the issue can make me dead wrong”.


It looks to me like the flaw in your pastor’s version is that it argues accepting uncertainty (surrendering our right to be right) but it depends upon being right about God, at least to some degree. Far better to take the more disciplined and deeply honest approach and truly accept uncertainty as it really is. Where we have sound epistemology we have higher degrees of certainty and lower degrees of uncertainty. Where we have weak (or no) epistemology we have higher degrees of uncertainty and lower degrees of certainty. Faith is non-epistemology—offers precisely nothing toward certainty, so faith-based beliefs are pretty much presumptions (and pretty useless in terms of truth/knowledge value).


[quote author=“Parable”]I believe this understanding is a consequence of faith, yet not just faith per se, but also the particular object of Christian faith, i.e. Jesus.  I have yet to see this principle or its equivalent derived from other faiths or outside a faith context.


You just described a fundamental Zen/Tao principle, if I’m understanding you correctly, and your derivation seems to require a rather unorthodox spin on Christianity (so much so as to make it unrecognizable as such).

Byron

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Posted: 24 January 2007 02:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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SkepticX,  I don’t think surrendering our right to be right is the same thing as accepting uncertainty.  It is possible to be right about something, yet yield to another, not because we have doubt, but rather because being right is not always most important.  This is quite different from acknowledging the possibility that the other person is right and I am wrong.  In that case, the power of weakness, as I have described it, does not apply because acknowledging this possibility is appropriate, i.e. it does not cost me anything that is not due the other person.  The power of weakness is grace (unwarranted favor), while admitting doubt is just (what is deserved). 

Hampsteadpete and SkepticX, you have indicated that the principle in question, the power of weakness, is not unique to Christianity, but rather is also found in Zen and/or Taoism.  However, you have not explained the rational basis for this principle in the context of those systems of thought.  I look forward to anything you might offer along these lines.

Hampsteadpete, my understanding of the uniqueness of Christianity is that it is derived from the uniqueness of Christ.  What Jesus brought to the party is outlined very well in “ON JESUS”, by Dr. Doug Groothuis, which is the subject of another thread on this forum.  He compares and contrasts Jesus’ views with others, so its worth checking out.

Your comment about weakness sounds more to me like detachment, which as a Christian I understand in this way.  Through detachment, we are free from worldly attachments so we may be attached to God.

Finally, as for my unorthodox spin, I endorse the practice of standing on the core principles, yet allowing for diversity of opinion about how those principles may be applied.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 02:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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It sounds very Lutheran to me. Only Luther could dream up the Power of Weakness.

I hear two messages woven together. One is technically correct, that our capacities are limited and we can have no God’s eye view. This is one of the dogmatic modifications that had to made in order to compete for post-Renaissance minds. It did, on the whole, in the fullness of time, reduce the overall amount of brutality.
The other message is twisted around the first in hopes of blending in with its logic. As usual, it is a pitch for submission to whatever God you might end up trusting, and His Most Permanent Explanation as delivered by His Trusted Staff.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Your comment about weakness sounds more to me like detachment, which as a Christian I understand in this way. Through detachment, we are free from worldly attachments so we may be attached to God.

No, detachment has a huge ego component.  I am talking about the open hand, totally different concept.

Why do you think you need some god/gods in the equation?  If you truly believe what you are talking about, you are only a stone’s throw from complete liberation.  Why do you shackle yourself so?

You sound totally competent and equal to your life.  As long as you stay in the moment, you will find that you are.  In the moment, aware of your surroundings and your actions, it is virtually impossibly for a good man to act in an evil manner.  It takes religion to make a good man do evil things.  It is the certitude of religion, and the dogma thus produced that is the focus of Sam’s work.  Whether you realize it or not, you have progressed beyond the need for dogma.  Awaken to reality!

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Posted: 24 January 2007 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]. . .  I don’t think surrendering our right to be right is the same thing as accepting uncertainty.  It is possible to be right about something, yet yield to another, not because we have doubt, but rather because being right is not always most important.

Parable, are you a politician? Or perhaps just an ordinary spouse? What you’re talking about is an obvious skill that most people pick up at one time or another unless they want to argue with everyone they come across. Do we really need pastors to teach such a thing?

(‘Course, I may be wrong.)

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Posted: 24 January 2007 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Not a politician, and not a spouse. 

The skill you refer to is not what I was talking about originally.  My original point has to do with an alternative to condeming faith that leads to edification and peace rather than ignorance and atrocity, as Sam argues.

You say this skill of yielding is obvious, but if so, why aren’t more people up to speed on that? 

Merely stating that it is obvious does not establish it on a rational basis.  Can you be more explicit?

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Posted: 24 January 2007 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Parable, to be more explicit would only bring up more examples, and I see your point. I’d say that your preacher gave you some helpful advice for living, but if he got the tidbit about human politics from the Bible, he also might just as easily taught you some lesson diametrically opposed. Remember what St. Paul says about who’s in charge in any marriage?

In other words, perhaps it’s your pastor who’s wise, rather than his source material. Lemonade from lemons, right?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 24 January 2007 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Homunculus,

Examples are fine, but they only witness to what is, not what should be.  If there is anything this forum is about, its what should be and why.  Sam argues capably and I actually agree with everything he says about the consequences of acting on misguided beliefs.  And I am astounded by what many people think the bible means.  Your reference to Paul and marriage, that’s a great example of something that has been twisted to suit self-serving power structures.  When understood correctly, Paul’s instructions require forms of yielding to and supporting each other in the context of a covenant based on love.  At the same time Paul calls the husband to represent the family he also requires husbands to love their wives.  The problem is too many men only heard the part about being the head of the household and conveniently neglected the basis for that authority, their selfless love for their wives.  This example shows how you can take things out of context and use it to justify anything, but if you understand the message as a whole, it doesn’t let you get away with that.

And yes, my pastor is a pretty bright guy smile

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Posted: 24 January 2007 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”] My original point has to do with an alternative to condeming faith that leads to edification and peace rather than ignorance and atrocity, as Sam argues.

How do you reconcile this with this quote from Luke (Jesus is talking): But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

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Posted: 25 January 2007 02:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]Homunculus,

Examples are fine, but they only witness to what is, not what should be.  If there is anything this forum is about, its what should be and why.  Sam argues capably and I actually agree with everything he says about the consequences of acting on misguided beliefs.  And I am astounded by what many people think the bible means.  Your reference to Paul and marriage, that’s a great example of something that has been twisted to suit self-serving power structures.  When understood correctly, Paul’s instructions require forms of yielding to and supporting each other in the context of a covenant based on love.  At the same time Paul calls the husband to represent the family he also requires husbands to love their wives.  The problem is too many men only heard the part about being the head of the household and conveniently neglected the basis for that authority, their selfless love for their wives.  This example shows how you can take things out of context and use it to justify anything, but if you understand the message as a whole, it doesn’t let you get away with that.

And yes, my pastor is a pretty bright guy smile

We have only sketchy knowledge about any contexts that rely on millennia-old (though hilariously labeled “New”) writings. Sam Harris thinks and speaks for Sam Harris, not for any individual who contributes here. We all think and see things for ourselves. So to clarify my strong objection to Biblical adherence in today’s world:

Individual contexts for ancient writings are all but lost. We can barely translate the words, much less the social and political atmosphere of ancient times. Each story in the Bible is a unique telling of events that are perhaps highly poetical (although if you look at made maka’s above quote, you’ll realize that some passages are far from poetical), but they are not magically inspired and cannot be relied on beyond exactly what they are: ink and paper. Nothing more, nothing less. Crimes against humanity have been committed by people who have misinterpreted your cherished manuscripts. The sooner you can manage to put them to rest by moving them from the “magical” pile to the “ink/paper” pile, the sooner you’ll be you’ll be doing everyone a favor.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 25 January 2007 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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made_maka,

This passage is part of a story Jesus is telling.  The quote you cite are the words of the kinglike character in the parable of the Ten Minas, not Jesus per se. 

The interpretation of parables merits special consideration, because parables are not like other discourse, they are parabolic.  They illustrate logical relations in dramatic form.  A standard principle of hermeneutics for parables is they convey one or perhaps only a few main points and should not be interpreted beyond that.

According to Doug Groothuis in his book ON JESUS, page 57, “Jesus told parables to confront people with the character of God’s kingdom and to invite them to participate in it and to live in accordance with it”.

The way I incorporate this parable into my framework of understanding is that I have a choice to make, and it matters. Once that choice is made, I have work to do and that work can either be motivated by faith and love, in which case my work yields returns, or by fear, in which case even the most conservative risk is not taken, thereby squandering resources and opportunity.

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Posted: 25 January 2007 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]A standard principle of hermeneutics for parables is they convey one or perhaps only a few main points and should not be interpreted beyond that.

There is no “standard principle for hermeneutics”, as evidenced by the over 32000 Christian sects, denominations, and chicken-coops presently in existence. Explain that, big guy. Or get the Big Guy to explain it to you. It’s what you do best. May your work yield a bumper crop of returns.  :D

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Posted: 25 January 2007 05:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]made_maka,

This passage is part of a story Jesus is telling.  The quote you cite are the words of the kinglike character in the parable of the Ten Minas, not Jesus per se.

And does Jesus disapprove of this kind of statement?

The way I incorporate this parable into my framework of understanding is that I have a choice to make, and it matters. Once that choice is made, I have work to do and that work can either be motivated by faith and love, in which case my work yields returns, or by fear, in which case even the most conservative risk is not taken, thereby squandering resources and opportunity.

Apparently he does not.

(Edited because the preview function is a good thing.  Also note that there are several other examples to show that Jesus was not a very nice man.  For instance, since we are talking about how to interpret parables, let’s have Jesus’s own instructions:
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation (of the world).”
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man [Jesus], the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one,  and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned (up) with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man [Jesus] will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.
Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace,  where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.”)

[ Edited: 25 January 2007 05:21 AM by ]
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Posted: 25 January 2007 05:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]According to Doug Groothuis in his book ON JESUS, page 57, “Jesus told parables to confront people with the character of God’s kingdom and to invite them to participate in it and to live in accordance with it”.

So it is okay for Jesus to condone violence as long as he is speaking in parables? If he was not holding up this character’s actions as an example of good behavior, do you think maybe he should have left this part out?

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