Friday, September 17, 2010

reflections various

This post by P Z Myers, dealing with one bunch of loonies in particular, but with apocalyptic other-worldly types, like Muggeridge, in general, is rather more scathing and succinct than my piece of relative politesse. If only Malcolm were alive to read just how contemptuous, and articulate, many modern non-believers are when confronted with the sort of bilge he used to promulgate. To me, one of the problems with Muggeridge's rhetoric was that it just wasn't challenged enough - he didn't have to deal with tough debates, his appalling treatment of evidence was never properly exposed, and he was generally treated with kid gloves. In my research on him, I constantly encountered Catholic hagiographies, describing him as one of the great prose stylists of the twentieth century, and a great intellectual. Don't these people ever read? Most of the blogs I read are far superior, in style and content, than Muggeridge's work, which is largely undisciplined pap. If this is the best the Catholics can do - and Muggeridge was a fierce critic of Catholicism himself, especially after Vatican II - then it's no wonder that institution is on the nose wherever ideas and real morality are respected in the world.

And speaking of that august institution, the pope's copping a fair bit of flack as he kicks off his visit to Britain, which coincides with a new book by Geoffrey Robertson, The Case of the Pope, dealing with human rights abuses, the Vatican, immunity and such issues. Child abuse victims, humanists, human rights advocates and other activists will be trying to make things as hot as Hades for ole Pope Ben, and he can't help adding fuel to the fire, with vague and vacuous complaints about atheists and their narrow beliefs, with strange, questionable allusions to the nazis of his youth. I've been leaving a few barbed comments on catholic websites, but none of them seem to be getting published.

I'm still reading Robin Lane Fox's book Pagans and Christians, and I'm learning about how the very early Christian church actually became a church, from being an informal, more or less underground movement, with people meeting in houses, to a hierarchy of elders, bishops, archbishops and popes. When was the first bishop appointed? How were they chosen? What did these early cultists talk about at these clandestine meetings? Did they complain about the Christ-killing Jews? Did they mock 'pagan' rituals? Did they confabulate on how to deal with the Roman authorities? Presumably there were the usual problems, encountered by the Jews, of being required to pay lip service to Graeco-Roman religion, including the swearing of oaths [expressly forbidden by Jesus] and blood sacrifices. And then there were questions of doctrine. As Fox describes it, the early Christian period was, if you like, plagued with 'superior' Christians who forged their own enlightened path - many of them taking the religion, or trying to take it in altogether unexpected directions. Marcion is the most famous, or notorious example. Given the diversity of thought put into the new religion, doctrinal coherence would have been the first major problem. There were no accepted canonical gospels, and new texts were springing up all over the place, some of them harking back to Plato's Timaeus and developing labyrinthine gnostic mysticisms. And then there were the inevitable reactions, harking back to the clear and simple message of the founder, Jesus. More anon.

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