Tuesday 22 March 2016

John 8:38 Scholars, please, listen to Cicero

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? 
Contrary to what Bible scholars seem to think, ancient people were not all stupid. They did not all think the supernatural was a proper subject of study. Modern scholars could learn from them. The good ones asked questions like "what is truth?" And while not every person was smart (just as today), the Greek philosophers were remarkably popular. Every thinking person was able to realise that the supernatural is at best just a useful simplification of more careful thought, and at worst nonsense. So the supernatural is never a fit subject for study. A good way to spread an idea, perhaps.But a siubject for study? Never.

So I plead with scholars: when you find something about the supernatural, move on. It isn't worth studying. Don't waste your time on it. There are better ancient texts to study.

What brought on this rant? I've just been listening to hours of Bible study from The Bible Geek and History in the Bible and it's driving me crazy. I can't take much more of it. Educated men who should know better are speculating on supernatural beliefs. Stop it! Stop wasting your talents! Report on the texts, yes; use them in an effort to make sense of the universe, definately; but do not us them to look down on others, Move on!

There are plenty of fine thinkers in ancient times. If we cannot find them then maybe the problem lies with us. If we really think these people were that stupid then we should stop and think: "maybe it's me." If we do not understand something it does not always mean the other guy is an idiot.

I was going to end with the famous quotation by Cicero, about realising that we know nothing. But the whole context is so good that I will quote it all. I love Cicero. (He also wrote the best book on religion: "on the nature of the gods". Highly recommended.
Then Varro began as follows: “It is my view, and it is universally agreed, that Socrates was the first person who summoned philosophy away from mysteries veiled in concealment by nature herself, upon which all philosophers before him had been engaged, and led it to the subject of ordinary life, in order to investigate the virtues and vices, and good and evil generally, and to realize that heavenly matters are either remote from our knowledge or else, however fully known, have nothing to do with the good life. The method of discussion pursued by Socrates in almost all the dialogues so diversely and so fully recorded by his hearers is to affirm nothing himself but to refute others, to assert that he knows nothing except the fact of his own ignorance, and that he surpassed all other people in that they think they know things that they do not know but he himself thinks he knows nothing, and that he believed this to have been the reason why Apollo declared him to be the wisest of all men, because all wisdom consists solely in not thinking that you know what you do not know. He used to say this regularly, and remained firm in this opinion, yet nevertheless the whole of his discourses were spent in praising virtue and in exhorting mankind to the zealous pursuit of virtue, as can be gathered from the books of members of the Socratic school, and particularly from those of Plato. (Cicero, Academica, Book 1 section 4, emphasis added)
The bit about virtue resonates with me. As I blogged yesterday, the only reason for studying the Bible is to make the world a better place. Hence I think the only good way to judge the Bible is through economics. If we study it for any other reason, whether it is to be saved or to speculate on what others believe (as if our minds are so great that we can encompass theirs as well), then I think we are doing it wrong.

(EDIT: it's worth noting that Socrates is saying what Karl Popper said over two thousand years later: we cannot prove anything, we can only disprove things. )

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