Archives for posts with tag: agnostic

We have a fact and two conflicting interpretations.

Barrabas is mentioned in al four gospels.
Which has to mean something.

One interpretation posits that the whole story was made up.
That Barrabas himself was not a real person and that there was no such thing as a “custom whereby the Romans would release a condemned prisoner on the occasion of a holy day
OK, but for what reason?
to shift the blame for Jesus’ death away from the Roman authorities and onto the shoulders of the Jews
By the time the gospels had been written, most of the Christians were living under the Roman authority and outside Palestine. So a little benevolence curried from the Romans couldn’t hurt…
Except the Jews…
Historically, the release of Barabbas at the crowd’s behest, and their subsequent demands to crucify Jesus, have been used to justify anti-Semitism. Many have placed blame for Christ’s death on the Jews, commonly citing Matthew 27:25, in which the crowd shouts, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

Another interpretation takes the opposite view.
The whole episode is considered to be true as described and interprets Barrabas as “a flesh-and-blood symbol for you and for me. At this moment the Gospel story paints Barabbas as Everyone. The guilty go free, and the Holy One dies. Barabbas becomes the first one who can say, “Jesus died for me.”

Being an agnostic, somewhat simplifies things. For me.
At the emotional level, I prefer the second interpretation.
At the rational level, I appreciate the effort made by the first interpretation towards finding a logical explanation for the whole thing. Which explanation might actually be true. In the sense that the evangelists, all four of them, might have indeed tried to lessen the Roman responsibility for Christ’s death.

What bothers me is why so many of the readers have accepted the story as plausible?
A crowd to send a bandit to freedom and an innocent to death?
How likely is this?

But what if the crowd was biased?

Well, not the crowd, since the episode was most likely invented.
The individuals who had a message to convey to their readers. To us.

Let’s start with the beginning. The Old Testament.
According to this writing, the covenants were made between God and the people of Israel. Which gave the people of Israel a special place. They were His people. The chosen ones.
The New Testament changes all this. Jesus died for all of those who accept his sacrifice.
The Jews are no longer the only chosen ones.

The way I see it, the ordinary Jews have no problem with this.
I have no knowledge of Jews discriminating against Christians. Except for the claims made by the anti-Semites…
I’m not so sure though about the likes of Caiaphas… “a member of the council when he gave his opinion that Jesus should be put to death “for the people, and that the whole nation perish not”
After all, Caiaphas – and all those in the same position, were the only ones who had anything to lose as a consequence of Jesus’s teachings.
As a consequence of all people, not only those who followed the likes of Caiaphas, being able to consider themselves as being children of the same God.
Only the likes of Caiaphas had anything to lose from all followers of Christ considering themselves equal among themselves.

Not at all different from what had happened after Luther had nailed his famous theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.
The established hierarchy felt it’s throne was becoming wobbly and reacted forcefully…

What if the real meaning of the whole Barrabas story is for us, the readers of the Gospels, to be extra careful when we evaluate the ‘recommendations’ given to us by the ‘authorities’ of the moment?
Specially when those ‘authorities’ are about to loose their clout…

True enough.
Good people don’t need laws to tell them how to behave while the ‘cunningly willful’ amongst us will indeed, time and time again, try to circumvent the consequences of bypassing the law.

Then why?
Two and a half millennia after Plato had dispensed this piece of wisdom we still have laws.
Is there a possible explanation for this apparent aberration?
Are we that thick-headed or there’s something else?

To settle this question – to start attempting to settle it, actually, we must first agree upon the difference between good and bad.

Ooops!

‘Everybody knows what good and bad is’ doesn’t really work, right?

In principle… maybe, but when it comes to putting principles into practice… we need guidelines!
Just as ‘good fences make good neighbors‘, a clear understanding among the good about where the realm of the bad starts in earnest makes life a lot simpler. For all of us. And the more visible that line is, the simpler our life becomes.

Only this is but half of the actual explanation.
Laws do make our life simpler, indeed. Unfortunately, ‘simpler’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’.

As some of you already know, I’ve spent half my life under communist rule.
Does ‘Ceausescu’ ring any bells with you?

Under communism, life was a lot simpler than it is now.
Presumably, life was a lot simpler under any of the many flavors of authoritarian rules experienced by humanity during its history. This being the reason for no matter how horrible a dictatorial regime had been, there were always some who had regretted when that regime had fallen.

‘OK, so what’s your point?
That laws, in general, might be good but the laws which impose an authoritarian regime are bad?
You know that you’ve just opened a fresh can of worms, right?’

How do you determine the difference between a good law and a bad one?

There’s no such thing. No law is above good and bad. For the simple reason that we call laws are made by us.
We are fallible human beings and everything we make, including our laws, is, and should continue to be, constantly improved.

‘Then you’re nothing more than a ‘closet progressive‘!
I knew it!
‘Constant improvement’… yuck!
Not to mention the fact that the most important Law comes from God, not from Man!’

I’ve already disclosed that I’m an agnostic.
That I have no idea whether a(ny) god had anything to do with what’s happening around/with us.
All I know is that all laws, including the Bible – and all other Holy Books, had been written by people.
By Humans, that is.

And I also know that there are two kinds of law.
‘Natural’ – as in noticed by us, and ‘synthetic’.

While all laws are ‘artificial’ – ‘written’ by us, the natural ones had been first noticed and only then put on paper.
While all laws had been written on purpose – each ‘writer’ had their own reason for doing it, the ‘synthetic’ ones had been put together with a specific goal.

While observing – and when necessary improving, the natural laws benefits all, the ‘synthetic’ ones serve only those who make it their business to impose those laws upon the rest of the community.

While observing – and, when necessary, imposing them upon SOME, improves the prospects of the entire community, designing and imposing ‘synthetic’ laws upon a community will always bring a huge amount of disturbance.
Sometimes fatal for that community.
Always fatal for the regime attempting it!

‘How about some examples?’

I’ll give you two natural laws and a ‘synthetic’ one.

The law of gravity. Also known as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
This law didn’t need Newton to notice it. The Earth had already been orbiting the Sun for a while before Newton told us why.

‘Do not kill’. A subset of the Golden Rule, ‘Do no harm, if you can help it’.
Also ‘natural’ but a lot more ‘fluid’.
And, strangely enough, noticed and ‘put on paper’ way before the law of the falling objects…
Just think of it!
The ‘law makers’ have noticed long, long ago that the communities which follow the Golden Rule fare much better than those whose members treat each-other like dirt. Yet only a few short centuries ago somebody ‘noticed’ that things fall according to a constant rule… and bothered to make it into a law.
Was ‘gravity’ too obvious? Inescapable, so why bother?
While the Golden Rule worked better when enforced? When the formal rule mandated that even the rulers themselves had to obey the rule?

It’s easy to notice that the first two, the ‘natural’ ones, produce consequences regardless of people observing them or not.
Meanwhile, ‘synthetic’ laws are, entirely, the figment of somebody’s imagination. And produce consequences only when/if enough people are ‘seduced’ by the perspectives of those laws being put into practice.
Communist rule, for instance, could be put into practice only when enough people had been seduced by Marx’s ideal that all property should belong to the state and be managed by a ‘select’ few. Only then, after those ‘select’ few had, somehow, convinced enough followers, could Marx’s ideas be transformed into laws. And put in practice. With the already obvious consequences…

‘OK, but I still don’t get it!
Is there a way to tell whether a law is good or bad before-hand? Before its consequences had become manifest?’

That’s a tall order. And you know that!

Actually, no!
There’s no fire-proof method of ascertaining anything before-hand, let alone something made by us.

But there is a next best thing.
The ‘natural’ laws are natural because they had been first observed. Only then written into law. And because of things proceeding in this order, whenever something changed those who had noticed the change had adapted the wording of the law to the new reality. Simply because those who had to make do with the consequences of the law being put into practice could not wait too long whenever they had noticed that there was a better way.

People have dreamed of flying since god only knows when but they had learned how to do it only after they had been told that everything is pulled to the center of the Earth.
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ had been very useful. For a while… Now we use the same principle – do no harm, but we implement it in a more nuanced manner.

People have also dreamed of a fair society.
And, frankly, ours is a lot fairer than that of our grand-parents. Because we have constantly improved our ‘manners’.
We have not only observed ourselves while living but we’ve also done something when anything went wrong.
The problem is – and it’s only one problem here, that not all things can be reversed. Some mistakes can be fully redressed, other compensated … but we’ll have to take with us the consequences of those mistakes. And the longer a mistake is allowed to happen, the more important the consequences.
So. ‘Synthetic’ rules are bad not because they have been dreamed up by us. They are bad because those who promote them cannot accept the idea they might have been wrong.
The really bad ‘synthetic’ rules were those who could not be changed from within!

Whenever a law maintains that things cannot happen, ever, but in the manner prescribed by that very law, that text is no longer a law. It’s a dictate!
It’s dictates that we can do without, not laws.
And it’s our job to make out the difference. One way or another.

Disclosure.
You haven’t ‘heard’ this from me.
I’ve only ’embellished’ some ideas I’ve stolen from Popper, inasmuch as I’ve understood anything from them.

From an atheist, that is.

Let me clear something, from the beginning.
I’m perfectly happy with the current scientific explanation of how we arrived here. OK, there still are a few gaps that need to be bridged but, on the whole, the story  seems pretty straightforward.

But, on the other hand, me – and a huge number of other, scientifically minded, people – having no need for God as an explanation doesn’t preclude God from existing nor from having caused the ‘Big Bang’ and/or intervening since. In various manners still unknown to us.

And something else.
The God we ‘know’ is a god of our own making.
All sacred texts that guide our religious life have been written by humans, all sermons are officiated by us and, also, all religiously motivated crimes, and religiously fueled heroic acts, have been ‘committed’ by some of us.
My point being that the ‘image’ that we have crafted about what some of us consider to be ‘the ultimate cause’ for everything might be far away from the one “It” has about Itself… if it exists at all, of course.

What Dawkins has to do with any of this?
Well, some 10 or so years ago he came to Bucharest and tried to convince a few of us – about 100 students and some 20 ‘academics’ in two separate conferences, I attended both, that his work is proof enough that God cannot even exist. Period.
Really?
Then what’s the difference between Dawkins and the guys who had set Giordano Bruno on fire? OK, OK, different manners of expression but the very same level of intransigence…

Anyway, I feel a lot better now that I’ve finally figured out the difference between ‘there is no need for a particular something’ and ‘that particular something cannot even exist’.

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