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Answer to My Objections on Demythologizing

If the first few paragraphs seem a bit tough-going or uninteresting, just jump to the final two! In my last couple of posts I’ve raised some problems with the idea of demythologizing an ancient set of ethical views, such as those of Jesus. The gist of the problem that I’ve raised is that every ethical injunction – just as every teaching, doctrine, piece of advice, sentence, word, communication of any kind – is not just *framed* within a linguistic, cultural, social, historical context: the context is actually determinative of the meaning of a word, sentence, etc. And if that’s true, then ripping a communication out of its context means necessarily to alter – once could say to destroy – its meaning. That at least has been my objection. And now I have a response to that objection from the other side. It is a two-pronged response. Prong One: I don’t think that it’s fair to say that context is absolutely *everything*. Context is a *lot*, but a communication consists of a sequence of sensible utterances [...]

2020-04-03T19:01:56-04:00January 21st, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

More Problems with Demythologizing

In yesterday’s post I questioned whether words, sentences, ideas, teachings can simply be transferred from one context to another, if, in fact, it is precisely the context that is the determining factor for what the words mean. Here I’ll try to illustrate that “if.” My argument here is that words do not have some kind of inherent meaning but mean what they do depending on their social, historical, cultural, and literary context. I think this can be illustrated just on the level of words themselves, in fact, of any word itself. I’ll illustrate with the example that I give to my undergraduate students at Chapel Hill. Take the word “dude.” Like all words, you might think that this word simply *means* something (it must mean *some* thing! No?), even if the meaning gets adopted in different contexts. Right? Well, I’m not so sure it’s right. Dude in its early usage referred to a dandy – that is a city dweller who was cultured and dressed to the nines and went to the opera, and so [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:05-04:00January 20th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

Against Demythologizing the Ethics of Jesus

When I was in high school one of my passions – along with baseball, tennis, and, well, lots of other things that 16 year old boys can be passionate about  – was debate.   I threw myself into the debate season and worked like crazy at it.   One of the most interesting things about debate is that it teaches you to pursue both sides of a point, vehemently arguing the affirmative of a resolution and then an hour later arguing just as vehemently the negative side. Still today I use class debates in my university courses at UNC, and even though students are skeptical, reluctant, and afraid going into the debates, they almost always come away thinking that it they are the best part of the entire semester.  Everyone in the class has to participate in one formal debate during the term, arguing affirmative of negative of one of three highly controversial topics, based on doing substantial research with teammates in preparation.   The topics that I’ve used most recently are (1) Resolved: Paul and Jesus Represented [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:11-04:00January 19th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

In Favor of Demythologizing the Ethics of Jesus

In previous posts, in answer to the question of whether I think that Jesus was a great moral teacher, I have said that I think the answer is Yes, but that there is a very serious caveat. Jesus’ ethical teaching is based on a view of the world that most of us today no longer hold. Jesus’ ethical teaching – just as all of his teaching – is deeply rooted in a form of Jewish apocalyptic thought that can be dated and localized to his time and place. Jesus thought that the culmination of the history of God’s people, Israel, was soon to come, that the climax of all human history was at hand, that God was soon to intervene in the course of history to overthrow the powers of evil that were in control of this world to bring in his good kingdom, here on earth. People were to live ethically in order to inherit that kingdom; and in fact, they were to begin to model the ethics of that kingdom in the here [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:18-04:00January 18th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|
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