Archive for October 7th, 2010

Christians and Muslims

October 7, 2010

Jesus  was a doubter (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”) who seemed to have been “expecting something that did not seem to be happening.” JMH

Hence the crucial role, that fell to Paul, of turning the story in a different direction. “In Paul’s hands, Jesus’ death and resurrection became the center of a new religion.” Faith triumphed over reason, belief became the currency of individual salvation.

What was God doing, for all eternity, before these storied events in the desert two millennia ago? Preparing hell? Really?

That’s not the best, most comforting or “Christian” answer, as Augustine– influenced by Plotinus, fearful of a punitive afterlife (and thus unable to become an Epicure), famously reluctant to embrace the chastity of his Christian re-birth, but all too eager to believe– knew perfectly well.

Augustine gave Christians the stock “free will” solution to the problem of evil they’ve rested in ever since, and their dependence on undeserved divine grace that made the world safe for Calvinist predestination: more “difficult” doctrines to complement Paul’s on the redemptive resurrection.

His contemporary Hypatia would have found it difficult, indeed, to accept the Augustinian denial of evil as something no more substantively pernicious than mere “privation.”

[Sagan’s Hypatia]

A couple centuries on, Muhammad arrived with his own personal transformative vision. Again, a new religion was born.

Isn’t it remarkable, how frequently history finds individuals– Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Muhammad, Joe Smith…–  whose improbable visions become the blind destiny of generations to come?

NOTES TO STUDENTS:

1. I’ll need your midterm project summaries a week from today.

2. If you wish to suggest quiz questions for possible inclusion on future exams, post them in the comments space.

3. Daily questioners are also encouraged to post their questions each day, and everyone else is encouraged to share your responses in the comments space as well.