Yearly Archives: 2010

Grace

“Grace” is a word Atheists can embrace.  Make it your own, take it out of the hands of those who perversely proclaim that we are born disgusting and deserving of torture and torment with our only hope being grace granted from a praise-lusting vengeful god.  Take grace back from narrow minds!

Grace is unexpected kindness from others.  Grace is the humble interdependence we have with fellow humans and all of nature.  Grace is a gift we give without expecting in return.   A thankful heart is one that realizes that we live by grace — we live by the kindness of others.

Don’t let the religious steal this beautiful concept.   Make “Grace” a word you are proud of.   Grace is an important understanding to living in this world where no gods, spirits or spooks exist.  Grace is caring for each other.

  • Proto-Indo-European: gwer:  to praise, welcome
  • Sanskrit: grnati: sings, announces
  • Greek: karites: one of the three sister goddesses who were bestower or charm and beauty
  • Latin: gratia: agreeableness, charm; favor, good will, kindness
  • English grace:
    1) Elegance and beauty of movement or expression
    2) Consideration of others
    3) Disposition of kindness and compassion
    4) to decorate and make attractive
    5) a short prayer before a meal
    6) (Christian theology) : the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God

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See other “Word!” posts, here.

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The Death of Biblical Literacy

Part of my Avalos Series

In a comment in my post earlier today, Hector Avalos (the author himself) directs us to his excellent, short article which was published today:  “The Praise of Biblical Illiteracy“.  There, as in his book, he clearly states:

My main point is that biblical illiteracy should not always be regarded as a bad thing.
-Hector Avalos

I agree with him strongly.  Certainly the vast majority of believers will disagree.  But I am going to wager that many atheists and even agnostics are going to also disagree with him.  And perhaps I understand why they would defensively disagree.  For  I, like many of them, even though an Atheist, have lots invested in the Bible.  I know a fair bit about it.  I know how it ties into history and literature.  If literacy died, my knowledge would become largely useless.

It seems a human reflex to preserve that with which we are familiar.  There are movements to preserve languages, cuisines, customs, music and even technologies.  We make museums like tombstones for those things that do succumb.  I have had several mini-deaths in my life where I had to give up whole areas of knowledge: Hindi, Japanese, Homeopathy, Acupuncture …  I use to have a rather large sum of knowledge in all these yet I gave them up as I pursued other knowledge and activities, that knowledge, without its necessary nourishment, has withered.  It is sad to see a familiar thing die.  But all things die. (See my mini-death post)

Avalos’ fine article lays out many reasons to support his desire,  I have just added my two cents to help others see their own psychological reflexes which may block them from hearing some of Avalos’ fine insights.  Please to give his article a read if you don’t plan to read his book.

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Hector Avalos’ Unfortunate Hyperbole

Hector Avalos

Note & thoughts on:
“Introduction

From my series on:
The End of Biblical Studies

by Hector Avalos

The title of Avalos’ book is meant to be an attention grabber — “The End of Biblical Studies” !   Well, we know Biblical studies won’t end soon, nor will his book bring them to an end.    Further, in the introduction he claims the Bible is no longer relevant, which is obviously and blatantly wrong.  He tries to qualify this statement by technically defining “irrelevant” to mean that biblical concepts and practices are no longer valuable, applicable or ethical.  Even to this atheist, such an exaggeration seems pure rhetoric.

Dr. Avalos’ language is full of hyperbole, with all its concomitant shortcomings: Those who believe his thesis will read and rejoice and those who don’t may just focus on his exaggeration. I am guessing that Avalos is simply trying to use hyperbole as a corrective to the gross obfuscations that have protected the Bible to date. If so, I understand his feelings but suspect the hyperbole strategy will unfortunately significantly cut both his readership and the book’s effectiveness.

But if the reader can ignore Dr. Avalos’ exaggerations, the book looks like it will decisively dissect much of Biblical Studies. So much so that any reader who understands his message will walk away with a radically different view of the Bible and how the academy continues to deceptively protect the Bible from real understanding.

Here are a few rather standard objections Avalos makes to the relevance of the Bible:

  • Genocide, a common practice in ancient times, is indeed one of Yahweh’s methods
  • Supernatural explanations for disease and other events are offered for phenomena now understood to occur naturally.
  • Women are put in a subordinate position
  • Statistics of Biblical illiteracy among those who claim the Bible is the precious word of God:
    • only 4/10 Christians knew the Bible claims Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount
    • Christians who NEVER read scripture: 21.9 % protestants, 33.1% Catholics

Avalos points out that there is a long history of individuals who, like him, felt much of the Bible is irrelevant, starting with the early church’s heretical theologian Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD) who wanted the O.T. excluded from Christianity.  Interestingly on pg. 34 of Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman tells us that Marcion’s effort to establish his special cannon is what stirred the Christian sect which was to become the winning orthodoxy, to establish their own cannon.

At the end of the introduction, Avalos softens his claim by saying “Biblical studies as we know it should end.”  (emphasis mine)   And he is straightforward with his motivation for pursuing this end:

… I hold that secular approaches to life will result in the minimization of human suffering, though not its end.
– Hector Avalos (pg 25)

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Related Posts:

  • See Jason Bird’s Simul-blog .  Jason is a reader who decided to read this book along with me and to post on it.  He is a heterodox, un-churched, universalist lay Christian.

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Hyperbole – word study

We all know what it means to exaggerate.  The word comes from Latin:
ex= “thoroughly” +
aggerare “heap, up” [ad- “toward” + gerere “carry”].

But like many concepts in English we also have a Greek derived word with similar meaning:  “Hyperbole”:  Gk huperbole,  huper, “above” + bole, “throw”.

But “hyperbole” is sometimes just used to mean the same as exaggeration, it is often used to identify an intentional literary or speech device which is not meant to be taken literally.  Thus here are the common definitions of “hyperbole”:

  1. Exaggeration
  2. Intentional Exaggeration
  3. Intentional Exaggeration not intended to be taken literally

As a communication tool, hyperbole can be used in the following ways:

  • To grab attention
  • To emphasize a contrast
  • To deceive

A hyperbole is effective at contrasting one idea against another — it makes their differences clear albeit with gross exaggeration.  This can wake up the listener and help them realize that the speaker is introducing a new paradigm.  Whereas if a speaker uses slow, careful, caveat-laden comparisons and descriptions to contrast two concepts, a listener may not really get their point or may get tired of listening.  “Hyperbole” is a great rhetorical tool.  It makes the contrasting idea easy to remember and often easy to apply.  Such is the simple nature of the human mind.

Well that is all great for the mind ready to be moved.  Nonetheless, if the listener has no desire to be swayed, they may point out the exaggeration of the hyperbole and focus only on its inaccuracies.  They may not forgive the rhetoric.  Hyperbole is a rhetoric tool but it disobeys all sorts of logic rules.   But when the goal of the communication is victory and not truth, a competitor will choose their weapon appropriately.

Finally, some geometry to explain the picture used in this post.  As I said, the etymology of “hyperbole” is:

“Hyperbole”:  Gk huperbole . to huper, “above” + bole, “throw”.

When we throw an object, it follows a certain geometric shape — a parabola which is related to a hyperbola.   “Hyperbola” has the exact same etymology as hyperbole.  While reviewing the definitions of hyperbola and parabola, I found that they and circles and ellipses were simply sections of a cone.  But none of the definitions I found were elegant — none put explained the differences in these shapes in clear, yet concise terms.  So I will offer Sabio’s elegant definition of Conic Sections below:

Four geometric figures are determined by the intersection of a (non-vertex) plane with the sides (nappes) of a cone.  The figure types are determined by the acute angle formed by the plane and the cone’s axis.

Hyperbola = 0 degrees (parallel axis) to degree of Nappe Angle
Parabola = degree of Nappe Angle
Ellipse =  degree of Nappe Angle to 90 degrees
Circle = 90 degrees (perpendicular to axis)

Note: for simplicity I limited to planes which do not include the vertex of the cone.  Otherwises Lines and a Point must be included as possible conic sections.

Math folks, please help me if I have erred.   Others, if you have read this far, let me know what you think about the literary tool of hyperbole.

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See other “Word!” posts, here.

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The End of Biblical Studies

This is an index post of my thoughts as I read:

The End of Biblical Studies (2007)
by Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos, Ph.D.

Hector Avalos was born in Mexico in 1958.  As a young child moved to USA to help his grandmother, a Pentecostal.  He became a Child Evangelist & Faith Healer at 7 years old!  In High School he decided to be great missionary and taught himself Greek & Hebrew to defeat heretics!  In college, at 20 years-old, he became an atheist after finally understanding the scriptures he use to preach.  He received his bachelor degree in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and this Master and Doctorate degrees from Harvard.  He is now professor of Religious Studies at Iowas State University.

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Related Posts:
1.  My first post discussion a short lecture by Dr. Avalos.
2. Wiki Article on Dr. Avalos
3.  List of other publications by Dr. Avalos.

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Sabio’s Alt Med Background

Five Element TheoryThis is a reference post for anyone interested in a brief general history of my experiences in Alternative Medicine.   BTW, for the last twenty years I have practiced orthodox Western Medicine (Allopathic Medicine).

Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

I landed in Japan for a brief 3 weeks vacation on my way back from philosophy Ph.D. research in India and Pakistan.  I was enamored by Japan and saw no rush to return to the States and my 3-week vacation turned into 7 years and I never finished that Ph.D.   My first year and a half I spent much of my spare time at a Zen Temple practicing Shorin-ji Kempo (Shaolin Kungfu) and meditation.  We also acupressure methods to massage each other after 2-3 hours work-outs.  Finding that interesting, I then took two acupressure classes in town, then I also found a Scottish acupuncturist who then took me on as an apprentice.  After two  years in Japan I was able to pass the National Japanese language boards and was accepted into an acupuncture college.  After 3 years of intense acupuncture training (4 pm – 9 pm, 5 days a week), I graduated (the only non-asian foreigner that year in Western Japan to graduate from an acupuncture college).  I then passed the national board exams.  For the next year I did apprenticeships in 3 clinics (I will write on these later) and took a graduate diploma in Chinese Herbal medicine. Then for one year I opened my own clinic in my home town, Kyoto.  I was called several times to give presentations on Acupuncture to various foreign groups in Japan.

On returning to the States I only practice acupuncture occasionally, and now don’t practice it at all.  I do still do acupressure to help people with headaches and sore backs.

Homeopathy

On returning to the USA after 7 years in Japan, I went to Duke Medical School’s 2-year Physician Assistant program ( a crammed version of a Physician’s 4-year program).  But during those years I also casually studied Homeopathy. After graduating from Duke, I got two jobs in Seattle Washington.  One in an Emergency Department for 30 hours per week and a second at a Family Practice Clinic with two MDs who only used Homeopathic medicine — again 30 hours per week.  During my first year at the homeopathic clinic, I also took a certificate program (180 hours) from the International Foundation of Homeopathy.  But I stopped practicing Homeopathy after only 2 intense years of practice.  I will write more later.

Diet

Diet is probably one of the most important forms of “medicines”.  I became a vegetarian after eating goat brain from the skull of a goat as a guest in a village in Pakistan when I was 19 years old (my first trip to South Asia).  I remained a vegetarian for about 7 years.  Part of that time I did a raw food diet for 6 months but became weak and stopped it.  I stopped being a vegetarian when I reached Japan and decided to start eating fish.  But fish proved to be “gateway” flesh and soon I was eating almost anything (whale, raw horse, live fish …).

During my stay in Japan I became sick, probably due to stress, and then started a Macrobiotic diet which drove me into worse health until I gave it up about 1 year later.  For the next 10 years I would eat largely vegetarian with 1-2 meat meals a week, buying food at coops and always striving for whole grains and unprocessed foods.  Oh yes, alcohol always remained a vice on each diet.

About six years ago I became much more lazy in my diet and started eating a lot of sweets.  I gained wt, developed high blood pressure and GERD.  A year and a half ago I started a low-carb (Paleo Diet)– more later.  Since then I have lost all my excess weight, was able to stop all my medications and am probably the healthiest I have been since I was younger, but my old vegetarian friends would be deeply ashamed of my unabashed carnivore habits.

Exercise

I have always exercised — with periods of lethargy, of course:  jog, martial arts, kayak …

Yoga & Meditation

I studied for two years to be a Yoga teacher  and have practiced various forms of meditation for many years- Yogic, Zen, Vipassana, Tibetan.  I am a very unskilled, lazy meditator.   Some consider these forms of alternative medicine.  More on this later.

Other related posts:

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Treat the patient, not the numbers

In Oriental Medicine and in Homeopathy, we would not run any laboratory tests before treating a patient.  Information was solely gathered by physical observation and the interview process.  So detailed and careful were those exams that they put Allopathic Medicine (“Modern Medicine”) to shame.  So, by the time I studied Allopathic Medicine in PA school (22 years ago), I was ready to learn that observing the patient in front of you is often more important than a measurement or lab test.

Below are a few classic examples:

High Blood Pressure

At my first job out of PA school in an ER, providers will still treating high blood pressure reflexively.  If a patient’s blood pressure was high, they popped a few pills into the patient to bring it down to “normal” quickly.  I had learned that such a practice was dangerous but it took me three months to get the ER staff to change their old habits.  If someone has had high blood pressure for a long time, they probably need that pressure to keep both their heart and brain perfused with blood.  We now know that lowering chronic hypertension abruptly can lead to ischemic disasters.

Low Oxygen Levels

Pulse Oximetry is a gentle finger clamp that uses a laser to measure how much oxygen is in your blood.  When these first came out, if someone had low oxygen levels, they reflexively supplemented their oxygen with an oxygen mask.   But ironically, if a pt has acute exacerbation of  Chronic Obstruction Pulmonary Disease (COPD) high levels of uncontrolled oxygen can result in respiratory failure!  For unlike healthy patients whose respiratory reflex is triggered by high CO2 levels, in these patients it is low O2 levels that trigger the response which you can blunt by supplying uncontrolled oxygen – thus ironically killing someone using oxygen.  This problem was later solved with special delivery systems.

High Temperature

The old school ideology was that body temperature needs to be brought down to normal range.  In Japan and China, a person with a fever is made to sweat more — their high temperature is raise further.  The body produces a fever to kill bacteria.  It is true that only some organism are killed or slowed down by high body temperatures and that the response is non-specific, but you should usually give fever a chance to work.  But in the ERs where I first worked, nurses would not give blankets to patients with fevers even if they had the chills in fear of raising their temperature.  And they would always give Tylenol or Motrin for any temperature over 100 deg C.  It took me 1 year to get that practice changed.  I had to print out article after research article and finally present them to the medical group.

Well, those are only a few examples to a principle which I will quote in an up-coming post.

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Related Posts:

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