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2007-12-30 21:01:42
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Abrahamitic Religions Class

Teacher: ???

What are "Abrahamitic religions?". Quite simply it is just about aknowledging the well known fact that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions share a common heritage. The outset of this is that all three consider Abraham as their ancestral father - though in the case of Christianity and nonarabic Islam (that is the major part of today's Muslim world) that fatherhood would be of a more indirect nature - via the Jews and the Arabs respectively.


To broaden the subject a bit it will consist of describing historical reasons and background for conflicts between these three religious groups. Quite contrary to most religious threads, politics could not be banned from such a discussion. Fundamentalists of all three religions do NOT separate religion and politics (not separating these is even an essential part of their world view) and understanding their world view will not be possible without taking in the political picture.

My first lessons will consist of defining a few central concepts that would be useful in further discussions. These will largely be borrowed from social anthropology, sociology and the science of comparative religion.


Please note that this is a sensitive topic and I would like for the following rules to be observed:

* I will strive towards an unbiased view. Should anyone still feel offended by any of my lessons I would appreciate a prompt PM and I will clarify or edit - whatever is deemed neccessary.

* I ask that all comments be kept at a civil level and follow the basic scientific rules of confirming all factual statements with references. I will NOT comment on attitudes, religious or political beliefs. I WILL however criticise sloppy argumentation technique.

* I must also state that I am - as more of a buddhist than anything else - not partial to any of the mentioned religions though I am interested in representatives of the three finding a way to open dialogue. I must also state that I am a teacher of religion by profession and have not invented the term "Abrahamitic religions".


Mythos and Logos

Former nun and writer/historian of religion Karen Armstrong in her book "The Struggle for God" argues that much of the modernistic "Fundamentalist" reading of religion AS WELL AS the critique against religion is caused by mixing two different spheres, that of Mythos and Logos. I will in part follow this theory. Wereas Logos is primarily concerned with facts and theories that can be falsified through empirical knowledge Mythos is the sphere that deals with belief, sense of meaning and coherence in the world.
The typical question asked within the Logos-sphere would be: "How does it work?"
The typical question asked within the Mythos-sphere would be: "What is the meaning of it all?"
The latter question can not be answered in any varifiable way. It is from the outset a nonempirical question.

Typical for the modernistic way of thinking is a tendency to mix the two, to try to answer "What is the meaning of it all?" with "How does it work?"- answers and vice versa.

Two examples:

1. A child asks his parent "Why does the moon shine?" Most well-educated parents of today (including myself) would probably answer something along the line of "It's because the light from the sun reflects in the moon". THIS IS NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION! To provide a reason as to the meaning of the light of the moon would require a totally different answer. The "What is the meaning of the moon shining?" - question has been answered with a "This is how it works when the moon shines" answer.

There are many examples of how we are trained from childhood in believing the "How does it work" answers to be "What is the meaning of it all" answers. No wonder then that later in school we believe the ancient egyptians to be stupid when they "believe" that the sky is a giant female copulating with the earth - I mean - You just have too look up to see that there are no nipples up there! We are trained not to understand a "mythos" way of understanding the world and thus have trouble understanding that the ancient egyptian way of describing the sky is an answer to a totally different question than the scientific way of describing the sky.

2. Claiming that everything written in the bible is historically correct in the way historians of today understand the term history. Not only does the person claiming this place himself in a most unfavorable position if he wants to defend his beliefs - as contradictions are way to easy to point out in the bible - but he also misses out on the meaning historians of antiquity attributed to history. In those days history was first and foremost morality in historical shape. Facts would be adjusted and stories trimmed to achieve the desired lesson in morality. This was not "falsifying history" as the people of those days saw it but it was simply the way history SHOULD be written.
Todays way of writing history belongs clearly in the sphere of Logos, whereas the historywriting of antiquity belonged more to the world of Mythos. The point of history was to provide meaning. This the bible does - for the believer - and a believer basing his arguments from this standpoint will reach a much higher level of discussion than the one stubbornly trying to prove that the texts of the bible should have been written according to modern theorys of history when NOTHING else was written according to those rules during that timeperiod.


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Past teachers: [Dogen]

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2004-10-31 [Dogen]: Please do leave a comment or two. I have no wish to make this a monologue :-)

2005-12-06 [Seamus Schwathe]: No one else wanted to see this? How strange...

2006-06-02 [tindomerel]: I never thought of things in the light of the logos/mythos duality..interesting

2008-08-21 [DoveGirl]: I've thought along these ways, and its refreshing to see others have too.

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