Background: Apostles' Creed, Tsuyoku Naritai

Related to: A Parable on Obsolete Ideologies

Just something I thought I might add to the annals of cases where someone tries to re-interpret an old religious text to mean something more acceptable to the modern ear, in contradiction to what most people (especially its contemporaries) think the texts mean.  And this is not some random person, but Gene Callahan, who makes sure you understand he holds a doctorate in philosophy, and pretty much makes a career out of defending this and anti-reductionist views in general.  Here's the post:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God...
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life..."

If I say these words, what do I mean? I am asserting that I have some secret knowledge that others do not? Do I believe these things like I believe it will rain tonight?

No, I asserting that, by meditating on these symbols, I believe I will come to understand better what I now know only through a glass darkly.

I believe that I may understand.

I suggested that this is not what most people mean when they say the Creed, but (surprise) the comment was deleted.

(Yes I know Tsuyoku Naritai is not quite the same as Callahan's interpretation, but it's the closest short LW term for the general idea.)

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I want the three minutes I spent trying to understand this back.

This post, or the linked post?



Okay, I'll give the short version.

Gene Callahan: The Apostles' Creed really means that I believe I can understand the world.

Me: Look, another case of someone reading something into a religious text that isn't there, this time a serious intellectual.


Why should LW care? What's here to discuss?

I'd never seen someone that intelligent try to re-interpret a religious text that far, turning a religious creed into something like Tsuyoku Naritai.

That seems to be only marginally on topic for this context. But if that is what you are interested in, I can give other extreme examples. In the Talmud, an-eye-for-any-eye is interpreted as meaning monetary damages. Also, in the Talmud, the section of Deuternomy 21 which mandates a death penalty for rebellious children is interpreted in a way such that it becomes close to physically impossible for a child to trigger it even if they want to (they need to steal a large amount of money from their parents, take the money to purchase an extremely large quantity of meat and wine, and then consume it all, and all of this needs to happen in a short time span). The Talmud then asks the question about why the Bible would have such a rule if it would obviously never trigger, and it replies that it was placed there so that there would be more text for scholars to study.

That's interesting. Do you have references and the time to post them?

The rebellious child is discussed in the Babylonian Talmud starting at I think Sanhedrin 68b. Wikipedia claims that the eye-for-an-eye discussion is Baba Kamma 83b-84a. I do remember it being in Baba Kamma but not precisely where so that citation is probably correct.

Those are interesting (and in line with a lot of what I've heard about modern rabbinic rulings that make e.g. stoning impossible to be applied), but it's seems of a different type than saying that a passage about supernatural beliefs was really saying that you can understand the world right in line with a naturalist wordview, as Callahan is claiming.

Edit: And for readers who are unfamiliar, the "through a glass darky" is a reference to this (though see the notes and other translations).

modern rabbinic rulings

Awareness of the differences between a contemporary, novel application of an ancient ruling and a modern ruling is important for understanding how the system works.

Also, the word "modern" should probably be avoided. In my experience, Catholics often and Jews sometimes mean since ~70 AD by modern (Jews are more likely to mean ~500 AD than ~70 AD), others mean different things, such as since WWII, or within the past few decades, or since 1563.

Further confusion is added when someone has one meaning in mind and pegs it incorrectly to an event or other outside thing they use to describe their use of "modern", e.g. someone who said "Modern Judaism, meaning Judaism that doesn't take "eye for an eye literally, is fairly progressive," might mistakenly think that before fifty years ago, it was taken literally, and intend to mean "within the past fifty years" by "modern".

The best first step to understand the timeline is to learn what insiders think and how they consider rabbinic status across gaps of centuries and so forth. Though I lack any knowledge of scholarship, I am guessing the popular current internal evaluation does much more stratifying into eras with fairly clean chronological breaks than evidence shows is warranted.

Upvotes and internets galore to whoever can think of a word that is more confusing to use and more worthy of tabooing than "modern" when discussing the history of Judaism. "Traditional" and "authentic" are more prejudicial, but they are obviously so, and hence less liable to cause confusion.


Where does he say or imply anything like "in line with a naturalist worldview"?

The idea that everything is potentially understandable.


Which (1) he also doesn't say and (2) doesn't imply a naturalist worldview unless "understandable" is taken in a particular way which Callahan probably doesn't have in mind.

I'm not convinced that your interpretation of what he is saying is correct. It may mean something closer to the idea that he doesn't currently understand the creed in detail but hopes to at one point. In that interpretation he would still believe that the creed reflects truth about reality in some form involving a deity and the deity giving forth some entity which it sacrificed somehow, etc.

That would still represent a significant deviation from what most people have historically thought they were professing, though I suppose less of a "nice-sounding re-write".

Really? It seems pretty close. Look at how many sources talk about things like the sublime mystery of the Trinity. The only major difference might be that this writer hopes that one day they will understand it.