Monday, January 31, 2011

Missing Mark Found?

It is well known that the ending of the Gospel According to Mark is problematic. Some ancient manuscripts end the gospel at Mark 16:8 and others insert a number of different endings suggesting that no solid tradition survived concerning any text after the eighth verse. This has led some scholars to conclude that there never was an ending and that the author of Mark intended the sudden and dramatic ending.

One thought that has occurred to me is that Matthew's gospel gives a further indication that the "missing" ending may never have existed or at least was lost extremely early. We all know (I think) that Matthew borrows heavily from Mark. In fact Mark is Matthew's primary source for narrative details. When we read the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, of course we get the cute story about the guards which "is told among the Jews to this day" (Kudos to Matthew for this nice bit of apologetics). This is followed by chapter 28, verses 16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This brief and simple appearance story pales next to Luke's and John's memorable versions. However, if we line it up with Mark's passion narrative a curious thing happens. Matthew's appearance story is precisely what we would expect to follow Mark 16:8, namely the disciples meet Jesus in Galilee just as the young man in the white robe instructed the women at the tomb saying, "he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." Mark 16:7.

Is Matthew stuck with a copy of Mark that ends without the promised reunion? Does he feel the need add exactly the scene that so many scribes felt compelled to supply as well? I must admit that I never felt completely satisfied with the conclusion that Mark ended so abruptly but this little detail has me rethinking my position.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Life After Capitalism

From Robert Skidelsky - Life After Capitalism:
We ban pornography and restrict violence on TV, believing that they affect people negatively, yet we should believe that unrestricted advertising of consumer goods affects only the distribution of demand, but not the total?
Capitalism’s defenders sometimes argue that the spirit of acquisitiveness is so deeply ingrained in human nature that nothing can dislodge it. But human nature is a bundle of conflicting passions and possibilities. It has always been the function of culture (including religion) to encourage some and limit the expression of others.

Indeed, the “spirit of capitalism” entered human affairs rather late in history. Before then, markets for buying and selling were hedged with legal and moral restrictions. A person who devoted his life to making money was not regarded as a good role model. Greed, avarice, and envy were among the deadly sins. Usury (making money from money) was an offense against God.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wither Wal-Mart

I am pushing through The Oz Principle now. Having endured unending peans to Jack Welch the name dropping has inevitably arrived at Wal-Mart. Every supposed success story drives me to google to see if there is a "rest of the story" and Wal-Mart is no exception. While poking around I came to this chart of Wal-Mart's profitability.

The first thing to notice is how consistent the trend of profit level has been. It is also flat and may be bending downward of late. Do they get kudos for maintaining such consistency over a decade or blame for failing to increase the profitability in any real way? I don't know and don't care.

The figure that struck me was under the chart where it says that Wal-Mart is in the 41st percentile for profitability among all corporations measured, 49th among services companies and 46th among discount, variety stores. Hardly a world beater - just middle of the pack.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

QOD - Peace and War

I have been searching for this for some time and finally found it in a box back in a closet:
If a man could not look at the fact of peace and the fact of war and choose the former in preference to the latter, what additional argument could persuade him.

The Currents of Space, Isaac Asimov.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


A deity whose attempts to punish humankind through storms and diseases can be thwarted is at least as problematic as a deity thought of as using such imprecise weapons in the first place.
Jim McGrath - Exploring Our Matrix

Monday, January 3, 2011

Manga safe for kids?

I have a pre-teen daughter whose friend reads a lot of manga and watches a lot of anime. Recently my daughter started watching Full Metal Alchemist.

My wife and I have watched some of FMA and are little disturbed. The violence is pretty graphic with characters walking through puddles of blood. Also, the drawings are quite dark and I found themes like a corrupt ruling military potentially too mature for an eleven year old. That said, my daughter is fairly sophisticated for her age so we might have been willing to overlook these.

The element of FMA that has really got us wondering is the focus on death and souls - more specifically the ways in which souls are manipulated, bodies stolen, soulless creatures created and souls harvested to create a philosophers stone. My wife and I are struggling with the unwholesome nature of this series and do not think that the occult theme is balanced adequately by redemptive elements.

The question that I hope someone in Blogland can help me with is this:
Are we overreacting or should we not allow our children to watch this show until they are older?

On a related note, when he was seven, we stopped my son from watching the Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon whose plot including soul-stealing. Is this a common theme with manga and anime and something to which we as parents need to pay special attention?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gould's Kettle

On his blog, Arni Zachariassen posts a passage from John Polkinghorne's Questions of Truth which trots out the idea that science and religion are not incompatible because science answers "how" questions and religion answers "why" questions. Polkinghorne uses the analogy of a kettle whose boiling water can be explained by the fire burning under it but the reason why it is boiling is because John want's a cup of tea. Stephen J Gould was less homey in his rendition of this concept and apparently needed an acronym: NOMA - Non-Overlaping MAgisteria. Below I reproduce the comments I contributed to Mr Zachariassen's post more or less as it appears on his blog:

Non-Overlaping MAgisteria works nicely as a philosophical stance but I always run into trouble when trying to apply it to the real world, to the way people actually practice religion. While many of a more intellectual bent seem inclined to separate the hows from the whys, the vast majority of believers hold that the active work of the divine is central to why they believe. They will tell you that the beauty and complexity of the universe could not have come about without some intelligence behind it. They will look for divine interventions in their family relationships, careers, health and parking places - [couldn't resist! ;)] They will tell you that they have felt their heart strangely warmed. They will tell you that your actions now will be balanced by fortune in this life or a future one.

All of these common religious experiences are hows, not whys. They express either a belief in a supernatural mechanism that determines events in the world or a direct intervention of the divine into the workings of the physical world (I am including mental states here). This is where I believe analogies like the Kettle fall short (or Stephen J Gould's Non-Overlapping MAgisteria). They explain only a part of what religion does - the part that appeals to the analogist - while pretending that the "how" elements endemic to religion either don't exist or are somehow not valid.