Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can You Recognize Bullshit When You Encounter It?

Can you recognize bullshit when you encounter it? If you can, think again. According to Harry G. Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher and professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, we only have a vague understanding as to what constitutes bullshit. Thankfully, to help redress our imprecise understanding of bullshit, H. G. Frankfort has, with his penetrating analytical mind, provided us, in his work entitled On Bullshit, with a philosophical analysis of bullshit with the aim of devolping a theory or theoretical understanding of bullshit. Does Frankfort’s work smell of bull doody? I highly recommend that you read this small publication to determine the answer for yourself. It is a great read!

I have reproduced the first two paragraphs of On Bullshit below so that you may have a better understanding of the author’s intentions, as well as to (hopefully) whet your appetite for a deeper understanding and appreciation of bullshit.

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.  Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share.  But we tend to take the situation for granted.  Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.  So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.

In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis. I shall not consider the rhetorical uses and misuses of bullshit. My aim is simply to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not—or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate, more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept.(On Bullshit, pp. 1-2.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Modeling Your Magic

Sometimes you just can't buy the right magical implement at you local Five & Dime. Sometimes, the only tool for the job must be made. When this is the case I usually lower my head in despair because I am severely challenged when it comes to the arts. Luckily, I recently came across a quick and easy recipe for making a type of clay that can be readily shaped, dried, and painted. I am in the process of making some needed tools for my alter from this material and am finding it useful, ergo I am going to share it with you. Chances are that you have all the ingredients already in your home.

You will need:

1) A small cooking pot.
2) A stirring utensil.
3) Salt
4) Corn Starch
5) Rubber/latex gloves
6) 1 1/3 cups water
7) Measuring cup

Place 2/3 cup water and 2 cups salt into small pan on a stove, stir, and bring to a boil. The mixture should slightly liquefy and bubbles should form around the inside edges of the pan. If the mixture is too thick to boil, add a small amount of water. The mixture should be thick.

While you are waiting for the salt and water to boil, mix 2/3 cup water and one cup corn starch in a separate dish.

When the water/salt mixture bubbles, add the water/cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir until ingredients clump together. This happens quickly.

Remove the ingredients and knead the mixture like you would bread dough (Umm, need I say the mixture will be hot. Wear some protective gloves!)

Total yield is about 1 1/2 pounds of clay.

Just a tad bit smaller than a grapefruit (of course you can increase or decrease the amount of ingredients depending on the job you need).

Form the clay into whatever it is you need. Just for fun, and demonstration purposes, I made a quick human-like figure and a candle holder. (I told you I was artistically challenged!)

I have recently made a spirit house/fetish and a negativity/spell trap using the above recipe ( I will be blogging about these two items in the next few weeks). It took about 4 weeks for the items to dry and harden enough to paint.

So, get your ingredients together this weekend and make some magic!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jesus The Magician (Post 9: Chapter 8 Summary)

(Prior posts in the series are located in Category "Jesus the Magician")

Smith opens Chapter 8 by discussing the importance of the apologetic material that appears within the gospels. Firstly, he argues that the very existence of apologetic material in the gospels points to negative traditions that had to be answered; they had to be either admitted or denied. Furthermore, these oppositional traditions would by necessity predate the apologetic responses that are imbedded within the gospels. These traditions, according to Smith, stem from scribal reports during the time of Jesus. Smith then proceeds to look for points of intersection between events touted within the gospels and those preserved within the negative traditions as possible indicators of historical veracity. According to Smith, it is the miracles of Jesus that are the primary feature in both the polemical and apologetical material. For Smith, these miracle stories are especially important as they provide the basis for Jesus’ teachings and are the foundation upon which Jesus’ identity is later established.
The fact that Jesus (purportedly) performed miracles does not, according to Smith, however, necessarily make Jesus a magician. He points out that there are numerous accounts within the gospels of individuals performing miraculous actions, such as the exorcisms of demons, who are not charged with being a magician. The fact that Jesus was early on accused of being a magician while other exorcists were not, however, clearly indicates for our author that differences existed between Jesus’ miracles and those done by individuals not seen as magicians. What was it about Jesus’ miracles that led him to be viewed as a magician? Firstly, it was alleged by the outsider tradition that Jesus’ had a demon and performed his miracles/exorcisms by way of the power of this indwelling spirit. It is Smith’s opinion that some of the events surrounding Jesus most assuredly contributed to this opinion. He provides the examples of Jesus being driven into the desert for forty days and nights, his being restrained by family members who thought him to be out of his mind, as well as his neglect of the Law. Indeed, it was, according to Smith, very likely Jesus’ neglect of the Law that most incited the scribes to spread malicious rumors about him.
He writes,
On a practical level, it is easy to understand that a small class of small town lawyers and teachers, who owe their prestige and income to the Law, would detest a fellow who publicly neglected it, would hate to see him attract large crowds and would spread malicious charges to discredit him. (144)
While it is Smith’s contention that traces of magical traditions linger within the gospels, he argues that many of these preserved stories have been edited in such a way as to remove many of the magical details. He sees the story of Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the spirit as a prime example of an abbreviated version of an account relayed within the magical papyri. Thus, based upon the position that magical elements have been edited from the gospels and the writings of other New Testament scholars, Smith argues that behind the Jesus of the gospels there lurked within the Christian tradition an earlier Jesus whose activities closely resembled those of Jesus the Magician. Consequently, he argues that when magical elements appear within the gospels it is less likely that they have been added by the tradition than they have survived from the earlier or more primitive form of the cult.  This is because, according to Smith, the early Church found the magical elements an embarrassment and strove to excise them from the tradition. Thus, Smith proposes that those magical elements within the texts that did survive the editor’s hand likely stem from the earliest days of the movement, indeed, from its founder. Interestingly, while Smith contends that much of the gospel’s magical elements likely belong to a very early period within the tradition, he regards many of the stories that link Jesus to the Old Testament/Judaic tradition suspect on account that Jesus was criticized for not following or upholding the Law. According to Smith, many of these Jewish elements first came into the tradition with James and Paul.
To conclude this chapter Smith offers three official portraits of Jesus that could possibly account for the rise of the tradition preserved within the gospels: Jesus Christ the son of God, given by the gospels as they stand; Jesus the magician, given by the hostile tradition; Jesus the god, given by the early primitive Christian tradition. For Smith, all three traditions are not only expressions of propaganda but are incredible in that they explain the phenomena of Jesus’ life in terms of “the mythological world of deities and demons that do not exist.” (149)  Moreover, Smith dismisses many of the miracles as obvious inventions, such as Jesus walking on the water and his multiplication of food. These are, for Smith, best explained not as misunderstandings but as fictions. While he finds many of the miracles to be incredible, he does acknowledge that most of the miracles reported are at least possible if they are stripped of the explanations that make them miracles. For example, Smith claims that Jesus could not cast out demons because there are none, but he could and probably did quiet lunatics. In other words, for Smith, the quieting of lunatics by Jesus, a probable real event,  was erroneously interpreted as the casting out of demons. For Smith, the entirety of the evidence would suggest that Jesus probably did use magical methods that may have worked for psychological reasons. While Smith discounts a supernatural dimension to Jesus’ miracles, he does nevertheless proffer that many of Jesus’ miracles were probably efficacious.

*This concludes my series of chapter summaries of Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician. I have chosen not to summarize the Appendices. While I have undertaken this project primarily for my own benefit (summarizing helps me to learn the material), I had also hoped that publishing this series of posts would be of some use to the readers of my blog. If you found Smith’s work intriguing (whether you agree or disagree with his thought processes and conclusions), I would highly recommend that you read the text for yourself. While I have earnestly attempted to faithfully set forth Smith’s
position(s), I am sure that I have not only left a great deal unwritten, but have probably misunderstood him on occasion.