The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Million Dollar Idea #14423225

May 13th, 2006 · No Comments · christianity, history

I shoulda styled my upcoming talk on heresies as having something to do with Da Vinci Code. I suppose I could still do that, but then I’d feel like I’d have to actually read that book.

I understand that there’s a whole genre of fiction based around a kind of modernized apocalyptic Sci Fi in which the characters in the books experience rapture. I could base a lecture on these, but again, I’d have to actually read a few of them, and there is really no time available in my day to read crappy fiction. Darn.

What I can do is talk intelligently about the history of Christianity and the various theological and political conflicts between the various groups of the earliest Christians. This conflict is referred to as “”, because this was the charge most frequently leveled.

Blasphemy was also occasionally mentioned, but that was really a special charge of belittling the deity. Heresy was when you got your “wrong” and refused to admit your error.

Typically, in any theological debate in the first few centuries of Christianity, one, or both, debaters were more concerned with bolstering a position than in pursuing truth, until truth itself simply became another position to argue. The position the Roman Catholic church holds on sexuality in the priesthood is one that can be shown to be based on financial, not spiritual, reasons, yet the position the church will actually argue is one based on spiritual reasons — and it will be their truth.

Possibly the most consistent complaint I hear about Christianity in general is that it is contradictory with itself and with the world today. From what I understand, I’m not really clear when Christianity has not been in contradiction with the world, so that last adverb may be redundant. I do think I understand now the core of the internal conflict inherent within Christianity.

When the Jewish chocolate was dipped into the Greek peanut butter, the world discovered two great tastes that taste great together. This yummy concoction was snarfed up by a lot of groups who had found their cultures or positions threatened by obliteration through global imperial movements from about 300BC to 700AD. Greek and Jewish culture was still going strong even after the Romans had rolled through their homelands, so they had similar endearments for their new masters, and combined, they presented an impressive array of philosophical attacks and defenses against the Romans. It’s not surprising that everybody wanted a part of this.

However, these two cultures were very different at one time, and even though many centuries of work have gone into homogenizing them, there are still quite a few remnants of distinction. One such distinction is with “truth”. The Hebrews had an idea of truth being this certain, immovable thing, yet the implemented the concept of the relative truth into a nearly unbroachable system of speaking and writing. So the Eastern search for truth is very easily lost or forgotten in favor of the utilization of Greek rhetorical techniques that made truth whatever they wanted it to be. (It’s really unpleasant to watch a true believer get flailed by a rhetorician: they don’t last long.)

I think this is what usually happens today when any new religious fad or controversy arises: someone gets bitten by the ancient Hebrew idea of truth and stirs up a shitstorm about whatever random set of ideas that happened to be on the brain that day. After some publicity and discussion, the grand old men of the church present a set of Greek rhetorical arguments designed to negate the original idea and to humiliate its followers. More discussion and finally another series of shows on the History channel to indicate the fad has jumped the shark.

Thing is, all this stuff has been argued to death. Just a topical overview of the history of what was considered orthodox between the 2nd and 5th centuries is enough to show that all the ideas based on the Hebrew precedent have been thoroughly worked over, minimized, and institutionalized early on in Christian history. All the “shocking controversy” in Da Vinci Code is rehashed medieval heresy and mystisicm, nothing more. No surprise that the church has an easy answer for all of it.


Okay, so the title is really a tangent. An extremely creative and talented couple of guys I hung around showed me the absolutely best way to manage the never ending flow of really great ideas they’d get.The joke was that they would try to throw away at least one Million Dollar Idea each day. So when an idea hit, the idea would be described immediately, ending with shouting “It’ll make a million!” and doing a little dance of throwing hands in the air, then miming wadding a piece of paper and tossing it over the shoulder. “That’s another million dollar idea, in the trash!”

I think this is marvelous for a few reasons. One is that optimism that you can always come up with something. Another is the realism that even the best idea requires a lot of planning and work to manifest. A third reason is that it devalues money as a measure of success.

The corollary to this is that it’s not a bad idea to actually write some of your ideas down after you’ve had a chance to kick them around. From these you may actually create plans and goals in your life, but one shouldn’t waste each day running after wherever random inspiration strikes.

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