Monthly Archives: June 2015

What is the definition of ‘Christian’?

In the encyclopedic dictionary of a Bible I have here, the definition for ‘Christian’ is

A follower of Christ.

This definition seems to get exactly to the quick of what Christianity is. It puts aside debates about metaphysics, baptism, and so on.

This applies both denominationally (are Mormons Christians? yes) and personally (is so-and-so a Christian? the answer is whether that person is, in their mind and actions, following Christ).

This definition has two main components.

First, that one is a follower of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Second, that one thinks Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, i.e., one chosen by God (= the Good) to catalyze a kind of transformation for the good among humanity.

What would a new Bible look like?

Following on this post, what would a more logical Bible look like?

It would start with the ‘Our Father’, and expand on it, probably word-by-word and line-by-line, filling in a contemporary reader on just what is meant by the concepts.

That, in itself, would be enough for someone to understand Christianity in a nut-shell on an intellectual and practical level.

Then, it would continue with the Sermon on the Mount, again expanding line-by-line.

In this way, there would be a short introduction to Christianity, that also led, naturally, to the next, which would be

The Gospels, arranged with Matthew, then John, then Luke, then Mark (say). Again, significant commentary and context.

Then, other key texts. The letters from Paul, John, and James. The Psalms. Again with significant commentary and context. And so on.

Finally, the remaining texts, with commentary and context.

This, I think, would be much more useful than giving someone a full Bible in the usual ordering.

Applying the 80-20 rule to Christian scripture

The basic idea with the 80-20 rule is that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. For example, 80% of sales might come from 20% of one’s customers, 80% of exam questions might come from 20% of a textbook, 80% of peas might come from 20% of pea pods, and so on. It is a rule-of-thumb for focusing limited resources of time, focus, and so on, on what’s most important.

Can one apply the 80-20 rule to canonical Christian scripture? I think the answer is ‘yes’.

Applying the 80-20 rule to The Bible as a whole, it is the New Testament, which contains the core of what Christianity is about. In a print version I have here, the Old Testament is 994 pages, while the New Testament is 400, so approximately 29% of the printed length.

(Confusedly, the New Testament is put after the Old Testament, because The Bible for historical reasons is typically arranged in roughly chronological order. So, for someone interested in understanding more about Christianity through reading The Bible, it would require, if reading from the start and then straight through, 994 pages to get to the start of the core of what Christianity is about!)

We can possibly get more insight by iterating the 80-20 rule. (By 80-20 rule in this case, I simply mean a part that has disproportionate importance.) In this case, we can apply it to the New Testament itself. So, what is the most important part of the New Testament? I would say the Gospels, which take up 166 pages in the version before me, so approximately 42%. (= 12% of The Bible.)

Iterating the 80-20 rule again, what is the most important part of the Gospels? I would say it is the Sermon on the Mount, which is 6 pages, so approximately 4%. (= 0.4% of The Bible.)

One more time, what is the most important part of the Sermon on the Mount? I would say the ‘Our Father’, which is approximately 1/6th of a page, so around 3%. (= 0.01% of The Bible.)

Christianity is a set of beliefs about the present and the future

Christianity, in its essence, isn’t about the past, but about the present and the future.

Once you get this, you get that debates about the Garden of Eden, or the doctrine of Original Sin, are secondary.

Similarly, problems like that of natural evil only make sense when you look at what the present is for, and what the future may or will be.

Essentially, according to Christianity God (= the Good) has an intention – is doing something – and you can be a part of the process of that, or not.


Technological advances that might happen

There is a large amount of hype about scientific or technological advances – most science reporting is actually a form of science fiction, where the purported advances never happen. We know this by looking back at past reporting, and seeing what percentage occurred as predicted. Very few.

Yet, there are some things much-talked about that do seem to have a significant chance of occurring, and do seem to have the potential for a significant impact. Two in particular are

1. Incrementally improving self-driving capabilities for cars.

2. More engaging or quicker learning methods.

In both cases, these are already happening, and the technologies for making them happen moreso are largely already here or near at hand. It’s more a question of doing it, and working through the bugs.

Both of these areas have very significant consequences.

Take 1. Self-driving capabilities have already been expanded, even in cheaper cars, with automatic transmissions and cruise control. The marginal innovations are largely being seen, currently, in luxury cars and specialized (industrial) automobiles – but it seems reasonable that these will eventually end up in wider usage.

Because much of the increases in self-driving capabilities are dependent on software, and because computer processing and memory are increasing significantly, it is reasonable to expect these capabilities to continue to increase as long as the computer factors are getting better.

It is difficult to think through exactly what consequences fully self-driving cars would have. Consider taxation. A large amount of municipal revenues comes from parking tickets and speeding tickets. Self-driving cars will probably not need to park in places where it will cost money, and won’t speed as much.

Of course, a fully self-driving car may not happen. This is because 98% of what cars do is fairly ‘easy’, programmatically, but the other 2% is difficult to handle by a computer program. Rather, what seems clear is that cars will get incrementally more self-driving capabilities.

2. is a fulcrum or magnifier technology. It can significantly increase other breakthroughs, by increasing the rates at which people learn relevant things.

A few examples of these are Google, StackExchange, and the Khan Academy. These are all already having a significant impact on the speed at which people can learn things.

Of course, at any given time, society is going both ways on various indicators of well-being. For example, better learning technologies, but also more ways to distract people with long-term sub-optimal entertainment. It is difficult, in the midst of things, to see which aspect will have the bigger effect in the long run.

What is the best way to experience The Lord of the Rings – by reading the books or by watching the movies?

My experience suggests the answer is ‘neither’! Rather, it is the audiobook.

Not the dramatic recreation audiobooks with multiple readers, selective reading of the text, and sound effects, but the narrated ones. Particularly unabridged. In this case, the set narrated by Rob Inglis.

This coincides with my experience with The Odyssey – which was much better to listen to than to read. In that case, suddenly parts of the story’s structure made sense – it was very useful to be reminded of certain things that had occurred before and felt natural, for example, while when reading this technique produced a question mark for me.

Listening to an audiobook also allows for you to work on other things while listening.

I think much in the way of stories works better when listened to. In part, I think this is because humans are designed to listen to stories, instead of reading them.

Scientific methods

One interesting consequence of the scientific method being at its most basic to simply ‘try to figure out the truth’, is that it can encompass seemingly contradictory methods.

For example, in some cases, being passionate about a view, and working through seemingly contradictory evidence, could lead to a breakthrough. In other cases, being dispassionate, and instead carefully following where the evidence seems to lead, could lead to a breakthrough.

As far as tools for finding the truth, different dispositions, strategies, techniques, and so on will probably work in different situations. The trick is figuring out which situation one is in.

One form of evidence

One form of evidence that something is right about a belief is technologies based on that belief (i.e., based on that theory).

Christians ought to, therefore, focus on psychological and sociological technologies. They have, of course, but they don’t talk about it this way. They ought to do studies, figure out how effective they are, publish the results, experiment with new forms, and so on. To some extent, this is being done.

It should be a primary focus, because it will help them to 1) recognize what they have right, and 2) get better at getting things right.

What are core beliefs?

When people talk about ‘core’ or ‘basic’ or ‘metaphysical’ beliefs, the idea seems to be that they are more important, or in some sense prior, to other beliefs.

However, no belief is absolutely primary epistemically – that is, all beliefs can or do impinge on other beliefs. Even the most minor observation could up-end a belief that we care greatly about.

For example, observations about rocks (geology) began the process of up-ending a kind of Biblical interpretation that was common at the time.

Similarly, advances in investigating the brain have led many to revise their beliefs about souls.

So, we can talk about spontaneous or intuitive beliefs, or we can talk about beliefs that are more or less important in a direct sense for a person, or we can talk about beliefs on top of which many other beliefs are based.

However, these beliefs are not immune from evidence – they are in some way informed by other beliefs. If beliefs-immune-from-evidence is what is meant by a core or metaphysical belief, then that is a mistaken sense.

What do Christians mean by ‘leave the World’?

As with many things in Christianity, there are words or phrases used which sound familiar coming from a secular perspective, but which have a different sense when used in Christianity. It is easy to misunderstand or get tripped up by these statements.

To ‘leave the World’ is not to leave everything here-and-now behind. Rather, it is to embark on a ‘revaluation of values’, to borrow a phrase.

In particular, to leave behind materialism and hedonism (cf. Stoicism) and instead put value on God (= the Good) and the Christ (= our connection or ‘Way’ to the Good).

Since the Christ has “come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” according to Christianity (John 10:10 – i.e., it is our connection to the Good that allows for us to live a human life fully), to ‘leave the World’ is to see through those things which detract from a life fully lived, and instead to focus on the most important thing.

It includes, of course, self-discipline – the reigning in of impulses that are good in the short-term but have a net negative effect in the longer-term. More over-archingly, though, it involves a leaving of one’s ‘self’, which is to say, of an ego-centric way of habitually viewing things, and instead a focusing on the Good (which involves focusing more on the good for others).